Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Short History of the ‘New’ Antisemitism

by Simon Furse

As was pointed out so eloquently by Hannah, Antisemitism has long been used as a tool to prevent criticism of Israel. The aim of this article is to provide a short introduction to this huge literature.

The publication of reports and books on the supposed new Antisemitism seems to correlate strongly with periods of international pressure on Israel. In 1974, when Israel was facing pressure to withdraw from the Sinai, Forster and Epstein published the New Anti-Semitism. The evidence of Antisemitism put forward by them ranges from the ridiculous (Jesus Christ Superstar for ignoring “the new ecumenical interpretation of the Crucifixion”[1]) to blatant attempts to prevent criticism of Israel. For example the proof given of a resurgent Antisemitism includes that fewer people in the UK agreed that “Israel should hold all or most of the territory it occupied in June 1967,” and an Argentinean “left wing spokesman” calling for “a just peace based on the evacuation of all the occupied territories”[2] . Perhaps the most ridiculous is the accusation of Antisemitism levelled at the American friends service commission (Quakers) for suggesting that American Jews should “reject simplistic military solutions and... encourage calm and deliberate examination of all the issues”[3].

Less than ten years later Nathan and Ruth Perlmutter published The Real Anti-Semitism in America in response to international pressure about what they called “(Israel being) cornered in the public relations cul de sac of ‘peace’”[4] (the PLO’s decision to accept the international consensus of a two state solution based on the 1967 borders.) For the Perlmutters real anti-Semitism was not the Jews’ “familiar nemesis, crude anti-Semitism” but challenges to Jewish interests (defined of course as the interests of Israel), “proponents of which may be free of anti-Semitism”[5]. A large part of the book is given to describing anti-Semitism in the black community. To remedy this wrong “the Black” must (unsurprisingly) make “loud, clear, repeated condemnations of the United Nations’ offenses against the Jewish people; loud, clear repeated contradictions of the National Council of Churches’ skewed reports on the Middle East; and delegations to Washington supportive of Israel’s security.”[6] Final proof that, the Real Anti-Semitism in America has nothing to do with Antisemitism, and everything to do with preventing criticism of Israel, comes from the Perlmutters’ views towards the Christian Right. While the (non Antisemitic) National Council of Churches is vilified for producing statements in line with international opinion and law, the certainly Antisemitic Christian Right are praised for their pro-Israel beliefs (“Fundamentalist intolerance is currently not so baneful as its friendship for Israel is helpful”[7])

The real golden era for the ‘new’ Antisemitism however was in the mid 2000s after Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield. Following the international condemnation of the brutal repression of the Second Intifada a whole host of new publications were published. Central to these publications was the idea that “Israel, in effect, is emerging as the collective Jew among nations.”[8] This theory is essentially that Israel cannot possibly be facing criticism because it is in the wrong, so criticism of Israel must be coming from deeply held Antisemitism[9]. It doesn’t take a genius to see the tautological nature of basing your definition (and subsequent cataloguing) of Antisemitism on the assumption that everyone is Antisemitic.

One of the key features of the ‘New Anti-Semitism’ is almost neurotic paranoia. After defining basically any criticism against the ‘Jew of nations’ Antisemitic the amount of Antisemites is unsurprisingly huge. Antisemites according to Phyllis Chesler include: Arabs, Muslims, the Third World generally, Europe and the United Nations; Western based international human rights organizations, academics, intellectuals; Western anticapitalist, antiglobalist, pro-environment, antiracist and antiwar activists; Progressive feminists, Jewish Feminists; Time magazine, the Associated Press, Reuters, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Guardian, Toronto Star, BBC, NPR, CNN and ABC; orthodox Israeli Jews like Yeshayahu Leibowitz and “anyone who denies that this is so”[10]. To Chesler “It’s as if Hitler’s Brown Shirts have returned from the dead, in greater numbers, and are doing their dirty Kristallnacht work everyday, everywhere.”[11]

Gabriel Schoenfeld goes further; Antisemites for him also include anyone who uses the word neoconservative because it is a “thinly veiled synonym for ‘Jew’”[12]. His definition even extends to pro Israel authors like Leon Wielseltier for doubting the immanence of another final solution.[13] Abraham Foxman declares in Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism that “we currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s-if not a greater one.”[14] It is indicative that a statement so manifestly ridiculous comes from the leader of the world’s largest organization ‘fighting anti-Semitism’[15].

