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Anti-Semitism: what’s new about it? Latin
by Azmi Bishara, Al-Hayat (London) 12:48pm Wed Dec 3 '03

It is no longer possible to be liberated from the intertwining of the two issues except by wishful thinking. The question revolves around how to deal with it in a way that rejects anti-Semitism, and does not accept it as one of the sources of the justification of the Palestinian cause in a kind of cleverness in using the image of absolute evil that non-Palestinians have suffered from as well, and that rejects on the other hand Israel’s attempts to use anti-Semitism to silence any voice raised against Israel and its practices, and that refuses to release it from the charge of racism.
print article

Anti-Semitism: what’s new about it?

Monday, December 1st, 2003

Azmi Bishara, Al-Hayat (London), 20 November 2003, p. 9

Racism against Arabs does not have to be described as “anti-Semitism” in order to be unacceptable.

(Translated by Mark Marshall)

The phenomenon of anti-Semitism was not born with Israel or with Israeli propaganda. It is, needless to say, much older than that. The origin of the term “anti-Semitismus” is in the seventies of the nineteenth century in Germany as a self-description of the phenomenon of ideological hostility to Jews in Central Europe in that time, and there are those who are more precise and attribute it to Wilhelm Maar the writer and preacher who established a league to put a stop to Jewish influence in 1871, because in his view they had infiltrated society in order to gnaw at it with corruption and to undermine it by planting the seeds of its collapse. The point is that the term “anti-Semitism” as a modern term appeared in a specific context which was hostility to Jews.

It is not helpful to blur the definition of the term and the phenomenon that it denotes by claiming that racism against Arabs is a kind of anti-Semitism because they are a Semitic people, and to implicitly accept this racial term and seek shelter under it as if it were a scientific term. Racism against Arabs does not have to be described as “anti-Semitism” in order to be unacceptable. Anti-Semitism is not the only recognized form of racism. The hatred of Jews described as “anti-Semitism” was neither explained nor justified by their being Semites. The term “anti-Semitism” summarized and reduced several different phenomena into one unified phenomenon which is hatred of Jews in Europe or incitement against them as Jews using religious, racial, national and social pretexts.

In any case there is no need for racism to be one of many kinds of hostility to Semites or to classify it under that rubric in order to reject it and condemn it and to stand against it. The crime of extermination of peoples and civilizations like the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples of America is in no way lessened by because it cannot be classified as anti-Semitism but as colonial racism and denial of the humanity of the original inhabitants of America.

The phenomenon of anti-Semitism is an existing historical and social phenomenon and it is not possible to deny it without denying rationality and history. In a recent historical period it was the most dangerous and ugly form of racism in Europe. The civilization to which Bush and his followers like to associate the modern Western states, the so-called “Judaeo-Christian tradition”, celebrated as the cradle of enlightenment and liberal democracy, is also the home of anti-Semitism and the place where the holocaust happened.

Some Zionist historians try to trace anti-Semitism back to stages that precede the Middle Ages in ancient Greece and Rome, that is the phenomenon of lack of xenophobia and of fear and hostility to other cultures and religions, including Judaism, as a form of anti-Semitism. That age did not know hostility to Jews because they were Jews, but because they were strangers who represented a strange culture. The Jewish religious culture itself knew biblical justifications for the extermination of “unbelieving” peoples, not just discrimination against them. Not every society that contained the phenomenon of discrimination against Jews was an anti-Semitic society, and in those same civilizations, including the ancient Jewish civilization, that did not know the term humanity or the human being in general and was not able to generalize them , it is possible to point to religious and “racist” hostility, or general forms of hostility to the different Other.

But anti-Semitism is a distinct kind of hostility to the different Other, which characterizes the relationship between Christian Europe and its Jewish inhabitants. A historian may refer us to the beginning of the Crusades that were accompanied by attacks on towns and cities inhabited by Jews in Germany, “Ashkenaz” in the language of the chroniclers of those events and their Jewish contemporaries, in which there were organized massacres of Jews. And discrimination against them continued throughout the Middle Ages taking the forms of exclusion, rejection, expulsion and restrictions of rights, including on forms of ownership, particularly ownership of land, professions and trades and their banning from guilds in the city. But theological hatred was reciprocal. Some historians in the Jewish Studies department in Hebrew University in Jerusalem have tried to revise this history by portraying “racism” and the demonization of and desire to negate the Other as a reciprocal problem between the followers of both religions during that period in the Middle Ages.

