Some Notes on the Use and Abuse of Antisemitism
The Palestinians as a people are exceptionally unlucky. Not just for the fact that they have experienced for generations the ills of occupation, dispossession and exile. But the fact of enduring the historical misfortune of having their occupiers and dispossessors be Jews. Sadly, through no fault of their own, their cause has become a magnet for every diehard antisemite and guttural racist out there obsessed with the ‘Jewish Question’. Not just obsessed, but always seeking an ‘answer’ to it.
So whenever there is bloodshed in the Holy Land and the Israeli state engages in its usual hooliganism, as we recently witnessed in East Jerusalem and Gaza, Jews in the diaspora, almost inevitably, have a bullseye on their backs. Antisemites exploit Israel’s thuggery against the Palestinians and the rightful moral outrage it ignites to target Jews writ large. Statistics will vary, but clearly there’s been an upsurge in antisemitism in correlation with the recent bloodshed in Palestine.
At a pro-Palestine demo in London a bunch of Muslim sectarians wearing shirts baring Saddam Hussein’s image chanted, ‘Khaybar Khaybar, ya yahud, Jaish Muhammad, sa yahud’ — a celebration of the slaughter of Jews by Muhammad army in the 7th century. ‘Kike Free Palestine’, along with a swastika, was daubed on the front door of the Adat Yeshua Synagogue in Norwich. Most revolting of all, a band of so called ‘protesters’ drove around the streets of North London in a flagrant attempt to intimidate the local Jewish communities, bullhorn in hand shouted: “Fuck the Jews… Fuck their mothers… Rape their daughters.”
Elsewhere in the world, The Pakistani Foreign Minister live on CNN proclaimed that Israelis have “deep pockets” and “control the media”. President Erdogan of Turkey, in his usual deranged style, said terrorism is in “the nature” of Israelis and they take delight in “sucking the blood” of Palestinian children.
In New York, Los Angeles and Montreal Jews have been the targets of violence. In the grimmest pits of social media, you see nonsense about how American cops ever needed the Jewish state to “teach” them how to beat the guts out of black and brown people, as well as the usual absurd Holocaust analogies and the mantras from fascists of “baby killers!” and “Hitler was right!”
All throughout my social media feed, Zionists in Israel have deployed these examples as extra vindication for why a Jewish state exists as an isle of safety in a world so hostile to Jewish existence — whilst they tweeted from inside their bomb shelters. Some Jews in the diaspora have exclaimed that this may be the ‘tipping point’ for them to take Aliyah to Israel — where Jews live in range of rockets fired by an antisemitic organisation.
Ironies aside, I don’t think it needs to be said that Jews shouldn’t have to put up with antisemitic abuse, whatever the state of Israel does. Tariq Ali, being his usual numbskull self, said in a speech at a recent pro-Palestine demo in London that if only Israel ceased its siege of Gaza and occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem then the “casual” antisemitism it arouses will wither away. No Tariq, antisemitism isn’t a ‘misguided’, but rational response to Israeli violence anymore than Islamophobia is a ‘misguided’ response to the crimes of Jihadists groups. If people respond to Israel’s actions in an antisemitic manner then it reveals that the antisemitic mentalité is still entrenched within the society’s ideological structures and disfigures how the problems of society and the world are framed. Moreover, Israeli oppression of Palestinians should be opposed for its own sake, not as a ‘concession’ to Judeophobes.
Jewish women don’t need to advertise their stance on Zionism in order to not want people calling for them to be raped on the streets. Deranged gunk about ‘Israelis’ having the media in their take is antisemitic; it’s not even a debate. It’s very simple: opposition to Israeli oppression against Palestinians whether in Gaza or elsewhere in historic Palestine is not antisemitism. However, harassing and intimidating random Jews and indulging in anti-Jewish conspiracy theories is antisemitism whatever the pretext. There is nothing complicated about this — and there is nothing ‘casual’ about it either.
It must be emphasised, however, that this antisemitism has been condemned within the ‘Pro-Palestine’ sphere, especially by prominent Palestinians, active on social media who are also strongly opposed to Israel. “Palestine, is not a scapegoat for your anti-Semitism. Not now, not ever.” tweeted Palestinian-American journalist and activist Mariam Barghouti. The Palestinian Ambassador to Britain, Husam Zomlot, condemned the “disgraceful acts” in North London: “They don’t speak on our behalf and they hijacked the Palestinian flag.”
I know some will conveniently ignore this for tendentious purposes, but I’ll amplify it in any case.
However, on the other side of the coin, there are those who viewed the 100,000 strong protest in Central London in solidarity with Gaza as nothing more than ‘support for Hamas’. Or even view the waving of the Palestinian flag, whether by footballers, by protesters, or Palestinians themselves as a mortal threat to Jews. This is absurd. As Hannah Weisfield put it: “A Palestinian flag is not an existential threat to Jewish life — quite the opposite in fact.” It’s simply a racist insult to say to Palestinians that an expression of their national identity is an offence against Jews, especially when they’ve had to deal with slanders of being an ‘invented people’ with no ‘real’ claim to national rights.
