What and who does this Star of David represent?
Now before some of you become so scandalized you start firing off comments and tweets, read what I say carefully: there is anti-Semitism both in Europe and elsewhere. And it is a phenomenon that, given Europe’s ugly history, must be taken seriously. It is right and proper to denounce individual incidents of violence and hate speech where and when they occur. It is right to combat the obscenity of the Euro-right’s political anti-Semitism whether in France, Germany or Hungary.
But there is no pending European Holocaust. Despite hyperbolic claims like this, “these are the worst times since the Nazi era” or this “synagogues are burning again in Germany in the night,” there is not even a serious, widespread attack on the Jewish community in Europe. The rumors of the destruction of European Jewry are vastly overstated.
The question is why articles in mainstream publications are advancing some of these claims; and why Israeli politicians boost them so assiduously. As to the first question: reporters are not historians. They are looking for trends and seeking to be the first to note them. For some reporters any incident that comes in twos or threes becomes a trend. It’s one thing when the trend concerns fashion or social issues. We’re used to such overstatement and when a reporter gets carried away, the stakes aren’t as high. We can assume that readers or other journalist will exercise caution and criticize it mercilessly.
But when the subject is as fraught with historical significance and involves violence and death, past and present, then such exaggeration or overstatement carries heavy consequences. That’s why it’s so important to get things right. To be sure what you write is based on facts and not ideology or sensationalism. Unfortunately, some of our better media sources have fallen prey to this disease. More on this follows.
The most glaring weakness of such analyses is that they either omit entirely or downplay the political context of so-called anti-Semitic actions in Europe. Muslims and Arabs in Europe and elsewhere were not born anti-Semites. Nothing in their religion justifies anti-Semitism. In fact, quite the contrary. Anger and hatred derives from a source. That source is the Israeli-Arab conflict. The anger of European Muslims is not the same as traditional anti-Semitism. It cannot be compared to the Nazi era. No matter what hot-headed protesters may say during rallies when they express their anger and disgust, no one contemplates the wholesale murder or even expulsion of Jews from Europe.
That’s why articles like this one which speak about European anti-Semitism while hardly voicing a word about the context of the current wave which originates in Israel recent devastating assault against Gaza, do a disservice to both European society and journalism itself. We cannot learn much about what is really happening if journalists refuse to understand reality in all its complexity. Other articles like this one do acknowledge that European protests against Israel emanate from the war against Palestine, but they refuse to make any distinction between historical anti-Semitism and contemporary anti-Israelism.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that such ugly rhetoric shouldn’t be condemned and aggressively combated by politicians and other social leaders. But again, it’s important to place these expressions in a historical and political context.
Reporters will take a single statistic such as the rise in emigration by French Jews to Israel without understanding that even if 6,000 leave this year, 500,000 remain. This also omits the reverse side of the coin: there are hundreds of thousands of Israeli emigrants who’ve taken up permanent residence in European cities, especially Berlin. Many of them left Israel because they are disgusted with the endless cycles of war and violence and refused to force this life on their own children.
Why would reporters or European Jews be surprised that social media reflect, or even amplify some of these hatreds? A passage like this one makes me wonder whether the reporter and his subject are either naive or disingenuous:
…Since the start of the conflict in Gaza this summer, many describe social media, especially Facebook, as a swamp of hatred.
“I have friends who are never political and they are posting things about Gaza every day,” said Ms. Frommer, the employee of the nonprofit organization. “It seems like an obsession. Is your obsession because you want to save children, or because you have a problem with Jews?”
The fact that a European Jew would discount the good faith of those who protest the death of Gazan children; and the fact that she wouldn’t understand that apolitical individuals are so shocked by the outrageousness of Israel’s actions that even they are aroused to protest. This should tell her much more about the evil Israel is doing than she allows it to.
The same journalist claimed some Muslim neighborhoods are “no go” zones for Jews, without understanding that similar types of ethnic hostility have been a factor of urban life for centuries. Some of the articles neglect the failure of European countries themselves to integrate poor Arab and Muslim immigrants into their own educational, vocational and employment systems. If Europe’s Muslims are angry at Israel or even at Jews, they are angrier at their host governments for promises unfulfilled.
