A Critique of Tony Lerman’s Why a ‘new antisemitism’ was invented
A Critique of Tony Lerman’s Why a ‘new antisemitism’ was invented
Photo posted in an ADL blog, Vitriol and Violence in European Anti-Israel Demonstrations as an illustration of ‘undeniably anti-Semitic expressions’ though it didn’t classify them as ‘new’, merely a manifestation of the old antisemitic Europe.
Tony’s article, reproduced below, is comprehensive contribution to understanding what ‘new anti-Semitism’ is, where it has come from and how it has developed, notwithstanding the caveat that Tony makes that he is painting with a broad brush which may lack nuance. I do, however, have some criticisms, of Tony’s thesis and it is in a spirit of friendly criticism that I make them, as we both share the basic assumption that the ‘new anti-Semitism’ is an artificial concept that has no real existence, outside the realm of propaganda.
|The old anti-Semitism - 5 Jews at the Belzec death camp - barely 4 Jews survived from this most secret of extermination camps|
My first disagreement with Tony is that he is unduly pessimistic. He highlights the campaign to try and prevent Brian Klug speaking at the Berlin Jewish museum in 2013 by a Clemens Heni. What Tony doesn’t say is that this effort, in the most pro-Zionist country in Europe, fell flat on its face. The list of ‘scholars’ Heni produced in support of his campaign included people like Richard Millett and Jonathan Hoffman, both propagandists without an iota of scholarly erudition, Gerald Steinberg of ‘Stand with us’, a Zionist pressure group whose contribution was that Klug was ‘an immoral anti-Zionist’. Or Col. Israel Kedar, an academic securocrat, whose main claim to fame is to advocate raping the mothers and sisters of ‘terrorists’ as a weapon of war [Israeli scholar: ‘Only raping the sisterof a terrorist can deter him’
|Anti-Semitism as most people understand it - The Nazis take pleasure in cutting the beard of an Orthodox Jew in Poland|
On a personal level, I have also spoken at many universities and campuses and almost without exception the Zionist Union of Jewish Students has attempted to prevent me speaking. On no occasion, apart from one instance at UCL, where they physically invaded the lecture hall, have they succeeded. At most universities and colleg
es they merely helped build my meetings and at the LSE, having failed to persuade the Labour Club that I was anti-Semitic, they ended up accusing Labour activists of being anti-Semites and fascists! [Beaver, paper of the LSE Union 10.11.86.]
es they merely helped build my meetings and at the LSE, having failed to persuade the Labour Club that I was anti-Semitic, they ended up accusing Labour activists of being anti-Semites and fascists! [Beaver, paper of the LSE Union 10.11.86.]
‘New anti-Semitism’ transforms anti-Semites into ‘friends of Jews’
The fundamental criticism that I have of Tony’s analysis is that it fails to understand the ‘new anti-Semitism in a wider context and therefore fails to see its weaknesses, which I suggest are a product of its weakness and internal contradictions. Has it gained traction, who with, has it been successful and what is the role of this pernicious ideology? The primary point that Tony makes, viz. that the ‘new anti-Semitism’ does not depend on any of the traditional measures of anti-Semitism is true. You don’t have to hate Jews, or believe in medieval blood libels, Jewish conspiracies or caricatures of Jews. What Tony doesn’t go on to say is that as long as you demonstrate your support for Zionism and the Israeli state then such peccadilloes are easily forgiven and forgotten. Indeed support for anti-Semitism can transform an anti-Semite into a ‘good friend of the Jews.’ This I would suggest is its fatal weakness.
|Bernard Lewis - one of Zionism's Arabists argues that the new antisemitism — what he calls "ideological antisemitism" — has mutated out of religious and racial antisemitism.|
Tony Lerman is correct to point out that the vast majority of the European far-right sees Israel as the most effective fighter against the Muslim tide that they see washing over Europe. The ‘new anti-Semitism’ does indeed present Muslims and Black people as the Other. But it is also the case that the same far-Right movements have not changed their spots. The British National Party has always subscribed to holocaust denial and in his infamous appearanceon Question Time, leader Nick Griffin refused to say that he believed that the Nazis had exterminated the Jews of Europe, the Final Solution. Griffin also denied that the BNP was anti-Semitic, pointing to the BNP being the only party to support Israel’s attack on Gaza.