Another key feature is an almost schizophrenic attitude towards the Nazi’s and the holocaust. On one side you have statements like “allusions to or comparisons of Israel’s actions with the behaviour of the Nazi regime have to be viewed as anti-Semitic”[16]and a need to assert the “singular, universal and unique” nature of the holocaust[17]. Alan Finkielkraut even objects to the words roundups, internment camps and watch-towers in relation to Israel because they “imply a comparison with Nazism”.[18] On the other side you see regular ludicrous holocaust and Nazi comparisons-like the ones seen above, as long as they are used to defend Israel. In Ron Rosenbaum’s Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism Cynthia Ozick writes, “We thought it was finished. The ovens are long cooled.... The cries of the naked.... The deportation ledgers.... We thought it was finished.... Naively, foolishly, stupidly, hopefully, a-historically, we thought that the cannibal hatred, once quenched, would not soon wake again. It has awakened.”[19] In the same publication Robert Wistrich talks of a “line of continuity” between Hitler, Islamic fundamentalists and “anti-globalist leftists”. He writes that “Yasser Arafat, the Fatah Al-Aqsa Brigades,” “Millions of Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, conservative Wahhabi Saudis, Iranian Ayatollahs, Al-Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad, and many secular Arab nationalists” “display many parallels with Nazism”. Schoenfeld writes “If there is a difference (aside from capability) between the Nazis and the Palestinians, it is that the former kept their murderous intentions a tightly wrapped secret”[20]. For Rosenbaum the threat of the Palestinians must be countered by subjecting the families of suicide bombers to “the exact same fate of the people the bombers blow up” unfortunately “Israeli’s won’t do that” “and that is why there’s likely to be a second holocaust.”[21] In other words if you oppose the indiscriminate slaughter of women and children you’re hastening the second holocaust.

Bringing this back to local relevance the EUMC is very much a part of the ‘New Anti-Semitism’ parade. Its 2003 report Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the European Union includes such Antisemitic horrors as “Gretta Duisenberg, wife of the European Central Bank President, has hung a Palestinian flag from her balcony”; “the Israel Embassy has received slanderous calls and Internet messages with offensive content” and “Pro-Palestinian movements have distributed their leaflets on many occasions. Some of these leaflets... have asked people to boycott Israeli products to help attain peace in Israel.” Proof of the Antisemitic bias of the media is given by poll data showing “those Europeans who followed media coverage of the events in the Middle East the closest were more likely to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.” It would be Antisemitic of course to consider that this might possibly be because Israel is in the wrong. [22]

The EUMC definition is created from the same tautological, flawed and a-historical logic that discounts the possibility that Israel is opposed for its actions. Kenneth Stern boasts that he along with other experts created the working definition in 2004. He claims that there are three types of Antisemitism racial, religious and “political Antisemitism otherwise known in recent years as anti-Zionism.” And that “Antisemites seek to disqualify Israel from equal membership in the community of nations.” Its striking that an author of the EUMC definition considers all anti-Zionism to be Antisemitism. Stern includes a quote by David Matas, who writes that anti-Zionists deny "the right of the Jewish people to exist as a people because they are Jewish.” Leaving aside the ridiculous concepts that an attack on Israel is an attack on all Jews and that the “Jewish people” wouldn’t exist without Israel, the idea that the Palestinians (or other critics) problem with Israel has nothing to do with Israel’s actions is ludicrous. Stern even goes on to allege that “the comparison between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa” is also Antisemitic, because he doesn’t see “much distinction between denial of the holocaust and the similar anti-historical canard that rejects any significant historic Jewish link to the land of Israel” that someone so misguided is allowed to write anything let alone the definition of Antisemitism at our student union is unbelievable[23].

