UN meeting on anti-Semitism… Oy vey

This is why UN hearings on anti-Semitism are a very, very bad idea. The General Assembly "informal" conference opened Jan. 22 with a keynote address by French philosopher (of Sephardic background) Bernard-Henri Lévy—yes, the same who was recently in the news over having pressured Charlie Hebdo to fire an anti-Semitic cartoonist, was a few months back the target of angry protests in Tunisia over his supposed intrigues against the post-revolutionary government, and also made headlines in 2011 with his unseemly defense of accused rapist Dominque Strauss-Kahn. A choice perfectly designed to turn the whole affair into a counter-productive farce. Arab and Israeli diplomats did not fail to deliver opportunistic obfuscation that just makes everyone stupider.

Jewish News Service flaunts the predictably problematic prognosis of Saudi Arabia's ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi, who posed the occupation of Palestine as at the root of the recent ugliness in Europe: "Colonization and occupation fuels [sic] anti-Semitism… occupation is an act of anti-Semitism. It threatens human rights and human kind [sic]." Al-Mouallimi also condemned all words and acts that lead "to hatred, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia"—a not-so-veiled reference to Charlie Hebdo.

OK, what exactly does al-Mouallimi mean by "occupation is an act of anti-Semitism"? Does he mean that it inevitably gives rise to a backlash against Jews and therefore is responsible for anti-Semitism? Which is rather letting the Jew-haters off the hook, as if they were automatons that must respond reflexively. Or does he mean that the Palestinians are Semites too, and their oppression is therefore anti-Semitism?

The irony is that there is an element of truth to both these interpretations, even if the ambiguity is itself testament to al-Mouallimi's dishonest intent. Yes, the occupation of Palestine does "fuel" anti-Semitism, in that it provides Jew-haters with potent propaganda. We must again call out the twin errors that are nearly ubiquitous in commentary on the question. One is to deny the context of the Gaza bombardment (or latest Israeli outrage) and portray the recent attacks on Jews as mere arbitrary anti-Semitism. The other is to deny the anti-Semitic element, as if fire-bombing a synagogue or shooting up a kosher market were a legitimate way to protest Israeli atrocities.

The second interpretation also contains a grain of truth. Zionism is a European ideology, informed by the racist assumptions of European colonialism which saw Semites, Black Africans, Asians and Amerindians as inferior peoples to be either exploited or pushed out of the way. This explains the evident streak of self-hatred in Zionism. But if an element of anti-Semitism is at work in Zionism, there is also such an element at work in Islamism, and it similarly makes no difference that Arabs are also Semites. The European ideology of anti-Semitism has spread to the Islamic world—a paradoxical reality, but an unavoidable one, after Egyptian TV has run a series based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (also referenced in the Hamas charter and at times promoted by the Palestinian Authority), and works like Henry Ford's The International Jew are promoted on websites with names like Radio Islam (PDF).

OK, next up is Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor, who offers: "Violent anti-Semitism is casting a shadow over Europe… This summer, disguised as humanitarian concern, delegates have used this podium to commit anti-Semitism, accusing Israel of behaving like Nazis. It doesn't matter how much you're angered or frustrated by our conflict. There is no excuse for statements like that."

Again, this exploits an element of truth. Equating Israel with Nazi Germany is indeed a lamentable rhetorical excess (at its very best). And when those who make excuses for Bashar Assad or Saddam Hussein call Israel a "Nazi state," you know their thinking is not kosher. But dismissing the "humanitarian concern" as a mere excuse is no more honest. For the most cynical Jew-haters, it may be. But far more numerous are those genuinely outraged at Israel's all too real atrocities, but fed anti-Semitism instead of principled anti-Zionism.