As Board of Deputies spokesperson, Ruth Smeed, accepted ‘‘‘The BNP website is now one of the most Zionist on the web – it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support of Israel’. Guardian 10.4.08.
|real anti-Semitism - Jews of Lukow before deportation to Treblinka|
In ‘REDEFINING ANTI-SEMITISM - The False Anti-Racism of the Right’ [Return Magazine No. 5, December 1990] ‘There is nothing that the real anti-Semites, the cemetery desecrators and swastika daubers, want more than to dress their actions up in the guise of anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinians. Those who deliberately confuse anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are, wittingly or otherwise, legitimising anti-Semitism.’
|the old (or real) anti-Semitism - execution of woman in Mizocz ghetto|
Another example of this phenomenon of far-Right or neo-Nazi support for Zionism and Israel is Glen Beck, the former Fox News TV presenter, who even Fox eventually fired because of his anti-Semitism. Whilst still at Fox, Beck had openly recommended the work of Nazi sympathiser Elizabeth Dilling, who had spoken of “Ike the kike” and Kennedy’s New Frontier as the “Jew Frontier.” Beck devoted an entire show to a conspiracy theory on bankers such as the Rothschilds, interviewing the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin, who described the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion “as accurately describing much of what is happening in our world today.” [GoodRiddance to Glenn Beck, The Propagandist,] His attacks on George Soros, a favourite target, as the personification of the Jewish financier, were a classic example of traditional anti-Semitism.
|real anti-Semitism - Jews used as horses in warsaw|
Beck was too much even for Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the most slavish adherents of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ who described Beck’s claim that the Jews killed Jesus as ‘one of the top four most destructive of anti-Semitic lies.’ None of this prevented Beck from addressing Israel’s Knesset as a distinguished guest. Beck’s reception was akin to a “rock concert.” MK Michael ben-Ari, an ex-Kahanist said afterwards: “I think Glenn Beck should take my seat in the Knesset.” [Ami Kaufman, 11.11.11]
Pastor John Hagee, President of the powerful evangelical Christians United for Israel, was however defended against charges of anti-Semitism by Abe Foxman. Hagee, stated in a sermon that Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God to drive the Jews to Israel. [CBS News, 23.5.08. Hagee:Pro-Israel, Anti-Semitic] John McCain, the Republican Presidential candidate was forced to dissociate himself from Hagee. Foxman proclaimed, “We are grateful that you have devoted your life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the State of Israel” TheNew York Jewish Week, 18.6.08. Support for Israel and Zionism excuses anti-Semitism.
|An example of the 'new anti-Semitism'|
Nearer home the neo-con Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, has gone out of his way to defend the anti-Semitic Euro MPs Michal Kaminski of Poland’s Law & Justice Party and Robert Zile of Latvia’s LNNK. Kaminski opposed a national Poland apology for the burning alive by Poles, in 1941, of over 300 Jews in the village of Jedwabne. Zile contents himself with marching every year with the veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS, who manned the extermination camps. To Pollard though Kaminski was ‘one of the greatest friends to the Jews in a town [Brussels] where anti-Semitism and a visceral loathing of Israel are rife’. Guardian 9.10.09.
Pollard’s conclusion was that "Far from being an anti-Semite, Mr Kaminski is about as pro-Israeli an MEP as exists." [David Miliband's insult to Michal Kaminski iscontemptible’ Jewish Chronicle 1.10.09. Through the eyes of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ support for Israel washes away traditional anti-Semitism.
|One of the examples of 'new anti-Semitism'|
It is almost trite to observe that throughout history, those who hated Jews the most, were invariably supporters of Zionism. Theodor Fritsch, Heinrich Class, Eduord Drumong to say nothing of the Nazi party which was riddled with supporters of Zionism, from Alfred Rosenberg and Reinhardt Heydrich to Eichmann himself. Zionism was favoured at the same time, between 1933 and 1939 as anti-Zionist and non-Zionist organisations were suppressed. As the ardently pro-Zionist historian, Francis Nicosia wrote
The Zionist Organization was the only Jewish organization of a political nature which was allowed to continue functioning. In a 1957 interview, Dr. Hans Friedenthal, former chairman of the Zionistische Vereinigung fur Deutschland, revealed that the Gestapo did all it could to promote Jewish emigration to Palestine, thereby rendering considerable assistance to the Zionist cause.’
