Sunday, March 23, 2008

The State Department's Trivialization of Anti-Semitism

Why the US Department of State wastes US taxpayers' money preparing a sloppy report on global anti-semitism is beyond me. Well, it is not beyond me; Jewish organizations lobby Congress, and Congress earmarks the money for the Dept. of State, all part of the propaganda war for Israel.

The report reinforces what we all know: that the so-called "new anti-semitism" is almost always disguised anti-Israelism, and that when the body count of Palestinians rises, so do incidents of anti-semitism throughout the world. That is why during the 1990s, anti-semitism waned, and during the 2000's, and especially during times of conflict, anti-semitism rose. Of course, there is still anti-semitism that is only tangentially linked to Israel, if at all, e.g., in Russia, and among the rightwing. But most anti-semitism is a front for anti-Zionism, and not vice-versa.

The State Department report looks like it could have been composed by Phyllis Chesler; even Abe Foxman's ADL would have been produced something more nuanced. We are treated to the familiar false dichotomy between "legitimate criticism of Israel's policies" (although we are never given examples) and illegitimate criticism of Zionism or Jewish self-determination, as if to be an anti-Zionist makes you an anti-semite.

If you believe that, then you have trivialized anti-semitism and inter alia you are guilty of rabid anti-Palestinianism, because Palestinians (understandably) oppose Zionism. (And yet it is considered legitimate for Israelis to oppose the return of the Palestinian refugees; nobody calls that a thwarting of Palestinian nationalist aspirations.) But of course, requiring the Palestinians to accept Israel as legitimate, and if not, they will be branded as anti-semites, is part of the double-standard employed by those who claim that the Jews have a right to a state of their own in Palestine at the expense of the native Palestinians.

The State Department, not surprisingly, bashes the UN for its imbalanced treatment of Israel; of course, it doesn't view United States's support of Israel as lopsided. Still, the report makes it very clear that it is not accusing the member-nations of the UN as harboring anti-semitic motives, but rather that it plays in the hands of antisemites. Of course, this distinction is missed entirely by David Harris of the American Jewish Comittee who writes

"By exposing the use of anti-Jewish tropes and anti-Israel measures by government and non-governmental bodies, especially in the UN, the report makes it clear that anti-Semitism is not simply found in crude and uneducated circles. It can be found in some of the world's most respected institutions," said Harris.

The State Department report does not say or imply that anti-Semitism is found in the United Nations. But that doesn't matter to David Harris, who wishes to demonize the United Nations as part of "Israel advocacy."

The State Department has adopted the European Union working definition of antisemitism, which considers as antisemitic "comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany." So, according to this definition, for example, it is antisemitic to point out that the Israel government adopted the Nuremberg racial definition of 'Who is a Jew" for the purpose of establishing Jewish descent. Now, it may be outrageous and ridiculous to compare actions of the state of Israel with that of the Nazis. But why is that anti-semitic?

The report considers the charge of "dual loyalty" on the same par as the charge of "blood libel." Now, I know many Jews who are openly more loyal to the state of Israel than to the country of which they are citizens, and they are proud of that loyalty. But I don't know of any Jews who use the blood of Christian children for their matzot. By considering both of these charges "libels" the report demeans and trivializes the "blood libel" charge.

But more than that -- when there was no Jewish state, then it made sense to consider "dual loyalty" to be an anti-semitic canard. But when Zionists themselves have made the argument that Israel is the homeland of all the Jews -- not the spiritual homeland but the actual homeland -- when Zionists from David Ben-Gurion to A. B. Yehoshua have claimed that you cannot be a complete Jew in the diaspora, and that the state of Israel is the nation state of the Jews, then this Zionist demand is not for dual loyalty, but for sole loyalty to the state of Israel.

When will anti-Israelism be legitimately considered as anti-semitism? When the state of Israel becomes a nation-state of the Israeli nation, composed of various religions and ethnicities. Until that time, the Zionists can't have it both ways. They cannot claim that all Jews are citizens of the state of Israel in potentia by virtue of their religio-ethnic affiliation, and simultaneously claim that world Jewry cannot be judged by the actions of Israeli Jews.

