“Anti-Semitism,” wrote Stephen Eric Bronner, author of the engaging book A Rumor About the Jews, “is the stupid answer to a serious question: How does history operate behind our backs?” For a wide range of ideological extremists, anti-Semitism is still the stupid answer for why what goes wrong with the world does go wrong. It is a philosophical worldview and interpretation of history that creates conspiracies as a way of explaining the unfolding of historical events; it is a pessimistic and frantic outlook, characterized in 1964 by historian Richard Hofstadter as “the paranoid style” of politics, which shifts responsibility from the self to sinister, omnipotent others—typically and historically, the Jews.
Long the thought product of cranks and fringe groups, Hofstadter’s paranoid style of politics has lately entered the mainstream of what would be considered serious and respectable academic enterprise. Witness, for instance, the ongoing controversy engulfing David Miller, professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at Britain’s Bristol University, who has enraged Jewish students and other external stakeholders by his vicious attacks on Zionism, Israel and Jewish organizations in England.
In his lectures, writing and public statements, Miller has vehemently suggested that Jewish communal organizations work in tandem—behind the scenes, and in a furtive and underhanded manner—to subvert the interest of British universities and government. More than that, Miller also contends that Zionism itself, which he characterizes as a “fanatical” political ideology, has as one of its primary roles to slander Islam; that Zionism, he contends, is a chief source of Islamophobia. And the shady Jewish organizations he identifies as being part of the defense and promotion of Zionism are therefore agents of this bigotry—not to mention, as he put it, that “the Zionist movement and the Israeli government are the enemy of the left, the enemy of world peace.”
What troubles observers of this type of intellectual output from academia is that, unlike its intellectually flabby predecessors from right-wing hate groups or left-wing cranks, this political analysis comes complete with academic respectability, a trend that Professor Hofstadter had himself originally found curious. “In fact,” he wrote, “the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”
Much has been made of lecture slides Miller uses in his “Harms of the Powerful” module, slides that Jewish students thought contained anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power, malignancy and manipulation. One of them, titled “Five Pillars of Islamophobia,” includes the Zionist movement as one of the five pillars responsible for promoting Islamophobia. Another slide, “Pillar 4: The zionist [sic] movement (parts of),” lists such nefarious groups as “ultra-Zionist funders, the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli government itself, and even the Community Security Trust (CST), an organization roughly analogous to the United States’ benign Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism and addresses other Jewish communal issues.
The slide that drew the most attention was an elaborate diagram depicting dozens of organizations, all listed under the Israeli government (Miller’s suggestion, of course, being that all the listed organizations work in concert with and for the benefit of Israel itself, and against British interests and as sources of Islamophobia). The structure of pro-Israel individuals, organizations and agents delineated in the slide is complex, furtive, until now hidden from sight, and, in Miller’s paranoid fantasies, reveals a nefarious and powerful “British Zionist scene” that he has now exposed and which, he seems to believe, proves some point about Jewish power and malignancy.
Miller’s slide must be very meaningful to him, but it tells us nothing. It reveals nothing unknown, nothing sinister, nothing more than Jewish communal organizations and individuals working, sometimes alone, sometimes in concert, to protect Jewish interests, fight anti-Semitism and support Israel. Any conspiracy or unlawful or immoral activity lives only in Miller’s mind, in the paranoic recesses of his anti-Semitic brain.
The characterization of pro-Israel lobbying by organizations and individuals as manipulation, dual loyalties, using power and influence behind the scenes, greed and money—this language is the very tone that drew an understandable thunderous denunciation of Miller’s wild ideas, including from Bristol’s Jewish students. And it is a particularly incendiary bit of language when discussing Zionism and Israel, a Jewish state, for it parallels so invidiously classic anti-Semitic canards, such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purport to reveal the intention of Jews to furtively rule and dominate the globe. As happens in Miller’s case, there is the double insult to Jews: first, that they achieve this supposed sway over governments and other people by indirection, betrayal and stealth; and, second, that in the end they are not only not admired for accomplishing these extraordinary, nearly superhuman feats, but envied and reviled for having supposedly surreptitiously achieved them.
“The Israel lobby’s attack on me lays bare what is actually going on,” Miller wrote, “a weaponization of bogus anti-Semitism claims to shut down and manipulate discussion of Islamophobia.” Here, Miller places himself in the very core of an unfolding conspiracy, seen only by him and his fellow travelers who claim that when Jews point to anti-Semitism of his type, they are simply being disingenuous, that they make a false claim of bigotry only to perniciously excuse the behavior of Israel and shield it from legitimate criticism. “Manufactured controversies around Judeophobia—such as in my case—,” Miller said, “are being used to silence criticism of Zionism and Israel. That is the purpose of the IHRA definition in practice. If Saudi Arabia was engaged in a similar censorship campaign on British campuses, we would laugh it out of the room.”