[Zionism in National Socialist Jewish Policy in Germany, 1933-39, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Dec. 1978)
|Norman Finkelstein writes that anger at "Israel's brutal occupation has undoubtedly slipped over to an animus against Jews generally," which he describes as "lamentable" but "hardly cause for wonder."|
The Political Context and Role of ‘new anti-Semitism’
The ‘new anti-Semitism’ has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, apart from the name. It borrows from the memory of anti-Semitism to whitewash Israel and its murderous record. It functions as a means of rationalising and defending Israel’s role, as the outrider of western interests and imperialism, by resorting to the language of anti-racism. It provides the ruling elites with a progressive sugary coating to sweeten the bitter reactionary taste underneath. It has little or no internal logic and this I believe is one of the crucial errors of Tony Lerman’s argument. The ‘new anti-Semitism’ is the Emperor without clothes. When called out it is easy to demolish. The only group where it has gained traction, apart from the elite circles of opinion makers and Washington think tanks is in the Jewish community itself.
It is in this sense and only in this sense that the ‘new anti-Semitism’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It works by associating Diaspora Jews with Israel’s every act of barbarity. Unsurprisingly there are some people, often Muslim youth, who accept what Zionism’s propagandists say, viz. that all Jews support Israel’s actions and they believe that in carrying out anti-Semitic attacks they are somehow striking a blow against Israel. In fact they achieve the exact opposite. The Jewish community however only sees the resulting attacks and therefore comes to accept the ‘new anti-Semitism’ thesis.
Tony Lerman mention the Fraser v UCU employment Tribunal case when a Zionist member of the Universities College Union tried to take his union to a Tribunal alleging racial discrimination. He failed miserably. Firstly because the law was against him. Discrimination cases can only be mounted if you are discriminated against or harassed on the grounds of a protected characteristic. Being Jewish, which is defined as a race, is a protected characteristic. The Tribunal found that Zionism is not integral to being Jewish and therefore not protected. Fraser’s case was not helped because his expert witnesses, John Mann MP and Dennis McShane MP, were unable to defend their anti-Semitism thesis under cross-examination. As the Tribunal observed in its Judgment
And when it came to anti-Semitism in the context of debate about the Middle East, he announced, “It’s clear to me where the line is …” but unfortunately eschewed the opportunity to locate it for us. Both parliamentarians clearly enjoyed making speeches. Neither seemed at ease with the idea of being required to answer a question not to his liking.’ [Para 148. ET Case Number: 2203290/2011]
Nor were the MPs alone. The cream of new anti-Semitism’s academics, Professor Robert Wistrich of Tel Aviv university, fell to pieces under the cross-examination of Mehdi Hassan in one of the most interesting, and enjoyable, spectacles on TV that I’ve witnessed. Zionism's Professor of 'New Anti-Semitism' Humiliated in Debate.
One of the major problems for the advocates of ‘new anti-Semitism’ in Europe is overcoming the provisions of ss.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the judgment (para 46) of Sheriff Scott at Edinburgh Sheriff’s Court on 8 April 2010
if persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a State and its army are afraid to name that State for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour, it would render worthless their Article 10(1) rights. Presumably their placards would have to read, “Genocide in an unspecified part of the Middle East”; “Boycott an unspecified State in the Middle East”, etc. [Procurator Fiscal-v-Napier & Others - D13/4553 cited in Fraser v UCU ].
