This piece by Dr.Gerstenfeld was first published at Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), and republished here with the author’s consent.
THE MULTIPLE FACES OF WHITEWASHING ANTISEMITISM
Major cases of antisemitism are usually accompanied by a variety of whitewashing statements. Yet this whitewashing of antisemites and antisemitism is rarely looked at as a widespread and multifaceted international issue.
Whitewashing of Jew-hatred drew much attention in the ongoing Ilhan Omar affair. This new democratic Congress member made several outspoken antisemitic remarks. Prominent whitewashers fell over each other to obscure the meaning of her words or alternatively offering explanations for her antisemitic remarks.
Nancy Pelosi’s statement about Omar must be included in any collection of whitewashing classics: “The incident that happened with [Omar], I don’t think our colleague is anti-Semitic,”… “I think she has a different experience in the use of words.”1
Jewish Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s observation also merits inclusion in this collection. She remarked that as a Somalian refugee from a different culture Omar has things to learn.”2 The uninformed reader might think that she arrived recently in the United States. In fact, Omar has lived there since the 1990’s. In that time she has learned to run successfully for Congress, a challenge far more difficult than avoiding the use of antisemitic comments.
In 2016, when the public disclosure of a number of cases of antisemitism in the British Labour Party started to pile up, its leader Jeremy Corbyn appointed Shami Chakrabarti to investigate antisemitism in the party. The opening sentence of her report was a masterpiece of whitewashing manipulation: “The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.” Nobody had claimed that Labour had problems with Islamophobia or racism. With this opening remark Chakrabarti diluted her investigation from the start.3
Antisemitism in Labour existed before Corbyn became its leader in September 2015. Yet it was far less pervasive. The Labour party is now full of antisemitism whitewashers. A poll of paying Labour members in March 2018 found that 47% percent said that antisemitism was a problem, but the extent of the problem was exaggerated “to damage Labour and Jeremy Corbyn or to stifle criticism of Israel.” A further 31% said that antisemitism was not a serious issue. Sixty one percent thought Corbyn was handling the antisemitism claims well.4
There are many other modes of whitewashing antisemites. The best known and most virulent American antisemite is Louis Farrakhan, long-term leader of the Nation of Islam. In 2018, Obama’s former state attorney, Eric Holder, posed for a photo with Farrakhan.5 In 2005 before running for president, Barack Obama stood for a ‘grip and grin’ photograph with Farrakhan. This photo was only recently revealed and publicized.6 Public figures who meet with Farrakhan legitimize and whitewash his antisemitic rhetoric.
In Western Europe many people feel the need to hide the widespread Muslim antisemitism. A number of possible reasons may be mentioned. Some progressives absurdly claim that only white people can be racists. An additional reason is that that as Muslims are subject to Islamphobia, many politicians think that one should not aggravate the situation by stressing how much segments of the Muslim population contribute to antisemitism. A further reason may be that because Muslims are immigrants or their descendants, European governments do not want to be accused — as they should be — of being mass importers of antisemites having let in immigrants without any selection of their views.
Crimes in Germany against Jews by unknown perpetrators are registered as being caused by extreme right wingers.7 This greatly deflates the facts about Muslim antisemitism. It was only at the end of 2017, that the unavoidable fact of Muslim antisemitism had to be admitted by major German politicians. This happened as a result of a relatively minor incident, the burning of a homemade Israeli flag by Muslims in Berlin.
In France the Jospin socialist government was in power at the end of 2000. Then a major outburst of antisemitic incidents began at that time. Most probably, Muslims were responsible for a large number of them. Many of these incidents were registered by the police and the Ministry of Interior as ‘hooliganism.’ The official version propagated by the Jospin government can be summarized as saying that if Jews were attacked, this was not antisemitism but a reflection of a social problem. French sociologist Shmuel Trigano mentioned that the antisemitic violence also went largely unreported by the French press for several months.8
Jewish whitewashers of antisemitism are particularly in demand.
In the United Kingdom the Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) claims that “advocating for BDS, could only be antisemitic if accompanied by evidence that it is motivated by racially based hostility toward Jews.” As no anti-Israel inciter will make such a specific declaration, BDS has been cleared by the JVL as not being antisemitic.9
One of the most prolific Jewish whitewashers of antisemitism is US publicist Peter Beinart. His claim that neither BDS nor Ilhan Omar are antisemitic is just one aspect of his broad cover up of antisemitism. He writes that “there are an infinite number of injustices in the world, and even if one could rank them in order of severity, very few people choose their causes that way. More often, they protest injustices that have particular meaning to them.” Beinart is on the slippery road to wholesale whitewashing of antisemitism that singles out Israel.10
Prosecutors and judges can also be far-going whitewashers of antisemitism. In Germany, three Palestinians attempted to burn a synagogue in the town of Wuppertal in 2014. A court decided that this was a protest against Israel and could not be considered an antisemitic act. The perpetrators were given suspended sentences.11
Norway was the last country in Europe to admit Jews. It has a long antisemitic tradition. Last summer the rapper, Kaveh Kholardi, shouted during a concert: “f*cking Jews.” A complaint was dismissed by Norway’s attorney general. He ruled that Kholardi was not engaging in antisemitic hate speech, but rather in legitimate criticism of Israel.12
All the above examples pale in comparison with the extensive and far-going whitewashing of Holocaust antisemitism. In Romania the Communist regimes denied or greatly downplayed the country’s role in the genocide of Jews.13
Closely linked to Holocaust whitewashing is Holocaust deflection. This was consistently done for decades by Austrian governments. They presented Austria as one of the Nazis’ first victims rather than as fellow perpetrators.
States and governments are not the only ones who whitewashed Holocaust antisemitism. Europe’s leading philosopher of the second half of the 20th century, the German Nazi, Martin Heidegger, said in a lecture: “Agriculture is nowadays a motorized nutritional industry, by nature the same as the production of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockade and the starving out of countries, the same as the production of the H-bomb.”14 By including the Holocaust among technical processes he covered up its moral aspects.
The above is only a small multilayered selection of examples of antisemitism whitewashing that, with appropriate research, can be turned into a major collection.
8 Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Shmuel Trigano, “French anti-Semitism: A Barometer for Gauging Society’s Perverseness,”Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism 26, 1 November 2004.
11 www.jta.org/2017/01/15/news-opinion/world/german-court-affirms-ruling-that-said-synagogue-arson-isnt-anti-semitic; //www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/antisemitismus-in-deutschland-wie-kann-ein-anschlag-auf-eine-synagoge-nicht-judenfeindlich-sein/19572812.html
12 www.algemeiner.com/2019/01/11/norwegian-rapper-who-shouted-fcking-jews-at-diversity-concert-did-not-violate-law-prosecutor-says; www.miff.no/antisemittisme/2019/03/08riksadvokaten-mener-fuck-joder-kan-tolkes-som-kritikk-av-israel.htm?fbclid=IwAR0sIMmihrpg1OkmrLTTkFfoD0lU6VRLdGZ4X0Yxazeze3ksylHEbixTUKQ
13 Laurence Weinbaum, “The Banality of History and Memory: Romanian Society and the Holocaust,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-semitism, 45, 1 June 2006.
14 Martin Heidegger, Einblick in Das Was 1st (Bremer Vortrage, 1949), in Martin Heidegger, Bremer und Freiburger Vortrage (Frankfurt a Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1949), Gesamtausgabe, 79, 3-77.