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OpinionColumn

Israelophobia is the newest form of the oldest hatred

The distinction between hating Jews and hating Israel is bogus.

Protesters in Berlin hold a Palestinian flag and the initials of the anti-Israel BDS movement while then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Germany in August 2019. Credit: Israel Hayom.
Protesters in Berlin hold a Palestinian flag and the initials of the anti-Israel BDS movement while then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Germany in August 2019. Credit: Israel Hayom.
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.

Antisemitism is a rotten term for the “longest hatred” that targets the Jewish people. For a start, there is no such thing as “semitism” to be “anti.”

The word “antisemitism” was invented by a 19th-century Jew-hater, Wilhelm Marr, who wanted to invest this prejudice with the spurious characteristic of race in order to appeal to a society that increasingly defined itself in scientific terms.

Today, with Jew-hatred having reached unprecedented global levels, the inadequacies of “antisemitism” are becoming ever more manifest. Many wrongly believe that it’s just another form of racism. Few understand that it’s a uniquely paranoid, deranged and murderous mindset.

Because Judaism and the Jews are so poorly understood, few recognize that this unique people is victimized by a unique prejudice. And few acknowledge that the prejudice changes shape as societies change.

Used for the sake of convenience, “antisemitism” fosters further misunderstanding over the issue of Israel. People assume that prejudice against the Jewish people is against Jews as people. Few understand that Judaism isn’t a private confessional faith as the West understands religion to be.

They don’t realize that Jewish religious identity is rooted in the Land of Israel, where the Jews were historically the only people for whom it was ever their national kingdom. So they fail to grasp that Israel is at the very heart of Judaism. Denouncing the right of the Jews to the land is to attack Judaism itself.

But because “antisemitism” is associated with bigotry against Jews as people—and specifically with genocidal Nazism—people bridle when it’s used to describe their hostility to the State of Israel.

In other words, demonizing Jews and wishing they would disappear from the world may be beyond the pale, but demonizing Israel and wishing it would disappear from the world is just fine.

In his new book Israelophobia, published next week, Jake Wallis Simons takes this false distinction apart. The Jew-hatred that is now at epidemic levels throughout the West focuses overwhelmingly on the Jewish homeland

Simons, the editor of Britain’s Jewish Chronicle for which I write, does an outstanding job detailing the astounding tsunami of falsehoods, distortions, double standards and vilification engulfing Israel. Although atrocities and human rights abuses are taking place all over the world, this obsessional campaign is directed only at Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East.

Israeli products are boycotted, its speakers hounded off campus, its businesses vandalized and its behavior singled out for lies, slander and double standards at the U.N. With the Palestinian cause having become the default position of progressives, the left makes common cause with the world’s worst dictatorships to attack a democracy that protects the rights of women, gays and other minorities.

Reasonable and reasoned criticism of Israel is, of course, entirely proper, just as with any other country. But this onslaught is neither reasonable nor reasoned. So why is Israel abused in this hallucinatory way?

To what he calls the newest form of the oldest hatred, Simons has given another name: Israelophobia. This, he writes, has three characteristics: Demonization, through which Israel is smeared as evil and a threat to the world; weaponization of social justice as a Trojan horse for hatred of Jews and their national home; and falsification, or parroting the lies of Nazi or Soviet propaganda.

All this has twisted the Western mind. As Simons observes, the sheer number of committed Israelophobes and the force of their disinformation, fueled by state-sponsored propaganda from Berlin to Tehran, has established a powerful gravitational pull sucking in ordinary people.

As a result, indefensible assumptions about Israel and the Jewish people—such as “Israelis behave like Nazis towards the Palestinians,” the “Jews have too much power” and “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes”—have become mainstream and produced a kind of herd immunity to common sense.

Some of these falsehoods are positively surreal. Israel is seen as white even though a (small) majority of its Jews are dark-skinned. In 2018, Mark Winston Griffith, executive director for the Black Movement Center in Crown Heights, New York, suggested that Jews were being attacked on the streets of Brooklyn because Jewishness was “a form of almost hyper-whiteness.”

In 2020, after the killing of Gorge Floyd, synagogues and Jewish shops in America were vandalized and attacked with “free Palestine” and obscene anti-Israel graffiti, while in France, Black Lives Matter demonstrators screamed “dirty Jews,” echoing the same chants that filled French streets during the Dreyfus affair a century before.

“In short,” writes Simons, “whether Jews count as non-white, white to hyper- white, privileged or oppressed, colonizers or indigenous, has become a matter of Schrodinger’s Jew: The label shifts on the basis of the agenda. And when it comes to the social justice movement, that agenda is invariably hostile to [the Jews’] nation state.”

In fact, “social justice” and identity politics are positively rooted in anti-Jewish prejudice. The malicious stereotype of rich, powerful Jews oppressing the vulnerable has been embedded in the left since Marx.

“Intersectional” identity politics, in which groups use spurious claims of victimization to gain power over other groups, patterns itself on claims of antisemitism that social justice warriors believe Jews deploy to mask their own misdeeds. Victim culture is thus founded upon anti-Jewish prejudice and its fake claims are exposed by real bigotry against Jews, which must therefore be denied.

Appallingly, the social justice agenda has been endorsed by a majority of American Jews. Simons takes bitter aim at Jewish progressives, for whom, he caustically observes, the Israelification of antisemitism must be a relief. They gain acceptance on the left through “auto-denunciation,” adopting the left’s default Israelophobic narrative while holding their Jewish heads high.

The question is why this supremely perverse onslaught against Israel is happening. Most obviously, it is a product of the left’s current stance against colonialism, imperialism and racism, which is associated with Israel simply because “intersectionality” promotes the monstrous charge that Jews are white-skinned, capitalist oppressors.

And, of course, there’s the vital role of the media in promoting Palestinian Arab lies and distortions as the truth, demonizing Israel by omitting to report Palestinian Arab attacks on Israelis and focusing only on Israeli strikes in response. The media thus present Israel as a wanton and indiscriminate killer, even though its armed forces do more to safeguard civilian lives when it carries out counter-terror operations against its enemies than any other army in the world.  

The most powerful passages in Simons’s book demonstrate how both Nazism and the Soviet Union further weaponized antisemitism against Israel. The Soviet Union, which used anti-Zionism to weaken the West by driving wedges and sowing discord, disseminated staggering amounts of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda, depicting Judaism as a vicious and inhuman religion that had spawned “fascist Zionism.” This malevolent narrative is now parroted by the left.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, turned Palestine’s Arabs into Hitler’s forces in the Middle East committed to the genocide of the Jews.

This linkage continues to influence attitudes in the Arab world. Nazi imagery of Jews as spiders, dogs, octopuses, snakes and bloodsuckers remains widespread in Palestinian and Arab media, while the Mufti is the self-professed hero of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

As the American historian Jeffrey Herf has observed, this association has poisoned Western universities and “aligned the western left with the afterlife of Hitler’s Nazi party and its larger designs for the Middle East.”

The West’s historic Jew-hatred and current unhinged animus against Israel are joined at the hip. By using a new word to reflect this, and through careful and detailed research, Jake Wallis Simons has delivered a powerful blow against the big lie through which the Western left tries to wash from its hands an indelible stain.

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