It had been argued that criticism or boycott of Israel is by itself discrimination on the grounds of race (one of the definitions of which is ‘nationality’ or ‘national origins’). This would have rendered illegal any international solidarity! In 2008 the five accused had disrupted a performance by the Jerusalem String Quartet at the Edinburgh Festival shouting “They’re Israeli army musicians”, “Genocide in Gaza” and “Boycott Israel”. They were charged with pursuing a racially aggravated course of conduct, i.e. harassment or behaving in a racially aggravated manner. The basis for the charges was not Jewishness but Israeli nationality. Ironically, the Israeli Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that there is no such thing as Israeli nationality in Tamarin v State of Israel  and Uzi Ornan v SOI .
Boycotts are, almost by definition, (unless they are State sponsored sanctions against Iran or Israel’s siege of Gaza) something that is seen as an interference in the free market. This was as true of the boycott of Apartheid, when Thatcher and Reagan supported ‘constructive engagement’ as when the Roosevelt Administration, alongside the Zionist movement, opposed the Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany because Hitler represented the ‘element of moderation’ in the Nazi Party and a Boycott Campaign would undermine his position! [Edwin Black, Ha'avara – The Transfer Agreement, p.19.]
The present Tory government can therefore dress up their support for Israel, as part of their policy of slavishly following United States foreign policy, by claiming that ‘Faith leaders have expressed alarm at such policies fuelling anti-Semitism’ giving as an example the isolated instance of supermarket workers taking kosher food from supermarket shelves. Government press release 3.10.15.
Tony Lerman notes that the Fundamental Rights Agency dispensed with the Working Definition on anti-Semitism which endorsed the ‘new anti-Semitism’ thesis. Under criticism it was simply indefensible. What is true, is that it has gained an increasing acceptance among the Jewish community itself, but that is a product of the move to the right and also the upwards social mobility of that community.
In other words the ‘new anti-Semitism’ operates at the level of ruling class ideology but it isn’t, in Gramskian terms, hegemonic. Sections of the ruling class themselves reject such a definition, not least because it would limit their own room for manoeuvre. To most ordinary people, including Jews, anti-Semitism is seen as the old, traditional Jew hatred. The ‘new anti-Semitism’ operates to forgive this form of anti-Semitism because it posits racism as being a form of state hatred, hatred of an inhuman structure. In other words it transforms the Israeli State into a supra-human being. It is a level of state worship that belongs to the realm of fascism for which the highest form of a nation is the State. Thus we have the spectacle of the fascist English Defence League attacking a stall of Birmingham Palestine Solidarity Campaign, with an Israeli flag in one hand and giving Hitler salutes on the other! The Fascist EDL Attacks Birmingham Palestine Solidarity Campaign Stall.
In ‘Redefining anti-Semitism’, I referred to ‘left anti-Semitism’ and Tony Lerman has highlighted the emphasis on ‘Muslim anti-Semitism’ as part of Zionism’s contribution to anti-Muslim racism in Europe today, with its hitch-up with Gert Wilders and co. ‘New anti-Semitism’ operates under a number of guises – ‘left’ anti-Semitism, third-world anti-Semitism and Black anti-Semitism. They are all in their own way variants of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ but also operates in the context of for example painting a government unfriendly to the USA, such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, as ‘anti-Semitic’ or in the case of Black anti-Semitism, threats in the American ghettos to the domination of white upper middle class Jews by Black people.
On one minor matter I disagree with Tony Lerman that ‘The most significant development in antisemitism after 1945 was the rapid emergence of Holocaust denial’. Following an order by Himmler in April 1945, the Nazis sought to destroy all evidence of the Final Solution. However there was very little attempt in the immediate aftermath to deny what had happened. Eichmann and Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, boasted of what had happened. They didn’t deny it.
