"New Anti-Semitism" – A Reality or A Misused Concept?

In the wake of the second Palestinian intifada (2000-4) and its brutal crush by Israeli military the criticism of Israel’s policies was no more confined to human rights oraganisations but reached out to wider circles of society with the considerable help of instantaneous and interactive technology such as satellite reporting and the internet. These circles included disaffected Muslims amd disillusioned Palestinians as well as Jewish people who seek peace with justice for the Palestinians. In parallel, Israel’s advocates, both in the States and Europe, increased their lobbying pressure on governments, politicians, and professional and religious bodies so as to divert any criticism of Israel’s expansionist policies. In Britain the recent example of such action was the pressure exerted on the Anglican Church to reject a decision taken by the General Synod "to divest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation such as Caterpillar. Inc." This ethical decision was attacked by Jewish leaders and the Chief Rabbi who wrote in the Jewish chronicle that "the Church has chosen to take a stand on the policies of the Middle East over which it has no influence , knowing that it will have the most adverse repercussion on Jewish Christian relation in Britain". Yet, the Jewish community in Britain is far from standing united behind the Chief Rabbi, or the Board of Jewish Deputies who seem to regard any public stance against Israel expansionism as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. The expanding body of Jews for Justice for Palestinians – JFJFP (of which I am one), includes, amongst others, prominent members of the Jewish community who "oppose Israeli policies that undermine the livelihood and human,civil and political rights of the Palestinian people". They believe that their activities and actions "are important in countering both rising anti-semitism and the claim that opposition to Israel’s destructive policies is in itself anti-semite".

In the course of my work with peace organisations in Britain I encountered , along with my colleagues, the phenomenon of reversed , or, "inside-out Antisemitism" – namely, being blamed for being anti-Semite by Jewish groups and individuals who could not tolerate the fact that a Jew, or an Israeli like myself, is prepared to advance the case of the Palestinians. Like many Jewish peace campaigners I am listed on a defamatory S.H.I.T list (Self-Hating Israel-Threatening jews) issued by an extremist Jewish website in the States (www.masada2000.org) which includes the most sickening slurs against thousands of jewish activists.

In the light of my experience I felt compelled to make the following points in an unsolicited submission to the All-Party Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism which was set up by the British Parliament in November 2005 :

  • – For historical reasons Anti-semitism is referred solely to the Jewish race. Yet, anti-semitism as a modern phenomenon may have direct links to, or implications for, other religious and ethnic groups. An inquiry into Anti-Semitism ought, therefore, to be concerned with the manifestations of hatred and abuses inflicted on all religions – i.e. Muslims, Christians Sikhs, etc. ,and consequently embrace a much wider agenda."
  • – In light of the British Government’s policy, and its strategy document – "Working together – Cooperation between Government and Faith Communities" – any working definition of Anti-Semitism should equally apply to other religions or ethnic groups. This will also fit in with the British Government’s plan to set up a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
  • – The all-embracing definition of Anti-Semitism, as well as that of other religiously-motivated abuses, should be tightened up in order to prevent it being exploited as an emotional term which may trigger outrage and highly-charged statements by some interest groups (e.g. the Jewish community and Israel’s lobbyists on one hand and Muslim groups on the the other hand). That is to say, that the definition of Anti-Semitism and of other religiously-motivated abuses ought to be closely related to the existing Race-Relations Act which has been long seen as an integral part of the British society and its legal and law-enforcement bodies
  • – The monitoring of Anti-Semitism and other religious-hatred incidents should be conducted in an objective and methodological way. Therefore, it has to be defined by precise categories referring to the type and severity of the abuse – i. e, hatred-inciting public utterances as compared with, malicious damage, arson and violent attacks against individuals. A public body should, therefore, be set up to monitor and record all religion-hatred abuses rather than to leave it to partisan groups which are set up by the community in question. Thus, reports published by the national media ought to refer to the (statistical) records issued by a public body rather than to inflammatory accounts issued by certain interest groups – which carry the danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy (an example for such an emotionally-charged statement could be found in the recent Leader of Jewish News proclaiming – "and while the numbers detailed differed slightly, the CST statistics for 2005 confirmed that in Britain incidents of Jew-hatred were indeed down… But let us not be deceived. However we seek to interpret the statistics, the reality is that the world and UK still suffer from the scourge of anti-semitism" (2nd February 2006). Moreover, religious-hatred incidents, such anti-Semitism, or Islamophobia, should be considered in relations to the rise in violence in the host society and not be regarded in isolation from the present political, social and economic circumstances (e.g. hostility towards asylum-seekers which may ignite hatred towards Muslim refugees ,and the volatile situation in the Middle-East which triggers hostility towards both Muslims and Jewish people).

