Engage Journal 2006 – 2007

Issue 1  – January 2006

The Rise of a New Anti-Semitism in the UK – Shalom Lappin

The Right to Exist: anti-Zionism at the United Nations – Ben Cohen

Hating Science; Hating The Jews: What’s Philosophically Interesting About Anti-Semitism – Samuel Fleischacker

How Neoconservatives’ Shift from Left to Right Inspired Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Thinking – Ralph Seliger

A review of George Galloway’s new book – Dave Rich

Divestment Meets its Waterloo in Somerville, Massachusetts – Jon Haber

A review of Tsiolkas’ ‘Dead Europe’ – Dawn Cohen

David Seymour and David Hirsh – Engage Journal: January 2006 Issue 1 Editorial

Academic freedom and the limits of boycotts: some Kantian considerations – Jon Pike

Issue 2  – May 2006

Engage Journal Issue 2 – May 2006 Editorial – Alexandra Simonon

Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Anti-Semitism – Robert Fine

Zionism and Apartheid:The Analogy in the Politics of International Law – John Strawson

From ‘Judas’ to ‘Jewish Capital’: Antisemitic Forms of Thought in the German Communist Party (KPD) in the Weimar Republic, 1918-1933 – Olaf Kistenmacher

“The” Jews as products of globalisation – Evelien Gans

Nasty or Nazi? The use of antisemitic topoi in the left-liberal media – Winston Pickett

Stereotypes in the Academy: Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism on US College Campus – Christopher MacDonald-Dennis

The case of David Irving: “Revisionism” and freedom of expression – Karl Pfeifer

Issue 3 – September 2006

On Blood Libels – Anthony Julius

Invisible in Oxford: The ‘Public Face’ of Medieval Jewish History in Modern England

The French Left and political Islam : secularism versus the temptation of an alliance – Jean-Yves Camus

From ‘Jewish Capital’ to the ‘Jewish-Fascist Legion in Jerusalem’: The Development of Antizionism in the German Communist Party (KPD) in the Weimar Republic, 1925-1933 – Olaf Kistenmacher

On the Rights and Wrongs of Terrorism – Anthony Lesser (review)  Ted Honderich, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7, London

The Aftermath of a Forgery – Larry Ray (review)  Hadassa Ben-Itto, The Lie That Wouldn’t Die – The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Booze, Bigotry or Both? Mel Gibson’s Jewish Problem – Daniel Burston

Marx and the radical critique of difference – Larry Ray

Issue 4 – February 2007

Making Emotional Sense of the Proposed Boycotts against Israeli Academics and Intellectuals – Catherine B. Silver

The Left and the Holocaust – David Rich

Dealing with Anti-Semitism in Britain – Shalom Lappin

Cure worse than the disease: academic boycott of Israel in the light of the academic boycott of South Africa – Mira Vogel

The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: The Far Right, the Far Left and the Middle East – Michael Ezra

The Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council: Good or Bad for Australian Jewry? – Philip Mendes

Globalization & Antisemitism: Muslim Judeophobia in Europe – Avram Hein 

Special Issue –  April 2007

Is an academic boycott of Israel justified? – Michael Yudkin – Engage Journal Special Issue – April 2007

Issue 5 – September 2007

Anti-Jewish stereotypes in Swedish public discourse – Henrik Bachner

Antisemitic insults: a lexicon – Jonothon Green

The Left and Anti-Semitism today – Philip Spencer 

“Old” and “New”: Contemporary British Antisemitism – Mark Gardner

Historical Truth and Antisemitism – Eric B. Litwack

Book review: The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel and Liberal Opinion – Philip Mendes  The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel and Liberal Opinion By Bernard Harrison

Book review: The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel and Liberal Opinion – Philip Mendes – Engage Journal Issue 5 – September 2007

The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel and Liberal Opinion By Bernard Harrison, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, 2006, pp.219

Much has been written about the so-called “new anti-semitism” associated with the second Palestinian intifada and growing left-wing hostility towards Israel. Attacks on individual Jews and Jewish institutions and broader anti-Zionist and anti-Israel zealotry seems to have significantly increased. This book by a veteran non-Jewish and ex-leftist philosopher carefully interrogates this phenomenon by inquiring whether and in what circumstances criticism of Israel equals anti-Semitism.

Harrison argues that a negative climate of opinion has developed towards Jews based on a narrow moral indignation concerning the suffering of the Palestinians. This viewpoint arguably mirrors the claims and motifs of traditional anti-Semitism in a number of ways. The Israel-Palestine conflict is defined as the key international issue today; Israel is held solely responsible for the conflict and the Palestinians and Arab States are constructed as completely innocent victims: Israel is an inherently racist and apartheid state; Israeli actions are worse than those of Nazism; all Jews provide unqualified support for Israeli policies; and Israel is planning a mass genocide of the Palestinians. In short, Jews and Israel are portrayed as a unified malicious force similar to that depicted in traditional far Right anti-Semitism.

Harrison emphasizes that he is no right-wing propagandist engaged in a polemic against the Left. In fact, he expresses qualified support for an Israeli return of the West Bank and dismantling of Jewish settlements in exchange for peace. He also criticizes instances of Israeli discrimination against its Arab citizens. But, he is concerned that contemporary anti-Zionism may result in an overtly anti-Semitic movement that will damage non-Jews as well as Jews, and urges Left anti-Zionists to modify their views and language to conform to traditional anti-racist perspectives.

In support of his key argument, Harrison utilizes a number of case studies from the contemporary British debate including the New Statesman’s January 2002 publication of an anti-Semitic image titled “A Kosher Conspiracy” on its front cover; two articles by Dennis Sewell and John Pilger in the same issue of that magazine; an August 2002 BBC broadcast explicitly comparing Israeli actions to those of the Nazis; a 2004 statement by Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Tonge saying that she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if forced to live like the Palestinians; the anti-Israel rantings of senior Labour parliamentarian Peter Hain; and the boycott by British Muslims of the Holocaust Day commemoration. He also exposes the genocidal agenda behind calls for a so-called “one-state” solution, analyses the political and religious machinations behind suicide bombings, and condemns the one-sided anti-Israeli reporting of many British media outlets .

Harrison provides some useful insights into much Left anti-Zionist thinking. He notes that many ideologues look for simple answers to complex problems, and argues that many on the Left have substituted Islamists and other fanatical anti-American groups for the traditional vanguard role played by the proletariat. He also brutally dissects the Mersheimer-Walt et al thesis that Jewish lobby groups control the foreign policy decisions of the USA and other Western powers, and compares it to traditional anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

There are some obvious weaknesses and historical errors in this book. For example, Harrison consistently argues that Jews are significantly divided on Israeli policies, which tends to exaggerate the significance of a few loud Jewish dissenters and under-state the passionate identification of most Jews with Israel. He argues wrongly that only a very small minority of Israelis favour permanent Israeli control of the West Bank. He claims that most Palestinian refugees left Israel because they were urged to do so by Arab broadcasts rather than due to direct Israeli expulsions, but ignores the contrary view expressed by prominent contemporary Israeli historians such as Benny Morris. In addition, he fails to cite documented evidence of Israeli massacres during the 1948 war, argues wrongly that Left anti-Zionism only became significant after the fall of Communism, and denies the reality that many Jews do interpret any criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic. Finally, he gets the year wrong for the 2000 Camp David negotiations, and relies too heavily on the non-specialist writings of US lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

More broadly, Harrison is also too willing to essentialise the Left, and to ignore counter-arguments. There is no mention of those Left groups such as Engage which have campaigned energetically against an academic boycott of Israel. Nor does he applaud the British Labour Government for initiating a Commission of Inquiry into Anti-Semitism. These reservations aside, Harrison provides a useful critique of the failure of many on the Left to distinguish between political criticisms of specific Israeli policies and governments, and a collective stereotyping of the entire Israeli people.

Dr Philip Mendes is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Monash University, and the co-editor of Jews and Australian Politics, Sussex Academic Press, 2004. Philip.Mendes@med.monash.edu.au

Historical Truth and Antisemitism – Eric B. Litwack Engage Journal Issue 5 – September 2007

As I researched this article, the world’s most prominent Holocaust denier, President Ahmadinejad of Iran, convened a pseudo-scholarly conference whose purpose was to offer a forum to an international group of neo-Nazis and other antisemites. From media coverage of this odious event, it appeared that the goal of linking the response to the Holocaust and the justification of Zionism was of particular focus. It is thus timely to underline the importance of historical truth in combating antisemitic propaganda, of both the anti-Zionist and Holocaust denial varieties . (1)

Firstly, a political observation: both of these problems are by no means limited to segments of either the political right or the political left . (2) They are to be found among a variety of extremists, both secular and religious.

Historical Truth as A Regulatory Notion

As much as philosophers are keen to either theorize or deflate it, the notion of truth imposes itself on our thinking in all spheres of thought. This means that although it might not figure explicitly in our precise explanations, it always lurks in the conceptual background, allowing us to distinguish between fact and fiction. As such, it is an explanatory requirement of any analysis that would seek to be factual and precise, whether it is historical, scientific, or quotidian. (3) It is inconceivable how historical research and writing could even be done, without it being distinguished adequately from both fiction and myth-making. This is not to deny both that inadvertent falsehoods exist within even the best historical accounts, and that highly interpretive and relative narratives will sometimes colour the work of even the most professional of historians. Rather, the pursuit of truth, defined austerely as discovering at leastaspects of what actually happened in the past, is a methodological virtue in presenting explanations that are properly described as historical rather than as exercises in story-telling . (4)

Truth, however it is conceived, is best seen as a regulatory notion. Although it would go beyond the parameters of the present work to elaborate what I take to be a robust account of truth, I would like to give a brief account of what I take to be both a workable and compelling notion of historical truth, and how it is to be distinguished from interpretation.

As is often pointed out, it is certainly the case that both ideological presuppositions and particular interpretations frequently enter historical explanations, and that some of this is both reasonable and innocuous. This is especially true with reference to judgements of value, both ethical and political. Two points ought to be made in this connection, however. Firstly, the mere fact of disagreement does not imply that there is no truth of the matter. Secondly, any workable notion of truth will have to include “brute facts” as part of its historical repertory. By brute facts, I mean artefacts, actions and events that cannot be denied on any reasonable grounds. This ought, in at least some cases, to be extended to their causal powers and historical influences as well. That some of this truth claims do not admit of certainty does not imply that none of them do.

There is indeed real room for interpretation and controversy in historical descriptions and explanations, but only to a logical point bound by brute facts. For example, in an account of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s intentions at the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865 for the coming Reconstruction, there is ample room for debate as to whether his policies would have favoured the Radicals or the Conservatives in his own Republican party. (5) There is noroom for debate as to whether or not there was a Civil War between the states, an intended Reconstruction of the Union, or for that matter, an American president named “Abraham Lincoln”. Furthermore, that the individuals, artefacts, and events that constituted the Civil War had a major influence on the subsequent history of the United States through their numerous causal effects is equally undeniable.

Holocaust deniers exploit a general ignorance of historical methods by attempting to pass off a denial of brute facts, akin to the latter examples, with the legitimate debates attendant to the former examples. That they do so with the intention of libelling the Jewish people adds racist propaganda to pseudo-scholarly rubbish. This is generally done with an appalling air of self-righteous martyrdom in the defence of freedom of speech. (6)

It is worth noting that part of the reason why this debate is so daunting is the very nature of historicity, or significant past facts. The past, by definition, is no longer directly accessible in the way that existing material objects and present states of consciousness are. Rather, one is approaching, through our current language and concepts, several phenomena. These can include any combination of: primary and secondary sources, artefacts, and sometimes collective and personal memories.

However, that does not imply, as strongly relativistic accounts of historiography would have it, that there can be no objective facts about the past. Consider the meaning of some terms frequently encountered in history e.g. riot, diplomacy, sub-culture. All of these important terms are subject to a legitimate range of interpretation. “Riot” or rowdy demonstration? “Diplomacy” or thinly veiled military threat? “Sub-culture” or new culture? In history, as elsewhere, there are borderline cases. However, what would be required in order to doubt or deny the application of the word “war” to what is now termed the “First World War”? Nothing short of a complete and consistent transformation of one of our most basic and workable concepts—indeed, our entire conception of the world would have to change with it. (7)

To state the entirely obvious: there were functioning gas chambers at Auschwitz-Treblinka, and well over one million people perished in that concentration and extermination centre between 1940 and 1945. Furthermore, a large majority of them were killed for no other reason than that they were Jewish. Any historically respectable and morally decent account of what happened in that terrible place will have to take these, and many other, brute facts into account. Given its general ideological profile, and failing a case of remarkable ignorance, the denial of said brute facts may be said safely to be antisemitic in both inspiration and effect. People who do this are not, as the neo-Nazi movement maintains, akin to genuine historical revisionists who offer a controversial interpretation of the English Civil War based on agreed facts concerning that event. They are rather like phrenologists who would claim an intellectual authority equivalent to that of neurologists, in discussing the brain, and do so in the interests of slandering an entire religious and ethno-cultural group. Not being clear about this in the current climate of radical historical relativism is downright dangerous.

Once these truths of history are acknowledged, as both historical accuracy and social ethics require, there remains ample room for legitimate debate about more particular details. Thus, reputable Holocaust historians disagree on questions such as the importance of intentions versus functionality in the Nazi hierarchy’s thinking, (8) on issues about the role of Pius XII and the Vatican, and on the ethical lessons to be learnt from all of this. All of these debates take place against the background of respect for historical truth, and that, properly understood, is not a matter of interpretation. Historical relativists such as E.H. Carr claim that “…interpretation enters into every fact of history” . (9) In so doing, they open wide the door of history to ignoring the reality of brute facts and the important line between bias and legitimate interpretation. (10)

What are the consequences of ignoring the importance of historical truth, in the case of antisemitism? Firstly, it will distort our very understanding of Jewish history, which is regrettable in its own right. Secondly, it will prevent the very possibility of our actually learning from the past, so as to avoid further victimisation of Jews and other persecuted minority groups. That these lessons have not always been taken to heart since 1945 is evident (e.g. Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and probably contemporary Darfur). Yet unless an attempt to recognise and to come to grips with it all is made, there is no hope for any improvement…it is only the honest and sensitive recognition of historical truth that allows for genuine wisdom and political improvement, although it does not guarantee it . (11)

Holocaust Denial and Radical Anti-Zionism: Partners in Slander

There is no necessary logical connection between denying the Holocaust and denying Israel’s right to exist. Having said that, both common sense and empirical evidence (12) would indicate that individuals and groups who are racist enough towards Jews to delude themselves into an anti-Semitic flight of fantasy such as Holocaust denial would not be favourably disposed towards Jewish self-determination. (13) Conversely, some anti-Zionists on the political Left have made use of Holocaust denial in their propaganda, but most would likely reject this categorically. (14)

The truth of the matter is more subtle and invidious. Namely, anti-Zionism and Holocaust denial are different contemporary expressions of antisemitism that exploit pervasive historical ignorance and radical relativism in the promotion of their social designs: the destruction of Israel and the rehabilitation of Nazism, respectively.

Holocaust denial that has converged the questions of historical truth and antisemitism in a particularly disturbing manner since the late 1970s. (15) Although the related debates over historical truth, standards of evidence, and eyewitness testimony pre-date this period considerably, they have been necessarily conjoined as part of what might be termed the logic of responses to hate propaganda. Holocaust deniers are notorious in trading upon such genuinely contentious epistemological questions, thereby posing as legitimate revisionists. (16) In so doing, they mask their antisemitic propaganda as serious contributions to historiography…apparent truth-seeking in the service of genuine group libel. Nothing could be a greater insult to both Hitler’s millions of victims and to real scholarship as well.

Of course, there is a flip side to all of this. Respecting historical truth also implies seeing through propaganda in the service of one’s own commitments, and not only respecting but encouraging the bringing of new evidence and facts to light, wherever they may lead. This can be illustrated by turning to some current controversies in the history of Zionism and the movement of refuges in the twentieth century.

The recent debate over the historiography of Israel’s “new historians” such as Benny Morris, only underlines this. However painful it may be to acknowledge past wrong-doing, if it truly happened, then it will have to be recognised and dealt with, both historically and ethically. That it is why supporters of Israel must ensure that their claims and arguments are securely moored to the mast of historical truth, and this will sometimes imply both opposition to propaganda and fanaticism from within our own ranks, as well as a possible qualification of some long cherished beliefs. No comparable school of self-critical historiography on the subject of Zionism exists elsewhere in the Middle East, and this is a tribute to Israeli democracy and scholarship.

For example, at the heart of Morris’ work is the claim that more Palestinians were expelled from their homes during the 1948 War of Independence than the Zionist movement has hitherto acknowledged. Clearly whether or not this occurred has major implications for the perspectives of both sides. I will leave the finer points of this debate to the scrutiny of Middle Eastern historians, but both the ethical and philosophical implications of all of this are clear, given respect for historical truth. If it is indeed the case, then it must be evaluated morally and in the context of a life and death struggle between the nascent Jewish state and its numerous Arab foes. It is also true that hundreds of thousands of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews were coerced, without proprietary compensation, out of their long-held homes in Arab countries. I strongly suspect that this is a little-known fact, as one rarely if ever encounters it in academic and general discussion of Israel’s early history (c. 1940s-50s). (17) It is also true that the very existence of a close to twenty percent Arab minority within Israel itself is blatant refutation of the mass expulsion thesis. One could also cite the much larger expulsions of millions of Europeans as well as Indians/Pakistanis in the twentieth century, (18) involving far more than the two cases of 600-800,000 people, those of the Palestinians and the Middle Eastern Jews.

All of this can and should be adduced by defenders of Israel in order so as to respect historical facts and avoid the pervasive double-standard against Israel’s actions. Many wrongs do not make a right, however. Therefore, the discussion ought not to end with this global context—it will not detract from the logical and moral need to address the central claim being made in its own right. More precisely, did this alleged expulsion actually happen, and if so, was it justified given both international law and the very real existential struggle of the Jewish state? It is certainly to democratic Israel’s credit that these questions are being debated openly, a sort of historical debate which does not take place within the borders of its authoritarian adversaries. Once more, the truth of the matter is fundamental, and discussions should revolve entirely around what it is best taken to be.

There may also be a more subtle effect of ignoring the truth about past events. In the case of Holocaust denial, it is likely to cause an underestimation of the gravity its denial on the part of antisemitic groups and regimes, such as the current Iranian administration. There are many reasons for rejecting theocracy and espousing democracy and human rights, and one of them ought to be the contempt for minority rights and history on the part of governments motivated by blind faith and propaganda of the most distorted and malicious variety. The morally and politically appropriate response to groups such as the Ahmedinejad regime, Hamas, and various neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist cults around the world is a historically informed no pasaran. The issues involved go well beyond their Holocaust denial. Nonetheless, it ought to be considered one of their worst rhetorical and ideological excesses. As such, respect for historical truth is seen to be both a political virtue, as well as a matter of sound methodology and ethical reasoning.

It is perhaps not surprising that the principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” (19) would prove attractive to critics of the foreign policy of Western regimes. However, it sometimes turns out that my enemy’s enemy is also my enemy, whether or not recognised as such. Because if that group or individual holds beliefs and engages in actions that are inimical to my own way of life—in this case the complete denial of democracy, human rights, equality for women and gays (20), among the many other abuses on the part of authoritarian regimes against their own people—than one’s evaluations ought to be more nuanced, to say the least. Furthermore, to confuse opposition to such human rights abuses and extremism with the legitimate problem of ethnocentrism is to miss the point entirely.

There remain those who believe that historical relativism or even radical scepticism are allies in combating antisemitism, due to their perceived tolerance and openness. If my thesis is correct, then we have nothing to fear from historical realism in this renewed campaign against the Jewish people. On the contrary, it ought to be considered a prime philosophical ally.


I would like to end on what I take to be a separate but cognate matter of contemporary concern. Since 9/11, there has been the predictable plethora of conspiracy theories (21), many indicting the U.S. government for carrying out a huge “covert operation” so as to justify military operations abroad and/or political repression within its own borders. Others make the preposterous claim that the American government, or the C.I.A. in particular knew that the attacks were coming, but refrained from acting against them so as to pursue said devious agenda. These views may be widely held, and they are pervasive on the internet.

In other words, it is alleged that some of the ablest intelligence officers in the world could not come up with a provocation less damaging than the destruction of their own financial centre, of a wing of their own military headquarters in Washington D.C., and the deaths of a huge number of their own citizens. One might add the many billions of dollars of damages lost in the painstaking reconstruction, and the general damage to the U.S. and world economy from the attacks. Note also the anti-Semitic version of this peddled by Hamas and other Middle Eastern extremist groups, with its ludicrous allegation that thousands of forewarned Jews stayed home from their jobs in the World Trade Center that day. (22)

With reference to historical truth, there is a broader point to be made in this context. There is a natural tendency, in response to trauma and/or phenomena beyond one’s comprehension towards cognitive dissonance, denial, and simplistic explanation. It is far easier for some to resort to such defence mechanisms than to face exceedingly unpleasant truths about the world in which they live.

This includes the fact that there are fanatics who despise them for their civilizational identity, rather than in tailor-made response to anything that they have done or condoned.

The wilful suspension of critical analysis involved in the eager endorsement of such views is genuinely disturbing. People who go in for this kind of thing will be vulnerable to all manner of propaganda and brainwashing. It underlines the fact that the teaching of both proper historical and scientific methodology, as well as critical thinking skills is essential to democratic culture. (23)

A healthy scepticism aside, much of this can only be seen as an exercise in what Richard Hofstadter has called “the paranoid style in American politics” (24), although it is by no means limited to the U.S. Once more, historical truth, however conceived, remains an important tool in the response to paranoia, including its anti-Semitic manifestations. More broadly, it ought to be seen as both a core value of inquiry concerning the past, and as an affirmation of humanity’s courage to face the facts—whether they be pleasant or unpleasant.

Eric B. Litwack,
Queen’s University (Canada)
International Study Centre
East Sussex, UK


(1) I am deliberately avoiding the use of the deniers’ self-description revisionist, which is perfectly legitimate in genuine historical debates e.g. the debate among American historians concerning the causes of the Cold War. See P. Novick (1988) on this. Thus, revisionism, properly understood, ought to imply a radical disagreement within the boundaries of arguable historical fact, and not wilful deception in the service of a nefarious ideology
(2) A classificatory word of caution: the traditional Right/Left distinction, for all of its French revolutionary pedigree may no longer hold the conceptual water that it once did. For example, environmentalism is not readily classifiable on its axis, and there are other important issues such as isolationism vs. humanitarian interventionism that would also seem to defy it. I use it here cautiously, as a broad distinction. In particular, I take contemporary leftism to consist of a broad gestalt of egalitarian causes, including (but not limited to): anti-racism, post-colonialism, feminism, economic redistribution and strong criticisms of the market, along with a generally critical stand towards authority and tradition.
(3) For one of the best general philosophical treatments of this in recent philosophy, see Nagel T. (1997).
(4) As such, I take my position to be at odds with both strongly constructivist and relativistic conceptions of historicity e.g. that of the British historian Carr, E.G. (1961) as well as postmodernist accounts such as that of Foucault, M. (1963). In short, I take it that any account of historical explanation and objectivity that fails to recognise the centrality of truth as a regulating notion will fail to do justice to its objects of study. Moreover, this regulation by truth must have at least some trans-cultural and trans-historical aspects in order to be adequate to its task. The very notion of historical explanation implies not just the possibility, but the need to understand and judge other times and places, and to be open to such judgement on the part of others in the future. The relativistic denial of historical truth renders both these real and important activities even more difficult than they genuinely are, possibly to the point of incoherence.
(5) For a concise account of this, see Current R.N. (2006).
(6) As is the case with the recent Iranian conference, which billed itself as an “open alternative” to the Western media, allegedly controlled by a “Zionist conspiracy.”
(7) On this question of the real and often underestimated semantic cost of excessive relativism and scepticism, see Wittgenstein, L. (1972). Here Wittgenstein ably indicates the untenability and ultimate incoherence of doubting without adequate grounds, and the fact that doubt can only exist against the background of certainty. This clearly applies to what might be termed the most radical forms of Holocaust denial, grounded in a general and excessive scepticism about the past (both history and memory). For the more detailed versions of the problem, claiming particular and evidential grounds, the enormity of primary source evidence against them is the basis of a potential thorough refutation, bracketing the controversy over whether or not such slanderous claims merit a rational reply in a civilised society. This was recently brought out in the David Irving case. See Lipstadt, D.E. (2005). Irving’s own recent admission in Vienna that the Nazis murdered millions of Jews highlights the plausibility of claims that the historical relativism in question is merely feigned strategically, in order to reduce the culpability of Nazi Germany.
(8) For a good summary of this debate, see Marrus, M. R. (1987), Chapter Three.
(9) Carr, E.H. (1961), p. 13.
(10) For an able delineation of this by a contemporary realist philosopher of history, see McCullagh, C.B. (2000), as well as the work of the contemporary realist historian, Richard J. Evans (notably 1997).
(11) For a short and accessible statement of this, see Charles Fried’s “Getting at the Truth”, in the December 13, 2006 Boston Globe.
(12) Note the seemingly ridiculous spectacle of avowedly white supremacist and Holocaust denial groups in the US and elsewhere styling themselves champions of Palestinian rights. However, this has a historic precedence in Hitler’s sympathy for Haj Amin Muhammed al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate in Palestine, after 1921. As such, he was the nominal religious leader of the Palestinian Arabs for close to a quarter of a century. He spent much of the Second World War as an Arabic language broadcaster for the Nazi state radio, appealing to Arabs and Balkan Muslims to support the Axis and its genocide of the Jews, and helping to form Bosnian Muslim SS and Wehrmacht divisions in the Balkans. It is evident that the Nazis viewed him as a useful tool against the British and the Jewish people, and not as an ideal representative of the “Aryan race”. See I. Abramski-Bligh (1990).
(13) One notable exception to this would be the receptiveness of some European antisemites to Zionism during the 1930s, on the grounds that it would solve their respective nations’ “Jewish problem” through mass emigration. This position was not, however, that of the Third Reich, although it did send Adolph Eichmann and an associate to British Palestine on a fact-finding mission in 1937. Their report to Berlin was unfavourable to Zionism, stressing the prospective dangers of an independent Jewish state to the Third Reich. On this, see Nicosia, F. (1990).
(14) Note the Holocaust denial publications of the radical Parisian publishing house , “La Vielle Taupe”, which began as an anarcho-Marxist press. This appears to be a classic case of being willing to embrace anything that is opposed to what one takes to be the devil incarnate—in this case, capitalism and Western liberal democracy. To describe such reasoning as simplistic would be an understatement. On this, see P. Vidal-Naquet (1995).
(15) Although there were earlier manifestations of Holocaust Denial, e.g. that of Rassinier,in the 1950s.
I take the scurrilous publications of A. Butz and R. Faurisson to have inaugurated a new and more widely-publicised stage of this propaganda, between 1976 and 1978.
(16) Note also the pseudo-scholarly style of some of their publications, such as the so-called Journal of Historical Review (now defunct). The website of its parent body, the Institute for Historical Review, focuses heavily on Holocaust denial and articles highly critical of Israel, Jews, and U.S. policy in the Middle East. It also, however, seems to make a point of including legitimate pieces of unrelated historical revisionism, presumably in order to complete the charade of genuine scholarship. See note one above.
(17) See Sachar (1996), Chapter Fifteen.
(18) On the general ignorance of the expulsion of over twelve million ethnic Germans in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the see Mazower, M. (1999). Whatever one’s interpretation of the event, this remains thelargest single movement of European refugees in history.
(19) Note Kofi Anan’s explicit rejection of this simplistic adage during a recent. visit to Tehran. He is reported to have denounced Holocaust denial to his hosts for what it is–hate propaganda.
See e.g.[url=http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2006/12/11/holocaust-iran-061211.http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2006/12/11/holocaust-iran-061211.html%5B/url%5D
(20) Note the recent international campaigns against female genital mutilation (FGM), and the fact that homosexuality remains a felony offence in many countries today. Israel, for all of its genuine problems and human rights controversies, does not exhibit either of these common human rights abuses. For example, on Israel’s Gay Pride activities, seehttp://www.worldpride.net/.
(21) The technical aspects of sixteen of these claims have been ably de-bunked by an expert team of over seventy applied scientists and engineers drawn together by Popular Mechanics magazine. See the cover story of its March 2005 issue, J.B. Meigs, editor.
(22) See the Gorowitz Institute report (2003). It is estimated that several hundred Jews died when the Twin Towers collapsed, a number roughly in proportion to the Jewish population of greater New York City. No doubt the legion of the paranoid will only see this grim fact as a stalking horse for the larger conspiracy. …Nothing, it would seem, can be adduced that would falsify any of their fanatically held beliefs.
(23) A good critical thinking textbook could consist largely of methods for debunking conspiracy theories of this sort, as well as other paranoid and extravagant claims and unsound explanations.
(24) See Hofstadter (1964).


Abrmaski-Bligh, I 1990, “Hajj Amin Al-Husseini” in Gutman, I., Volume Two.
Anti-Defamation League 2003, “Unravelling Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories”, New York, Gorowitz Institute.

Carr, E.H. 1961, What is History?, London, Macmillan.
Current, R.N. 2006, “Abraham Lincoln”, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online-Academic Edition, Chicago, Encyclopaedia Britannica.http://search.eb.com/eb/article-8848.

Eaglestone, R. 2001, Postmodernism and Holocaust Denial, Cambridge, Icon.

Evans, R.J. 1997, In Defence of History, London, Granta.
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Frankena, H.G. 2006, Truth, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Fried, Charles. “Getting at the Truth”, Boston, December 13, 2006.
Gutman, I. 1990, Editor in Chief, The Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust (four volumes), New York, Macmillan.

Hofstadter, D. November 1964, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”, Harper’s.

Lipstadt, D. E. 2005, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, New York, Harper-Collins.

Mandelbaum, M. 1977, The Anatomy of Historical Knowledge, Baltimore and London, The Johns Hopkins Unversity Press.

Marrus, M.R. 1987, The Holocaust in History, London, Penguin Books.

Mazower, M. December 20, 1999, “Pity the Germans”, New Statesman.

McCullagh, C.B. 2000,”Bias in Historical Description, Interpretation, and Explanation”, History and Theory, Volume 39, Number 1.

Meigs, J.B., Cover Story Editor, March 2005, “Debunking the 9/11 Myths”, Popular Mechanics.

Morris, B. May 8, 2006, “And Now for Some Facts”, The New Republic.

Nagel, Thomas 1997, The Last Word, New York, Oxford University Press.

Nicosia, F. 1990, “Zionist Movement in Germany: 1933-1939”, in
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Novick, P. 1988, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession, New York, Cambridge University Press.

Sachar, H.M. 1996, A History of Israel From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, Second Edition, New York, Alfred A. Knopf.

Vidal-Naquet, P. 1995, Les Assasins du Mémoire, Paris, Seuil.

Wittgenstein, L. 1972, On Certainty, New York, Harper & Row.

Yahil, L. 1990, “Adolph Eichmann”, in Gutman, I, Volume Two.

“Old” and “New”: Contemporary British Antisemitism – Mark Gardner – Engage Journal Issue 5 – September 2007

Arguments over whether or not there is a “new” antisemitism – and if so, what constitutes it – have obscured our understanding of contemporary antisemitism. The urge to ensure that 21st Century antisemitism is seen to have moved on from its previous modes, may even have inadvertently served to make antisemitism less well understood today than at any time in the last hundred years. This breakdown in understanding has played an important role in legitimising anti-Israel hatred and boycotts, and in fostering a mass “anti-Zionist” hysteria. As ever, Jews are the physical target for this vitriol, as witnessed by the significant post-2000 escalations in antisemitic attacks in Britain, and in most Jewish communities around the world.

We are witnessing, at the very least, a new vocabulary of antisemitism, which retains its “old” impact of increasing the vulnerability of Jewish communities across the world. The crucial distinction between “old” and “new” antisemitic vocabulary is that the hateful image of “Zionism” and “Zionists” has now replaced the psychological scapegoat role that was traditionally filled by the antisemitic image of the Jew. In this respect, there is nothing “new” at all. Contemporary antisemitism has always built upon pre-existing antisemitic themes, recast within the paradigms and context of the modern day. So, antisemitism is always “new”, yet always builds upon the “old”.

