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The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism | The Nation

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The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism

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The answer, in a word, is anti-Zionism. The "vilification of Israel," Iganski and Kosmin argue, is "the core characteristic" of Judeophobia (their term for "new anti-Semitism"). In his contribution to their book, Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, explains: "What we are witnessing today is the second great mutation of antisemitism in modern times, from racial antisemitism to religious anti-Zionism (with the added premise that all Jews are Zionists)." Sometimes the point is made by equating the State of Israel in the "new" anti-Semitism with the individual Jew in the "old" variety. Rabbi Sacks himself draws this parallel in an article in the Guardian: "At times [anti-Semitism] has been directed against Jews as individuals. Today it is directed against Jews as a sovereign people." In the same vein, Dershowitz argues that Israel has become "the Jew among Nations."

About the Author

Brian Klug
Brian Klug is senior research fellow in philosophy at St Benet's Hall, Oxford and member of the Faculty of Philosophy...

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Tracing the course of Zionism and the splintered state it has created.

Foxman defines Zionism thus: "Zionism simply refers to support for the existence of a Jewish state--specifically, the state of Israel." In a narrow sense, anti-Zionism is simply the antithesis: rejection of the very idea of a Jewish state, specifically Israel. Foxman's verdict on this position is uncompromising: "The harsh but un- deniable truth is this: what some like to call anti-Zionism is, in reality, anti-Semitism--always, everywhere, and for all time." He adds for good measure: "Therefore, anti-Zionism is not a politically legitimate point of view but rather an expression of bigotry and hatred."

Foxman insists that he is not opposed to criticism of Israel. "In every public forum," he says, "I'm always careful to say that criticism of the state of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic." But "is not necessarily" implies "is possibly," and what this really means is "it's usually so." In his view, "most of the current attacks on Israel and Zionism are not, at bottom, about the policies and conduct of a particular nation-state. They are about Jews." This is conventional wisdom in the "new anti-Semitism" literature. The main basis for this opinion is that such attacks single out Israel unfairly or apply a double standard. As Dershowitz writes:

So long as criticism is comparative, contextual, and fair, it should be encouraged, not disparaged. But when the Jewish nation is the only one criticized for faults that are far worse among other nations, such criticism crosses the line from fair to foul, from acceptable to anti-Semitic.

Just where this line in the sand is drawn varies from author to author. But it tends to be drawn in such a way as to rule out criticism that goes much beyond a gentle rap across the government's knuckles or finger-wagging at the laws of the land.

When I say that "anti-Zionism" puts the "new" into "new anti-Semitism," I am referring not only to anti-Zionism in the narrow sense; I am using the word broadly to include any position that lies on the far side of the line separating "fair" from "foul." Now, if crossing the line is anti-Semitic, and if "most of the current attacks on Israel and Zionism" cross the line, it follows that most current attacks on Israel and Zionism are anti-Semitic. By extension, any attack aimed at a Jewish target is anti-Semitic if it is inspired by a position that crosses that line. Given that both Israel and Zionism are at the center of so much controversy around the world, the effect of this logic is to produce, at a stroke, a quantum leap in the amount of anti-Semitism worldwide, if not a veritable "war against the Jews."

It is, of course, understandable that many Jews find this logic compelling. There is a long and ignoble history of "Zionist" being used as a code word for "Jew," as when Communist Poland carried out "anti-Zionist" purges in 1968, expelling thousands of Jews from the country, or when the extreme right today uses the acronym ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government) to refer to the US government. Moreover, the Zionist movement arose as a reaction to the persecution of Jews. Since anti-Zionism is the opposite of Zionism, and since Zionism is a form of opposition to anti-Semitism, it seems to follow that an anti-Zionist must be an anti-Semite.

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