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March 31, 2019 7:04 am

Today’s Antisemitism Is the Fight Against Israel

avatar by Fiamma Nirenstein /


South African model Shashi Naidoo at a press conference organized by the BDS campaign on June 20, 2018. Photo: BDS South Africa.

JNS.orgJean-Paul Sartre once wrote that when it comes to antisemitism, there’s a strange kind of associated optimism: Once the evil embodied by the Jewish people is eliminated, harmony will finally be reestablished.

Today, this so-called “optimism” has never, in so many incarnations, shown itself more explicitly: When the state of the Jews — the very essence of Jewish life in the world right now — is destroyed, all the world’s problems will be solved. The Middle East will be quiet and stable; the world will know a mythical universal peace between all religions; the Muslim world will be happy and therefore more relaxed towards the West; terrorism will dry up; and the security and stability that the United Nations and the European Union have promised (yet never obtained) will finally arrive.

The delegitimization of the State of Israel is the core of antisemitism today. Even the most traditional demonization of the Jews, with its blood libels and age-old antisemitic tropes, finds its way into a modern Israel-inspired narrative. Think about the chutzpah of Israeli doctors, nurses, soldiers, firemen, first responders, and disaster-relief teams who leave the country and fly far away to help wherever an earthquake, tsunami, or just recently a cyclone affecting swaths of Africa, hits the local population. People claim these teams are going to disaster sites in order to steal human organs for resale. Israeli soldiers, as the Swedish daily paper Aftonbladet wrote, deliberately kill young Palestinians for the same reason.

It’s hard to imagine that someone with a rational mind would believe this. Yet it’s just a short jump between believing it and — as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) does in its resolutions — claiming that Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border are not defending their citizens from cruel terrorist attacks, but just attacking innocent bystanders and demonstrators, and committing war crimes, even when attacked by thousands of people inspired by Hamas, who are trying to violently invade their country.

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It’s a modernization of blood libels and conspiracy theories — a belief that the Jews are “a cancer that must be exterminated,” as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says.

Nowadays, we can say that this kind of antisemitism has become much more powerful. Many European Jews talk about “Holocaust inversion.” That antisemitic attacks focus first and foremost on Israel as the great persecutor, murderer, ethnic cleanser, human rights violator, and apartheid state. The Israelis are the Nazis, the Palestinians the Jews, and the Jews in general are Nazi proxies. Therefore, all Jews are delegitimized. And more: The Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust to their own advantage. It’s interesting that according to a poll by CNN in the February, 30 percent of people interviewed had never heard of or know nothing about the Holocaust.

Several years ago, Natan Sharansky offered a description of antisemitism against Israel. He called it the three “D”s: delegitimization, demonization, and double standards. Think about the European Union and its boycott on goods in the “occupied territories.” It rationalizes its diplomatic warfare against Israel, using BDS as the main vehicle.

BDS’s way of conducting the delegitimization attack on the existence of Israel has become a sophisticated machine of supposed legitimization. In the name of freedom of speech, European and American politicians on the extreme left have found their way to the microphones and to social media. An Israel-hater like British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn could become the prime minister of the United Kingdom. In the United States, a Democratic member of Congress, Ilhan Omar (D-MI), can profess her hate for Israel without moral or political consequences. She and her defenders respond with the old mantra: Mine is legitimate criticism, and antisemitism has nothing to do with what I said.

The historical, social, and cultural reasons for this new antisemitism are connected to a strange confluence of events. On one side is an economic and cultural crisis of the West that invites the masses to publicly express their unhappiness, misery, and also their ignorance. A new tribalism is invading the mass culture of today in the form of rule of moral subjectivism.

The other side is the leftist crusaders who engage in a partisan struggle against real or pretended enemies, very often forgetting or not taking into account the real enemies. The most blatant example of omission is the crimes in the entire Muslim world, where women are oppressed, where sexual and ideological differences are punished with torture and death, where terrorism is considered the fight for freedom. All this is forgiven and forgotten, while the state of the Jewish people, Israel, is condemned.

The reaction to this situation is weak, apologetic, confused, and mostly wrong. Yes, there is a commendable effort in the educational and social arenas to keep the memory of the Shoah alive. But commendable as it is, it’s not a solution to antisemitism. Israel is the main target, not the memory of the Holocaust. The logical consequence is that all Jews are considered a fifth column loyal to this criminal, colonial country.

Therefore, the best institutional attempt to contain the wave of antisemitism is by expanding acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism and implementing legal measures against BDS.

What is missing is the understanding that to defend the Jews, you must defend, first and foremost, Israel, and that Israel is the ultimate defense for the Jews. Israel makes an incredible difference compared to the past. Because of its existence, the Jewish people have a refuge and a clear defender. Everybody must feel this. It’s important to encourage Jews and others to visit as part of university courses, school trips, and conferences to gain a real image of Israel, its people, its problems, its soldiers, and its skills. The delegitimization of Israel must have an address: If it comes from Iran or the Muslim world, and most of all, from the Palestinians — the struggle must be against them, and with the help of Israel this can be done.

Whoever is interested in having good relations with Israel must defend its Jews.

We must make the struggle contemporary. Antisemitism is a many-headed Hydra that doesn’t care about how awful the past has been. It’s alive and well now.

Of course, it’s commendable to keep teaching the history of past persecutions in schools, seeing Auschwitz, visiting Yad Vashem, listening to our beloved Holocaust survivors, who are leaving us one by one. It’s terrible that we’ll miss them so much. But we must focus on the next step.

Antisemitism must be precisely located where it is — namely, in the hate against Israel. A tough, well-aimed new kind of campaign must be conceived to combat this.

Will this destroy antisemitism? Probably not. But for the time being, I want to see the lies overcome on the left and the right. I want to skip all the speeches, overcome the old structures, and help take the struggle in a new direction.

Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, on the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Antisemitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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