Today in the aftermath of Israel’s massacre in Gaza the ‘New’ Antisemitism is alive and well. Irwin Cotler writes in the Jerusalem Post of a “new sophisticated, globalizing, virulent and even lethal anti-Semitism reminiscent of the atmospherics of the 1930s, and without parallel or precedent since the end of World War II”[24]. In 2009 the ICCA (Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism) met in London and produced the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism. It is a mixture of old favourites of the ‘New Antisemitism’ and new concepts such as “state backed genocidal Antisemitism.” It recommends that (surprise surprise) “Governments must expand the use of the EUMC ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’” including to “inform media standards”; education institutions must “protect students and staff from illegal antisemitic discourse and a hostile environment in whatever form it takes including calls for boycotts.” And Government legislature should be used to “prosecute ‘hate on the internet’”[25]. The ICAA is an extremely worrying and unwelcome development in the history of ‘New’ Antisemitism. There is an international lobby, including British MPs, actively pushing for the censorship of criticism of one of the world’s biggest violators of human rights and international law.

There are many conclusions to draw from the history of the ‘New’ Antisemitism. First and foremost is that it has very little to do with actual Antisemitism. Israel internationally (and by default its apologists in the Antisemitism lobby) has found itself allied with the often Antisemitic but pro-Israel right rather than the non Antisemitic but anti-Israel left[26]. The paranoia and over exaggeration of Antisemitism encourages fear among Israelis, and desensitizes them to the suffering of others (For an intriguing look at how this is done I highly recommend the Israeli made film, Defamation).[27] The central assumption of the ‘New Antisemitism’ is that anti-Israel sentiment has nothing to do with the actions of the Israeli state. This is both pathologically untrue and harmful to peace in the Middle East, if Israel cannot affect the level of anti-Israel feeling and its opponents are motivated by irrational Antisemitism rather than rational opposition to Israel’s policies, then its logical best course of action is to delay and refuse compromise with its opponents (as seen above this is legitimised by many of the ‘scholars’ on Antisemitism.)

Throughout the New Antisemitism literature there is a reoccurring concept of uniqueness: the Holocaust is a “specifically Jewish tragedy”[28] “Antisemitism is the oldest collective bigotry in recorded history” it combines all other prejudice. The Antisemite hates “all minorities and all those who (are) different. He or she end(s) up hating everybody, and then himself or herself.” [29] This claim of uniqueness allows Israel to act outside normal moral standards; it allows the Israelis to paint themselves as perennial victims despite all evidence to the contrary and it legitimates the idea that opposition to Israel, both from the Palestinians and those abroad, has nothing to do with the brutal realities of the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel’s repeated violations of international law and human rights. To oppose this doctrine of uniqueness we need to look no further than the golden rule of ethics, [30] fittingly used by almost all cultures and religions across the world, and the scientific fact that humans are fundamentally the same. Antisemitism is no different than any other prejudice, calling Israel Nazis is not Antisemitic in the same way that calling India Nazis is not anti-Hindu. Calling for a boycott of Israel is no more Antisemitic than calling for a boycott of Iran is islamophobic. Israelis are not God’s chosen people or subject to an eternal unstoppable “cannibal hatred”[31], they should have the same fundamental rights and obligations as the Palestinians or any other people. Israel’s “virtual immunity” from enforcement for repeated violations of international law and human rights must end.[32] The new Antisemitism, including the EUMC definition, is no more than an attempt to legitimize one of the world’s most oppressive regimes.