This is a multifaceted situation that presents new political opportunities and new dangers for local Jewish communities, as their allies and enemies now firmly re-categorize them alongside existing establishment and so-called “neoconservative” circles.

The overall scenario within which the global and UK post-2000 surge of antisemitic incidents, boycotts and rhetoric has occurred is wholly contemporary, and must be understood in order to better facilitate responses. It is premised, above all else, upon the modern day, post-Holocaust, post creation of Israel, construct of “the Zionist”: a fundamentally antisemitic creation for a supposedly post antisemitic age. In this, “Zionists” and “Zionism” are synonymous with all that is evil in the modern, American-led unipolar world, including imperialism, racism, capitalism, globalism, militarism and war.

To these evils, we must also add the widely held belief that Israel is the root cause of Muslim anger and Islamist terrorism, and the concomitant allegation that Zionists manipulate American foreign policy to propel a “Clash of Civilisations” war between the West and Islam. As in so many previous wars and revolutions, Jews lurking in the shadows of power are charged with manipulating Gentiles to fight and die for their physical benefit and financial profit.

Put simply, the “new” Jew (now “the Zionist”) is still the “old” scapegoat for the world’s ills. But how did this come about?

After the Holocaust, Western society entered an age in which explicit racism – especially antisemitism – was forbidden. Nevertheless, the deeply rooted antisemitic hatreds that fuelled Auschwitz existed because of what Jews were alleged to do, not because of what they actually did. In today’s troubled and complex times, younger generations are rediscovering the captivating appeal of antisemitism, only this time in its newly-branded 21st Century version: “anti-Zionism”.

This “anti-Zionism” is a global product that is Jew-free, yet packed full of age-old antisemitic charges and motifs that are now directed against “Zionists” instead of “Jews”. It is a comprehensive ideology that owes everything to the antisemitic compendium, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and nothing to Zionism, as this term is understood and practised by Diaspora Jewish communities around the world.

Complaints about Zionist Federation charity tins for Israel, and Jews holidaying in Eilat at Passover, do not carry the same chilling cosmic cachet as alleging that concealed all-powerful alien Zionists run the world via their control of global media and American and European Governments.

Common understanding of antisemitism centres upon “old” antisemitic modes that are generally agreed to include two millennia of Christian religious Jew hatred; the socio-economic exclusion of Jews from the rest of society; nationalist and xenophobic Jew hatred; and, transcending all of these in the popular imagination, Nazi race theory that culminated in the Holocaust.

There has, however, never been particularly widespread understanding or agreement about other “old” antisemitic modes that now underpin what many hold to be the “new” antisemitic discourse: Islamic and left wing anti-Jewish prejudice and practise, both of which are routinely defended, minimised or wholly denied by their modern day adherents, who angrily and self righteously insist – and often sincerely believe – that Jews receive special protection under both systems.

They neglect, of course, to acknowledge that this protection is entirely contingent upon Jews behaving and self-identifying in the manner demanded of them, rather than in ways that Jews themselves actually choose. Self proclaimed anti-Zionists from both the left and Islamist camps angrily insist (and believe) that they are not antisemitic. They say that they hate Israel and Zionists for what they do, and not for their Jewishness.

Their current position inadvertently mimics that of veteran British Nazi John Tyndall, who wrote in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (1): “This harmful state of affairs is accountable to one thing and one thing alone: the colossal weight of Zionist influence and power within Britain and throughout the Western world, which has bent British policy to its will in one great international situation after another. To state the fact of this Zionist power is not to be anti-Jewish.”

Left wing anti-Zionists are desperate to de-couple Zionism from Jews. They parade Jewish anti-Zionists as good Jews, repeatedly depict Jews as the primary victim of Zionism, and echo Tyndall’s insistence that Zionist power is a fact, and that saying so is not antisemitic.

There is, however, an intellectual conceit that now enters the left anti-Zionist discourse: the banal assumption that we live in a post antisemitic era in which the supposed anti-racist separation of Israel and Zionism from Jews is a reality, and that anti-Israel and anti-Zionist hatred has no basis in Jew hatred. Tyndall, however, a Nazi who is unencumbered by post holocaust guilt or any concept of political correctness, simply takes for granted the fact that Zionists are the new Jewish conspirators. He continues:

“The Jews are to be commended for intelligently and single-mindedly working for their own interests. From their own point of view their policies are entirely right.”

Note how Tyndall’s all powerful Zionists have now seamlessly become “the Jews”. This is how most people see things, despite the wide eyed self serving antisemitism denials of today’s “anti-Zionists”.

Nevertheless, the revolutionary left’s urge to deny the nature of antisemitism, and the attendant claim that it can be quarantined apart from anti-Zionist and anti-Israel hatred, is also increasingly influential within mainstream liberal left media, most notably the Guardian and Independent newspapers, as well as the BBC.

Some Jews have focussed on the nature of these media outlets’ Israel coverage, and hold it to be biased and obsessive, and therefore implicitly antisemitic. Journalists and editors have furiously objected to the unsophisticated and noisy complaints to the media from a small number of non-representative (yet sincerely concerned) Jews, and the resulting cycle of argument, cynicism and distrust has served to distort the actual statements of mainstream Jewish community groups, leaders and commentators on their concerns regarding antisemitism, and what they believe constitutes it.

This depressing cycle was exemplified by the Guardian coverage of the 2006 UK Parliamentary Inquiry Into Antisemitism, which carried the headline, “Accusations of anti-semitic chic are poisonous intellectual thuggery. Attempts to brand the left as anti-Jewish because of its support of Palestinian rights only make it harder to tackle genuine racism”. (2)

The Guardian headline was a gross misrepresentation of Jewish concerns as they are expressed by communal representatives – but the allegation of Jews crying wolf to guard Israel has now become a comprehensive, self-serving mantra for anti-Israel media commentators and political activists alike. These attitudes, largely propelled by a genuine and deepening loathing for Israel, now influence many mainstream “progressive” circles, and utterly pervade much of what passes for today’s anti-racism movement.

Jewish representative bodies, community leaders and activist groups such as Engage have repeatedly and sincerely stated that it is entirely legitimate to criticise Israel, and that Israel is not above criticism. When Jewish representative bodies complain of antisemitism it is because they are concerned about antisemitism, not because of mere “criticism” of Israel: which is a real nation-state with boundaries, citizens and policies – rather than a mythical plot against humanity, in which every Jew may be a co-conspirator.

For the purpose of clarity then, it is not merely “criticism” of Israel to scapegoat it for the world’s ills; to allege a Zionist plot to control the world; to claim that Zionism is a uniquely evil ideology directed against the rest of the planet; to broadcast television programmes that show Jews murdering non-Jews to use their blood for matza; to deny the Holocaust; and to hold Israel as the only country in the world deserving of boycott, isolation, hatred and destruction.

It is not mere “criticism” of Israel to blow up Turkish synagogues with truck bombs, just as it is not “criticism” of Israel when Jews and Jewish property around the world are physically attacked every time there is an escalation in Middle East tensions involving Israel, and even events beyond Israel, such as the 9/11 terror attacks, and the US-led invasion of Iraq.

These occurrences (and not criticism of Israel) are the real subjects that cause Jews and Jewish groups to identify (and be concerned about) a resurgent antisemitic impact in the 21st Century. The development of the liberal left’s self-serving mythology, coupled with its denial of what Jewish communities actually mean when they discuss antisemitism, is central to a widespread suspicion and rejection of mainstream Jewish perspectives – a phenomenon that is at complete odds with how other minority groups are treated.

This reinforces antisemitic allegations that Jews cry persecution, and are powerful and malicious conspirators who are set against the rest of society and simply cannot be trusted. Like so many other aspects of contemporary antisemitism, the nature of its denial thereby reinforces the very prejudices that are denied to even exist.

The rejection of mainstream Jewish community concerns was exemplified by Paul Foot, who trashed Jewish communal concerns of the post-2000 surge in antisemitic incidents in his Guardian column (6 March 2002): “Especially pathetic on the part of our apologists for Israeli oppression is their bleating about anti-semitism. For the sort of oppression they favour is the seed from which all racialism, including anti-semitism, grows.” (3)

Foot’s words show how British Jews are reduced to the status of local agents of a malevolent foreign power, and are then blamed for their own persecution. It is inconceivable that such a champion of the left would ever have written about Blacks or Muslims as apologists for overseas governments, or would accuse them of bleating about racism.

The exceptional treatment afforded to Jews by some on the left was also displayed by Tam Dalyell MP (Labour), who infamously accused “a cabal of Jewish advisors” of influencing Tony Blair. Dalyell was the longest serving Member of Parliament, “the father of the house”, and Paul Foot was quick to defend him, writing in his Guardian column: (4)
“Obviously he [Dalyell] is wrong to complain about Jewish pressure on Blair and Bush when he means Zionist pressure. But that’s a mistake that is constantly encouraged by the Zionists. The most honourable and principled Jews, here, in Israel and everywhere else, are those who oppose the imperialist and racist policies of successive Israeli governments.”

Foot’s reaction displays many of the prominent features of contemporary antisemitism: it powerfully stresses that antisemitic connotations and accusations can be made entirely accurate and wholly legitimate by swapping the word“Zionist” for the word “Jewish”; it asserts that Zionists encourage antisemitism; and it categorises British Jews as good or bad depending upon their opposition to Israel.

The position of Tam Dalyell, Paul Foot and many others is a 21st Century echo of the 1930s “Big Jew / Little Jew” position of Britain’s own original far right, the British Union of Fascists. In 1996, veteran Blackshirt, Ronald Creasy, was interviewed for “The Rune”, a far right publication edited by Nick Griffin (and for which he was convicted for incitement to racial hatred). The interview included this illuminating exchange:

[The Rune]: “Mosley used to make the distinction between “Big Jews” and “Little Jews.” What did he mean by this and how did he view the future of the latter? “

[Mr Creasy]: “Big Jews” referred to Jewish financiers and the Organised Jewish presence in the press and other positions of influence over British affairs. We are against the “Big Jews” for what they do, not for what they are. Had we come to power we would have divested Jewry entirely of its wealth in the banking houses…But what we would have done we would not have done in spite…If Mosley had come to power and broken the power of Jewish money, the little Jews would have been left in peace.” (5)

Now try re-reading the fascist’s interview, swapping “Zionists” for “Big” and “Organised” Jews.

Jews have long considered antisemitism as a warning sign of deeper problems and fractures within society. The hatreds that begin against the Jews will certainly not end with them. One side-effect of the anti-Zionist denial of antisemitism, is that the invaluable universal lessons are being consigned to the scrapheap, and antisemitism is now being re-defined as something that has no relevance to the wider society. It is an effort to reduce antisemitism to an esoteric study of Jewish paranoia and Zionist scaremongering.

Even those left wing intellectuals who deign to accept that something must be done about antisemitism will often do so, not to fight the problem itself, but simply to deny its alleged utility to Israel and Zionists. This was summarised by the headline of leading anti-globalisation author, Naomi Klein, in her Guardian article, (6) “Sharon’s best weapon. Anti-semitism sustains Israel’s brutal leader – the fight against it must be reclaimed”. Again, such an approach restricts antisemitism into a mental Jewish ghetto, rather than using its warnings for the benefit of society as a whole. It also serves to distort and destroy Israel’s links with World Jewry.

Ignorance is a vital yet often overlooked feature of contemporary antisemitism and the debate surrounding it. The weekly New Statesman magazine is one of the most influential mainstream publications in the entire left wing political spectrum. Its cover of 14 January 2002 featured a golden Star of David piercing a Union Jack, sparking fury and dismay from Jews of all political persuasions. This imagery is not new, and is not the preserve of left wing magazine designers: the golden Star of David piercing a map of the world is also on the cover of at least one English-language Muslim version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that has been available in the UK in recent years. (7)

The then editor of New Statesman, Peter Wilby, subsequently apologised for having unwittingly used antisemitic imagery, but the episode showed the difference between Jewish awareness of antisemitism, and the collapse of general understanding of the subject by the much of the British left in the 21st Century. The difference will continue to grow for as long as the left’s movers and shakers blissfully believe themselves to be magically inoculated against antisemitism. Furthermore, public displays of blatant antisemitism have been utterly taboo for decades, so how can younger generations recognise the phenomena, when, by supposedly innocent coincidence, they find themselves mimicking its earlier forms?

Wilby did, however, know that in left theory the Jews deserved special protection from antisemitic imagery, writing: (8)

“To call somebody a ‘white bastard’ is just not the same as calling somebody a ‘black bastard’, with all its connotations of humiliation and enslavement. Given the distribution of power in our world, discrimination by blacks or Asians against whites will almost always be trivial.

Jews are a different case. They no longer routinely suffer gross or violent discrimination: indeed, in the US and Europe at least, Jews today are probably safer than most minorities. But the Holocaust remains within living memory, as do the language and iconography used by the Nazis to prepare the way for it. We have a special duty of care not to revive them.”

Wilby’s explanation shows another underpinning feature of contemporary antisemitism and the debate around it: the principle that the fight against antisemitism is contingent upon a hierarchy of oppression through which the left decides its responses to racism. Attacks against Jews retain a special relevance to the left because of the immensity of the Holocaust, even if Jews are held to be better treated by society today than other minority groups. This also shows why Nazi-like expressions of antisemitism are furiously condemned by the left, whilst non-Nazi antisemitism from Islamist, Arab and Black Power groups are simply brushed aside. It is also obvious that the left’s already highly selective concerns about antisemitism will further diminish as the Holocaust recedes from public memory and significance.

This ‘hierarchy of oppression’ approach is not intentionally antisemitic; but it has an innate ideological inability to deal with any form of racism that does not fit its oppressor-victim paradigm. Antisemitism differs from most other forms of racism in that the victim (i.e., the Jew) is accused of having demonic power, rather than pitiful helplessness. Antisemitism has never neatly fitted into the left’s anti-racism paradigms, and the closer Jews are identified with oppressors (as Israelis, as bankers and capitalists, as “Zionists” controlling the White House etc), the less sympathy the left will display, leaving many Jews feeling isolated and ultimately betrayed by the left to which they have often contributed so much, and in which they invested so much of their political and social hopes. This sense of betrayal, however, is a two-way street. Many left wing commentators have expressed their dismay that Israel and Zionism should have transformed the public image of Jews from moral champions into moral degenerates. This perception acknowledges heightened antisemitism, whilst mainly blaming it upon hateful Israel and Zionism, and the refusal of mainstream Jewish communities to condemn their heinous crimes.

Even those who do agree with the existence and seriousness of the “new antisemitism” lack a consensus on what it actually means or what actually constitutes it. The reasons for such disagreement are due to ideological or political bias, often spurred by intellectual rivalry, and, within Jewish circles, a dollop of the ‘Two Jews, Three Opinions’ phenomenon: All this is greatly intensified by the ultimately subjective nature of what constitutes persecution in the eye of the beholder.

Pedants may also point to the fact that the term “new antisemitism” was used as long ago as 1949 to describe “The New Anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union” (9) , and the term has been common since at least Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. This raises the semantic argument as to how long the term “new” can be employed before it becomes analytically meaningless.

None of this should be allowed to obscure the essential fact that today’s 21st Century antisemitism remains what it has always been: it still reflects the condition of Jewish and non-Jewish society; it is still transmitted by whatever is modern; it still depicts Jews (especially “Big” and “Organised” ones) as powerful, alien and conspiratorial; it still impacts against any random Jew or Jewish community, regardless of their politics and actions; it still acts as a glue to unite otherwise disparate ideological and political factions; and it is still an early warning to the rest of society about division, irrationalism, anger and extremism.

Those who belatedly enter into the ongoing debate about “old” and “new” antisemitism generally subscribe to one of two conflicting perspectives: they either regard it as a largely irrelevant historical hangover, or, alternatively, as having “new” perpetrators and “new” incentives that have superseded the “old” – and are both novel and increasingly vital.

Both of these perspectives are partly wrong; at the same time, they are also partly right. As stated previously, contemporary antisemitism is always built upon pre-existing antisemitic themes and always develops those themes within the paradigms and context of the modern day. It is also intrinsically shaped by the contemporary connotations and paradigms of Jews in non-Jewish society.
The fact that many centuries of antisemitic hatreds culminated in the Holocaust did not mean that the underpinning mass psychological motivations, antisemitic motifs and hatreds would simply end just because Nazi Germany was militarily defeated and politically disgraced. Instead, many of the underlying themes resonate within the tenets of “anti-Zionism”, resuscitated by Israel’s wars, the ongoing Palestinian tragedy, an overpowering dose of anti-Americanism, and most recently, by the War on Terror and the US-led occupation of Iraq.

“Jews” have been recast as “Zionists” by today’s conspiracy nuts and political extremists, but new communications technologies and a deep suspicion of Government media sources have combined to ensure that the crazies are reaching far more people than would have been thought possible even ten years ago.

There is also the thrill of breaking the generational taboo by showing that the Holocaust no longer means that Jews are ‘off limits’ for attack – that forbidden fruit already relished by the terrorist fringes of the European, Japanese and South American far left in the 1970s and 80s. (Often in partnership with revolutionary far Left Palestinian terror groups, many of which operated under the tutelage of the Soviet bloc.)

Younger generations are entirely self-assured that their “anti-Zionism” is not antisemitic because they instinctively associate antisemitism with the Holocaust, and believe it to be a closed chapter of history. Besides, they sincerely condemn the Holocaust and greet any modern Nazi manifestations with authentic shock and horror, all of which proves to themselves and each other that they are philosemitic and actively opposed to antisemitism. This modern philosemitic self-image is taken as self-evident proof to reinforce the charge that Zionists cry antisemitism in order to shield Israel from criticism. The anti-Zionist now affirms himself as the true friend of the Jews, and the urgency of his philosemitic anti-Zionist mission is reinforced, as is his egotistically appealing role as the brave defender of Jewish human rights, courageously shrugging off the supposedly deadly accusations of those who allegedly kill free speech in order to further oppression.

In those circumstances where the antisemitism can no longer be concealed or denied, anti-Zionists state that it is instead actively encouraged by the Zionists, who allegedly need antisemitism to scare Jews into their control. Hence the accusations of Zionist-Nazi collaboration during the Holocaust, and more recent allegations of Mossad responsibility for Al Qaeda attacks upon Diaspora synagogues.

The widespread notion that it is courageous to be anti-Israel or anti-Zionist reveals a very disturbing psychology. Authors, journalists, politicians and activists never seem to tire of telling each other how brave they are to “stand up” to Zionism, and supposed accusations of antisemitism. For instance, anti-Zionist writers on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ blog are fawningly praised for their courage in the sad, mad and bad comments threads that follow their articles. This reflects the commentators’ own paranoias about antisemitism, and about the supposed all-seeing, all-reaching, all-powerful tentacles of Zionism: a trope that only makes sense when compared with antisemitic mythology about vengeful Jews. When compared with reality, this so called bravery can be seen as an absolute sham. Jenny Tonge is one of very few public figures to have suffered in their career because of excessive “anti-Zionism”, and even she ended up in the House of Lords.

Even the most ignorant extremists who prefer the “old” form of antisemitism are influenced by the language of the “new” strain and its modern setting. One striking example of the “old” being influenced by the “new” occurred in the Internet chat-room of the British neo-Nazi group, Combat 18, where an outraged neo-Nazi complained that a comrade had received a six-year jail sentence for “merely damaging a Zionist graveyard.” (10)

The actual modus operandi of antisemitic incidents has also changed in recent years. Surveys have shown that in the popular imagination, antisemitism is instinctively associated with the Nazi era. But analysis of antisemitic incidents in the UK shows that whites and non-whites are now equally likely to employ Nazi epithets as abuse against British Jews.

One example of this counter-intuitive phenomenon occurred in 2000. A synagogue in North East London was desecrated: a swastika was daubed on the rabbi’s lectern and a Union Jack flag – which belonged to the congregation – was propped against it. The media assumed that this was a far Right attack, as it involved a swastika and a British flag. Nevertheless, the Jewish community was not so sure. Swastikas have become a common expression of Islamist anti-Israel hatred; the synagogue was the nearest one to the most infamous mosque (Finsbury Park) in the whole of Britain. Other Diaspora Jewish communities (especially in France and Belgium), were also suffering a wave of attacks on synagogues by local Muslims, triggered by overseas Israeli-Palestinian violence. Nobody was ever arrested for the attack, but the Police investigation strongly suggested that the Jewish community’s suspicions were most likely to have been correct.

The vast majority of interlocutors who want to discuss “new” antisemitic perpetrators really mean “new” as a supposedly polite metaphor for Muslim. “New” or “different” have become coda for alleging that it is Muslims who are now largely responsible for antisemitism.

In Britain, the statistics of actual antisemitic incidents – hate crimes displaying antisemitic intent – show that Muslims are considerably over-represented as perpetrators per head of population. Muslims, however, are manifestly not the majority perpetrators. In 2006, for instance, the (Jewish) Community Security Trust knew of 205 incidents where a perpetrator had been identified. (11) In those cases, 49 percent of the perpetrators appeared to be white; 29 percent appeared to be Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi; 8 percent appeared Arab; and 14 percent appeared black. This suggests Muslims are approximately 10 times over-represented as perpetrators (based on the fact that Muslims comprise 3.1 percent of the UK population.)

Closer analysis reveals that Muslims are less over-represented than first appears. Most antisemitic incidents occur in neighbourhoods that are far less white than the average, as those are often the neighbourhoods in which most Jews live. For example, the highest number of antisemitic incidents occurs in the London local authority area of Barnet, where 14.8 percent of the population is Jewish, and 6.2 percent of the population is Muslim. Additionally, the Muslim population is younger than most other ethnic groups, and younger age cohorts are most likely to perpetrate antisemitic incidents, as they are more likely to be on the streets. So, Muslims are over-represented as perpetrators, but they are certainly not the majority of perpetrators. Most certainly, they are not as starkly over-represented as a superficial analysis of the UK population would initially imply – and as some commentators would like to allege.

Analysis also shows that perpetrator profiles will reflect the events that trigger surges in antisemitic incidents. If Israel is the trigger, then Muslims will be over-represented as perpetrators. Alternatively, when Jewish organisations received hate mail in the aftermath of a press furore about Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform, the hate mail appeared to have been written by various white British Army veterans from World War Two. (12)

Nevertheless, the post-2000 surge of antisemitic incidents distinguishes a “new” type of antisemitism from the previous wave of antisemitic violence that struck across Europe in the early 1990s. That was essentially “old” antisemitism, fed by xenophobia and nationalism after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The early 1990s surge occurred in the context of a rise in far right inspired attacks against minority groups, in which Jews were also targeted. In the 2000s, however, the rhetoric of contemporary antisemitism occurs in the context of an ideological (and often would-be revolutionary) struggle against the state itself, but which declares itself to be in alliance with minorities and in defence of civil and human rights. This is all played out on the streets in demonstrations that unite much of the campaigning left with Islamist groups, and have attracted millions of participants. In cyberspace, the hatred builds through unrestricted groupthink and then spills into supposedly respectable spaces such as the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, leading to comments such as this being posted : (13)
“Zionists, like Nazis in the past will be brought to their knees. Zionist sympathisers are nothing more then devil worshipers, they like to suck your blood dry.”
It is unthinkable that the Guardian could have published such a comment in its print edition, but the profusion of new communications technology allows such hatred to repeatedly appear on mainstream media websites. It is not only “comment” that is allowed to run free these days, but rank hatred and rage too, in what were previously respectable media. The fact that such postings will eventually be removed if intelligently framed complaints are received by the moderator, is very small comfort indeed. The onus for policing the limits of hate speech in respectable media, is now transferred from the publisher to the victim.

The profusion of new electronic and satellite media has also resulted in news and comment becoming a matter of customer choice, whereby consumers will watch and read media that reflect and confirm their views and prejudices, without the moderating influences found in traditional media outlets. The growing impact of diffused media choice will only serve to deepen current divisions and attitudes. If, for example, British Muslims chose Hizbollah’s Al-Manar TV as their news feed, then it would certainly put concerns about alleged liberal left BBC bias into a whole new perspective.

The “anti-Zionist” criticism, hatred and rage in the electronic media and on street demonstrations have become part of the contemporary package of opposition to the Iraq War, and criticism of the so called ‘War on Terror’. This state of affairs is brutally punctuated by successful mass-casualty terror attacks by Al Qaeda and its supporters, including apparently assimilated second or third generation European Muslims, and displaced veterans of the Global Jihad. State symbols and infrastructure are subject to deadly attacks, and Jews are also explicitly singled out for murderous bombings, as seen in Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey. Many other pro-Al Qaeda attacks have been thwarted by police, and evidence of further anti-Jewish targeting has been shown in many countries around the world, including Britain, Spain, Hungary, Norway, the Czech Republic and Germany.

In previous decades, the Cold War was the global security framework through which political debate was filtered. American support for Israel was demonstrably similar to that for any number of ‘front line’ countries around the world. Hatred of America, and anti-imperialist championing of third world causes, initially focussed upon opposition to the Vietnam War. In time, South African apartheid became the universal cause célèbre symbolising the struggle of good versus evil. Today, Israel has largely taken over the Vietnam and South Africa mantle, greatly to the detriment of the image of Israel’s real and imagined supporters. (i.e., Jews).

This is not intentionally antisemitic, as international causes célèbre have never been dictated by millions killed, only by their utility for self-serving political activists and the emotions that they spark.
Hypocrisy is universally and equally applied by the bulk of the campaigning far left. Campaigning against General Pinochet, for instance, was (and remains) greater than that against Pol Pot, or the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Serbian atrocities against Bosnian Muslims were denied by sections of the far left. Kurds ceased being worthy victims when America turned against Saddam Hussein. Jewish campaigning for Soviet Jews was not exactly matched by left wing and NGO campaigns for the occupied nations of central and eastern Europe, to say nothing of Tibet, minorities in Burma, and countless other far away places in Africa and elsewhere, where the victims and perpetrators simply fail to excite the bulk of the far Left, and hold no emotive appeal for the mass media and the general public. There is an old media saying, “Jews are news”. The case still holds, and it is generally not to the benefit of the Jewish community.

Today, however, US support for Israel is seen as paradigmatic of America’s role as the global bully, dedicated to securing oil and power by expanding its commercial and military domination at the expense of authentic, local, humanistic and ecological interests. This anti-American hostility is a major component in encouraging the left’s anti-Israel rage, but the disappearance of the USSR as the USA’s visible enemy encourages the idea that American support for Israel can only be explained by a supposed Zionist stranglehold over Capitol Hill. There is debate within the left as to whether or not the Israeli tail actually wags the American dog, but the very question shows how much power and malice is now commonly ascribed to “Global Zionism”.

Hatred of America (in Iranian revolutionary parlance, “The Great Satan”) also finds a convenient target in Israel, because it is plainly unrealistic for anyone to advocate a boycott of American products, or American academics, or American sporting and cultural figures. So, the hatred is projected onto Israel, (“The Little Satan”) as a more convenient, more isolated, and more easily demonised target. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) depicts Israel as “America’s Attack Dog in the Middle East”, but it is the dog that its activists raise boycotts against, not its master. Is this political expedience or political cowardice? And what (presumably sub-conscious) role does the European tradition of isolating and economically restricting Jews play in the SWP’s love of anti-Israel boycotts?

Beyond the displaced anti-American hatred, a deeper and even more complex aspect of self-loathing is being transferred onto Israel and Jews. In this regard, the philosemitic image of the Jew; the proposition that the Jew ‘is one of us’ – perhaps even an idealised example of ‘what is best about us’ – actively intensifies the hatred of Israel and her supporters, and makes them ideal scapegoats. European post-colonial guilt is heaped upon Jews for backing Zionist colonialism; guilt for centuries of antisemitism is assuaged by equating Zionism with racism; and post-Holocaust guilt is eased by ascribing Israel as the inheritor to Nazi Germany. The Zionism equals Nazism slur is an obscenity that very few respectable commentators would ever make directly, but Jews are still confronted with the regular utilisation by the media and politicians of Nazi metaphors for Israel’s actions: so for instance, Gaza becomes the Warsaw Ghetto, Jenin becomes Dresden, Israeli settlements are a drive for lebensraum, Palestinian terrorists are the inheritors of resistance against the Nazis, and, as former PLO London head, Afif Safieh, used to put it, Palestinians become ‘the Jews of the Israelis ‘.

All of these factors infuse the self-described “anti-Zionists” with a revolutionary urgency that compulsively derides and opposes mainstream Jewish narratives on antisemitism, self-identity, self-expression and links with Israel. The hateful rhetoric, particularly that which is directed against “Zionists”, fuels violent acts and other hate crimes against all Jews per se. This is an obvious consequence of contemporary “anti-Zionist” rage and hysteria, but it is denied, ignored, or excused by the “anti-Zionist” camp that simultaneously believes itself to be philosemitic.

The controversial Danish cartoons of Muhammad are a case study of the “new” Islamist agitators, the impact of “new” global communications technology and the importance of the increasingly fraught international backdrop. These cartoons were deliberately distorted and worsened by Danish Islamists, who then globally re-transmitted them, eventually resulting in a much delayed sparking of anti-Danish violence that affected Danes, Europeans and Christians. Suddenly, everyone from Pakistan to Gaza had Danish flags to burn in what was often a spuriously spontaneous outbreak of public Muslim outrage. (There was also space for an “anti-Zionist” component, as the Danish newspaper’s parent media group was alleged to be Zionist.)

The Danish controversy was a trigger event with a new and specific trajectory of targets: Danes, Europeans, Christians and – almost as a Pavlovian response – Zionists. Now consider how many trigger events are genuinely sparked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on an annual or monthly basis. This is why there are so many antisemitic incidents; they, and the Danish example, exemplify the quote in Joel Fishman’s essay on the Cold War origins of contemporary antisemitic terminology, where Lenin’s political agitation is explained as being “to designate visible and accessible hate-targets within the community.” (14)

In the case of so-called “anti-Zionism”, it is the Jewish community that is inevitably perceived as the “visible and accessible hate-target.” The trajectory of physically attacked anti-Zionist “hate targets” rarely, if ever, travels beyond Jews and Israelis.

Rhetorically, Zionist “hate targets” include leading non-Jewish world figures such as George Bush and Tony Blair, and the “Zionist” appellation is increasingly used to denote any person or institution deemed hostile to Islam. This furthers the far left-Islamist claim that Israel is responsible for Muslim anger and Al Qaeda-inspired anti-Western terrorism. The combination of these contemporary, entirely non-Jewish, uses for the word “Zionist” enables the constant (and extremely debilitating) drip feed of a new antisemitic consciousness to the majority population, the slogan of which ought to be “The Zionists Are Our Misfortune.”

In summary, the post-1967 Soviet and Arab onslaught against the word “Zionism” has eclipsed all other modes of antisemitism, wherever there are sizeable Muslim communities and active far left movements. This was by no means the first time that “Zionist” was employed as a supposedly non-antisemitic metaphor for “Jew”, but Israel’s shattering success in the Six Day War triggered the propaganda drive that after four decades has permeated much of the Muslim world, and many minds within left liberal elites; and this has ensured that reflexive anti-Jewish bias is no longer the exclusive preserve of right wing reactionary forces within society.

The warning bells about the creation of a new anti-Jewish bias were rung loud and clear in the July–August 1967 issue of Patterns of Prejudice (15) , in what has proved to be a brilliantly insightful article, entitled “the image of the Jew after the Arab-Israeli war”. This analysis, published one month after the war, examined the potential antisemitic impact of the sudden transformation of the popular image of the Jew from a weak victim into an oppressor. Quotes included Colin MacInnes in the Sunday Telegraph of 18th June 1967:

“Myths, by essence, have nothing to do with reason. A myth can only be defeated by another more potent myth which destroys the old one in the collective subconscious mind. And the question now is, will the Jewish victories of the past weeks destroy the element in English antisemitic myth that arises from an irrational belief in Jewish cowardice…

If the antisemitic myth of Jewish passivity will now vanish, might it not be replaced by another fear? For in the past few weeks we have witnessed an extraordinary transformation of the English Gentile towards Jews. Before the battle started most Englishmen thought of Jews only as the oppressed, the victims, ‘Little Israel’; surrounded by foes dedicated to its destruction. After their swift victory, the Jews seemed transformed into the conquerors, even oppressors. And Arabs, who were thought of as arrogant attackers, seemed to have become overnight the victims, the wronged, the weak.”

