The Electronic Intifada – 3 June 2003
Anti-Semitism, like some plague-inducing virus, is “evolving” — or so warns Holocaust scholar Daniel J. Goldhagen in the American Jewish weekly The Forward. According to the author, the lessons of the Holocaust are slowly being forgotten and a “free-floating” globalised hatred of Jews is being spread via the Internet and television.
Goldhagen’s piece, “The Globalisation of anti-Semitism,” is one of the latest contributions to a growing body of reports by American and Israeli journalists and research centers purporting to show that a powerful new strain of racism is sweeping the globe. None of the authors is as disinterested as he claims: each hopes to silence criticism of both Israel and the muscular Zionist lobby groups within Washington that support Israel.
Goldhagen’s trick is to turn traditional Christian anti-Semitism on its head. Where once the anti-Semites accused the Jews of being the contagion carriers — harming their neighbours by spreading their uniquely “diseased” financial, professional and moral ideas — now it is the non-Jew who must be quarantined. We are all anti-Semites unless we can prove otherwise.
“Globalized anti-Semitism has become part of the substructure of prejudice in the world,” Goldhagen writes. “It is relentlessly international in its focus on Israel at the center of the most conflict-ridden region today, and on the United States as the world’s omnipresent power.”
The rise of Arab anti-Semitism, which has no obvious connection to historic European hatred of Jews, is explained away: “Essentially, Europe has exported its classical racist and Nazi anti-Semitism to Arab countries, which they then applied to Israel and Jews in general.”
The process, however, has not stopped there, according to Goldhagen. “Then the Arab countries re-exported the new hybrid demonology back to Europe and, using the United Nations and other international institutions, to other countries around the world. In Germany, France, Great Britain and elsewhere, today’s intensive anti-Semitic expression and agitation uses old tropes once applied to local Jews — charges of sowing disorder, wanting to subjugate others — with new content overwhelmingly directed at Jews outside their countries.”
The only way to prove one is not infected, Goldhagen implies, is by abstaining from any criticism of Israel and Zionist influences — Christian as well as Jewish — currently dominating Washington’s policy-making circles.
Goldhagen makes a solitary concession: that “fair” criticism can be made of Israeli policies, although who is to be the arbiter is left unclear. Even were genuine peace in the Middle East to be achieved, he believes “anti-Semitism’s deep roots in the ever more globalizing consciousness, and its tenacity and plasticity, make its dissipation unlikely.”
There is little basis for any of Goldhagen’s conclusions. Research consistently shows that for many years the most insidious form of anti-Semitism has been directed not against Jews but Muslims. In the wake of September 11, that is truer than ever, with unthinking stereotypes of “the Arab” promoted in the mainstream media, Hollywood films and much of the language used by the White House.
A recent 139-page report by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) found a disturbing rise in hate crimes against American Arabs since 9/11. The first such report produced on this scale, the ADC document notes 700 violent attacks against Americans perceived to be Arabs or Muslims in the the first nine weeks after September 11, including several murders. It also records at least 80 cases of officials illegally removing passengers from planes and more than 800 cases of employment discrimination against Arabs.
A chapter of the report also identifies regular anti-Muslim and anti-Arab incitement in the American media and among senior politicians. Just imagine, for example, the outcry at the media headline “Why is Islam a threat to America and the West?” had it been applied to Judaism.
The success of Zionist academics and journalists in winning a disproportionate share of world attention for the plight of the Jewish Diaspora, thus eclipsing the concerns of the Arab Diaspora, is proof in itself that global Jewry today enjoys a far more protected status than its inferior Semitic cousin.
Nonetheless, it is accepted without question by scholars like Goldhagen and by policymakers in the US capital that eternal vigilance is needed in the battle to defeat anti-Semitism. Such an assumption recently led to the Orwellian double-think of senior Republican senator Rick Santorum. He announced in April that he would be introducing “ideological diversity” legislation to empower officials to cut funding to any college that allows its staff or students to criticise Israel openly.
The urgent need for legislation to protect Jews on campuses across America was justified by the Zionist pressure group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which reported a 24 per cent rise in anti-Semitic incidents at US colleges last year. Even allowing for the fact that the ADL includes any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, this meant there were a mere 21 incidents in all of the United States in 2002.