The first prominent holocaust denier was Paul Rassinnier, a French socialist MP for 2 years and an inmate of Buchenwald concentration camp, which did not have gas chambers. But it really only came into its own in the 1970’s. National Front deputy Chairman Richard ‘Harwood’ Verrall published ‘Did Six Million Really Die’ and in 1979 Willis Carto of the Liberty Lobby incorporated the Institute of Historical Review into his Liberty Lobby. I consider that the impact of holocaust denial is marginal. In the Arab world it is repeated by those who know nothing about it, as a means of denying the legitimacy of Zionist claims. It has no deep social roots. A rather stupid stance. Since the holocaust is easily provable it undermines their own case. But perhaps the definitive proof is that of some of the SS guards present at Auschwitz and in particular the testimony of Oskar Gröning, the ‘Auschwitz accountant’ who voluntarily spoke out to denounce Holocaust deniers stating:
I would like you to believe me. I saw the gas chambers. I saw the crematoria. I saw the open fires. I was on the ramp when the selections took place. I would like you to believe that these atrocities happened because I was there. Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: The Nazis & The "Final Solution", p. 301. London: BBC Books, 2005]. This is one reason, incidentally, that I consider the recent prosecution of Oskar Groning in Germany to be pointless and vindictive. Apart from the fact that he hadn't participated personally in the atrocities.
Zionism unfortunately has a vested interest in inflating holocaust denial. Ironically this is exactly what they were guilty of. Throughout the war, they denied despite the evidence they possessed, that the Nazis were engaged in a systematic extermination of the Jews of Europe.
Despite these criticisms and observations, Tony Lerman’s article is a very useful summary of the history and gestation of ‘new anti-Semitism’.
|Manifesting a new antisemitism? Protests in New York at support given by NY politicians for Israel during its 2014 attack on Gaza, July 2014. Photo by Lucas Jackson / Reuters|
There are many Jews who actively sympathise with an anti-racist political vision. But the ‘new antisemitism’ complicates how the organised Jewish ‘community’ could identify with such an enterprise.
Antony Lerman, openDemocracy
September 29, 2015
September 29, 2015
Assessing the complex political implications of the ‘new antisemitism’ in a short paper is quite a challenge. Inevitably, I must paint with a broad brush and, therefore, apologise for any loss of nuance as a result. It is also important that I make clear from the outset that I do not accept the validity of the concept of the ‘new antisemitism’, a term I will use in quotes throughout. Nevertheless, as this article is not about the validity or otherwise of the term, I will not enter into the arguments for and against the term itself.
Discussion about the ‘new antisemitism’ very often dwells on the bitter and extreme disagreement between many of those who accept that there is such a thing and many of those who fundamentally question the validity of the notion. Nevertheless, although this state of affairs exemplifies just how politicised practically all discussion around the question of the ‘new antisemitism’ has become, placing the extreme differences centre-stage often results in a failure to interrogate or understand fully the political, or for that matter the contemporary historical, context of the emergence of ‘new antisemitism’ thinking.
The term ‘new antisemitism’ is actually not very new
The term ‘new antisemitism’ is actually not very new and has been applied to a variety of rather different phenomena. But from the late 1970s onwards the term was increasingly applied, somewhat loosely, to forms of criticism of – and hostility to – Israel, especially that which emanated from the Arab world.
|Irwin Cotler, [L] Canadian professor of law and former minister of justice in the 2003- 2006 Liberal government|
However, in the last few decades, and especially since the beginning of the twenty-first century, those who use the term to describe what they believe is an actually existing phenomenon have tended to identify with a far more specific understanding of what it means. Irwin Cotler, [L] Canadian professor of law and former minister of justice in the 2003- 2006 Liberal government, describes it in the following way:
In a word, classical anti-Semitism is the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the rights of Jews to live as equal members of whatever society they inhabit. The new anti-Semitism involves the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations, with Israel as the targeted ‘collective Jew among the nations’.
This definition, which appeared in this particular formulation in the National Post on 9 November 2010, has been publicly proclaimed countless times by Cotler, one of the key figures involved in disseminating the term since the 1970s.
The ‘new antisemitism’ and anti-Zionism
The ‘new antisemitism’ is seen by most – but by no means all – of those who give it credence and promote its use as synonymous with anti-Zionism. As such, they find it not only in the Arab world but also in the political left, anti-globalisation movements, jihadist and Islamist movements as well as the Muslim world more generally, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, the left-liberal press, anti-racist groups – the list continues.
The “Working Definition of Antisemitism”, published by the now defunct EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2005, was central in providing the notion of the ‘new antisemitism’ with legitimacy and is taken by its proponents to be the European Union definition of antisemitism. This 514-word document contains a key passage giving examples of critical discourse about Israel that it says ‘could’ be seen as antisemitic.
