Since 1945, antisemitism has rarely been an issue in the national politics of the US and the UK. Today, at least for Jews, it is a real concern in both countries.
In both cases, it is tangled up with anti-Zionism, or even misoziony, the extreme and irrational hatred of the Jewish state. There are still some “paleo-” antisemites who will admit that they just hate Jews for the same old reasons that have been animating their type for thousands of years, but they are considered outside the limits of acceptable discourse. They are the ones who perpetrate mass murders, so we have to take them seriously; but we don’t have to listen to their stupid arguments. Then there are special kinds of antisemites, like the ones who follow Louis Farrakhan in the belief that the Jews aren’t the real Jews (blacks are). They are also violent, but their arguments can be dismissed as well.
The more serious problems – at least from an intellectual point of view – both in the US and the UK, revolve around those who say that they don’t hate Jews, they are just “critical of Israeli policy.” They often insist, further, that they believe in Israel’s “right to exist” but only want it to stop “oppressing Palestinians.” Sometimes they claim that they oppose the “racist” or “colonialist” ideology of Zionism.
Let’s start there. Zionism is no more or less than the belief that the Jewish people have a right to a sovereign state in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Prior to 1948, Zionists wanted to establish such a state, and since then to preserve it. There’s no racial component to it: Zionism doesn’t imply that Jews are superior to Arabs or anybody else. Without going too far into the tortuous ideology of intersectional postcolonialism and its hierarchy of victimhood, there’s nothing colonialist about a people returning to its aboriginal home and expelling the latest in a series of colonial powers; in fact, the opposite is the case.
This simple definition, however, makes it impossible to understand some of the complaints about Zionism and Zionists made by the UK Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn and others. For example, Corbyn’s now-famous 2013 remark,
[Zionists] clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either… So I think they needed two lessons, which we can perhaps help them with.
makes little sense if one assumes that “Zionists” are just people who support Israel. Here is a translation by Simon Hattenstone in the usually anti-Israel Guardian:
…these British Zionists don’t study history, and they don’t understand irony … In other words, they are uneducated, they have failed to integrate or assimilate, they are outsiders, they don’t belong, they need to be taught a lesson. Sorry, Jeremy, this is the language of supremacism.
Corbyn isn’t the only one who thinks he can avoid being an antisemite by replacing the word “Jews” with “Zionists.” Marc Lamont Hill, the former CNN commentator fired for calling for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” in a speech at the UN, accused major news organizations of being “Zionist organizations” that produced “Zionist content.” Hill insisted that he was not playing on the antisemitic theme of Jewish-controlled media, but it’s hard not to hear the echoes of the traditional music when one listens to his original comment, especially since the networks in question are not particularly pro-Israel.
The ophidian Congresswoman Ilhan Omar couches her anti-Zionist sentiments in language that clearly echoes antisemitic ideas that are far older than she is. Jews and money, Jews with influence behind the scenes, Jewish allegiance to a foreign power, and hypnotically powerful Jews. It’s possible that she is given a pass for her utterances, because as a Muslim immigrant from Somalia, she isn’t expected to understand American norms. Or maybe knows precisely what she is doing, pushing the window of acceptable discourse to include more and coarser expressions of antisemitism.
Today a Jewish state exists and has a legal pedigree, starting with the San Remo Conference and the Anglo-American treaty of 1924 at which the British Mandate for Palestine was ratified, that is no less well-grounded than those of its enemies. Israel successfully defended its territory in several wars, and has a democratic government. There is no country more “legitimate,” whatever that means.
Anti-Zionism – and even more so, the pathological misoziony that characterizes left-wing and academic talk about Israel – can’t be understood except in one of two ways.
One is an affirmation of the eliminationist ideology of the Khamenei regime of Iran that calls for wiping Israel of the face of the earth. This is cognitive warfare in the service of geopolitical and religious conflict. While it is antisemitic in fact, hatred of Jews is secondary to the imperative of destroying the Jewish state, which has become an obsession on the part of Iranian leaders (and which I hope and believe will lead to their undoing).
The other is that misoziony is traditional Jew-hatred, raised to a higher level of abstraction. Because the Jewish state is the state of the Jewish people, it can be hated above all others. Consider some of the parallels between antisemitism and misoziony:
For the antisemite the Jew is the cause of all his personal misfortunes. For the misozionist, Israel is responsible for all the conflict and instability of the Mideast, not to mention the poor treatment of women in Palestinian society, the poor state of public health in the region, Gaza’s sanitation, water, and electricity problems, and more.
For the antisemite the Jew is the powerful conspirator behind the curtains, pulling the strings of the financial and media worlds. For the misozionist, it’s Israel (or Zionists acting on her behalf).
For the antisemite the Jew kills non-Jewish children and drains their blood. For the misozionist, Israel kills non-Jewish children and steals their organs.
For the antisemite the Jew poisons wells and spreads disease. For the misozionist, the IDF uses poison gas and exploding bullets, and Israel was responsible for the spread of AIDS.
For the antisemite the Jew is the source and repository of sexual immorality. For the misozionist, Israel is.
For the antisemite any accusation against the Jew is immediately believed. No proof is necessary. For the misozionist, the same is true of Israel.
For the antisemite the Jewish question is more important than any other concern. For the misozionist, it is more important to call out Israel for her alleged sins than any other country, even if the other country engages in genocide, naked aggression, or extreme racism.
The Holocaust put a damper on public expressions of antisemitism. Few wanted to admit being like Nazis (although there were exceptions), but in recent years the Internet and its ability to bring like-minded communities of evil individuals together and allow them to validate their beliefs and describe their fantasies to one another, facilitated the rebirth of the most vicious antisemitism (as it did for other vices, like pedophilia). Thus we have mass shootings in synagogues in the US, almost unimaginable two decades ago.
But there was no taboo against misoziony. It was not only allowed to develop unfettered, it was actively promoted by the KGB as a psychological warfare component of the Cold War (Israel was aligned with the West, Nasser et al. with the Soviets). The New Left, the heirs of the old fashioned Stalinists, picked it up in the 1960s.
Today, it permits the gloriously ignorant Western Left to gratify its need to hate and to be angry, in terms which resonate subconsciously with the viral traces of the oldest hatred that still reside in the reptilian part of their brains.