Where are the new red lines?

photographed by Yoninah 2006Where are the new red lines? Part I

… For labelling as anti-Semitic or pro-Israel

The Jewish festival of Purim†, rather like the Christian Mardi Gras, is a season of crossing boundaries. It’s a period of fancy dress (including by general consent wearing gender inappropriate clothes); raucousness (disrupting the synagogue service with noise) and  excessive alcohol consumption (opinions differ as to exactly how drunk is recommended). The lines of what is permissible are moved aside although temporarily.

Perhaps the strongest boundaries are those relating to action against antisemitism and support for Israel I thought it appropriate to ask, on Purim, are there new red lines? What does it take to be anti-Semitic ? (What does it take to be pro-Israel will appear in part II).

Antisemitism is dead?

The concept of the “evil Jew” has made a well-disguised comeback: Criticizing Israel and Zionists, is now deemed a legitimate option to cursing Jews and Judaism. Not only is it open, socially acceptable and legal, but it can actually bring prosperity and popularity.

Anti-Semitism 2.0Mudar Zahran

Try this for an exercise. Google Not an anti-Semite. You’ll come up with quite a long list of people who deny they are anti-Semitic. What I didn’t find is people who openly admit to being anti-Semites.

  • Charlie Sheen, actor, I must execute mark b like the stoopid jew pig that he is.
  • John Galliano, fashion designer, I love Hitler… People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be fucking gassed…
  • Mel Gibson, actor, Are you Jewish? Al the world’s wars are begun by those of Semitic extraction.
  • Clare Solomon, student leader, The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 or so years to justify the persecution of Palestinians.
  • Jean-Luc Godard, film maker, What does ‘anti-Semite’ mean? All peoples of the Mediterranean were Semites. So anti-Semite means anti-Mediterranean. The expression was only applied to Jews after the Holocaust and WWII. It is inexact and means nothing.
  • Richard Nixon, POTUS, Washington is full of Jews.  Most Jews are disloyal.

I won’t go on. You get the point‡.

These combined with some recent events have made me wonder if the term anti-Semitism has any real meaning anymore. One was a comment by Lord Andrew Phillips of Sudberry (Read about it in Richard Millett’s blog) . He agreed that people can’t even mention Israel in America for fear of being called “anti-Semitic”.  He said it was like McCarthyism and a good way to silence people.  Then he went on to say “the Jews aren’t lacking in intelligence, they may be deeply prejudiced, many of them, but they are going to be saying the same sort of thing as you on the panel are saying” (i.e. how evil is Israel and how it needs to be destroyed?)  In these circles it’s worse to be called anti-Semitic than to actually to be anti-Semitic.

Being called anti-Semitic is an effective charge but OK to make generalised and disparaging statements about Jews. If someone spoke about Muslims in a similar tone no one would doubt Islamophobia†† is at play. This isn’t to accuse the former Liberal Democrat politician and current member of the UK House of Lords of hypocrisy. No doubt his distaste for the Jews is quite honest. But it does open the question what wouldn’t be acceptable, in his mind.

Another ‘accused anti-Semite’ Helen Thomas was asked if she was anti-Semitic. Her answer was, “Hell no, I’m a Semite” (of Arab background) but the Jews aren’t Semites. It’s bad to be anti-Semitic but OK to be anti Jewish. BTW, when I was a kid an anti-Semite would say “Jew, Go back to Israel“. Now the same anti-Semite would say “Jew, Leave Israel”. Or in Helen Thomas’s words, “Go back to Germany and Poland”.

Cartoonists routinely use medieval and Nazi anti-Semitic imagery for Israel but do they admit the connection? Do they even realise it?

Nazi cartoon, circa 1938–An octopus with a Star of David over its head has its tentacles encompass the world.

Nazi-like anti-Semitic imagery of a beastly and monstrous Jewish collective while simultaneously asserting that the Jewish state has become the new Nazi Germany.

