A recent conference titled “Defining Antisemitism: between History and Politics,” could have been a critical opportunity to discuss troubling mainstreaming, manifestations, ramifications and definitions of modern-day antisemitism. Instead, it echoed tropes of “good old-fashioned” antisemitism, reminding that cutting off a pound of flesh, including the 2022 version “Zionist” pound, will never be enough.
In a setting expected to encourage and enable a respectful exchange of ideas, my dissenting opinions were shouted down with ‘derogatory’ screams labeling them as hasbara – advocacy – regarded as propaganda. The ensuing hullabaloo exposed the puritanical illiberalism of self-defined progressives, shouting down, screaming over and incapable of hearing any views other than their own.
Under the pretext of intellectual debate, they thrive in a closed, self-congratulatory echo-chamber, embracing the mechanisms of censorship and marginalization claimed to be used against them. For anyone legitimately debating the need for definitions, the arguments made in fact exposed growing urgency to define ever mutating new forms of an ancient hatred, in order to identify and combat its dangerous, insidious permeations.
While I was shouted down for daring to sound my centrist voice, silent respect provided a platform for politically driven rhetoric supporting Palestinian “liberation” from Israel’s “power,” justifying genocidal terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Myopic social constructs of “race” and “colonialism” were appropriated and imposed on a completely different set of facts, without so much as an attempt for nuance or context. Revealing the difference between legitimate criticism and illegitimate delegitimization, Israel’s very right to exist was questioned, skipping right over to contemplation whether it is a “colonialist” or “settler colonialist” version.
Sounding old-new antisemitic tropes according to the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, presumably the pretext for discussion, applaud and appreciation were afforded to voices who questioned the need for any definition at all, labeling any and all such attempts as colonialist endeavors. One scholar, a renowned Israeli historian and expert on German history, posited that current antisemitism trends in Germany indicate that post-World War II antisemitism is a result of the existence of the State of Israel, wondering out loud what would have happened if it had not been created post 1945.
Rather than present the broad spectrum of informed scholars on current definitions, expanding on the debate and differences between them, the forum side-lined and excluded experts engaged in nearly 20 years of democratic process, resulting in the IHRA comprehensive consensus definition of antisemitism. Ironically taking place in Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem, panelists decontextualized the trigger for this definition, a non-legally binding resource, namely the 2001 Durban Conference “Against” Racism. Calling it contentious, it glossed over the intentional location for a gathering that became the pretext for an antisemitic hate fest, systematically appropriating the language of human rights for the industry for the demonization, delegitimization and singling out of Israel, conflating Israel with apartheid South Africa.
INSTEAD OF the IHRA definition, adopted by hundreds of countries, cities, sports leagues, corporations, universities, the forum advocated the back-room version Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, a self-declared reactive definition carved out by a self-appointed group of anti-Israel academics. Ironically, the three-day conference highlighted the accuracy of the omitted “three D’s,” tracking the mutation from traditional antisemitism that barred the individual Jew from having an equal place within society, to its “modern” form, dedicated to barring the Jewish state from an equal place among the nations. Echoing the circular logic of antisemitism implicating Jews throughout the world by automatically conflating them with Israel, presenters justified this targeting because of “presumed” affiliation to the Jewish nation state – Jew among the nations – at fault for the rise of antisemitism.
Overt and direct messages sounded the alarm bells that can and must serve as a wake-up call to all who recognize that if a single group, minority or religion cannot be protected, ultimately none can. Challenging as it may be, it is precisely this understanding that harbors opportunity that must be recognized by “majority moderates” who cherish foundational principles of justice and freedom about which our ancestors could only have dreamed, requiring to awaken from “woke” complacency and be willing to fight for liberal values that come with tremendous responsibility.
As Israel nears 75 years of sovereignty and nation rebuilding, it too has a role to play in recognizing the mutation of antisemitism, exposing destructive systemic appropriation and weaponization of institutions and mechanisms that enable its permeation. This requires and enables reaching across real or perceived differences of the past to take responsibility for the rules-based order created on the ashes of our people. This will ensure that together we fulfil the shared prospective commitment of “Never Again,” to any people.
This modern-day rendition of age-old antisemitism requires Israel to grow up, demanding that agency be granted to and expected of all, applying principles equally and consistently, acknowledging that silence, ignoring or ignorance fuels the culture of impunity that empowers the gravest violators of foundational principles. It requires accountability from the trustees mandated to uphold, promote and protect them.
The singling out of Israel – the one and only Jewish and democratic country – and Zionism (the progressive national liberation movement that preceded its renewal and the atrocities of the Holocaust by decades) highlights that Israel does not exist because the Holocaust occurred; rather, had Israel existed the Holocaust would not have occurred. It necessitates the perpetrators of the horrors of the Holocaust, with Germany in the lead, contend with their past in order to identify present threats, truly taking responsibility.
To be clear – if invited again – I will continue to engage this forum and others, partaking in a critical exercise of gaining shared understanding of what we are up against. It is the sign of our times and generation, underscoring the responsibility to uphold, promote and protect foundational principles created to secure the shared prospective commitment to “Never Again,” in a world of “Again and Again.”
Though I left the conference deeply disturbed, as a past and perhaps future representative of a fully-fledged, equal member in the family of nations, it strengthened my resolve to speak up and stand up to the demonization, delegitimization and singling out of Israel, taking responsibility for the construction of the more elusive second-level of Israel’s Jewish and democratic principles. Recognizing the mutation demanding to shed a 2022 pound of flesh, that in a double-standards vegan reality will never be enough, it is an acknowledgment of reality that must clarify – respectfully and clearly – as all sovereign countries do: Let my people go. Focus on your own.
The writer is a lawyer, research fellow and policy and strategy adviser on issues of immigration and integration, Israel-Diaspora relations, human rights and the fight against antisemitism. She served as an MK in Israel’s 23rd Knesset, founding the International Bi-Partisan Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.