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New antisemitism

New antisemitism is the concept that a new form of antisemitism is on the rise in the 21st century, emanating simultaneously from the left, the right, and fundamentalist Islam, and tending to manifest itself as opposition to Zionism and the State of Israel. The term has entered common usage to refer to what some writers describe as a wave of antisemitism that escalated, particularly in Western Europe, after the Second Intifada in 2000, the failure of the Oslo accords, and the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The concept generally posits that much of what purports to be criticism of Israel by various individuals and world bodies is in fact tantamount to demonization, and that together with an international resurgence of attacks on Jews and Jewish symbols and an increased acceptance of antisemitic beliefs in public discourse, such demonization represents an evolution in the appearance of antisemitic beliefs.

Proponents of the concept argue that anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism, anti-globalization, third worldism, and demonization of Israel or double standards applied to its conduct may be linked to antisemitism, or constitute disguised antisemitism.

Critics of the concept argue that it conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism, defines legitimate criticism of Israel too narrowly and demonization too broadly, trivializes the meaning of antisemitism, and exploits antisemitism in order to silence debate.

History of the concept

1960s: Origins

French philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff has argued that the first wave of what he describes as "la nouvelle judéophobie" emerged in the Arab-Muslim world and the Soviet sphere following the 1967 Six Day War, citing papers by Jacques Givet (1968) and historian Léon Poliakov (1969) in which the idea of a new anti-Semitism rooted in anti-Zionism was discussed. He argues that anti-Jewish themes centered on the demonical figures of Israel and what he calls "fantasy-world Zionism": that Jews plot together, seek to conquer the world, and are imperialistic and bloodthirsty, which gave rise to the reactivation of stories about ritual murder and the poisoning of food and water supplies..

1970s: Early debates

In 1974, Arnold Forster and Benjamin Epstein of the Anti-Defamation League published a book entitled The New anti-Semitism, expressing concern about what they described as new manifestations of antisemitism coming from radical left, radical right, and "pro-Arab" figures in the U.S. Forster and Epstein argued that it took the form of indifference to the fears of the Jewish people, apathy in dealing with anti-Jewish bias, and an inability to understand the importance of Israel to Jewish survival.

Reviewing Forster and Epstein's work in Commentary, Earl Raab argued that a "new anti-Semitism" was indeed emerging in America, in the form of opposition to the collective rights of the Jewish people, but he criticized Forster and Epstein for conflating it with anti-Israel bias. Allan Brownfeld writes that Forster and Epstein's new definition of antisemitism trivialized the concept by turning it into "a form of political blackmail" and "a weapon with which to silence any criticism of either Israel or U.S. policy in the Middle East, while Edward S. Shapiro, in "A Time for Healing: American Jewry Since World War II," has written that "Forster and Epstein implied that the new anti-Semitism was the inability of Gentiles to love Jews and Israel enough.

1980s - present day: political convergence

Historian Robert Wistrich addressed the issue in a 1984 lecture delivered in the home of Israeli President Chaim Herzog, in which he argued that a "new anti-Semitic anti-Zionism" was emerging, distinguishing features of which were the equation of Zionism with Nazism and the belief that Zionists had actively collaborated with Nazis during World War II. He argued that such claims were prevalent in the Soviet Union, but added that similar rhetoric had been taken up by a part of the radical Left, particularly Trotskyist groups in Western Europe and America.

Arguments for and against the concept

A new phenomenon

Jack Fischel, former chair of history at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, writes that new antisemitism is a new phenomenon stemming from a coalition of "leftists, vociferously opposed to the policies of Israel, and right-wing antisemites, committed to the destruction of Israel, [who] were joined by millions of Muslims, including Arabs, who immigrated to Europe ... and who brought with them their hatred of Israel in particular and of Jews in general." It is this new political alignment, he argues, that makes new antisemitism unique. Mark Strauss of Foreign Policy links it to anti-globalism, describing it as "the medieval image of the 'Christ-killing' Jew resurrected on the editorial pages of cosmopolitan European newspapers.

The French philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff argues that antisemitism based on racism and nationalism has been replaced by a new form based on anti-racism and anti-nationalism. He identifies some of its main features as the identification of Zionism and racism; the use of material related to Holocaust denial e.g. doubts about the number of victims and allegations that there is a "Holocaust industry"; a borrowed discourse from third worldism, anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, anti-Americanism, and anti-globalization; and the dissemination of what he calls the "myth" of the "intrinsically good Palestinian — the innocent victim par excellence."

