March 28, 2012

The New Anti-Semitism

Why does the international community hate Israel so much?

Not long ago, the Economist ran an unsigned editorial called the “Auschwitz Complex.” The unnamed author blamed serial Middle East tensions on both Israel’s unwarranted sense of victimhood, accrued from the Holocaust, and its unwillingness to  “to give up its empire.” As far as Israel’s paranoid obsessions with the specter of a nuclear Iran, the author dismissed any real threat by announcing that “Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis,” and that “Israelis have psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran.”

It is hard to fathom how a democracy of seven million people by any stretch of the imagination is an “empire.” Israel, after all, fought three existential wars over its 1947 borders, when the issue at hand was not manifest destiny, but the efforts of its many enemies to exterminate or deport its population. I would not otherwise know how to characterize the Arab promise of more than a half-century of “pushing the Jews into Mediterranean.”

 the new anti-semitism  
 Photo credit: Alan Popely

While it is true that Israeli forces stayed put on neighboring lands after the 1967 war, subsequent governments eventually withdrew from the Sinai, southern Lebanon, and Gaza—areas from which attacks were and are still staged against it. The Economist’s choice of “appealing” is an odd modifying adjective of the noun “enemy,” particularly for Iran, which has both promised to wipe out Israel and is desperately attempting to find the nuclear means to reify that boast.  

The Economist article is fairly representative of European anger at Israel, a country that is despised by most of the nations that make up the UN roster. Or as Nicky Larkin, an Irish documentary filmmaker and once vehement anti-Israel activist, recently confessed, “An Irish artist is supposed to sign boycotts, wear a PLO scarf, and remonstrate loudly about The Occupation. But it’s not just artists who are supposed to hate Israel. Being anti-Israel is supposed to be part of our Irish identity, the same way we are supposed to resent the English.”

What then are the sources for widespread hatred of Israel? Such venom cannot be explained just by political differences with its Arab and Islamic neighbors. After all, take any major issue of contention—occupied land, refugees, a divided Jerusalem, cross border incursions—and then ask why the world focuses disproportionately on Israel when similar such disputes are commonplace throughout the globe.

Over half a million Jews have been ethnically cleansed from Arab capitals since 1947.

Does the world much care about the principle of occupation? Not really. Consider land that has been “occupied” in the fashion of the West Bank since World War II. Russia won’t give up the southern Kurile Islands it took from Japan. Tibet ceased to exist as a sovereign country—well before the 1967 Middle East War—when it was absorbed by Communist China. Turkish forces since their 1974 invasion have occupied large swaths of Cyprus. East Prussia ceased to exist in 1945, after 13 million German refugees were displaced from ancestral homelands that dated back 500 years.

The 112-mile green line that runs through downtown Nicosia to divide Cyprus makes Jerusalem look united in comparison. Over 500,000 Jews have been ethnically-cleansed from Arab capitals since 1947, in waves of pogroms that come every few decades. Why are they not considered refugees the way the Palestinians are?

The point is not that the world community should not focus on Israel’s disputes with its neighbors, but that it singles Israel out for its purported transgressions in a fashion that it does not for nearly identical disagreements elsewhere. Over 75 percent of recent United Nations resolutions target Israel, which has been cited for human rights violations far more than the Sudan, Congo, or Rwanda, where millions have perished in little-noticed genocides. Why is the international community so anti-Israel?

A new sort of fashionable and socially acceptable anti-Semitism looms large. For much of the past two millennia in the West, hatred of the Jews was a crude prejudice, rich with state-sanctioned religious, economic, and social biases. By the same token, dissidents, leftists, and anti-establishmentarians once took up the cause of decrying anti-Semitism, an Enlightenment theme until well after World War II.

No more—with the establishment of Israel, anti-Semitism metamorphosized in two unforeseen ways. First, it became a near obsession of the modern Left, which associated the creation of the Jewish state with a sort of Western hegemonic impulse. That Israel was democratic and protected human rights in a way unlike its autocratic neighbors mattered nothing. To the international Left, Israel was a religious, imperialistic, and surrogate West in the Middle East.

The new anti-Semites are not crass and vulgar. They are sophisticated intellectuals.

After the 1967 war, when a once vulnerable Israel emerged victorious and apparently unstoppable, Jews lost any lingering sympathy from the horrors of World War II and Israel became a full-fledged Western over-dog, closely associated with its new patron, the much envied and hated United States. Not only were the new anti-Semites no longer just buffoonish skinheads, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen, but they were polished and sophisticated intellectuals. Deploring anti-Semitic illiterates in white sheets was rather easy; but countering Hamas cartoons of Jews as apes and pigs in West Bank newspapers was difficult when they were disseminated in the name of free speech at U.C. Berkeley.

There was a second facet of the new anti-Semitism. The establishment of the state of Israel itself also served as a respectable cloak for anti-Semitism. One now spoke not of disliking Jews, but only of despising the Jewish state and seeing Palestinians as if they were victims analogous to minority groups within the West. From Oxford dons to award-wining novelists, it became socially acceptable to decry the creation of Israel in a way it was not to say that the Jews were again causing trouble. Alleging that “Jews” had too much influence was still retrograde, but worrying about the power of the “Jewish lobby” was suddenly politically-correct.

