Correcting the Rise of Political Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism is politically motivated. In Germany, the Nazis targeted the Jews in part because they represented liberal democracy and emancipation, the antithesis of everything that an authoritarian Nazi Germany stood for.
It was the same back in authoritarian Catholic Spain that viewed the Jews as outside their theological control yet prospering in their society and led to the expulsions and inquisition of Spanish and later Portuguese Jews. It was as political in its motives as it was religious.
We saw it under authoritarian Soviet communism where Jews were the scapegoat, as they had been under tsarist rule.
We see it in the drive of intolerant Islamic dominance of which the Palestinian problem is a part. Jews are constantly the target. Almost a million Jews were driven out of Arab countries in a regional wave of anti-Semitism that still festers despite the absence of Jews. Anti-Semitism is embedded in both the Hamas and Palestinian charters.
In every case, brutal regimes selected a Jewish face as a target for their repression. They blamed Jews for all the ills of their societies and the world.
Politically, they point to successful Jews not as having contributed to their society but as misdemeanors, inventing conspiracies and plots against a state or a religion. This was the trope of Jews plotting to control the world, and the purported global influence and power of Jews or Zionists -they are interchangeable -- as predicted in the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a rabid anti-Semitic screed that, alongside Mein Kampf, is a best-seller in much of the Arab world today.
It’s important to see it as a political tool, a platform, if you will, of political forces imposing themselves on the masses by bringing them to oppose the Jews as the perceived enemy, a ploy that brings them to power, or allows them to hold on to power.
We see attempts at this power play in Greece with the Golden Dawn party or with Jobbik in Hungary that use Jews as a platform on which to tread up the political ladder, dragging the uninformed and ignorant masses with them.
It’s the organization of politics against the Jews. We are seeing that being played out today against Israel.
In the Europe of Theodor Herzl, there were Jews who saw this force being brought against them because they were successful cosmopolitans but without a country of their own. Although they were successful insiders they were looked on as alien outsiders.
As mentioned earlier, this was true of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. It was so for Russian Jews and especially for Jews in the Nazi era. It equally applied to the Jews of Arab lands.
So the urge developed for Jews to have a country of their own in their ancient homeland, to become a country like any other, to be considered normal in their own land. They thought this would solve all their problems. It didn’t.
People like Herzl saw a Jewish state as saving liberalism. By removing the Jews, a country’s defects could not be blamed on the Jews. If no Jews were there, so it was believed, they would have no one to blame. It would put an end to anti-Semitism. How wrong they were! They misunderstood the variables of anti-Semitism.
The Arabs saw the opportunity of using Jews as a political lightning rod to concentrate attention away from their own defects, divisions, internal unrest, and poverty by drawing the grievances of their people away from their failed leadership onto an enemy that was perceived to be exploiting them and dishonoring their religion -- the Jews.
Israel has misunderstood the nature of this Arab anti-Semitism. Leaders thought that if only Israel reached out in peace they would be welcomed, or at least be left alone. If only Israel won the wars waged against it by the losing Arab armies they would appreciate Israel’s strength and determination and leave Israel alone in peace. When Israel established its permanency, it was assumed, the Arabs would become reasonable. But when it comes to the Jews, nobody and nothing is reasonable.
Today we have a world that for various reasons is anchored in political ideologies, unified around a common theme of opposition to the collective Jew -- Israel. We have a world that obsessively pressures and threatens Israel to appease and ease their sensitivities by surrendering hallowed Jewish land to an enemy, playing down that enemy’s anti-Semitic tendencies. They think that by making the Jewish state do their bidding, they can return the anti-Semitic virus, both theirs and the Arabs, back into the capsule and lock it away. And if Israel does not comply with their demands, well, it’s those pesky Jews, don’t you know!
What are the Jews, what is Israel, to do about this phenomenon? The essential first thing to do is to stop playing the defendant. Once you accept the role and play the part of a defendant you lose the incentive to play the role of the prosecutor. You place yourself in the dock of the accused. This is what has happened to Jews through the ages. It is always the Jews that have been judged by others, never the other way round.
Jews through the ages have always looked for acceptance from the people and the nations in which they lived, yet hated or distrusted them. They rarely found that sanctuary. More often they were judged and prosecuted for crimes uncommitted. Jews were always automatically put on the defensive. Sadly, Israel has played this role all too often.
What Israel should have done in 1947 when the United Nations Partition Plan was rejected by the Arab nations, and later with the 1948 declaration of Israel’s independence, was to have demanded and prosecuted the Arab world to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. How dare they countermand a United Nations resolution that recognizes the establishment of a Jewish state? As members of the United Nations they were, and are, duty-bound to accept both the resolutions and their legitimacy.
Even today, noncompliant nations must be brought to book. They must, finally, be stopped from their dangerous rebellion against recognizing the right of Jewish state of Israel to exist. This brand of anti-Semitism has set back world peace for decades, has led to the deaths of thousands and the disaster that is today’s Middle East.
Israel must demand that world bodies reform their political thinking and stop imposing a different double standard to Israel and instead judge others by the norms they apply only against the Jewish state.
When we see European parliaments, one after the other, vote to recognize Palestine, we see cynical politicians cater to a rising constituency that will ensure their warm seats of power. We do not see right-minded politicians address the real context of the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict.
If Europe were truly against the plague of anti-Semitism they would admit to the anti-Semitic characteristics of an Arab-Palestinian cause they avidly support. They ought to be too horrified to stand shoulder to shoulder with it. Instead, they turn a blind eye to it and instead put their collective political weight, not against the anti-Semitic Palestinians, but onto the Jew among nations – Israel. This is wrong. Israel, Jews, and right-minded people must demand that European parliaments rescind their ill-advised recognition of a Palestinian state until a Palestinian leadership drops its violent and anti-Semitic language and intent.
The Arab and Muslim world, including Palestinian Arabs, must reform themselves, bottle up their anti-Semitism, right the wrongs of centuries, and work for a better world. Only then can we have a chance of amicably solving issues such as the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Barry Shaw is the author of Israel, Reclaiming the Narrative. He is also a member of the Knesset Forum on Israel’s Legitimacy, and Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues to the Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya Academic College in Israel.