Defending irrational phobias by rational means

Israel’s struggle against bias and antisemitism.

July 13, 2019 21:50
4 minute read.
People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of antisemitic attacks

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of antisemitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. The writing on the sign reads: "Antisemitism, islamophobia, racism - not in our name". (photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES)

‘L’ennemi est bête: il croit que c’est nous l’ennemi alors que c’est lui.” The enemy is stupid: he believes we are the enemy, while the truth is that he is. – Pierre Desproges 1939-1988

On July 14th of this year, the Assemblée Nationale will offer a Bastille Day gift to all citizens of France. The word “race” has now been erased from the French Constitution, reversing the post-WWII clause (1946) that proclaimed the republic would henceforth “assure l’égalité devant la loi de tous les citoyens sans distinction d’origine, de race ou de religion”. Hitherto, French authorities practiced hideous ethnic cleansing, guided by pseudo-scientific racist ideology that granted immunity to supposed superior races, condemning the inferior ones to annihilation.

Francois Hollande, president of France from 2012-2017, called for the deletion of the term “race” as an inherent admission of its validity. Emmanuel Macron’s Assemblée Nationale finally replaced the offending word with a contemporary sensitivity to sexual freedom by proclaiming that the republic would “assure l’égalité devant la loi de tous les citoyens sans distinction de sexe, d’origine, ou de religion”. Racism is stupid, as argued by Desproges. It no longer exists on paper, even as it continues to infect the minds of otherwise rational people the world over.

Israel, I believe, should welcome the amendment of the French Constitution. Israel did not yet exist when dark ideologies for millennia caused European streets to run with the blood of Jews, persecuted as a plague upon the body of Christendom. Now, say the French, there is no such thing as race, nor has there ever been race, and neither shall it exist in the future. The Holocaust is therefore cast as demonic, satanic, not human, for it elevated a lie to the heights of genocide.

The Holocaust was not merely antisemitism run amok. Biblical, Greek and Roman antisemitic theorists did not envision a “Jewish problem.” Christian exclusivism and mythic superiority mandated that Jews remain as vestiges of the Old Word, better to witness and proclaim the New. The Jew was a necessary object of eternal derision. The Holocaust was different. The Holocaust dispensed with the need for Jews even as it brought hatred of Jews to its apex. It did not need the Jews to hate them. It wanted them removed, like pest-bearing rats. One does not hate pests, one detests them. There is nothing personal about spraying mosquitoes. The Holocaust dehumanized Jews, better to gas and burn them, for the welfare of real humans. That was not extreme antisemitism. It was a Holocaust.

Israel is recognized as the Jewish state even by those who deny its right to exist. Israel is not only the state of and for the Jews, it is also the object target of Judeophobia, an unfounded hostility toward all Jews, and fear of Jewish Israelis as the ultimate object of hatred. Israel thus faces international criticism not only from its foes, but even from the friendliest of its allies. Israel, in turn, rejects criticism, even when it is warranted, reflexively attributing it to antisemitism or to Judeophobia.


I BELIEVE it is a mistake to claim that all criticism is rooted in antisemitism, for in doing so, Israel in fact legitimizes antisemitism itself. Decrying criticism as a form of antisemitism lends antisemitism a logic it fundamentally lacks. Some criticism of Israel is undeniably informed and motivated by antisemitic sentiments, but some criticism is issued by international actors who are bound by an obligation to the good of the larger ensemble of nations.

Unfair, biased, and offensive criticisms have to be fought by means of exposing their internal fallacies and inherent shortcomings, not by branding them as antisemitic, even when they are. Resorting to the defensive position that all criticism of Israel is rooted in antisemitism gives credence to the very nature of antisemitism. Israel and its policies will gain greater traction by exposing antisemitism as a ridiculous bolt in the mind of nuts.

Defending Israeli policies and actions must be done on their merits alone, grounded as they are in the government’s responsibility for the welfare and security of Israel’s citizens. Actual antisemitism must be carefully documented and criminalized wherever it raises its head. The division between imagined antisemitism and the real thing must be clear.

Judeophobia has a new sister in contemporary Islamophobia. Unfounded hostility toward members of a religious community, be it Jews or Muslims, leads to fear, distrust, and hatred of all Jews or all Muslims as the case may be. Both phobias are social phenomena. Societies in which these phobias arise, whose members harbor unfounded animosity of minorities, suffer similar pathologies. The details may indeed be different, but the haters are the same haters. Judeophobes complain the Jews are omnipresent, Islamophobes fear the omnipresent Muslims.

The fear is cast as existential, as an ontologically sound response to nefarious threats on the national body by manipulative, subversive alien minorities who destabilize society and aim to rule the world. The differences between the two phobias are telling. Islamophobia is local, people fearing Muslims who reside in their midst. Judeophobia, however, is global. Moreover, Islamophobia requires the presence of Muslims, whereas Judeophobia can flourish even in the absence of Jews.

Israel is locked in an unresolved conflict with Arab Palestinians and with most Muslim states. This can, and often does, mislead some Israelis into believing that Islamophobes are some sort of welcome allies in Israel’s existential battles. Some foolishly cling to the deceptive maxim “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Israel cannot, should not and must not fight one stupid discriminatory phobia with another. In the face of irrational fear and unwarranted hostility, Israel must be cool, calm and collected, yet always ready to expose and ridicule the ridiculous.

The writer is a former ambassador to Belgium and Switzerland, and is a senior adviser at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue, Netanya Academic College.

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