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The new normal for Israel and Jews

Netanyahu’s visit to Oman was symbolic of Israel’s normalization in the Arab world, even as anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are becoming normalized in the West.

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with then-Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman, Oct. 26, 2018. Credit: Israeli Prime Minister's Office.
Then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with then-Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman, Oct. 26, 2018. Credit: Israeli Prime Minister's Office.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a state visit last month to the Sultanate of Oman. Color me skeptical about scenarios discussed in the media in which Oman was seeking to aid the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians or to serve as a back channel to Iran, as it did during President Barack Obama’s effort to broker the Iran nuclear deal. But the significance of the visit wasn’t limited to whether or not it would lead to some new breakthrough on either front.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said on Oct. 26. Credit: Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

Rather, the importance of the event was in its symbolism. What matters is that it helped make clear to Israel’s enemies that the effort to isolate the Jewish state is failing.

One of the most underreported stories in the region is the way Israel’s government has succeeded in breaking down barriers to Asia, Africa and even in the Arab world. Netanyahu has been something of a world traveler in the last few years, making two visits to Africa and journeying to a wide array of nations and international conferences.

The point of these visits is not just to further Israel’s global economic ties. Rather, it helps to advance the process of normalizing Israel’s standing in a world in which powerful forces still seek to treat it as a pariah state shunned by enlightened opinion leaders in the West, as well as its Arab and Muslim foes.

Israel has a long way to go in this regard as incidents involving the banning of Israeli athletes and artists continue to occur. And though the governments of most Sunni Arab states now look to Israel as a vital strategic ally to help defend them against the predatory ambitions of Iran for regional hegemony, such a stance remains deeply unpopular among their populations, where the embrace of anti-Semitic stereotypes is nearly universal.

Yet Netanyahu being honored by an Arab monarch is heady stuff for Israelis, who chafe at the way their tiny democracy is judged by a double standard not applied to any other nation in the world. They long for the respect that others get as a matter of course. When the international community is made to see that Israel’s place among the nations is secure, it undermines the hate that is the foundation of the 100-year-old war on Zionism.

But the process of normalization works both ways. Even as Israel has made great progress in gaining recognition, the forces of intolerance are continuing their own insidious efforts to normalize both anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the West.

It is no small irony to note that even as Israel’s head of government is treated royally  in the Arab world, Jews now fear to walk the streets of the great cities of enlightened Western nations—Paris, Berlin, neighborhoods in London—with apparel or jewelry that highlights their Jewish identity.

Just as chilling is way those who demonize Jews are excused for their despicable conduct. In Europe, leaders such as Jeremy Corbyn, the head of Britain’s Labor Party, and many of his followers make no effort to disguise their hatred for Israel and Jews.

Here in the United States, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is widely embraced by African-Americans, despite his ongoing advocacy of the worst kind of hate-mongering towards Jews. Nor did it stop him from being accorded a place of honor at singer Aretha Franklin’s funeral, where he shared the stage and a handshake with former President Bill Clinton. So are his supporters in the left-wing Women’s March that has organized some of the biggest anti-Trump demonstrations of the last two years. Nor has this fact deterred a major enterprise like Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream company from publicly supporting this group.

More troubling is the way both Ilan Omar and Rashida Tlaib—women who made history as the first Somali American and first Palestinian American to be elected to Congress this week—are excused for their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel positions.

Nor are members of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine held accountable for their positions, which are steeped in traditional memes of Jew-hatred. That also applies to its Jewish counterpart, Jewish Voice for Peace, which trades in its own form of the same.

The problem is that ant-Zionism—the movement to destroy Israel—has been largely normalized among Western elites as just one more legitimate opinion about which respectable people can agree to disagree. But what that seemingly reasonable approach to a contentious issue ignores is that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic. One cannot argue that you can deny rights to Jews that you wouldn’t think of denying to anyone else without being guilty of bias against Jews.

While the great theorists of modern Zionism, like Theodor Herzl, were right about the great need to create a Jewish state, they were wrong to believe that it would solve the age-old problem of anti-Semitism. They naively believed that once Jews were no longer homeless or powerless, Jew-hatred would be a thing of the past. But the problem is that Israel became the stand-in for the conspiratorial and religious myths that were the very foundations of anti-Semitism. Instead of despising the Jews for being homeless or standing aloof from the world, Jew-haters now seize upon Israel as the embodiment of everything that wrongs them. The virus of hate has successfully morphed from a focus on Jews as a group to one on the Jewish nation. And when hate towards Israel is treated as either nothing out of the ordinary or an acceptable stance, Jews should tremble.

That is why a policy of zero tolerance towards those who adopt such views—even if they are allies of many Jews on political issues, such as opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump—is the only viable strategy for confronting anti-Jewish hate.

So while we are right to be encouraged by Netanyahu’s foreign successes, as long as anti-Zionism is considered normal, or at least defensible, rather than an odious form of prejudice, neither Israel nor the Jews can hope to entirely squelch the outbreaks of hate, in both its violent and non-violent forms.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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