Hating Jews: When Do Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism Overlap?

By Young, Cathy | Reason, February 2004 | Go to article overview
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Hating Jews: When Do Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism Overlap?


Young, Cathy, Reason


LAST NOVEMBER, AN arson attack against a Jewish school in Paris prompted Le Monde, a left-leaning daily hardly known for pro-Israeli sympathies, to editorialize that "disapproval and condemnation of Israel's policy in the Palestinian territories have clearly lowered the barrier--already unclear to some--between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism"

The resurgence of anti-Semitism worldwide, fueled largely by the backlash against Israel since the start of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, has been the subject of much heated discussion. At the heart of the debate is the question: Has criticism of Israeli policies become a vehicle and a cover for anti-Jewish prejudices that are otherwise unspeakable in polite society?

Or, conversely, has the charge of anti-Semitism become an all-too-convenient way to silence critics of Israel and of the policies of Ariel Sharon's government?

It is beyond dispute that the hatred of Israel that now emanates from large sections of the Arab and Muslim worlds is intertwined with the most virulent strain of Jew-hatred.

A typical example is the screed delivered by Malaysia's then-prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, to the 10th Islamic Summit in October 2003, in which he declared that "the Jews rule this world by proxy" and mused that "they invented and successfully promoted socialism, communism, human rights, and democracy" as means to gain that control. For years now, the mostly government-run media in Arab countries, including "moderate" ones such as Egypt, have been feeding their audiences a stream of anti-Semitic vitriol that would do Nazi Germany proud.

Some of this fare is documented in the new book The Return of Anti-Semitism (Encounter Books), by Commentary Senior Editor Gabriel Schoenfeld. There's the recycling of anti-Semitic forgeries and canards, including the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There's Holocaust denial, sometimes accompanied by expressions of regret that the Holocaust didn't happen. There's the reappearance of the "blood libel" that accuses the Jews of using the blood of Gentile children in their rituals.

It has also been obvious for some time that the anti-Israeli backlash in Western Europe has been accompanied by a disturbing surge in literal Jew bashing--almost all of it perpetrated by Arab immigrant youths. From Paris to Berlin to Amsterdam, Jews wearing religious garb or Stars of David have been beaten, synagogues have been firebombed, and rocks have been thrown at buses carrying Jewish schoolchildren.

But things get murky when it comes to the charge that anti-Semitism manifests itself in much of the hostility directed at Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. Schoenfeld unequivocally endorses this view as he documents the vilification of Israel by respectable European intellectuals and the European media. Even in the United States, he claims, support for the Palestinian cause on progressive, multicultural campuses such as Berkeley has been tainted with Jew baiting.

This charge has been made by others, notably Harvard President Lawrence Summers in a speech delivered in late 2002. While Summers was careful to note that "there is much to be debated about the Middle East and much in Israel's foreign and defense policy that can be and should be vigorously challenged," some accused him of seeking to stifle legitimate debate on these issues by equating criticism of Israel with bigotry.

Sorting out the rights and wrongs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is beyond the scope of this column. Schoenfeld makes a convincing case that European media coverage has been skewed. Israeli retaliation for terrorist acts often has received far more attention than the terrorist acts themselves; civilian casualties in operations primarily directed at military targets have been equated with murderous violence that intentionally targets civilians.

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