To combat anti-Semitism, one must first define it

Will the heads of state gathering in Jerusalem for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum be able to come together to fight resurgent Jew-hatred? I fear the answer will be no.

Source: Yad Vashem.
Source: Yad Vashem.
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.

An unprecedented conference will begin on Jan. 23 (an official dinner will take place the night before) in Jerusalem—one in which world leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and French President Emmanuel Macron, will confer on how to defeat the scourge of anti-Semitism.

The conference, titled, “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Anti-Semitism,” marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. But will the memory of the Shoah and indignation at the modern resurgence of Jew-hatred be enough to unite these world leaders?

Securing agreement on how to combat anti-Semitism is a serious problem because it depends on reaching agreement regarding what anti-Semitism actually is.

First, there is the anti-Semitism that comes from the political right, Jew-hatred’s traditional wellspring over the past century and the source of the Shoah. Just like the Nazi fascists did, white supremacist groups today continue to preach the subjugation, or worse, of those who do not belong to the white Aryan family.

Then there is the ghastly variety of anti-Semitism that developed under communism, which led to the widespread persecution of Jews in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. The late communist leader subscribed to grand anti-Jewish conspiracy theories that accused the Jews of complicity in the crimes of capitalism and imperialism—accusations widely propagated to this day, often directed against Israel. The soon-to-be-former leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is but the latest politician to propound such tropes.

Finally, there is a third type of anti-Semitism, cited recently by the leader of Italy’s Northern League Party (Lega Nord), Matteo Salvini: Islamic anti-Semitism, imported to Europe by Muslim immigrants. This kind of anti-Semitism, while extremely important and having global reach, is generally under-reported because it is considered to be politically incorrect.

In 2002, then-E.U. President Romano Prodi asked the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance conduct an investigation into the spread of anti-Semitism in Europe. The embarrassing results of this investigation, however, were hidden, until the Financial Times dug them up.

Since then, hundreds of surveys have been conducted on the subject, and all demonstrate the same fact: The majority of Muslim immigrants to Europe harbor anti-Semitic views. According to a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League in 2015, in France 49 percent of Muslims were found to hold anti-Semitic views compared to 17 percent of the general population, while in Germany the figures were 56 percent to 16 percent, and in the United Kingdom, 57 percent to 12 percent.

Some analysts and commentators argue that Muslim anti-Semitism is not properly defined, that the prejudice these studies are revealing is really political anti-Zionism. But those cognizant of the public discourse about Jews within Islam know that the superposition of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is a fundamental element of Islamic education in much of the world.

Terrorist attacks targeting Jews in Europe have been carried out by Muslims acting in the name of jihadist ideology. After killing three children and a teacher as they were entering their school in Toulouse, France, in 2012, Mohammed Merah declared he had killed Jewish children as the Israelis killed Palestinian ones.

To those who claim one can be pro-Jewish and anti-Zionist, my advice is to adhere to Nathan Sharansky’s famous “three Ds” criterion. According to Sharansky’s criterion, Delegitimization, Demonization and Double Standards are what differentiate anti-Semitism from legitimate criticism of Israeli policy.

Anti-Semitism is “delegitimizing” the State of Israel with any of the mountain of canards that have been piled against it (i.e., apartheid state, Palestinian genocide, diminishing the uniqueness of the Shoah); “demonizing” it as Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet did by accusing the Israel Defense Forces of killing young Palestinians to harvest their organs; and applying “double standards” to it, for example by condemning Israel’s so-called occupation while ignoring those of Turkey, China, Morocco, Russia and so on.

Anti-Semitism is not just another hatred

Strangely, some in the Jewish world deny the obvious uniqueness of anti-Semitism; the upcoming leaders’ conference Jerusalem must avoid attempts to dilute anti-Semitism into just another hatred or bias. Some groups on the left dissolve anti-Semitism in an intersectional cauldron, speaking of the need to fight “all the politics of hate” and demanding that whoever seeks to fight anti-Semitism be part of the great intersectional alliance against white oppression and colonialism, while supporting open borders, feminism, transgender activism, etc.

In the end, this political platform slips into an uncertain terrain where violence, terrorism and the culture of political correctness blur the contours of evil and immorality and deny the uniqueness of the persecution of Jews—and perhaps even of the Shoah.

Throughout my career as a journalist and a member of parliament, I have been a proponent of many liberal causes. But anti-Semitism has its own unique dimensions: the Jewish people have been persecuted for thousands of years. It is the sole people whose elimination has been scientifically planned and pursued, and that has risen again thanks to its spiritual strength and its strong beliefs—beliefs which birthed modern thought.

Moreover, Israel stakes its future on its self-determination as a democratic state, and unlike many other democratic nations today is able to defend itself, by itself, in the territory where it existed already 2,000 years ago.

Anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Islamophobia. To fight anti-Semitism, one has first to understand that it is unique, as the Jewish people are.

British author Douglas Murray reports in his book The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity that in 2016, Atlantic Magazine posed the question, “Are Jews white?” Today, this strange question is everywhere: Should Jews be regarded as a part of the oppressive hierarchy that has been targeted by the intersectional movement?

Murray draws our attention to the answer found in a leaflet distributed at Illinois University, which claimed that on top of the 99 percent of the oppressed people in the world there is one percent that is white. And ending white privilege, the leaflet argued, begins with ending Jewish privilege.

Is this anti-Semitism? Certainly. Should the world leaders gathering in Jerusalem this week target this way of viewing the Jews? Certainly. But I am afraid they will not.

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.

This is an edited version of an article first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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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