A 5-roll duct-tape alert:

spiked | What’s behind the ‘new anti-Semitism’?

So, who is an anti-Semite today? It is very difficult to answer that question, since virtually no one in the West is prepared to acknowledge that they dislike Jewish people or Jewishness. Yet some commentators insist that we are confronted with a new phenomenon – ‘The New Anti-Semitism’ – which is apparently thriving and becoming increasingly menacing.F
. . .

Stephens’ call for moral judgements on what people really mean can only encourage an inquisitorial climate. Yet he does highlight a genuine problem with public debate today. We live in a world where speech is heavily policed (and yet you yids can’t figure out why you’re hated?), and where people are actually discouraged from saying what they genuinely believe. People habitually censor themselves in anticipation of the charge that they are defying some contemporary speech code, whether formal or informal (You see, Schlomo, we Whites didn’t have speech-codes before Jews came to our shores). Increasingly, fear of being told ‘You can’t say that!’ is giving rise to a culture of self-censorship. At a time when calling someone ‘old’ instead of ‘elderly’ is likely to lead to charges of insensitivity, or using the word blind or handicapped can cause a storm of controversy, people have become careful indeed about what they say and how they say it.

Matters are even more complicated when it comes to anti-Semitism. Since the Holocaust, and especially in recent decades, very few in the West have openly expressed anti-Jewish sentiments. Indeed, in some European countries it is illegal to make anti-Semitic comments, and even where it is not illegal, there are powerful cultural barriers against holding or giving voice to such views. The marginalisation and even criminalisation of public expressions of anti-Semitism are in part understandable responses to the tragic events of the Second World War. They are also a consequence of what we might call the sanctification of the Holocaust.

In recent years, the Holocaust has been elevated to the status of a secular truth and a moral compass. At a time of great moral uncertainty in the West, the Holocaust increasingly serves as a unique symbol of evil, and thus atoning for it is seen as an act of virtue. There are Holocaust Memorial Days, through which governments communicate their key values, including multiculturalism, anti-bullying and the protection and promotion of self-esteem. There are more and more Holocaust museums and memorials that seek to remind us what can happen when we lose our humanity. The Holocaust is now taught as part of citizenship or religious studies classes in numerous schools, and is discussed in a growing number of ethical and moral schoolbooks aimed at children.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this transformation of the Holocaust into a secular sacred symbol underpins the West’s entire moral universe today. That is another reason why, even by the standards of the prevailing climate of self-censorship, explicit anti-Semitic pronouncements are relatively so rare. This symbolisation of the Holocaust also helps to explain some of what lies behind today’s ‘new  anti-Semitism’.

Is the genie out of the bottle?

. . .

Before answering that question, it is important to note that the genie may indeed have escaped from the bottle. The sanctification of the Holocaust, the institutionalisation of this horrific event as a new moral absolute to guide our societies, has had the predictable effect of breeding cynicism, and in some cases giving rise to contestation over the meaning of the Holocaust. Consider Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent sponsorship of a conference questioning the Holocaust: that is only the most striking illustration of an attempt to hit out at the West by undermining the moral meaning of the Holocaust, an historic episode that is now tied so closely to Western governments’ sense of moral purpose and vision (Tear it down! NOW!!!).

Even more significantly, some have sought to divest Israel from any association with the moral authority of the Holocaust. Critics of Israel, some unconsciously, others consciously, try to turn the symbolic authority of the Holocaust against Israel. So opponents of Israel frequently accuse the Israeli government of acting like the Nazis. Respectable media outlets in the West now regularly claim that Israel is engaged in ethnic cleansing, genocide, crimes against humanity, all of which invite comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. Some critics liken Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, to Adolf Hitler. Israeli or Jewish complicity in Israel’s war crimes is said by some to be even more comprehensive than the complicity of the German people with the crimes of the Nazis. Some talk of the ‘Nazification’ of Israeli society, suggesting a role reversal, whereby Jews become the twenty-first century equivalent of their former oppressors.

. . .

Demonising Israel (or: Those were . . . other . . . kids . . . bombing Lebanon last summer)

In a confused and confusing debate, where much of the focus is on what people apparently ‘secretly mean’ and where there is an emerging competition over the Holocaust, it can be difficult to get to the truth. However, as a rule of thumb, it is worth judging people by what they say and do rather than what we think they mean. The criticism of Israel should be interpreted as just that. To criticise Israel, even to call into question the legitimacy of the Jewish state, is not, in itself, an act of anti-Semitism. Even the harshest denunciation of Israel can be inspired by motives that have nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It is certainly difficult to characterise the arguments put forward by someone like American commentator Tony Judt as anti-Semitic. Therefore, it is possible to draw the conclusion that some wield the charge of anti-Semitism against their opponents in order to defend Israel from legitimate criticism.

However, something very peculiar is emerging in the debate about Israel today, on both sides of the Atlantic. Increasingly, Israel is depicted as the biggest threat to world peace and stability. The Walt and Mearsheimer article not only suggested that the pro-Israel lobby had more or less hijacked Washington’s foreign policy; it also implicitly called into question the loyalty of American Jews to America and its interests. These days, you do not have to look very far before finding someone who is convinced of the omnipotence of the American Jewish lobby. In recent weeks colleagues of mine on both the left and right of the political spectrum have tried to convince me that were it not for the Jewish lobby there would be no war in Iraq (egads!).

This view of the American Jewish lobby as an omnipotent global conspiracy springs from a growing tendency to demonise – not just criticise – Israel. Israel is represented as a malevolent society sui genesis. It alone faces regular demands for academic and commercial boycotts. It is frequently described as the greatest threat to global stability, and portrayed as an intensely racist and barbaric society. Once upon a time, leftists viewed Israel as a guard-dog of imperialism; these days they are more likely to discuss it as the very seat of the Empire. Whatever the motivations behind this demonisation of Israel, it does seem that Israel is judged by a double standard by a rising number of influential thinkers and activists.

For a variety of reasons, Israel has come to bear the cross of the West’s sins. In Europe in particular, there is a powerful sense of weariness towards Israel. ‘If only it would go away, then we would have a chance for peace in the Middle East’, is the fantasy view of some European officials and writers. Others simply resent Israel’s claims to special status on the basis of its links with the Holocaust – which is why there is a growing trend to turn the moral power of the Holocaust against Israel. The West’s estrangement from Israel today does not mean it is ready to rethink its transformation of the Holocaust into a new moral symbol (good! Us “Nazis” were afraid for a moment that you had come to your senses!). All that it means is that the West increasingly embraces the ‘good Jews’ who were the victims of the Nazis, while distancing itself from the ‘bad Jews’ who are alive and kicking in Israel.

In today’s climate of self-censorship, moral uncertainty and competition over the Holocaust, it does not look as if the genie of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ will return to the bottle anytime soon.

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Explore posts in the same categories: blood and soil for me but not for thee, Chutzpathetic, jew'accuse!, oi the poisecution

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