Oil, of course, played an even larger role. By the 1960s, the West was heavily dependent on Persian Gulf and North African oil and gas, and by the 1990s, was in a rivalry with emerging economies in India and China to ensure steady Middle East supplies. After the deleterious oil cutoff of 1973, the Arab world proved not just that it was willing to use oil as an anti-Israel weapon, but also that it could do so quite effectively.

On the flip side, since the 1960s, trillions of petrodollars have flowed into the Islamic Middle East, not just ensuring that Israel’s enemies now were armed, ascendant, and flanked by powerful Western friends, but through contributions, donations, and endowments also deeply embedded within Western thought and society itself. Universities suddenly sought endowed Middle East professorships and legions of full tuition-paying Middle East undergraduates. Had Israel the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, then “occupied” Palestine might have resonated at the UN about as much as Ossetia, Kashmir, or the Western Sahara does today. 

"Being anti-Israel is supposed to be part of our Irish identity," says a filmmaker

Size matters as well. Israel is tiny; its enemies, legion. For many in the world, demography is everything: would an opinion-maker or journalist rather side with seven million Israelis or 400 million of their enemies in the largely Islamic Middle East? And if Israel had clearly done well in the 1947, 1956, and 1967 wars, after the next round of fighting in 1973, 1982, and 2006, critics smelled weakness and found it more comfortable to prefer the soon-to-be winning side. As a result, diplomats, military officers, journalists, writers, and actors found it easier to count heads and choose the path of least resistance—given Israel’s recent inability to defeat quickly and decisively its Arab adversaries.

The terrorism of the last thirty years loomed large as well. If in the 1970s, Western governments feared that their Olympic games, their jet airliners, their embassies, and their sports teams might by attacked by secular left-wing Palestinian terrorists, by the late 1990s they were even more afraid that radical Islamist suicide bombers and terrorists would strike not just abroad, but inside Europe and North America itself. After 9/11, to draw a cartoon in Denmark mocking a Jewish rabbi would earn either praise or indifference; but to caricature Mohammed or the Koran ensured threats of assassination in the heart of postmodern, humanitarian Europe.

Intellectuals are not moral supermen, and supposedly courageous muckraking writers and journalists prefer, we have seen, to live without fear than to accurately describe the situation on the ground in the Middle East. For many intellectuals, the choice of lauding or disliking Israel was not just based on careerist self-interest, but also on a careful calculus that Western nations, for all their talk of free speech, were as terrified of terrorists as were the latters’ targets. Criticize or caricature radical Islam, and a terrorist was more likely to get you than your fearful Western government was to protect you. Ask Salman Rushdie or Kurt Westergaard.

Finally, Israel in the West has become analogous to something like the uncool image of Sarah Palin—a target of mindless and uniformed invective that nevertheless serves as a sort of cachet or membership card into the right circles. Filmmakers do not usually shoot sympathetic documentaries about Israel—not if they want grants from foundations and social acceptance from their peers and overseers. Visiting journalists and authors might hotel in Israel, but their professional work on the West Bank will be praised and supported to the degree that it is pro-Palestinian and shunned should it be either balanced or pro-Israeli.

Will the image of Israel ever be reversed? Only if the above criteria are altered—a damning indictment that popular antipathy has little to do with the reality of Israel’s predicament. 


Victor Davis Hanson, the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a classicist and an expert on the history of war. He is a syndicated Tribune Media Services columnist and a regular contributor to National Review Online, as well as many other national and international publications; he has written or edited twenty-three books, including the New York Times best seller Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power. His most recent book is The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost - from Ancient Greece to Iraq (Bloomsbury 2013). He was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Bush in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008 and has been a visiting professor at the US Naval Academy, Stanford University, Hillsdale College, and Pepperdine University. Hanson received a PhD in classics from Stanford University in 1980.


Letters to the editor

It's Anti-Western, Not Anti-Semite

Dr. Hanson writes an excellent piece as usual but I think the answer is simpler than anti-Semitism. I think there are many who will knee-jerk favor those of color over westerners. If two non-western nations tussle (Tibet vs. China), they don't care. If the more western side is seemed to be the loser (Turkey in Cypress or the Prussia situation), they don't care. But if one side is western and the other is not, then they tend to side with the other. I won't guess why they do this, but the pattern is clear. South Africa and Israel both came under unfair criticism compared to the behaviors of their neighbors. South Africa gave in. That was like blood in the water for many who hope to force Israel to do the same. Unfortunately for Israel, the Palestinians have different goals than the ANC.

Robert Schwarz

How to Explain Anti-Semitism?

I read with great interest the publication, "The New Anti- Semitism," by Victor Davis Hanson mainly because it was written by Dr. Hanson whom I deeply respect as one of the great thinkers of our time, and because it was written by Dr. Hanson, a thoughtful and informed non-Jew who I felt could bring a needed objectivity and professional distance from the subject of anti-Semitism posturing masquerading as anti-Israel politics.

