The New Anti-Semitism

By Fischel, Jack R. | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview
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The New Anti-Semitism


Fischel, Jack R., The Virginia Quarterly Review


The New Anti-Semitism The case for Israel, by Alan M. Dershowitz. Wiley, August 2003. $19.95

The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do about It, by Phyllis Chesler. Jossey-Bass, July 2003. $24.95

Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe, by Pierre-André Taguieff. Ivan R. Dee, July 2004. $26

Never Again? by Abraham H. Foxman. HarperCollins, October 2003. $24.95

The Return of Anti-Semitism, by Gabriel Schoenfeld. Encounter, January 2004. $25.95

In the years preceding the establishment of Israel in 1948, Jews opposed to the creation of a Jewish state clashed with Zionists on how best to protect Jewish life in the wake of the Holocaust. Zionists contended that the Nazi extermination of the Jews conclusively proved the failure of assimilation in Europe, because anti-Semitism, in the words of Léon Pinsker, was a hereditary disease that could never be cured. Anti-Semitism, the argument went, would only disappear when Jews were secure in their own homeland. Contesting this conviction were not only assimilated Jews, frightened by the prospect of being accused of dual loyalty, but also those who identified with the universalism of the Left, whose ideological orientation viewed the nation-state as the source of a multitude of evils, and who regarded Zionism as yet another form of chauvinistic nationalism. They predicted that the creation of a Jewish state would lead to conflict with the more numerous Arab population, thus further exacerbating the already volatile situation that faced the Jewish settlements in Palestine. The Left, which included both Communists and Socialists (but not Labor Zionists), argued that the solution to centuries of anti-Semitism was not the creation of a future Israel, but for humankind to confront bigotry and eliminate the evils of prejudice, which included not only anti-Semitism in particular, but racism in general.

The divide between Zionists and "universalists" did not vanish with the formation of Israel. Subsequently, many on the left continued their opposition to Israel, calling instead for the creation of a democratic Palestinian state consisting of Arabs and Jews but shorn of its Jewish identity. At the same time, a coterie of hostile opponents, which included the Arab world, right-wing extremists, such as neo-Nazis, and Holocaust deniers, as well as traditional anti-Semites, rejected the very legitimacy of Israel and, as remains the case with Palestinian extremist groups, such as Hamas and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, called for the destruction of the Jewish state. As Alan Dershowitz points out in his The case for Israel, ever since its founding, Israel has had to defend its legitimacy in ways not required by the immigrants who settled Australia, or those who came to the United States and displaced the native American population. Dershowitz labels this double standard anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.

What is new about the "new" anti-Semitism, according to a spate of recent books, including Dershowitz's, is that the hatred of Jews has been cloaked behind a virulent anti-Zionism which holds the Jewish people everywhere responsible for the policies of the Israeli government in its conflict with the Palestinians. Phyllis Chesler, in her book The New Anti-Semitism, finds this especially prominent on the left, especially among her comrades in the feminist movement, where the new anti-Semitism masquerades as antiracism and anticolonialism. She concludes that inasmuch as anti-Jewish violence is justified by opposition to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, it has become politically and psychologically acceptable to be antiSemitic, despite increasing reports of the burning of synagogues and the vandalizing of cemeteries in Europe. Added to this situation is the silence of leftist intellectuals in response to suicide bombings in Israel, which reached endemic proportions during the past decade.

Yet in the years following World War II we could talk about the waning of anti-Semitism in the wake of our unfolding knowledge of the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

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