On Bastille Day, last July, a mob attacked the Don Abravanel synagogue in Paris. The 200 congregants and a few police barricaded the doors while the attackers did their best to break in, waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Death to the Jews” and “Allahu Akbar!” After three hours, police reinforcements arrived and the mob dispersed.
In the next few days, there were eight attempts to set fire to synagogues in Paris. There were 527 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in France during the first seven months of the year. This pattern made Natan Sharansky, a Soviet-born Israeli politician, remark that “Strong ideological currents are turning the Continent into a very difficult place for Jewish survival.”
A recent book, Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel, by Joshua Muravchik of Johns Hopkins University, identifies the development of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feeling.
How did it happen? In the 1960s, Israel was widely admired and anti-Semitism was a trait of the bigoted and narrow-minded. But today anti-Jewish feeling has acquired a new style and tone. It has changed with the times, making itself more acceptable.
Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French philosopher, recently argued that anti-Semitism has been changing for centuries. “It was Christian during the centuries of the crusades, the Inquisition, the Medieval pogroms,” and it was anti-Christian after the Enlightenment threw a shadow over Christianity. It was anti-capitalist and pro-worker during the rise of socialism. Levy believes “the world’s longest-running form of hate has never stopped searching for the right formula.”
The latest version seems to have developed in response to new forms of leftist opinion. Where the left once considered class warfare its main issue, in recent times it has transferred its attention to colonialism and the rights of disadvantaged ethnic groups. It’s now almost automatic for liberals and socialists to see Israel as a colonial power imposed on a comparatively helpless people. And dislike of Israel easily turns into dislike of diaspora Jews who support Israel.
Ben Cohen, a much-published author on this subject, commented recently that anti-Semitism has become less a political phenomenon, more a social movement, with what he calls “Palestinianism” as its key ideology.
“Palestinian Arabs have assumed the status of iconic, transcendental victims, as the Jews did for a brief period after World War II, and as Israel did until 1967,” he says. The new anti-Semitism brings together leftists, neo-fascists, Islamists and liberals. Its aim is to persuade the mass of Europeans to shun Israel reflexively. The movement was greatly cheered by the decision of the British parliament to recommend recognition of “the state of Palestine.”
This is what Joshua Muravchik identifies as the “new paradigm of progressive thought.” It involves seeing world politics as “the Rest against the West,” or the people of colour against the white man. If that’s the great moral drama of the age, then Israel comes across as the Western white side and Palestinians are the anti-colonial people of colour. In the universities this attitudes owes much to Edward Said and his most famous book, Orientalism . Said announced that in dealing with the Middle East and other regions dominated by colonialism, every European is a racist, an ethno-centric imperialist.
Has all of this crushed Jews and the Jewish state? Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli diplomat, maintains that the anti-Israel campaigns have had little effect. On TheEttingerReport.com, he argues that Israel is increasingly embraced by the world. The BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement spread throughout Britain but Israel’s exports to the UK are surging. Israeli science has created successful medical, agricultural, software and defense products.
In June, 2014, Forbes listed 10 medical companies changing the world; five of them were Israeli. Defense News says that Israel’s weapon exports have grown, especially those that shield civilians from short-range missiles. Apparently, Israel is now among the top five arms-exporting nations; India is one big customer. As Ettinger sees it, the BDS movement, the Gaza War and terrorist threats are bumps on the road of Israel’s unprecedented growth and acceptability.
Everyone involved with these issues has a favourite example of the world’s misunderstanding of Israel. Yossi Klein Halevi, interviewed in The Times of Israel, said recently that Jews make a mistake when they imply that the Holocaust led to the creation of Israel. Far from being European colonialists, most Israelis don’t come from Europe: “They come from the Middle East. Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews walking across desert and jungle to reach Zion: That’s the Israel story we need to tell the world.”