[1] Arnold Forster and Benjamin Epstein, The New Anti-Semitism (1974) pp 97
[2] Ibid pp 255, pp 275
[3] Ibis pp 86-88
[4]Nathan and Ruth Perlmutter, The Real Anti-Semitism in America (1982) pp 262
[5] Ibid pp 9
[6] Ibid pp 203
[7] Ibid pp 155-56
[8] Mortimer Zuckerman “The new Anti-Semitism” U.S news and world report (November 2003)
[9] “It is impossible to understand why Israel receives the criticism it does receive without recognizing that Israel is the ‘Jew’ among the nations” Alan Dershowitz, Chutzpah (1991) pp 210
[10] Phyllis Chesler, The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It (2003) Quoted in Norman Finkelstein Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2005) pp 38
[11] Ibid pp 89
[12] Gabriel Schoenfeld, The return of Anti-Semitism (2004) pp 128
[13] Ibid pp 148-149
[14]Abraham Foxman, Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism (2003) p.4.
[16] Werner Bergmann and Juliane Wetzel Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the European Union (2003) pp 17
[17] Jean-Christophe Rufin, Chantier sur la lutte contre le racisme et l'antisémitisme (2004)
[18] Alan Finkielkraut quoted from Norman Finkelstein Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2005) pp 58 Roundups internment camps and watch towers are all used by the IDF see
[19] Cynthia Ozick writing in; Ron Rosenbaum, Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism (2004) pp. 595-96
[20] Gabriel Schoenfeld, The return of Anti-Semitism (2004) pp. 46
[21] Ron Rosenbaum, Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism (2004) pp170-77
[22] Werner Bergmann and Juliane Wetzel Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the European Union (2003)
[23] Kenneth Stern Proposal for a redefinition of Antisemitism a significant case can be made that Stern is Antisemitic by his own definition. “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” surely would also mean that calling Israel the state of all Jews or the expression of the Jewish people is Antisemitic. His comparison of holocaust denial with anything that denies the Jews historical right to Israel surely denies the fact and scope of the holocaust.
For the EUMC definition see
[26] There are many examples of Israel’s relationship with Antisemites if it is in their interest. I will give just the two cases of Israel (and the Israeli lobby)’s close relationship with Christian Zionists and the Italian Neo-fascist, Mussolini loving, National Alliance Party because of its “unwavering support of Israel’s policies” Haaretz (24th November 2003).
[27] Can be found at
[28] Gabriel Schoenfeld, The return of Anti-Semitism (2004) pp. 96-97
[29] Elie Wiesel to the UN
[30] (One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself)
[31] Cynthia Ozick writing in; Ron Rosenbaum, Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism (2004) pp. 595-96
[32] “A careful study by Marc Weller of the University of Cambridge comparing Israel and the Occupied Territories with similar situations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor, Occupied Kuwait and Iraq, and Rwanda found that Israel has enjoyed ‘virtual immunity’ from enforcement measures such as an arms embargo and economic sanctions typically adopted by the UN against member states condemned for identical violations of international law.” Quoted from Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (2003) pp xviii

The New Antisemitism

by Friends of Palestine Society

One of the pitfalls of campus activism in solidarity with Palestine is coming into conflict with Jewish students and specifically Jewish student organisations that have taken an explicitly pro-Israel stance. This informative blog post reveals the extent to which many young Jews view support for Israel as integral to there religious identity, and how more critical views of Israel are marginalized within Jewish campus organisations. The post gives several striking examples of the commitment of some Jewish organisations to evangelising for Israel. It describes a competition amongst pupils at Jewish secondary schools to find the best advocate for Israel and how the stated intention of one Union of Jewish Students organised visit to Israel is to “highlight the key messages to bring back to campus.” Reading this you cannot escape the conclusion that we are not being faced with scholarly debate but PR.

