Dr.Gerstenfeld’s latest article at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), republished here with the author’s consent.
The Dark Expanding Universe of Antisemitism
In the worldwide battle against the many antisemites a definition of this hatred is essential. This is why a number of countries, cities, universities and other institutions in Europe have accepted the non-legal International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism for internal use.1
This text was approved in 2016 by the Board of the IHRA, which consists of representatives from 34 countries.2 Most are EU members, others include the United States, Canada and Australia. The approval of all member countries was necessary for the acceptance of the definition.
The IHRA definition document also includes eleven examples of antisemitism. A number of them concern Israel. Nevertheless a special definition of anti-Israelism would be worthwhile. No definition, including that of the IHRA – even if the initiators had added many more examples — can come close in covering the multitude of issues, which contain elements of antisemitism or touch upon it. This is partly the result of the post-modern period we live in. Many matters have fragmented and antisemitism is one of them.
There is a vast dark universe full of issues, which touches upon antisemitism beyond the IHRA definition. Many of these did not exist in the classic pre-Second World War religious or nationalistic/ethnic versions of antisemitism. A series of selected examples will illustrate this.
Much publicity has been given to the institutional antisemitism of the British Labour party. This came into the public eye clear after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Party Chair in September 2015. He has displayed antisemitic attitudes on numerous occasions. Yet the IHRA definition is not helpful in identifying these. It does not cover the welcoming by Corbyn of representatives of the genocidal Hamas and Hezbollah movements to the House of Commons.3 Nor have those who conceived the definition foreseen to include Corbyn’s remarks that these representatives of extreme murderous anti-Israeli terrorist organizations are his “friends” and “brothers.”4 The IHRA definition also does not cover Corbyn’s supporting — also financially — a Holocaust denier’s organization5 and appearing jointly on a podium with another Holocaust distorter.6
A less transparent example in the antisemitism universe concerns Bernie Sanders, a leading Jewish contender in the U.S. Democrat presidential
primaries. When he speaks about the Palestinians, he refers to their dignity.7 One wonders what the dignity is of those who in the 2006 democratic Palestinian parliamentary elections gave a majority to Hamas which openly states as its mission to massively murder Jews. On the other hand Sanders refers to Israel’s “racist government” and “racist prime minister.”8 The combination of these statements shows Sanders’ affinity with extreme Palestinian antisemites.
Before the Second World War, antisemites had no reason to hide their antisemitism. This hatred was fully acceptable in Europe. Nowadays,
explicit antisemitism is no longer politically correct in the mainstream of Western societies. Thus, smokescreening — being an antisemite, but pretending that one is not — has become more prolific. An antisemite may even falsely claim that he is a “friend of Israel.” A detailed analysis of the statements about Israel by former German foreign minister and socialist party leader Sigmar Gabriel, illustrates this.9
A crucial issue which complicates the understanding of contemporary antisemitism is that the main type of antisemites in the Western world has mutated. During the rise and rule of the Nazis, many Jew-haters were full-time antisemites. This was not only the case with Germans. Norwegian war-time Prime Minister Vidkun Quisling, for instance, was also in that category. Yet nowadays most antisemites are part-timers.
Such a part-time antisemite may even make only one major antisemitic remark without repeating it. An example of a one-time antisemite is the German ambassador to the United Nations, Conrad Heusgen. In explaining one of his country’s many anti-Israel votes there, Heusgen made a vile statement at the UN in March 2019: “We believe that international law is the best way to protect civilians and allow them to live in peace and security and without fear of Israeli bulldozers or Hamas rockets.”10
The largest German daily, Bild, wrote a response to Heusgen’s statement in which he compared Palestinian rockets to Israeli bulldozers. It remarked: “This equivalence is pure malice. That in a week in which Israeli population frequently had to flee from rockets shot by Hamas terrorists. Referral to the bulldozers, however, is a measure which the Israeli government takes against illegal building which concerns mainly Palestinians, but also Israeli settlements.”11 The Simon Wiesenthal Center included Heusgen’s UN statement in its 2019 list of the world’s major antisemitic incidents.12
As antisemitism is not politically correct the denial, whitewashing and minimizing of antisemitism have grown exponentially. The UK Labour party is a prime example. It is 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.13
Many techniques of such covering up have been developed. One even finds whitewashers of extreme cases of antisemitism. The Nazi-type floats at the carnival in the Belgian city of Aalst in February 2020 as well as the year before are one example.14
Louis Farrakhan is America’s leading antisemite. Many of his statements about Jews fit the definition of the IHRA. He has called Jews ‘termites’ and ‘poisoners.’15 Yet how does one qualify people who want to be in his company? Is being intentionally photographed with such a leading antisemite an antisemitic act? Probably not, but it is another dark spot in the universe of antisemitism. This is what Barack Obama did in 2005 before he announced that he would be running for president. Later Obama managed to suppress this photograph for a number of years.16 Various democratic members of Congress and founders of the Women’s March also got close to Farrakhan.17 18
Claiming that Jews themselves are the cause of antisemitism was a key factor in the historic origins of this hatred. When Christians brutalized Jews they claimed that the resulting suffering of the Jews was divine punishment for not recognizing Jesus. This motif of Jewish guilt returns in many versions. Sawsan Chebli, the socialist State Secretary for Federal Affairs in Berlin, tweeted one day after this year’s memorial on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz: “’Sure, what happened back then is sad. But when it comes to the return of hatred, the Jews are not entirely innocent. Just look at the settlement policy, the annexation …’ I hear this very often, not from Muslims, Arabs or refugees, but from Germans without addendum.”19
The Berlin Spectator reported that Burkard Dregger, CDU’s leader at the Berlin House of Representatives, accused Chebli of spreading classic antisemitism and blaming Jews for their own past suffering.20 On the other hand, Chebli has actively come out against antisemitism and has even received an award for it. She is a representative of an ambivalent form of antisemitism. One might also say that she has a bipolar attitude to this hatred.
There are many other examples, which belong in the dark universe of antisemitism. New ones are emerging over time in what is an expanding universe.
8 www.newsweek.com/bernie-sanders-calls-israels-netanyahu-reactionary-racist-says-hed-consider-moving-embassy-1489109 www.timesofisrael.com/sanders-netanyahu-is-racist-us-must-also-be-pro-palestinian/ www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-gives-restrained-response-after-sanders-calls-him-a-racist/ www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/276245