Speaking of cynical Jew-haters, we've now all heard that Lutz Bachmann, leader of Germany's Islamophobic anti-immigrant Pegida movement, has had to step down after a photo emerged of him dressed up as Adolf Hitler, with hairpiece and moustache and everything. (BBC News) So let's be done with this wrong assumption that the interests of Jews are with those who would purge their Fortress Europe of Muslims. It is astonishingly blind not to get that anti-Semitism is endemic to the nativist right. The Bachmann affair is yet more evidence of what we've had all too many occasions to point out: anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are genetically linked phenomena.

  1. Bernard-Henri Lévy: just shut up already

    If there were any doubt BHL's comments at the UN would dangerously muddy the water, they are dispelled by the AP account of his remarks. We are told BHL said "anti-Semites call Israel an 'illegitimate state,' deny the Holocaust, and believe Jews give far too much attention to Holocaust victims and stifle other people's martyrs, including the Palestinians…" This ironically uses the time-honored tactic of anti-Semites, of mixing up legitimate points with cynical shots, confusing the gullible. For the anti-Semites, legitimate points about the dispossession of the Palestinians and Israel's illegal actions are mixed up with cynical shots about Jewish banking conspiracies and Israel controlling the United States ("behind the scenes"). For BHL, legitimate points about Holocaust denial and minimization are mixed up with cheap shots like decrying that Israel is called an "illegitimate state." If by "illegitimate state," we mean one that openly defies international law, Israel is assuredly an illegitimate state. Sorry, Monsieur Lévy.

  2. Double-standards of anti-Semitism… again

    From USA Today, Feb. 5:

    Teens' tweets on killing Jews won't be prosecuted
    JACKSON, N.J. — A New Jersey State Police sergeant's teenage daughter who dressed like Hitler and posted a picture of a popular gathering spot for Orthodox Jews on social media with the caption "perfect bombing time" may have behaved offensively but not criminally authorities said Thursday.

    The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office examined the Twitter post and a cache of other pro-Hitler images from the Jackson teen and her associates and concluded that they did not amount to any credible threat.

    "There was never any danger being posed to the community," said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the office. "It didn't rise to anything criminal."

    How perfectly charming. Cop's daughter, so just good clean fun, and the media bury it. If this had been a Muslim immigrant, the FBI would be holding him, armed troops would be patrolling Jackson, NJ, and it would be front-page news (to use an anachronism)…

  3. Uri Avnery: anti-Semitism? What anti-Semitism?

    So while Bibi and BHL exploit the current wave of anti-Semitism in counter-productive manner, the usually astute Uri Avnery gets on the anti-Semitism-doesn't-exist bandwagon—in counter-productive manner. More embarassingly, his piece appears in the noxious organ of the pseudo-left, Counterpunch. It is entitled "The Fallacy of Rising Anti-Semitism" and makes all the same tired, transparent arguments about how the attacks are coming from Semites themselves (Arab youth) and are animated by anger at Israel. Uri, will you please think? Semites are perfectly capable of anti-Semitism. Arab antipathy for Jews is no more a contradiction than Jewish antipathy for Arabs or Ashkenazic antipathy for Mizrahim. And anger at Israel merely provides the context for the anti-Semitism, it doesn't make it non-existent—not any more than the rise of ISIS makes Islamophobia non-existent. So tiresome to have to repeat the obvious over and over.

    Anti-Semitism is exploited by the Zionist right and simply denied by the left. Yet again, not much courage or principle on either side here.

    1. CounterPunch or Suckerpunch?

      That's the witty title of an analysis on an astute anti-fascist blog called Meldungen aus dem Exil (Messages from Exile) calling out this supposed organ of the "left" for its promotion of  Paul Craig Roberts, Ron PaulAlison WeirIsrael Shamir, Gilad Atzmon and other such far-right weasels. What a breath of fresh air! The writer, Elise Hendrick, actually finds that these sorts have been given more electonic ink on Counterpunch than writers of what she (too generously) calls "the left" (Noam Chomsky, Norman FinkelsteinJeremy Scahill and their ilk). Forward this widely.