One of the key tactics of PR is misdirection- the diversion of your opponent from the debate at hand to a disparate, safer, topic. The diversion we are increasingly seeing is the accusation of antisemitism. This may well be, in part an expression of a genuine feeling amongst Jewish students of being under attack. This is unsurprising given Jewish people’s historic status as an oppressed group and the extent to which the nation of Israel is central to many Jews religious identity, something encouraged by mainstream Jewish educational establishments, as outlined above. It’s also not unfounded in every instance. Whilst unfortunate, it isn’t remarkable if some Muslims and especially Palestinians have come to feel a general antipathy towards Judaism given their treatment at the hands of the Israeli state, a state that styles itself as the ultimate outworking of Jewish identity. I’m also not in the position to rule out the existence of some whose criticisms of Israel are motivated by a deep-seated hatred of any overt expression of Jewish identity. However, it has also become clear that antisemitism has come to be used as a reflexive defence against criticism of Israel.

This has come to be a regular experience for Birmingham friends of Palestine, with many of our events being picketed by Jewish students. Complaints to the University are also common resulting in our being made responsible for security costs at events, a serious problem for the society. Recently we were subject to proceedings by the Student Groups Committee at the Guild of Students over comments made by an outside speaker at one of our events, something that could have resulted in the society being derecognised (fortunately this didn’t happen, although we were forced to print a clarification) Recently, we have become aware of a new tool in the armoury of those who wish to marginalise criticism of Israel: a definition of antisemitism proposed by a little known committee of the EU in 2005. The so-called European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) working definition outlines a number of features of discussions of Israel that its authors regard as potential manifestations of antisemitism:

o Denying the Jewish people right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

o Applying double standards by requiring of it behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

o Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

o Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

o Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

Now a number of these points are extremely problematic. The first point presumably means “a state of Israel” explicitly defined as a Jewish state although it doesn’t make that clear. Clearly this is an ethno-nationalist endeavour. Some would regard that as racist in and of itself without singling out Israel or Judaism in that regard. I would disagree. I believe that it is legitimate for an ethnic or national group to aspire to a state based on that group. Jews in particular have more reason than most to desire the refuge of a state of their own and all that entails in terms of sovereignty and military protection. The problem comes when this aspiration is prioritised over the fundamental rights of any other individuals or groups of people. The establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine- a region that historically had a non-Jewish majority- logically required either the forced removal of pre-existing non-Jewish residents from the land or the implicit erasure of those residents’ identities as equal citizens of the country in which they live. This is undeniably racist, and has begotten further racism amongst Israelis, as they must rationalise why Palestinian’s rights are either unimportant or at least subordinate to Israel’s national aspirations. Particularly problematic is the framing of this clause in terms of Jewish people’s right to self-determination. In practice Palestinians have had very little self-determination as a direct and natural result of establishing and sustaining the State of Israel. So the right to self-determination of Jewish people is defined as unconditional and fundamental whereas the self-determination of Palestinian people is conditional upon it not coming into conflict with the principles and security of the Israeli state.

The second point like the first is hopelessly imprecise. It doesn’t make clear whether it refers to holding Israel to standards above those currently adhered to by other democratic nations, those standards which consensus would hope that they would aspire to, or the particular ideals of the speaker suspected of applying double standards. Either way, this clause chimes remarkably well with an accusation regularly thrown at critics of Israel, as anyone familiar with this debate will know. Thus it has great potential as a weapon to be used against critics of Israel. It is a licence for “whataboutery” the derailing of the discussion of Israel’s actions by sidetracking the opponent into an irrelevant debate on the behaviour of and the opponent’s views on other countries.

The next two clauses are less problematic, and describe behaviour that is at least insensitive to Jewish people’s sensibilities surrounding their history. However there is also a risk that these could be used as a “gotcha” tactic to catch out speakers who don’t have any hateful intentions. We have experienced this at Birmingham with our recent disciplinary action after an outside speaker- former US soldier and antiwar activist, Mike Prysner- likened some of Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis. We made clear that we feel that such comparisons are unacceptable as they take advantage of some of Jewish people’s most painful collective memories in a way that outweighs any insight they may provide into the current situation in Palestine. Nevertheless this was a short section of a talk that didn’t primarily concern Israel and some present felt that one, well known, Jewish student tried to goad the speaker into making controversial remarks. The subsequent disciplinary proceedings felt like a deliberate attack on the activities of the society as a whole.