And when defenders of Israel denounce the violence and terrorism of the Palestinian Arabs and Hamas in the unending campaign to murder Jews, for Miller this is simply more evidence of the Islamophobia that Jews promote, not a concern that their fellow citizens are being murdered by rockets and mortars raining down on southern Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip.
For Miller and his fellow travelers, assigning malignant attributes to Zionism and Jews is a convenient—not to mention socially acceptable—way of justifying the enmity they clearly feel. A self-fulfilling prophecy, the conspiracies that Miller weaves create proof, at least in his addled mind, of the validity of his fundamental view that there is something inherently flawed about the morality and even the existence of Jewish self-determination.
By exposing the alleged linkage between all these pernicious actors, by revealing the sinister ways that interlocked organizations and individuals conspire to undermine non-Jewish interests, Miller offers up supposed evidence of the very malignancy he already assumes lurks in Judaism, Zionism and supporters of Israel.
Because anti-Semitism is inappropriate and no longer acceptable in academia and elite institutions, enmity towards Jews is only allowed if their behavior can be shown to be underhanded, malicious, destructive and immoral—just as Miller’s revelations purportedly prove.
Miller is also presumptuous enough to redefine what Zionism actually means, airbrushing away its central place as the spiritual striving for a Jewish home that has animated Judaism for three millennia, thousands of years before Mohammed’s birth.
“ … [I]t is this exposure of Zionist Islamophobia that most terrifies Israel’s fanatical advocates,” Miller wrote, “particularly as the Israel lobby repositions itself from defending against accusations of Israeli war crimes to an offensive designed to rebrand Zionism—absurdly and ahistorically—as a “Jewish liberation movement.”
Miller thereby tries to define what Zionism means and is for Jews, just as many anti-Semites try to do when they reject the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism because they believe they are better equipped—morally and intellectually—to define the hatred they manifest themselves but of which they are totally unaware.
And Miller’s delusional notion that Zionism has as its primary purpose and effect the promotion of Islamophobia, what was once wryly defined as “a disease without any symptoms,” is breathtakingly inane.
Could there be other possible sources of suspicion and distrust of Islam, leading to some people harboring negative feelings towards the religion and many of its radical adherents? Could it be because, from 1979 to 2019, there were at least 33,769 terrorist attacks, the majority of them in the name of Islam, causing the deaths of more than 167,000 people?
Is it due to the regressive, theologically driven repression of human rights, other faiths and even the lives of the infidel that Islam condones and, in fact, demands? Is it because of its seventh-century notions about the human and civil rights of women, gays and other non-Muslim minorities? Or because it is an ideology that allows (and even encourages) stonings, beheadings, hangings and other manners of barbarism against infidel and apostate alike?
And, more relevantly, might negative views of Islam be found in the cult of death and desire for martyrdom central to the founding charter of Hamas, for instance, which encourages the soldiers of Allah to murder Jews wherever they are by reminding them that “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say ‘O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him’ ”?
Might any of those inconvenient facts about Islamism and its manifestation in any of the current-day conflicts on Islam’s “bloody borders” have more to do with whatever amount of Islamophobia actually exists than the 3,000-year-old Jewish self-determination intrinsic to Zionism? Of course, they do; but not, apparently, for the obsessed Professor Miller.
Having negative feelings about a religion that has spawned horrific and promiscuous violence in the modern world is not an irrational “phobia,” as Miller suggests is now directed at Islam. It is a logical conclusion one comes to after observation, historical truths and a reading of the Koran and other foundational texts of Islam, which command certain aberrant and barbaric behaviors of its adherents.
On the other hand, someone who is obsessively distrustful about “fanatical Zionists,” who believes that Israel is singularly a threat to world peace and who constructs elaborate, hallucinatory relationships of malicious, self-serving Jewish individuals and organizations attempting to subvert British society and undermine Islam might be thought of as irrational, phobic, even, in fact, anti-Semitic.
Miller’s purported zeal for protecting Muslims from the plague of his alleged Islamophobia is similar in intent to those who profess to be in allegiance with Palestinian solidarity—and for the same reason; namely, that in both instances the virtue-signaling narcissists who pretend to care about Muslims and Palestinians do so, not because they actually authentically care about the well-being of these particular groups, because it enables them in a socially acceptable, stealth manner to critique, slander, libel and hate Jews.
All the concern and intrigue engendered in Miller’s deranged, paranoic views show that the obvious and easy answers are not the ones the paranoid is likely to accept at face value. He is condemned by his nature to suffer in the labyrinthine schemes he uncovers.
“We are all sufferers from history,” concluded Hofstadter, “but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of “Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.”