MacInnes thought it “likely that many who rejected antisemitism will nevertheless now regard Israel as the new imperialism, the danger, and whilst not becoming antisemites, will become vociferously anti-Israel…much of the anti-imperialist Left is already hostile to Israel, while much of the ex-imperialist Right is sympathetic.” This article, published eight days after the ceasefire, shows the power of the (then) “new” image of Jews. This “new” negative image of Jewish power is now, in our politically correct age, largely expressed against “Zionists”. Nevertheless, if these themes had already been seized upon a mere eight days after the ceasefire, it is little wonder that they should now be so ferocious after forty years of Israeli “occupation” and repeated rounds of war, violence and bloodshed that now repeat throughout the region and challenge global security.

The verbal onslaught against “Zionism” is best encapsulated in the infamous “Zionism is racism” United Nations resolution of 1975. In hindsight, this now looms as the Soviet Union’s legacy to the “new” antisemitism, in much the same way as The Protocols of The Elders of Zion were Tsarist Russia’s legacy of codifying the “old” antisemitism. (Both Russian systems would collapse less than twenty years after their antisemitic propaganda coups.)

University graduates from the 1970s and 1980s are now assuming power in government, media, business, and throughout the NGO world. These are the best educated and most influential members of the new post-World War II generations, but how many of them now sympathise with the new “anti-Zionist” worldview? These are the “new perpetrators” of anti-Zionism. They obviously condemn Nazi-style “old” antisemitism and are shocked by antisemitic violence, but how many of them essentially accept the notion that “Zionism is racism”, and thereby accept the corollary that Zionists must be racists? This charge lacks the gut-wrenching punch of “Zionism is Nazism”, but it is certainly far more plausible. It demands, in the name of morality, suspicion and hatred of all (real and imagined) supporters of Israel; and it demands cultural, economic and academic boycotts of Israel that can only be enforced by the continual scrutiny and hostile suspicion of Israel’s actual and potential supporters (i.e., Jews). It may also lead some to reason that Israel’s backers deserve a good kicking every now and then.

Where the “old” antisemitism exemplified its adherents’ commitment to racism, its “new” variant takes the opposite approach, claiming that anti-Zionism exemplifies their commitment to anti-racism, human rights and the fellowship of man. The claimed morality and social positioning of these “new” actors lends respectability to the considerably more extreme anti-Zionist rants of the genuine hard core Islamist and revolutionary far left movements, ranging from Al Qaeda to Swedish anarchists. The closer Jewish communities publicly ally themselves with Israel, the more they are perceived as legitimate objects of hatred for everyone from every part of that spectrum.

The “new” anti-Zionists also include the first generation of Muslims who are an educated, politicized, and fully acculturated European minority. Successive Muslim generations will most likely rise in political, media and economic power, all of which will be premised upon an underlying demographic shift in their favour. It is of course their undeniable right to fully participate in every aspect of the societies to which they belong, but this may have a considerably negative impact on Jewish communities that identify (or are identified) with Israel.

In London, for example, Mayor Ken Livingstone has made common cause with local branches of global Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and London government is perceived by many observers as being institutionally hostile to the mainstream Jewish (i.e. allegedly Zionist and pro-Israeli) community per se. The situation in France, however, is not so theoretical. Over 12,000 French Jews have left for Israel, Canada and the USA in recent years, in large part influenced by the levels of antisemitism that they encounter, and by their fears that things will only get worse because of demographic projections.

The entire range of political and psychological reasons for anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, and self loathing provide the glue that holds the green-red alliance together. These are mass ideologies that are only united by their common hatred and scapegoating of America and Israel. For as long as they fail to succeed in changing American policies, or in destroying Israel, the only thing that they can actually deliver is an ongoing escalation of fury and hateful rhetoric. The ongoing development of such an all-embracing and increasingly refined “anti-Zionist” narrative has fuelled left wing and Islamist institutional hostility against practically all Jews and Jewish institutions. (The occasional exception being Jews who define themselves by public condemnations of Israel and Zionism; but even this exception is diminishing as objections are now heard to the interference of “Jewishness” in anti-Zionism.)
In 1954, Isaac Deutscher, the renowned Marxist thinker, bitterly reflected that, “If instead of arguing against zionism in the 1920’s and 1930’s I had urged European Jews to go to Palestine, I might have helped save some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler’s gas chambers”. (16) (17)
Today’s anti-Zionist attitude to the Holocaust is a denial of the essential truth of Deutscher’s statement. Their frantic drive to delegitimise Zionism compels them to assault the obvious fact that support for Zionism is an entirely natural reaction to the Holocaust. So, the Holocaust is often airbrushed out of anti-Zionist histories of the creation of Israel, or is given no weight whatsoever in comparison with the importance of Zionism’s alleged pact with devilish imperialism.
Where the Holocaust is explicitly addressed, it often reads as if the Zionists licked their lips at the mountains of Jewish ashes, and then cunningly tricked the world into accepting the idea that Israel’s creation was a viable and natural reaction to the near successful genocide of European Jewry. This may not constitute Holocaust denial per se, but it is certainly a bitter and twisted perversion of Zionism’s relation with the Holocaust and reduces the Holocaust to something that is to be defined by its potential utility to Zionists. This is the same rationale that causes plays such as “Perdition” – alleging Zionist collaboration in the Nazi slaughter of Hungarian Jewry – to be performed on Holocaust Memorial Day by the Scottish branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The compulsion to deny the central lessons and impact of the Holocaust also drives a parallel anti-Zionist mission to deny the reality of contemporary antisemitism. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was entirely rational and reasonable for Deutscher and his leftist colleagues to argue that the best defence from antisemitism lay in helping to ensure the workers revolution. Indeed, historically, the acknowledgement of antisemitism was a key component in defining what the revolutionary left stood for, and what it stood against. This was a useful recruitment tool, but more crucially, it was also an inherent part of revolutionary left ideology and behaviour.
Today, however, there is no rational possibility of a workers revolution in the foreseeable future, and so there is no reasonable potential for a revolutionary leftist solution to antisemitism. Deutscher even said as much,
“I have, of course, long since abandoned my anti-Zionism, which was based on a confidence in the European labour movement, or, more broadly, in European society and civilization, which that society and civilization have not justified.” (18)
Besides, hatred of Zionism has long ago surpassed hatred of antisemitism within most revolutionary left movements. The combination of the demonstrably failed revolution, along with a compulsive hatred of Israel and her supporters, has inexorably led almost all of these revolutionary leftist movements and ideologues into a resolute denial of antisemitism as a contemporary force. After all, if living in Israel is the sole remaining practical way for Jews to escape antisemitism, then how can the revolutionary left be seen to validate the existence of antisemitism in any way?
Taken in its totality, then, the “new” vocabulary of contemporary “anti-Zionism” retains its “old” antisemitic impact, because:

• Anti-Zionist rage fuels antisemitic race hate attacks. It finds its physical expression in everything from Al Qaeda bombings of synagogues, to Greek communists placing photographs of Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon on a Holocaust memorial in Thessalonika.
• It is inescapably informed, shaped and rooted by all previous modes of antisemitism.
• It shapes all contemporary modes of antisemitism.
• It perverts and denies Jewish definitions of Zionism, and replaces them with an exclusively hateful mythology
• It negatively influences attitudes to all Jews and all Jewish issues per se.
• It focuses its activities and arguments against mainstream Jewish communities who provide the backbone of “Zionism”.
• It attacks, subverts, insults and debilitates Jewish morale, self identity and communal pride.
• It reduces mainstream Jews to what Stalin called “ideological immigrants.”
• It prevents mass anti-racism movements from acknowledging, understanding and confronting contemporary antisemitism.
• It provides an ongoing and adaptive apologia for antisemitic attacks and rhetoric
• It defines the Holocaust and historical and contemporary antisemitism by their potential utility to “Zionism”, and reacts to them on that basis.

In confronting contemporary antisemitism, Jews must also deal with the counter-intuitive fact that at least some of the new anti-Zionists, including the vast majority of those from the left, genuinely believe themselves to be philosemitic, and that they are saving Jews from the machinations of Zionism. This philosemitism is reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition saving Jewish souls, and then immediately killing Jewish bodies so the souls can go straight to heaven. It is a newly revived component of antisemitism today, and it is something that Jewish representative bodies must address rather than instinctively reject as doublespeak and lies.

Addressing anti-Zionist philosemitism is further complicated by the very active involvement of Jewish anti-Zionists and pro-Palestinian activists, whether from the left, or from Neturei Karta. Historically, most antisemitic movements have embraced those few noisy Jews who shunned and condemned their fellow co-religionists as being too stubborn or too evil to ‘see the light’. Nevertheless, most of these activists are entirely sincere in their Jewish identities and their would be philosemitic missions; and are showing their Islamist and far left partners that there are indeed some “good” Jews. The breaking down of psychological and physical barriers is critical to defeating racism, and a coherent argument may be made for the benefits of such an approach: as long as it genuinely changes attitudes, and doesn’t merely help to camouflage them in order to better assault the rest of the Jewish community, as is normally the case. In some instances, the most overtly antisemitic language of the Islamists may even have been moderated by their contacts with the far left at the UN anti-racism conference in Durban (2001), at international conferences in Cairo and Beirut, and by contact with Jewish pro-Palestinian activists on numerous anti-Israel and anti-Iraq War protests held on streets around the world.

This international green-red alliance, with the public involvement of Hamas and Hizbollah, is the highly visible “new” motor of antisemitic violence. On 30 April 2003, two British Muslims travelled to Tel Aviv and then blew up a bar, murdering two people. (19) Hamas released their martyrdom video one year after the attack, in which one of the bombers declared that it was “a great honour to kill these people. A great honour.” This case exemplifies the interaction of “new antisemitism” with international terrorism. These are extremists from within any society, and they can join the Global Jihad, the Global Revolution or the Global Race War in any place and at any time. These two Britons had supposedly flown to Damascus in order to travel to Iraq and fight Americans there, but they seized the chance to become Hamas suicide bombers – “martyrs” – in Israel.

The propaganda value of their deed was in many ways the most important aspect of the entire attack. And the transmission of the video, one year after it occurred, showed yet again how new modes of propaganda and asymmetric warfare have left Israel and Jewish communities in a blind rage of impotence. Instant global communications are key to this. Consider how quickly the allegation spread that Jews had not turned up for work in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Or imagine how complex it would have been 20 years ago to communicate and explain the claim that Zionist provocateurs are responsible for the Darfur crisis, and the allegations of genocide against its perpetrators.

Add to this the murderous antisemitic and anti-Western components of global Islamist terrorism, and you have an increasingly perfect storm of antisemitism, to which regional and local conflicts from Iranian nuclear weapons to French housing estates can add the most vicious of spins.

This storm is globally transmitted by new generations of modern perpetrators. Yes, neo-Nazis and rabid nationalist and Christian extremists are still present, and in Central and Eastern Europe, they pose a very real political and physical threat. They, however, are not as global in their transmission and impact. Furthermore, it is possible that the new generations of Nazis will increasingly focus on newer, more visible and more populous immigrant groups, rather than the remnants of European Jewry. Indeed, some of the new generation of far right leaders already regard Jews as natural allies in the current scenario, and some far left groups have excitedly declared that this exposes the inherent racism of Zionism.

As shown, the bastardization of the word “Zionism” is key to all of this. It has been stripped of all original meaning and refashioned as an empty vessel into which every bit of hatred and paranoia can be poured. “Anti-Zionist” hate is now an ever-expanding mythology of historical denial, half-truths and explicit lies that transcends reasonable criticism and analysis. The hatred defines Zionism in terms that have nothing to do with how its adherents see themselves and the world. It is a propaganda drive that can only be rationalized by reference to Lenin on the purpose of political agitation, “The wording is calculated to provoke in the reader hatred, disgust, contempt. The phrasing must be calculated not to convince but to destroy, not to correct the adversary’s mistake, but to annihilate his organization and wipe it off the face of the earth.” (20)

Instant global communications, shifting demographics and the foetid politics of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” have fostered this newly globalized ideology that many Jews instinctively perceive as a new antisemitism, but which antisemites, anti-Zionists, and many non Jewish observers depict very differently. George Galloway MP was expelled from the UK Labour Party for his extreme opposition to the Iraq War, and made common cause with British Islamists in forming the Respect political party. Despite his ideological hinterland, Galloway has repeatedly appeared on the anti-establishment American far right radio show of survivalist conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. Galloway patiently explained philosemitic anti-Zionism to Jones and his right wing audience:

“Well, this is the thing about Zionism. It has nothing to do with Jewishness. Some of the biggest Zionists in the world are not Jews. Anybody who thinks George Bush likes Jews has never been to his golf club.” (21)

Galloway (who has stressed that it is the American dog that wags the Israeli tail) then explained why anti-Zionism is such a vital ideological struggle in the world today:

“The reality is that these people [Zionists] have used Jewish people, and they have used them with this ideology of Zionism, to create this little settler state on the Mediterranean, to act as an advance guard for their own interests in the Arab world, and we’re all paying for it. The Palestinians have paid for it, the Arabs are paying for it, and now the American people and the rest of the people in the world are paying for it, and why should we? We don’t want to live our lives in a state of permanent warfare and division and hatred.”

Where the far Left imbues anti-Zionism with an entirely modern urgency, many Islamists are prone to allowing ancient theological enmities to enter their discourse. This in no way, however, detracts from the urgency of their message, as vividly shown by the example of British based Tunisian Islamist exile, Rachid Al-Ghannouchi, who’s essay “Palestine as a Global Agenda” (22) disassociates Zionism from Judaism (but not entirely from Jews), makes Zionism the embodiment of conspiracy and evil, and elevates the struggle against Zionism to critical importance. The inclusion of powerful Islamist anti-capitalist rhetoric also sheds further light on the ideological anti-Zionist and anti-American convergence of the far left with Islamists:

“The founding fathers of the Zionist adventure were not in any way believers in Judaism, not even in its distorted, rabbinical form: they were in essence pragmatists who exploited the Jewish heritage as a means to achieve their nationalistic goals… Zionism can be seen as hostile to every element rooted in ethical and religious principles…

…The Islamic project, by contrast, is its polar opposite, representing the hope that human civilization can be rescued from this new worship of the golden calf. To speak of saving Palestine from the Zionists is to speak simultaneously of one’s hope for a global liberation…

… What the heroes of the Intifada have appreciated, albeit not always with the requisite clarity, is that their enemy is not an isolated aberration of history, but represents an intensified form of a global undertaking which today spreads octopus-like over the whole planet, embracing and transforming every aspect of existence by means of its economics, communications, arts, and literature, or – more crudely – through the presence of its fleets, intelligence agencies, and the recruitment of local converts…

…The men and women who are struggling for freedom within Palestine itself, which is, as we have suggested, the central front, are entitled to expect instant and automatic assistance from those who are working on other fronts, however seemingly remote. For Israeli Zionism, itself draws eighty percent of its income and prosperity from Jewish organizations abroad. To keep this central front open and operational in the heart of the enemy is a responsibility and a trust falling on the shoulders of all Muslims and other free people around the world…

…No project undertaken on this tremendous scale can be ‘regional,’ or ‘Palestinian,’ or Arab.’ It is far broader. It represents nothing less than a struggle which is at once cultural, Islamic, and humanitarian. We must, therefore, light the fires of longing, resistance, and sacrifice everywhere on earth. For Palestine will not be retrieved until there is war against oppression in all its forms throughout the world.”

So, the new vocabulary of anti-Zionism is not just “new” in the sense of coalescing ideologies and perpetrators. Far more importantly, it is also “new” once again in its centrality to events that are of the most urgent global importance. That centrality to world events is the most crucial factor in the multiplicity of hostile forces that affect Jews today, and was illustrated in 2003 by a European Union survey of 7,515 people in 15 EU countries. This showed that 59 percent of respondents believed Israel to be the greatest threat to world peace. (Iran, North Korea and the USA came next, with 53 percent.)
European Commission President Romano Prodi, said that the results “point to the continued existence of a bias that must be condemned out of hand. To the extent that this may indicate a deeper, more general prejudice against the Jewish world, our repugnance is even more radical.” (23)
Prodi seemed keenly aware that blaming Jews for wars and revolutions has been a staple antisemitic charge for centuries. It underpinned Hitler’s 30 January 1939 “warning” of the coming Holocaust,
“Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”
Today, Zionists have replaced Hitler’s “international Jewish financiers” and Mosley’s “Big Jews”, but it is plainly obvious that the “new” lingo is fundamentally premised upon “old” motifs.

In 1945, Theodor Adorno summarised antisemitism as “the rumour about the Jews”. (24) The rumour persists throughout the world in the 21st Century, and, as ever, the rumour has adapted to meet the immediate psychological needs of its adherents and recipients. Once again it is the role of the Jews (this time Zionist ones, and their Zionist non-Jewish collaborators) to be held essentially responsible for the world’s ills, and so, once again, they must be defeated for the good of humanity.

The packaging is “new”, the branding and salesmen are utterly contemporary, and the transmitters are wholly modern; but the urgent motivation and scapegoating content are depressingly familiar, and the demand that Jews repent and transform their evil, misguided ways, is of course as “old” as antisemitism itself.

Mark Gardner is director of communications for the Community Security Trust, which performs security functions for the British Jewish community, including the recording of antisemitic incidents.


(1) John Tyndall, “Spearhead” no71, December 1973 “What We Think – Roots of Middle East trouble.”
(2) David Clark, “The Guardian”, 06 March, 2006. “Accusations of anti-semitic chic are poisonous intellectual thuggery. Attempts to brand the left as anti-Jewish because of its support of Palestinian rights only make it harder to tackle genuine racism.”
(3) Paul Foot, “The Guardian”, 05 March 2002. “In defence of oppression”.
(4) Paul Foot, “The Guardian” 14 May 2003. “Worse than Thatcher”.
(5) Page 8, Issue 12, The Rune. (Nick Griffin was convicted of inciting racial hatred on the basis of his editing this issue of The Rune.)
(6) Naomi Klein, The Guardian 25 April 2002. “Sharon’s best weapon. Anti-semitism sustains Israel’s brutal leader – the fight against it must be reclaimed”.
(7) Jewish Conspiracy and the Muslim World by Misbahul Islam Faruqi, with the complete text of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Published by Thinkers Library 1991, Malaysia.
(8) Peter Wilby, “New “Statesman” 11 February 2002. “The New Statesman and anti-Semitism”.
(9) Solomon M. Schwartz. Commentary magazine, June 1949. “The New Anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union. Its Background and Its Meaning”.
(10) Posting by “John from Scotland” 15 February 2005. “The Combat 18 Blood and Honour Guestbook”
(11) Community Security Trust “Antisemitic Incidents Report 2006”.
(12) Community Security Trust “Antisemitic Incidents Report 2005”
(13) Comment is Free website 14 March 2006
(14) Joel Fishman, Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs. “Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 517, 11-25 Iyar 5764 / 2-16 May 2004. The Cold-War Origins Of Contemporary Antisemitic Terminology”.
(15) Patterns of Prejudice, Vol 1 No 4, July-August 1967. (No author listed). Publisher, Institute of Jewish Affairs.
(16) Written in 1954. Isaac Deutscher (1968) The Non-Jewish Jew and other essays, London: Oxford University Press
(17) Numerous press reports, January 2007
(18) Ibid.
(19) Various news reports. Only one of the bombers succeeded in blowing himself up. The other fled and was later found dead on the Tel Aviv seafront.
(20) Lenin. January 1907 pamphlet, “The St Petersburg Elections and the Hypocrisy of the Thirty-One Mensheviks”
(21)http://www.prisonplanet.com/Pages/Sept05/130905Galloway.htm. Also:http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=53
(22)http://www.missionislam.com/nwo/globalagenda.htm. See also IslamOnline, and MPACUK. “Palestine as a global agenda” Rachid Al-Ghannouchi, 1994.
(23) Numerous news reports, 3rd November 2003, includinghttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3237277.stm
(24) Minima Moralia by Theodor Adorno

The Left and Anti-Semitism today – Philip Spencer – Engage Journal – Issue 5 – September 2007

It is often assumed that the left has a long and honourable tradition of opposing anti-Semitism wherever it has reared its ugly head. If this was ever consistently the case, it seems sadly no longer to hold true for a significant section of the left which, particularly over the past two or three years, has become increasingly involved in alliances with and support for movements of unquestionably anti-Semitic motivation and inspiration. This is quite an alarming development which poses a serious challenge.

There is, firstly, the legitimation of elements of anti-Semitic discourse. It is now a common occurrence to find arguments, some put forward by activists and commentators of the left, others unchallenged from that quarter, which allude more or less overtly to excessive Jewish influence if not to an actual conspiracy (conducted not only by Israel but also by “neo-conservative” ideologues and policy-makers, always quite vaguely defined) to shape US and even British policy, to muzzle dissent, and to control the policies of international organisations. This discourse has shaped some of the agenda of much of the left liberal media – the Guardian, the Independent, Channel 4, even Radio 4. Coverage of Israel especially is increasingly imbalanced, not only in coverage but also in commentary. (Not that it is always easy to tell the difference – witness the extraordinary space on front pages given over to a figure like Robert Fisk). But it goes further than this. Efforts to raise quite separate issues such as Darfur, where violations of human rights have reached genocidal levels, are blocked on comments pages and routinely rubbished by serial commentators, with charges that these are diversions engineered by Zionist and imperialist lobbies of one (unspecified) kind or another. And, perhaps most seriously, if the question of anti-Semitism itself is directly raised, it is either marginalised, relativised (as of far less significance than say Islamophobia) or decried as self-serving, mischievous and exaggerated.

There is, secondly, collusion with anti-Semitism for purposes of mobilisation. The Socialist Workers Party, whose influence far outweighs its always limited numerical weight, made a key and unprecedented strategic decision to ally with the Muslim Association of Britain (the British branch of the Moslem Brotherhood, an overtly anti-Semitic organisation) in setting up and building the Stop the War Coalition. The original objectives of the latter were to oppose the wars in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. That movement broadened out last summer to oppose Israel’s part in the Lebanon war, adopting a position of vocal support for Hezbollah, another overtly anti-Semitic organisation. Thousands of people were then mobilised to march through central London chanting “we are all Hezbollah now”, with no protest voice raised or allowed to challenge this extraordinary sight. The SWP has now gone further, to judge for example by the attendance and pronouncements of its leading spokesman at a recent conference in Cairo of “anti-imperialist forces”, where they expressed fundamental support for Hezbollah and Hamas. These expressions of support were warmly reciprocated, nothwithstanding the belief of the latter that the French revolution, the Russian revolution and indeed Marxism itself are all products of an extensive and ongoing Jewish conspiracy.

There is, finally, the influence all this has on the political socialisation of a new generation. It is fashionable sometimes to mock the egoism and conservatism of many young people today. But many have been mobilised quite successfully in recent years by this section of the left for big events such as the huge march against the Iraq war and for other related smaller scale marches, gatherings and festivals. It is not unreasonable to be alarmed by what may now increasingly be passing as common sense for this new generation, many of whom may now seem to think it self-evident that Israel is the state with the worst human rights record in the world (even genocidal in its treatment of the Palestinians); that it was simply the creation of the West in 1948 in order to control the Middle East; and that the Holocaust has been instrumentalised and exaggerated solely for the purposes of legitimating the “Zionist” project.

These are alarming developments which require some explanation. Some of it has to do with the resilience of anti-Semitism, to the way in which it is able to mutate, to take different forms and shapes over time, to adapt to changing circumstances by integrating new elements (such as a grossly disproportionate anti-Zionism, in which Israel and the Jews who support it, however critically, are singled out for special opprobrium) into an existing stock of “ideas” and rearticulating them in a new combination. Part of the problem here is the denial of many on the left that this is or indeed can be the case. Rather they insist that there is no connection at all between different bouts of anti-Semitism over time, as if each instance appears from nowhere and can only be explained as a product of specific factors at a particular moment.

But there are at least two other reasons, one external, the other internal, although they are closely related, since some of the internal problem is caused by the response to the external development. The external factor is the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the other global superpower. Much of the left still had a residual attachment to the USSR, if only as a counterweight to the United States. However great the crimes of Stalinism, these were always felt by many on the left to be in sense of lesser significance than the greater, longer lasting , more enduring crimes of Western capitalism and imperialism. (As Perry Anderson, the editor of the often influential New Left Review once put it, “there were crimes, but they were socialist crimes”!) Interestingly, this was never the view of the SWP which traditionally adopted a very different view of the Soviet experience, seeing it as the product of a state capitalist counter-revolution, responsible for immense and brutal exploitation and oppression (though how far that could go ever to explain mass murder is another matter). But with the Soviet Union gone, such differences were now deemed irrelevant and the left could unite to focus on one single enemy, the repository and source of all evil on the planet.

The emergence then in the 1990s of opposition to the United States in a number of places, and its combination with other forces always hostile to the West was welcomed with immense enthusiasm, as if it was a uniform global anti-capitalist resistance. It could of course be so defined if the term anti-capitalist was made synonymous with anti-American, as was very soon and easily done. But this came at a huge price. For it meant that the left would have to support movements and forces that previously they would have previously identified as mortal enemies. Swallowing this pill had serious internal consequences for the moral body of the left. Anti-Americanism assumed such importance that it came to substitute for any separate socialist mobilisation or agitation, particularly if that caused difficulties for the new alliances that were being forged.

The motivation for this was probably strategic in the first instance. It was a belief that the reactionary ideas of these forces were of lesser significance than their determined anti-Americanism. The logic of their resistance was said to profoundly anti-imperialist and thus anti-capitalist. It was “objectively” progressive, no matter what its “subjective” appearance. Not making a song or dance about this or that reactionary idea was of no significance in the here and now; indeed it would be counter-productive.

Of course these ideas are not at all trivial or superficial to those who hold them most dear. They are exactly the opposite, quite clearly central, in the case of anti-Semitism, to organisations and movements such as the Moslem Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas. The strategic calculation is likely to rebound in exactly the opposite direction to the one imagined. In refusing to challenge the most reactionary ideas, in working in alliance with overt anti-Semites, the left are likely to act as a recruiting agent for forces which are inherently and profoundly hostile to the core values of the left itself.

It is an open question as to when or if this realisation will hit home. It may do so or it may not. The danger is that in pursuit of this strategy, as criticism is suppressed to the point at which it even ceases to emerge, as has already occurred with the question of anti-Semitism, the original objective will be lost sight of. The alliance will take on a life its own. The means will substitute for the ends. This would not the first time such a thing has is happened in the history of the left of course but it poses a major challenge now.

How can we meet this challenge? The first and most and important response of course is to identify anti-Semitism directly wherever it appears and to raise it as an issue which is not to be swept under the carpet, not to be marginalised, relativised or denied. It may take new forms (though not that new) but it is connected to a long and vicious history. Too many on the left are only prepared to recognise anti-Semitism, if they are willing to do so at all, if it comes dressed in Nazi regalia. Though still present, that particular expression is by no means the only danger we face today.

Secondly, it has to be argued repeatedly that tolerating anti-Semitism, for apparent temporary advantage, is a deeply mistaken tactic and strategy which is bound to rebound in the face of those who advocate it. The left will not recruit new forces to itself in that way but in the end lose them entirely. They will turn out to be, as they have shown all too often in the past, the deadly enemies of the left itself.

And finally, we need to argue that anti-Semitism is wholly unacceptable, that no organisation or movement on the left should tolerate any expression or manifestation of anti-Semitism. It was once (foolishly) said by a great socialist, August Bebel, that “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools”. It was not and is not any such thing. It is not any kind of socialism at all, of fools or anyone else. A left that tolerates anti-Semitism, that legitimates it, that colludes with it for purposes of mobilisation, as it socialises a new political generation, is in danger of wrecking itself politically and morally.

Philip J Spencer is Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Kingston University, where he teaches courses on the Holocaust, on the Politics of Mass Murder, and on Human Rights. He is the author (with Howard Wollman) of Nationalism – A Critical Introduction (Sage 2002) and of Nations and Nationalism – A Reader (Edinburgh University Press, 2005). He has also written on Marxism and the Holocaust (in R.Lentin ed., Representing the Shoah for the 21st Century (Berghahn 2004), on civil society, and on migration and asylum. He is currently working on a study of the left, the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

Antisemitic insults: a lexicon – Jonothon Green – Engage Journal Issue 5 – September 2007

Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels, distorters of [others’] words, calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers… the scum of the human race ‘whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs…’ These are the Jews, an ongoing continuum of deceit, obstinacy, licentiousness, evil, and corruption…
Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, imam and preacher at the Al-Haraam mosque, Mecca 19 April 2002

The desire of race or faith or nation A to excoriate race or faith or nation B is hardwired within us. The desire for positive ‘us’, whether based in geography or belief, to find a negative ‘them’ is inescapable. From a lexicographer’s point of view such mutual vilifications represent a fruitful mini-lexicon all on their own. Whether the loathing is based on the grounds of geography, the nation to which belongs and more important, those nations that are categorised as ‘alien’, or of belief, the multiplicity of mutually hostile superstitions that, gilded for mass consumption are repackaged as ‘the great religions’, or on the grimly wide-ranging and usually spurious stereotypes that follow hard on the creation of the negative ‘other’, it all contributes to an extensive language of abuse. But, and can one be surprised, this is not an equal-opportunity system. Some we hate more than others. Some offer up a greater proportion of the vocabulary of disdain. Two groups stand out: blacks and Jews. In sheer numbers, such old enemies as the Spanish, Dutch and French still provide a large vocabulary, but such terms have long since lost their sting. Nor is the anti-semitism that informs the lexicon that follows limited to the UK, but the space for writing here is.

Just Jew-ish

Perhaps the simplest way to coin an insult is to do no more than deprive a noun of its article – ‘a’ or ‘the’. Somehow this linguistic foreshortening renders an otherwise respectable word vulnerable. A Jew, the Jew, both terms may well be used in some negative way, but stripping off the article and talking of Jew this, and Jew that confer an extra sneer, especially when the combination stresses some accepted stereotype: Jew banker, Jew pedla and the like. Thus to reduce Jewish to Jew has the same unpleasant effect. As the polymathic Jonathan Miller noted, as part of 1961’s satirical revue Beyond the Fringe, ‘I’m not a Jew, just Jew-ish’, although that makes no-one immune.

While jewy is an obvious pejorative, often applied to matters of taste, and America’s 19th-century jew-bastard requires no translation, jew-boy, now an undeniable negative, was not always so. The term emerged in the late 18th century, when it meant what it said: a boy who was a Jew. The mood shifted as the 19th century passed and by the 1920s, when D.H. Lawrence proclaimed his hatred for the ‘moral Jew-boys’, there was no doubt about the negative image of the term. Another term, one of the oddest, is Jews’ letters (or Jerusalem letters) which refers to tattoos. Given the prohibition on tattooing (‘You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves…’ Leviticus 19:28) such a term seems utterly anomalous. Various theories have been put forward: that the symbols were Hebrew, that they were inscribed in memory of pious trips to Jerusalem, but the most likely surely draws on the use of the word jew in nautical slang, where it means a ship’s tailor (irrespective of religion). The link between tattooed sailors, their tailor and his needles cannot be too distant. Slang gives a small subset of terms, all based on rhymes with ‘Jew’ or ‘Yid’. They include buckle my shoe, box of glue, fifteen-two, five to two, four by two, half past two, kangaroo, pot of glue, quarter to two, Sarah Soo, four-wheel skid and front-wheel skid.

