Modern-day anti-Semitism: Overcoming the lies on the right and left

Anti-Semitism is a many-heads Hydra that doesn’t care at all about how awful the past has been. It’s alive and well now.

Swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on buildings in Amsterdam on Feb. 22, 2019. Credit: European Jewish Press.
Swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on buildings in Amsterdam on Feb. 22, 2019. Credit: European Jewish Press.
Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that when it comes to anti-Semitism, there’s a strange kind of associated optimism: Once the evil embodied by the Jewish people is eliminated, harmony will be finally re-established. This so-called “optimism” has never, in so many incarnations, shown itself more explicitly: When the state of the Jews—today the very essence of the Jewish life in the world—is destroyed, ended, all the world’s problems will be solved. The Middle East will be quiet and stable; the world will know a mythical universal peace between all the religions; the Muslims will be happy and therefore more relaxed towards the West. Terrorism will dry up, and the security and stability that the United Nations and the European Union have promised (yet never obtained) will be finally with us.

Never has this illusion been so badly crushed with Israel in the picture. Anti-Semitism, therefore, has devoted its new struggle to the worldwide destruction of the Jewish people—a sophisticated choice that involves a huge media campaign, an elaborated conceptual way of delegitimizing the mere existence of nation, together with the use of terrorist violence, all wrapped in the ideology of human rights. Not their rights, of course—the rights of those in a country that was nearly wiped out a few years after the Holocaust by neighboring Arab armies—but the rights of those who were waiting on the sidelines to see that happen.

The delegitimization of the State of Israel is the main core of any form of anti-Semitism today. Even the most traditional demonization of the Jews, with its blood libels and age-old anti-Semitic tropes, finds its way to a modern Israeli-inspired narrative. Think about the chutzpah of Israeli doctors, nurses, soldiers, firemen, first responders and disaster-relief teams that leave the country and fly far away to help wherever an earthquake, tsunami or, just recently, a cyclone affecting swaths of Africa, hits the local population. Image going over to disaster sites with the purpose of stealing human organs they then will sell. The Israeli soldiers, as the Swedish daily paper Aftonbladet wrote, kill young Palestinians purposefully to steal and sell their organs.

Anti-Semitism has devoted its new struggle to the worldwide destruction of the Jewish people.

It’s hard to imagine that someone with a rational mind will believe this. Still, it’s just a short jump between thinking this and affirming it, as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) does in its resolutions, that on the border of Gaza the soldiers are not defending their citizens from a cruel terrorist attacks, but just attacking innocent bystanders and demonstrators, committing war crimes even when attacked by thousands of Hamas organized who, with evident use of violence, try to invade their country. This is the attitude expressed by the Council when it dedicates 76 out of 331 special resolutions to Israel, included the last suggested by Amnesty International, while only 76 deal with Syria after its regime is responsible for killing 400,000, 20 with Myanmar and 18 with Sudan.

Genocide, colonialism, apartheid when it comes to the Palestinians … This is the flag of modern anti-Semitism. Jews are the modern Nazis; therefore, their state doesn’t deserve to exist. It’s a modernization of blood libel and conspiracy theories—a belief that the Jews are “a cancer that must be exterminated,” like Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says.

Nowadays we can say that this kind of anti-Semitism has become more and more massive. The 90 percent of the European Jews who suffered some form of violence, either verbal or physical, in the past months say that the conceptual attack that they meet the most is the “Holocaust inversion.” This makes clear how the anti-Semite attack focuses first and foremost on Israel as the great persecutor, murderer, ethnic cleanser, human-rights violator, apartheid state. The Israelis are the Nazis, the Palestinians the Jews, and the Jews, in general, are Nazi proxies. Therefore, they are all delegitimized. The second main aggression: The Jews use the memory of the Holocaust for advantages. It’s interesting that according to a poll by CNN in the February, 30 percent of people interviewed never heard or know nothing about the Shoah.

Several years ago, Natan Sharansky offered a good guide to understand where anti-Semitism against Israel can be with no doubts detected. He called it the three “D”s: delegitimization, demonization, double standards. Think about the guidelines of the European Union, where the trade and deals with the so-called “occupied territories” are sanctioned. It rationalizes its diplomatic warfare against Israel, using the BDS as the main vehicle. This is because the BDS can easily conceal the eliminationist intentions while presenting itself in the travesty of a democratic movement for human rights.

