28 February 2004

The "New Wave" of Anti-Semitism

Amidst Israel’s various actions in the Occupied Territories, and their widespread unpopularity, those who criticise Sharon’s ‘defence’ policy (whether it actually protects Israelis is debatable) find ourselves up against the current Israeli administration and its supporters’ tendency to label opponents ‘Anti-Semitic’. Since many of these critics, and a majority of suicide bombers, are Arabs, a Semitic race, themselves, this is a little odd. With reference to the conflict in Palestine, my preferred rule of thumb for the terms ‘Zionism’ and ‘Anti-Semitism’ is that if a person uses one, they are probably guilty of the other.

Since 11th September, there has been an enormous wave of criticism of Israel (often including the old Anti-Semitic theory of the Jew ruling America by proxy and many other timeless classics). This is probably partly due to Sharon’s extreme policies, justified by the war against terror, partly due to increased political awareness, especially of subjects where the Muslim world gets manhandled, but also, it seems to me, because of a shift in enemy. Before the Twin Towers fell, the world was still reeling from the Holocaust and the Second World War, shocked that such atrocities could take place in just twelve years. After the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre, we had a different image imprinted on our collective retina. The Al-Qaeda attacks are now the terrible event that “must never happen again”. This worries me – aside from the resulting war and slaughter of innocents being minute in comparison to the Third Reich, ‘terrorist’ is a vague and undefined enemy compared to well-documented extreme nationalist ideology, and the aspect of September 11th that must not be repeated is often seen in terms of a single attack on America, rather than simply the death of three thousand civilians. Even now the results of this shift are visible – a Greek composer describing Jews as the root of all evil, Sylvio Berlusconi’s defence of Mussolini, and a German Minister referring to Jews as a T├Ąterrasse (although he was taken out of context, Germany’s continued knee-jerk sacking of supposed Anti-Semites is reassuring), but also an increased willingness to point out Israel’s injustices and the evils of ‘Zionism’.

Zionism is, however, in its most literal sense, belief in a Jewish homeland. That it has ancient, often religious documentation to ‘justify’ its claim makes it similar to most other Nationalisms. This seems fairly reasonable, though, as is always the case with Nationalist movements, once they get hold of a nation they become in essence, a pack of maniacs. It happened in Germany, it happened (relatively slowly) in America, and I’m fairly certain it will happen in the states of Palestine and Kurdistan in the future. Zionism being essentially Jewish Nationalism, we should divide it into two in the same way as all history’s Nationalist movements: Phase 1 Nationalism is often left-wing and/or libertarian, usually rebelling against a divisive or imperialist system of oppression – as was the case in 19th Century Germany and Italy, post-war India, and, most notably, for the remaining two million of Europe’s Jews. Phase 2, however, almost invariably turns nasty, as was of course the case in Germany and Italy. I suppose that a new nation needs to assert itself and find its identity (a fundamental problem with Israel, which allocates citizenship by race, not residency), either that or once you’ve finished campaigning for your own country, you’re at a loose end as to what to do with it. Either way, the two sides of Nationalism are just as hard to differentiate as a gun to defend yourself and a gun to murder your next-door neighbour.

In all, the problem is not Zionism, the International Jew or Israeli Nazi-Fascists but violent expansionism. Most Jews are not violently expansionistic, but all violent expansionists are. That Anti-Semitism is slowly decaying as a social taboo, despite making righteous criticism of Israel’s misdemeanours easier, is a very worrying portent. Though we shouldn’t shy away from pointing out the wrongdoings of Israel or anyone else, it is vital we do everything we can, be it through political debate, art or literature, to assure that the Holocaust remains an important part of the world’s memory and isn’t usurped and robbed of its power by other events. However, Sharon’s unpopular unilateralism and policy of blaming fellow Semites, in promoting hostility towards the Jewish people, while justifying any actions through an event that devalues the worst part of his people’s history, does little to remedy it.