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January 12, 2011

A new antisemitism?

The Canadian Charger

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The Interparliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (ICCA) met in Ottawa last November with substantial funding from the Harper's government. While considerable attention was paid to the so-called "new" antisemitism, there was confusion as to the distinction between "old" and "new" and ambiguity about the difference-if any-between antisemitism and opposition to Israeli policies or to Israel itself.

A prime example of the confusion was a harangue by British Labour MP John Mann about a Muslim organization’s success in defeating several pro-Israel Labour politicians.  He used this defeat as an example of the success of antisemitism. 

Michael Ignatieff also contributed to the sloppiness around distinctions, referring to the renewed distribution of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as an example of new antisemitism, when it is very much old.  He also said that efforts to delegitimize Israel, calling it an Apartheid state, were beyond the bounds of legitimate discussion.  His comment in this regard seemed to imply a definition of the new antisemitism that was on the minds of many in the conference: opposition to Israel as a Jewish state or severe criticism of it was the new antisemitism. 

While this way of seeing the new antisemitism is ego syntonic for many of those at the conference, it is clearly defective. 

There can be no logical reason to make a necessary connection between the idea of opposition to Israeli policies or to Israel itself with opposition to or prejudice against Jews.

Several people expressed the feeling that Israel is the Jewish homeland and that therefore there is a sense in which opposition to the country is an attack on Jews and is hence antisemitic. Yet, there is no inherent right for any group to have its own country, even making the dubious assumption that Jews are a single “people.”  There is no Kurdistan, no independent Corsica, Catalonia, or Biscay.  And while Israel exists, Israel is in no hurry to recognize an independent Palestine.

“New antisemitism” can nevertheless be given legitimate meaning. 

The term serves to point to the kind of antisemitism that flows from opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. 

Two of the participants, Daniel Goldhagen, an independent intellectual and former Harvard political science professor, and Charles Small, Yale University founder of the Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, both made observations that hint at a meaningful definition of the new antisemitism.

Goldhagen observed that the Israeli occupation “will continue to fuel anti-imperialism,” and that there can be “some opposition to the occupation for good faith reason.”  And Small said, “If Israel is a racist state, then the people supporting Israel are also the enemy.”

We can sharpen these observations to form a valid definition of the “new antisemitism.” 

The new antisemitism is Jew-hate inspired by sympathy for the Palestinians seen as victims of Israel and Zionism.  The support for the Palestinians is reflected in hostility to Jews who are seen as supporters of Israel.

Examples of the new antisemitism are the firebombing of the Jewish school in Montreal and the comments by COSATU official Bongani Masuku who wants to send all Jews who support Israel out of the country.  In general, the wave of hostility toward Jews among some Muslims is of this character.

Incidentally, the disturbance at Concordia that prevented Binyamin Netanyahu from speaking is not antisemitism, old or new, though some antisemites may have

participated.  Their participation might be verified by slogans or leaflets that were distributed but absent such evidence, the demonstration was political, not racist. Of course, that does not serve to justify the disturbance or the perpetrators.  At the ICCA the disturbance was cited falsely as an example of antisemitism. 

While the new antisemitism gets its legs from the ongoing mistreatment of Palestinians by Israel, the question of the Palestinians received only the most cursory reference at the conference. 

Instead, while in reality Israel is the occupier and oppressor, the tone of the conference was that Jews in general and Israel in particular are the victims.

Two members of the ICCA steering committee, Yuli-Yoel Edelstein and Fiamma Nirenstein, live in the settlements, the existence of which contributes to the new antisemitism.  Israel is not the victim and Jews become the object of the new antisemitism by their identification with Israel.

Of course, it should go without saying that this definition in no way justifies this or any other kind of antisemitism.  To understand is not to justify.

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