Why should reporters use a single incident when Muslims patrolled a neighborhood in Germany dressed with signs identifying themselves as “Sharia police,” when ultra-Orthodox Jews in London erected signs exhorting all Jewish women in the neighborhood to walk only on one side of the street, segregated from men. Why is the Muslim example more alarming than the Jewish one?
Current European anti-Israel outbursts which are often conflated with anti-Semitism, are directly related to anger at Israel’s Occupation of Palestinian land, at Israel’s vicious wars and massacres which have cost tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian lives over the decades. Whenever Israel asserts its military might and attacks Palestine or Lebanon, blood flows in the streets of Arab lands and other Arabs are naturally angry about this.
Expecting that every Arab who participates in a protest will understand the sensitive history of the Jews in Europe and adapt their slogans, banners and actions accordingly is far-fetched. Though of course, when those phenomena rear their ugly heads they should be called out.
Gen. David Petraeus once famously conceded that the failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict endangers the lives of U.S. military personnel throughout the region by heightening tension and fueling terror attacks. Though the Israel Lobby derided him for expressing views so supposedly hostile to Israel, he never retracted them.
In truth, Israel can expect all this clamor against it every time it attacks its Arab neighbors. And the worse the carnage and mayhem is, the worse the response will be. I liken it to the political corollary of Newton’s law: for every bad action there will an equal and opposite reaction. Except in this case, the Arab-Muslim response is nowhere near as violent as the Israeli actions which precipitate it.
Yes, Jews have been killed in Europe in the past few years. And such acts have rightfully been condemned, investigated and punished by those in power in Belgium and France, where such attacks occurred. But if you compare the carnage on one side it pales in comparison to the carnage on the other.
It is simply unreasonable for Israel or world Jewry to expect that there will be no blowback from Israel’s actions in the world. Israel may not kill with impunity without paying a price for it. Again, this is not to justify Arab retaliation against Israel. But to regard such acts as originating in some ancient Islam-inspired blood feud is ridiculous.
There is only one way to end the stream of Euro-violence, to end Israel’s spilling of Arab blood in the region. As long as Israel continues its endless wars there, the counter-violent response will continue. Israel must settle the conflict. As long as it does not, it has no right to complain at the response. As the noted scholar of anti-Semitism, Steve Beller writes:
If Israel continues its attitude of defiance of international legal norms and of the wishes of the international community as regards settlements, then this is almost inviting a real resurgence of a form of historical anti-Semitism, together with, ironically, a xenophobia exacerbated by Islamophobia.
Though this is a chilling statement, it reveals just how much is at stake for world Jewry. Continue down the path of absolute pro-Israelism and you risk an attack on not just Israel, but all of us.
It’s an error to label hate or violence directed at Israel as conventional anti-Semitism. It should probably be called anti-Israelism. Beller says:
Calling…hostility to current Israeli policies…and towards the Jewish communities who are usually explicitly…supporting these policies, ‘antisemitism’, or even the relatively recent ‘new antisemitism’…[is] a deliberate attempt by Israel and its supporters to obfuscate the actual political and moral situation, and to smear Israel’s opponents with the guilt of the Holocaust. Let us call these protests ‘anti-Israeli’, ‘anti-Zionist’…but I do not think they have the same causation as historic antisemitism, and it is misleading to continue dragging this term in here.
There will be those who point to the slogans which explicitly ape those of the Nazi era and ask why we shouldn’t call this classic anti-Semitism. The reason is that Israel’s leaders and the Israel Lobby have themselves conflated Israel with the Jewish people. When Bibi shreis that Iran wants to nuke us, he doesn’t say it wants to destroy Israel, he says it wants to destroy the “Jewish people.” When Shimon Peres seeks to dramatize the so-called Iranian nuclear threat he calls an Iranian bomb a “flying Holocaust.” This further reinforces the notion that the Muslim world seeks to exterminate the entire Jewish people.
