Anti-Semitism and other lies
Accusations against the Palestinian solidarity movement of hating Jews qua Jews are obvious nonsense, says Paul Demarty. Many Jews support the Palestinian cause and are welcomed and cheered
About the only plausibly compelling moral argument against the Palestinian solidarity movement is that it represents a dangerous revival of anti-Semitism.
But even its plausibility seems at rock-bottom in the present situation. Large majorities in many western countries seem to favour, at least, a ceasefire in Gaza. Despite various desperate attempts to cast doubt on the Israeli state’s monstrous assaults, their reality is all too plain, all too resistant to the usual methods of obfuscation. Any principle invoked in the defence of this slaughter, of the deliberate bombing of hospitals and ambulances, the routine violation of the security of so-called safety corridors, the targeting of bakeries - in this situation, critical links in the strip’s tenuous food security - tends to look a little suspicious.
Yet that does not stop our rulers and their paid persuaders clinging to it like a plank of driftwood on a turbulent sea. It provides, after all, a pretext for state repression. The German state routinely bans Palestine demonstrations on the basis of their ‘anti-Semitism’; Suella Braverman - perhaps the most despicable home secretary in living memory until Rishi Sunak knifed her on November 13 - took it as an increasingly ridiculous pretext to designate the mass protests in this country “hate marches”. In the US, naturally, the panic concerns college students. Campuses are declared “unsafe” for Jewish students, with the evidence given being typically reducible to the presence of posters denouncing the genocidal exploits of the Israeli Defence Forces.
All over, statistics are produced declaring some huge increase in “anti-Semitic incidents”, usually by organisations with no reasonable claim on our trust, and who no doubt count perfectly ordinary professions of solidarity with the victims of terror-bombings and massacres as “hate speech” against Jews.
Our own eyes
Among other things, this offends the evidence of our own eyes, if we are participants in these movements. After all, if they were vectors of genocidal hatred against Jews, presumably the most dangerous place for any Jew to find herself would be on such a demonstration. She should find a hostile, frosty reception. To put it mildly, this is not so. Thousands of Jews - from the liberal secular wing of this diverse religious and cultural group to the ultra-Orthodox - attend the marches in London alone, and are welcomed, even when (as with the ultra-Orthodox) they disagree with run-of-the-mill secular leftists on just about every other matter imaginable. Jewish speakers are cheered loudly. We rejoice at the sight of Israeli Jews protesting their state’s crimes, at great risk to their livelihoods.
We do not cast them out under threat of violence. We do not worry about ‘the wrong sort of people’ getting involved, as if it were some 1950s country club. These Jews are invisible, it seems, to the state, the media and Zionist organisations; but they are not invisible to their comrades in struggle.
In the mouths of Israel’s enablers, the word ‘anti-Semitism’ has long been distorted into a very strange relation of its commonly understood meaning down to 1967 at least - and really the 1980s, when Israel’s bloody intervention in the Lebanese civil war and repression of the First Intifada brought fresh controversy to the shores of its allies. We used to know what it meant - prejudice against Jews qua Jews.
Such prejudice has a long and ignoble history in the west, of course. From the Middle Ages through the early modern period, it typically took the form of Christian religious anti-Semitism. The Jews were hated as Christ-killers, inheritors of ancestral guilt. In the account of the gospel of Matthew, Pontius Pilate - dubiously cast as a woolly liberal - took every effort to spare Jesus crucifixion, but was overcome by the passion of the crowd:
When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it”. Then answered all the people, and said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”
The plebeian masses of Europe were all too familiar with this version, from preaching and passion plays and art depicting Jesus’s execution being celebrated by crowds of hook-nosed Yids. Pogroms were common, especially around Easter-time, and even more especially in times of famine or epidemic, when Jews were often blamed for poisoning wells and so forth. The role assigned to Jewish communities in the Christian west was to do what the Christians were typically forbidden to do - lend at interest, and get the financial machinery of nascent capitalism in gear. So there also developed the enduring stereotype of the avaricious Jewish moneylender, whose great representative in English literature is Shylock of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice - or, to give it its full title in the First Quarto, “the most excellent historie of the Merchant of Venice, with the extreame crueltie of Shylocke the Jewe towards the said Merchant”.
In the 19th century, a still grimmer iteration began to form, based on the modish pseudoscience of ‘race’. Jews also came under fire for their supposed cosmopolitanism - the very fact that they had been scattered far and wide made them suspicious to those nationalists whose politics were in the ascendant. It was one such scandal - the framing of the Jewish French army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, and the long and bitter controversy it created in French history - that gave Theodor Herzl, the founding figure of modern Zionism, his key argument. The Dreyfus affair proved that Jews would never be welcome anywhere in their diaspora. Why should they be? They were a ‘race’ all of their own (although the word ‘race’ here is not necessarily to be interpreted in its pseudo-scientific, biological sense). Jews could only be reconciled with the other nations when they had a country of their own.
Zionism was only one of many political currents circulating in Jewish communities at the turn of the 20th century. It met with great hostility from many others. Zealous Orthodox believers and rabbis did not think much of these atheistic nationalists; they could not see in Herzl, or later David Ben-Gurion and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, their prophesied moshiakh. Those bourgeois Jews, who had tenaciously fought their way into deeply anti-Semitic elites in Britain, France and elsewhere, found the Zionists’ pessimism incomprehensible and dangerous. The very many Jews among the working and middle classes who took up the banner of socialism in different ways tended to prefer internationalism.
