As Israel’s Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Ministries reconvene the Global Forum Against anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, I again regret how necessary such a meeting is. Nearly 70 years after Adolf Hitler’s defeat, the anti-Semitism that motivated his Nazi regime persists. Anti-Semitism is a complex pathology. As we unite in outrage, we should remember that sometimes, the subtle scalpel is preferable to the blunt bomb, just as sometimes, proactive-identity building and constructive coalition building are preferable to righteous indignation.
Anti-Semitic violence jumped 30 percent last year, evidenced by the ugly rhetoric the Simon Wiesenthal Center catalogued with its “top ten anti-Semitic slurs of 2012.” Yes, in the twenty-first century, Egypt’s president says “amen” fervently to a cleric praying, “Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters”; soccer hooligans yell at the Tottenham club with its large Jewish fan base “You’re getting gassed in the morning”; and one of Europe’s new anti-Semitic parties elects an MP who used to sing “The Star of David makes me vomit” with the Nazi punk ban “Pogrom.”
This hard anti-Semitism of Islamists, hoodlums, and far-right Neo-Nazi groups is easy to identify, and broadly rejected by much of the civilized world. A broad, passionate coalition of conscience must repudiate and excommunicate, name and shame, these bigots.
Unfortunately, a new, virulent strain of this ancient disease masks itself behind political progressivism, human rights talk, and legitimate criticism of Israel. This soft anti-Semitism is less crude but nevertheless dangerous. It fuels the one-sided, obsessive, exaggerated pile-on against Israel – and enables the harder, Hitlerite form. We discern the new “soft” anti-Semitism in so-called progressives’ toleration for terrorist violence against Israel. We see it on the internet, when I objected to McGill University awarding one such “progressive,” Judith Butler, an honorary doctorate, even though she called Herzbollah and Hamas progressive “social movements,” because “they oppose colonialism and imperialism,” and some talkbacks claimed: “Probably no greater fraud has ever been perpetrated in the history of the human race than Zionism” and “Zionism is Jewish Nazism.” We hear it the rants of an Australian legislator who attributes support for Israel to the “power of a political lobby group that is cancerous, malicious.” And we see how it escalates from intellectual attacks to crude denunciations to violence, when a group of Israelis appear at a Beyonce concert in Berlin and are harassed physically amid cries of “dirty Jews” and “go back to Israel.” Note: all these incidents occurred this past weekend.
Analyzing this soft anti-Semitism, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former US Ambassador to the UN and New York’s liberal Democratic Senator for 24 years, lamented decades ago that “anti-Semitism has become a unifying global ideology of the totalitarian Left. An intense propaganda campaign, begun in the Soviet Union in the 1970s… was designed to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel” by explicitly comparing Zionism to Nazism.”
Acknowledging that bigots hide behind legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, Moynihan warned that “the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist campaign is not uninformed bigotry it is conscious politics. We are dealing here not with the primitive but the sophisticated.” And it was dangerous because it was so resonant. “It is not merely that our adversaries have commenced an effort to destroy the legitimacy of a kindred democracy through the incessant repetition of the Zionist-racist lie,” he warned prophetically. “It is that others can come to believe it also. Americans among them.” Increasingly, he predicted, “Israel surely would be blamed,” for any Middle East problems; “Israel would be regretted.”
This sophisticated campaign requires subtle responses. Therefore, claiming all campuses are aflame with anti-Zionism when most North American campuses are politically apathetic, will cost us credibility. Only seeing hatred is as distorting as not seeing it at all.
We must stop being so reactive and defensive. When Letty Cottin Pogrebin saw Third Worldism, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism – as one complex, overlapping ideological package – infecting the women’s movement in the 1970s, she realized that “to feminists who hate Israel, I was not just a woman, but a Jewish woman.” Indignant, but also feeling the stirrings of Jewish pride, she thought, “why be a Jew for them, if I am not a Jew for myself.” Like Theodor Herzl, Pogrebin realized that anti-Semitism can make the Jew but the Jew should make the Jew.
Finally, while building Jewish and Zionist pride, we should partner more effectively with non-Jews. We should learn from the think tank with which I am affiliated, the Shalom Hartman Institute, which, while fostering Jewish identity, also pioneers creative outreach efforts. One initiative, the New Paths: Christians Engaging Israel Program, is debuting this June to “inform North American Christians about the complex realities of contemporary Israel through a process that draws on Christian religious identity,” explains Dr. Marcie Lenk, the program’s Co-Director.
Rev. Dr. Peter A. Pettit, of Muhlenberg College, Lenk’s colleague as co-director, emphasizes that “New Paths” is not “primarily addressing the issue of anti-Semitism, although in a sense, the larger task of the Church to address anti-Semitism remains.” Still, transcending “the crisis narrative” by looking at “shared values” includes transcending “the anti-Semitism narrative.” “Those who react defensively to anti-Semitism are not looking at shared values, they are looking to disarm the opponent,” Pettit explains. “A disarmed opponent, however, doesn’t necessarily become a partner.”
If the Global Forum only creates an anti-anti-Semitic echo chamber, denouncing Jew hatred in all its forms, ever more indignantly, it will fail. To succeed, it must develop a broad, flexible, intelligent intellectual and ideological arsenal, which includes renewing Judaism not just targeting its critics, celebrating Israel not just defending it, and finding allies not merely as comrades opposing evil but as true partners in dialogue about a common search for justice, meaning and peace in our complicated world.
Gil Troy is a professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow. His latest book, Moynihan''s Moment: America''s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, was just published by Oxford University Press. Watch the new Moynihan''s Moment video!