A known apologist for Israeli violence and all round creep Alan Dershowitz declared that Bernie Sanders’ moderate and balanced position on the recent violence in Gaza was evidence of him being a “self-hating Jew”(stronger words than for Jeffrey Epstein). Israel’s official Twitter account while mashing the rocket emoji was ‘existentially’ freaked out by a Bella Hadid snapchat where she chanted “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free”, which they, and others, have always viewed as basically an incitement to genocide. The charlatan Rabbi Shmuley Boatech bought an ad in the New York Times defaming the Hadid sisters and Dua Lipa as fellow travellers with Hamas and their “call for a second Holocaust”.
Throughout the protests in Jerusalem against the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah & the desecration of Al-Aqsa mosque, before Hamas fired one rocket, a meme deployed by Israel’s defenders compared the protesters to white nationalists in Charlotesville who chanted “Jews will not replace us”. It seems like if you’re a Palestinian with enough self-respect to resist evictions from your homes in East Jerusalem and the desecration of Al-Aqsa by police thuggery then you’re basically Reinhard Heydrich.
If that wasn’t enough, AIPAC tweeted out an image with Ilhan Omar’s face next to Hamas rockets; a blatant piece of bigoted propaganda. Collectively associating Muslims with the policies and actions of Islamist groups is as foul and bigoted as collectively associating Jews with the policies of the Israeli state.
Meanwhile, an Associated Press reporter, herself a Jew, was a victim of our current idée fixe, cancel culture. Emily Wilder lost her job after right wing smear campaign for “politically charged” tweets while she was part of a Student for Justice in Palestine group in university. The thing that really got people enraged was not being nice about Sheldon Adelson (calling him a “naked mole rat”). Another piece of proof for why ‘social media policies’ are utterly retrograde and inevitably degrade freedom of expression.
If antisemitism against Jews, with Israel’s actions used as a pretext, is wrong, then it is equally as wrong when the very real problem of antisemitism is misapplied and exploited, because you have an axe to grind with “the Left”, “the squad”, the Palestinians, or whoever else.
Looming in the background of all this is, of course, the rows about the nature of Zionism and anti-Zionism. When does criticism of Israel slip into Jew hatred? Is Anti-Zionism inherently antisemitic?
In regards to the latter question, one response is needlessly defensive; it denies or severely downplays the idea that antisemitism can be disguised as anti-Zionism. As someone who is an “anti-Zionist”, or more preferably a non-Zionist, I obviously don’t think a critique of the theory and practice of Zionism as a nationalist ideology is antisemitic. But it is obvious that there is an ‘anti-Zionism of morons’, based on a deranged, promiscuous, over the top manner in which “Zionists” and “Zionist lobbies” are discussed that imitates antisemitic discourses. Too often ‘Zionist’ has become a more palatable epithet and dog whistle for ‘Jew’, which does nothing but give credence to the view that a critique of Zionism is just a cover for demonising Jews and their collective identity.
For all the vituperations against ‘Zionism’, a lot of self proclaimed anti-Zionists don’t have a clue about Zionism. They haven’t read up on Zionism. They don’t know its history and development as an ideology. They couldn’t give you a synopsis of its main arguments. All they know is ‘Zionism’ is meant to represent something sinister, something bad and ought to be opposed because it’s the politically correct thing to do.
If they did know anything about Zionism then they would know that it is undergirded by a cluster of assumptions. One of them being that, in the final analysis, when it really comes down to it, Jews really have no place in gentile society, because antisemitism is so deep rooted, so entrenched, that there’s no hope for Jews as a minority. Major strains of the Zionist worldview view antisemitism as an ‘eternal disease’, a sad ineradicable fact, a subterranean stream lurking within the surface of society that can be activated at any moment. Thus, Jews should always be ‘aware’ that their place in gentile society isn’t as secure as it seems, because you never know when ‘it’ will happen again. I don’t need to tell about the historical examples that are used to ‘prove’ this thesis.
I happen to disagree with this thesis because it mystifies antisemtism. Antisemitism isn’t a disease without a cure. It isn’t a god like power. It’s ‘deep rooted’, but it is, nonetheless, rooted in how society is organised. So like other man made ills it can be unmade by human action. Black nationalists hold a similar view about anti-black racism in ‘white society’ which I also find wrong headed. But wouldn’t you agree that indifference, let alone indulging in anti-black racism, would be a a stupid way to argue against black nationalism? So, indulging in antisemitism against Jews in the name anti-Zionism is, to put it lightly, a counterproductive way of arguing against Zionism and will do zilch for the Palestinians.
Another reason why it is crucial to unblur the debate on antisemitism is clarification is needed as to its relationship to the quarrel between Israel and the Palestinians.