Like nigger, Jew has been adopted for a variety of terms, often dealing with natural products, flowers, minerals and the like. The practice appears most common in English-speaking countries and in Germany and a sample, far from exhaustive, is included here. English, whether American or English, has jewbush: a tropical American shrub possessing emetic qualities, Jews’ frankincense: storax, a resin derived from trees of the genus styrax; Jew’s fish (the halibut, a Jewish favourite), Jews’ lime: asphalt (sometimes, deliberately elided as Jew slime) Jew’s mallow: a potherb, Jews’ myrtle: the ‘butcher’s-broom’ or common myrtle, Jews’ stone: a hard rock that is related to certain basalts and limestones and is used for road-mending, a jew: a black field beetle in Cornish dialect (it exudes a pink liquid and children, seeing this, would chant ‘Jew, Jew, spit blood’) and jawing: the wattles at the base of the beak of some pigeons (the reference is to the hooked ‘Jewish’ nose). A Jew’s thorn (or Christ’s thorn), is the Paliurus Spinacristi, from which Christ’s crown of the thorns was allegedly constructed. Among the most interesting is Jews’ tin, the tin found in old smelting houses in Devon and Cornwall, known as Jew’s houses because once, around the late 11th century, the Jews mined for tin in those counties. (The black beetle reference above presumably refers to some ancient memory of these black-garbed exotics.) Meanwhile goose means a Jew. Whether, as H.L. Mencken suggests in 1936, this is a reference to goose: a tailor’s smoothing iron and as such the basic tool of many immigrant Jews, or whether it is no more than a deliberately coarsened mispronunciation of Jews, i.e. Joose, cannot be ascertained

Given Names

Like the French, who are traditionally enjoined to add a saint’s name to those given to every child, Jewish names, or at least traditional Jewish names are a rollcall of theological figures, in this case from the Old Testament. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca…they and others have all been used as synonyms for Jew for many years.

Abraham, to start with the first of the patriarchs, gives Abe or Abie, both of which play the predictable role, with an additional use by African Americans in which abie means a tailor (a use that reflects the Royal Navy’s use of jew to mean the ship’s tailor). Less well-known these days is Abie Kabibble, a name that is based on the American Yiddish ish kabibble: who cares, don’t worry, and which in turn comes most probably from the synonymous German Yiddish nish gefidlt. Adopted as a catch-phrase by the vaudeville superstar Fanny Brice, the term was picked up by America’s ‘dean of cartoonists’ Harry Hershfield who in 1917 launched a character called Abie the Agent, based on one ‘Abie Kabibble’. Highly successful, and pro-semitic insofar as it took any stance, the strip lasted until 1932. The term was further popularized by a swing trumpeter who adopted the name ‘Ish Kabibble’, and started performing as a comic.

After Abraham, Isaac gives Ikey . Which as well as Jew can also mean pawnbroker and as an adjective, wide-awake or smart (1900). Ikey-mo, adding Moses to Isaac, just means a Jew. Jake, from Jacob, Isaac’s son, is a third synonym. Similar names include Max, a common Jewish given name, Sol (from the wise King Solomon), and Sammy (from Samuel, although the Dictionary of American Slang suggests that the name comes from the acronymSigma Alpha Mu, a Jewish college fraternity, whose members are called ‘sammys’), and the women Rachel (Jacob’s wife) and Rebecca (or the Hebrew Ryfka, Abraham’s wife).

Several other names have been used as part of the abusive lexicon. Initially neutral, descriptive terms, they work almost as euphemisms, as if the simple word ‘Jew’ is too much for a fastidious person to utter. Royal decrees, pontificating on the status of the Jews during the Middle Ages used the Latin term Secta nefaria: the nefarious sect. Israelite, like Hebrew is another word that began as a simple description, but gradually, as anti-semitism gathered strength, came to be an implicit term of criticism. Levi refers literally to a descendant of the tribe of Levi, the third son of the patriarch Jacob; like the Cohens, the Levites are hereditary priests, in their case responsible for such temple rituals as animal sacrifice. In the 18th century the levi was briefly a fashion accessory: a form of dress popular among women but described by Horace Walpole as ‘a man’s nightgown bound round with a belt’, an haute couture version of Levitical garb. Late 19th-century Britain read the Daily Levy or the Daily Telegraph, named for its former owner, Joseph Moses Levy while the navy’s HMS Leviathan was known by nautical wits as the Levy Nathan. Moses, another Biblical figure has also been a source of abuse. Moses simply means Jew but in 1785 Francis Grose notes the term stand Moses, used of a man who ‘has another man’s bastard child fathered upon him, and he is obliged by the parish to maintain it’. As defined in New York police chief George Washington Matsell’s Vocabulum (1859, America’s first homegrown slang dictionary) Moses is ‘a man that fathers another man’s child for a consideration’. The phrase appeared, according to Randal Cotgrave’s Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), because traditional images of Moses show him ‘hauing [sic] on either side of the head an eminence, or luster arising somewhat in the forme of a horne’, an image reminiscent of the cuckold’s horns, and as such causing ‘a prophane Author to stile Cuckolds, Parents de Moyse’. From there Moses himself became the cuckold.

Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, means literally ‘God will hear’ and has been used to mean both a Jew and an outcast, thus the celebrated first line of Melville’s Moby Dick (‘Call me Ishmael’) and Ishmael’s description in Genesis xvi. 12 as ‘one whose hand is against every man, and every man’s hand against him’. His outcast role links to another staple figure of Judaeo-Christian mythology: what France calls le juif errant and the Germans term ewiger Jude, the eternal Jew or the wandering Jew. The legend of the wandering Jew, who supposedly insulted Christ as he toiled up the via Dolorosa towards Calvary and was thus condemned to wander the earth eternally, appears during the 13th century. According to Roger of Wendover’s Flores Historiarum (c.1235) an Armenian archbishop, visiting England, claimed that in 1228 he had entertained at his own table a Jew named Cartaphilus, once Pontius Pilate’s porter, who had foolishly uttered the insult, asking ‘Go faster, Jesus, why dost thou linger?’ Christ’s response, ‘I indeed am going, but thou shalt tarry till I come’, set Cartaphilus, off on his travels, never to cease until the Day of Judgement. The story took on its modern form in 1602 when a pamphlet claimed that in 1542 Paulus von Eizen, bishop of Schleswig, had met a man, this time calling himself Ahasuerus, who claimed to be the wanderer. Combining both Moses and Ahasuerus is moisher: to wander around, used in Derek Raymond’s seminal novel of upper class low-lifes, The Crust On Its Uppers (1962).

Another Jew, even more vilified in the Christian pantheon, is Judas Iscariot (literally ish-qriyoth: ‘man of Kerioth’), the betrayer of Christ. Thus Judas itself means an informer, the Judas kiss is a kiss of betrayal and in oprison, theJudas-hole, is a spyhole in a cell door. The Judas-colour, used of the hair or beard, is red (from the medieval belief that Judas had red hair and a red beard); it is a myth that has been sustained for centuries, typically in Dickens’ allotting the evil Fagin with matted red locks.


It might be suggested that if one segregates a given individual, cuts him off from all forms of employment bar one, and ensures that the one he is allowed to undertake is despised by the rest of the community, then it is to add gross insult to equally gross injury then to attack and pillory that individual for performing the task in question. Thus the role of the Jew: forced by Christian piety to take on the role of money-lender, he is then cursed by the pious for performing the very task with which he has been saddled.

To stray briefly from English, the range of sayings that harp on the topic is international. They can be German: a real Jew never sits down to eat until he has been able to cheat (the Serbs and Rumanians both run variations on this),the Jews use double chalk in writing; they can be Russian: The Jew will cheat himself, when the idea strikes him, Jews do not learn cheating; they are born with it; or Polish: the Jew is a cheat to begin with and only the devil can cheat a Jew; or Moroccan: when a Jew smiles at a Moslem, it is a sign that he is preparing to cheat him. They can express superlatives of cunning: he can cheat a Jew, or jokily suggest the near-impossible: a Saxon cheated a Jew, the German equivalent of a man biting a dog. They are part of the strange calculus of national abuses: One Jew is equal in cheating to two Greeks, and one Greek to two Armenians, or a Russian can be cheated only by a Gypsy, a Gypsy by a Jew, a Jew by a Greek, and a Greek by the devil (both Russian).

And it is all very respectable. One need only browse the citations offered by the OED, which only in its Supplement of 1976 and subsequent Second Edition agreed to add to its entry on the noun Jew ‘As a name of opprobrium: spec. applied to a grasping or extortionate person (whether Jewish or not) who drives hard bargains’ the note ‘offensive’. The verb to Jew: to cheat or overreach, in the way attributed to Jewish traders or usurers. Also, to drive a hard bargain,…to haggle. Phr. to jew down, to beat down in price’ has been treated similarly: its entry now adds that ‘These uses are now considered to be offensive.’ Nonetheless the uses are there, a positive roll-call of literary stars: Washington Irving, Henry Mayhew, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, J.M. Synge, T.S. Eliot, Anthony Powell (albeit in the mouth of a fictional character). If the luminaries find no problems with the concept, hallowed by centuries of Christian doctrine, why should the lumpen? And of course they do not.
In the same idiom are the nouns Jewish lightning: deliberate arson in order to gain the insurance on an otherwise unprofitable business; a Jewish waltz: the process of deal-making and haggling; a Jew trick: an advantage taken that is not strictly dishonest, although supposedly out of keeping with a notional business or professional code; or the verb to jew out of: to use petty, quasi-criminal means to ‘do someone out of’ something. The use of the bald ‘Jew’, rather than the notionally softer ‘Jewish’ merely underlines the aggression in such terms.


‘Let the goyim sink their teeth into whatever lowly creature crawls and grunts across the face of the dirty earth, we will not contaminate our humanity thus… a diet of abominable creatures well befits a breed of mankind so hopelessly shallow and empty-headed as to drink, to divorce and to fight with their fists… Thus saith the kosher laws, and whom am I to argue that they’re wrong.’ Thus also saith the fictional Alexander Portnoy (Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint, 1969), and along with circumcision and a big nose, nothing defines the Jew like his abstention from pork. It has also engendered a number of put-downs. Like the ‘jokes’ that term Blacks ‘snowballs’, the charm is apparently in the opposition. The pig is the Hebrew’s enemy and pork and its other by-products Jew food, while the Jew himself is a porker, porky or pork-chopper. In the language of America’s short-order cooks, a sheeny’s funeral is roast pork. A bagel or bagel-bender is a Jew, as is a motza, the unleavened Passover biscuits, which can also mean money. Lox, or smoked salmon, the ‘automatic’ accompaniment to bagels (and cream cheese) gives lox jock, another synonym for Jew. Bagel has another meaning in South Africa where it denotes a spoilt, wealthy, upper-class young man; his female equivalent is a kugel, the Yiddish for cake.


On a physical level, only circumcision – generally invisible – is an equally infallible guide to the semite in our midst as is the shape of their nose. Hook, hooknose, banana-nose and eagle-beak (not, of course, to be confused in any way with the proud aquilinity of the Roman nose) and schnozzole or schnozzola, best known for its application to the comedian Jimmy ‘Schnozzle’ Durante, (1893-1980), whose Italian surname, if nothing else, proves that physiognomy and ethnicity are not always so easily linked. Schnozzle comes from the Yiddish shnoitsl and, in turn, from German Schnauze, both meaning snout. The big nose imagery extends into nature, where Australia’s Jew lizardhas an especially prominent snout, while in America the jewbird is a nickname for the ani, a type of cuckoo, with an arched and laterally compressed bill, and the jewcrow is the chough, another bird with a big bill. A Jew wattle is a coloured skin projection on the carrier pigeon’s bill and a Jew monkey is a type of macaque, sporting an outsize nose.

Cut-Cocks and Clip-Dicks

And then, circumcision itself. Thus, starting with the Latin curtius Judaeus: ‘the curtailed Jew’, such terms include clip(ped)-dick, snipcock (beloved of Private Eye), cut-cock and skinless. The US gay lexicon offers a Jewish compliment, a Jew’s lance, Jewish corned beef and Jewish National, which last refers to America’s Hebrew National brand of kosher salami. One who is circumcized but not Jewish is Jewish by hospitalization. A Jewish nightcap is the missing foreskin. Finally there is Abraham. Abraham’s bosom, however, refers not to the penis but to the female genitals, and refers to the New rather than the Old Testament, specifically Luke xvi. 22, where the phrase is used to describe ‘the abode of the blessed dead’. As far as the Jewish woman is concerned her image underpins the way in which stereotyping demands (and creates) extremes, even contradictory ones. She can be a wanton slut (America’s kosher cutie), from whose lascivious eyes no simple goy is safe, and almost simultaneously a frigid, sexless, castrating kvetch or ‘nag’. The popular joke defines Jewish foreplay as ‘the man pleads for sex, his partner refuses all physical contact’. And if the most alluring of all Balzac’s courtesans is the Jewish Esther (errant, beautiful, ultimately tragic daughter of the miser Gobseck), the JAP, or Jewish American Princess (all shopping, no fucking), is the fount of myriad jokes. ‘What does a JAP do with her arsehole? Send him off to work every morning’. ‘Why does the JAP like sex doggy-style? She hates to see anyone else having a good time.’

‘My Jewish Gaberdine’

Mocking the Jewish propensity to set themselves up as experts in whatever occupation they pursued, the Yiddish proverb notes that ‘When the Jew buys a gaberdine, he becomes an expert on cloth’. What is interesting is not the self-deprecation, but the term gaberdine. First encountered, in a racial context, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (1596), when Shylock accuses his enemies ‘You…spit upon my Jewish gaberdine’, the word seems very far from the homely gaberdine which, well known to generations of English schoolchildren, is usually called a macintosh. However the religious link is far more valid than the modern one. The term appears to come from the Old Frenchgauvardine, galvardine or gallevardine, perhaps a derivative of Middle High German wallevart: a pilgrimage (in the same way France’s pelerin: a pilgrim, gives pelerine, a long narrow cape or tippet, with ends coming down to a point in front, usually of lace or silk). Other Romance languages then picked it up, giving the Italian gavardina and Spanish gabardina, probably the immediate root of the English word. As used in English gaberdine has meant a form of loose smock, the garment worn traditionally by almsmen or beggars, a child’s loose frock or pinafore, a type of twill-woven cloth, usually of fine worsted, as well as the ‘Jewish’ reference. One last term, a coat-and-suiter(with its cognates suit-and-cloaker and ready-to-wear-set) refers generally to the Jews, traditionally prominent in the clothing trade.

‘The Rats are underneath the Piles’

The use of rats as visual shorthand for the Jew in a number of German Nazi propaganda films, where they pour from sewers before meeting their well-deserved fate at implacable Aryan hands, and as ‘cartoon’-fodder in such hate-filled journals as Der Stürmer, is well-known. The Nazis were hardly the initiators of such imagery. Rats and Jews had been a convenient linkage for the Middle Ages. But even in the 20th century there were those who pre-empted Nazi efforts, among the most celebrated being the Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot, a devoted High Anglican, whose deliberate juxtaposition of the two kinds of ‘vermin’ in Gerontion (1920: ‘The rats are underneath the piles / The jew is underneath the lot. Money in furs’) leave one in no doubt as to his position.


Mockie, a slur nickname for a young Jew, may come from the proper name Moses or it may, especially in its alternative form mouchy relate to the smous or smouse, a German Jew and thus a Jewish pedlar. However a third etymology is also feasible: the Yiddish word makeh: meaning sore, pest or plague. The American term Jerusalem parrot, meaning a flea, with its implication of the ‘dirty Jew’, may well be linked to the earlier parchaty ¯zhyd: a Polish phrase meaning mangy or scurvy Jew. However, as one commentator remarked, with regard to the Jews, ‘after a sprinkling of baptismal water, the Jew ceases to stink’. Yiddish cologne, on the other hand, would not help: in American slang it means gasoline. The foetor judaicus: the Jewish stench, a medico-theological term coined in the Middle Ages, could still be found in supposedly authoritative, if undisguisedly anti-semitic, tomes of the 20th century. One last link between Jews and illness is less unpleasant. Jewish penicillin, a joking description of chicken soup, that staple of the Jewish kitchen, and prescribed by Jewish mothers for a wide range of illnesses, really does seem to work. At least as far as colds and ‘flu are concerned. The hot soup encourages the flow of mucus through the nose, which is of proven benefit to such diseases.

Of all the stereotypes the Jews qualify for two above all: the murder of the Christian messiah and an obsessive involvement in commerce and its product money. Religious prejudice underpinned anti-semitism from day one, so let us look at the first.

‘One Who Killed Our Lord’

‘Now a Jew, in the dictionary, is “one who is descended from the ancient tribes of Judea…”, but you and I know what a Jew is: One Who Killed Our Lord […] a lot of people say to me ‘Why did you kill Christ?’ ‘I dunno, it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know’. We killed him because he didn’t want to become a doctor, that’s why we killed him.’ Thus the position of the Jewish-American satirist Lenny Bruce, but the black humour masks centuries of grim propaganda. As far as the Jews are concerned, the main product of nearly two millennia of Christian theology found its logical conclusion in the ovens of Auschwitz, Treblinka and the rest.

The term Christ-killer is absent from the OED, a tribute perhaps to Sir James Murray’s admirable liberalism but not to his usually all-encompassing lexicography. The term is used by one of Henry Mayhew’s interviewees in his 1857 study London Labour and the London Poor, and the concept, even then, was moving towards two millennia of use. Its first dictionary citation is in Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian Era (1909). He notes that it is ‘passing away – chiefly used by old army men’ and indeed it does seem shortly after the Mayhew citation to have taken up a more prominent residence in America, its use fuelled, no doubt, by the predominantly Catholic Irish, Polish and other Central European immigrants who continued to flood the country. It lives on. One can find citations as recently as the late 1980s, and these are not historical references.

‘How odd / Of God / To choose / The Jews’: thus the clichéd jingle, but odd or not, the idea of the Jews as being chosen for a special role in the divine scheme can be found throughout the Bible. Exodus xix has God promising the Israelites a role as ‘my treasured possession among all the peoples’ and Deuteronomy x claims that ‘He chose you…from among all peoples’. If, even to believers, these are not ‘God’s words’ but a rationalization by the Jews of their apparently unique role in the world, then so be it. The image of a chosen people, a term that starts appearing in English in the mid-16th century, has persisted, as much mocked as celebrated. Chosen Pipples, delivered with a cod ‘European’ accent, tends to the former category. A similar play on immigrant pronunciation, joosh-pipples, i.e. Jewish people, mocks the ‘Mittel-European’ accent of America’s newly arrived Jews.) Another collective term isghetto-folk, a much newer phrase, but one which stems from the placing of Jews in carefully segregated areas of towns and cities, sometimes surrounded by an actual wall. The first ghetto appeared in Venice in 1516 and possibly took its name from the site of its foundation, a disused foundry or, in Italian, getto. The extension of ghetto into its modern use, an urban area (often one of its poorest) in which a given minority group is concentrated, emerges in the late 19th-century, and was initially used to describe the East End of London – then the home of England’s Jews.

Like chosen people, the Hebrews, and thus the modern abbreviations hebe, heeb, heebie and occasionally heebess, start life in the Bible. The word began life in the Aramaic hebrai (and Hebrew hibri) which literally meant ‘one from the other side of the river’. Thus Abraham ha-hibri, in Hebrew, meaning literally ‘Abraham the passer over’ or ‘immigrant’ (to Palestine), becomes ‘Abraham the Hebrew’. The word lost its ‘h’ in Middle English, and became ebreubut regained it by the 14th century.

Other ‘Biblical’ references include America’s house-of-David boy, which refers to the second King of Israel, David, whose story is found in the book of Samuel (although in no ancient non-Biblical work whatsoever). It was King David to whom God promised that his kingdom would endure for ever and it is thus that the New Testament sees Christ as one of his lineal descendants. The ‘House of David’, nonetheless, is seen as a Jewish phenomenon, and it is that image that is mocked in the phrase. Dave, by itself, has also been used to mean a Jew. Another phrase, the stiff-necked people, quotes Moses’ outburst when his patience with his flock, forever backsliding to set up Golden Calfs and the like, became over-stretched.

One of the most interesting, coined c.1820, and until the last World War most common of anti-Jewish terms has been sheeny, and it has been one of the most elusive to pin down. A variety of etymologies have been proposed: the American lexicographers Wentworth and Flexner suggest, the German word shin, a petty thief, cheat or a miser. Leo Rosten, the great popularizer of Yiddish, prefers the German-Jewish pronunciation of the German schön, beautiful, fine, nice, and a word Jewish peddlers supposedly used to describe the merchandise they offered. More complex is that proposed by Nathan Süsskind in 1989. His etymology is based on the Yiddish phrase a shayner Yid: a pious (literally ‘beautiful-faced’) Jew and thus an old-fashioned and traditional Jew and one who, according to the Talmud sports the religiously proper full beard. The term was then taken up, mockingly, by assimilated German Jews who had immigrated to England, as meaning ‘an old-fashioned Jew’, i.e. in habits, clothing and religion. These ‘modern’ Jews mocked their less sophisticated successors, who followed them from Germany and clung on (at least initially) to their old-fashioned ways. The first half of the phrase, which the ‘uncultured’ Jews pronounced sheena rather than the more Germanic schön was taken up by gentile Jew-baiters to create sheeny. Sheeny itself gives the late-19th- century snide and shine (or S and S), East London Gentiles’ slang meaning a Jew, especially an East Londoner. The term seems to pun on ‘rise and shine’, mixing sheeny with the older slang term snide: meaning, fake, counterfeit and generally dubious – a reference no doubt to the supposedly poor quality of the goods they hymned as schoen.

A small group of religiously inclined place-names complete this section. In 1930s England the Holy Land was any predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, speficially Goldberg’s Green and Abrahampstead; the Holy of Holies was the Grand Hotel at Brighton, which around 1890 became a favourite with Jewish customers, while Brighton itself was known facetiously as Jerusalem the Golden.


And finally money. The stereotype. Setting aside usury, which is considered below, the world of money and of commerce provides a vast arena for those who wish to typify the Jews as money-orientated. They are not alone in being allotted the role, but they are undeniably foremost.

Less popular today, but always available, America’s kike appears to spring from commercial roots. Although its etymology remains something of a mystery, and there is a reasonable case for suggesting that it comes from the Yiddish kikel: a circle, the mark used by some illiterate Jewish immigrants – rather than a cross – when signing papers at Ellis Island, New York (the immigrants’ ‘gateway to America’), others refer to the common ‘Jewish’ suffix -kior -ski. The most likely origin may be that suggested by the etrymologist Peter Tamony. He opts for the German kieken: to peep and links it to Jewish American clothes manufacturers who ‘peeped’ at smarter European fashions and produced mass-market knockoffs, popular among their poorer customers.

America also offers allrightnik, a Yiddish term that describes one who has succeeded, one who has raised himself from immigrant poverty to material success; especially used of New York Jews, it gives Allrightnik’s Row: Riverside Drive, once home to many successful Jews. Similarly Washington Heights, New York City was the Jewish Alps. The obvious etymology is all-right, as in the phrase do all right for oneself, but in fact the term comes from the Yiddish olraytnik: an upstart, a parvenu. Such ‘new money’ does not, of course, pass unnoticed. Jewish or Yiddish Renaissance refers to any over-elaborate furniture in doubtful taste as does the upper-class English Jewy Louis, with its emphasis on fake and flashy Louis XV or XVI furniture.

But if Jews see their material success in a reasonably, albeit ironically positive light, few others share their optimism. The Afro-American term slick-’em-plenty refers to the unscrupulous trader, using his patter to gull the credulous. Late-19th-century London sneered at the Judaic superbacy: ‘a Jew in all the glory of his best clothes’ (Ware); Jews after all were more usually found in the context of rags, thus the term Abraham: the lowest level of clothes shop, usually selling second-hand goods. Cognate terms are Jew joint and Abraham store. In law an Abraham suit is a bogus or illegitimate lawsuit, brought simply for the purpose of extortion. The Jewish or Yiddisher piano and Jewish typewriter are both a cash register or till, while the Jewish or Jew flag is a dollar bill. In US college slang a course in Jewish engineering is one in business administration and, in a similar construction, the British Army’s Jewish cavalry is the quartermaster corps, whose duties feature not gallant charges but mundane, if vital supplies. A Jew sheet is an account, often imaginary, of money lent to friends, and London’s Cockneys use as thick as two Jews on a payday as a synonym for intimacy.

Yet paradoxically, in that way that lays at the alien’s door every extreme of conduct, the Jews, with all their smartness, their money-grabbing and their avarice are simultaneously mean, cheap and impoverished. The taxation of Jews gives Jew’s eye, as in ‘worth a Jew’s eye’: something valuable or desirable. The phrase refers to the medieval practice of extorting money from the Jewish community on pain of the threatened torture of its leaders; such torture may or may not have involved blinding. Another version suggests that every organ carried a price, and that the ultimate was the eye, which would be gouged out were a wealthy Jew not to disgorge his fortune. However a further etymology, the French joaille: a jewel, cannot be discounted. In a wider sphere one finds such terms as Jewish airlines: walking on foot; Jew-bail: insufficient bail (or a promise of bail, which is not paid when the criminal absconds); Abraham’s or Jewish sidewalls: White rubber sidewalls glued on blackwall tyres to make a cut-rate imitation of the real (and once fashionable) thing. Still in an automobile world, Jewish overdrive is freewheeling down hills to save petrol, and a Jew(ish) Packard, a relatively expensive car, is a cheap Ford while the assonant Jew Canoe refers in America to a Cadillac and in the UK to a Jaguar (commonly stigmatized as a nouveau riche, and de factoJewish mode of transport).

‘No Christian is an Vsurer’

Writing in 1551, the scholar and politician Thomas Wilson (1525-81), stated (in The Rule of Reason), ‘No Christian is an vsurer’. Given the expanding economy of Tudor England, his remark was hardly accurate, but as a figurative statement it served perfectly to sum up the position of the men who lend money and take interest for their pains. But if the usurer was not a Christian, then who was he? The answer, as any of Wilson’s readers would have known instinctively, was a Jew. Based in the Latin usus: use, and thus to ‘use’ money (to make a profit), usury had always been reckoned amongst the greatest sins by Christian theologians. Its practice became grounds for excommunication and the Jews, who were in any case forbidden to involve themselves in any of the more mainstream trades, were conveniently positioned to be given this theologically burdensome but economically vital employment. Usury, and the usurer, basically defined as the lender of money at interest, have unsurprisingly garnered a poor image. ‘To whom that vsery ys lefe,’ declares a writer in 1303, ‘Gostely [ghostly, i.e. in his spirit, in his soul] he ys a thefe [thief].’ Nearly five centuries on, nothing had changed. Jeremy Bentham, defining the practice in 1787, stated ‘I know of but two definitions that can possibly be given of usury: one is, the taking of a greater interest than the law allows… The other is the taking of a greater interest than it is usual for men to give and take.’ And if the fictional Jew has two predominant images, then while one is Charles Dickens’ Fagin, a repository of centuries of grim stereotyping (for whose creation Dickens would never really make amends), then the other is Shylock, created by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice c.1598.

The rights and wrongs of Shakespeare’s portrait, let alone the background against which Shakespeare wrote, are too complex for inclusion here. It is interesting however that for all the anti-semitic mythology that runs with usury, the use of Shylock as a synonym for usury is a late-19th-century construct. Thus established it moved into the 20th century, and Peter and Iona Opie reported in 1959, in their collection of schoolyard wit and wisdom, that among the names schoolchildren used for Jews were ‘Yid, Shylock, or Hooknose’. Meanwhile the term had crossed the Atlantic, to be used by such slang-wise writers as Damon Runyon. A shylock or shy became the accepted term for a money-lender. His ethnicity was irrelevant. The American cant term shyster, a disreputable lawyer, may have links to shylock, but may equally well come from shicer, itself based on the German scheiss: shit. A twist on the usual meaning came in the 1920s when, with a (subconscious) nudge at the old stereotypes, America was known in Britain as Uncle Shylock (a play too on Uncle Sam) thanks to her insistence on repayment of the debts incurred by Europe during World War I.

Jonathon Green is the UK’s leading lexicographer of slang and lectures regularly on the subject. A revised edition of his Cassell Dictionary of Slang appeared in 2005. This article is adapted from Words Apart: the Language of Prejudice (1996.) His current work, a multi-volume dictionary of anglophone slang ‘on historical principles’ is due for publication in 2009.

Anti-Jewish stereotypes in Swedish public discourse – Henrik Bachner – Engage Journal Issue 5 – September 2007

Since 2000 anti-Jewish currents have been strengthened globally. The most dramatic development has taken place in the Arab and Muslim world, but disturbing tendencies have been observed in Europe as well. The imprint these currents have left in Europe varies between East and West and between countries. In Sweden there seems to have been no rise in the number of antisemitic hate crimes, (1) yet there are clear indications that anti-Jewish stereotypes and myths have become more visible and accepted in Swedish public debate, specifically so with regards to the discussion on Israel and the Middle East. In this article I shall try to elucidate and discuss some of the characteristics of anti-Jewish thinking as manifested in contemporary Swedish public discourse. (2)

A brief background

Sweden has had a small Jewish population since the end of the eighteenth century, when Jews for the first time were allowed to reside in the country without converting to the Christian faith. Today there are approximately 20.000 Swedish Jews, comprising 0.2 percent of a total population of 9 million. The history of anti-Jewish prejudice in Sweden, however, dates back to the Middle Ages.

Historically anti-Jewish thinking in Sweden has not differed much from the Christian anti-Jewish tradition prevalent in many other European countries. During the second half of the nineteenth century, perceptions and imagery became increasingly influenced by modern antisemitism. All though no broad, popular antisemitic movement ever emerged, traditional religious and secular anti-Jewish stereotypes remained an integrated and fairly well accepted part of Swedish culture until World War II. Negative perceptions of Jews also influenced popular attitudes as well as restrictive government policies toward Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany during the 1930s. (3)

As in many other countries, the impact of the Holocaust led to a strong delegitimization of antisemitism in the dominant political culture of post-war Sweden. But long-held and deep-rooted prejudices did not totally disappear. An undoubtedly limited, yet significant, revival of anti-Jewish thinking could be discerned at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of 1970s, primarily within the context of extreme left-wing anti-Zionism. Yet, with time and with the emergence of a more critical stance toward Israel amongst broader segments of the public, similar tendencies could be observed within parts of mainstream political opinion. (4) The effects of these developments could be seen not least during Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War, which in Sweden, as in many other countries, (5) unleashed marked anti-Jewish reactions.

The Swedish debate on the 1982 war elucidates both the persistence and flexibility of anti-Jewish thinking. It shows how stereotypes and beliefs, largely absent from the public discourse for decades, can be easily revived and adapted to new circumstances. Although Sweden is one of the most secularised countries in Europe, the anti-Israel mood created by the Lebanon War unleashed a flood of age-old Christian anti-Jewish perceptions that were then woven into—and rationalized as—criticism of Israeli government policies. (6)

In general, it can be said that the original theological construct of Judaism as the antithesis of Christianity—the contrast between Christian love and forgiveness and Jewish unforgivingness and malevolence—constituted a leitmotif in the antisemitically tainted argumentation during the war. A recurring theme was that of a specific Jewish vengefulness and cruelty, an “Old Testament” wrath and bloodthirstiness, that was said to characterize Israeli behaviour. The Swedish debate also included other traditional antisemitic beliefs. Among them was the myth of Jewish control of world finance, politics and the media, and the conspiratorial fantasies that often accompany such ideas. In 1982 these specific ideas were primarily to be seen in radical anti-Zionist argumentation, although they were in evidence within the political mainstream.

Another prominent theme was the analogy between Israel and Nazi-Germany and between the Israeli invasion and the Holocaust. The debate sparked by the war showed that this motif was no longer, as it had been since the end of the 1960s, the preserve of anti-Zionist propaganda, but had gained legitimacy within a significant part of public opinion. There are probably several reasons for this change of climate. However, the problem of coming to terms with the mass murder of the European Jews and its historical, political and psychological consequences seems to have been the major factor behind the increased popularity and usage of such images. This process was facilitated by the fact that the taboo surrounding antisemitism also gradually weakened with the passing of time, something that increased the level of tolerance for expressions of hostility toward Jews.

