The trajectory of a long-running campaign that
gave birth this month to the preposterous all-party
British parliamentary report into anti-Semitism in the UK can be traced
back to intensive lobbying by the Israeli government that began more than four
years ago, in early 2002.
At that time, as Ariel Sharon was shredding the tattered remains of the Oslo
accords by re-invading West Bank towns handed over to the Palestinian Authority
in his destructive rampage known as Operation Defensive Shield, he drafted the
Israeli media into the fray. Local newspapers began endlessly highlighting concerns
about the rise of a "new anti-Semitism," a theme that was rapidly
and enthusiastically taken up by the muscular Zionist lobby in the U.S.
It was not the first time, of course, that Israel had called on American loyalists
to help it out of trouble. In Beyond
Chutzpah, Norman Finkelstein documents the advent of claims about a
new anti-Semitism to Israel's lackluster performance in the 1973 Yom Kippur
War. On that occasion, it was hoped, the charge of anti-Semitism could be deployed
against critics to reduce pressure on Israel to return Sinai to Egypt and negotiate
with the Palestinians.
Israel alerted the world to another wave of anti-Semitism in the early 1980s,
just as it came under unprecedented criticism for its invasion and occupation
of Lebanon. What distinguished the new anti-Semitism from traditional anti-Jewish
racism of the kind that led to Germany's death camps, said its promoters, was
that this time it embraced the progressive Left rather than the far Right.
The latest claims about anti-Semitism began life in the spring of 2002, with
the English-language Web site of Israel's respected liberal daily newspaper,
Ha'aretz, flagging for many months a special online supplement of articles
on the "New
Anti-Semitism," warning that the "age-old hatred" was being
revived in Europe and America. The refrain was soon taken up the Jerusalem
Post, a right-wing English-language newspaper regularly used by the Israeli
establishment to shore up support for its policies among Diaspora Jews.
Like its precursors, argued Israel's apologists, the latest wave of anti-Semitism
was the responsibility of progressive Western movements though with a
fresh twist. An ever present but largely latent Western anti-Semitism was being
stoked into frenzy by the growing political and intellectual influence of extremist
Muslim immigrants. The implication was that an unholy alliance had been spawned
between the Left and militant Islam.
Such views were first aired by senior members of Sharon's cabinet. In an interview
in the Jerusalem Post in November 2002, for example, Benjamin
Netanyahu warned that latent anti-Semitism was again becoming active:
"In my view, there are many in Europe who oppose anti-Semitism, and
many governments and leaders who oppose anti-Semitism, but the strain exists
there. It is ignoring reality to say that it is not present. It has now been
wedded to and stimulated by the more potent and more overt force of anti-Semitism,
which is Islamic anti-Semitism coming from some of the Islamic minorities in
European countries. This is often disguised as anti-Zionism."
Netanyahu proposed "lancing the boil" by beginning an aggressive public
relations campaign of "self-defense." A month later Israel's president,
Moshe Katsav, picked on the softest target of all, warning during a state visit
that the fight against anti-Semitism must begin in Germany, where "voices
of anti-Semitism can be heard."
But, as ever, the main target of the new anti-Semitism campaign were audiences
in the U.S., Israel's generous patron. There, members of the Israel lobby were
turning into a chorus of doom.
In the early stages of the campaign, the lobby's real motivation was not
concealed: it wanted to smother a fledgling debate by American civil society,
particularly the churches and universities, to divest withdraw their substantial
investments from Israel in response to Operation Defensive Shield.
In October 2002, after Israel had effectively reoccupied the West Bank, the
ever reliable Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, lumped
in critics who were calling for divestment from Israel with the new anti-Semites.
He urged a new body established by the Israeli government called the Forum for
Coordinating the Struggle Against Anti-Semitism to articulate clearly "what
we know in our hearts and guts: when that line [to anti-Semitism] is crossed."
A fortnight later Foxman had got into his stride, warning that Jews were more
vulnerable than at any time since the Second World War. "I did not believe
in my lifetime that I or we would be preoccupied on the level that we are, or
[face] the intensity of anti-Semitism that we are experiencing," he told
the Jerusalem Post.
Echoing Netanyahu's warning, Foxman added that the rapid spread of the new anti-Semitism
had been made possible by the communications revolution, mainly the Internet,
which was allowing Muslims to relay their hate messages across the world within
seconds, infecting people around the globe.
It is now clear that Israel and its loyalists had three main goals in mind as
they began their campaign. Two were familiar motives from previous attempts at
highlighting a "new anti-Semitism." The third was new.
The first aim, and possibly the best understood, was to stifle all criticism
of Israel, particularly in the U.S. During the course of 2003 it became increasingly
apparent to journalists like myself that the American media, and soon much of
the European media, was growing shy of printing even the mild criticism of Israel
it usually allowed. By the time Israel began stepping up the pace of construction
of its monstrous wall across the West Bank in spring 2003, editors were reluctant
to touch the story.
As the fourth estate fell silent, so did many of the progressive voices in
our universities and churches. Divestment was entirely removed from the agenda.