Latuff, the creator of the Mamara cartoon has this to say, My cartoons have no focus on the Jews or on Judaism. My focus is Israel as a political entity, as a government, their armed forces being a satellite of U.S. interests in the Middle East, and especially Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. It happens to be Israeli Jews that are the oppressors of Palestinians.…My detractors say that the use of the Magen David in my Israel-related cartoons is irrefutable proof of antisemitism; however, it’s not my fault if Israel chose sacred religious motifs as national symbols, such as the Knesset Menorah or the Star of David in killing-machines like F-16 jets. Isn’t this just another way of saying I’m not anti-Semitic I’m just a critic of Israel? Seems I’ve heard that before. Virtually all of Israel’s neighbours chose Islamic motives as national symbols. Latuff’s ‘explanation’ would be more credible if he didn’t avoid anti Islamic tropes in his work. It has been suggested that the Time Magazine cover that was interpreted by many as grossly anti-Semitic was a consequence of a sixty-six year gap since the end of World War II. Due to a half century hiatus where classical anti-Semitic themes have disappeared from sight (although not in the Arab world) a generation of designers, cartoonists and filmmakers has arisen who no longer recognise the horrific origins of the symbols they choose. Time mag’s apology would seem to bear that out.

Look Mum. I’m an NAZI!?

The European Community definition of anti-Semitism givs among other examples, drawing comparisons between Israel government policy and Nazi Germany‡‡. I find this an unsatisfying solution. The swastika, Hitler moustache, stiff-arm salute have become icons for evil and not just for Israel. The real reason that George Bush, Malcolm Fraser or any number of world politicians should not be portrayed in S.A. uniform is because their ‘crimes’ are nothing to the crimes committed by the Nazi’s. Using these symbols for them or Israel simply trivialises the greatest evil in the history of the world.

If there is a real modern day Nazi equivalent it is Islamofascism as practised by Hamas, among others. The calls for genocide aren’t coming from the Jews or Israel but it is an accepted feature of the Arab narrative. So why not use the recognised symbols for evil against them?

Just as a thought. Prince Harry of Great Britain was pilloried for being insensitive enough to wear a Nazi uniform to a costume party. What is he had come as the Devil? That’s a symbol for iniquity thousands of years older than Adolf.

Keeping with the Purim theme of this article am I permitted to ask why is dressing your child as Haman (whose failed attempt at genocide is celebrated in the festival) but not as Hitler? Is it just too soon?

Is hypocrisy anti-Semitism?

There are those who accuse Israel of the worst crimes while ignoring the other 194 countries in the world entirely. Just read the comments that surface if any journalist writes something that can even be vaguely pro-Israel. How often do you see an weekly demonstration against China, for example? How many of the institutions that fall for BDS actually have sanctions against any other country? Just for the record neither Marrickville Council, in Australia nor the University of Johannesburg have targetted another country.

But is it anti-Semitism? The European Union thinks it might be. Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation. But I’m not sure. Hypocritical? Yes! Often misinformed? Also, Yes! But is stupidity and ignorance enough for the charge.

Velkommen til Norge

Professor Trond Andresen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology insists he is not antisemitic.  I am not an antisemite, Dershovitz (translated from the Norwegian) He thinks that Jews have a tribal mentality, that makes the Jews think too highly of themselves. There must be a debate about Jews as a cultural group just like the Muslims. If I ever met him I would have to ask, “What in your mind could be considered antisemitic if you are not”? Have you so narrowly defined anti-Semitism to the point it has no meaning?

This all returns to my original question. Is it possible to be antisemitic in 2011? If the examples I have shown are not, then what is?

Detail of Hamentaschen (אוזני המן‎) used in 5-in-a-star icon photographed by Yoninah 2006

† For details about the festival Judaism 101

‡BTW Melanie Phillips has an explanation for anti Jewish paranoia – excessive cocaine use.

†† I see the relationship of Islamophobia to Antisemitism as analogous to the relationship of Saccharine to Sugar. An artificial concoction designed to mimic the real thing.

‡‡ Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self­ determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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