The New Anti-Semitism: Graffiti on the Walls of History

By Zuckerman, Mortimer B. | UN Chronicle, December 2004 | Go to article overview

The New Anti-Semitism: Graffiti on the Walls of History


Zuckerman, Mortimer B., UN Chronicle


Winston Churchill was premature in his declaration that "all the isms are wasms". In the twentieth century, fascism came and went, communism came and went, socialism came and waned. But today, several "isms" of extraordinary virulence still inhabit the world: anti-Americanism has burgeoned around the world and so, too, has atavistic anti-Semitism and its twentieth-century version, anti-Zionism. These latter "isms" of hatred and destruction are graffiti on the walls of history. The new anti-Semitism is not exclusively hostile to this or that individual Jew, or to Judaism. It is directed primarily against the Jewish collective, the modern State of Israel.

Just as historic anti-Semitism has denied individual Jews the right to live as equal members of society, anti-Zionism denies the collective expression of the Jewish people, the State of Israel, the right to live as an equal member of the family of nations. Its policies are subject to criticism that in effect singles out Israel when others in similar circumstances would escape criticism. Surely if any other country were bleeding from terrorism at the same rate as Israel, there would be no question of its right to defend itself, whether against armies organized by hostile States or against violence organized by terrorist groups. But Israel's efforts to perform the minimal function of protecting its own citizens is routinely portrayed as hateful aggression.

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To complain that such portrayals are unfair and illogical is not to dismiss all criticism of the Israeli Government as anti-Semitic. A democracy must welcome critics, and Israel is a democracy. The Israelis criticize their Government and their society ceaselessly and with great intensity in their free press, their parliament and even through their courts. But for many, the criticism of Israel has become so perverse, so persistent, so divorced from the reality on the ground, that it can be seen only as emotional anti-Semitism hiding behind the political mask of anti-Zionism. In Europe and the Muslim world--even in Asia--traditional anti-Semitism has resurfaced as anti-Zionism, focused on the Jews of Israel, the role of Israel and for some on the Jews of the United States and their support of Israel. The focus of post-war anti-Semitism has shifted to an attack on the collective expression of contemporary Jewish existence: the State of Israel. Israel, in effect, is emerging as the collective Jew among nations.

It dates from the 1967 Arab-Israeli war that transformed the image of the Jew. Shylock was replaced by a new all-powerful Jew, cartooned as an aggressive, excessive, brutal collective called Israel. The image of the "plucky little Jewish State" withered with the retention of the territories Israel seized when the war was over. In the succeeding years, as Israel responded again and again to Arab attacks, sympathy for Israel eroded further. The images that filled the world's television screens tended to be not of terrorists but of armed Israelis responding to terror, and the explanatory word "responding" often got lost in the chaos. The TV pictures of armed Israeli forces seemed to imply that Israelis were guilty of a disproportionate use of force, for they were rarely accompanied by the understanding that a country with a small population of 5 million, concentrated in a narrow strip of land located in a sea of over 100 million Arabs, could never fight a war of equal attrition; that would be inevitably a losing strategy, so Israel had to adopt the approach of a disproportionate military response in order to maximize the possibility of deterring further attacks.

The impact of television has been the handmaiden of a long and subtle process for the de-legitimization of Israel. TV stories on the Middle East today are not framed to the terms of the survival of Israel, nor on the security of the States of that region, but on self-determination for the Palestinian Arabs. …

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