03.09.2005Brian Klug - Robert WistrichWhen Is Opposition to Israel and Its Policies Anti-Semitic?
The history of conflict teaches us, in my view, something fundamental about the subject of our debate. When two peoples are at odds with each other, both sides tend to develop a hostile mindset, vilifying the other and exonerating themselves. And while both draw on negative stereotypes of the other, neither side recognizes its own bigotry.
But you write as if only one side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the Arab side – has a hostile mindset. I share your concern about a world-view that involves eradicating Israel as part of a global battle between Islam and the infidel. And I am appalled by groups that draw on classical anti-Semitism. But what about the world-view on the other side: the one that sees the Intifada as part of a global war against the Jews? Or racist and Islamophobic images of Palestinians?
Furthermore, you generalize about entire populations. You refer to a "pervasive cult of hatred and martyrdom in the Muslim world" and you say that anti-Semitism has become "the opium of the Arab masses". You also depict "militant Islam" as if it were an inherently anti-Semitic force that "will continue to fill the political void". These phrases conjure up an Arab and Muslim world seething with anti-Jewish bigotry.
The truth of the matter, I suggest, is different. On the one hand, fanaticism and bigotry exist on both sides. On the other hand, the vast majority of ordinary Jews and Muslims are more interested in getting on with their lives than with becoming either martyrs or heroes in a religious or national war.
Yes, there has been "a continuum of prejudice" against Jews in the history of anti-Semitism. But this is a European, not Middle Eastern, history. Because of prejudice, Jews in Europe were perceived as a sinister, powerful group. In reality, most Jews (like my own ancestors) were marginalized and persecuted.
Zionism saw itself precisely as a political movement to empower the powerless. And it succeeded: Israel today is a major power in the region. When people react against the Jewish state because of the way it exercises its power, especially in the Occupied Territories, or because of its ties to the mighty United States: this is not prejudice. It is not anti-Semitism. And if we say it is when it isn't, we devalue the word, undermine our own credibility, and alienate people of goodwill.
To the latter we should say: "Treat Israel like any other state, and Zionism like any other political movement. Criticize or oppose them on moral, political or religious grounds. But remember anti-Semitism: avoid evoking, however inadvertently, the negative stereotype of the Jew." To the Muslim and Arab worlds we might add: "Every time you draw on anti-Semitism, you fuel the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – by reinforcing the anger and fear that many Jews, inside and outside Israel, understandably feel."
However, unless we speak out even-handedly against the bigotry that exists on both sides - not only anti-Semitism but also Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism - our voice will not be heard.