One of the main drivers behind the formulation of the ‘new antisemitism’ idea was the passing, in 1975, of UN General Assembly resolution 3379 (revoked in 1991), which equated Zionism with racism. It is important to remember that, at the time, support for Zionism and Israel was still broadly seen as a progressive and liberal cause in the west. Quite a number of the African and non-aligned countries that voted for resolution 3379 had good, if fairly low-key relations with Israel, as a result of the efforts of Israel’s then socialist government to improve its international position.
So the apparent snub to Israel by these countries, and the perception among Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel in the West that Israel was losing its status as a progressive cause, provoked much soul-searching and consternation. In Jewish and Israeli circles the dominant response was not to see any flaws in Zionism but rather in those attacking it and Israel. As a result, one of the main questions being asked was: What is the relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism?
While some writers, academics and commentators were convinced from early on that Arab hostility to Zionism and Israel was antisemitic, during the 1970s and 1980s there was considerable debate and reasoned disagreement about the validity of the charge. Political and ideological considerations played a relatively small part in the growing numbers of conferences and seminars taking place to discuss the issue.
But what began largely as a series of intellectual and academic discussions gradually changed character as pro-Israel advocacy groups, the World Zionist Organisation, multi-agenda major American Jewish organisations (such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee) and Jewish communal organisations monitoring and combating antisemitism took up the matter. Mounting international criticism of Israel began to have a major impact on their work.
What started organically, morphed into a planned campaign
What started organically, therefore, morphed into a planned campaign to create a coalition of mostly Jewish activist academics, pro-Israel and national representative bodies in the Jewish diaspora and the aforementioned major American Jewish organisations to take the discussions in an increasingly political and ideological direction, linking anti-Zionism and antisemitism ever more closely.
A key player in – and growing influence on – this campaign was the Israeli government, which pursued a new policy from the late 1980s through the newly established Monitoring Forum on Antisemitism. The policy aimed to establish Israeli hegemony over the monitoring and combating of antisemitism by Jewish groups worldwide. This was coordinated and mostly implemented by Mossad representatives working out of Israeli embassies. The policy served to bind diaspora communities more closely to Israel, their self-appointed ‘defender against external threats’, to promote Zionist immigration by using highly problematic data on antisemitic manifestations to stress the fragility of diaspora Jewish communities, as well as to portray Israel as being equally in the firing line of antisemitic attack by increasingly linking any criticism of Israeli policy with antisemitism.
During the 1990s there was some ambivalence about and opposition to this policy in diaspora communities, largely because of growing evidence that traditional antisemitism was declining, which meant that effective challenges to ‘new antisemitism’ thinking could still be mounted. Moreover, the policy was suspended by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during the few years of optimism surrounding the Oslo Accords. Rabin did not want to be constrained by too close a relationship with the increasingly right-wing American Jewish Israel lobby in negotiations which were taking place to achieve rapprochement with the Palestinians.
The ‘new antisemitism’ discourse was now in the ascendant
However, at the start of the twenty-first century, deepening disillusionment about Oslo, as well as events such as the outbreak of the second intifada, the Durban UN Anti-Racism conference and 9/11, led many to conclude that ‘new antisemitism’ was rising exponentially, driven by perceived Muslim hatred of Jews expressed largely in the form of anti-Israel sentiment. This became the dominant narrative among Jewish and Israeli leaders and the wider, growing neo-conservative commentariat, which included prominent journalists and columnists, as well as prominent academics.
The most significant development in antisemitism after 1945 was the rapid emergence of Holocaust denial
|The New Anti-Semitism: the current crisis and what we must do about it, Phyllis Chesler, pub. John Wiley 2004|
The Israeli government, reflecting the political drift to the far right in the country, again very publicly linked Israel’s fate with Jews worldwide and stepped up its leadership role on the antisemitism question. This time it had more cooperation from diaspora Jewish leaders, many of whom were more in sympathy with Israel’s harder line political direction than they had been when the country was under Rabin’s control. In these circles, the ‘new antisemitism’ discourse was now in the ascendant.