The process at work ought to be understood as primarily a form of liberation demonology. The construction of Jews or ”Zionists” as Nazis and perpetrators of a new Holocaust, brings relief from feelings of guilt, it relativizes the Shoah, and it provides liberation from restrictions on anti-Jewish discourse. By constructing Jews as Nazis they again become legitimate targets of hostility, and anti-Jewish sentiments can be articulated under the banner of anti-racism. This interpretation appears to be plausible if we look at the argumentation which in many cases supported these representations in 1982—the recurring references to ”guilt”, to irritation over not being permitted to speak in unambiguous terms about Jews or Israel and generalizing assertions about the transformation of ”the Jews”. Moreover, it is given credence by the scope, intensity and, above all, selectivity, in the pattern of association. (7)

Anti-Jewish motifs in the public debate after 2000

The antisemitic mood that emerged in parts of Europe after the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000 was also evident in Swedish public debate, but more research is needed before its full impact can be adequately assessed. A limited examination of news coverage and public debate on Israel and the Middle East within parts of the mainstream media between 2000 and 2004 (8) (in some cases 2005), however, allows some preliminary conclusions to be drawn about how anti-Jewish prejudice is coloring some of the discussion. It should be pointed out that there is no indication that criticism against Israel in any general sense is tainted by antisemitism. Some of the criticism is, but it is not the dominant pattern.

While it is important to make clear that criticism of Israeli policies and actions is perfectly legitimate, it is also important to note that parts of the general criticism against Israel seems to be influenced by irrational motives. This is obviously the case, for instance, when the Jewish state is constructed as the root cause of global disharmony, but it can also be seen in the general obsession with Israel. The reasons for this preoccupation are no doubt complex, yet it to some extent probably does reflect historically transmitted thought patterns. As Adam Garfinkle has pointed out:

As Jews were for centuries at the epicenter of Christian theology in Europe, so today, in a largely post-Christian Europe, Israel is at the epicenter of the European political worldview. It is a secularized view, to be sure, but it is at the same time a vestige of a religious obsession so deeply rooted in the European psyche that it cannot be readily named. (9)

What is troubling is also the selectivity of indignation that can be seen in public reactions to international conflicts. There is a stark difference between the outrage that Israeli policies often unleash amongst public opinion in Sweden (and other countries) and the silence and indifference that normally marks reactions to the conflicts and atrocities taking place in, for instance, Chechnya, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Algeria, Somalia, Congo or Colombia.

The phenomenon can also be illustrated by the boycott and divestment campaigns that are directed against Israel. These campaigns – in Sweden backed up by the Church of Sweden and much of the radical left – are not simply based on principle. If they were, similar positions would be taken on other states that are occupying foreign territory (for example Morocco or China and until recently Syria) or violating human rights, in which case the list would be extensive and hardly headed by Israel when ranked on scale and severity.

To what extent these kinds of phenomena can be understood in terms of anti-Jewish prejudice and hostility is of course difficult to say, since in most cases, the underlying motives cannot be known. All kinds of anti-Israel sentiment cannot therefore simply be interpreted as forms of antisemitism. However, it would be equally wrong not to accept that prejudice and hostility against Jews could be and probably is one of several factors at play here. (10)

The philosopher Michael Walzer, a long time critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, has correctly pointed out that ”there is an oddly disproportionate hostility toward Israel on the European left, which requires some explanation…Indeed, much of the criticism directed at Israel has more to do with the existence of the state than with the policies of any of its governments…” (11) Against this background the proposition put forward by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, like Walzer often critical of Israel’s policies, is worth considering: ”Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction—out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East—is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.” (12)

Christian anti-Jewish images

The anti-Jewish motifs manifest in elements of the contemporary media in Sweden are very similar to the ones that surfaced in 1982. This time around, Christian anti-Jewish images are also frequently woven into descriptions of, or criticism against, Israel’s policy and actions—particularly the idea of an Old Testament vengefulness, an image often codified in the words ”an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. This is not a phenomenon to be observed solely in anti-Israel biased media. The liberal newspaper Expressen, for example, explained at the beginning of the new intifada that Israel, in its response to Palestinian violence, was ”implementing the primitive teaching of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. (13)

However in papers like Aftonbladet, social democratic and Sweden’s largest daily, which is markedly anti-Israel and has a history of antisemitic stereotyping when criticizing and reporting on Israel, the image of Israel’s policies as a reflection of a specific vengefulness rooted in Judaism has been a recurring theme. From its Middle East correspondent Aftonbladet’s readers have learned that Israel under the leadership of Ehud Barak was striking at the Palestinians in accordance with the principle of ”an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, that Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon had ”tried the eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth method since coming to power”, and that in order to stop Palestinian terror Israel’s government ”must give up its eye for eye, tooth for a tooth tactics”. (14)

How easily these images are activated could be seen also in connection with the controversy that unfolded in January 2004 when Israel’s ambassador to Sweden protested against and attacked the installation ”Snow white and the madness of truth” (depicting an Islamic Jihad terrorist in a basin of blood) at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm, accusing it of glorifying suicide bombers. Under the heading ”A tragic proof that Israel is stuck in hatred and violence” Aftonbladet’s Middle East correspondent explained: ”The Israeli ambassador’s violent behavior elucidates the situation in the Middle East. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” (15) In the web publication Dagens PS the prominent journalist Peppe Engberg described what had happened at the museum as ”God’s people” acting with their ”reptilian brain” and claimed that the Israeli ambassador was inspired by ”the vengeful God of the Old Testament”. (16)

These examples illustrate another basic characteristic of all forms of prejudice: the collectivization of responsibility or guilt. Israel’s ambassador is transformed into all Israelis or all Jews. How these transformations take place, and how an event such as the Israeli ambassador’s protest serves as a stimulus for different kinds of anti-Jewish projections, is also demonstrated in an article published on the web site Tidskrift.nu, which is a portal for Swedish cultural periodicals, sponsored by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs. Under the heading ”Report from the Museum of National Antiquities” the following reflection was made: ”In the 1930s the Nazis destroyed art they looked upon as not being real art. Now, it is those who were hardest hit by the Nazis—the Jews—who claim the right to decide what constitutes art and what doesn’t and to destroy what they don’t appreciate.” (17) Here the Israeli ambassador not only is transformed into all Jews, but the Jews—as a collectivity—are also transformed into contemporary Nazis repeating the crimes of Nazi-Germany.

The image of Jewish vengefulness has not been the only stereotype rooted in Christian anti-Judaism that has colored the debate on Israel. The conservative Svenska Dagbladet published a letter that invoked the image of Jews as child murderers in that it described the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as acting in accordance with his ”biblical equivalent—the king of the Jews of that time, Herod—with his infamous child slaughter”. (18) During Easter 2002 Aftonbladet—intentionally or not—revived the accusation of Christ killing when it, on its editorial page, condemned Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians under the heading: ”The Crucifixion of Arafat”. (19)

One could argue that crucifixion is a general metaphor in Western culture and that it therefore must not be understood as anti-Jewish even when used as in this example. But speaking against this interpretation is, among other things, the fact that Aftonbladet never uses such metaphors when discussing or criticizing other states. It is an association that awakens only when the Jewish state is being discussed. Moreover, applying such images on the government of a Jewish state has, for historical reasons, a different meaning than if done on, say, that of Luxemburg or New Zealand.

The fact that the image of Jews as Christ killers surfaces during Easter—something that happened also for instance in the Italian newspaper La Stampa (20) —again signifies that the image is rooted in age-old anti-Jewish thinking. Nor was this the first time that Aftonbladet made this association: the paper condemned Israel’s invasion southern Lebanon in 1978 in a similar manner. An editorial, also published during Easter, headlined ”Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” was illustrated by a drawing showing the victims of Israel’s invasion as the suffering Christ. (21) During the 1982 Lebanon War another image was chosen. This time Aftonbladet’s editoral page portrayed the Israeli prime minister as the ”Angel of Death” of the Old Testament (referring to the Destroyer in the book of Exodus). (22)

Power, manipulation and conspiracies

Another theme that has re-emerged, and much more strongly so than in 1982, is the myth of Jewish power and Jewish manipulation of politics and the media. Today, these ideas seem to be more attractive and tolerated more within the mainstream of political opinion. This can be seen in the frequent fantasy-like descriptions of the omnipotence of the so-called ”Jewish lobby” in the United States, a lobby that in the minds of some Swedish observers single-handedly runs American foreign policy, or in the insinuations that the U.S. war on Iraq was secretly masterminded by Jews and conducted in the interests of Israel.

The myth of the Iraq war as a ”Zionist” conspiracy is normally presented in subtle terms. The argumentation is characterized by an obsession with those who happen to be Jews within the American administration. In this specific genre of articles the concept ”neoconservative” does not primarily designate an ideological position, but serves as a code-word for Jews. Sometimes, however, the idea of a Jewish cabal is put forward in a more outright fashion. In the run-up to the Iraq war, the US correspondent of Aftonbladet, answering a question from a reader, explained that the Americans were sure about winning the war but they also ”feared that someone would strike back with more terror. Someone who doesn’t like the Zionist conspiracy”. (23)

The writer Israel Shamir, who is a Swedish citizen, even borrows neo-Nazi terminology when describing the conspiracy. In his book, Blommor från Galiléen [Flowers from Galilee], which was published in Sweden in 2003, he writes that ”The occupation regime in Iraq was installed by the US army in the interests of Zionists, and it may be rightly called ZOG, Zionist Occupation Government…”(24) Shamir would have been of little interest if his book, which (like his web site) is full of antisemitic statements, had not been published by a respected publisher, Alhambra, and if he had not been praised as a brave critic of Israel by part of the left. The Palestine Solidarity Association in Sweden, the major pro-Palestinian organization in the country, not only has engaged Shamir as a speaker at an anti-Israel rally but also for a while helped promote and sell his book. (25) In an article published in late 2004 Shamir’s book was recommended by Evert Svensson, a former social democratic MP and for twenty years (until 2003) chairman of The International League of Religious Socialists. (26)

The entering of the myth of Jewish omnipotence and manipulation into the mainstream can also be observed in other contexts. A frequently repeated charge is that Israel is protected from criticism, that truths about Israel are treated as taboo and censored. According to this mythology, politicians and media in Sweden and other Western countries are either controlled by Jewish or ”Zionist” interests or so afraid of these ”powerful forces” or ”lobby groups”—the two dominant code-words for Jewish power in the Swedish discourse—that they don’t dare to ”speak their mind”.

Needless to say, the claim that Israel should somehow enjoy preferential treatment in the Swedish media has little to do with reality. Anyone following the reporting and debate on Israel in Sweden knows that criticism against Israeli policies is widespread, open and sharp. In an article titled ”Worst in the world?” Nathan Shachar, for many years Middle East correspondent for the liberal daily Dagens Nyheter, drew attention to a report showing that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the years 1996-98 as a subject not only represented 23,5 percent of all articles dealing with international conflicts in that paper’s cultural section, Israel was also ”the largest country in the world measured by the level of indignation”. 77 percent of all articles published on Israel were negative. (27) It is not unlikely that we would find a similar pattern in much of the Swedish media, nor that the percentage of articles dealing with or criticizing Israel would have risen since 2000.

A typical example of the kind of mythology described above can be found in the writings of Herman Lindqvist, one of Sweden’s most well known journalists and an author of best-selling popular history books. In an article inAftonbladet in late 2000, Lindqvist claimed that most Swedish journalists visiting Israel are ”shocked by the Israeli arrogance and racism towards the Arabs”. This, however, is never reported to the Swedish public, he continued, the reason being that few dared to write about it, knowing that those who did ”immediately become sprayed with poison by powerful and influential pro-Israeli lobby groups”. (28) As always in articles repeating this theme the ”influential lobby groups” remain anonymous.

Another example can be found in the program Mediemagasinet, produced and broadcast by Swedish public service TV, Swedish Television. In 2001 the program, specializing in examining the media, claimed that the full truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was never revealed in the Swedish press. And the reason for this, it was explained, was that some of the Swedish correspondents in the Middle East were Jews—which was presented as in itself a cause for suspicion—and that pressure from the ”Jewish lobby” made Swedish newspapers censor certain information that might be negative for Israel. (29)

In 2005 Ordfront Magasin, probably the most influential left-wing periodical in Sweden, carried an article that in an unusually naked manner sought to invoke the image of a Jewish conspiracy manipulating the media. Under the heading ”Swedish media is controlled by the Israeli regime” journalist Johannes Wahlström claimed that the Israeli government with the help of a powerful and secretive ”lobby” and through the use of pressure, threats and intimidation made Swedish newspapers, radio and television suppress certain information that could be damaging for Israel. These activities, Wahlström argued, was part of a global plan for media control drawn up in Jerusalem. (30) The article was simultaneously published on Israel Shamir’s web site. Shamir, reportedly, is Wahlström’s father. (31)

When the piece first was published, few protests were heard. To the contrary, the article was enthusiastically received by parts of the radical left. It was not until some of the Swedish correspondents interviewed by Wahlström explained that their words and views had been distorted in order to support his thesis that a reaction emerged. (32) The editor in chief of Ordfront Magasin now distanced himself from the article and apologized for having published it. (33) However, in the ensuing debate the fact that Ordfront Magasin had published an article clearly colored by antisemitic mythology played little role and was never admitted by the editor. It seems highly unlikely that the publication would have drawn much criticism at all had not Wahlström’s interviewees publicly protested. Even after they had made clear that their statements had been falsified, Wahlström’s claims were defended as basically correct by the radical leftist historian Åsa Lindeborg in Aftonbladet. (34)

The Ordfront affair is another indication that there today is a growing readiness to accept images of Jewish omnipotence and manipulation. The latter is also illustrated by the case of stand up comedian Magnus Betnér. Betnér regularly appears on various TV-shows and has repeatedly made “jokes” about Jews. On October 30, 2005, in ”Parlamentet”, a popular comedy program broadcast by TV4, Betnér stated: “One group I believe suffers from discrimination in Sweden is the Jews. They own only 45 per cent of the media in Sweden, that’s not even half goddammit!” In Expressen on November 4, 2005, Willy Silberstein, a well known Swedish-Jewish journalist, criticized Betnér for exploiting anti-Jewish stereotypes. Betnér replied that he stood by his statement. Although Silberstein had not mentioned Israel or Betnér’s views on the Middle East conflict in his critique, Betnér—following a common strategy of argumentation—also explained that he was actually being attacked for criticizing “the state of Israel”. (35) Apart from this there was little public reaction.

The mythology of Jewish control of the media can at times also be applied on a global level. In April 2004 the social democratic daily Dala-Demokraten in its cultural section published an article, headlined ”Israel is a Gulag”, in which it was stated that ”No information about the crimes that are taking place [in Israel and the occupied territories] can reach us since the world’s media from New York to Moscow via Paris and London are secured for Israel’s cause. The Israeli invasion of Ramallah and Bethlehem was camouflaged in the Jewish controlled press and media, like CNN…” (36)

The image of powerful Jews manipulating the media was also invoked during the Hillersberg controversy in 2001. This debate was unleashed by a Swedish government decision in late 2000 to award the artist Lars Hillersberg (1937–2004) with a life-long income guarantee by the state as a reward for his artistic achievements. The decision drew criticism from a number of historians and intellectuals who pointed out that Hillersberg, a left-wing anti-Zionist, since the late sixties had produced a number of clearly antisemitic pictures. It was also noted that the artist had been a supporter of the strongly antisemitic and “revisionist” radio station Radio Islam (nowadays a web site) and had drawn a picture used on the cover of a book written by Radio Islam editor Ahmed Rami. This particular Hillersberg drawing showed Rami being crucified by Jews. (37)

Very soon, however, it became clear that Hillersberg was supported by a substantial number of Swedish intellectuals who explained that the pictures that had drawn criticism were not at all anti-Jewish. Many lined up behind the interpretation offered by Lars Lönnroth, a professor of literature and chairman of the committee that had nominated Hillersberg for the award, who stated that the pictures should be seen as ”left-wing anti-capitalist and anti-Israel satire”. (38) One of those taking the same position was Folke Edwards, for many years head of the Gothenburg Art Museum, who described the critics as ”torpedoes for powerful interests”. (39) Gunnar Fredriksson, a columnist inAftonbladet and a former editor-in-chief of that newspaper, also acquitted Hillersberg’s pictures from antisemitism and condemned the ”powerful group” that had voiced criticism against the artist. (40)

The Hillersberg controversy, on a more general level, pointed to the gradual erosion of the postwar taboo on antisemitism in public space, and indicated the increase in the level of tolerance and attraction toward such ideas within parts of the mainstream political opinion. It demonstrated that antisemitism can now be defended in public without any political risks, if cloaked in anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-capitalist or anti-American rhetoric. Another example illustrating the same tendency was the reception of the American writer and political scientist Norman Finkelstein’s book The Holocaust Industry. If this book to some extent points to some very real (if not unknown) problems concerning the use and misuse of the Holocaust, it no doubt also invokes the idea of a global ”Zionist” conspiracy driven by greed and sinister political motives. If Finkelstein in Germany was applauded primarily by conservative and right-wing extremist circles, his most enthusiastic supporters in Sweden were to be found within the radical left. (41)

That fantasies of Jewish omnipotence and conspiracies are again gaining acceptance within the mainstream media was also demonstrated by the broadcast of a satirical program called ”The third power” on Swedish public service television in August 2002. In a feature it was argued that it is not always bad being a victim. The point was illustrated by the Holocaust: images of murdered Jews in Nazi concentration camps, of stocks of gold barrels and jubilant Israelis were accompanied by a text explaining that the Holocaust wasn’t so bad for the Jews after all, since it gave them a state and billions of dollars from Germany and the Swiss banks. As a consequence, it was argued, the position of the Jews was now stronger than ever. The feature ended with an image of the World Trade Center and an insinuation that there might be a connection between Jewish power and the attacks on September 11. (42)

An unambiguous use of the myth of Jewish control of Western and Swedish media is also to be found on some of the web sites belonging to certain groups within the Swedish anti-globalization movement, a movement that sometimes combines anti-capitalism with radical anti-Zionism. (43)

”Progressive” antisemitism

A further theme in evidence at the time of the Lebanon war, the projection of Nazism and the Holocaust onto Israel or Jews, is also present in the current debate. Within the radical left it constitutes a central element in the anti-Israel propaganda. In publications and on web sites belonging to radical left-wing groups, cartoons equating the Star of David with the swastika or the suffering of the Palestinians with the Holocaust are common place. These groups have also exploited the day commemorating the Nazi pogrom against the Jews on November 9, 1938, in order to draw parallels between the Nazi persecution of the Jews and the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. (44)

For the militant anti-Zionist left these images serve a number of purposes. Primarily they help delegitimize Zionism and the state of Israel. Yet, an important reason for their attraction is also that they transform Israelis and ”Zionists” to legitimate targets of hostility—which they of course become when constructed as Nazis—and they enable antisemitism to be presented and legitimized as anti-racism, anti-Fascism and anti-Nazism. It is a formula to make hostility against Jews and Israel look progressive.

An elucidating example of how this works is the Swedish periodical Mana and its reception. Mana was launched at the end of the 1990s by a group of socialist Swedish-Iranians. It markets itself as ”the worlds best anti-racist publication”. With time anti-Zionism became a central issue in the magazine. Articles carried headlines like ”Hate Israel” and urged understanding for Palestinian suicide terror. The antisemitic outbursts that accompanied the UN conference on racism in Durban in 2001 were described as legitimate criticism of Zionism and Israel, as were the anti-Jewish statements made by the German politician Jürgen Möllemann in 2002. (45)

When the editor-in-chief, Babak Rahimi, in 2003 addressed the issue of antisemitism and the Holocaust the meaning of both concepts were falsified. Antisemitism was said to mean Jewish hatred against Arabs and the Holocaust to signify an Israeli crime against the Palestinians. The Holocaust, Rahimi explained, was an ongoing Israeli mass murder against ”people of semitic origin”. Even Holocaust-denial was given a new twist. It meant denying ”the Holocaust” against the Palestinans and falling prey to ”the Zionist version” of the Holocaust. (46) Soon after this, Mana was being hailed by well-known left-wing intellectuals as Sweden’s preeminent anti-racist publication. Per Wirtén, editor at the socialist magazine Arena, praised it as an important ”anti-racist and radical political voice”. In Dagens Nyheter journalist Karolina Ramqvist applauded ”the anti-racist cultural magazine Mana”. Equally enthusiastic about, what she called, the ”anti-racist magazine” was historian Åsa Linderborg. (47)

The case of Mana shows the success of the formula of ”progressive” antisemitism within parts of the left. The readiness to accept it no doubt also has to do with the self-image of the left. As the German sociologist Werner Bergman has pointed out, ”Typical for ’anti-racist anti-Semitism’ is its clean conscience and a self-image that sees antisemitism as principally incompatible with a leftist outlook.” (48)

It is also quite clear that the construct of Jews as new Nazis and perpetrators of a new Holocaust continues to attract because of its ability to relieve feelings of guilt from, and to relativize, the Shoah. Commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Ordfront Magasin in 2002, the well-known journalist and celebrated author Katarina Mazetti suggested that: ”Maybe it is time to stop the efforts of taking Swedish youngsters to Auschwitz in order to teach them the consequences of racism and ethnic cleansing. Maybe we shall invite them for a Christmas trip to Betlehem instead, so that they can have a look at what the grandchildren of the victims of Auschwitz are up to when they are devoting themselves to ethnic cleansing!” (49) That Mazetti attacked not the Israeli government, nor the Israeli army, but ”the grandchildren of the victims of Auschwitz” and implied that this group was now repeating the crimes of the Holocaust, is of course telling. Again, the role of Israel as the ”collective Jew”, and as a stand-in for the Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, is obvious in many of these fantasies.

Old-new antisemitism

With reference to the discussion on the character of contemporary antisemitism in Europe—whether it is in a significant way new or basically traditional—a preliminary conclusion that can be drawn from this limited examination of Swedish public debate is it that anti-Jewish thinking in many cases seem to reflect historically and culturally rooted images. Certainly new elements that nourish, activate and sometimes modify these images have entered the scene. And new contexts emerge in which they come to expression.

However, it is also important to be perceptive of new, in some cases old-new, tendencies now taking place. It should be noted that in Sweden, like in many other European countries, the consequences of the Holocaust clearly play a crucial role in shaping the features of postwar anti-Jewish thinking. The projection of Nazism and the Holocaust onto the Jewish state, or onto Jews in general, constitutes a central element in contemporary anti-Jewish discourse.

Furthermore, much evidence suggests that there is an increased acceptance of, and attraction to, anti-Jewish beliefs—specifically ideas of Jewish power and manipulation—within the broader political culture, and primarily within left-wing circles. Other changes, also with regards to the content of anti-Jewish thinking, might of course be taking place. A question that ought to be examined is how antisemitism propagated by radical Islamists – a problem that has become increasingly visible also in Sweden during later years – might affect discourses on Israel and Jews within the political mainstream as well as within the extreme left and the radical right. In order to provide answers to this and other relevant questions, and to better determine the character of contemporary antisemitism in Sweden, more research is needed.

A final conclusion, based also on previous research on Swedish public discourse, is that there is an intimate relationship between antisemitism and perceptions, attitudes and reactions to Israel and the Middle East conflict, and that the public debate on Israel is a major forum for antisemitism within the political mainstream. An important reason for this seems to be that Israeli policies and actions, and the criticism they draw, serve as a stimulus for pre-existing anti-Jewish sentiments and prejudice to become manifest. But the debate on Israel also becomes an important forum for anti-Jewish prejudice because it constitutes a public arena where negative attitudes toward Jews can be legitimately articulated, since in this context they can easily be packaged and rationalized as criticism of Israel or Zionism. After 9/11 and, even more so, after the Iraq war, antisemitic ideas have also entered the debate on US foreign policy.

Henrik Bachner has a Ph. D. from the Department of History of Ideas and Science, Lund University. His publications include Återkomsten. Antisemitism i Sverige efter 1945 [Resurgence. Antisemitism in Sweden after 1945], Natur och Kultur 1999 (paperback 2004) and Antisemitiska attityder och föreställningar i Sverige [Antisemitic attitudes and images in Sweden] (with Jonas Ring), Forum för levande historia and Brottsförebyggande rådet 2006.


(1) The number of reported crimes with antisemitic motives have been fairly stable between 1999 and 2004. See the annual reports Brottslighet kopplad till rikets inre säkerhet, published by the Swedish Security Service, Stockholm,http://www.sakerhetspolisen.se
(2) The focus of this article is anti-Jewish stereotypes in the broader political culture. Antisemitism within the extreme right and radical Islamism will not be treated. Nor will the prevalence of anti-Jewish attitudes within the general population be discussed. A survey of antisemitic attitudes in Sweden was published in 2006. However, since this was the first study of its kind there is no material that enables a change over time comparison. For results from the survey, including an English summary, see Henrik Bachner and Jonas Ring, Antisemitiska attityder och föreställningar i Sverige, Forum för levande historia och Brottsförebyggande rådet, Stockholm, 2006,http://intolerans.levandehistoria.se/article/article_docs/antisemitism_print.pdf
(3) Lars M. Andersson, En jude är en jude är en jude… Representationer av “juden” i svensk skämtpress 1900-1930, Nordic Academic Press, Lund, 2000, Steven Koblik, The Stones Cry Out. Sweden’s Response to the Persecution of the Jews. 1933–1945, Holocaust Library, New York, 1988, Paul A. Levine, From Indifference to Activism. Swedish Diplomacy and the Holocaust; 1938–1944, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Uppsala, 1996, Ingvar Svanberg & Mattias Tydén, Sverige och Förintelsen. Debatt och dokument om Europas judar 1933–1945 Arena, Stockholm, 1997, Rochelle Wright, The Visible Wall. Jews and Other Ethnic Outsiders in Swedish Film Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale/Edwardsville, 1998.
(4) Henrik Bachner, Återkomsten. Antisemitism i Sverige efter 1945 [Resurgence. Antisemitism in Sweden after 1945], Natur och Kultur, Stockholm, 1999, pp. 236-330, 354-368.
(5) Bernard Wasserstein, Vanishing Diaspora. The Jews in Europe since 1945, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1996, pp. 231–232, Robert Wistrich, Hitler’s Apocalypse. Jews and the Nazi Legacy, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1985, pp. 236-255. Se also Simon Epstein, Cyclical Patterns in Antisemitism: The Dynamics of Anti-Jewish Violence in Western Countries since the 1950s, ACTA. 2, 1993, pp. 4-6.
(6) For an analysis of the 1982 debate see chapter 6 in Bachner, Återkomsten, and Henrik Bachner, “Anti-Jewish motifs in the public debate on Israel. Sweden: A case study”, Antisemitism Worldwide 2001/2,The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University, 2003,http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2001-2/bachner.htm It should be underlined that most of the debate in 1982, which in the main was sharply critical of Israel, cannot be judged as antisemitic. Nevertheless, a substantial number of articles did contain antisemitic elements.
(7) See Bachner, Återkomsten, 1999, pp. 413-440. See also Wistrich, Hitler’s Apocalypse, 1985, pp. 237-240.
(8) Henrik Bachner, ”Efterord: Antijudiska motiv i svensk Mellanösterndebatt efter 2000”, in Bachner, Återkomsten (paperback edition), Natur & Kultur, Stockholm, 2004, pp. 555-600.
(9) Adam Garfinkle, “The Madness of Jewcentricity”, The American Interest, No. 2, 2006.
(10) See Edward H. Kaplan and Charles A. Small, “Anti-Israel Sentiment Predicts Anti-Semitism in Europe”, Journal of Conflict Resolution, No. 4, 2006, p. 548-561.
(11) Interviewed in Imprints, No. 1, 2003.
(12) New York Times, 16 October 2002.
(13) Expressen, 13 October 2000.
(14) Wolfgang Hansson, Aftonbladet, 13 October 2000, 22 March 2002, 20 May 2002.
(15) Wolfgang Hansson, Aftonbladet, 18 January 2004.
(16) Dagens PS, 16 January 2004.
(17) Anders Hedman, http://www.tidskrift.nu, 20 January 2004.
(18) Peter Tornborg, Svenska Dagbladet, 25 February 2002.
(19) Aftonbladet, 1 April 2002.
(20) La Stampa, 3 April 2002.
(21) Aftonbladet, 27 March 1978.
(22)EWK, Aftonbladet, 17 June 1982.
(23) Fredrik Virtanen, Aftonbladet, (web edition), 29 March 2003.
(24) Israel Adam Shamir, Blommor i Galiléen, Alhambra, Stockholm, 2003, p. 186.
(25) See ”’Israelkritiker’ rekommenderar antisemitisk bok”, Nyhetsbrev April 2005, Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism, http://www.skma.se and articles on Shamir at http://www.expo.se.
(26) Evert Svensson, http://www.socialistisktforum.se, 5 November 2004.
(27) Dagens Nyheter, 19 October 1998.
(28) Aftonbladet,, 26 November 2000.
(29) Mediemagasinet, Swedish Television, 1 November 2001.
(30) Johannes Wahlström, Ordfront Magasin, No. 12, 2005.
(31) See Richard Slätt, Neo, No. 2, 2006.
(32) Lotta Schüllerqvist, Dagens Nyheter, 13 January, 2006 and Peter Löfgren, Expressen, 13 January, 2006.
(33) The apology was published on the Ordfront Magasin website in January 2006.
(34) Åsa Linderborg, Aftonbladet, 17 January 2006.
(35) Magnus Betnér, Expressen, 7 November, 2005.
(36) Jörgen Dicander, Dala-Demokraten, 1 April 2004. In this particular case the editor-in-chief, after protests from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism, acknowledged the article as prejudiced and apologized for publishing it. Göran Greider, Dala-Demokraten, 21 April 2004.
(37) See for example Kristian Gerner, Svenska Dagbladet, 22 January 2001, Jackie Jakubowski, Dagens Nyheter, 2 March 2001, Henrik Bachner, Dagens Nyheter, 7 March 2001, Lars M Andersson et al., Dagens Nyheter, 15 March 2001. Several Hillersberg drawings are reprinted in Bachner, Återkomsten, 2004.
(38) Svenska Dagbladet, 22 January 2001. For a discussion on the Hillersberg controversy, see Bachner, Återkomsten, 2004, s 564-577.
(39) Göteborgs-Tidningen, 19 April 2001.
(40) Aftonbladet,, 11 March 2002.
(41)For the Swedish reception of Finkelstein, see Henrik Bachner, Expressen, 2 December 2001. For the German debate, see for example Rolf Surmann, ed., Das Finkelstein-Alibi. “Holocaust-Industrie” und Tätergesellschaft, Papyrossa, Köln, 2001.
(42) Tredje makten, Swedish Television, 7 August 2002.
(43) Images of this kind were for instance used on certain web sites during 2002.
(44) See Kristian Gerner, Nyhetsbrev februari 2002, Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism, 2002, and Maria Svensson and Mikael Tossavainen, Expressen, 21 November 2001.
(45) See Mana, No. 6-7, 2001, No. 2, 2002, No. 3, 2002 and No. 5-6, 2003.
(46) Babak Rahimi, ”Araben är juden”, Mana, No. 1, 2003.
(47) Per Wirtén, Journalisten, 11-16 June 2003 and Arena, 18 October 2004 , Karolina Ramqvist, Dagens Nyheter, 4 December 2004, Åsa Linderborg, LO-tidningen, No. 29, 2004.
(48) Werner Bergmann, ”Neuer alter Antisemitismus in Europa (2002-2003)”, paper, Universität Zürich, 3 Feburary 2004, p. 8.
(49) Katarina Mazetti, Ordfront Magasin, No. 12, 2002.

Is an academic boycott of Israel justified? – Michael Yudkin – Engage Journal Special Issue – April 2007

Michael Yudkin, Kellogg College, Oxford, OX2 6PN (michael.yudkin@kellogg.ox.ac.uk)


The principle of the Universality of Science and Learning – that academics do not discriminate against colleagues on the basis of factors that are irrelevant to their academic work (such as race, religion, nationality etc.) – is well established and almost universally respected. To boycott academics by reason of their country of residence breaches this principle and harms the interests of the academics concerned. Two kinds of argument speak in favour of maintaining the principle of the Universality of Science and Learning: 1) that undesirable consequences would flow from violating it, and 2) that to harm people who are innocent of wrongdoing is morally unacceptable. Those who wish to boycott Israeli academics attempt to defeat the second type of argument by claiming that these academics are complicit in discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel or the occupation of the West Bank, and/or that Israeli universities suppress dissenting voices. Analysis of these claims shows that they are without serious substance.


