Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Antisemitism, Anti-Israelism, Anti-Americanism

Magazine article Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought

Antisemitism, Anti-Israelism, Anti-Americanism

Article excerpt

IF HISTORY IS OUR TEACHER, WE CAN EXPECT THAT THE pain of events emanating from Iraq and the Middle East will increasingly be laid at the feet of Israel. That dangerous game has renewed an old debate: which comes first, hatred of Jews or hatred of Israel? It has become customary to ascribe all anti-Israelism, a term that has come to describe a systematic prejudice against Israel, to antisemitism. As Hillel Halkin put it, "the new anti-Israelism is nothing but the old antisemitism in disguise." (1) Some prefer the formulation that the new antisemitism is nothing but the old antisemitism in the guise of anti-Israelism.

In effect, these formulations do not recognize the existence of prejudice against Israel except as a function of prejudice against all Jews as such. This perception is largely shared by American Jews, according to Stephen Cohen's recent survey. (2) Of course, it is tempting just to merge the two pathologies. One prejudice is directed against the presupposed negative characteristics of an entire ethnic/religious group; the other is directed against the presupposed negative policies and proclivities of a nation-state, which, in this case, is largely peopled by that ethnic/religious group. One can easily be suspicious.

But a systematic prejudice against Israel is identifiable as a discrete phenomenon, dangerous in its own terms, whether it is or is not caused by antisemitism. It can be identified in its own sphere and with its own particulars, by the universal symptoms, the Four Horsemen of all prejudice: prejudgment, stereotype, double standard, scapegoat. These symptoms are also the tools of all prejudice, and have some similar consequences. At the minimum, they wipe out rational debate about problems or conflicts, and--with immoral and inhuman effect--they strive to demonize and delegitimate the target, whether ethnic group or nation-state.

There is a new surge of antisemitism in the world, and much prejudice against Israel is driven by such antisemitism. But the conventional formulations exclude the existence of a powerful factor other than antisemitism--namely, a particular set of ideological worldviews that create prejudice against Israel as a nation-state and must be dealt with independently.

Paul Berman, a liberal journalist and sometimes critic of Israel, recently expressed his alarm at such symptoms taking hold among a sector of activists and public intellectuals within his own circles. He quoted Jose Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner in literature, who said that a relatively restrained Israeli siege of Yasir Arafat's compound was "a crime comparable to Auschwitz." Berman commented that it "is fairly amazing how many otherwise serious writers have ended up choosing the same set of images to apply to the Jewish state." (3) He cited the sloganeering against Israeli policy makers as "murderers" by the same activist crowds that referred to Palestinian suicide bombers as "martyrs." He was especially alarmed because he personally knew that many of these intellectuals abhorred antisemitism.

In America and Europe, the telltale evidence of prejudice against Israel abounds in the media, on university campuses, and in general among significant sectors of public intellectuals and political activists. But in otherwise astute Jewish circles, there is a puzzling resistance to the idea that such prejudice often stems from something other than antisemitism. This resistance may begin with the failure to distinguish sharply enough between anti-Israelism (or antisemitism, for that matter) in the Arab/Muslim world and in the Western world.

The vilification of the Jews in the Koran was a product of the seventh-century conflict between Mohammed and the Jews, but as one scholar of that relationship, Meier Litwak, has pointed out, "for long periods, the Jews fared better in the Islamic world than in the Christian countries. …

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