How then did such a flawed document come to be produced by an official agency of the European Union? Richard Kuper of Jews for Justice for Palestinians describes how the definition was drafted in a non-transparent process heavily influenced by back room lobbying. The contentious parts of the working definition seem to be largely identical to work by Dina Porat, of Tel Aviv University amongst others. Porat views anti-zionism as, in itself a variety of anti-semitism. According to Kuper, the EUMC and it’s successor body, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) abandoned the working definition after its lack of utility in monitoring the prevalence of antisemitism became apparent. It appears never to have developed beyond draft stage.

Nevertheless, it was endorsed by a parliamentary enquiry on antisemitism, although it was subsequently rejected by the then Government on the grounds that it “is in fact a work in progress and has not been recommended to states for adoption” according to the EUMC’s own evidence to the committee. (The Government would go on to endorse the, potentially even more problematic, Stephen Lawrence Enquiry definition that states that any action is racist-or antisemitic- if any observer perceives it as such). Extensive lobbying by Jewish student organisations resulted in the working definition being adopted by the National Union of Students and our very own University of Birmingham Guild of Students.

Whilst the working definition itself tentatively notes, only, that the clauses relating to Israel could represent antisemitism “taking into account the overall context.” In practice this caveat is often abandoned as can be seen in this Youtube video of audio clips from Mike Prysner’s talk (the full recording can be found here and the official Friends of Palestine video here). It appeals to the EUMC working definition as an absolute authority, and from there on in it is deemed unnecessary to further establish their case: a statement is antisemitic because the EUMC says (or to be more accurate, once said) it is. Similarly, CIF Watch, a website dedicated to- or as some might put it, obsessed with- recording examples of, what it terms antisemitism, on the Guardian newspaper’s online comment site, uses the EUMC working definition to demand that both Guardian writers and commenters whose statements could fall within the definition, be barred from the site. It’s worth noting that some of the writers identified are Jewish and at least one is Israeli. Statements are often described as “violating” the EUMC definition, as if it were a code of conduct. As we have seen, it was never intended as such. It’s original intention was as a definition to be used in monitoring the prevalence of antisemitism. When it was found to be ineffective for even that purpose, it was dropped by it’s own sponsors.

It is clear that the EUMC working definition is used to confine the discussion of the situation in Israel and occupied Palestine within terms of the choosing of Israel’s defenders. Usually they will allow that some criticisms of Israel’s actions are acceptable, but demand that this be in proportion to “those leveled against any other country” although these are never defined. In an article linked above Dina Poratm, one of the main architects of the EUMC definition, writes that such criticisms aren’t antisemitic if they targets ”a specific program, policy, political leader or party… as it might…in respect to any other country.” Thus, individual actions of the Israeli state are offered up as subjects of free debate, but their historical and idealogical underpinnings are kept off limits. Even if these boundaries are observed, the critic may still fall under suspician if he or she is perceived as too fervent or too focused on Israel.

We foresaw the problems associated with this definition when our Guild council endorsed it but were unable to prevent it from being passed. The dual nature of the Jewish people as a historically oppressed group and the Israeli state with an agenda to repel criticisms of its own, often oppressive, actions, presents a challenge to the usual liberal consensus that victims of prejudice are the best judges what constitutes that prejudice. I have heard at least one non-jewish student express the opinion that the opposition amongst Jewish students to the Mike Prysner speech, represented proof that it was unacceptable, as the opposition wasn’t restricted to “a few extremists” but seemed to be the majority opinion of the Jewish student body. This sets up one group as the arbiter of the acceptable limits on the discussion of the oppression of another group. We are seeing our fears of the effect of this motion, confirmed, and intend to try to overturn it within the next year. It is incumbent upon anyone who with any concern for the situation of Palestinians or for the free discussion of ideas at our Universities to challenge this document.