Am I an anti-Semite?

There are anti-Semites who criticize Israel, but that shouldn't shut us up

Recent books and articles warn that the world is witnessing the rise of a “new anti-Semitism,” a key expression of which is widespread criticism of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. A long-time Israeli peace activist and former member of the Irgun explains why this concept is faulty.

Rating: NNNNN

is everybody who criticizes israel an anti-Semite? Absolutely not. Somebody who criticizes Israel for certain of our actions cannot be accused of anti-Semitism. Somebody who hates Israel because it is a Jewish state is an anti-Semite. It is not always easy to distinguish between the two, because shrewd anti-Semites pose as bona fide critics of Israel’s actions.

Anti-Semites hate Jews because they are Jews, irrespective of their actions. Jews may be hated because they are rich and ostentatious or because they are poor and live in squalor. Because they played a major role in the Bolshevik revolution. Because they have no fatherland or because they created the state of Israel.

But presenting all critics of Israel as anti-Semites damages the fight against anti-Semitism. Can a person be an anti-Zionist without being an anti-Semite? Absolutely, yes. Zionism is a political creed and must be treated like any other. One can be anti-communist without being anti-Chinese, anti-capitalist without being anti-American, anti-globalist, anti-anything. Yet again, it is not easy to draw the line, because real anti-Semites often pretend just to be anti-Zionists.

They should not be helped by erasing the distinction.

Can a person be an anti-Semite and a Zionist? Indeed, yes. The founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, tried to enlist the support of notorious Russian anti-Semites, promising them to take the Jews off their hands. Before the second world war, the Zionist underground organization IZL established military training camps in Poland under the auspices of anti-Semitic generals who wanted to get rid of the Jews.

Nowadays, the Zionist extreme right receives and welcomes massive support from American Christian fundamentalists whom the majority of American Jews consider profoundly anti-Semitic. Their theology prophesies that on the eve of the second coming of Christ all Jews must convert to Christianity or be exterminated.

Has Europe become anti-Semitic again? Not really. The number of anti-Semites in Europe has not grown perhaps it has even fallen. What has increased is the volume of criticism of Israel’s behaviour toward the Palestinians.

Then why did most Europeans state in a recent poll that Israel endangers world peace more than any other country? The simple explanation: Europeans see on television every day what our soldiers are doing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This confrontation is covered more than any other conflict on earth (with the possible exception of Iraq, for the time being). Israel is considered more “interesting” because of the long history of the Jews in Europe and because Israel is closer to the Western media than Muslim or African countries. The Palestinian resistance seems to many Europeans very much like the French resistance to the German occupation.

What about anti-Semitic manifestations in the Arab world?

No doubt, typically anti-Semitic indications have crept into Arab discourse lately. Suffice it to mention that the infamous Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion have been published in Arabic. Whatever inanities may be voiced by certain “experts,” there never was any widespread Muslim anti-Semitism such as existed in Christian Europe.

In the course of his fight for power, the prophet Muhammad fought against neighbouring Jewish tribes, and therefore there are some negative passages about the Jews in the Koran. But they cannot be compared to the anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament story about the crucifixion of Christ that have poisoned the Christian world and caused endless suffering.

Muslim Spain was a paradise for the Jews, and there has never been a Jewish holocaust in the Muslim world. Even pogroms were extremely rare.

Muhammad decreed that the “peoples of the Book” (Jews and Christians) be treated tolerantly, subject to conditions that were incomparably more liberal than those in contemporary Europe. The Muslims never imposed their religion by force on Jews and Christians, as shown by the fact that almost all the Jews expelled from Catholic Spain settled in Muslim countries and flourished there. After centuries of Muslim rule, Greeks and Serbs remained thoroughly Christian.

When peace is established between Israel and the Arab world, the poisonous fruits of anti-Semitism will most probably disappear from the Arab world (as will the poisonous fruits of Arab-hating in our society.)

So should we ignore anti-Semitism? Definitely not. In ordinary times there is a small minority of blatant racists in every country, but in times of crisis their number can multiply rapidly.

We Israelis are like all other peoples. Each of us can find a small racist within ourselves if we search hard enough. We have in our country fanatical Arab-haters, and the historic confrontation that dominates our lives increases their power and influence. It is our duty to fight them and leave it to the Europeans and Arabs to deal with their own racists.

Uri Avnery is a former member of the Israeli Knesset and a founding member of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc).

Brand Voices

NOW Magazine