McCarthyite organizations like Campus
Watch helped enforce the reign of intimidation. Academics who stood their
ground, like Columbia University's Joseph
Massad, attracted the vindictive attention of new activist groups like the
A second, less noticed, goal was an urgent desire to prevent any slippage in the
numbers of Jews inside Israel that might benefit the Palestinians as the two ethnic
groups approached demographic parity in the area know to Israelis as Greater Israel
and to Palestinians as historic Palestine.
Demography had been a long-standing obsession of the Zionist movement: during
the 1948 war, the Israeli army terrorized away or forcibly removed some 80 percent
of the Palestinians living inside the borders of what became Israel to guarantee
its new status as a Jewish state.
But by the turn of the millennium, following Israel's occupation of the West
Bank and Gaza in 1967, and the rapid growth of the oppressed Palestinian populations
both in the occupied territories and inside Israel, demography had been pushed
to the top of Israel's policy agenda again.
During the second Intifada, as the Palestinians fought back against Israel's war
machine with a wave of suicide bombs on buses in major Israeli cities, Sharon's
government feared that well-off Israeli Jews might start to regard Europe and
America as a safer bet than Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. The danger was that the demographic
battle might be lost as Israeli Jews emigrated.
By suggesting that Europe in particular had become a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism,
it was hoped that Israeli Jews, many of whom have more than one passport, would
be afraid to leave. A survey by the Jewish Agency taken as early as May 2002
showed, for example, that 84 percent of Israelis believed anti-Semitism had
again become a serious threat to world Jewry.
At the same time, Israeli politicians concentrated their attention on the
two European countries with the largest Jewish populations, Britain and France,
both of which also have significant numbers of immigrant Muslims. They highlighted
a supposed rise in anti-Semitism in these two countries in the hope of attracting
their Jewish populations to Israel.
In France, for example, peculiar anti-Semitic attacks were given plenty of
media coverage: from a senior
rabbi who was stabbed (apparently by himself, as it later turned out) to
a young woman attacked on a train by anti-Semitic thugs (except, as it later
emerged, she was not
Jewish and she faked the assault).
Sharon took advantage of the manufactured climate of fear in July 2004 to claim
that France was in the grip of "the wildest anti-Semitism," urging French
Jews to come to Israel.
The third goal, however, had not seen before. It tied the rise of a new anti-Semitism
to the increase of Islamic fundamentalism in the West, implying that Muslim
extremists were asserting an ideological control over Western thinking. It chimed
well with the post 9/11 atmosphere.
In this spirit, American Jewish academics such as Daniel
Goldhagen characterized anti-Semitism as constantly "evolving."
In a piece entitled "The
Globalization of Anti-Semitism" published in the American Jewish weekly
Forward in May 2003, Goldhagen argued that Europe had exported its classical
racist anti-Semitism to the Arab world, which in turn was re-infecting the West.
"Then the Arab countries re-exported the new hybrid demonology back
to Europe and, using the United Nations and other international institutions,
to other countries around the world. In Germany, France, Great Britain, and
elsewhere, today's intensive anti-Semitic expression and agitation uses old
tropes once applied to local Jews charges of sowing disorder, wanting
to subjugate others with new content overwhelmingly directed at Jews
outside their countries."
This theory of a "free-floating" contagion of hatred toward Jews,
being spread by Arabs and their sympathizers through the Internet, media, and
international bodies, found many admirers. The British neoconservative journalist
Melanie Philips claimed popularly, if ludicrously, that British identity was
being subverted and pushed out by an Islamic identity that was turning her country
into a capital of terror, "Londonistan."
This final goal of the proponents of "the new anti-Semitism" was
so successful because it could be easily conflated with other ideas associated
with America's War on Terror, such as the clash of civilizations. If it was
"us" versus "them," then the new anti-Semitism posited from
the outset that the Jews were on the side of the angels. It fell to the Christian
West to decide whether to make a pact with good (Judaism, Israel, civilization)
or evil (Islam, Osama bin Laden, Londonistan).
We are far from reaching the end of this treacherous road, both because the
White House is bankrupt of policy initiatives apart from its War on Terror,
and because Israel's place is for the moment assured at the heart of the U.S.
administration's neoconservative agenda.
That was made clear last week when Netanyahu, the most popular politician in Israel,
added yet another layer of lethal mischief to the neoconservative spin machine
as it gears up to confront Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu compared
Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Adolf Hitler.
"Hitler went out on a world campaign first, and then tried to get nuclear
weapons. Iran is trying to get nuclear arms first. Therefore from that perspective,
it is much more dangerous," Netanyahu told Israel's anti-terrorism policymakers.
Netanyahu's implication was transparent: Iran is looking for another Final Solution,
this one targeting Israel as well as world Jewry. The moment of reckoning is near
at hand, according to Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, who claims against
all the evidence that Iran is only months away from possessing nuclear weapons.
"International terrorism is a mistaken term," Netanyahu added, "not
because it doesn't exist, but because the problem is international militant Islam.
That is the movement
that operates terror on the international level, and
that is the movement that is preparing the ultimate terror, nuclear terrorism."
Faced with the evil designs of the "Islamic fascists," such as those
in Iran, Israel's nuclear arsenal and the nuclear holocaust Israel can
and appears prepared to unleash may be presented as the civilized world's