In conclusion, the above points highlight an aspect which should be recognized and acknowledged by any pluralist democratic society – that is, a multi-racial and multi-faith society ought to have a coordinated and consistent policy whereby no ethnic or, religious, group, should be considered in isolation from other such groups. Thus, an All-party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism which singles out one particular religion may constitute an unwelcome precedent that may lead to undesirable, if not harmful, effects.

In the states, anti-Semitism has been used as an effective weapon against Israel’s critics who have invoked the concept of "new anti-Semitism" – "which they equate with criticism of Israel" (Mearsheimer and Walts London Review of Books -23 March). According to Mearsheimer and Walts , the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was listed by a recent survey of the American public (March 2005) as the second most powerful lobby in US. This body enjoys direct access to the corridors of power in Washington and together with the Anti Defamation League (ADL) ensures that anti-Semitism is kept alive on the agenda in spite the fact that a recent study (Spring 2004) conducted by the ADL and the Pew Research Center found that anti-semitism is in fact declining in Europe and that European holding much more negative views of Muslims than of Jews (Finkelstein Beyond Chutzpah, p.76). Finkelstein, whose book Beyond Chutzpah opened the ongoing debate on the link between "new anti-semitism" and the growing impact of the pro-Israel lobby in US and Europe, argues that" a distinction needs to be made between real anti-semitism and the instrumentalization of anti-Semitism by American (and other) Jewish elites …evidence of new anti-semitism comes mostly from organisations directly linked to Israel or having a material stake in inflating the findings of anti-Semitism".

The debate about the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby may raise the question of the existence, or rather non- existence, of a counteracting – lobby which may resist the unbalanced Middle East policies undertaken by US and Europe and their perceived bias against Muslims. The pan-Arab lobby which possesses the strong oil muscle( lastly used in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab- Israeli) seems to lose its unity and strength due to internal and external problems and the growing Middle-East interference by the US. It was left to a wide range of human rights and peace campaigning bodies – such Amnesty International, War on Want, Stop the War Coalition, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign as well as Muslims, and Jewish peace organisations – to make a stand against the relentless occupation of both Iraq and Palestine. A recent bulletin issued by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign calls for Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) as a non-violent response to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories . This includes personal boycott of Israel products enabling consumers to make ethical decision and avoid complicity with Israel’s colonial occupation; academic and cultural boycott which will refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation with Israeli institutions, and economic and trade sanctions with an immediate suspension of the EU-Israel Trade Agreement – which grants Israel many economic benefits not enjoyed by far less developed countries. Indeed, Article 2 of the Agreement states explicitly that the Agreement "shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles which constitute an essential element of this agreement". More recently, an Early Day Motion has been tabled by David Lepper MP demanding the imposition of sanctions. Likewise, MEPs from several countries are actively pressing for action from the EU Commission and Parliament.

In Summary, "high pressure diplomacy" in the form of BDS seems to be the only viable, non-violent answer to the growing political power of Israel’s apologists and to the misuse of anti-Semitism as a weapon for defending Israel’s illegal actions. Such a move is likely to bring israel back to the negotiation table rather than keep chanting the mantra "we have no partner for peace" while accusing its critics for being anti-Semite.