There are no indices of measurement of the new antisemitism, according to Irwin Cotler, Professor of Law at McGill University. Cotler argues that classical antisemitism is discrimination against Jews as individuals, and that the new antisemitism, in contrast, "is anchored in discrimination against the Jews as a people—and the embodiment of that expression in Israel. In each instance the essence of anti-Semitism is the same—an assault upon whatever is the core of Jewish self-definition at any moment in time." It is hard to measure, because the indices used by governments to detect discrimination — standard of living, housing, health, and employment — are useful only in measuring discrimination against individuals. This makes it difficult to show that the concept is a valid one, he writes.

A new phenomenon, but not antisemitism

That there has been a resurgence of antisemitic attacks and attitudes is accepted by most opponents of the concept of new antisemitism. What is not accepted is that this constitutes a different kind of antisemitism.

Brian Klug, senior research fellow in philosophy at St Benet's Hall, Oxford — who gave expert testimony in February 2006 to a British parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism in the UK, and in November 2004 to the Hearing on Anti-Semitism at the German Bundestag — argues against the idea that there is a "single, unified phenomenon" that could be called "new" antisemitism. He accepts that there is reason for the Jewish community to be concerned, but argues that any increase in antisemitic incidents is attributable to classical antisemitism. Proponents of the new antisemitism concept, he writes, see an organizing principle that allows them to formulate a new concept, but it is only in terms of this concept that many of the examples cited in evidence of it count as examples in the first place. That is, the creation of the concept may be based on a circular argument or tautology. He argues that it is an unhelpful concept, because it devalues the term "antisemitism," leading to widespread cynicism about the use of it. People of goodwill who support the Palestinians resent being falsely accused of antisemitism.

Klug defines classical antisemitism as "an ingrained European fantasy about Jews as Jews," arguing that whether Jews are seen as a race, religion, or ethnicity, and whether antisemitism comes from the right or the left, the antisemite's image of the Jew is always as "a people set apart, not merely by their customs but by their collective character. They are arrogant, secretive, cunning, always looking to turn a profit. Loyal only to their own, wherever they go they form a state within a state, preying upon the societies in whose midst they dwell. Mysteriously powerful, their hidden hand controls the banks and the media. They will even drag governments into war if this suits their purposes. Such is the figure of 'the Jew,' transmitted from generation to generation." He argues that, although it is true that the new antisemitism incorporates the idea that antisemitism is hostility to Jews as Jews, the source of the hostility has changed; therefore, to continue using the same expression for it — antisemitism — causes confusion. Today's hostility to Jews as Jews is based on the Arab-Israeli conflict, not on ancient European fantasies. Israel proclaims itself as the state of the Jewish people, and many Jews align themselves with Israel for that very reason. It is out of this alignment that the hostility to Jews as Jews arises, rather than hostility to Israelis or to Zionists. Klug agrees that it is a prejudice, because it is a generalization about individuals; nevertheless, he argues, it is "not rooted in the ideology of 'the Jew'," and is therefore a different phenomenon from antisemitism.

Norman Finkelstein argues that there has been no significant rise in antisemitism: "What does the evidence show? There has been good investigation done, serious investigation. All the evidence shows there's no — there's no evidence at all for a rise of a new anti-Semitism, whether in Europe or in North America. The evidence is zero. And, in fact, there's a new book put out by an Israel stalwart. His name is Walter Laqueur, a very prominent scholar. It's called The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism. It just came out, 2006, from Oxford University Press. He looks at the evidence, and he says no. There's some in Europe among the Muslim community, there's some anti-Semitism, but the notion that in the heart of European society or North American society there's anti-Semitism is preposterous. And in fact — or no, a significant rise in anti-Semitism is preposterous.

Opposition to Israel not necessarily antisemitism

Earl Raab, founding director of the Nathan Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy at Brandeis University writes that "[t]here is a new surge of antisemitism in the world, and much prejudice against Israel is driven by such antisemitism," but argues that charges of antisemitism based on anti-Israel opinions generally lack credibility. He writes that "a grave educational misdirection is imbedded in formulations suggesting that if we somehow get rid of antisemitism, we will get rid of anti-Israelism. This reduces the problems of prejudice against Israel to cartoon proportions." Raab describes prejudice against Israel as a "serious breach of morality and good sense," and argues that it is often a bridge to antisemitism, but distinguishes it from antisemitism as such.

Steven Zipperstein, professor of Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University, argues that a belief in the State of Israel's responsibility for the Arab-Israeli conflict is considered "part of what a reasonably informed, progressive, decent person thinks." He argues that Jews have a tendency to see the State of Israel as a victim because they were very recently themselves "the quintessential victims."

