I refuse to sit on the fence whenever this question is posed. My reply is a resounding yes and no.
Yes, if the sentiment is anti-Israel qua Israel. No, or rather not necessarily, if it’s aimed against this or that policy of Israel’s government.
Israel came into existence in the wake of a genocidal catastrophe. The awful aspect of it wasn’t just the crime itself but the wide spread of its perpetrators and accomplices.
In his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Daniel Goldhagen destroyed the myth that most Germans didn’t know what was going on. But Goldhagen limited his inquiry to Germany only.
Another book ought to be written about the enthusiasm with which so many Eastern Europeans, all those Balts, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Hungarians, Romanians and so on, jumped on the Holocaust bandwagon. Their ardour in murdering Jews in zoologically cruel ways predated and exceeded the efforts of the Germans themselves, although, to be fair, it didn’t take them long to catch up.
The behaviour of Western Europeans was marginally better, but not wholly blameless.
Vichy France, for example, started deporting Jews before the Germans actually demanded it. And, while the Dutch are justifiably proud that a Dutch family hid Anne Frank, they should also be justifiably ashamed that a Dutch informer betrayed her and a Dutch policeman led her to the slaughter.
Yet another book should describe the sluggishness with which the Allies, including Britain, accepted Jewish refugees – this even after realising that slow hospitality meant quick death. Today’s Europe is much more eager to welcome migrants from Syria, although, compared to European Jews in the ‘30s and ‘40s, they’re much less imperilled and much more alien to our culture.
That lethal acquiescence, sometimes active participation, in genocide ran up a huge moral debt owed to Jews by what used to be called Christendom. Its – far from uniform and often lukewarm – support for the founding of Israel in 1948 was self-acknowledged as partial repayment.
Israel was established as an independent Jewish state in a region where its survival as Jewish, independent or indeed a state would always be touch and go.
The Israelis have created arguably the world’s best army, but the numbers game is stacked against them. It’s reasonably clear that without Western military aid the nation will sooner or later succumb to the kind of aggression it has successfully repelled five times in its short history.
That wouldn’t be any old military defeat. It would be Holocaust Mark II: we’re being served another demonstration, as if any more were necessary, of how Muslims deal with their enemies. Without cutting too fine a point, without Western aid, millions of Jews will again die horrible deaths.
That puts Western, especially US, support for Israel in a proper perspective. Opposition to Israel qua Israel and a concomitant campaign to withdraw Western aid, such as the one championed in the US by Pat Buchanan, is tantamount to a) repudiating the aforementioned moral debt and b) condoning genocide.
(Interestingly, however, the centre of anti-Semitism has generally shifted leftwards. For example, anti-Semitic scandals bedevil Labour, not the Tories. Considering the rabid anti-Semitism of Marx and other spiritual fathers of the Left, this isn’t surprising.)
This trumps the legitimate but tertiary strategic, idealistic or even religious considerations. That Jewish scripture is such a significant part of Christianity that our civilisation, and especially its morality, is referred to as Judaeo-Christian is an important point, but one largely invalidated by creeping secularism.
That Israel is the West’s most reliable, and sole democratic, ally in the Middle East is true but not indisputably valid. The West has no moral duty to support every democratic regime. Not all such regimes are benign, nor are all non-democratic regimes evil. Some of the former may well be anti-, and some of the latter pro-, Western.
As to strategic alliances, they’re by their nature fluid and not always dependent on political commonality. Britain and the US, for example, were allied with Stalin’s Russia and at war with democratic Finland.
Western support for Israel thus rests mainly on moral and thus unimpeachable foundations, while hostility to Israel qua Israel is definitely anti-Semitic with a strong genocidal tinge.
Moreover, there’s a longstanding tradition of using anti-Zionism as camouflage for anti-Semitism. Even in modern British papers, to say nothing of the Soviet papers of my childhood, one finds cartoons of Israeli villains indistinguishable from the Jews so lovingly depicted in Der Stürmer.
All things considered, equating hatred of Israel with hatred of Jews is bona fide. That, however, doesn’t mean that criticising this or that policy of Israel’s government automatically brands one as an anti-Semite.
Israel may be too socialist for some or not socialist enough for others. Some may believe it oversteps the boundaries of necessary self-defence, others may think it’s too reticent. And so forth, ad infinitum.
All this is part of a course charted towards the destination of free discussion. Deviating from the course means disavowing the destination.
However, the intellectual ship is cast adrift whenever someone like Pat Buchanan or Jeremy Corbyn opposes, if not in so many words, the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state for which multiculturalism spells slow death – and withdrawal of Western aid, instant extinction.
1 thought on “Does anti-Israel mean anti-Semitic?”
Perfectly well balanced. Thank you!