It is far too early, to assess the impact of the latest war in Gaza, but still some preliminary thoughts are in order.
Judging by what I have been reading in the press blogs and emails, it seems as if many Jews are in a panic about the rise in antisemitism. Once again, people are asking: Is this 1939? 1933? Even as distinguished a student of antisemitism as my revered colleague Professor Deborah Lipstadt is quoted as saying that this may be 1934. Permit me to dissent. Nothing fundamental has changed—nothing.
In the United States, Judaism remains the most admired of America’s religions and Jews are accepted, respected and empowered. The war in Gaza did not cause a spike in energy prices as we experienced during the Yom Kippur War or in the Oil Crisis in 1979. There was no drop in the stock market. It did not threaten global conflict as in 1973. So no instability was introduced into the American economy or society. Political support for Israel has been strong, and while there are generational divides in such support, none of it translates into a reason to fear a dramatic rise in antisemitism. Support for Israel will be an issue on campuses this fall, and the divide between the Human Rights community and the supporters of Israel will endure and intensify.
In Europe, the problem remains three-fold. There is antisemitism “in Europe” but not necessarily “of Europe,” meaning that if the people living in Europe adopt European values, including pluralism and tolerance, then whatever their opinion about Israel’s practices in Gaza, they have no particular problems with their Jewish neighbors.
However, a significant segment of Muslim populations living in European countries dwell in these countries—some for generations—without acculturating to European values. They live “in Europe” but they are not “of Europe.” These non-European Muslim minorities respond to events in the Middle East—as they did in 2001, 2002, and 2006—with an outbreak of violence against Jews.
Two factors are different this time: The governments of Europe have condemned, often in very strong terms, antisemitism within their own countries, and they have generally been far more supportive of Israel than in previous conflicts and thus deprived their local residents of the oxygen required to move opposition to Israel into license to attack local Jews.
What has not changed is that opposition to Israel on the left has given an intellectual “moral” veneer to primitive hatred. These Muslim inhabitants of European countries are not being assimilated into the lands in which they dwell and thus their presence and their responsiveness to events elsewhere will persist. The problem will not go away, yet it is much larger than the Jewish question alone.
Fortunately, Muslim immigrants cannot find common cause with the other antisemitic elements in Europe—the far right—because the far right is deeply anti-immigrant. In France, for example, the younger Marine Le Pen has muted her father’s antisemitism in order to strengthen her position with the voters. (Some might see this as analogous to the moves of Senator Rand Paul, though one must not equate former Rep. Ron Paul with Jean-Marie Le Pen.)
Parenthetically, this European problem should serve as a warning to American immigration proposals for a guest-worker program or permanent-residence permits without a path to citizenship that would retain an ongoing non-Americanizing immigrant presence in the United States. Such a policy is bad for America and even worse for the Jewish community.
Assessing the current situation is neither an excuse for complacency or a reason not to vehemently condemn the expressions of antisemitism. One of the most significant dangers we face is the routinization of such antisemitism and failure to disqualify the antisemites and their supporters from participating in the mainstream of European—or American—culture. Politicians must have the integrity to condemn antisemitism despite the growing presence of its supporters.
Problem for the Right Wing, the Left Wing, No Return to Status Quo Ante
The war has created a problem for Israel’s right wing as it demonstrated what security leaders of the IDF, the Mossad and the Shin Bet—past and present—have long argued: there is no military solution to the conflict, at least not one that is compatible with Israeli values or with Israel’s willingness to sacrifice its young to reoccupy Gaza and thus more completely dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas.
In the recent war, Israel faced almost optimal conditions for a maximalist solution, if it was willing to pay the price. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority would not have been unhappy to see Hamas thoroughly defeated. The United States and the European countries recognized Israel’s right to self-defense, and world attention was focused on the shooting down of Malaysian flight over the Ukraine, with the rapid gains of ISIS and President Obama’s decision to defend the Kurds. Gaza was a second-tier story for much of the past month. And Hamas was as isolated as it has ever been, as it is discovering in cease-fire negotiations. Even then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his even more Hawkish Minister of Defense refused to move the IDF back into Gaza, unwilling to sacrifice IDF soldiers.
The war also demonstrated that the status quo, even the status quo ante, is untenable and thus may call into question some of the political judgments preceding the war, including the severity of Israel’s reaction to the unity government of Fatah and Hamas, its judgment of Mahmoud Abbas and its lack of imagination and boldness in pursuing negotiations with him. The confluence of interests among Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel should be tested as to whether it can yield political results.
The left-wing should also take no solace from recent events as the furies of hatred against Israel and the Jews are intense, persistent and unyielding. The perceived rise in antisemitism comes as a shock to Zionists who believed that the foundation of an independent Jewish state would extinguish the flames of Jew hatred. For more than 40 years we have seen that Israel can also fuel the fires of antisemitism.
Ironically, some French Jews are fleeing violence at home to face enemy rockets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Perhaps Diaspora Jews need another type of Iron Dome.
I have joined with other scholars of Holocaust and Genocide Studies to condemn the statements equating Israel’s actions in Gaza with genocide. On July 9, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech in Ramallah, accused Israel of “committing genocide.” On Aug. 1, on Al Jazeera’s English-language TV broadcast, Fatah foreign affairs spokesman Nabil Sha’ath described the situation in Gaza as “a Holocaust.” Also on Aug. 1, Turkish Prime Minister—now elected President—Recep Erdogan accused Israel of “Hitler-like fascism.”
These comparisons are odious, especially so since Israel has the power to commit genocide and even the provocation to do so, but however overwhelming the destruction in Gaza, Israel’s response has been measured. Its use of power has been both restrained and horrendous.
Erdogan, who has amassed significant power within Turkey and who aspires to play a larger role on the world stage, must be led to understand that such outrageous thinking will marginalize him and the country he leads. His isolation from the cease-fire talks was not only warranted, but required as a result of his utterances.
One may not condemn others without challenging our own.
I must also condemn the blog post offering a justification for genocide and the rabbi willing to justify the annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza, along with the proposals of the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset who advocated ethnic cleansing in Gaza.
We Jews have been victims of ethnic cleansing many times in our history. We have been instrumental in outlawing ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the Shoah, and we must retain our opposition to it, especially when we have the power to impose such a solution.
By Michael Berenbaum