Natan Sharansky to 'Post': 'Antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem'

“You may disagree with Israel as much as you wish, but the moment you deny Israel’s right to exist... then it’s antisemitism.”

Natan Sharansky (photo credit: GENESIS PRIZE FOUNDATION)
Natan Sharansky
Rising antisemitism should not be seen as a primarily Jewish problem, but one that needs to be tackled by every country experiencing it, according to former Soviet dissident and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, the newly selected 2020 Genesis Prize laureate.
“Of course, Jews, as the target of this most ancient hatred had to develop ways to protect themselves,” Sharansky said in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post. “The establishment of the State of Israel turned tables on the situation, when Jews finally reclaimed an opportunity to shape own future. However, if I were a European leader, I would spend day and night asking myself how come that Europe was so quick to get rid in such a cruel way of its Jews who played such an important role in creation and development of the modern liberal European society, and how is it possible that today, just one generation after Holocaust, more and more European Jews believe that neither they nor their children have a future in Europe?”
“Good words and good intentions are not enough to protect Jews from the new antisemitism rhetoric,” Sharansky said. “As a very minimum, every European leader should expect from each citizen of his or her country, including new citizens, accept the fundamental principles of human rights, such as freedom and equality, that are basic for the modern European culture.”
Sharansky warned that an antisemitic situation can quickly deteriorate out of control. “Whenever I go to a Holocaust museum, I always see how rich Jewish life was a natural integral part of Europe in the 1930s, whether it be France, Belgium, Italy, Poland or Ukraine. But the ease with which these communities were destroyed and killed shows how thin the layer of culture and humanity is in liberal Europe.”
This deterioration wouldn’t have been possible if not for a thousand years of systematic demonization, dehumanization and delegitimization of European Jews, both on the part of antisemites and often the governments themselves, Sharansky said. “The numerous persecutions and special laws of various countries, both official and unspoken, are the sad evidence of that.”
After the Holocaust, he said, antisemitism morphed from targeting Jews to targeting Israel.
“In the days of Soviet Union, it was clear that every time you attack Jews, you are attacking Israel, and when you attack Israel, you are attacking Jews. The official cartoons about Israel looked like classic caricatures of Jews from Nazi propaganda, ”he said.
“But when I moved to the free world, I found out that demonization, delegitimization and double standards towards Israel exist also in the West. Yet here any attempts to compare criticism towards Israel with antisemitism were energetically denied and discarded both by politicians and public figures, who claimed: ‘You cannot limit our right to criticize Israeli politics by calling us antisemites.’”
In order to define a clear line between criticism of Israel and the new antisemitism, Sharansky said, “I proposed 20 years ago my 3D Test of Antisemitism – demonization, delegitimization and double standards.”
Explaining the criteria of the test, he said, “You may disagree with Israel as much as you wish,  but the moment you deny Israel’s right to exist, the moment you connect its leaders with the most awful antisemitic libels, like in the cartoon that pictures Ariel Sharon eating Arab children with their blood all over his face, or the moment you apply to Israel the standards that don’t apply to anybody else, like when Israel is denounced for violating of human rights more than all the world dictators together, then it’s antisemitism.”
As a result of his 3D Test, Sharansky said, there is now an international definition of antisemitism which includes the principle that some forms of criticism of Israel are antisemitic.
The center of Jewish identity has changed over the years, both from religious and national perspectives, Sharansky said, and antisemitism has always targeted this center, taking on a range of shades from religious to nationalistic. “Today the core element of the self-identity of every Jew is the connection to Israel. Therefore antisemites attack Israel.”
Sharansky welcomed the Fifth World Holocaust Forum event being held at Yad Vashem on January 23, saying there should be a global alliance against antisemitism similar to the Soviet Jewry struggle that preceded the collapse of Communism. Today, during times of extreme political polarization both in Europe and in the US, it’s easy to recognize symptoms of antisemitism in the opposing camp, and deny such in one’s own, he said.
“The true fight against antisemitism requires the unity of Left and Right, religious and secular, just as it was in case of the global fight in support of Soviet Jews. And here we should have zero tolerance for those who claim they love Jews and yet demonize Israel, or claim they love Israel and yet demonize Jews.”
Sharansky’s approach to antisemitism is a result of his lifelong dedication to promoting human rights, equality, and freedom. In recognition of his commitment to political freedom and his service to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, he will be presented with the prestigious Genesis Prize at a ceremony in Jerusalem on June 18, 2020.