With his permission, I am publishing on my blog a Facebook post by Dr Steven Beller, an independent scholar based in Washington DC, which presents an alternative analysis of the anti-Jewish hostility currently being experienced in Europe as a result of Israel’s offensive against Gaza. Dr Beller was a visiting scholar at George Washington University and a Research Fellow at Peterhouse College Cambridge. He is the author of major books on Austrian and Jewish history and also an expert on the history of antisemitism. He authored Antisemitism: A Very Short Introduction for Oxford University Press (2007). The post was written in response to a New York Times article, which appeared on 2 August, entitled ‘Antisemitism rises in Europe amid Israel-Gaza conflict’. All antisemitism is unacceptable, but Dr Beller questions whether it’s the right term for the hostility in Europe to Israel and Jews. It’s important to hear this view because at times like this, various commentators fail to understand the context in which this hostility appears and are therefore liable to spread hysteria and paranoia. Particularly unfortunate is the fact that we are seeing the recycling of an article written by Howard Jacobson in February 2009 about responses to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, a piece that generates far more heat than light. Comments on Dr Beller’s post are welcome.
I am not sure ‘antisemitism’ is the right term any more for the hostility in Europe to Israel and the Jewish communities in Europe, which, on the evidence of this article, appears now to be mainly coming from young Muslim immigrants in Europe. If the leadership of those 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, unlike the historically internalized relationship of conflict.
When political antisemitism was at its height, from c.1870 to 1945, there was no sovereign Jewish state to hate. All hostility to Jews was internal or against a spectral ‘Jewish conspiracy’ whether of the ‘Judaeo-Bolsheviks’ or the ‘Elders of Zion’. Zionism, ironically, was supposed to solve this hostility by making Jews whole human-beings in their own state. Now we have that state, Israel, which Zionists wish us to think of as the ‘Jewish state’, the political expression of the Jewish nation’s/people’s right to self-determination (so a complete identification in Zionism between the state of Israel and the Jewish people).
When some critics of Israel conflate their target of hostility with the Jewish communities in the various countries, they are only doing what Israel and its Zionist supporters have said they should do -saying that you are in complete solidarity with Israel means that you share responsibility for Israel’s moral decisions and actions. So blaming Jews along with Israel for what Israel is doing is just like blaming American people abroad for what Americans are doing. (Israel does not see Jewishness as a religious category, but as a national one.) This might be a little unfair, but it is not racist, and has a certain logic to it (if you accept the idea of national collective responsibility, which most of us do, at some level.) I cannot see how that, per se, can be classified as ‘antisemitism’ (as it is in this myopic article), which has much worse, racist, paranoid and irrationalist, connotations, and the whole moral burden of the Holocaust.
Calling this hostility to current Israeli policies (which in any other context would be viewed as extreme nationalism), and towards the Jewish communities who are usually explicitly, and almost always implicitly, supporting these policies, ‘antisemitism’, or even the relatively recent ‘new antisemitism’ appears to me 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’, or even, at a stretch, ‘anti-Jewish’, but I do not think they have the same causation as historic antisemitism, and it is misleading to continue dragging this term in here.
Even when historical antisemitic tropes are used by Arab and Muslim opponents of Israel and the supporters of its policies, the core reason for them doing this (to bolster their arguments) appears to me to be Israel and its anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, policies. If there is a rise in anti-Jewish hostility, and anti-Jewish attacks, in modern-day Europe, the main provoker of this hostility is what Israel does, either in expanding settlements, bombarding Palestinian civilians, or making deliberately excessive demands on a relatively moderate Fatah Palestinian leadership in peace talks. The existence of Hamas, and its defiance in letting missiles be lobbed into Israel is a tragic development (brought about partly by Israeli attempts to undermine Fatah), but the answer is not more violence that jeopardizes the position of Jews all over the world, but rather a genuine attempt to make sustainable peace. 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 antisemitism, together with, ironically, a xenophobia exacerbated by Islamophobia.
By the way, is it not ironic that one of the ‘experts’ avers that ‘violence always starts in the mind’. So where, one might ask, did the violence being visited on civilians in Gaza come from? Could it be Jewish nationalist (Zionist) prejudice and hatred against Palestinians? For simply refusing to go away?