Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article ‘major steps against antisemitism’ was originally published in the Jerusalem Post, and republished here with the author’s consent.
Major Steps to Confront Antisemitism
In the huge battle against antisemitism Jews and sympathetic non-Jews have to ask themselves what they can contribute. Early in the new Jewish year is a good occasion to list priorities for action by those willing to participate in this confrontation.
What can the Israeli government, citizens, Jewish leaders, and individuals abroad do to improve the situation? The major impetus has to come from Israel. The state of Israel has far more possibilities to act than even the largest Jewish organizations abroad. The Israeli government has greatly failed in systematically analyzing, monitoring and confronting both classic antisemitism and anti-Israelism. The Knesset has equally missed the opportunities to demand that the government set up an anti-propaganda entity.
There is a new Knesset now. Each adherent of a political party or person who has access to a Knesset member, can ask him or her: “What is your party or you, doing to convince the government to establish such an entity even though it is very late in the game? We have an army to fight our enemies and terrorists. We have intelligence services to provide intelligence about our enemies and enact counter-intelligence. Israel invests a huge amount of resources in cyber-defense and security. Why don’t we have an anti-propaganda agency?” It is indeed mind boggling that this has not been established in the past two decades.
A second priority is to target Israeli and Jewish leaders. They should encourage non-Jewish leaders and high-profile figures to publicly admit that antisemitism is an integral part of Western culture or, alternatively, to at least say that antisemitism is interwoven with Western culture. This hatred almost continuously erupts in Western societies over the centuries. So far, only a few Jewish scholars and writers have stressed the evident. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican Church, is one of the exceptionally rare non-Jews who have admitted this truth. Yet in this context it has also to be made clear that the fact that antisemitism is interwoven with Western culture by no means implies that most Westerners are antisemites.
Without this interweaving of Western culture with antisemitic belief systems the Holocaust would not have been possible. The decades-long extreme singling out of Israel for blame by the United Nations with the support of many Western countries is just one of many examples of contemporary antisemitism. Yet another is that antisemitism sooner or later finds a place in major new ideological movements or Western intellectual trends, either directly or through Holocaust abuse. We can see this for instance in areas such as human rights, feminism, postcolonialism, intersectionality, veganism, animal rights organizations, anti-nuclear groupings and children’s rights movements. Recognition of the interweaving of antisemitism with Western culture provides a much wider perspective on the reality of this centuries-old hatred.
Individuals can also play an important role. They can educate themselves on how to answer critics who single out Israel for blame without referring to the extreme criminality of the Palestinian leadership and the lack of significant opposition to it from Palestinian society. According to the main non-legal definition of antisemitism, that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), cases, where Israel is the only democratic country blamed for certain actions committed also by other countries, is an expression of antisemitism. Attacking Israel and looking away from the huge crimes in parts of the Muslim world with extreme genocidal intentions such as Iran and terror organizations makes the attackers de facto allies of criminals.
A priority target for Jews is the battle against Jewish masochists abroad and in Israel. There is a long Jewish masochist tradition dating back thousands of years. Jewish masochism has manifested itself in many ways over the centuries. A major contemporary version is criticizing Israel as if it has to be the only perfect state in the world. These masochists do not – or if so, only in a perfunctory manner – criticize Israel’s enemies. They seem, to enjoy – or at least get satisfaction from — stating Israel’s real or imaginary shortcomings.
Another example of masochism occurred this year when 240 Israeli and foreign Jewish academics signed a letter to the German government to reject the parliamentary motion equating BDS with antisemitism. Germany is the country which has committed the largest genocidal crime against Jews. In the current German grandchildren generation there are still many impacts of that period.1 These masochistic Jews came out against the limiting of free speech in a country where neo-Nazis march in the streets of the city of Dortmund calling to destroy Israel.2
In the United States a special battle concerns exposing all Jews who intend to vote for Bernie Sanders in the democratic primaries. He has called Netanyahu’s government “racist”3 yet has remained silent about the extreme Palestinian racist, Mohammed Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. The latter has said that there will not be a single Israeli in a free Palestine.4
Sanders has also stated that the Palestinians deserve to be treated with “dignity and respect.”5 His supporters should be asked to explain the dignity of a people who do not oppose their leadership which pays murderers for killing Israeli civilians. One should also ask Sanders’ supporters whether they wish to treat those who praise the murderers of 9/11 with dignity, or those Muslims who agree with ISIS.
Antisemitism cannot be eliminated but only contained. It has been promoted for far too long in Western and Muslim societies. Those who thought that the Holocaust had taught all humanity a lesson were mistaken. Many people learned from it, but many others have not. Getting more people to admit that antisemitism is interwoven with Western culture is a major step to create an infrastructure of consciousness to combat it. Confronting antisemites prevents them from indulging in a free anti-Semitic lunch. It is urgent to put more pressure on antisemites and turn the tables to make them more cautious.