June 19, 2003
New Form of Anti-Semitism
British Jews are facing a new form of anti-Semitism so unlike its past incarnations that it should be known by a new name, Judeophobia, according to a new study by a leading Jewish think tank.
Coming after conferences on anti-Semitism in New York, Amsterdam, Paris and Vienna, the book, "A New Anti-Semitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st-Century Britain," is something of a symposium unto itself.
It includes essays by 17 writers, ranging from Britain's Orthodox chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, to journalists, lawyers, novelists, trade unionists, academics and financial professionals. Put together by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the book contains a wide range of views. But a closing essay by editors Barry Kosmin, the institute's director, and criminologist Paul Iganski teases out themes on which many of the essayists agree.
Despite a few high-profile incidents of synagogue and cemetery vandalism and occasional attacks on Jews, "the new anti-Semitism" does not aim at the physical harm or elimination of Jews, the editors argue. For the most part, the new threat comes not from the far right but from the intellectual left and focuses heavily on criticism of Israel -- a distinction the British Jewish community has failed to address, they say.
"This is a different kind of anti-Semitism from Auschwitz, and the Jewish community has to learn that," Kosmin stressed. "Jews are looking for Nazis, when the problem is Stalinists."
The book suggests that academia, the trade union movement and leading media outlets, such as the BBC and the Guardian and Independent newspapers, are guilty of what the institute calls "institutionalized Judeophobia." A concept adapted from U.S. black power activist Stokeley Carmichael, institutionalized Judeophobia results in hostility to Jews -- especially as personified by the State of Israel -- even if no individual within the organization is necessarily anti-Semitic.
"A New Anti-Semitism?" has an entire section on the media, with a number of authors taking the liberal media to task for its coverage of Israel and for the way many journalists have gone on the counterattack against Jewish criticism of such reporting.
"'Criticize Israel and you are an anti-Semite, just as surely as if you were throwing a pot of paint at a synagogue in Paris,' the diplomatic editor of the Observer wrote in a particularly offensive article that helped to set the debate going," academic Peter Pulzer writes in one essay.
Pulzer sets out a number of criteria to determine when criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism. These include comparing Israel to the Nazis and attacking anonymous collectives, such as "the Jewish community," "the Jewish lobby" or "the Jewish vote."
Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for the Guardian, considers whether anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic. "Some anti-Zionists are anti-Semites and should be fought like enemies," Freedland concludes. But, he adds, "others are presenting us with a cogent challenge to our core values," and it's necessary to respond to them with intellectual honesty. "There is no more Zionist project than that," he says.
Not all the essayists paint gloomy pictures. Antony Lerman, editor of the Anti-Semitism World Report, says that "to see anti-Semitism as the determining factor in Jewish life is to ignore the broader context. There is no mass discrimination against Jews, no state-sponsored anti-Semitism, no suppression of Jewish culture in the communist bloc, no anti-Semitism encouraged by the hierarchies of either the Protestant or the Catholic churches," he writes. "Jews are experiencing unprecedented freedom and success."
The rebuilding of Jewish monuments and culture -- not the desecration of cemeteries -- is the defining feature of Jewish life in Europe today, Lerman says.
Such arguments are a far cry from those of academic Robert Wistrich, who looks at militant Islam and concludes, "This is a grim picture and these are dark days."
Sacks -- who initially was reluctant even to discuss anti-Semitism -- testified before Parliament that "we are witnessing the second great mutation of anti-Semitism in modern times, from racial anti-Semitism to religious anti-Zionism, with the added premise that all Jews are Zionists."
At least one Jewish campaigner against racism, Edie Friedman, is deeply suspicious of the editors' thesis. The director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Friedman did not contribute to the book and has read only excerpts, but those excerpts concerned her, she said.
"The danger of coining phrases like 'Judeophobia' is that you could make people more reluctant to participate in society," she said. "I think we have to see the evidence before inventing new terms. And the evidence is based on 'this dinner party I went to,' and that's not good enough."
The center-left intelligentsia is the greatest source of "institutional Judeophobia," the book's editors say. That presents a challenge for a Jewish community that long has focused on physical security, rather than on what Kosmin calls a "Judeophobia about ideas."
"It is far easier to get heated or engaged with broken tombstones," Kosmin said. "But the problem is much more complex and subtle in our more complex, complicated society."