Zionists and Israel’s right wing advocates, frequently frame Palestinian antagonism towards Zionism as ‘rooted’ in a primordial, Islamically inflected, violent antisemitism. Einat — ‘only mosquitos were displaced’ — Wilf, frequently argues Zionism, in the Arab-Muslim imagination represented an upending of the “natural order” of their unquestioned hegemony, hence earning their obstinate rejectionism. The Jews wrenched out Falasteen and Al-Quds from Dar al-Islam, causing a deep feeling of humiliation across Islamdom. Thus, Palestinian (and the broader Arab) opposition to Israel is really grounded in Muslim ressentiment against their former dhimmis usurping their sovereignty.
“It was terribly hard for Muslims to accept,” Editor of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg argued in his memoir Prisoners:
that their inferiors–the Jews–now ruled Palestine. After the defeat at Khaybar, the Jews put up no resistance to the expansion of Islam. They accepted their second-class status. They were protected in some measure by their passivity….But then came Zionism, a movement that demanded for Jews equal rights as a nation. This made no sense in the worldview of many Arab Muslims, who, if secretly insecure about their primacy in the world, were at least sure that they were better than the Jews.
This would be true of the likes of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the mullahs in Iran and even Hamas. Their enmity against Israel really is rooted in an extreme religious form of antisemitism that regards Palestine as exclusive Muslim property. They view Palestine under ‘Jewish sovereignty’ as they view Spain and Portugal (or ‘Al-Andalus’): land that fundamentally ‘belongs’ to Muslims only, and non-Muslims at best are subordinates. But any claim that states or implies primordial Islamic antisemitism is the animating principle behind Palestinian antagonism to Zionism is just engaging in racist defamation and misrepresents the reasons for such antagonism.
“The fear of territorial displacement and dispossession was to be the chief motor of Arab antagonism to Zionism down to 1948 (& indeed after 1967 as well)” Benny Morris — when he was less thuggish and a more balanced historian — observed in Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict. This “fear of territorial displacement and dispossession” among Palestinian Arabs was vindicated in the 1948 war (Al-Nakba) where an estimated 750,000 of them were mostly expelled or displaced from their homeland and barred from returning lest they be shot on sight. Their entire society collapsed and now had to endure exile. Not just that, their homes and shops were looted and property and land confiscated by the Jewish state (as documented by Tom Segev in searing detail in chapter 3 of The First Israelis). This vindication is confirmed till the present with further dispossession and settler-colonisation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The worst case scenario that could’ve happened for Palestinians happened. This is what Zionism and the Jewish state has meant in practice, in the material world, not as an abstract theory. If one doesn’t understand this then you will not understand the ‘nature’ of Palestinian enmity towards Israel, and thus you will not understand the fundamental political nature of this conflict.
Don’t let anyone fool you with cheap propaganda about antisemitism being the “disease of the Arab mind” or guff about ‘sacred Islamic soil’ or a ‘clash of civilisations’. The point is to delegitimise Palestinian grievances and portray them as not being ‘rooted’ in something rational, secular or material, but based on ‘ancient’ Qur’anic enmity against Jews and irrational, sadistic bloodthirst.
Establishing the root and branch of this conflict as Arab-Muslim antisemitism has the benefit of preserving as much Israeli innocence as possible. Israel always defensive, not offensive, always the underdog, always the victim. All opposition to Israel must then be a continuation of the ‘eternal’ antisemitism ingrained in gentile society. This may be paradoxically soothing for Israel’s apologists, but will only lead to self serving narcissism. It is only by reckoning with the real, secular, political grievances of Palestinians borne of their historic and tragic collision with Zionism — grievances frequently denied and demonised — that there can be any hope of resolving this conflict in a just manner for both peoples and defang it of any of the religious poison it has gained in the past few decades.
“For the Palestinians, the existence of Israel is bound to remain a trauma for as far as one can think ahead,” the late Zionist historian Walter Laqueur, once observed, “the loss of part of their homeland being the greatest injustice which can be put right only by violence. It is only natural that they will want this state to cease to exist.” The occupation, continued dispossession and the obscene siege of Gaza are just compounding this Palestinian ‘trauma’. If Laqueur, an avid Zionist, could understand this core point then I don’t see why anyone else can’t.
Antisemitism isn’t simply anti-Jewish prejudice. It is a political ideology, a Weltanschauung, a mode of thought, an attempt to explain how the world ‘really works’ and who is ‘pulling the strings’, giving it a pseudo-intellectual and quasi-theoretical character. Antisemitism needs to be combatted not because it is ‘bad PR’ for ‘the movement’ or it will become a ‘distraction’. It is because it is a prognosis of political and ideological decay. If Palestine is framed in antisemitic terms then it will lead to all sorts of rancid reactionary politics that will produce tyranny and violence. Only a moral idiot would think antisemitism is simply about Jews.
On antisemitism and the question of Palestine, one has to be Janus-faced. On the one hand, those who use Israel (or Zionism) as pretext to attack Jews must be opposed. On the other, the real scourge antisemitism should not be abused in such a way by reactionary forces to demonise and delegitimise Palestinians — as Nazis in Keffiyehs — and their real struggle for freedom and self-determination. This is the only path a principled and intelligent politics on Palestine can operate.