Their way of conducting the delegitimization struggle about the existence itself of the State of Israel has become a sophisticated machine of supposed legitimization. In the name of freedom of criticism and speech, European and American democrats on the extreme left have found their way to the microphones, to social media, to all media in the Democratic West. An Israel-hater like British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn could become the prime minister of the United Kingdom. In the United States, for the first time in history, a Democratic member of Congress, Ilhan Omar, can profess her hate for the Jews and Israel without receiving moral or political official blame. She is actually accusing the accusers of having been criticized because she is Muslim. She proclaims the right to criticism with the old mantra: “Mine is a legitimate criticism, and anti-Semitism has nothing to do with what I said.”

Genocide, colonialism, apartheid … This is the flag of modern anti-Semitism.

The historical, social and cultural reasons for this new anti-Semitism are connected to a strange mass of events coming together. On one side is an economical and cultural crisis of the West that invites the masses to publicly express their unhappiness, misery and also their ignorance. A new tribalism is invading the mass culture of today in the form of rule of moral subjectivism—an oblivion of rules born in the three-millennial construction from Rome and Jerusalem to the norms of convenience. This has already happen in different times when the masses were the protagonists, on the right and on the left, manipulating the interpretation of history, and describing their narrative with a simplified language, poor and violent where good and bad are again in a vertical fight. According to these simplifications, violent political flags become legitimated by a corruption, imperialism, exploitation, colonialism.

While the other side of the coin, the contemporary Magna Carta, the mother of modern language and media popularity—here is the good sense of human rights, the religion of our time. They become as a matter of fact a flag for any partisan struggle against real or pretended violators, very often forgetting or not taking in any account the real evident violators. The most blatant example of omission is about the crimes in the entire Muslim world, where women are oppressed to the ground, where differences of sexual and opinion differences are punished with torture and death, where terrorism is considered the fight for freedom. All this is forgiven, forgotten, while the State of the Jewish people, Israel, is condemned.

It’s worth it to be very direct; the reaction to this situation is weak, apologetic, confused and mostly wrong. Yes, there is a commendable effort in the educational and social arenas to keep the memory of the Shoah alive. But commendable as it can be, it’s not a solution to anti-Semitism of knowledge of Jewish history. Israel is the center of the attack, not the memory of the Holocaust. The logic consequence is that all Jews are considered like the fifth column of this criminal, colonial country.

Therefore, the best institutional attempt to contain the wave of anti-Semitism is by expanding the acceptance of the definition of anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (HRA) and to implement the legal measures against BDS. It’s also important that the new appointment, as in Germany, of commissioners that check and combat anti-Semitism, as it is to improve security measures and efforts to detect nests of anti-Semitic criminality on the Internet.

But the spirit of the fight is not convincing. What is missing is the knowledge that to defend the Jews, you must defend, first and most Israel, and that Israel is the ultimate defense for the Jews. Israel makes an incredible difference compared to the past. Because of its existence, the Jewish people have a refuge and a clear defender. Everybody must feel this. It’s important to encourage Jews and others to visit as part of university courses, school trips, conferences to gain a real image of Israel, its people, its problems, its soldiers, its skills. The delegitimization of Israel must have an address: If it comes from Iran or the Muslim world, and most of all, from the Palestinians—and even when it come from the politics of international institutions and of NGOs, their nature, their crimes against humanity, their misdemeanors about women, gays, freedom of thought, their relations with extreme and even terrorist groups and ideologies must be revealed. The struggle must be brought to their field, and with the help of Israel this can be done.

Israel is the center of the attack, not the memory of the Holocaust.

Whoever is interested in having good relations with Israel must defend its Jews. It has happened. We see how in Hungary, the anti-Semite political party Jobbik has been marginalized by the government of Viktor Orbán, which is friendly to Israel. So, too, is the far-right party Golden Dawn in Greece. In Saudi Arabia, as in Kuwait and in the Gulf, Sunni countries are interested in new diplomatic relations with Israel; Israeli athletes can even sing “Hatikvah” and go up the podium when they win.

We must make the struggle contemporary. Anti-Semitism is a many-heads Hydra that doesn’t care at all about how awful the past has been. It’s alive and well now.

Of course, it’s commendable to keep teaching the history of the persecutions in the schools, seeing Auschwitz, visiting Yad Vashem, listening to our beloved Holocaust survivors, who are leaving us one by one. It’s terrible that we’ll miss them so much. But we must focus on the next step.

Anti-Semitism must be precisely located where it is—namely, in the hate against Israel. A tough, well-aimed new kind of campaign must be conceived to combat this, teaching proponents about its history and propaganda. Explain that now that Israel exists, the Jewish live; we will stop them with an action and strength.

Will this destroy anti-Semitism? Probably not. But for the time being, I want to see the lies overcome on the left and the right. I want to skip all the speeches, overcome the old structures and help bring the struggle towards a new direction and path.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Translated by Amy Rosenthal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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