In practice, what this meant was that in discussion, debate and argument about the state of contemporary antisemitism, ‘new antisemitism’ thinking occupied centre- stage and was rapidly acquiring the status of a new orthodoxy. This was not only in political forums, the media and public debates, but also in academic conferences, seminars, academic articles and books.
Inevitably, being so intimately connected to a controversial political issue – the Israel-Palestine conflict – discussion of the issue of antisemitism became more politicised than ever before. Virtually no discussion of the phenomenon could take place without Israel and Zionism being centre-stage. And hardly any discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict could take place without reference to the ‘new antisemitism’.
There have always been disagreements about the definition and use of the word antisemitism, but during the first three or four decades after the Second World War there was, broadly speaking, a common understanding of what constituted antisemitism. This linked it to the classical stereotyped images of ‘the Jew’ forged in Christendom, adopted and adapted by antisemitic political groups in the nineteenth century and further developed by race-theorists and the Nazis in the twentieth century. That process of reformulation and revision did not end with the Holocaust. The most significant development in antisemitism after 1945 was the rapid emergence of Holocaust denial.
Interestingly, while it seems that some referred to this as ‘new antisemitism’, most researchers and academics analysing and writing about the phenomenon had no difficulty in seeing it as essentially a new manifestation of a consensually defined antisemitism. But by the early to mid-2000s, the consensus had broken down.
The irresistible rise of ‘new antisemitism’ discourse
The acceptance of ‘new antisemitism’ thinking means that antisemitism has been fundamentally redefined, so that a discourse about Israel and Zionism can be labelled antisemitic even though it contains none of the classic stereotypes of ‘the Jew’ that were previously widely understood to be essential to expressions of the phenomenon.
In addition, in the writings of many of the ‘new antisemitism’ theorists and propagandists, as well as in political and communal support for some Jewish communal leaders, columnists and clergy, there is a confrontational and racialised approach towards Muslims and Islam. It is not only Jihadists and Islamists who are seen as responsible for the ‘new antisemitism’, but also the collective mindset of the ‘Muslim community’ and the ‘unreformed’ nature of Islam as a religion.
The ‘collective Jew among the nations’ definition of ‘new antisemitism’ licenses this approach, which represents a form of stereotyping of the Other that is incompatible with the consensual understanding of antisemitism that has been fractured and undermined by ‘new antisemitism’. It is also the case that, since international bodies like the UN, human rights and humanitarian relief organisations, the EU, some churches and the ‘left’ are seen as responsible for disseminating ‘new antisemitism’, despite long-standing traditions of Jewish support for social justice, many Jewish communal leaders and commentators have distanced themselves from the promotion of human rights and anti-racism.
Although the concept of ‘new antisemitism’ emerged from serious discussions about the relationship between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, its ubiquity by the mid-2000s was a direct result of a concerted campaign to get individual governments, parliamentary bodies, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and others to accept the validity of the notion.
Despite the fact that significant proportions of diaspora Jewish opinion distanced itself from Israel in recent years, this campaign resulted from a much closer nexus between Jewish communal leaderships, national and international Jewish organisations, pro-Israel advocacy groups, institutional arms of the Israeli government and academics and researchers promoting the idea of the ‘new antisemitism’.
The acceptance of ‘new antisemitism’ thinking means that antisemitism has been fundamentally redefined
The ongoing confrontation between proponents and opponents of the EUMC’s “Working Definition of Antisemitism”, irrespective of the fact that the EUMC’s successor organisation, the Fundamental Rights Agency, has now abandoned it, is a major example of this. It is perhaps expressed most sharply in the recent case brought against the University and Colleges Union in the UK by Ronnie Fraser, backed by Anthony Julius and the law firm Mishcon de Rea, which Fraser and Julius comprehensively lost. Supporters of Fraser have spun the result as, in effect, an antisemitic conspiracy between the Tribunal panel and the UCU.