One need only look at the list of Washington’s most powerful lobby groups — from the ADL and American Israel Public Action Committe (AIPAC) to the Zionist Organisation of America and the American Jewish Committee — to understand that the Jewish community and Israel have a forceful voice on Capitol Hill safeguarding their interests.
There are no equally influential Arab lobbying groups, which may explain why attacks on Muslims and the increasingly draconian administrative measures being taken against Arabs and Muslims in the US and Europe go largely unreported and thus unprotested.
What does get reported — repeatedly — is a supposed huge surge in anti-Semitic attacks around the world. Conferences and think-tanks endlessly draw our attention to the rise in the number of incidents. Few of these authorities agree on numbers, however. For instance, a meeting organised by the United Nations and Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris this month said 1,300 anti-Semitic “acts” had been identified in France alone since 2001, while Israeli researchers backed by the ADL identified 311 “serious incidents” globally last year.
Such glaring disparities stem from the inherent difficulty of defining an “anti-Semitic act.” The Wiesenthal Centre apparently includes almost anything — from a knife attack, to a journalist’s vitriol against Ariel Sharon, to the mere title of the Electronic Intifada website, which the Wiesenthal Centre cited as evidence — along with the blatherings of American neo-Nazi organizations and existence of some tasteless but low budget video games apparently produced by teenagers in the Arab world — in a report on anti-Semitism’s spread through the Internet.
Israeli researchers from Tel Aviv University tightened the definition a little, admitting that there had been only 56 incidents involving a weapon around the world last year — six more attacks than that of the previous year.
Professor Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University’s Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism did at least admit there was a methodological problem in calculating anti-Semitism in quantative terms. “I cannot say with total confidence that every incident reported in these figures was motivated by anti-Semitism,” adding that a report of a monument damaged in the Netherlands “turned out to be nothing more than a homeless person looking for shelter for the night.”
Unfortunately, however, whatever the definitions used, the same hyperbolic conclusions are drawn. Prof. Porat observed that most of those responsible for anti-Semitic attacks were Muslims, inadvertently suggesting that the motive was not the “age-old hatred” of Jews supposedly characteristic of Europeans, but rather, a more modern phenomenon: Muslims retaliating against fellow Jewish citizens for Israel’s military strategies against the Palestinians.
Disturbing though this trend may be, it clearly is not evidence of the return of traditional European anti-Semitism — whatever Goldhagen and the other prophets of the new anti-Semitism claim. It suggests, rather, that in the “new Europe” extreme passions are being unleashed among Arab immigrant populations by the increasingly violent and brutal policies of Ariel Sharon in the occupied territories. Jews are a symbolic and easy target for such attacks.
In other words, a microcosmic re-enactment of the Middle East conflict is being played out by a few Arabs — remember, just 56 armed attacks last year, according to the Israeli study — in cities like London and Paris. These Muslims, however deluded, believe they are restoring an honour to an Arab or Islamic nation that they feel has been humiliated by Israel’s violence and cruelty towards the Palestinians. They feel they represent the weak striking out at a group perceived as strong. The success of Zionist lobby groups in America and the international community’s failure to compel Israel to respect and obey international law only reinforce the perception of Jewish strength in the face of Arab impotence.
Nevertheless, Prof. Porat’s colleague Dr. Avi Becker of the World Jewish Congress sees such incidents in more apocalyptic terms. “I don’t think it would be right to speak in terms of a new Holocaust at this stage, but there is no doubt that Jewish communities are at war.”
Dr. Becker was also keen to mix criticism of Israel into his pot. Apparently forgetting the toll of six million Jews in Nazi death camps, he said: “The rise of anti-Semitism in Western Europe comes in the disguise of freedom of expression. As far as I am concerned, this is the worst type of anti-Semitism.”
In equally deceiving style, the Wiesenthal Centre at its conference tried to link the attacks by Muslims with the Jew hatred of 1930s Europe. The centre’s Rabbi Marvin Hier said: “These are critical times. Never since the end of the Second World War have we witnessed such a proliferation of anti-Semitism.”
To underline his point he added: “There is nothing new about the oldest hatred. Some will hide behind what Israel is doing … but those are just excuses, that’s a ruse.”
The diagnosis from Goldhagen and others is that we, the non-Jews, are doomed to our age-old racism. It’s in our genes: we are born in thrall to our prejudice.
Where does such a thesis lead? In another time and place, it may — like other philosophies of uniqueness and disease that preceded it — take us along a route that leads to the horrible gas chambers of a warped imagination.