But a precise historian can insist nevertheless that this religious hostility to Jews was the forerunner of modern anti-Semitism that took racial forms (considering the Jews a lower race, or considering their mere presence a danger to the purity of the race ,anti-race) and nationalist forms (the Jews as an element hostile to the crystallization and harmony of the nation), or social anti-Semitism exploited by social demagoguery which laid the blame for the sufferings and impoverishment of the old classes: the peasants, the aristocrats, trades people and craftsmen from the old middle classes and the obliteration of their world in the face of bourgeois values on “the Jewish element” in capitalism as it sees it, that is, finance capital. And these ideological explanations for decay dejection and misery harmonized with medieval images of the Jew as usurer.

Despite the modernity of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism and its distinction from religious hostility it is not possible to separate the non-religious forms from the theological religious heritage in theology and doctrine and popular religiosity in the Middle Ages. In that culture the Jew was the embodiment of the Other, and he was also the denier of the heavenly message, in the sense of denying the true completion of the Old Testament, that is, the New Testament. There have been different views on the subject in Christian theology. Whereas Christianity was considered by all the trends in Jewish doctrine to be mendacious and a direct denial and absolute contradiction of Judaism that came to end the Jewish historical mission and its particularity and its chosenness for that mission.

There is no room here to discuss the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, but it is worth mentioning that France, which Israel now accuses of anti-Semitism, was the first to give equality to Jews, on 28 September 1791 when the National Assembly gave them complete equality as citizens. And with this step the parliament of the republic confirmed that the solution is in citizenship that transcends religious affiliation. But the secularization process and the Enlightenment itself, which proposed solutions to the Jewish question, also generated modern anti-Semitism. And it started with the reactions of the conservative forces to the Enlightenment in its various forms as a kind of collapse of the hierarchical sociological values and heritage and the existing patterns of obedience, and a destructive internal element that did not belong to the people nor to its religious values had to have an interest in the outcome. And thus conservative anti-Semitism moved to attribute to the Jews every phenomenon that it considered to be social dissolution. Similarly other forms of anti-Semitism depended on internal contradictions of the Enlightenment itself regarding “pseudo-scientific” theories in understanding history like the racial theories and providing a background for theories of social engineering of various kinds of rationalization as control and domination implicit in modernity. And there is no doubt that modern anti-Semitism generated one of the ugliest forms of racism: the attempt at mass extermination of the Jews and the Nazi holocaust.

Islamic society and other eastern societies do not contain anything approaching the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. That fact does not absolve eastern societies of guilt for the many massacres in their history. But they did not produce the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. And even though Islamic societies have known discrimination against religious minorities, it has not approached the suffering of the Islamic groups that opposed the dominant doctrinal tendencies or the sufferings of persecuted members of the majority community who were considered to be a true threat to the ruling regime. Israel’s attempt to extend the phenomenon of anti-Semitism to include this civilization is a patent attempt to retroactively place Europe’s Jewish victim in the framework of the current conflict with the Arabs. And it is the perpetrator and not the victim in this context.

On the other hand we should also remember that modern Arab political movements which have been heavily influenced by European political thought including the fathers of socialism and nationalism and Italian fascism and Russian reactionary ideas since the end of the nineteenth century have also been polluted by some anti-Semitic ideas without adopting them as comprehensive thought or ideology. When Zionism used the holocaust to justify the catastrophe [the expulsion of the Arabs from Israel in 1948 - trans], there were those who decided to respond by denying the holocaust or minimizing its importance. When the great defeat happened in 1967 there was a great need to justify its burden on the conscience by saying that it would not have happened if the enemy were not a real global demon, an octopus of evil … etc. Hence the spread since that defeat of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was nothing but a falsification by the Czarist Russian secret police, with which the Arabs had absolutely nothing to do. And when political religiosity benefited from the failure of the ruling nationalist tendency by “religifying” the latter’s nationalist and populist slogans, utter chaos and confusion between these ideas and some religious arguments and myths ensued.

