Is There a New Antisemitism?

Antisemitism International, a publication of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, edited by Robert S. Wistrich, Numbers 5-6, 2010

After the murder of six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, traditional antisemitism appeared to be receding, at least in Europe, where it had been most at home among the population. Just three years after the end of World War 2, the state of Israel was born. The new locus of hostility to Jews became the Arab world surrounding Israel.

A minority of the world's Jewish population (fewer than 10%) had lived in these Arab and Muslim lands for centuries, as second class "dhimmis". Most of the Jews from these countries (approximately 800,000 in all) were expelled or encouraged to leave after the birth of the modern state of Israel. The great majority moved to Israel, a sizable number to France, and some to the United States, Canada, and other countries. Today, the hostility to Israel, and to its Jews, has remained very strong in the Arab and greater Muslim world, but it has also gravitated back to Europe from its new base in the Middle East.

Is there now a new antisemitism, a more modern version of the world oldest hatred? Is it linked primarily to the hatred of Israel? If there were no Israel, would antisemitism recede again or disappear? Or is hatred of Israel a mask for the more routine hatred of Jews that has existed for two thousand years, now with a more politically acceptable political agenda as its face, instead of simple bigotry?

This special issue of Antisemitism International takes a crack at answering these questions, through examination of the "Jewish question" in several countries: France, Germany, Spain, and Australia, as well as a study of how the anti-Israel polemic has infected the art world and the universities in one American city (Chicago). There are also several articles on how Nazi attacks against Jews were broadcast in the Arab world during the Second World War (accompanied by support for the Muslim Brotherhood), and how the antisemitic fabrication The Protocols of the Elders of Zion became a staple of the Arab literary diet, a regional best seller, and part of the propaganda war against Israel.

Several of the articles attempt to analyze antisemitism in the context of the increasingly multicultural European societies of the past few decades. This multicultural shift has two components: the actual change in the composition of the population of these countries, and the increasing political acceptance of multiculturalism as an ideal, that more diverse societies are better, and western judgmentalism about cultural differences between the newcomers and the established population is wrong and often bigoted. As a result of geography, the great majority of new American immigrants are from Mexico, and Latin America, with sizable numbers from the Far East as well. In Europe, most of the new immigrants, also owing to geography, are from the Middle East, and North Africa, and due to former colonial relations, from South Asia.

The acceptance of the multicultural ideal has been rocky. The Islamic veil and the hijab are problematic to many feminists, who see them as symbols of oppression of women. Countries that for centuries saw the Jews as the primary "outsider" now have a new and rapidly growing population of Muslims who are segregated from much of the remainder of the population both by choice and economic status. While Jews have increasingly assimilated in Western Europe in the second half of the 20th century, the new Muslim populations have not taken that path.

Jews now number barely a million people in Western Europe, with Muslim numbers perhaps 20 times that size. In the United States, the Jewish population , though stagnant at levels first attained in 1950, are still double or triple the size of the Muslim population in this country. These population ratios are a partial but insufficient explanation for why Europe and the United States have diverged so much with regard to support for Israel or the Palestinian Arabs in their 100 year conflict.

The United States had "country club" antisemitism and quota systems in the professions and universities for much of its history, but Europe, particularly Eastern Europe and Germany, had a more vicious and open anti-Semitism, pogroms, and finally a largely successful campaign of genocide, long before their Muslim population became significant. Muslims have benefitted from the generous social welfare systems in their new countries in Europe, though they are far less integrated into these societies than immigrants in America. Muslim anger, sometimes violent anger, has often been directed at their far less numerous Jewish neighbors in European countries. This is also the case in Australia. Many on the left have excused this behavior as a manifestation of the anger over the mistreatment of Palestinians by Israel. This too is a partial explanation for why European nations have abandoned Israel; if the countries are seen as supportive of the political cause of their angry Muslims, then maybe that anger will not be directed against the country itself.

Europeans are very unhappy if they are accused of being antisemites. Anti-Zionist is a different story, and they are willing conscripts in this army. But the visceral hatred of Israel, especially on the left, is entirely out of proportion to Israel's alleged "human rights crimes," especially when compared to those of many Muslim majority or African nations, where the human rights atrocities are enormous and the criticism by Europeans or their governments quite restrained. When only the one Jewish state is singled out for such withering hatred and scorn, how can this not be evidence of a "special treatment" attributable to its being a Jewish state?

Sometimes the mask of the separation of anti-Israel from antisemitism slips. Alan Dershowitz provides the story of one Norwegian professor, Trond Adresen, who, while arguing for an academic boycott of Israel, issued this "gem":

"There is something immensely self-satisfied and self-centered at the tribal mentality that is so prevalent among Jews. . . . [They] as a whole, are characterized by this mentality. . . . It is no less legitimate to say such a thing about Jews in 2008-2009 than it was to make the same point about the Germans around 1938."

This is a common technique of the European antisemite: Accuse Jews today of behaving like Nazis in 1938. This is a double stroke for a country like Norway, where much of the population actively collaborated with the Nazis; it provides an opportunity to make the Jews the new Nazis, and absolves the sins of their own country's criminal past.

Daniel Bernard, the French ambassador to Britain, who decried that "shitty little country" (Israel) for causing all the world's problems, reflects an unstated, but widespread belief in Europe that Israel (and its troublesome Jews), are just not worth the world's attention anymore. Better to be done with them.

In the Arab world, there is no longer any serious attempt to separate attitudes about Israel from attitudes about Jews. The group MEMRI assembled an astonishing collection of comments by Arabs and Muslims dripping with hatred for Jews, and making quite clear, that eliminating Israel is only the beginning, since the Jews are the real problem.

The Palestinian Authority, the ostensibly "moderate" peace partner for Israel, as well as countries at peace with Israel such as Egypt, have invested in antisemitic incitement, relying on every medieval stereotype about Jews that can be found. Eliminationism as a strategy to resolve the "Jewish question", was couched in bureaucratic jargon at Wannsee, but is not necessary for the mullahs in Iran, or for many of the other modern "prophets" of radical Islam.

The United States has been a unique country in Jewish history. Jews have flourished in America as in no other country other than Israel itself. And the U.S has been a stalwart supporter of Israel, resisting, for the most part, the appeals of its European allies and Arab world allies to distance itself from the Jewish state. But as one article in this new volume makes clear, even in a city like Chicago, home to a quarter million Jews, major universities and cultural institutions have been infected with the anti-Israel and antisemitic virus, often under the noses of the institutions' leaders, who are seemingly unaware of how radicals have seized control and transformed them.

The Vidal Sassoon Center's work is a solid contribution to gaining an understanding of modern anti-Semitism. But the problem they address seems to be growing, and becoming more virulent in many parts of the world. The tone of the articles in this volume is moderate, academic, and dispassionate. The ideology the writers have examined is none of these.