The third wave

Historian Bernard Lewis argues that the new antisemitism represents the third, or ideological, wave of antisemitism, the first two waves being religious and racial antisemitism.

Lewis defines antisemitism as a special case of prejudice, hatred, or persecution directed against people who are in some way different from the rest. According to Lewis, antisemitism is marked by two distinct features: Jews are judged according to a standard different from that applied to others, and they are accused of cosmic evil. He writes that what he calls the first wave of antisemitism arose with the advent of Christianity because of the Jews' rejection of Jesus as Messiah. The second wave, racial anti-Semitism, emerged in Spain when large numbers of Jews were forcibly converted, and doubts about the sincerity of the converts led to ideas about the importance of "la limpieza de sangre", purity of blood.

He associates the third wave with the Arabs, and writes that it arose only in part because of the establishment of the State of Israel. Until the 19th century, Muslims had regarded Jews with what Lewis calls "amused, tolerant superiority" — they were seen as physically weak, cowardly, and unmilitary — and although Jews living in Muslim countries were not treated as equals, they were shown a certain amount of respect. The Western form of antisemitism — what Lewis calls "the cosmic, satanic version of Jew hatred" — arrived in the Middle East in several stages, beginning with Christian missionaries in the 19th century, and continued to grow slowly into the 20th century, up to the establishment of the Third Reich. He writes that it increased because of the humiliation of the Israeli military victories of 1948 and 1967. (See 1948 Arab-Israeli War and Six Day War.)

Into this mix entered the United Nations. Lewis argues that the United Nations' handling of the 1948 refugee situation convinced the Arab world that discrimination against Jews was acceptable. When the ancient Jewish community in East Jerusalem was evicted and its monuments desecrated or destroyed, they were offered no help. Similarly, when Jewish refugees fled or were driven out of Arab countries, no help was offered, but elaborate arrangements were made for Arabs who fled or were driven out of the area that became Israel. All the Arab governments involved in the conflict announced that they would not admit Israelis of any religion into their territories, and that they would not give visas to Jews, no matter which country they were citizens of. Lewis argues that the failure of the United Nations to protest sent a clear message to the Arab world.

He writes that this third wave of antisemitism has in common with the first wave that Jews are able to be part of it. With religious antisemitism, Jews were able to distance themselves from Judaism, and Lewis writes that some even reached high rank within the church and the Inquisition. With racial antisemitism, this was not possible, but with the new, ideological, antisemitism, Jews are once again able to join the critics. The new antisemitism also allows non-Jews, he argues, to criticize or attack Jews without feeling overshadowed by the crimes of the Nazis.

Antisemitism, but not a new phenomenon

Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, considers the concept "new antisemitism" to be false, since it is in fact old antisemitism that remains latent and recurs whenever it is triggered. In his view, the current trigger is the Israeli situation, and if a compromise were achieved there antisemitism would decline but not disappear.

Dina Porat, professor at Tel Aviv University says that, while in principle there is no new antisemitism, we can speak of antisemitism in a new envelope. Otherwise Porat speaks of a new and violent form of antisemitism in Western Europe starting from after the Second Intifada.

A contradictory political ploy

Norman Finkelstein argues that organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League have brought forward charges of new antisemitism at various intervals since the 1970s, "not to fight antisemitism but rather to exploit the historical suffering of Jews in order to immunize Israel against criticism". He writes that most evidence purporting to show a new antisemitism has been taken from organizations that are linked in some way to Israel, or that have "a material stake in inflating the findings of anti-Semitism," and that some antisemitic incidents reported in recent years either did not occur or were misidentified. As an example of the misuse of the term "antisemitism," he cites the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia's 2003 report, which included displays of the Palestinian flag, support for the PLO, and the comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa in its list of antisemitic activities and beliefs.

He writes that what is called the new antisemitism consists of three components: (i) "exaggeration and fabrication"; (ii) "mislabeling legitimate criticism of Israeli policy"; and (iii) "the unjustified yet predictable spillover from criticism of Israel to Jews generally." He argues that Israel's apologists have denied a causal relationship between Israeli policies and hostility toward Jews, since "if Israeli policies, and widespread Jewish support for them, evoke hostility toward Jews, it means that Israel and its Jewish supporters might themselves be causing anti-Semitism; and it might be doing so because Israel and its Jewish supporters are in the wrong".