There are grounds for self-criticism regarding the means of dealing with the “Jewish question” or the lack of distinction between the Jews and Zionism. And this confusion is precisely what Israel wants, in order to justify the absence of distinction between criticizing Zionism and anti-Semitism. And in order to present itself as the historical representative of world Jewry and the spokesperson in the name of their suffering and the Zionization of this suffering on the model of the retroactive Zionisation of Jewish histories into one national history. And self-criticism is not inconsistent with the following facts:

1) anti-Semitism is a European phenomenon that reached its apex in the Nazi holocaust, 2) that the most common form of racism in the Western world today is not anti-Semitism, but hostility to Arabs and Muslims, 3) not all anti-Semites are hostile to Israel, there are those who have friendly dealings with it and see it as a good solution to the Jewish problem in their countries or at least they see it as a model national state with a military culture, 4) Western political and intellectual traditions that opposed anti-Semitism and demanded equality are now themselves criticizing Israel and the Israeli occupation. And Israeli propaganda is hostile to many of these tendencies that oppose anti-Semitism.

Israel is systematically and very pragmatically trying to portray all hostility to Israel and Zionism and every sharp criticism of Israel as hostility to Jews, and as a kind of anti-Semitism, to the extent of intellectual terrorism. Yet Israel is very selective in holding people to account for their statements. It excludes those it sees as playing a beneficial political role for Israel. Thus it does not call Berlusconi to account for his statements in which he absolved Mussolini of guilt for the murder of Jews, because he “only sent them on a trip to the north”, as he put it. And Israel accords it no importance. The Italian Jewish historian Primo Levi was one of those who was sent on that “trip”, but the northern destination was the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. What bothers Israel about Jacques Chirac is not his hostility to Jews, for there’s no proof of that, but his critical stance towards Israel.

Many organizations have been established in the world to monitor such expressions and to call to account those who make them whether they are anti-Semitic or not. Since most of the organized Jewish communities of the world became solidaric with Israel (also since Israel’s lucky number 1967), there is a trend to classify all critique of Israel as a kind of anti-Semitism, even though it is possible to say much harsher things in Israel itself.

This is one of the sources of the complexity of the Palestinian problem. Israel laments the importance the world places on the Palestinian issue. And it accuses the world of inconsistency if it raises a fuss about Israeli practices in the occupied territories that “do not approach the scale of crimes that raise no concerns in the world” according to Israeli propaganda. The truth is that the world’s “excessive” preoccupation with the Palestinian issue is a source of strength if the Palestinians learn to take advantage of it with liberationist and democratic discourse, even if it is anti-Zionist. But it is also, and historically, a source of weakness. Because its root is not a preoccupation with Palestinians, but with Jews. What motivates this preoccupation is the interconnectedness of the Palestinian question with the Jewish question and the latter’s place in the Western memory and conscience. And that leads in the end to the balance between the occupier and the occupied in an attempt to equate “the two sides”, because any step of solidarity with the people under occupation requires compensation to the occupier in order to avoid being accused of hostility to the occupier. This logic leads to official Europe dealing with Israel in the best of circumstances not as if Israel is a colonizer but as if Europe is the patient mother of a reckless and foolhardy child trying to prevent him from hurting himself as she puts up with his curses and insults.

Thus in a way the Palestinian cause is borne of the world’s preoccupation since the Balfour Declaration, and if not for this global preoccupation with the issue, the Palestinian cause would not have arisen, or it would have been solved long ago like any colonial situation faced by a small or large people. But the cause of Palestine emerged precisely when other peoples obtained their independence, and as other causes were resolved, the Palestinian cause became more complex. And despite the benefits that accrue to some within the Palestinian elite from the global “cause Industry”, the Palestinian people is not to be envied for copious global preoccupation.

It is no longer possible to be liberated from the intertwining of the two issues except by wishful thinking. The question revolves around how to deal with it in a way that rejects anti-Semitism, and does not accept it as one of the sources of the justification of the Palestinian cause in a kind of cleverness in using the image of absolute evil that non-Palestinians have suffered from as well, and that rejects on the other hand Israel’s attempts to use anti-Semitism to silence any voice raised against Israel and its practices, and that refuses to release it from the charge of racism.

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Bishara is an expert on it because Latin
by Barry 1:07pm Wed Dec 3 '03

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he practices anti-Semitic fascism so thoroughly - as do the Indymedia editors.

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