It seemed innocuous enough. The Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece on Nov. 10 arguing the importance of the continued preservation of Auschwitz, the most significant memorial site from the Holocaust. The article, by Dr. Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, pointed out that as living memory of the Holocaust fades, physical evidence becomes ever more important.
Dr. Cywinski is not Jewish, and the article’s only mention of Jews was to note that the Nazis viewed the Holocaust as “the ultimate solution to the Jewish question.” Neither Israel nor the Palestinians were mentioned at all in the piece.
Yet bizarrely, a large minority of the comments responding to the article on the Herald website included either antisemitic accusations against Jews generally, or extremist rantings against Israel. Antisemitic claims included “old favourites”, such as Jews controlling the world’s media, as well as more novel allegations, such as “Jewish settlers” supposedly having bought cheap land in East Germany after the Cold War, and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in order to capitalise on other people’s disasters.
Meanwhile, fully two-fifths of the comments constituted attacks on Israel; many of them explicitly accused Israel of perpetrating genocide on Palestinians, of being comparable to the Nazis, or dismissing the Holocaust as of interest only because it is supposedly used to licence Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians.
Typical, but by no means the worst, of these sorts of comments was this: “Auschwitz is a propaganda tool used by Jewish interests to deflect attention away from atrocities committed by the State of Israel against the Palestinians.”
The comments posted in response to Cywinski’s article were classic examplars of what has been termed the “new antisemitism” by experts monitoring hatred and racism.
What is it and how is this different from traditional antisemitism? Broadly speaking this is a form of a hatred which directs at Israel, the Jewish state, the same venom, virulence, and obsession that the “old antisemitism” directed at Jewish people. Traditional antisemitism, in its most virulent form, aimed to rid the world of Jews. The “new antisemitism” is obsessed with trying to rid the world of the Jewish state.
Here is another, more authoritative, definition:
Classical anti-Semitism is the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the rights of Jews to live as equal members of whatever society they inhabit. The new anti-Semitism involves the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations, with Israel as the targeted “collective Jew among the nations.”
This definition comes from the “Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism”, formulated and adopted in Canada this November at the second annual Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism.
This conference, attended by representatives of over 50 countries (including two Australian parliamentarians – the ALP’s Michael Danby MHR and Liberal Senator Scott Ryan) and the Protocol it produced, were a reflection of the growing international recognition that this “new antisemitism” has become an exploding global phenomenon.
Thus, the Ottawa Protocol expresses alarm at, among other things, the “explosion of antisemitism and hate on the Internet,” the rise of antisemitic incidents on university campuses, and the “double entendre of denying the Holocaust – accusing the Jews of fabricating the Holocaust as a hoax – and the Nazification of the Jew and the Jewish people.”
Of course, disproportionate hatred of Israel is nothing new – nor are attempts at making parallels of Nazi treatment of Jews with Israeli treatment of Palestinians, however ignorant, offensive and morally bankrupt these attempted parallels are.
What is new, and what is making observers increasingly worried, is the mainstreaming of these sentiments over the last few years. As in the reaction to Cywinski’s article, it is increasingly common in Australia and elsewhere for any mention of Israel, Jews or even the Holocaust, no matter how innocuous, to lead to an avalanche of furious vituperation and denunciations. This is then accepted as perfectly normal and unexceptional by other commentators and opinion-makers.
Moreover, much of the more extreme comment on Israel is suffused with the language of traditional antisemitism – including an emphasis on the supposed unique evil of “Zionism”, obsessions with the supposed global and financial power of the Jewish or Zionist lobby, a willingness to entertain claims about “organ stealing” reminiscent of the blood libel, and demands to boycott and exclude Israel and all “Zionists”, much as Jews were once routinely subjected to boycotts and ostracism.
Of course, it hardly needs to be said that criticism of Israel is not in itself antisemitic. All states, including Israel, have less than perfect records, and all states are – and should be – open to criticism. However when only one state is focused upon, when only one state is compared to the worst criminal regimes of the 20th century, when the woes of the entire world are pinned on that one state, when the people whose ethnicity make up the majority and raison d’être of that state are – alone among ethnicities – denied the right of self-determination, then that is bias. And when that state is the world’s only Jewish state – then this approach amounts to antisemitism.
As the Ottawa Protocol states, “Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, and saying so is wrong. But singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium – let along denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction – is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.”
The Ottawa Protocol is important because it represents a serious global attempt to focus attention, effort and resources on this growing and significant manifestation of hatred. But it is important for another reason as well. In clear language, it sets out an international consensus on what the new antisemitism is, and is not. And until people of good faith can accurately identify this ugly phenomenon, they cannot defeat it.