Of course, all ethnic and religious generalizations are morally pernicious, and neither Israelis nor Palestinians should suffer for the sins of their leaders, or their terrorists (often the same.) Anti-semitism is hideous bigotry, as is anti-Arabism, and all sorts of racial and ethnic prejudice. But Zionism, which was the biggest beneficiary of modern anti-semitism, from the Dreyfus affair through the Russian pogroms, through the German holocaust, through the communist Judaeophobia, and through the Arab antisemitism that drove out the Arab Jews "back to their real homeland," cannot wash its hands of the responsibility for some of the "new anti-Semitism" no more than the United States, by virtue of its horrendous foreign policy under the current president, can wash its hands of its responsibility for anti-Americanism around the globe.

If you believe that anti-semitism is not fueled by the actions of Israel (a lot more so than by the actions of the UN General Assembly), then you insult Zionism and Israel. For you claim, against Zionism, that a Jewish state does not empower Jews, that it is not an agent in world history, that the Jews are not now masters of their destiny. You say that Israel's actions have no effect on others, that the Jews are as passive, marginal, and as weak, as they were, according to Zionism, during the period of exile.

What does the State Department's accusation against the UN remind me of? Of the pathetic attempt to attribute Palestinian hatred of Israelis to, ribono shel olam, their friggin' textbooks. As if the checkpoints, the closures, the wall, the mass arrests and imprisonments, the expulsions, the settlements, the massive expropriation of land, have no effect on Palestinian attitudes towards their occupiers.

It's their bloody textbooks! Without them, they would fight among themselves to be our hewers of wood and drawers of water!

Even by its own standards the State Department fails to make a convincing case against the United Nations. For it has to show not that the UN singles out Israel for criticism when there are worse human rights violators. It has to show that it singles out Israel for criticism when there are other putative Western democracies doing the same thing that Israel does. You see, the European Union's working definition of anti-semitism doesn't just refer to double-standards; it refers to double-standards with reference to democratic nations. And so the evidence supplied in the State Department's report about the UN's failing to criticize the Sudan over Darfur has no relevance at all to the double-standard criterion for anti-semitism adopted by the Europeans. Now, it may be that if the US occupies and creates American settlements in Iraq on a longeterm basis, and this is not equally criticized by the UN, then there will be a case for the charge of anti-semitism.

The report gets worse: The British boycott against Israeli academic universities is considered antisemitic because some of the boycotters compared Israel's actions to those of the Nazis. The boycott of Israel by the Canadian Union of Public Employees is cited as an example of antisemitic demonization of Israel because the union's resolution refers to "Israeli apartheid." So if you suggest that Israel's policies constitute apartheid, you are, according to the State Department, anti-semitic. (Well, I guess some Haaretz writers are anti-semitic...hang on, didn't Ehud Olmert say that Israel would become apartheid if it didn't evacuate the territories?) A cartoon published in the Guardian is considered antisemitic because it uses the Star of David, which, as any idiot knows, is a symbol of the modern State of Israel.

To deny that the Jewish people have a right to an ethnic-state of their own in a land claimed by others is not anti-semitism, classical or new. It is anti-Zionism, or to be precise, anti-political-Zionism. To call that anti-semitism is to trivialize and cheapen anti-semitism, as it is to libel the many people, Jews and non-Jews, who opposed and oppose political Zionism because it is bad for the Jews.

Now that's what I would call anti-semitism.

And what about the double-standard of spending thousands of dollars on producing a report about anti-semitism, with nary a dollar spent on Islamophobia, or Arab-bashing?

Walt and Mearsheimer, take note.


Unknown said...

"The State Department report looks like it could have been composed by Phyllis Chesler..."