The de-coupling of the understanding of antisemitism from traditional antisemitic tropes, which thereby made criticism of Israel in and of itself antisemitic, necessarily made the opposite – support for Israel – into a touchstone for expressing sympathy with Jews. This opened the door to the phenomenon of Jewish support for far right, anti-Islam, anti-immigrant parties keen to whitewash their pasts and sanitise their anti-Muslim prejudice by expressing support for Israel and seeing the country and its Jews as the front line against Islam’s ‘incursion into Europe’.
It is not surprising, therefore, that acceptance of the ‘new antisemitism’ theory has contributed to the exacerbation of tensions between Muslims and Jews in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe). There is, however, mutual pre-existing misunderstanding and mistrust, while negative images of Jews unrelated to the Israel-Palestine conflict are common among some Muslims.
The scale of the problem from the Jewish side can be gauged from the results of the survey, commissioned by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, of Jewish opinion on antisemitism in eight European countries, which was devised, managed and analysed by JPR and released on 9 November 2013. This shows a marked tendency to blame Muslim populations in Europe for the perceived worsening of the antisemitic climate. It is interesting to note that these results were released on Kristallnacht commemoration day. This was no coincidence, but rather another example of the inextricable link between research on and politics of antisemitism and the battle to control historical memory.
We are faced with a community presenting itself as under siege at a time when the position of Jews in British society has never been so good
|Brian Klug, senior research fellow in philosophy at St Benet's Hall, Oxford argues that the new prejudice is not antisemitism, new or old; nor a mutation of an existing virus, but "a brand new 'bug'.|
When considering how to neutralise and reverse the impact of ‘new antisemitism’ thinking within the Jewish community, the problem is made more acute by the fact that the discourse employed by the proponents of the concept shows remarkable similarities with antisemitic discourse itself, especially in its demonisation of Jews who question the validity of the concept. One example is the attack by more than 20 ‘new antisemitism’ proponents, orchestrated by Clemens Heni of the self-styled Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism, on Brian Klug when he was invited to deliver an address on antisemitism at the Berlin Jewish Museum’s 2013 Kristallnacht commemoration event.
When this occurs at the same time as prominent Jewish figures, aided and abetted by significant commentators, academics and politicians – some Jewish, some not – who are constructing and legitimising anti-Muslim racism, we are faced with a community almost presenting an image of itself as under siege at a time when the position of Jews in British society has never been so good, objectively speaking.
|Clemens Heni - Zionist propagandist who led campaign to get Brian Klug disinvited|
My pessimistic conclusion is that although there are still very many Jews who would actively sympathise with the aim of building an anti-racist political vision, the influence of ‘new antisemitism’ thinking, among other factors, makes it very difficult to see how what we understand as the organised Jewish ‘community’ could be persuaded to identify with such an enterprise.
Antony Lerman is an Honorary Fellow at the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, Southampton University. He is also a member of the Black-Jewish Forum, a member of the Advisory Committee of the Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum and a founding member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights and the Independent Jewish Voices steering group. He is a JfJfP signatory. He is the author of The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist: A Personal and Political Journey (Pluto Press 2012). He tweets@tonylerman.
Notes and links
Below, a few of the publications proclaiming ‘the new anti-Semitism’.
The New Anti-Semitism, Forster and Epstein, McGraw Hill, 1974
Rising From the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe, Pierre-Andre Taguieff and (trans) Patrick Camiller, pub. Ivan R. Dee, 2002, 2004. [ Pierre-André Taguieff cites the following early works on the new antisemitism: Jacques Givet, La Gauche contre Israel? Essai sur le néo-antisémitisme, Paris 1968; idem, “Contre une certain gauche,” Les Nouveaux Cahiers, No. 13-14, Spring-Summer 1968, pp. 116–119; Léon Poliakov, De l’antisionisme a l’antisémitisme, Paris 1969]
The New Anti-Semitism : The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It , Phyllis Chesler, John Wiley, 2004
Those Who Forget the Past, Ron Rosenbaum brings together a collection of powerful essays about the origin and nature of the new anti-Semitism.Random House, 2004.
The New Anti-Semitism, What it is and how to deal with it, by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Jewish Chronicle, 2006.
Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism, Denis MacShane Phoenix, 2009
The most significant development in antisemitism after 1945 was the rapid emergence of Holocaust denial.