Finkelstein asks why, given that the wars in Vietnam and Iraq contributed to anti-Americanism, and the aggression of Nazi Germany gave rise to anti-Teutonic sentiment, it surprises us that an occupation by a self-declared Jewish state should cause antipathy towards Jews. The only surprise, he argues, is that the antipathy does not run deeper, given that mainstream Jewish organizations offer uncritical support to Israel; that Israel defines itself juridically as the sovereign state of the Jewish people; and that Jews themselves sometimes argue that to distinguish between Israel and world Jewry is itself an example of antisemitism. He cites Phyllis Chesler who argues, on the one hand, that "anyone who does not distinguish between Jews and the Jewish state is an anti-Semite," but on the other that "Israel is our heart and soul ... we are family." Gabriel Schoenfeld, the editor of Commentary magazine, writes that "Iranian anti-Semitic propagandists make a point of erasing all distinctions among Israel, Zionism and the Jews," while Hillel Halkin argues that "Israel is the state of the Jews ... To defame Israel is to defame the Jews." It would seem to be antisemitic, Finkelstein concludes, "both to identify and not to identify Israel with Jews.

An inappropriate redefinition

Antony Lerman, writing in the Israeli journal Ha'aretz in September 2008, argues that the concept of a "new antisemitism" has brought about "a revolutionary change in the discourse about anti-Semitism". He writes that most contemporary discussions concerning antisemitism have become focused on issues concerning Israel and Zionism, and that the equation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism has become for many a "new orthodoxy". He adds that this redefinition has often resulted in "Jews attacking other Jews for their alleged anti-Semitic anti-Zionism". While Lerman accepts that exposing alleged Jewish antisemitism is "legitimate in principle", he adds that the growing literature in this field "exceeds all reason"; the attacks are often vitriolic, and encompass views that are not inherently anti-Zionist.

Lerman argues that this redefinition has had unfortunate repercussions. He writes that serious scholarly research into contemporary antisemitism has become "virtually non-existent", and that the subject is now most frequently studied and analyzed by "people lacking any serious expertise in the subject, whose principal aim is to excoriate Jewish critics of Israel and to promote the "anti-Zionism = anti-Semitism" equation". Lerman concludes that this redefinition has ultimately served to stifle legitimate discussion, and that it cannot create a basis on which to fight antisemitism.

Peter Beaumont, writing in The Observer, agrees that proponents of the concept of "new antisemitism" have attempted to co-opt anti-Jewish sentiment and attacks by some European Muslims as a way to silence opposition to the policies of the Israeli government. "[C]riticise Israel," he writes, "and you are an anti-Semite just as surely as if you were throwing paint at a synagogue in Paris."

International perspectives

European Union

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) (superseded in 2007 by the European Fundamental Rights Agency) noted an upswing in antisemitic incidents in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and The Netherlands between July 2003 and December 2004. In September 2004, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, a part of the Council of Europe, called on its member nations to ensure that anti-racist criminal law covers antisemitism, and in 2005, the EUMC offered a definition of antisemitism to enable a standard definition to be used for data collection: "Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed towards Jews and non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities." The paper included some examples:

* Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor;
* Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation;
* Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis;
* Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis;
* Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

The EUMC added that criticism of Israel cannot be regarded as antisemitism so long as it is "similar to that leveled against any other country."France In France, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin commissioned a report on racism and antisemitism from Jean-Christophe Rufin, president of Action Against Hunger and former vice-president of Médecins Sans Frontières, in which Rufin challenges the perception that the new antisemitism in France comes exclusively from North African immigrant communities and the far right. Reporting in October 2004, Rufin writes that "[t]he new anti-Semitism appears more heterogeneous," and identifies what he calls a new and "subtle" form of anti-Semitism in "radical anti-Zionism" as expressed by far-left and anti-globalization groups, in which criticism of Jews and Israel is used as a pretext to "legitimize the armed Palestinian conflict."United Kingdom The British All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism in the UK published its report in September 2006. It adopted the view of racism expressed by the MacPherson report after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, namely that a racist act is defined by its victim, and that it is the Jewish community that is in the best position to determine what is antisemitic.

The report states that left-wing activists and Muslim extremists are using criticism of Israel as a "pretext" for antisemitism, and that the "most worrying discovery" is that antisemitism appears to be entering the mainstream. It argues that anti-Zionism may become antisemitic when it adopts a view of Zionism as a "global force of unlimited power and malevolence throughout history," a definition that "bears no relation to the understanding that most Jews have of the concept: that is, a movement of Jewish national liberation ..." Having re-defined Zionism, the report states, traditional antisemitic motifs of Jewish "conspiratorial power, manipulation and subversion" are often transferred from Jews onto Zionism. The report notes that this is "at the core of the 'New Antisemitism', on which so much has been written," adding that many of those who gave evidence called anti-Zionism "the lingua franca of antisemitic movements."