By deliberately confusing Israel and Jews, pro-Israel forces invite their opponents to do the same. If the Arab world sees Israel speaking on behalf of world Jewry; if they see the Israel Lobby insisting that the single unifying element in Jewish identity is fealty to Israel–then such confusion is understandable. As Beller wrote:
If the leadership of…Jewish communities adopt an approach of complete solidarity with the aggressive foreign policy of Israel, as a sovereign state separate from the countries in which those Jewish communities live, then this is an externalized relationship of conflict…
If Jews wish to end such confusion, they must loudly and deliberately set a border between themselves and Israel. To be a Jew is not to be an Israeli. In saying these things, I’m not asking Jews to abandon their identification with Israel. But there must be a clear distinction between who we are and who they are. And there should be a clear distinction between the foreign policy interests of states like the U.S. and Israel. Contrary to the Israel Lobby mantra, there should be daylight between political leaders and policies of both countries.
It’s not surprising Israel would seek to conflate Zionism and Judaism. It’s a lot harder to attack Israel when you also have to attack all of world Jewry. It’s also a lot harder to attack Israel when it invokes the specter of the Holocaust and its ruinous legacy of anti-Semitism. Israel would much rather force its opponents to defend themselves from such charges so it doesn’t have to explain or defend the bloody pursuit of its own political interests in the region.
When I used the term “hoax” in the post title, I meant to say that the abuse of anti-Semitism by pro-Israel forces constitutes a fraud that must be called out.
The ultimate irony for Herzlian political Zionism is that the creation of Israel has disproven one of the movement’s key tenets: founding a Jewish state was supposed to normalize the Jewish people. It was supposed to empower them as European peoples were empowered by the states in which they held sovereignty. Jewish power would create Jewish security. Unfortunately and tragically, it’s done just the opposite. To be a Jew in the world has never been more dangerous since World War II. Not only are Israelis endangered in their own land, Israel’s intransigent rejection of political compromise (just this week, Bibi Netanyahu called the Arab League peace initiative an artifact of a bygone era), has brought all Jews into the crosshairs. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
The embrace of classical Zionism by Diaspora Jewry has impoverished Jewish life outside Israel. We are left with no independent identity. We have no traditions of our own. We are the shadow and Israel is the sun. All sustenance derives from the source and that source may only be there (in Israel). This denies the richness and success of centuries of Jewish life after the destruction of the Second Temple. We do have valued traditions, rituals, art, culture, music that derives from the genius of Diaspora. This must never be dismissed or devalued. We must cultivate our independence. We must produce separately. We must not be a satellite or extension of anything.
I despair that this is possible. Throughout the Diaspora, Jewish leaders have thrown in their lot with Israel. I call it the closing of the Diaspora Jewish mind. They have turned Israelism into a religion that displaces Judaism. They have allowed a violent, hateful settlerism to become a legitimate expression of Judaism. They have allowed us to be hijacked in service to a political enterprise rooted in theft, oppression and ethnic cleansing. It is not enough to protest against this. It’s not enough to deliver sermons from pulpits. It’s not enough to “shoot and cry” as Israelis say. There must be action: assertive, even aggressive action. We must take back our religion and expel those who have debased it.
But a single example, is the refusal of mainstream Jewish groups like the Reform movement to dissociate themselves from the Conference of Presidents and its insular pro-Israelism under the leadership of the far-right, Malcolm Hoenlein. When Hoenlein rejects J Street’s membership, no one makes him pay a price. No one leaves the table and starts a new more inclusive entity. If you are timid, if you don’t have the power of your convictions (remember Yeats’ “the best lack all conviction?”), you have only yourself to blame when those who have more energy and conviction outsmart you.
I have no faith in Diaspora Jewish leaders. The Pierre Mendes Frances, Nahum Goldmans and Arthur Hertzberg’s are long gone. In their day, they could stand up to the Kahanes and tell them forcefully: not in my name. And they were believed. In their place, today we have right-wing pro-Israel ciphers like Ronald Lauder or milquetoast moderates like Dennis Ross or Martin Indyk. They have neither powerful convictions, ideas nor stature. They represent the Jewish Organizational Man. They won’t stand up to anyone when it comes to saying: thus far and no farther.
If there are any readers who believe this topic is a critical one, as I do, and have some money tucked away, a few thousand dollars would enable me to organize a public event on the subject which I’d love to do featuring speakers like Steven Beller and Antony Lerman (among others). The event would be videotaped and uploaded to YouTube to create better public awareness of the issues.
NOTE: This week, WBEZ did a radio interview with me about Unit 8200 and the inspiration it could offer to the NSA to expand the surveillance state against us. Give a listen and promote it for me, please.