Over the past several years those who are opposed to some of the policies of the Israeli government, or even to the existence of the State, have proposed an academic boycott of Israel as one of the weapons in their campaign. In this article I want to consider whether the use of this weapon can be justified. In all moral discourse questions about justification have to be universalisable, so to discuss the question whether an academic boycott of Israel is justified we need to start by considering whether academic boycotts in general can be justified, and if so when and how. I believe that it is possible to show that academic boycotts can be justified only in the most extreme of circumstances, and that these circumstances certainly do not prevail in Israel today.

I am by profession a scientist, and I shall start by considering boycotts of scientists. I do so for two reasons. First, the arguments that can be deployed for and against academic boycotts are clearer in the case of scientists than they are for other academics – although, as we shall see, similar arguments can in fact be made for and against boycotts of other scholars. Secondly, scientists have for centuries taken a view (even if only implicitly) on the question of discriminating against other scientists on the basis of their nationality or their country of residence, and more than 70 years ago the international scientific community issued an explicit statement that rules out boycotts on those grounds. This statement enunciates what is called the principle of the Universality of Science. It was published between the two World Wars, when an organization called the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) was founded as an umbrella group for all the national academies of science in the world (the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, the Royal Society and so on). The broad outlines of the statement of principle have remained intact since that time, although its wording has undergone some changes in the past few decades. A modern formulation by ICSU of the principle of the Universality of Science is this:

“The principle of the Universality of Science is fundamental to scientific progress. This principle embodies freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists as well as equitable access to data, information and research materials. In pursuing its objectives in respect of the rights and responsibilities of scientists, the ICSU actively upholds this principle, and, in so doing, opposes any discrimination on the basis of such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political stance, gender or age.”(1)

This wording is not as clear or water-tight as one might like: in particular, the phrase “such factors as” is unsatisfactory. But the general intent is, I think, clear enough: that it is wrong to discriminate among scientists by reason of factors that are not relevant to the conduct of the science itself. Among these scientifically irrelevant factors which, according to the principle of the Universality of Science, it is improper to take into account in one’s dealings with scientific colleagues is country of residence, the feature on which recent proposals for a boycott have been based.

The fact that the principle of the Universality of Science was first formulated between the two World Wars is significant. One should not imagine that before that time it was regarded as acceptable among scientists to discriminate on the basis of scientifically irrelevant factors like country of residence. On the contrary, in the early days of the scientific academies like the Royal Society, it was understood without question that people’s contribution to the progress of science had nothing to do with their nationality: science was truly international. But with the rise of nationalism, some scientists claimed the right to exclude others from the community of science on the grounds that those others belonged to hostile nations; and after the end of the First World War some French scientists refused to allow German colleagues access to international conferences. This action was widely condemned by the international community of science, but it suggested that what had up till then been universally accepted as a matter of course now needed to be made explicit, and led to the formulation of the principle of the Universality of Science.

To most working scientists, the principle of the Universality of Science is axiomatic; they don’t spend much time thinking about it or considering the reasons why, as the ICSU statement I quoted just now asserts, it is fundamental to the progress of science. A few years ago, in response to an earlier call for an academic boycott – on that occasion one that was specifically directed against scientists – three Oxford colleagues and I set up a discussion group to examine the principle of the Universality of Science and to tease out its theoretical basis. We published the results of our discussions (2) in the journal Nature in January 2003, and as I still think our conclusions were on the right lines I shall summarise them here. The main feature of our paper was to give three reasons why boycotting scientists by reason of their country of residence should not be permitted.

1) The advance of science is potentially of net benefit to all mankind, and therefore avoidable obstacles to its pursuit are undesirable.

2) Since the value of a given contribution to science ought to be judged on its own merits rather than on the basis of any characteristics of the person making the contribution, the exclusion of a particular group of people from the scientific enterprise for reasons that are irrelevant to the science itself is a perversion of the objectivity that science demands.

3) With humankind dangerously divided by race, citizenship, religion and so on, the continued ability of scientists to cooperate in a way that transcends these boundaries is an important symbol of, and impetus to, the breakdown of such divisions.

Each of these arguments deserves a little expansion. The first of them – that the advance of science is potentially of net benefit to all mankind – is straightforward enough. To the extent that scientific discoveries bring benefits it is of no consequence whether the discoveries are made in the USA, China, Australia or Belgium. A boycott of scientists from any one country will impede the progress of the scientific enterprise and diminish the chances of valuable progress being made.

The second argument – that the exclusion of one group of people from the scientific enterprise damages the objectivity that science demands – rests on the realisation that the worth of a scientific discovery does not depend on the identity of the person who makes it. The acceptance of this fact is connected with the abandoning some centuries ago of the notion of authority in science. Until the Renaissance, a scientific idea was thought to be true because a respected author of long ago – Ptolemy or Galen, for example – had said it was true. But for the past few centuries scientists have been unwilling to accept that view. We now agree that a scientific theory is credible only if it is supported by experiment; since the relevant experiments can, in principle, be done by anyone, the theory is considered to be objectively credible. I am, of course, describing an ideal, and in practice the situation is much more complicated than I have set out here. Even if we take such complications into account, excluding those of a particular nationality from taking part in scientific work greatly damages the objective nature of the collective enterprise. It is no longer acceptable, as it was in Nazi Germany, to distinguish between “German physics” and “Jewish physics”.

The third argument that my colleagues and I advanced in favour of the principle of the Universality of Science was that contact between scientists in different countries can act as a powerful force against xenophobic nationalism. This is not just wishful thinking: scholars who have studied the matter have given convincing descriptions of certain situations in which scientific collaboration has had beneficial effects in breaking down national barriers. Two examples come to mind: the collaboration of Argentinian and Brazilian scientists in the field of nuclear physics (3), and the collaboration of Egyptian and Israeli scientists in the fields of agriculture and medicine (4).

So these are the arguments that my colleagues and I set out in the article we published in Nature (1). They still seem to me to have considerable force, but in a moment I shall add to them a further point which speaks strongly against any suggestion that academic boycotts can be acceptable.

Before that, however, I should like to widen the scope of our subject. Up till now I have confined the discussion to scientists. But the advances from which mankind has benefited in the past several centuries have not been restricted to natural science. We have advanced in our views on what forms of government are desirable, preferring democracy over dictatorships or absolute monarchies; in our distaste for extreme inequalities of wealth; in our unwillingness to tolerate discrimination on the grounds of sex, ethnic origin or sexual orientation; in our treatment of convicts and of prisoners of war; in our practices in the raising of children; and in many other aspects of the way in which we behave towards other human beings – and, indeed, animals. Admittedly, progress in these areas is extremely slow, and much of the time we seem to take two steps forward and one back. Nontheless, there have been welcome changes in attitudes, and I would contend that such changes can be attributed in good part to the work of scholars in the humanities and the social sciences. The work of these scholars, just like the work of scientists, depends on free interaction between them, often across national boundaries; and if any obstacles are placed in the way of this interaction all of us are the losers. It follows that what we need to uphold is not only the principle of the Universality of Science but a principle of the Universality of Science and Learning.

The arguments I have described so far against boycotting people on the grounds of their country of residence have focused on the undesirable consequences that would flow from such a boycott. But another argument, which is at least as strong as any of the others I have mentioned, can be framed in terms of the undeserved harm that would be suffered by academics subjected to a boycott. In any context, whatever may be the merits of a certain goal that is being sought, it is possible to question whether the means by which it is being pursued are justifiable. Plainly it is not justifiable to use academics who are innocent of any wrongdoing as pawns in the same way as a kidnapper uses hostages – that is, to deprive them of their individuality and autonomy as human beings and turn them into instruments of the political aims of others. So, while it might well be justifiable (or even obligatory) to boycott academics who are involved in illegal or morally unacceptable practices, such a justification would be tenable only if it could be proved that those who are being boycotted are individually responsible for, or complicit in, those practices. To boycott them in the absence of such proof would be to hold them collectively responsible for the actions of others – their government, for example – which in practice they might very well actively oppose. I shall return to this question in more detail later.

Given the four arguments that I have described, which seem to me (and, I think, to most scientists and scholars) to be very strong, can we conclude that the principle of the Universality of Science and Learning must be kept sacrosanct at all times? My answer to this question, and the answer of the colleagues with whom I published in Nature in 2003, is No; it is in fact possible to imagine wholly exceptional circumstances in which we would have to abandon the principle of Universality. The reason, as Isaiah Berlin (5) pointed out several decades ago, is that no principle is so uniquely powerful that it can be maintained in all possible situations. On the contrary, two principles that are both desirable in themselves can sometimes come into conflict with one another – an obvious example in national politics is the conflict between the principle of equality and the principle of liberty. After the publication of our Nature article four years ago in defence of the Universality of Science, I got an email from someone asking what we would have said in the late 1930s, if there had been a reasonable prospect that a boycott of German and Austrian scientists would have helped to prevent the Second World War and contributed to the overthrow of Hitler. That is the kind of question that is much easier to ask after the event than when one is actually facing desperate circumstances, but it is a question that is well worth thinking about because in contemplating it we may be able to work out appropriate limits to the principle of Universality. In our 2003 article, my colleagues and I suggested that a boycott of scientific colleagues should not be contemplated except in extreme circumstances in which all four of the following conditions were fulfilled.

First, the danger that the boycott was intended to avoid, or the injustice that it was intended to overcome, was so exceptionally serious that it was worth sacrificing all the many benefits of the principle of Universality in the attempt.

Secondly, the boycott had to have a realistic prospect of success in achieving its aims. There would be no point in throwing away all the advantages that flow from the principle of Universality just for the sake of making a gesture.

Thirdly, there would have to be sufficient support for the boycott that a large majority of scientists would be prepared to apply it. A boycott that was not widely supported would lack legitimacy.

Fourthly – and again in the interests of gaining legitimacy – the proposed boycott would have to be accompanied by a widespread international programme of diplomatic, economic, cultural and sports sanctions. These would demonstrate extreme and widely held concern about a particularly horrific situation that had developed somewhere in the world; in such circumstances scientists would be joining with others in trying to prevent or alleviate a catastrophic outcome.

These four conditions describe an extremely high threshold that would need to be reached before a breach of the principle of Universality could be considered. But that, in my opinion, is as it ought to be. Almost nobody nowadays would argue in favour of discrimination amongst academic colleagues on grounds of sex, age, language or colour of skin. Those who wish to argue for discrimination on grounds of country of residence should be obliged to make a very strong case for it, a case strong enough to trump the powerful arguments that can be mounted in favour of maintaining the principle of the Universality of Science and Learning.

What kind of situation would be grave enough and exceptional enough to justify our abandoning the principle of Universality? In the Nature article I have already referred to (1), my colleagues and I took the example of an approach to a nuclear war, a war which could destroy millions of lives and change the world in unimaginable ways. Clearly, in a situation of that sort, the many benefits that flow from the principle of Universality would no longer be decisive. In those exceptional circumstances, if an academic boycott would make an important contribution to saving humankind from catastrophe, scientists should be prepared to abandon a principle that they hold very dear – on the assumption that diplomats, people of business, sportsmen, artists and others agreed to join in the boycott of the rogue nation that was threatening to unleash nuclear war.

But what is important about this example is that the situation it envisages is wholly exceptional and represents an extreme emergency. By contrast, in the imperfect world in which we actually live, there are at any moment many disputes – for example territorial disputes – which we may feel strongly about but which cannot be regarded as exceptional and which do not represent an emergency. Given all the good that results from maintaining the principle of Universality, I would argue that it would be wrong to relinquish it on behalf of one party to any of these disputes. In arguing in that way, I imply nothing about the justice of the cause of that party; for example I may believe that the occupation of Tibet by China is a blot on the conscience of mankind but still feel that the principle of Universality of Science and Learning should not be sacrificed in the cause of Tibetan independence.

With these general ideas in mind I can now turn to the task of examining the case that is being made by those who call for a boycott of Israeli academics, and see whether that case comes near to reaching the threshold I have proposed. My task has been made easier by the recent publication of a series of articles setting out the arguments for a boycott of Israel. They appear in a journal called Academe, the bulletin of the American Association of University Professors (the AAUP). These are papers that were prepared for a Conference on academic boycotts which the AAUP planned to hold a year ago. For reasons that need not concern us here the Conference never took place. Nonetheless, the AAUP decided to publish the articles in its bulletin last autumn, and so we have the views of the boycotters presented in a form in which we can readily analyse them. As three main arguments for the boycott recur in several of the articles, I think it is reasonable to conclude that the boycotters wish to rely on these to make their case. I shall examine each of them in turn.

First, it is said that the Israeli educational system discriminates against Arab children, with the result that a smaller number of Arab students are admitted to Israeli universities than their proportion in the population warrants. The following is an excerpt from an article by Omar Barghouti (6), quoting a study by Human Rights Watch:

“Discrimination at every level of the Israeli education system winnows out a progressively larger proportion of Palestinian Arab children as they progress through the school system – or channels those who persevere away from the opportunities of higher education. The hurdles Palestinian Arab students face from kindergarten to university function like a series of sieves with sequentially finer holes. At each stage, the education system filters out a higher proportion of Palestinian Arab students than Jewish students.”

I have to say that I am sure this allegation is true. In all modern societies the chances that children have of progressing to higher education turns out to depend on the socio-economic status of the families they belong to; and groups of lower socio-economic status tend unfortunately to contain disproportionate numbers of people from ethnic minorities – whether the Arab minority in Israel, the North African minority in France, the Turkish minority in Germany or the African and Caribbean minority in the United Kingdom. The problem is universally acknowledged, and no country seems to have managed to deal satisfactorily with it – not Israel, not France, not Germany, and certainly not the United Kingdom. Let me repeat the piece but making certain changes.

“Discrimination at every level of the British education system winnows out a progressively larger proportion of African-Caribbean children as they progress through the school system – or channels those who persevere away from the opportunities of higher education. The hurdles African-Caribbean students face from kindergarten to university function like a series of sieves with sequentially finer holes. At each stage, the education system filters out a higher proportion of African-Caribbean students than white students.”

We know, unhappily, that this changed version is just as true as the original, but I have never seen anyone use these facts to justify an academic boycott of the United Kingdom. While the problem that Barghouti draws attention to is a real one, it is a widespread problem of modern societies and cannot possibly amount to a case for an academic boycott of one country.

The boycotters’ second argument is based on the allegation that Israeli academic institutions collude in the occupation of Palestinian territories and in discrimination against Arabs. Here is Omar Barghouti (6) again:

“This collusion takes various forms [one of which is] systematically providing the military-intelligence establishment with indispensable research – on demography, geography, hydrology, and psychology, among other disciplines – that directly benefits the occupation apparatus.”

and here is an excerpt from an article by Lisa Taraki (7):

“In the Israeli academy, disciplines such as demography, archaeology, sociology, and even architecture have long been part of the colonial project, whether directly or indirectly. That those who work outside the reigning paradigms in these disciplines are in a small minority is testimony to this overriding reality.”

The second part of Taraki’s argument is self-evidently weak. If I found that in biology departments in UK universities those who work outside the reigning paradigm of Darwinism are in a small minority, I would not be entitled to draw any conclusion from that fact about the organisation of the universities or about the purposes that research in these universities serves. But the main burden of both Barghouti’s and Taraki’s allegation is that research in Israeli universities is of benefit to what Taraki calls “the colonial project”. It is worth taking this argument seriously, but we have to rebut it because it is based on a misdescription of what research is. We know that research in at least some of the disciplines that Barghouti and Taraki mention is conducted in Palestinian universities: Taraki is herself Associate Professor of Sociology at BirZeit University. Can we conclude that her research is part of an anti-colonial project? Surely we cannot. The fact that scholars of a particular discipline work in a certain institution indicates nothing except the academic breadth of that institution. Research conducted by a sociologist in an Israeli university might benefit what Barghouti calls the occupation apparatus, but it might equally benefit the Bedouin of the Negev or the Ethiopian minority dispersed throughout Israel – or, indeed, the Palestinian population of the occupied territories themselves. Barghouti, Taraki, and several of the other authors of the series of articles I am considering claim that Israeli universities are responsible for political outcomes that are hateful to them, but this attribution of responsibility is only asserted and never proved.

We can investigate the accusation of collusion between the universities and the institutions of the state more closely if we analyse an excerpt from an article in the same collection by Sondra Hale (8):

“Israeli educational institutions, as arms of the state, are serving the state through their links with the military, the political parties, the media, and the economy”.

The implication is that links of universities with the military, the political parties, the media, and the economy are unusual and sinister. We can examine that implication by looking at a university elsewhere. I shall use my own as an example. The University of Oxford has links with the military through an Oxford University Officers Training Corps, a University Air Squadron and a University Royal Navy Unit, all of them commanded by senior Officers from their respective forces. It has extensive links with the political parties, as we can see if we examine the list of Fellows of Nuffield College or the list of seminars by outside speakers. As to the media, the University has a whole Institute for the Study of Journalism, as well as a Visiting Professor of Broadcast Media. And Oxford’s interest in the economy is one of the jewels in the University’s crown: the University Calendar boasts that six former members of the Department of Economics have been awarded Nobel Prizes, and that five current Oxford economists have received knighthoods. The Fellows of Nuffield include not only the politicians just referred to but also the Governor of the Bank of England. So what we find is that the proponents of an academic boycott, of whom Hale is one, are criticizing academic institutions in Israel for taking part in activities that are considered entirely appropriate in Universities in the UK. Lisa Taraki (7) does the same sort of thing when she complains that:

“[N]o university or association of faculty has ever issued a statement expressing opposition to the occupation.”

In fact, as we shall see in a minute, there is widespread opposition to the occupation amongst Israeli academics, but the universities themselves apparently do not regard the issuing of political statements on contentious issues as one of their proper functions, and certainly not as one of their duties – just as universities in the UK or the USA do not regard it as their duty to issue statements about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Let me turn now to the last of the arguments that purport to justify the proposed boycott. Here is Lisa Taraki (7) once again:

“[T]he suppression of dissenting voices in the Israeli academy is one indicator among others of the complicity of university administrations and faculty bodies in the occupation and, indeed, in racism.”

Hilary Rose (9) concurs:

“[T]he universities have not harbored many dissidents; rather, they have tended to harass and restrain such individuals.”

And Salim Vally (10) writes:

“[israeli C]olleges and universities… have no regard for their fellow academics (Palestinian and dissenting Israeli academics) whose academic freedom is trampled and denied at every turn by the patrons of these colleges and universities”.

So the accusation by all of these authors is that Israeli universities suppress dissenters and, to the extent that dissenters exist at all, deny them their academic freedom. Let us examine whether this accusation is true.

First, there is something ironic in such claims being made in a publication that itself includes two papers that are extremely critical of Israeli universities – one by Anat Biletzki, a Professor at Tel-Aviv University, and the other by Omar Barghouti, who is (or was until recently) a doctoral student at the same University.

But, more important, revisionist and dissident academics in fact abound in Israeli universities. Ilan Pappe of Haifa University is a well known dissenter from the policies of the Israeli government; I imagine that even Taraki, Rose and Vally would concede that his views (which are freely published and widely disseminated) are dissident. But these are by no means the only names that one can cite. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University has written about the security barrier on the West Bank, which he calls “The Apartheid Wall”, in the following terms:

“The major reason Israeli citizens are not safe is because the government has decided to continue the 37 year-old occupation and oppression of another people.” (11)

Lev Grinberg, also from Ben-Gurion, has published the following appeal:

“The murder of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin is part of a general policy carried out by the government of the State of Israel which could be described as symbolic genocide… As a child of the Jewish people, and as an Israeli citizen, I condemn this abominable act and appeal to the international community to save Israel from itself.” (12)

Uri Ram of Ben-Gurion University has written:

“Israel must be reminded what it tries to make everybody forget: the occupation is unlawful; the settlements are unlawful; any activity of the occupying power which is not necessitated by immediate security considerations or the temporary upkeep of the area until its return to its local population is unlawful. Moreover, it is illegitimate and amoral.” (13)

Yehouda Shenhav of Tel-Aviv University has described the separation barrier as follows:

“The main purpose of the Wall which Israel is building in the West Bank is not to protect Israeli civilians from terrorist attacks. The Wall is clearly political, and the international community easily recognized this. It is a wall whose purpose is to annex occupied lands. It is a wall that creates expulsion (population “transfer”) of Palestinians trapped between the Green Line and the route of the barrier.” (14)

Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University has written of Israel in this way:

“The case of Israel well illustrates the making of an ethnocratic regime. It has evolved around the central Zionist (and uni-ethnic) project of Judaising Israel/Palestine. This strategy was implemented by land, settlement, immigration and military policies, and created a stratified and segregated political geography. Most notably, the Judaization project has caused the pervasive dispossession of Palestinian-Arabs” (15)

In addition to the scholars whose individual writings I have cited, academics are prominent in the anti-occupation organisations B’Tselem, Gush Shalom and Yesh G’vul; and a further organisation, HaKampus Lo Shotek, was founded specifically for members of Israeli universities who are opposed to the occupation. Twenty-eight Professors have put their names to a statement that says (amongst other things) that:

“The state of Israel was supposed to be a democracy; it has set up a colonial structure, combining unmistakable elements of apartheid with the arbitrariness of brutal military occupation” (16)

and at last count 358 members of the faculties of Israeli universities had signed a petition on-line demanding an end to the occupation of the West Bank and stating:

“We wish to express our appreciation and support for those of our students and lecturers who refuse to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories.” (17)

We should bear these quotations in mind when we read Lisa Taraki writing about the suppression of dissenting voices in Israeli universities, Hilary Rose about the harassment and restraint of dissidents and Salim Vally about the denial and trampling of their academic freedom. And we should also bear in mind that these claims of suppression, harassment, restraint, denial and trampling are being used as a pretext for proposing an exceptionally grave step – that members of the faculty of Israeli Universities, unlike members of the faculty of Chinese universities, Russian universities, Turkish universities or Sudanese universities, should be cut off from scholarly and scientific contact with their colleagues in other countries.

Finally I want to consider the suggestion, often made by supporters of an academic boycott against Israeli universities, that their campaign is parallel to the boycott of South African universities in the 1980’s, which (they claim) made an important contribution to the overthrow of apartheid. This claim is often linked to the assertion that Israel resembles South Africa under apartheid. I need not waste space in debunking that assertion, which seems to me to be nothing but a misuse of language. There is no serious doubt that discrimination against the minority population in Israel is widespread and deplorable; but unhappily Israel is not unique in that respect among the countries of the world, and I cannot recall countries that are hosts to Roma minorities in Europe or Kurdish minorities in the Middle East – minorities which as we know suffer appalling discrimination – being compared with apartheid South Africa. Nor do I remember that South Africa in apartheid times had black ambassadors or black justices of the Supreme Court. But even if we reject the comparison of Israel with apartheid-era South Africa as the false analogy that it clearly is, it is still worth studying the history of the academic boycott of South African universities as an example of how such a boycott has worked in practice. An analysis of the history has recently been published (18) by Jonathan Hyslop, who is Deputy Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. His article is particularly interesting because Hyslop was at the University of the Witwatersrand throughout the 1980’s, witnessed the effects of the boycott at first hand, and was for a time a supporter of it.

One important feature of that history, which finds a clear echo today among those who propose a boycott of Israeli universities, was the dispute between those who called for a total boycott and those who wanted a selective boycott. In the initial phase, South Africa was excluded from all academic connection and exchange. It soon became clear that this form of total boycott led to major problems and injustices. Scholars from outside South Africa who wanted to lend their support to what Hyslop calls the “explosion of critical scholarship, cultural production and activism that the revolutionary times had produced on South African campuses” found themselves unable to give such support since they were expected to boycott all South African scholars. Moreover, South African academics who were active in the anti-apartheid movement (and there were many of them) sometimes travelled abroad in the anti-apartheid cause – but then found, in a series of ironic episodes, that they were boycotted by members of anti-apartheid movements when they sought to speak at British universities. In one case an international congress had to be moved from its original venue, Southampton, when the local authority discovered that a distinguished South African academic was to participate; the city fathers were unmoved by the argument that the scholar was an opponent of apartheid who had worked vigorously, and at considerable danger to himself, to promote racial equality in his country.

For reasons of this sort, the total boycott was replaced after some time by a selective boycott, in which visits by some academics were deemed by the boycotters to be acceptable on the grounds that the scholars concerned were politically sound. The ethical problems with this approach are, I think, self-evident. What kind of political test could one properly apply to academics? Would they have to subscribe to particular political declarations? Who would draw up such declarations, and how would intellectual pluralism be safeguarded? Hyslop’s answer to these questions is unequivocal: “[T]he selective boycott created a set of irresolvable dilemmas.” (18)

But in any case we have to ask whether the academic boycott made an important contribution to the overthrow of apartheid, which we can all agree was a shameful evil. Here is Hyslop’s view (and let us remember that he was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid within one of the largest South African universities):

“I can honestly say that, throughout the 1980’s, I did not talk to a single South African scholar or university employee whose political views had been changed in any way by the academic boycott. Whereas the economic boycott had some palpable effect on the regime, and sports and cultural boycotts had irritant effects on white society, the academic boycott had little in the way of visible achievements.” (18)

I should like to end by citing Hyslop’s conclusion about the way in which academics outside South Africa conducted themselves during the boycott.

“Too often, the ostensible topic of South Africa simply became the occasion for a kind of parading of the foreign scholar’s moral virtue. In much anti-apartheid writing of the time, we find out very little about South Africa but a great deal about the author’s ethical qualities as an opponent of apartheid. The practice of the boycott often became a gesture of separating oneself from the sphere of evil rather than intellectually engaging with the realities of a society in travail. When travelling abroad in the 1980s, I was struck by the way in which many keen supporters of the boycott were uninterested in discussing the details of what was happening in South Africa. South Africa was merely the occasion for them to play a heroic (in reality, mock-heroic) role on the stage of the theater of morality.” (18)

I believe that today’s boycotters would do well to ponder on this conclusion. It is a good deal easier to make grand gestures than to engage with the complexities of so intractable a problem as the conflict between Israel and her neighbours.

References and Notes

(1) http://www.icsu.org/5_abouticsu/STATUTES.htm

(2) Colin Blakemore, Richard Dawkins, Denis Noble and Michael Yudkin (2003) Nature 421: 314.

(3) P. Wrobel and J.R. Redick (1998) Nuclear cooperation in South America. In Scientific cooperation, state conflict: The role of scientists in mitigating international discord (edited by A.L.C. de Cerreño and A. Keynan) pp. 165-181. New York Academy of Sciences, New York, N.Y.

(4) A. Keynan and D. Shoham (1998) Scientific cooperation in agriculture and medical research as a means of normalizing relations between Egypt and Israel. In de Cerreño and Keynan (eds.) op.cit. pp. 182-199.

(5) Isaiah Berlin (2002) Two concepts of liberty. In Liberty (edited by Henry Hardy), pp. 166-217. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

(6) Omar Barghouti (2006) Academe:Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 92 (5): 44.

(7) Lisa Taraki (2006) Academe:Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 92 (5): 56.

(8) Sondra Hale (2006) Academe:Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 92 (5): 51.

(9) Hilary Rose (2006) Academe:Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 92 (5): 53.

(10) Salim Vally (2006) Academe:Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 92 (5): 64.

(11) Neve Gordon (2004)http://www.counterpunch.org/gordon02232004.html

(12) Lev Grinberg (2004) La Libre Belgique, 29 March 2004

(13) Uri Ram (2005)http://www.hagada.org.il/eng/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=24

(14) Yehouda Shenhav (2006)www.alternativenews.org

(15) Oren Yiftachel (1999) Constellations 6: 364.

(16) http://www.oznik.com/words/040712.html

(17) http://www.seruv.org.il/universitysupportEng_print.asp

(18) Jonathan Hyslop (2006) Academe:Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 92 (5): 59.

Globalization & Antisemitism: Muslim Judeophobia in Europe – Avram Hein – Engage Journal Issue 4 – February 2007

Since the time of Mohammed, disputes have been recorded between Jews and Muslims. For thousands of years, Jews (and Christians) living in the Muslim world have been treated as inferiors with a status known as dhimmi. While discriminatory, dhimmi is not antisemitic. Muslim antisemitism is a relatively recent phenomenon. According to Bernard Lewis, “For most of the fourteen hundred years or so of the Arab Jewish encounter, the Arabs have not in fact been anti-Semitic as that word is used in the West . . . because for the most part they are not Christians” (Lewis 1986:117). As Lewis points out, antisemitism is a relatively recent introduction in the Middle East and an import from Christian Europe. According to Lewis, “Another European contribution to this debate is anti-Semitism, and blaming ‘the Jews’ for all that goes wrong. Jews in traditional Islamic societies experienced the normal constraints and occasional hazards of minority status. In most significant respects, they were better off under Muslim than under Christian rule, until the rise and spread of Western tolerance in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” (Lewis 2002: 171). According to Daniel Pipes, Muslim antisemitism has mostly replaced Christian antisemitism as a concern since Christian antisemitism is on the decline while Muslim antisemitism increases. According to Pipes, “if trends in Christian society are going in one direction, in Muslim societies around the globe they are going in the opposite direction” (Pipes 1999: 35-36). This new phenomenon of Muslim antisemitism is of significant interest.

European Judeophobia, a cross between Muslim antisemitism and traditional European Christian antisemitism, was not found in Europe until the late twentieth-century, after the waves of Muslim immigration into Europe. Its most recent incarnation is a phenomenon of young second and third generation Muslim immigrants targeted toward their peers: young Jews (McClintock and Sunderland 2004). This antisemitism contains a mix of Muslim and Christian antisemitism, but is heavily influenced by and legitimized by contemporary Christian European antisemitism. This new European Muslim antisemitism has risen up, in part, in reaction to Europe’s identity crises stemming from Europe’s self-reevaluation in the wake of European integration.

While their American coreligionists are among the most economically and academically advanced members of the population, the opposite is true of Europe’s Muslim population. A study conducted in the 1970s found that 75 percent of the American mosque-goers interviewed held graduate degrees, a ratio much higher than the general American population (Haddad 2002:35). While subsequent immigration has meant that a lower percentage of American Muslims hold graduate degrees – the figure is now said to be 52 percent of American Muslims – it is still true that American Muslims are disproportionately better educated and earn a higher median salary, mostly in professional jobs – with an average income of $69,000 in 2000 – than the general population (Pipes 2000). European Muslims, however, are among the poorest and least educated members of the European population. According to the 2001 British census, 31 percent of United Kingdom Muslims had no educational qualifications. Muslim and Sikh men were least likely to be managers or professionals. Muslim women were also the least likely to be in the workforce compared to their Christian counterparts (Carvel 2004).

The Western Europe “economic miracle” of the 1950s and 1960s resulted in large-scale Muslim immigration to Europe. These new immigrants, from Europe’s former colonies in North Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean, arrived as temporary migrant workers. Many of them, while intending to leave, have remained in Europe even as their jobs disappeared and they have had European children and grandchildren. These immigrants, primarily young men, either singles or who left their family behind, were seen by their host countries as guests or temporary workers. Four to five decades later many are still seen as such (Masci 2004:5).

Many of the Muslim immigrants who did not arrive in Europe as migrant workers but instead arrived as refugees from the Islamic world. Nearly 100,000 of these refugees were Algerian Muslims fleeing to France – Algeria’s former colonizer. The rate of immigration slowed in the early 1970s, with most of the remaining Muslim immigrants coming to Europe in order to reunite with their family already there (ibid).

The rise in antisemitic behaviour among Europe’s Muslim population is not seen from these immigrants but rather from their European-born children. The Muslim birth rate in Europe is three times that of non-Muslims (Savage 2004:28). The immigrants, while not engaged in overt antisemitism, did import to Europe forms of Muslim antisemitism (Bensoussan:22). According to Majib Cherfi, the lead singer of the Toulouse (French) group Zebda, “When I was young, we didn’t like the Jews. My parents were antisemitic, as people are in the Maghreb. The word ‘Jew’ in Berber is an insult. It has nothing to do with Palestine, or with politics, that’s just how it was” (ibid). Yet the immigrant generation did not actualize their antisemitic feelings into concrete action. While arriving from an array of countries and holding a host of ethnic identities, the immigrant generation was focused on their employment and attempting to integrate into a resistant European society (Masci 2004: 6).

