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The New Antisemitism
Jews are being attacked as the root of all Western evil.
According to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the threat the Jews pose to the world is closely tied to liberal values.
The Jews want to demolish old hierarchies and convince the common people that equality is good, to destroy the aristocracy, to spread democracy, to establish universal human rights, to uphold freedom of speech, to encourage secularism, even to introduce a progressive tax on property. According to the tract, injecting “the poison of Liberalism” will weaken humanity, allowing the Jews to take over the world.
The Protocols are an early 20th century fabrication feigning the instructions of a cabal of Jews seeking world domination. Their preoccupation with liberal values stems from the fact that for the creators of that paradigmatic antisemitic text—one assumption is that it was written by Tsarist secret police—the most lethal threat was Enlightenment values and the ascending liberal order. Since that for them was the greatest moral evil, that was what the Jews were up to.
Antisemitism is like that. It’s not simply hatred of Jews, but the identification of Jews with the gravest depth of sin. If it’s not the killing of the messiah, it’s the ritualistic slaughter of children in medieval blood libels. If it’s not the greedy exploitation of the poor, it’s defiling the pure, superior Volk. If it’s not capitalism, it’s communism. If it’s not rootlessness, it’s colonialism.
When former British Labour MP Chris Williamson tweets that “Israel has forfeited any right to exist” on the assumption that Hamas’ propaganda about Israel bombing the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza is true, he expresses antisemitism, inasfar as Israel is here singled out to be abolished, while the very right to exist of other states in the world, no matter how severe their crimes are, is rarely called into question.
But the problem is yet deeper than applying a moral double standard. What we are witnessing with Williamson, as with protesters chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” or tearing down notices about Israeli civilians held captive by Hamas, is the perception of the Jewish State as the single most malevolent country in the world. As the root of all evil.
Antisemitism has mutated once again.
A combination of post-colonial discourse, an atmosphere of post-nationalism, and a damning introspective critique of the West have created a zeitgeist in which colonialism is seen as the original sin, Western cultural dominance and globalization its poisonous fruits, and the elevation of the subaltern and oppressed as the highest redemption—which is to be realized by any means necessary.
In this theological scheme it is once again the Jews who are the apotheosis and incarnation of evil. They are the greatest of colonizers, of nationalists, of oppressors, and the State of Israel the most gruesome and heinous manifestation of Western dominance. Neither China’s genocidal atrocities against the Uyghurs nor Iran’s theocratic suppression of human rights and women’s bodies, and certainly not Morocco’s decades-long occupation of Western Sahara, are evils that compare to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Of course, Israel is occupying millions of Palestinians, and of course that is morally deplorable and politically indefensible and untenable. I have been demonstrating and writing against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people for the last 30 years, ever since I was a teenager. As an activist I have guarded Palestinian villagers against settler violence and brought food and clothing to besieged Palestinian communities in the West Bank. The occupation has to end.
But while the struggle to end the Israeli occupation of 1967 is more than justified, we must completely reject the view that anything that came after 1948, when Israel was founded, has to be undone. The Jewish people, just like any other, have a right to a nation state of their own. What the new antisemites are doing is using a just cause as an excuse for a wrong claim, an arrogation that dehumanizes Jews and positions them as metaphysical pawns in a theological game meant to purify humanity—at their expense.
What’s new about this antisemitic strain is not that it comes from the political left. We’ve had leftist antisemitism at least since the days of Stalin. What’s new is that it places the Jew, for the first time, not as the foreigner but as the father.
Classic antisemitism sees the Jews as the emblematic Other. Judaism is Christianity’s older sister which—in a classic case of sibling rivalry—is to be rejected as too old, jealous, degenerate. The Jews therefore are the eternal outsiders, the perpetual wanderers, the pariah on the periphery of culture, the threat to the purity of the people and the wholesomeness of the family.
As my late professor Ilan Gur-Ze’ev noted, the new antisemitism sees Judaism not as the West’s Other, but as its origin, as the patriarchal, hierarchical, militant, colonialist, exclusivist source of all that’s bad, all that must be rejected, this time in an act of oedipal patricide. Jews are now the purest manifestation of Western colonialism, the ultimate oppressors.
Here Judaism is rejected and hated precisely because it is very much Western, because it lies at the origin and root of the West and is today a prominent expression of it. Because in an unbelievable twist of events, it is “white.” Absurdly, Jews are no longer the victims of white supremacy, but white supremacy’s pristine embodiment.
Both old and new antisemitism carry an attempt to eradicate the Jewish essence from the world, but while for the old antisemitism rejecting Judaism was an effort to affirm the antisemites’ own self, for the new antisemitism purging the world of Judaism is done in order to be born again, to be cleansed of original sin.
Within the current climate of intra-Western self-loathing, the very denial of Israel’s right to exist serves as a rite of purification and atonement for the sins of historical colonialism. The elimination of Israel, purportedly the world’s foremost symbol of colonialism and suppression, will release radicals from the guilt accumulated over centuries of colonial rule, guilt that, they are frustrated to find out, no number of land acknowledgements can wash away.
Thus Israel is perceived not simply as another global bad actor, a state committing continuous acts contrary to international law, but as the alpha and omega of colonial subjugation, the epitome and embodiment of Western dominance. That’s why it has inevitably forfeited any right to exist.
The Jew is therefore once again crucified for the sins of others. Sacrificed in order to cleanse the West of its sins. Perhaps even of itself. As the eternal alter-ego of the West, Jews will always function as its scapegoats. If once antisemitism was the socialism of the fools, today it is their decolonization movement.
Dr. Tomer Persico is a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a Rubinstein Fellow at Reichman University.
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