Above all, the great embarrassment of Zionism was that it was in far closer practical agreement with anti-Semites than any progressive approach to what they used to call ‘the Jewish question’. It was the bigot, Arthur Balfour, who after World War I offered the Jews a homeland in mandate Palestine. He was supported by other anti-Semites like GK Chesterton, who put the matter quite plainly in 1920:
it was always much more true to call [my view] Zionism … my friends and I had in some general sense a policy in the matter; and it was in substance the desire to give Jews the dignity and status of a separate nation. We desired that in some fashion, and so far as possible, Jews should be represented by Jews, should live in a society of Jews, should be judged by Jews and ruled by Jews. I am an anti-Semite if that is anti-Semitism. It would seem more rational to call it Semitism.
And, when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany - his ghastly plans for Germany’s Jews (and the Jews of his proposed greater German Reich) already plain from his published writings and speeches - some Zionists spied an opportunity. Hitler himself seems not to have thought much of them; but the Zionist papers were the last Jewish periodicals to be banned, and contacts were made with many regime officials; they even enjoyed some protection in the 1930s from Reinhard Heydrich, who would later become the architect of the ‘final solution’.
This rather discreditable record is a source of acute embarrassment to today’s Zionists, and to Israel’s state allies. In the name of expiating its guilt for the holocaust, the German state brings the hammer down on those brave enough to object to Israel’s present onslaught. Olaf Scholz even went so far as to call support for Israel part of Germany’s Staatsraison - a strangely sentimental item to file under a noun usually restricted to the icy calculations of national interest; but no less grim in its consequences than the ruthless initiatives of the European powers over recent centuries. Yet the identification of Israel as the target of such support flies in the face of the actual history of the 1930s, and the way the different political factions of German Jews actually reacted to the unfolding horror.
It is nonetheless undeniable that the holocaust gave great plausibility to the central Zionist claim - that Jews would only ever be safe as a nation-state. It was far more reasonable a proposition in 1948 than 1918 - after all, the Dreyfusards won, and the good captain was restored to his rank and served honourably in World War I. The near extinction of what had been a substantial, thriving nationality, especially in eastern and central Europe, could not be so easily forgotten. The success of the Zionist militias in driving out first the British and then large numbers of Palestinian Arabs, establishing the state of Israel, rather rammed the point home. Such a country would not be led like lambs to the next slaughter. As Mae West once said, a hard man is good to find.
There is a contradiction here, however. The idea that Israel offers protection to Jews is dependent on its fearsome, if currently rather diminished, martial reputation. Yet the idea that anti-Semitism is a real and immediate threat to Jews everywhere because of opposition to Israel suggests it is rather more fragile than all that. Indeed, there are reasons to suppose that, in spite of its deep militarism, nuclear arsenal and all the rest, Israel is more vulnerable than it looks. In particular, it has always depended utterly on fulsome material support from greater powers, latterly the United States.
It is US support - that is to say, the backing of the undisputed global top dog - that has permitted the strange perversion of the idea of anti-Semitism all around us today. US support filters down to other US allies; by the 2000s, there were elaborate theories of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ floating around everywhere; the evidence certainly included outbursts from neo-Nazi boneheads, ultra-traditionalist Catholics, and more vengeful Islamists, but the numbers of ‘anti-Semitic incidents’ were padded out with criticisms of Israel. The most prominent expression of this phony analysis floating around today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s baroque definition of anti-Semitism, whose canonical accompanying examples make it clear that delegitimising criticism of Israel is the main point of the matter.
Since the evidence of Israeli brutality is so overwhelming, it becomes a sin to “single out” Israel for criticism, when there is after all no shortage of brutality in the world. Yet, as I have remarked before, the truth is the reverse. The left routinely denounces outrages worldwide; Israel is rather singled out for protection from criticism by the imperialist ruling elite. Nobody accuses us of ‘singling out’ Saudi Arabia for criticism when we condemn its horrendous crimes in Yemen, and others besides. It is our criticisms of Israel which are unfairly ‘singled out’.
Thus the ‘new anti-Semitism’ is not kin to the old - the various ways in which people have been prejudiced against Jews qua Jews. Instead, we now have a taboo on criticism of Israel qua Israel - Israel as it really is, as a brutal, genocidal coloniser. It is not the case, as David Baddiel complained in his book, that “Jews don’t count” from the point of view of the left’s opposition to oppression. It is rather, from the point of view of imperialism, that only pro-Israeli Jews “count”.
The old anti-Semitism is still with us. Indeed, it is at least a more obvious presence on the US far right than it was a few years ago, with the rise of the alt-right and e-right, which favour ever ‘edgier’ statements on the matter, and indeed the revival of ultra-traditionalist Catholicism in many countries. Indeed, the fervent Zionism of certain fundamentalist Protestants - who support Israel as a means of hastening the end-times - is a new and interesting variant of the old religious hatred of Jews, since at the end of the day the big event they are looking forward to is the mass conversion to Christianity of a small number of the Jews and the condemnation of the rest to eternal hellfire for the sins of their fathers.
That is trouble enough. But we should not be cowed into allowing the grim memory of past crimes against European Jewry to blunt our attack on the mass murders of the present day.