The phenomenon of European antisemitism is ultimately a phenomenon of the second and third generation. These native-born Muslims, unlike their parents, do not believe that they will be going back to Tunisia, Algeria, or Morocco. The failed attempts to fully integrate all of the Muslim population, particularly during the past decade as European integration forces Europe to reassess its identity, paves the way for identity politics and post-colonial memory. The first manifestation of this post-colonial memory may be attacks on “the other minority” – the Jews – many of whom are also of Maghreb origin (Suzan and Dreyfus 2004:2; Bensoussan: 5-6). According to a report of antisemitic incidents by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (Conseil Représentaitif des Institutions Juives de France, crif) fifty-percent of all 2003 incidents were directed against Jewish youth and in police reports, the attackers are generally described as groups of young people (McClintock and Sunderland: 4).

Their failure to assimilate has bolstered post-colonial memory. According to Dr. Georges Bensoussan, the decline in the status of the father “fuelled the revolt of the sons. Added to this was the heritage of the colonial memory transmitted from generation to generation, and the memory of an often violent decolonization. This memory would certainly have dimmed with time had most of them been successful. They were not” (Bensoussan 36). The decolonization process has encouraged Europe, “with its permanent feelings of guilt about the Third World” to allow its recent Muslim immigrants, previously its colonized, and “the entire Muslim-Arab world to present itself as victims” (Ibid., 26).

This has served to bolster a sense of Islamic identity among the youth. Muslim youth’s primary identification is increasingly as Islamic and not with either their countries of origin or the European country in which they reside and in which many of them were born (Savage 30). Mirroring a global return to religious fundamentalism, a 2001 Le Monde poll showed that French Muslims were attending mosque and praying more frequently than in 1994. According to Chris Soper, a professor of political science at Pepperdine University, “In Europe 30 years ago, Muslims concealed their religious practices because, in the traditional immigrant way, they wanted to fit in. But today, especially among second and third generation Muslims, you see much greater interest in religion” (Masci 6). It is not clear if this increase in religious identity is due to genuine religious sentiment. According to Jonathon Laurence, a visiting fellow at The Brookings Institution, “There’s certainly an increase in symbolic religion, like fasting on Ramadan and things like that. But whether that means that people are becoming more pious is an open question” (Ibid). It appears that the young generation’s return to Islamic symbolism is an assertion of their Muslim identity in an increasingly secular Europe as they struggle to integrate into European society. Young Muslims interviewed by the French newspaper L’Express were not found to have any particular interest in Islam. This disinterest in Islam was also verified by French police. Instead, a return to the mosque and anti-Jewish violence is seen as a way of exerting their Islamic identity, according to one young man interviewed who stated “we want to show that we’re Muslims here too” (Rosenthal 2003:24).

This growing interest in Islam, even if symbolic, is posing challenges to Europe. Some school students refuse to visit churches or, especially, synagogues as part of field trips (Bensoussan 7). .At their mosques, they are often encountering radical Muslim preachers, often new immigrants, who are preaching the same hatred and jihad against America and against the Jews that is heard in mosques throughout the Muslim world. Only this time, they are preaching it to native-born European Muslims.

England is becoming a very important center for these radical immigrant preachers, attracted by Britain’s liberal asylum laws. Opposition groups have set up in London, setting up dissident newspapers agitating against their home countries, often non-fundamentalist nationalist Arab states. Many of these Islamic fundamentalists, operating from Europe, call for jihad against rulers in the Middle East (Israeli 2000: 161). Young people go to these mosques in a quest for identity. According to one European Muslim, these imams “continually repeat to young people that the French do not like the Arabs, that they detest Islam” (Bensoussan 25). One such preacher, Syrian-born Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad is the founder of the London branch of several Islamist organizations and he purports to be the spokesman of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. According to Bakri the organization fund-raises for Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and has contacts with Hizbullah. Despite this radical history, Bakri is a naturalized British citizen and one of his aides, Makbool Javid, was appointed to the Race Relations Forum by Jack Straw, Home Secretary in Tony Blair’s government. Bakri also admits to living off welfare provided by the British government. According to Bakri, “I’m fully eligible. It is very difficult for me to get a job. Anyway, most of the leadership of the Islamic movement is on [state] benefits” (Feldner 2001).

Sheikh Bakri spends part of his time sending Muslims to fight in paramilitary groups, in places such as Kashmir, Afghanistan and Chechnya. He also recruits volunteers to fight Israel in the West Bank. Many of these volunteers are provided paramilitary training in the United States. His recruits are Muslims raised in Europe or America. According to Bakri, the recruits have “different backgrounds – some British, some American, Arab, or Asian – but all of them have European or American citizenship. There is no need for visas” (Ibid). While there is a tendency among some observers to separate radical Muslim terrorism and antisemitism, the two phenomenons are directly related. For example, there is evidence that the perpetrators of the March 2004 Madrid train bombings had earlier considered bombing a Jewish community center instead of the Madrid train station (McClintock and Sunderland 3).

European Islamic antisemitism is a Europe-wide phenomenon. While most noticed in France, with the highest Muslim and Jewish population in Europe, it is more prevalent in Germany. The number of anti-Jewish attacks in Germany may even be higher than reports as German authorities are reluctant to classify some attacks as antisemitic even when the evidence suggests antisemitic motivations (Rosenthal 19-20).

While most European Muslim youth do not go abroad to fight, many are engaged in anti-Israel activity at home, which serves as license for Europe’s Christian majority to ignore or justify Muslim discontent instead of facing up to challenges that Europe’s Muslim population poses to a transnational secular Europe. Incidences of antisemitism increase during times of Israeli-Palestinian violence (Taspinar 2003). One of the first measurable increases in antisemitic violence in France occurred immediately after French television showed the images of the 12-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura being shot, an incident in which credible doubt was later raised about Israel’s culpability (Rosenthal 23). While the Israel-Palestinian conflict is only one dimension of European Islamic Judeophobia, it allows European Christian society to ignore Muslim antisemitism in making the excuse that anti-Zionism, a common belief among European elites, is not antisemitism. Since many French Jews have origins in North Africa, but fled to France after the Maghreb countries gained independence and French colonial rule ended, and most of the European Muslims have origins in the same parts of the Middle East and North Africa, many Europeans see the problem of Islamic antisemitism as “not really a European one anyway” (Ibid: 19) but rather one “imported into Europe along with Muslim immigration” (Ibid). Colonization and the decolonization process can not, however, be blamed for European antisemitism. Given Europe’s overwhelming sympathy towards the Palestinians, there is a tendency to forgive Muslim youth’s behaviour towards French Jews, given Israel’s “heavy-handed” treatment of the Palestinians (Rosenthal 19). According to a report by the NGO, the Human Rights Foundation:

The argument that antisemitism is in some way an inevitable side-effect of the Middle East conflict and opposition to actions by the government of Israel has, in some cases, been seized upon by European governments to justify not outrage but inaction. The involvement of European Muslims and immigrants in many incidents, in turn, has been highlighted by some monitors of antisemitism who tend to identify both the problem and the needed remedy in terms of European attitudes and policies towards the Middle East conflict (McClintock and Sunderland 29).

While the Muslim youth may have legitimate feelings of animosity towards Israel, their proxy war is antisemitic. Their behaviour, and European excuses of it, ignores the fact that French Jews are not Israeli soldiers. Many, particularly the older generation, share Europe’s general disdain for Israeli policies and, particularly prior to Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, dislike Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, sympathizing with the Palestinians (Ibid 3). The images of the Arab-Israeli conflict on European television and Arab satellite television fuels an identity crisis and serves as a shadow to the real issues of identity and assimilation faced by these Muslim youth.

Failed integration leads some Muslims to exert conspiracy theories about Jews. Conspiracy theories are a common form of classical Christian Judeophobia. Akim, a 22-year-old French-born mechanic from Sarcelles, thinks that “The Jews control everything in this town – the shops, the banks, the police, even the buses.” According to Akim, “If someone gets assaulted around here, you’ll never see a police officer. The only time we see them is when they come round to give us parking fines. But if even the slightest thing happens to a Jew, there’ll be a whole squad of them. They’re outside the Jewish schools and synagogues all the time… The Jews never get a parking ticket. They park their cars in the middle of the road when they take their children to school, and the police do nothing, even though our bus is always delayed because of these cars” (Sage 2002:13). Akim fails to understand the economic and social factors for the phenomenon he mentions. In certain Muslim enclaves in Europe, police do not dare enter out of fear of local hostility (Masci 10). The police are at the Jewish schools and synagogues to protect the Jews from violent antisemitism and, of course, Jews do get parking tickets if they park illegally.

The failure of some Muslims to integrate provides an attraction to the Islamist ideology. Akim has espoused radical Islamist ideology, calling Osama bin Laden “a great man.” He lives surrounded by graffiti glorifying bin Laden and stating “Screw America” and “The state manipulates us like objects” (Sage 14). According to Akim, “I’m a foreigner everywhere. In France I’m a foreigner and in Morocco I’m a foreigner” (Ibid). French Muslims watch antisemitic programs on Arab satellite television, surf Islamist websites, some of which are produced in Europe (Eberstadt 2004:51), and are otherwise exposed to anti-Jewish media both in Europe and the Arab world.

According to one analysis, “The effects of some Islamic groups to profit from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to gain influence on young Muslims can be seen in numerous public institutions, including the universities. In this context, anti-Israeli, and even anti-Semitic, rhetoric can be quite useful in motivating Muslim youth that have little intrinsic interest in Muslim orthodoxy but for whom the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generates a sense of anger and identity” (Suzan and Dreyfus 4).. According to one immigrant Muslim women, fundamentalist importation into France transformed the way French Muslims view Jews. She said, “After the Iranian revolution, suddenly radical Islam arrived in France.” They entered through the construction of mosques by foreign governments, particularly by Saudi Arabia. European Muslims are also manipulated by Muslim countries within Europe. According to a Brookings Institute analysis:

The majority of the anti-Semitic violence in France has been committed by young North Africans who have been influenced by images of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seen on national television and on Arab satellite channels as well as by the sermons of radical imans. But looking at the issue more deeply, the violence perpetrated by Muslims in France is more an expression of the general and unfocused discontent present in the French Muslim community. That discontent stems not essentially from concerns over Palestinian suffering but rather from the difficult process of political, social, and economic integration into French society.

While legitimate criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, the veil of anti-Zionism provides a veneer of European acceptability to these Muslim youth. The Arab-Israeli conflict’s manifestation in Muslim-Jewish violence in Europe serves as a cover for French uncertainty of how to deal with the failed integration of North African Muslims. The European Muslim proxy-war is a way to connect both with European leftist society and with the Muslim world. According to Bernard Lewis, in the Muslim world, “in much of the literature produced by the Islamic organizations, the enemy is no longer defined as the Israeli or the Zionist; he is simply the Jew, and his evil is innate and genetic, going back to remote antiquity.” Jealousy over perceived Jewish power, which manifests itself in criticism of the Jewish state, may be one cause for anti-Israel criticism. One twenty-two year old student from Angouleme in France said, “The Jews are like gods. No one can touch them.” In response to an assignment in her French school about the Holocaust, one Muslim student wrote that “… whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; the Nazi regime did not succeed in wiping out this people, who nevertheless built a state called Israel; and today the state of Israel is not nothing.”

Demonization of the Jew and antisemitic reactions to Israeli behaviour serves as an answer to the Muslim psyche, scarred by the establishment of Israel. According to Lewis, “As some writers at the time observed, it was bad enough to be defeated by the great imperial powers of the West; to suffer the same fate at the hands of a contemptible gang of Jews was an intolerable humiliation. Anti-Semitism and its demonized picture of the Jew as a scheming evil monster provided a soothing answer.”

According to Professor Yehuda Bauer, while anti-Zionism does not have to be antisemitic, it often is. An anti-Zionism that does not believe in Israel’s right to exist, while supporting the right of every other state to exist is antisemitic. According to Bauer:

The Arab-Israeli conflict, and now the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, provide ample material for an antisemitism that sees itself as anti-Zionist, and not anti-Jewish. Indeed, one can be, in theory at least, anti-Zionist without being antisemitic, but only if one says that all national movements are evil, and all national states should be abolished. But if one says that the Fijians have a right to independence, and so do the Malays or the Bolivians, but the Jews have no such right, then one is anti-Jewish, and as one singles out the Jews for nationalistic reasons, one is antisemitic, with an attendant strong suspicion of being racist.

According to Bernard Lewis, Arabs in the Muslim world attacking Israel or equivocating Israeli leaders with Hitler or comparing Israeli actions to Nazi actions may not be antisemitic, rather merely emulating the intense rhetoric common in Middle Eastern discourse. He notes that

Not so many years ago young Americans with a sufficient level of education to be admitted to major universities were likening the campus police to the Nazi Gestapo and comparing American politicians and academicians to the obscene tyrannies that devastated Europe, inflamed the world, and brought death to countless millions. If American students could not see the difference between the flaws of democracy and the essential evils of fascism, young Arabs, having no direct acquaintance with either form of government, could hardly be expected to do any better.

Hence, according to Lewis’s analysis, the Muslim immigrants to Europe, whether the parents of today’s younger generation, responsible for much of Europe’s antisemitism, or the radical Muslim immigrant imams preaching in European mosques may not be engaging in antisemitic behaviour when they denigrate Zionism. The same can not be said, however, of the native-born European Muslims, who study in European state schools and have absorbed the values and norms of the society around them. Nazi imagery and comparisons of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Hitler have increasingly been found in European anti-Israel rallies. These rallies, attended by Muslims and European Christians, can be said to be antisemitic according to Lewis’s analysis. According to Lewis, “The use of the term Nazi to describe Israel, in Western and more especially in Eastern Europe, from which the Arabs first learned the practice, is a very different matter. The Europeans, unlike most Arabs or Americans, know at first hand what Nazism was, and what Nazis did to Jews. Knowing this, they must also be aware of the absurdity of such comparisons. In making them, they raise profound and disquieting questions concerning their own attitudes and motives.” Hence, when European-born Muslims learn to call Sharon “Hitler” from European Christians, who have lived in Europe for generations, they are engaging in antisemitic acts, whereas their parents or grandparents, immigrants from the Arab world, making the same comparison may not be. If they learn in their French school that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are justified, then it follows that French teachers explaining that Arab terrorist attacks against Israel “are legitimate,” then they are merely echoing the sentiments of French society. When one French Jewish parent complained to her daughter’s teacher about antisemitic remarks made at school, the teacher responded, “Of course it’s because of Sharon. I’m surprised your daughter takes it so personally.” This is true, even when they are exposed to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate speech through Middle Eastern websites, increasingly an important component of European Muslim antisemitism. The French academic Georges Bensoussan notes that it would be antisemitic to justify European antisemitism on Israel’s actions. He writes:

Are we to believe those who rush to assure us that the antisemitic flames are being fanned by the ‘policies of General Sharon’? We would then have to forget that anti-Jewish violence increased tenfold between October 2000 and February 2001, a period when Labour Prime Minister Ehud Barak headed an Israeli government engaged in a peace negotiation (meeting in the Egyptian town of Taba in January 2001). Furthermore, are the Jews of France Israeli citizens that they should answer for the actions of the Israeli government? Are the synagogues and Jewish schools consular premises of the state of Israel, so that the aggression inflicted on French citizens in their own country can be interpreted as a legitimate consequence of Israeli government policy?

Ben Cohen notes that in the United Kingdom “Jews are confronted with a rigid Islamist standpoint which concedes no legitimacy to the State of Israel and which justifies terrorist violence against Jews in the name of Palestine, regardless of whether the victims carry Israeli passports.” Militant Islamists may also foster contacts with Europe’s far-right. The banned German Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) maintained ties with the neo-Nazi National Party of Germany.

Despite the failure of a small minority of European Muslims to integrate, research shows that most European Muslims are well integrated and hold views similar to the rest of the European public. According to one study, 91% of the almost two-million Maghreb women in France say that they feel well integrated in France. Other studies claim that the North African community share similar attitudes to the general population on issues such as divorce, family size, contraception and abortion. Economically, while perhaps less-so than the American Muslim population, a sizable percentage of French Muslims are members of the middle class. French researcher Olivier Roy noted that the sociological background of Europe’s militant Islamists fits a pattern common to the western European radical leftists of the 1970s and 1980s.

In fact, some of the Muslim antisemitism can be seen of as mimicking European society and reflective of European antisemitism. According to John Rosenthal:
The outbreak of anti-Semitic violence in France has clearly been linked to this groundswell of support for the Second Intifada. For leftist commentators like Peter Beaumont [of the British weekly Observer], this is to be expected: It is only natural that France’s North African immigrants would feel solidarity with their Muslim brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and apparently also natural that they would seek to express this solidarity by way of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. The then-foreign minister of France, the Socialist Hubert Védrine, himself suggested as much in a January 2002 interview when, in dismissing Israeli warnings of rising anti-Semitism, he remarked: ‘One shouldn’t necessarily be surprised that young French people from immigrant families feel compassion for the Palestinians and get agitated when they see what is happening.’ But this standard ‘leftist’ account is fact a highly deceptive foreshortening and tells us more about the biases and preconceptions of its purveyors than about the actual attitudes of France’s North African immigrants (which, as the case tends to be among individuals, are various).

One reason why European antisemitism is primarily a youth phenomenon may relate to the struggles of European integration. The process of integration has led to a gradual “ethnicization” of discourse in European Union countries. Hence, a second-generation French Muslim with North African heritage will be seen of as North African instead of French despite being born and raised in France. The same is true for a Jew, whose family may have lived in Europe for generations. In this new “ethnicization” of Europe, only a white Christian European is a true European. This may explain why younger Muslims are resisting assimilation into secular Europe much more than the older generation. Studies in France and Germany find that second and third generation Muslims are less integrated into European society than their parents and grandparents. This exacerbates identity politics in Europe and allows Europe to essentially view Muslim antisemitism as tribal. According to Rosenthal:

On May 12 of last year [2002], as a group of 15 young beurs assaulted five Jewish teenagers on a soccer field in the Val de Marne near Paris, they are reported to have shouted the following insults: ‘Dirty Jews! Go back to your country! You’re not in your land!’ Apparently unconsciously, the North African youth expressed what is becoming a most European point of view.

France’s tradition of state secularism impedes this process of ethnicization. When the Swiss Muslim philosopher Tariq Ramadan posted a polemic on a popular French Muslim website accusing several French Jewish intellectuals of betraying their commitment to universalism and the “universal” ideas of the French Republic on the mantel of a narrow sectarianism – code words for Zionism – French readers were shocked. It was not the content of Ramadan’s polemic that shocked mainstream France but rather that he chose to identify these philosophers as Jewish. That tactic stood in violation of French cultural norms prohibiting racial or ethnic profiling. These cultural norms, in which “differences” are not to be manifested in public discourse, are being challenged by this new resurgence of Islamic identity among Europe’s Muslim youth. Rosenthal claims that European Muslim antisemitism merely mimics the themes around Europe. According to Rosenthal, “anti-Semitic incidents in Germany have been a regular feature of everyday life since reunification.” Antisemitic motifs are becoming more common in mainstream Europe. Rosenthal notes that “no one who has spent significant time in continental Europe recently – or at least no one for whom anti-Semitism has not yet taken on the air of normalcy – can fail to have noticed the frequency with which apparently well-educated Europeans will refer, without the slightest hint of self-consciousness, to ‘powerful Jewish interests’ or to a putative ‘Jewish lobby’ in order to explain world or local events in which they disapprove.” Rosenthal claims that “far from reflecting some deep-rooted and organic hatred of Jews and Israel amidst France’s population of North African extraction, it would seem, then, that the anti-Semitic attacks are just the pursuit by other means of the latest cause célèbre of Parisian intellectuals and students, with disaffected and déclassé North African teenagers happily assuming the role of ‘shock troops’ for their more privileged comrades au centre ville.” According to Rosenthal:

All of this is not to deny that anti-Jewish stereotypes and prejudices have currency in certain North African immigrant milieus in France. But it is to say that they do not necessarily have more currency there than in othersocial milieus and, in any case, that the responses of the French left and the French media to the Palestinian intifada have served to make Jews and Jewish institutions seem like socially acceptable targets of hatred and contempt in France. After all, it was before synagogues began to burn in France that protesters could be seen at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Paris carrying banners juxtaposing Sharon and Hitler or featuring a swastika and a Star of David connected by an equal sign.

According to Frank Savage, a career State Department diplomat, “The September 11 hijackers were not simply based in Europe; they were Arabs whose outlook had been radically transformed by their experiences in Europe.” Some of the European Muslim antisemitism is supported by the European elite. London Mayor Ken Livingtone publicly embraced radical Qatar-based Islamist Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi upon his visit to the United Kingdom, denouncing al Qaradawi’s opponents as “Islamophobic.” The behavior of the London mayor, echoed by Europe’s Islamic community, is a reflection that European antisemitism is, in fact, not a phenomenon of the downtrodden but rather one of the elites. According to Yehuda Bauer:

It appears that the present, fourth wave of antisemitism in the West since 1945, is a basically upper middle class, intellectual phenomenon. It is widespread in the media, in universities, and in well-manicured circles. Typical is the statement of the French ambassador to Britain at a cocktail party, later reported in the British Press, referring to Israel, with typical diplomatic politeness and finesse, as that “shitty little country.” What is important here is not the statement itself, but the fact that that gentleman felt perfectly at ease making it in an environment he was sure would understand and appreciate it. It is the atmosphere, the ambiance, that is important.

European Muslim antisemitism is a combination of traditional European antisemitism and Islamic fundamentalism. It is perhaps for this reason that a recent European Union study on Muslim antisemitism whitewashed Muslim antisemitism, instead of blaming it disproportionately on the traditional target: the far right. As social psychologist Neil Kressel points out, “Muslim antisemitism has a global dimension.” Muslim antisemitism borrowed from Christian European antisemitism. It seems that modern European Muslim antisemitism, while influenced by Muslim antisemitism is heavily legitimized by Christian European antisemitism, often disguised as anti-Zionism. Globalization, European integration, identity politics, and a Europe struggling for its identity meld together and provide legitimacy for a growing European Muslim antisemitism. In creating a new European identity, a new European Muslim Judeophobia that is a combination of ideologies is being formed. It is often said that antisemitism is the “canary in the coal mine” and a foreshadowing of the future. Europe faces a multiplying Islamic population and its own identity crises, the impact this new European Muslim Judeophobia will have on Europe remains to be seen.

Avram Hein is a Legacy Heritage Fellow in Jerusalem and a Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies. He holdsa a graduate degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He holds a Bachelors degree in Political Science from the University of Maryland. His writings have previously been featured in Conservative Judaism, the Jerusalem Post, ynetnews.com, FrontPage Magazine, IsraelInsider, Israel21c, and Israel National News.


Bauer, Yehuda . http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/jewish_civilisation/Yehuda_Bauer_talk_Islam.pdf “>“European anti-semitism and radical Islamism” Lecture, Monash University, Australia, March 2003.

Bensoussan, Georges. “Antisemitism in French Schools: Turmoil of a Republic.” http://sicsa.huji.ac.il/bensoussan.pdf “>Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism no. 24. SISCA, The Vidal Sasson Center for the Study of Antisemitism. (2002).

John Carvel. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1324962,00.html “>“Census shows Muslims’ plight.” The Guardian, (October 12, 2004).

Cohen, Ben. http://jcpa.org/jl/vp527.htm “>“Evaluating Muslim-Jewish Relations in Britain.” Jerusalem Viewpoints. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (22 Shevat – 6 Adar I 5765 / February 1-15, 2005.)

Eberstadt, Fernanda. “A Frenchman or a Jew.” New York Times Magazine. (February 29, 2004).

Feldner, Yotam. “Radical Islamist Profiles (2): Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad – London.” http://memri.org/bin/opener.cgi?Page=archives&ID=IA7301”>MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series. no. 73 (October 24, 2001).

Hunter, Shireen T. with Huma Malik. Islam in Europe and the United States: A Comparative Perspective. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2002.

Israeli, Raphael. “Western Democracies and Islamic Fundamentalist Violence,”Terrorism and Political Violence 12, no. 3/4 (Autumn/Winter 2000).

Kressel, Neil J. “Antisemitism, Social Science, and the Muslim and Arab World.” Judaism 52 3/4 (Summer 2003).

Lewis, Bernard. “Muslim Anti-Semitism.” http://www.meforum.org/article/396“>Middle East Quarterly (June 1998).

Semites & Anti-Semites. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1986.

What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. London: Phoenix, 2002.

Masci, David. An Uncertain Road: Muslims and the Future of Europe. Washington, DC: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, December 2004.http://pewforum.org/docs/index.php?DocID=60.

McClintock, Michael and Judith Sunderland. http://humanrightsfirst.org/discrimination/antisemitism/antisemitism_report_22_april_2004.pdf “>Antisemitism in Europe: Challenging Official Indifference. New York: human rights first, 2002.

Pipes, Daniel. “America’s Muslims Against America’s Jews,” Commentary 107:5 (May 1999).

– “Are Muslim Americans Victimized?” Commentary (November 2000).

Rosenthal, John. “Anti-Semitism and Ethnicity in Europe.” Policy Review 121 (October-December 2003).

Sage, Adam. “No parking tickets for Jews.” New Statesman 15, 702. (April 15, 2002).

Savage, Timothy. “Europe and Islam: Crescent Waxing, Cultures Clashing.” The Washington Quarterly 27:3 (Summer 2004).

Suzan, Bénédicte and Jean-Marc Dreyfus. Muslims and Jews in France: Communal Conflict in a Secular State. U.S.-France Analysis Series (March 2004).

Taspinar, Omer. http://www.brook.edu/views/op-ed/fellows/taspinar20030301.htm “>“Europe’s Muslim Street”, Foreign Policy (March 2003).

The Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council: Good or Bad for Australian Jewry? – Philip Mendes – Engage Journal Issue 4 – February 2007

The recent contentious report by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the alleged power of the pro-Israel lobby in the US has once again focused attention on the relationship between Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel (2). In Australia, discussion of the role played by pro-Israel lobby groups has tended to be heavily polarised between on the one hand those who wish to delegitimize the State of Israel, and on the other hand those who wish to silence any criticism of Israel.

The aim of this paper is to move beyond this polarisation to critically examine the activities of one pro-Israel lobby group, the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). The goal is not to evaluate the effectiveness or influence of AIJAC as an interest group per se, but rather to judge whether AIJAC’s key actions and strategies are on balance in the best interests of Australian Jewry. Two case studies of major AIJAC campaigns – the One Nation Affair and the Hanan Ashrawi Affair – will be utilised in this analysis.

Historical Background and Structure

AIJAC was established in 1997 as an amalgamation of two existing bodies, Australia-Israel Publications (AIP) and the Australian Institute of Jewish Affairs (AIJA). AIP had existed since 1974 as a vocal pro-Israel advocacy group. AIJA had been founded in 1984 to conduct and promote research into a broad range of Jewish issues. (3)

AIJAC describes itself as “the premier public affairs organisation for the Australian Jewish community. Through research, commentary, analysis and advocacy, AIJAC represents the interests of the Australian Jewish community to government, media and other community groups and organisations. It has professionals dedicated to analysis and monitoring developments in the Middle East, Asia and Australia”. (4)

Most commentators concur that AIJAC is a professional advocacy body with good political and media connections. (5)
It is important to note that from the very beginning AIJAC has operated as a private think tank accountable only to its small Board of Directors. It does not have any formal association with the elected roof bodies of Australian Jewry such as the national-based Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), or the state Boards headed by the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies (NSWJBD) and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV).

AIJAC is also primarily a Victorian body even though it has an office and Chairman in Sydney. Its key players are the National Chairman Mark Leibler, the Editorial Chairman Dr Colin Rubenstein, and the Senior Policy Analyst Ted Lapkin. All are middle-aged to older males. Leibler is a long-time Zionist movement activist, Chair of the World Board of Trustees of Keren Hayesod – the United Israel Appeal – and a prominent tax lawyer. He has had strong relations with politicians from both major parties, and is particularly close to the current Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard. (6)

For example, Leibler was one of a small group of people invited by Howard to attend a private barbeque with US President George Bush in October 2003. (7) Along with most Australian Jews (8), Leibler is also a strong supporter of the rights of indigenous Australians(9), and is currently co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, a body which aims to “recognize the special place and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians, value their participation and provide equal life chances for all”. (10)

Rubenstein is a former Monash University lecturer in Middle East politics who was for some years active in the Liberal Party. He is a strong supporter of multiculturalism despite its current unpopularity with the government. But he seems to define multiculturalism rather narrowly as “integration into the core values and institutions of Australian life” (11), rather than as referring more broadly to the promotion of cultural diversity, and the right of immigrants to retain their previous national heritage and traditions within certain limits.(12)

Lapkin is an American-Israeli who moved to Australia in 2002. He previously worked for a Republican Congressman Rick Lazio, and as a lobbyist for the chemical industry. Lapkin is an unapologetic neo-conservative who has declared himself a “full fledged combatant in the culture/political wars”.(13)

The Sydney branch of AIJAC is headed by Jeremy Jones, a long-time campaigner against anti-Semitism who has also been President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Jones authors an annual report on anti-Semitism published by the ECAJ, and is generally regarded as working cooperatively with the elected Jewish roof bodies. Sydney AIJAC tends to have a lower profile, and is arguably less significant than the Melbourne branch.

AIJAC publishes a monthly magazine, Australia/Israel Review or AIR (titled in recent years simply as “The Review”), which highlights developments in the Middle East affecting Israel, and public policy issues of concern to the Australian Jewish community. The Review is edited by Tzvi Fleischer with assistance from Colin Rubenstein, Jeremy Jones, and Ted Lapkin. It also has a nine person national Editorial Board which includes a number of business supporters, a Rabbi, some activists from both the Liberal and Labor Parties, and two women. However with one or two rare exceptions, none of the members of this Board appear to speak formally on behalf of AIJAC.

AIJAC is easily the best funded lobby group in the Australian Jewish community, and employs approximately ten staff in Melbourne, and five staff in Sydney. (14) Contrary to what one author has implied, there does not appear to be anything secretive or sinister about the sources of its funding. (15) Its main predecessor, AIP, was originally co-funded by two Melbourne Jewish businessman, Isador Magid (associated with the Labor Party), and Robert Zablud (associated with the Liberal Party). (16)

It would appear that some of this funding was transferred to AIJAC in 1997, but equally a number of other Australian Jewish businessmen and women and/or families have provided ongoing core funding.
Some of these donors either sit on the Review Editorial Board, or alternatively contribute regular advertisements to the Review. One benefactor specifically funds the Rambam program as described below. It should be noted that most of these individuals or families are also generous funders of other prominent Jewish communal institutions and organisations. They presumably donate to AIJAC because they believe it effectively represents the best interests of the Jewish community and Israel. There does not appear to be any evidence that they have a broader political or ideological agenda in mind.

AIJAC and the Jewish pro-Israel consensus

AIJAC’s major brief is to represent what they call the “pro-Israel consensus values and views of the mainstream Jewish community”. (17) In doing so, they adhere to the policy long pursued by Australian Jewry which is to support the elected Israeli Government whatever its political colour. This policy has some obvious limitations given that many Israeli actions are hotly debated within Israel itself – for example the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, or the responses to the two Palestinian intifadas. Nevertheless, this is felt to be the consensus position. In addition, it is argued that a united Jewish position is necessary to effectively lobby governments and other influential groups in a pro-Israel direction.