I was pleased by his quiet yet incisive prose and his attempt to find out why intelligent, well educated, usually upper class, professional, or artistically inclined individuals, and seemingly well informed non-Jews, and some Jews as well, are so viciously, rabidly, almost incoherently anti Jewish and anti Israel.

Dr. Hanson was able to define and describe this terrible situation, but to my mind was unable to come up with a satisfactory explanation for it. Well, I don't have one, and if it's any comfort, the greatest Jewish thinkers, rabbis, and laymen have never been able to come up with one either.

Anti-Semitism, the irrational hatred of Jews because we are Jews just seems to be the oldest, most intractable and least amenable to reason hatred in the world. Anti-Semitism can even exist where there are just about no Jews at all, like Japan or Poland.

I will say that while anti-Semitism does exist in the United States, it is a minor problem, most Americans have a respect and even an affection for Jews and Israel. I personally would suggest that among other reasons, including the American respect for freedom and individuality, that the love that Americans have for Jews and Israel, is what has made and continues to make the United States of America the truly wonderful place it is.

---Kenneth Besig

Nothing New Here

As Dr. Hanson rightly points out, several dynamics are at play when it concerns the motives of the new European anti-Semitism. However, I don’t think one can underestimate the psychological guilt Europe’s critics of Israel bear both towards the genocide of the Jews perpetrated in their own backyards, as well as towards Arab nations for colonizing the Arab world. On the one hand, with their distortions of the facts on the ground, the extremely ludicrous double-standard they apply towards Israel, and their vitriolic comparisons of the Israelis with the Nazis of the past, they can wash their hands of the role they and their forefathers played in the Nazi genocide of the Jews, saying to themselves “look, the Jews do it also!” Similarly, by rushing to the defense of Palestinian and other Arabs with all fervent bias and rush to judgement, they can expiate themselves of the sins of colonialism. The truth is they continue to act as they always historically for centuries since the beginning of Christianity, i.e. anti-Semitic towards the Jewish nation which has persisted in rejecting Jesus, and currying the favor of the more powerful and larger Arab world.

---Robert E. Litman, MD

Anti-Semitism From Within

As in many other times of History, anti-semitism also had come from within. There are Jewish groups today (and personalities) that are very much against the Jewish persona. "J" Street and Jews for Peace for example have shown that they would stand with the terrorists of today as some Jews stated that the Nazis were misunderstood. The article is very clear of what anti-semitism is and how trendy it is in our world today. However, I do differ as it is clearly growing within our own public schools and higher institutions of learning. UC-Berkeley had checkpoints via their Boycott Israel week; in the past UC-Irvine has had graduating classes be allow to don Hamas regalia complete with real bomb belts. No outrage, no censures, no punishment was done as from the heads of the institutions themselves it was done in the manner of Free Speech. There are "rabbis" and synagogues who would support highly the terrorist before they support Jews/Israel.

At UCSF, a few cars were vandalized; Jewish students were attacked and who's the victim? The Muslim brotherhood who had initiated the attacks. The Jews were told not to show their Jewishness by the administration. The police would not come to help right away as they would look like they were Islamophobic. Even the recent Levon case in Sanford, Florida is claiming that Zimmerman the shooter was Jewish. This is coming from many Muslims, Black Panther leaders and the usual trash of society. Even Jewish groups are quick to state that Zimmerman was Jewish from birth (when the opposite is true).

In Israel itself a murder case is underway where Arabs had planned and practiced attacking Israelis who are driving via rocks--but the Arabs would be in their cars as well--getting closer to the victim (hoping they were Jewish) to do the damage. The Palmer family lost a father and an infant in this incident and the Courts are not allowing the family to have supporters in the classroom but the Arabs can bring whoever they want. Over a year ago, the Fogel family was butchered while sleeping. J Street and others were quick to blame them for terrorizing the Arab teenagers who did the slaughtering. They sent reps to the parents of the teens' homes to "comfort" them. But then the youngest a baby was also deemed an instigator by "J Street" "Jewish Women for Peace" and even Amnesty International.

The current Administration is also anti-semitic and anti-Israel and the actions show it. While the President is posed to look like he's also celebrating Jewish holidays (and doing it wrong) he has allowed enemies of the US and the free world to have a say in what goes on in our society. His State Department has leaked out information about Israel's plans with Iran. He has allowed a member of the PLO to be the "Muslim Ambassador" which we never had before. Since when is an organization that is known as a terrorist organization allowed room and board at the White House? Since we have Obama in office. And there are Jews backing him and Clinton who in 1995 was part of bending Israel's arm to allow the father of modern day terrorism Arafat to enter Israel and never doing anything as promised even though Israel has done.

I do not understand this. Survivors of the Holocaust as well as many veterans of WWII, now elderly themselves, are stating that this is how the Nazis came to power and look at what they did. They state History is repeating itself if nothing is done. The book The Transfer Agreement by Edwin Black talks about the rise of Nazism with help from Jews and frightening enough, one can relate to it in modern times.

---Hinda Blas


Letters to the editor may be sent to definingideas@stanford.edu. Editors reserve the right to reject or publish (and edit) letters.