Today, at Ben-Gurion University, Prof. Colin Shindler, professor of Israel
Studies at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) at the University of
London will deliver a lecture on the topic of his new book, Israel and the
Traditional anti-Semitism and anti- Zionism have come from
the far Right in Europe, particularly the fascist and racist movements, from the
Hitlerist supporters of Oswald Mosley back in the 1930s through to the National
Front movements of John Tyndall in the UK, Marie le Penn in France, and
neighboring European countries.
While these sentiments have never been
absent from some groups, it is fair to say that the period from the 1950s
through to the 1980s were relatively calm, not least because of a post-World War
II revulsion for everything that had occurred in the name of the Third
The fascist movements have not disappeared, and there has even
been a renaissance of right-wing hatred, focused more on anti-immigrant
xenophobia than on the Jews, but they are well monitored by local police and
community authorities, and do not pose a major threat for the Jewish communities
in these countries.
But what has emerged during the past two decades has
been an outburst of anti-Israel sentiment associated with the intellectual Left,
those groups who in the past identified with Israel as an embattled minority and
who identified with the suffering of the Jews during the first generation after
the end of the war.
This has changed dramatically in recent years, and
while the focus is on Israel, as contrasted with the wider Jewish community, it
is not always easy to distinguish or define a clear borderline between the
Shindler’s new book looks at the struggle between Communism and
Zionism from the October Revolution to today. He attempts to understand the
extent to which such antagonism is a result of opposition to the policies of
successive Israeli governments or due to a resurgence of
His answer is much more complex, arguing that the new
generation of the European Left was more influenced by the decolonization
movement than by wartime experiences, which led it to favor the Palestinian
cause in the post- 1967 period. Thus the Israeli drive to settle the West Bank
after the Six Day War enhanced an already existing attitude, but did not cause
This ties in with another important book which was published a year
ago by leading British lawyer, Anthony Julius, entitled: Trials of the Diaspora:
A History of Anti-Semitism in England. This magnum opus on the history of
anti-Semitism in Britain goes far back, well beyond the recent activities of the
“new” anti-Semites or those of the mid-20th-century fascist
He traces the roots of anti-Semitism back to the aristocratic
culture of the 18th and 19th centuries (where a great deal of latent
anti-Semitism still has its roots) and discusses the way that this has played
out over the centuries through popular culture, literature, politics and in
other walks of life.
The major difference between anti- Semitism then and
anti-Semitism of now is, of course, the association with the State of Israel. It
is far too easy to associate all forms of anti-Israelism with an inbred
anti-Semitism. Too easy and too false.
There is real and legitimate
criticism of Israeli government policies in relation to the continuation of
occupation, the construction of settlements and the refusal to move towards a
peace agreement which would grant the Palestinians the same rights of
sovereignty and independence that the Jewish state enjoys. And, as hard as it is
for so many Israelis to accept, there are many critics of the Israeli
government, in fact the majority, who can in no way be labeled as anti-Semitic
and who are adopting positions which are shared by at least half of the Israeli
Equally however, one cannot ignore the fact that
criticism of Israel has provided an opportunity for many latent anti-Semites,
those who felt uncomfortable at expressing their racist sentiments during the
immediate post-War decades, of coming out of the woodwork and latching on to
popular anti- Israel sentiment as a convenient, and “more acceptable,” means of
expressing their loathsome views.
What is particularly disturbing in this
debate, when it gets completely out of control, is when the protagonists begin
to invoke metaphors relating to the Third Reich and the Nazi regime to express
their sentiments. This has occurred on the extreme Left, including among some
intellectual circles, with comparisons between the Israeli occupation of the
West Bank and the treatment of Jews during World War II.
disturbing has been use of “Nazi,” “Judenrat” and “Capo” epithets by some of the
more extreme elements among the settler movement, the hilltop youth and some of
their supporters from outside Israel to describe and curse the Israeli army,
when the latter are sent by the Israeli government to evacuate illegal
Anyone using such metaphors, be it from the Right or the
Left, has crossed the line of legitimate discourse, debate or criticism. The
European Left, themselves the past target of German persecution during that dark
period, should know better than to make such an equation.
The use of such
terms by right-wing extremists, many of whose parents and grandparents were
themselves survivors of the Holocaust period, only serves to besmirch and
cheapen the memory of the Holocaust, especially when they are used against the
IDF. It is little wonder that some of the settlement leaders and rabbis finally
came out with a strong condemnation of such behavior after last week’s events in
the West Bank.
The use of “Nazi” slur terminology has also been used as a
means of delegitimizing legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies. Just
this past week, an Israeli emigrant to the UK, Prof. Efraim Karsh of Kings
College at the University of London, used the right-wing, pseudoacademic journal
Middle East Forum to attribute such remarks, falsely, to the writer of this
The article by Karsh is a pathetic attempt to falsify facts and
portray the intellectual Left, be it in Israel or elsewhere, as rabidly
anti-Semitic and thus to shut down the debate on any form of legitimate debate
and discourse concerning the situation in Israel.
It is therefore
refreshing to hear serious scholars such as Shindler and Julius present their
findings in a rational and balanced way, without resorting to the disgraceful
language of the extremist groups. In this highly emotive debate, there are
borders which must not be transgressed, and the use of Nazi metaphors,
regardless of whether they are used by the Right or the Left, or even the
attempt to falsely attribute the use of Nazi metaphors to critics with whom one
does not agree, is well beyond the pale and effectively removes such people from
being part of any serious debate.
And when it emanates from “patriotic
supporters” of Israel who sit in the safety of their Diaspora homes in the USA
or London, it is not only disgraceful, it is outright laughable. It is a form of
verbal terrorism which must not be allowed to take root in the debate concerning
Israel and anti-Semitism. The issue is simply too serious for that.
writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion
University. The views expressed are his alone.