There is no doubt that identification with Israel plays a fundamental role in Australian Jewish life and identity. A key contributing factor is that Australia has a comparatively high number of Holocaust survivors or children of survivors. For example, a 1993 study found that 73 per cent of Australian Jews have visited Israel with 48 per cent doing so two or more times, most have close friends or immediate family living in Israel, and 98 per cent feel a special connection with Israel. In addition, Australian Jews have the highest per capita rate of aliyah (emigration to Israel) in the Western world. There is also the strong political influence of Zionist groups within Jewish communal structures, significant Zionist education in the Jewish day-school system, high participation rates in the Zionist youth movements, extensive Jewish fundraising and political advocacy on behalf of Israel, and regular coverage of Israel-related stories within the weekly Australian Jewish News. (18)

At the same time, this does not mean that all Australian Jews support everything Israel says or does. On the contrary, the substantial political divisions within Israel particularly around policies towards the Palestinians are duplicated locally. Some Jews support the parties on the Israeli right such as Likud, some Jews support groups on the Left such as Meretz, and probably the majority favour the centrist views of Kadima which is currently the ruling Party in Israel. Often Australian Jews engage in vigorous debates around Israeli politics as was particularly the case over the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. (19)

In short, Australian Jews hold a range of ideological positions on how this pro-Israel position should be operationalized within the Australian context.
AIJAC’s agenda is reflected most benignly in Mark Leibler’s statement that AIJAC has “fought the good fight over the years, on Israel, on terrorism, on war crimes, on hatred and racism, on holocaust denial, on a large agenda that has clearly benefited not only the Jewish community, but I believe, Australia as a whole”, (20) or alternatively in Jeremy Jones’s argument that Australian Jews (with AIJAC as the “vanguard”) work “to promote explanations of Israel’s political actions and understanding of the history of the region, Israel’s conflicts, and the reality of contemporary Israel”. (21)

AIJAC undertakes a number of activities to promote its pro-Israel perspective including hosting visiting speakers from Israel and elsewhere, briefing journalists, lobbying the Department of Foreign Affairs and politicians, and exposing alleged anti-Israel bias in the media. (22) Rarely a day goes by without an AIJAC representative appearing in the print or broadcast media to present a pro-Israel perspective. In addition, AIJAC aims to promote racial and religious tolerance which includes supporting anti-vilification legislation, exposes links between Islamism and terrorism in Asia and the Pacific, opposes Holocaust denial and others forms of anti-Semitism in the global community, and seeks to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. (23)

AIJAC has also formed a number of international alliances. For example, they are associated with the American Jewish Committee (well known for its “small-l” liberalism, but also the publisher of the neo-conservative Commentary Magazine) in a global partnership designed to advance joint interests. (24) In June 2004, the AJC worked in conjunction with AIJAC to arrange the honoring of Australian Prime Minister John Howard with AJC’s American Liberties Medallion.

In addition, AIJAC has acted as the Australian distributor for the Middle East Quarterly, a journal published by hardline conservative Daniel Pipes. Pipes is also the founder of the controversial Campus Watch program which has been accused by its critics of attempting to impose political restrictions on the teaching of Middle East Studies in the USA. (25) AIJAC have suggested that it might be a good idea to establish a Campus Watch program in Australia in order to confront alleged anti-Israel bias within Australian universities. (26)

In late 2003, AIJAC established the Rambam Israel Fellowship Program, which aims to promote educational and fact-finding missions to Israel for opinion leaders drawn from areas of public life such as politics, the media, trade unions and the academic community. (27) The Rambam tours have provoked some controversy due to allegations that participants are mainly exposed to Israelis from the hawkish or right-wing end of the spectrum. (28)

However, it does appear on balance that visiting delegations meet with a range of personalities from both the mainstream Israeli Left and Right and a number of leading Palestinian figures, although some doubt remains as to whether representatives of the Israeli peace movement have been adequately involved. Equally, at least part of the complaint from pro-Palestinian groups seems to be simply that they have failed to fund and organize similar tours from a pro-Palestinian perspective. (29)

In summary, it would appear that AIJAC retains the support of most Australian Jews when it articulates a reasonable case for Israel. However, the Rambam example suggests that AIJAC’s legitimacy and representativeness may come under serious question if it is suspected of pursuing overly zealous ideological or political agendas that go beyond this communal consensus.

Three Core problems

In my opinion, there are three major problems with AIJAC:

1) Their neo-conservative politics which do not represent the breadth of opinion in the Jewish community and constantly associate all Jews with partisan political groups and positions.

AIJAC claims to be politically bipartisan in both their personnel and their lobbying activities. By this they mean that their Board includes both Liberal and Labor Party supporters, and that they engage with both mainstream political parties. They also deny any formal political alignment with the Liberal Party or the current Coalition government. (30)

This defense may or may not be true, but it is also a largely irrelevant response to the charge that AIJAC pursue a narrow ideological agenda.
Firstly, it narrowly associates political bias with party political bias. Secondly, most interest groups lobby all sides of the spectrum in an attempt to convert them to their preferred perspective. This tactic doesn’t suddenly make them politically or ideologically neutral. And finally, it appears that none of the Labor Party figures within AIJAC have attempted to change the organisation’s political agenda, or to transform AIJAC into an alternative pro-Labor or at least non-conservative organisation. As argued by the editor of the Australian Jewish News, the dominant players within AIJAC continue to be perceived as leaning well to the right. (31)

The key problem is the political image that AIJAC present to the wider Australian community. For example, Ted Lapkin published an article in both the daily Australian and the far right Institute of Public Affairs Review attacking the so-called “economic sclerosis of the socialist welfare state”. (32) The statement was particularly disappointing and unrepresentative given that both the Victorian and NSW state Jewish roof bodies sponsor Jewish Social Justice Committees which advocate strong support for the welfare state and the social inclusion of the less affluent. (33) Yet Lapkin’s argument would have left many readers with the impression that Jews do not care about the rights of poor and disadvantaged Australians.

On other occasions, AIJAC have defended the Howard Government’s anti-terror laws, strongly supported Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war, justified American actions in Guantanamo Bay, and appeared to justify the use of torture.(34) It is debatable whether or not these positions are shared by most Australian Jews. At the very least, they are contentious and go well beyond the communal pro-Israel consensus. As we have also noted, AIJAC tend to choose international partners who share their neo-conservative views.

AIJAC is also particularly ineffective in engaging with the political Left. As I have argued elsewhere in relation to the academic boycott of Israel debate, pro-Israel groups have had some success in targeting elite groups in Australian society. However, many grassroots activists are more sympathetic to the Palestinian narrative rather than the Israeli narrative. It is evident that campaigns based solely on defending all Israeli actions or at least all current Israeli Government policies are not working, or at least are not convincing many non-elite groups in the community.

Arguably there is a case for adopting both new lobbying content and new lobbying strategies based on incorporating a wider range of perspectives, and a more diverse group of advocates. Pragmatic alliances with sympathetic leftists who support Israel’s right to exist (irrespective of their views on specific Israeli policies) are essential for any broad defense of the State of Israel. (35)

Yet AIJAC has made no attempt to distinguish in an informed way between Left groups who are critical of specific Israeli policies such as the occupation of the West Bank, and those who reject Israel’s right to exist. Nor have they attempted to actively counter extreme anti-Zionist viewpoints in Left journals, or sought to involve left-wing Jews (who are broadly pro-Israel) in their activities. Instead, AIJAC has published blanket and virtually useless denunciations of “left anti-Zionists” in conservative journals such as Quadrant.(36)

In addition, AIJAC are unwilling to accept the argument of mainstream Jewish Left figures that “reasonable criticism” of Israeli policies has a place in the Jewish community. Instead, they simplistically dismiss all such criticisms as “unreasonable and unfair”.(37) Whilst claiming to themselves endorse a two-state solution, they also imply that those from the Left who support such a solution are naive and “unrealistic” in their views of the Palestinians. (38)

2) Their ultra-aggressive and sometimes openly bullying and threatening methods which are just as likely to create rather than combat anti-Semitism and extreme anti-Zionism.

Pro-Israel lobby groups have as much right as any other interest groups to argue their case vigorously and assertively. And to be sure, AIJAC’s pro-Israel activities and objectives are not fundamentally different from those undertaken by other pro-Israel lobby groups including the ECAJ, the state Boards, and the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission. What is different is the particular methods utilized to achieve the desired outcome.

The other Jewish groups adhere to reasonable and responsible lobbying strategies. In contrast, AIJAC seem to view themselves as the “tough Jews” of the community,(39) and too often revert to ad-hominem bullying and abuse.(40) For example, a brief critique by AIJAC of anti-Zionist journalist Antony Loewenstein contained the following personal attacks on his character: “thin-skinned”, “whinging”, and “juvenile petulance”.(41) Elsewhere, AIJAC attacked the academic record of Deakin University academic Scott Burchill, claiming that he engaged in left-wing polemics rather than genuine scholarly research.(42) In my opinion, AIJAC could easily have challenged Loewenstein and Burchill’s anti-Israeli bias without utilizing personal slurs.

These methods are also reflected in the way that AIJAC deal with legitimate criticism. For example, following the One Nation and Ashrawi debacles described in the next section, it would have been reasonable for AIJAC to approach the elected leadership of the Jewish community, and offer a mea culpa along the lines of the following: “We realize we mucked up on this occasion, we will do things differently next time, and this is how we plan to do them differently”. Instead, AIJAC frankly told its many Jewish critics on both occasions to “get stuffed”. Such behaviour can only be described as maverick and reckless.

3) Their lack of structural accountability to the elected leadership of the Australian Jewish community.

Although AIJAC is often perceived to be representing the Jewish community, they do not formally report to or appear to have any established protocols with the official leadership of the community.

The correct and perhaps controversial historical comparison here is with the now defunct Melbourne Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Council was a highly professional and pro-active anti-defamation body, and acted as the Public Relations Committee of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies and sometimes the ECAJ. At the same time, the Council retained its existence as a separate and independent organisation. This situation worked as long as the Council reflected the political consensus of the Jewish community.

But when it became apparent that the Council’s left-wing views on a range of issues were not representative and in some cases were serving to create rather than combat anti-Semitism, the Council was replaced.(43)
These same questions of organisational independence and political accountability apply to AIJAC. And this remains the case whether AIJAC articulates views that can reasonably be justified as representing a Jewish consensus on supporting Israel, or on those occasions when it articulates views on matters not involving Israel that arguably do not represent most Jews.

Of course in some ways, AIJAC is similar to political party think tanks such as the Liberal Party’s Menzies Research Centre, the Labor Party’s Chifley Research Centre, or the completely independent Centre for Independent Studies and Australian Fabian Society in that it has the freedom to advocate radical views and agendas that might not be politically acceptable to the elected leadership. So AIJAC argue that they are a private think tank, and can therefore say and do as they please.

However, there are two major differences between the Jewish community and political parties. Firstly, political activists join parties out of support for an ideologically uniform position, whereas the Jewish community is politically and ideologically diverse. Secondly, the Australian community is generally aware that elected politicians rather than party think tanks speak on behalf of political parties.

In contrast, many Australian policy makers and journalists seem to erroneously think that AIJAC is the official representative of Australian Jewry. According to the Australian Jewish News Canberra correspondent, Bernard Freeman, “AIJAC, whose representatives are frequent visitors to Canberra, and whose magazine, the Review, is distributed freely to all and sundry, has become the most visible source of comment and information when Jewish issues attract the interest of the non-Jewish media”. (44) As we shall see, this was apparent during the Hanan Ashrawi Affair when a number of media outlets sought the opinions of AIJAC spokespersons, rather than those of the elected leadership of the community.

To be sure, AIJAC have denied that they ever “claim to represent the Jewish community as a whole”,(45) and have modestly described themselves as a “community think tank”. (46)

But on at least one occasion, they have seemed to formally present themselves as the representatives of Australian Jewry.(47) And on numerous other occasions, they have disingenuously allowed the media to assume that they are the official leaders of the Jewish community. For example, a dubious article by journalist Glenn Milne, which documented alleged Jewish community anger towards the Labor Party over anti-Israel statements by backbenchers, cited only one Jewish organization, AIJAC. (48)

Case Study One: The One Nation Affair

During the mid-late 1990s, AIJAC and its predecessor AIP published a number of investigative reports exposing examples of political and financial corruption within the far right One Nation Party. This campaign reflected the Jewish communal consensus that One Nation’s racism directed at Asian immigrants and indigenous Australians was a serious threat to the multicultural cohesion of Australian society, and a specific threat to the welfare of Jews.(49) AIJAC’s campaign culminated in the unprecedented step of publishing the names of 2000 members of One Nation in their journal, The Review. The names were allegedly provided to AIJAC by disgruntled “senior figures in the party organization”.(50)

The publication of the names caused enormous public controversy and division. Issues were raised around the question of privacy, and allegations of political McCarthyism. The influential Sydney tabloid, the Daily Telegraph, described the list of names as “Leibler’s List”, and drew a provocative analogy with Nazi lists of Jewish names. (51) Support for AIJAC’s action came from Coalition Government Minister Tony Abbott and Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Laurie Brereton, but opposition was voiced by Prime Minister John Howard, Australian Broadcasting Chair Professor David Flint, neo-conservative commentator Ron Brunton, and most of the mainstream media. (52)

The Jewish community was also divided. The national editor of the Australian Jewish News, Vic Alhadeff, editorialized that publication of the list “was wrong in principle… and counter-productive”. It did not serve the “best interests of the Jewish community, of pluralist democracy and in fighting One Nation”, and had “hurt AIJAC’s own credibility”. (53) The Melbourne editor of the AJN, David Bernstein, argued that AIJAC’s action had “embarrassed and damaged the broader interests of the Jewish community”. (54)

Other major communal figures such as Justice Marcus Einfeld, Rabbi Raymond Apple, Ron Samuel from the Council of Western Australian Jewry, and Paul Gardner and Danny Ben Moshe from the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation Commission expressed similar sentiments. Ben-Moshe cited specific concerns around potential security implications for the Jewish community, and the possibility of far Right groups retaliating in kind by publishing names of Jewish organizations or their members. Particularly strong criticism also came from representatives of Holocaust survivors. Conversely, others such as Rabbi Brian Fox, Ron Weiser from the Zionist Federation of Australia, and Peter Wertheim, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies President, defended AIJAC. (55)

Despite the significant level of criticism, AIJAC refused to acknowledge that its actions had been either politically irresponsible, or ethically questionable. On the contrary, AIJAC launched personal attacks on some of its key Jewish critics. For example, Mark Leibler accused Anti-Defamation Commission Executive Director Danny Ben-Moshe of being more keen to criticize AIJAC than attack the alleged anti-Semitic comments of One Nation spokesperson David Oldfield. Leibler called Ben-Moshe “God’s gift to David Oldfield” (56) . Five years later, AIJAC vigorously rejected a suggestion that the action had “cast a shadow on the record of the organization”. To the contrary, they argued that the publication of the list constituted “one of the most successful and effective challenges to One Nation at the time”. (57)

Case Study Two: the Hanan Ashrawi Affair (58)

In August 2003, the Sydney University Peace Foundation announced that prominent Palestinian intellectual Dr Hanan Ashrawi had won the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize. The New South Wales Premier Bob Carr agreed to present the prize at a public ceremony. Carr is a long-time supporter of both Israel and Australian Jewry including founding Labor Friends of Israel in NSW, but defended his decision to present the award on the basis that it could help to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians. According to Carr, he would emphasize to Ashrawi the need for the Palestinians to renounce violence, and accept a two-state solution. (59)

The announcement provoked a wave of criticism from the Australian Jewish community which reached a crescendo at the time of the presentation to Ashrawi in early November 2003. Yet much of the associated media and public debate focused not on the suitability of Ashrawi for this award, but rather on the lobbying tactics employed by the Jewish community.

The awarding of the prize to Ashrawi was always going to be controversial. Firstly, given the endemic nature of the Middle East conflict, a presentation to a person representing one side of the conflict rather than a joint award to an Israeli and Palestinian would almost inevitably be interpreted as showing bias towards the Palestinian perspective. Secondly, there is some evidence that Professor Stuart Rees, the Chair of the Prize Committee, is not only personally biased towards the Palestinian perspective, but is willing to condone or rationalize anti-Semitism. (60) Thirdly, Hanan Ashrawi is no ordinary peacenik. On occasions, she has articulated extremist views, defended hardline demands for a return of 1948 Palestinian refugees to Green Line Israel, and openly demonized the Israeli people. (61)

Having said that, there is also little doubt that Ashrawi is a relative moderate within the Palestinian spectrum. She has generally endorsed a two state solution, opposed violence against civilians, and specifically condemned suicide bombings. She also maintains good relations with sections of the Israeli peace movement, and has been invited to participate in official negotiations by successive Israeli Governments. Overall, she appears to be a shrewd and articulate advocate of the Palestinian national cause who pragmatically varies her message according to the views of the audience.

Jewish concerns about the Ashrawi prize were expressed from the beginning. Organizationally, the Jewish campaign was directed by the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies (NSWJBD) given that the peace prize was to be awarded in Sydney, the capital city of the state of NSW. The NSWJDB is an elected body representing a range of views and opinions within the 40,000 strong NSW Jewish community. However, the national Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Zionist Federation of Australia, and AIJAC also had significant input.

Whilst there was a consensus of opposition to Ashrawi, divisions soon emerged about both the tone and content of the campaign. The NSWJBD favoured a relatively subtle and low-key behind the scenes approach, whilst AIJAC encouraged public and media debate and division. For example, AIJAC published a fact sheet featuring a handful of Ashrawi quotes to demonstrate her allegedly extremist views. They also distributed a petition drafted by their Israeli correspondent, Dr Gerald Steinberg, claiming that “By awarding Hanan Ashrawi its peace prize, the Sydney Peace Foundation…with the participation of Premier Bob Carr, are actually honouring war, murder and hatred, while debasing the concept of peace and reconciliation”. In addition, AIJAC falsely claimed that Ashrawi was a Holocaust denier. (62)

These divisions within the Jewish community came to the fore when key media outlets including political commentator Glenn Milne, the ABC TV 7.30 Report, and the Channel Nine Sunday program sought the opinions of AIJAC spokespeople rather than of the elected communal leaders.

The NSWJBD President Stephen Rothman accused AIJAC of using inappropriate and overzealous methods to lobby Premier Carr and the Sydney Peace Foundation. (63) In particular, Rothman attacked AIJAC for making the awarding of the prize an issue of party political contention within the NSW State Parliament. Similar concerns were expressed by Walt Secord, a media spokesman for Premier Carr and former Australian Jewish News reporter, by James Altman, President of Australia/New Zealand B’nai B’rith, and by Rabbi Raymond Apple, the Chief Rabbi of the Great Synagogue. The Australian Jewish News would later refer to the actions of AIJAC as ‘enormously counterproductive’, ‘ill-considered’, and ‘intemperate’. (64)

Another source of tension was ideological. As already noted, Premier Bob Carr has a long history of friendship both for Israel and Australian Jewry, and a number of leading NSWJBD figures are active in the NSW Labor Party. Many Jewish supporters of the ALP felt that AIJAC’s criticisms of Premier Carr provoked an unnecessary dispute with a prominent and sympathetic public figure.

For example, a number of prominent Jewish Labor Party figures including former JCCV Anti-Defamation Committee Chairman Adam Slonim, Jewish Labor Forum Executive member George Newhouse, former Labor Party Minister Barry Cohen, former High Court Judge Marcus Einfeld, and former Australia Israel Publications (AIP) Director and current Labor Party federal MP Michael Danby defended Premier Carr, and criticized the nature of the anti-Ashrawi campaign. Danby suggested the campaign by AIJAC was “perfectly legitimate political lobbying”, but argued that the specific tactics used by AIJAC had “stirred up opposition not just from the usual anti-Israel chorus, but from people usually supportive of Israel” (65) Einfeld questioned “why the knife was turned toward’s one of Israel’s most stalwart friends in public life in NSW Premier Bob Carr”. (66)

AIJAC later claimed that the campaign had been a success, pointing, for example, to the opposition to Ashrawi voiced by some prominent politicians and commentators, including the Prime Minister. But the opposing (and arguably far more convincing) view within the Jewish community is that the campaign failed to change the views of either the Sydney Peace Foundation or Premier Carr. Moreover, it produced serious divisions within the Jewish community, alienated many previously committed supporters of Israel, and reinforced stereotypes about Jewish influence and power being used to stifle free speech and debate.

Even critics of Ashrawi such as the neo-conservative Australian newspaper referred to “self-inflicted wounds” and the “own goal” of Australia’s Jewish community. (67) Similarly, the Australian Jewish News argued “the Jewish community’s image has been battered and bruised”, (68) and the Melbourne Age argued that the campaign “misfired” because it “distorted” Ashrawi’s views. (69)

In response to its critics, AIJAC refused again to concede any wrongdoing. For example, long-standing defender of Israel, Michael Danby MP, was attacked as an alleged “appeaser” of anti-Semites for his mild criticism of AIJAC. (70)

Response to our Book Chapter: Attacking the Messenger

Following the Ashrawi Affair, Geoffrey Brahm Levey and I co-wrote an account of the Affair for a book we co-edited, Jews and Australian Politics. The chapter was also reproduced in edited form in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Jewish News. Our analysis of the Affair was mainly not about AIJAC at all, but rather about how several deep-seated Australian Jewish political characteristics came together in that controversy. And to the extent that we considered AIJAC’s role, it was three pages of mild dispassionate critical analysis in a 262 page book. Equally in order to ensure balance, we commissioned Israeli academic Chanan Reich to present AIJAC’s perspective on the Ashrawi Affair and a range of other issues in a separate chapter.

AIJAC could have responded to our criticisms by simply acknowledging that they had made an error of judgement. But instead, they accused us of making “grave accusations”, and launching a “polemical assault” on them. (71) In short, AIJAC claimed that we had misrepresented their actions because we had a “history of political animus” towards AIJAC, and were motivated by our “fringe political views” and “extremist politics”. (72) They also claimed absurdly that we had relied exclusively on a group of far left anti-Zionists for our information and analysis. (73)

AIJAC’s defense was a nonsense. Firstly, they made no attempt to critique the content and substance of our chapter. Secondly, the description of Levey and Mendes as extremists is ludicrous to anyone familiar with our writing, or our substantial participation within Jewish communal debates. Both of us are mainstream left-liberals whose views on the Middle East and other issues are widely shared both within the Jewish community and inside Israel itself. Thirdly even if we had happened to be hardline ideological leftists, it is hard to see why this in itself should be a problem for AIJAC unless they do actually view anyone on the Left per se as the “enemy”.


As a pro-Israel advocacy body, AIJAC has the capacity in principle to effectively represent the legitimate political concerns of Australian Jewry on this issue. But in practice, AIJAC too often lapses into illegitimate activities that potentially harm the interests of Australian Jewry. As our case studies demonstrate, AIJAC are liable to push a narrow ideological agenda, use irresponsible means to promote their objectives, and claim erroneously to represent the views of a broader Jewish constituency. When confronted with balanced criticism, they tend to respond by personally attacking the critics.

To fulfil its role effectively, AIJAC needs to be reformed to incorporate the following principles: 1) Moderate politics representing the diversity of Jewish opinion; 2) Subtle and assertive, but not aggressive strategies; and 3) Formal accountability via published protocols to the elected national and state roof bodies. Above all, AIJAC needs to learn to acknowledge past and current errors of judgment, and to respond soberly to serious criticisms from within and outside the Jewish community.

Dr Philip Mendes is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Monash University, and the author or co-author of five books including Jews and Australian Politics, Sussex Academic Press, 2004: Philip.Mendes@med.monash.edu.au|


(1) I am grateful to Geoffrey Brahm Levey for his helpful comments on an earlier draft.

(2) Mearsheimer, John & Walt, Stephen, “The Israel Lobby”, London Review of Books, 28(6), 23 March 2006.

(3) Reich, Chanan, “Inside AIJAC – An Australian Jewish Lobby Group”, in Levey, Geoffrey Brahm & Mendes, Philip (eds.) Jews and Australian Politics. Sussex Academic Press. Brighton, 2004, pp.198-199.

(4) http://www.aijac.org.au.

(5) Levey, Geoffrey Brahm & Mendes, Philip, “The Hanan Ashrawi Affair: Australian Jewish Politics on Display”, in Levey, Geoffrey Brahm & Mendes, Philip (eds.) Jews and Australian Politics, p.217; Reich, Ibid, pp.199-200.

(6) Howard is the leader of a government based on a coalition between the Liberal and National parties. The Liberal Party has historically been a broad church comprising both social liberals and social conservatives, but has in recent years become more similar to the British Conservative Party with a dominant neo-liberal agenda.

(7) Levey & Mendes, p.217.

(8) Berman, Judy, Holocaust Agendas, Conspiracies and Industries? Valentine Mitchell, London, pp.96-97.

(9) Leibler, Mark, “Crossing the Wilderness: Jews and Reconciliation”, in Fagenblat, Michael; Landau, Melanie & Wolski, Nathan (eds.) New Under the Sun: Jewish Australians on Religion, Politics & Culture. Black Inc. Melbourne, 2006, pp.316-324.

(10) http://www.reconciliation.org.au.

(11) Rubenstein, Colin, “Multiculturalism works”, The Australian, 1 December 2006.

(12) Levey, Geoffrey Brahm, “Jews and Australian Multiculturalism” in Jews and Australian Politics, pp.179-197.

(13) Lapkin, Ted, “Intellectual Cowardice”, Source Watch: a project of the Center for Media & Democracy (www.sourcewatch.org), 5 April 2006.

(14) Reich, Ibid, p.202.

(15) Loewenstein, Antony, My Israel Question, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2006, p.294.

(16) See Magid, Isador, “In The Beginning”, in The Review, January 2000, p.15. Both Magid and Zablud are now deceased.

(17) Hyams, Jamie, “Talk: Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council”, Source Watch (www.sourcewatch.org), 3 March 2006.

(18) Levey & Mendes, Ibid, p.221.

(19) Mendes, Philip, “Demystifying Jewish Support for Israel”, On-Line Opinion, 10 May 2006.

(20) Leibler, Mark, “Toward The Future”, in The Review, January 2000, p.19.

(21) Jones, Jeremy, “The Jewish Community of Australia and its challenges”, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, No.13, 15 October 2006.

(22) Reich, Ibid, p.205; Loewenstein, Ibid, pp.188-198.

(23) Reich, Ibid, pp.208-211.

(24) Ibid, pp.202-203.

(25) Massing, Michael, “The Storm over the Israel Lobby”, The New York Review of Books, 53(10), 8 June 2006.

(26) Dr Colin Rubenstein cited in Weisser, Rebecca, “Mideast studies accused”, The Australian Higher Education, 22 August 2006.

(27) Reich, Ibid, p.200.

(28) Kohn, Peter & Singer, Melissa, “Under attack, clergy defend Israel trip”, Australian Jewish News, 26 May 2006; Loewenstein, Ibid, p.221; Matheson, Alan, “Getting the complete picture in the Holy Land? On Line opinion, 19 May 2006; Salbe, Sol, “Narrow spectrum”, Australian Jewish News, 5 May 2006.

(29) Carlill, Bren, “No neat answers to be found in Israel”, On-Line Opinion, 19 May 2006; Sherman, Brian, “In Defence of Rambam”, Australian Jewish News, 2 June 2006.

(30) Reich, Ibid, p.202; Leibler, Mark, “Academics’ ill-informed animus towards AIJAC”, Australian Jewish News, 8 April 2005.

(31) Goldberg, Dan, “The Tempest”, Australian Jewish News, 21 November 2003.

(32) Lapkin, Ted, “The Bitter Pilger”, IPA Review, 56(2), June 2004, p.18.

(33) Mendes, Philip, “Lifting The Lid on Poverty in the Jewish Community”, in New Under the Sun, pp.357-365.

(34) Cited in Loewenstein, Ibid, pp.5, 162-164 & 170-171. Whilst Loewenstein is heavily biased against AIJAC, I am not aware that they have challenged any of his interpretations of their positions.

(35) Mendes, Philip, “A Case Study of Ethnic Stereotyping: The Campaign for an Academic Boycott of Israel”, Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, In Press, December 2006.

(36) Lapkin, Ted, “Anti-Zionism in Australian Academia”, Quadrant, July-August 2006, pp.49-55.

(37) Hyams, Jamie, “We Heard You, So What?”, The Review, July 2006

(38) Colin, Rubenstein, “Fair hearing for Israel”, The Australian Higher Education, 13 December 2006.

(39) Breines, Paul, Tough Jews, Basic Books, New York.

(40) Claims that AIJAC persistently bully journalists or politicians who hold alternative opinions are made in Wynhausen, Elisabeth, “Careful, they might hear you”, The Australian, 10 June 2006.

(41) Lapkin, Ted, “Deconstruction Zone”, The Review, August 2006, pp.7-8.

(42) Lapkin, Ted, “Great Scott”, The Review, 29(3), March 2004, pp.20-21.

(43) Mendes, Philip, “Jews and the Left”, in Jews and Australian Politics, pp.72-73.

(44) Bernard Freeman, “AIJAC lobby role under the spotlight”, Australian Jewish News, 1 April 2005.

(45) Colin Rubenstein cited in Wynhausen, Ibid. See also Hyams, Ibid.

(46) Leibler, Ibid.

(47) Leibler, Mark & Rubenstein, Colin, “Letter to editor”, The Australian, 8 April 2005 regarding the late Pope.

(48) Milne, Glenn, “Nazifying Israel returns to haunt the Labor Party”, The Australian, 26 September 2005.

(49) Reich, Ibid, p.204; Berman, Ibid, pp.93-94; Kapel, Michael, “New Agendas”, The Review, January 2000, p.17.

(50) “Gotcha. One Nation’s Secret Membership List”, The Australia/Israel Review, 23(9), 8 July-28 July 1998.

(51) Symons, Emma-Kate, “Leibler’s List”, Daily Telegraph, 9 July 1998.

(52) Freedman, Bernard, “Leibler defends decision”, Australian Jewish News, 17 July 1998; Pullan, Rob, “Naming Names: The Press Reaction to the One Nation List”, Reportage, Spring 1998, pp.8-9.

(53) “The list and the fallout”, Australian Jewish News, 17 July 1998.

(54) Bernstein, David, “List’s double dose of shame”, The Age, 10 July 1998.

(55) Jones, Jeremy, “The Row over Pauline’s List”, The Jerusalem Report, 17 August 1998, pp.30-31; Kleerekoper, Victor & Labi, Sharon, “Community differs on Hanson list”, Australian Jewish News, 17 July 1998; Labi, Sharon, “Survivors express outrage”, AJN, 17 July 1998; McGregor, Richard, “One Nation list splits Jews”, The Australian, 9 July 1998.

(56) Freedman, Bernard, “Leibler blasts ADC spokesman”, Australian Jewish News, 17 July 1998.

(57) Kapel, Michael & Rubenstein, Colin, “Virtue of the List”, Australian Jewish News, 28 March 2003.

(58) Much of this discussion is adapted from Levey & Mendes, Ibid. For an alternative view, see Kampmark, Binoy, “Hanan Ashrawi and the Prize Protest: The Value and Limits of Debating Peace in the Australian Diaspora”,Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 25(3), December 2005, pp.347-361.

(59) Carr, Bob, “Speech to NSW Parliament on Israel and Hanan Ashrawi”, 16 October 2003.

(60) See Rees, Stuart, Passion for Peace. Sydney, UNSW Press, 2003, pp.41-43, 127 & 206; Rees, Stuart, “Villification Nation: The Hanan Ashrawi Affair – Ways of Thinking and Writing”, ISSA Conference Proceedings 2005, pp.72-78.

(61) See her speech to the September 2001 United Nations Conference on racism in Durban (www.miftah.org). Reprinted in Australian Jewish News, 7 November 2003.

(62) Manning, Peter, Us and Them, Random House, Sydney, 2006, p.52.

(63) Hanna, Jim, “Jewish leader concedes community damaged by lobbying”, AAP General News, 3 November 2003.

(64) Alhadeff, Vic, “The Ashrawi Affair”, Australian Jewish News, 7 November 2003.

(65) Danby, Michael, “Over the top protest down under”, New York Forward, 14 November 2003.

(66) Einfeld, Marcus, “An inquiry must be launched”, Australian Jewish News, 14 November 2003.

(67) Anon, “Time for outbreak of peace on the prize”, The Australian, 5 November 2003.

(68) Goldberg, Dan, “From The Editor”, AJN, 7 November 2003.

(69)Anon, “Hanan Ashrawi and the peace prize”, The Age, 8 November 2003.

(70) Rubenstein, Colin, “No Appeasement on Ashrawi Award”, New York Forward, 21 November 2003.

(71) Lapkin, Ted, “War and Peace Prize”, The Review, 30(5), 5, p.23.

(72) Ibid, pp.24-25.

(73) Leibler, “Academics…”, Ibid.