The ‘new new antisemitism’ of denial
The great Jewish British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, once quipped, “Antisemitism is hating Jews more than is strictly necessary.” This humorous definition was quite valid in merry old England, but the times they are a-changing. Nowadays, antisemites go well above and beyond the strictly necessary, to put it mildly, and are easily recognised by their infinite propensity for denial. “Who me? How dare you call me an antisemite! I’m opposed only to Zionists, I’m just calling a spade a spade when it comes to Israel, why are you censoring criticism of Israel with your heavy-handed control of the media?” I’m sure you’ve heard something to that effect here, there, and everywhere lately. Obviously, replacing “Jews” with “Zionists” in the same old verbal mould we only know too well and fools no-one. No-one of good faith, that is. And as for censoring criticism of Israel, one does wonder how come there’s so much of it about if we Jews – oops – Zionists – control the media. Someone’s not doing their job!
I’ll tell you who’s an antisemite. Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred. And it can manifest itself, among other variations, as drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel. But don’t take my word for it. I’m Israeli, and we’re known for practicing overstatement, aren’t we? It just so happens that this definition isn’t Israeli: it was drafted by an inter-governmental institution set up by the government of Sweden and known as the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance). Its working definition was so pertinent, it found its challengers no sooner than it was drafted. These objectors thought it was giving Israel a free pass, and came up with an alternative definition titled the “Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism”. After emitting polite reservation, they conclude in their text that antisemitism is, among many other things, “Applying the symbols, images, and negative stereotypes of classical antisemitism to the state of Israel. And holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct or treating Jews, simply because they are Jewish, as agents of Israel.” We Israelis call this kind of thing “a sharp 360-degree curve”.
We’ve experienced a lot of this since the outburst of the second intifada in 2000, when we called this the “new antisemitism”. Since 7 October, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented tsunami of verbal abuse, justification of atrocities, and physical violence. We can sadly call this the “new new antisemitism”. Here’s what makes it different: denial and context, or lack thereof.
A deplorable phenomenon which is rising from the margins of society is the denial of the Hamas massacre. This denialism, resembling in method and in audience the infamous Holocaust denial, is very much present on the fringe of social networks, but it’s gaining ground in mainstream circles. Notable personalities, some more respectable than others, have voiced this denial: Queen Rania of Jordan; Palestinian leaders Hanan Ashrawi and Mustafa Barghouti; rock star Roger Waters; journalist Max Blumenthal; and web influencer Jackson Hinkle. Needless to say, that denial of antisemitic violence – wrought upon Jews because they’re Jews – is in itself undeniably antisemitic, under all definitions.
As for context, we’ve heard the United Nations secretary general say that the Hamas atrocities didn’t happen in a vacuum, and a plethora of pundits were quick to explain that there was a context to this unbelievable horror. The context being of course all kinds of evil done by Israel, which was prone to bring about a backlash, claim these commentators who respond with gushing and disdainful self-righteousness when reminded that this argument is a borderline justification of the atrocities. But have you noticed that “context” is always provided by these intellectual contextualisers for the Palestinians, never for Israel. Israel appears to act, not to react. And it does so for no apparent reason, with no argument, reasoning, or motive. Could it be that Israel had been wronged in any way that may have caused it to adopt a certain measure or a specific policy? No context there. Therefore Israel is, for these keen observers, automatically on the wrong side of events. That may not be defined as antisemitic, granted. But one must admit that it does smell sickeningly bad all the same.
Having said all that, let’s take a lucid look at realities under the surface of daily news: the sharp rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in most countries with a significant Jewish population is, indeed, unprecedented. It’s estimated at hundreds of percent, and continuing.
However, it’s essential to note that polls conducted in countries with the largest Jewish communities – the United States, France, Canada, United Kingdom, and Germany – show that the majority of respondents tend to understand, and indeed support, Israel in this conflict, or at least hold a balanced view.
This means that the pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas rallies with their assortment of antisemitic incidents are attributable to a very noisy, extremely visible crowd, made of activists, politicians, and groups ranging from the far right to the far left, Islamists included, which are nonetheless a minority in their country. With a disproportionate nuisance capacity, certainly, but a minority all the same. Let’s not forget, in our darkest hour, that we still have dear friends everywhere, and even if their voice is momentarily covered by the sound and fury of ignorants, extremists, and hypocrites, it’s with their support and fraternity that we shall prevail.
- Yigal Palmor is the head of international relations at the Jewish Agency.