Lord Janner of Braunstone gave evidence regarding antisemitic remarks made to him in Parliament. After the arrest of Saddam Hussein, another peer approached him and said: "We've got rid of Saddam Hussein now. Your lot are next." When asked what she meant by "your lot," she replied: "Yes, you cannot go on killing Palestinians forever, you know." Oona King, former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, gave evidence that many of her former constituents told her they could not vote for her because she was funded by the Israeli Secret Service.


In November 2001, in response to an Abu-Dhabi television broadcast showing Ariel Sharon drinking blood of Palestinian children, the Israeli government set up the "Coordinating Forum for Countering Antisemitism," headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior. According to Melchior, "in each and every generation antisemitism tries to hide its ugly face behind various disguises — and hatred of the State of Israel is its current disguise." He added that, "hate against Israel has crossed the red line, having gone from criticism to unbridled antisemitic venom, which is a precise translation of classical antisemitism whose past results are all too familiar to the entire world.

United Nations

A number of commentators argue that the United Nations has condoned anti-Semitism. Lawrence Summers, then-president of Harvard University, wrote that the UN's World Conference on Racism failed to condemn human rights abuses in China, Rwanda, or anywhere in the Arab world, while raising Israel's alleged "ethnic cleansing" and "crimes against humanity.

David Matas, senior counsel to B'nai Brith Canada, has written that the UN is a forum for anti-Semitism, citing the example of the Palestinian representative to the UN Human Rights Commission who claimed in 1997 that Israeli doctors had injected Palestinian children with the AIDS virus. Congressman Steve Chabot told the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 that the commission took "several months to correct in its record a statement by the Syrian ambassador that Jews allegedly had killed non-Jewish children to make unleavened bread for Passover.

Anne Bayefsky, a Canadian legal scholar who addressed the UN about its treatment of Israel, argues that the UN hijacks the language of human rights to discriminate and demonize Jews. She writes that over one quarter of the resolutions condemning a state's human rights violations have been directed at Israel. "But there has never been a single resolution about the decades-long repression of the civil and political rights of 1.3 billion people in China, or the million female migrant workers in Saudi Arabia kept as virtual slaves, or the virulent racism which has brought 600,000 people to the brink of starvation in Zimbabwe.

In a 2008 report on antisemitism from the US Department of State to the US Congress,

Motives for criticizing Israel in the UN may stem from legitimate concerns over policy or from illegitimate prejudices. (...) However, regardless of the intent, disproportionate criticism of Israel as barbaric and unprincipled, and corresponding discriminatory measures adopted in the UN against Israel, have the effect of causing audiences to associate negative attributes with Jews in general, thus fueling anti-Semitism.

United States

The U.S. State Department's 2004 Report on Global Anti-Semitism identified four sources of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe:

  • "Traditional anti-Jewish prejudice... This includes ultra-nationalists and others who assert that the Jewish community controls governments, the media, international business, and the financial world."
  • "Strong anti-Israel sentiment that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism."
  • "Anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by some in Europe's growing Muslim population, based on longstanding antipathy toward both Israel and Jews, as well as Muslim opposition to developments in Israel and the occupied territories, and more recently in Iraq."
  • "Criticism of both the United States and globalization that spills over to Israel, and to Jews in general who are identified with both."

In July 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a Campus Anti-Semitism report that declared that "Anti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism. At the time, the Commission also announced that anti-Semitism is a "serious problem" on many campuses throughout the United States.

In September 2006, Yale University announced that it had established the Yale Initiative for Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism,, the first university-based institute in North America dedicated to the study of anti-Semitism. Charles Small, head of the institute, said in a press release that anti-Semitism has "reemerged internationally in a manner that many leading scholars and policy makers take seriously ... Increasingly, Jewish communities around the world feel under threat. It's almost like going back into the lab. I think we need to understand the current manifestation of this disease. YIISA has presented several seminars and working papers on the topic, for instance "The Academic and Public Debate Over the Meaning of the 'New Antisemitism'"

The left and anti-Zionism

Tariq Ali argues that the concept of new antisemitism amounts to little more than an attempt to subvert the language in the interests of the State of Israel. He writes that the campaign against "the supposed new 'anti-semitism'" in modern Europe is a "cynical ploy on the part of the Israeli Government to seal off the Zionist state from any criticism of its regular and consistent brutality against the Palestinians." The new antisemitism is, in fact, "Zionist blackmail," he argues. He argues that most pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist groups that emerged after the 1967 war were in fact careful to observe the distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.The association of anti-Zionism with the concept of "new antisemitism" is highly controversial.

See also



Further reading


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