You jest, but it prob. was...well, maybe not by Chesler. But certainly by David Harris or Howard Kohr or any number of Israel lobby types. I have no doubt State solicited memos fr. all of them & just inserted entire passages into the final report without even editing them.

The whole thing reeks of Israel lobby rhetoric. I remember when I read the first news story about the rpt. & my heart sank. I thought: "Oh God just what the world needs is more of this propaganda bulls(^t."

Anonymous said...

I agree with your arguments but one point is questionable : "comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany." such comparisons are very constant in the political vocabulary of many pro-palestinian european leftists. they are not only outrageous but also antisemitic. Israël is not a nazi state, that's the facts. the nazification of Israël has only one reason : to erase european-occidental guilt in the genocide of the Jews. people who operate this comparison have very bad reasons, their relationships to Jewsand jewish questions are nauseous. it's a modality of modern antisemitism.

Jerry Haber said...


Let's see where we agree and where we don't agree.

We agree that comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany can be motivated by anti-semitism.

We agree that some of those comparisons are immoral and outrageous, not to mention in bad taste.

But you seem to think that such comparisons are necessarily motivated by anti-semitism, even where the person making the comparison disavows being anti-Semitic but explicitly considers herself to be anti-Zionist. Here I disagree. I cannot believe, for example, that when a rightwing Jew compares Afafat to Hitler, or Palestinian ideology to Nazi ideology, that the person is a racist or anti-Arabs. He generally is, but I don't see the necessary connection. And if he were quick to point out that his argument is with Palestinian nationalist ideology, and with individuals, not with Palestinians as people, then I would not consider him to be racist and anti-Palestinian.

As for "european-occidental" guilt in the Holocaust, of for colonialism, I don't believe that in this day and age there is or should be any. There should be regret and sensitivity but not guilt. Anyway, it is a queer kind of guilt that makes other people, i.e., the Palestinians, pay for your sins.

What I hold, following Brian Klug, is that the new-antisemitism is generally, and essentially, really anti-Zionism or anti-Israelism. There are people who tap into classical anti-semitic motifs (world conspiracy of the Jews, etc.) in order to go after Zionism. That doesn't make their statements less anti-Semitic. But it shows that their real motivation is Zionism, and not even Zionism tout court, but the Zionist project in Palestine.

Joachim Martillo said...

The State Department is not the only US government organization that disseminates this type of nonsense.

Please take a look at Civil Rights for Some Americans -- US Commission on Civil Rights Serves Jewish Privilege: An E-Mail Exchange with Abigail Thernstrom.

Anyway, the claim that comparison or equations of the State of Israel with Nazi Germany are illegitimate or constitute anti-Semitism is simply an illegitimate attempt to control discourse.

Jews were major players in the intellectual milieu that gave birth to German Nazism. German Nazi ideas and Zionist ideology have many points of contact as Victor Klemperer, George Mosse, Hayyim Nahman Bialik and many others have all correctly pointed out.

To believe that Jews could not develop their own form of Nazism is in itself a racist belief in Jewish ethical superiority.

I discuss the issue in USHMM: National Thought Control.

Please note that the similarity most disturbing to me lies between Arthur Goldberg's ideas and certain German Nazi principles.

Goldberg was not an Israeli, but he was a supreme court justice and US UN ambassador.

He was bringing ideas that should have been beyond the pale of acceptability into mainstream US political discourse.

Unknown said...

Israel actually needs at least a few people who are anti-semitic against them, don't they? Seems to me that they use 'guilt' against people to help prod them to do their bidding. On the other hand, I believe they have a right to their soverignty every bit as much as the United States does against invasion.

Unknown said...

Just a question: weren't the 'Pharisees' the originators of the Nazi attitude?

Jerry Haber said...


In rabbinic Judaism (which is the most prevalent form of Judaism around), the Pharisees are the good guys.So I wouldn't put them on the side of Hitler. Yes, there are some outrageous statements against gentiles in the Talmud, but not more than any other culture's view of the other/foreginer/barbarian.