Jewish Journal

UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “The New Anti-Semitism is a Virus”

by Bob Goldfarb

June 22, 2011 | 1:29 pm

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The new anti-Semitism, in the view of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, is not a resurgence of the centuries-old hatred of Jews.  For one thing, it is not aimed at individual Jews, but rather against Jews living as a nation in their own land: it is anti-Zionism.  For another, it draws its authority not from Christian teachings or the findings of science (or pseudo-science), as in previous centuries.  It flows from a concept of human rights that is vested strictly in individuals rather than by way of communities.  And it is no longer propagated as a national ideology, but rather through new media.  The Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom spoke at the opening session at the second day of the Israeli Presidential Conference

One thing this new phenomenon has in common with the anti-Semitism of the past, says Dr. Sacks, is that it grows out of the politics of grievance and humiliation.  He points to the history of Christianity; Germany after the First World War; and now the Islamic world, mourning its lost glory.  Against expectations it unites radical Islamists with human-rights NGOs—the right wing and the left wing—against a common enemy, the State of Israel.

Speaking after his public comments, Lord Sacks traced the current brief against Israel to the first Durban Conference in August, 2001, in which Israel was accused of five cardinal offenses against human rights: racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide.  Two years later, in a live BBC interview, he was asked his reaction to a boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day by the British Muslim community “because of the ongoing genocide against Palestinians.”  His response was to deplore the debasing of discourse through the casual use of that term.

A contributing factor to European anti-Semitism, he believes, is the failure of multiculturalism and the consequent deëmphasis of the rights of minority communities.  The Netherlands, the first country to embrace multiculturalism, was also the first to reject it, with the result that many voters are now willing to abridge the rights of the Muslim community—and the Jewish community.  Rabbi Sacks spoke recently in The Hague against the proposal to ban sh’chitah (kosher slaughter) in the Netherlands, which he believes may pass—followed in all likelihood by a ban of brit milah (circumcision).  [A ban on ritual circumcision is also being considered in San Francisco.]

The Chief Rabbi pointed with pride to the fact that Britain is the first country where the fight against anti-Semitism is led by non-Jews.  He held out the hope that coalitions of Jews and non-Jews throughout the world can work together to reverse the gains of the new anti-Semites.

The Israeli Presidential Conference enters its third and final day tomorrow.

Bob Goldfarb, the president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, also blogs regularly for eJewishPhilanthropy.com.

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Bob Goldfarb has been president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, based in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, since 2007.  Before getting involved with the Jewish...

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