03.09.2005Brian Klug - Robert WistrichWhen Is Opposition to Israel and Its Policies Anti-Semitic?
What kind of role does anti-Semitism play in the Middle East Conflict? At what point does opposition to Israel turn into anti-Semitism? These issues are discussed by Brian Klug, British philosopher and journalist, and Robert Wistrich, director of the International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem
Brian Klug Last night I saw a one-man performance based on "If This is a Man", Primo Levi's haunting account of his experience of Auschwitz. It was like listening to a ghost from the "house of the dead" (his words). Today, writing this letter, I am filled with melancholy. When the State of Israel came into existence, rising out of the ashes of the Shoah, hope was in the air.
The new state offered survivors a haven. Furthermore, Zionism held out a promise for Jews everywhere: normalization and "an end to anti-Semitism" (Theodor Herzl). Yet, far from ending it, Israel is now the focus of what some people call a new anti-Semitism. In my view, anti-Zionism is not necessarily anti-Semitic. But there is lack of clarity about how and when anti-Semitism enters the picture. This leaves many people of goodwill confused. They are often uncertain whether they are being anti-Semitic when they criticize Israel or oppose its policies or question Zionism. How have we reached this point?
A major cause of confusion, as I see it, is that there are three different levels of hostility, and in practice they overlap. At one level, Israel's policies and actions provoke anger at the Israeli state as well as the Jewish people. I am thinking, in particular, of preferential treatment for Jewish citizens, the oppressive occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the expansion of Jewish settlements.
More profoundly, the hope of normalization was delusive. For Zionism was crucially ambiguous. On the one hand, it saw itself as a national movement for self-determination on behalf of a persecuted people. On the other hand, it was seen in the region as part of a European push into the Arab and Muslim heartland.
Seen from one side, Zionism meant liberation from Europe. Seen from the other side, the Jews who came as settlers were Europeans by any other name. In other words, Israel is resented as an interloper and an outpost of the West, at odds with the rest of the region. Viewing Israel this way is, to say the least, simplistic. But this attitude is not anti-Semitic; it is anti-Western.
The third level of hostility is anti-Jewish prejudice, some of it intense. We should not under-estimate this. But when does opposition to Israel cross the line into anti-Semitism? Perhaps we can explore this vexed question in our next round of letters.
Brian Klug is Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at St Benet's Hall, Oxford University, and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Saint Xavier University, Chicago. He is Associate Editor of the journal Patterns of Prejudice, published by Routledge in association with the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/Non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton and is a founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights (UK). In November 2004 Klug gave an expert testimony at the Hearing on Anti-Semitism at the German Bundestag.