03.09.2005Brian Klug - Robert WistrichWhen Is Opposition to Israel and Its Policies Anti-Semitic?
Robert Wistrich I think we can agree that not all criticism of Israeli government policies and behaviour expresses anti-Jewish hostility. But where to draw the line? My own litmus-test would be to see whether the "critic" of Zionism wishes to dismantle the Jewish State, without issuing a similar call for the disappearance of all other states in the Middle East and beyond. I would also check whether our critic engages in the systematic defamation or demonization of Israel.
Does he or she rely on classic anti-Semitic stereotypes in so doing: for example, by dredging up the alleged Jewish/Zionist "conspiracy" to dominate the world, or by evoking Jewish/Israeli "warmongers" who supposedly run American foreign policy; or through referring to an all-powerful "Jewish Lobby" that prevents justice in the Middle East. If the "anti-Zionist" critic holds Jews to be responsible for the chaos and troubles that currently afflict the world, he is surely an antisemite. If he criminalizes Israeli behaviour, by gratuitously branding it as "Nazi" or intrinsically "racist", then we are talking anti-Semitism. No doubt there are other criteria that will emerge in the course of our exchange.
Let me, however, question an important assumption in your letter which troubles me. Is Israel really an "interloper" or outpost of the West in the Middle East? You admit this is simplistic without saying why. This is what I believe. Jews returning to the Land of Israel are not like European settlers to other continents. They are an aboriginal people returning to their historic homeland and source of national identity.
The spiritual and physical connection of Jews with Zion has been continuous, preceding by centuries the emergence of Muslim conquerors from the Arabian deserts. Not only that, but over half the Israeli population is not "European" at all. It was uprooted from the Arab Middle East by exclusivist pan-Arabism, Islamic fanaticism, and the pressures of decolonization.
Yet sixty years ago, there were more than a million Jews in Arab lands. Their exodus says it all. Israel integrated them, providing a haven, pride, dignity and freedom as it did for the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Palestinian refugees, on the other hand, were left to rot in UN refugee camps by their Arab brethren, fed with revanchist delusions about their inalienable "right of return" to Israel. If the Middle East tragedy is to be resolved, it is these camps – the seedbed of terrorism and an entire culture of hatred – which have to be dismantled and not the thriving Jewish state.
Professor Robert S. Wistrich is Neuberger professor of Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and director of its Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism. His most recent books include Demonizing the Other: Anti-Semitism, Racism and Xenophobia (Amsterdam: Taylor & Francis, 1999) and Hitler and the Holocaust (New York: Modern Library, 2001).