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Deciphering the New Antisemitism

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Deciphering the New Antisemitism addresses the increasing prevalence of antisemitism on a global scale. Antisemitism takes on various forms in all parts of the world, and the essays in this wide-ranging volume deal with many of them: European antisemitism, antisemitism and Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel. Contributors are an international group of scholars who clarify the cultural, intellectual, political, and religious conditions that give rise to antisemitic words and deeds. These landmark essays are noteworthy for their timeliness and ability to grapple effectively with the serious issues at hand.

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Acknowledgments

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UNDER THE AUSPICES OF Indiana University’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (ISCA), forty-five scholars from ten countries came together in Bloomington in April 2014 for four days of intensive analysis and discussion of the recent upsurge of anti-Jewish hostility. The chapters of this book are revised versions of many of the papers presented at this gathering, the second international scholars’ conference on antisemitism that ISCA has convened.

I thank all of the conference participants for their important critical insights into the challenging subject matter before us and for the exceptional display of collegiality that marked our deliberations. I am grateful to Ira Forman, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism, who spoke to conference participants and especially invited guests about his work on the evening before our sessions formally began.

I am particularly grateful to M. Alison Hunt, who was invaluable in more ways than one in helping me organize the conference and prepare many of the conference papers for subsequent publication. I can hardly thank Alison enough for being such a congenial and efficient coworker—a pleasure to have by my side from start to finish.

 

Introduction

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ALVIN H. ROSENFELD

THIS BOOK ADDRESSES a disturbing phenomenon that was largely unforeseen in the recent past but has since grown to be one of the most highly charged developments of our time: the upsurge of antisemitism on a global scale. Such hostility has increased significantly since the end of the previous century, and while it takes a variety of forms and poses different challenges in different parts of the world, it is always a threat and needs to be taken seriously—and not only by Jews. This latter point was made clear in a brief but telling statement issued in July 2014 by the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy. They condemned the “anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility towards Jews [and] attacks on people of the Jewish faith and synagogues” that were taking place almost daily in their countries and elsewhere in Europe. Recognizing the ominous nature of these occurrences, they pledged to do “everything we can to ensure that our citizens can continue to live in peace and security, free from anti-Semitic hostility.”1 By themselves, obviously, these words would not put an end to the escalation of antisemitism in European societies. But presented as a premonitory warning to all of their citizens, and intended not only to calm the rattled nerves of French, German, and Italian Jews, the foreign ministers’ statement was necessary and timely. It was also politically wise, for it is well-known that the pathologies that animate antisemitism do not focus their destructive energies only on Jews but, if left unchecked, inevitably end up targeting others, as well, and can create high levels of social chaos and disruption.

 

Part I. Defining and Assessing Antisemitism

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PASCAL BRUCKNER

Something new was happening here: the

growth of a new intolerance.

It was spreading across the surface of the

earth, but nobody wanted to know.

A new word had been created to help the

blind remain blind: Islamophobia.

To criticize the militant stridency of this religion in its

contemporary incarnation was to be a bigot.

A phobic person was extreme and irrational in his views,

and so the fault lay with such persons

and not with the belief system that boasted

over one billion followers worldwide.

—Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir

IN 1910, a French drafter for the Ministry of the Colonies, Alain Quellien, published Muslim Politics in Western Africa (La Politique musulmane dans l’Afrique occidentale].1 Aimed at a specialist audience, it offered temperate praise of Koranic religion, regarded as “practical and permissive” and best suited to the natives, whereas Christianity was considered “too complicated, too abstract, too austere for the primitive and materialistic mentality of the Negro.” Observing that Islam, through its civilizing influence, contributed to European penetration, that it “dragg[ed] populations out of fetishism and degrading practices,” the author urged his readers to abandon the prejudices that equated that faith with barbarism and fanaticism. He denounced the “islamophobia” rampant among colonial personnel: as he put it, “to sing the praises of Islam is as unfair as unjustly denigrating it.” On the contrary, the religion should be treated impartially. In that instance, Quellien spoke as an administrator concerned with public order: he blamed the desire of Europeans to demonize a religion that maintained peace in the Empire, whatever were the various kinds of abuse—slavery, polygamy—it gave rise to. Since Islam was the best ally of colonialism, its followers had to be protected from the nefarious influence of modern ideas and their ways of life respected. Another colonial official, serving in Dakar, Maurice Delafosse, wrote around the same time that “no matter what those who endorse Islamophobia as a principle of colonial administration may claim, France has nothing more to fear from Muslims in Western Africa than from non-Muslims [ . . . ]. There is no justification for Islamophobia in Western Africa, whereas Islamophilia, understood as a preference granted to Muslims, might create a sense of mistrust in non-Muslim populations, which happen to be the most numerous.”2 However, the terms Islamophobia and Islamophilia remained scarcely used, except by scholars, until the beginning of the 1980s. At that point, the term Islamophobia began to gain use as a political tool in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Teheran. A floating signifier in search of meaning, the term Islamophobia can indeed refer to two different things: either the criticism of Islam or discrimination exerted against the followers of the Koran. A word is not the property of the person who first used it but of those who have reinvented it so as to popularize its use. A newcomer in the semantic field of antiracism, that term is governed by three principles I dwell on here: the inviolability principle, the equivalence principle, and the substitution principle.

 

Part II. Intellectual and Ideological Contexts

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DORON BEN-ATAR

TOM PAULINS 2001 POEM “Killed in Crossfire” established the gold standard for contemporary Jew hatred:

We’re fed this inert

this lying phrase

like comfort food

as another little Palestinian boy

in trainers jeans and a white teeshirt

is gunned down by the Zionist SS

whose initials we should

—but we don’t—dumb goys—

clock in that weasel word crossfire

In a few vicious verses, Paulin weaves old themes of blood libel, Jewish clannishness, and “Zionist SS.” But before unleashing the hateful words, Paulin took cover in the words of a Jew. Above the poem, Paulin inserted the following quotation from Victor Klemperer’s June 13, 1934, diary entry: “To me the Zionists, who want to go back to the Jewish state of 70 AD (destruction of Jerusalem by Titus), are just as offensive as the Nazis. With their nosing after blood, their ancient ‘cultural roots,’ their partly canting, partly obtuse winding back of the world, they are altogether a match for the National Socialists.”1 The use of Klemperer was of course strategic. His long diaries became a strange best seller in Germany in the 1990s. In a phenomenon that few could fathom and none could explain, the pedantic Klemperer became the Anne Frank of post-unification Germany—the perfect Jewish victim who was not even much of a Jew—Klemperer converted to Protestantism in 1912, and even the years of persecution and the murder of family members did not diminish his distaste for Jews. Here was a “good” Jew—a real “credit to the race.” And now Paulin could publish his hate freely—after all, what he said was no different from what Victor Klemperer noted in 1934. Even the Jews admit it: the Zionists are Nazis.2

 

Part III. Holocaust Denial, Evasion, Minimization

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BERNARD HARRISON

There is [in Holocaust studies] a distinct danger of escaping from the reality of the Nazi regime and its consequences into a nebulous general humanism, where all persecutions become holocausts, and where a general and meaningless condemnation of evil helps to establish a curtain between oneself and the real world. This escapism must of course be fought.

—Yehuda Bauer, The Holocaust in Historical Perspective

THE LONG-RUNNING dispute over the question of whether the Holocaust was a unique event has divided opinion since roughly the start of the 1990s to the present. An excellent account that surveys its various stages and its main contributors can be found in an outstanding book by Gavriel Rosenfeld.1 My concern here is simply to tease out some of the more fundamental assumptions of the debate, in the process raising what I think are some pressing questions concerning their intellectual and moral solidity.

Several features of the uniqueness debate mark it out from the general run of academic, scholarly, controversies. There is, for instance, the unusual degree of acrimony with which it has frequently been conducted. Another curious feature of the debate is its power to unite the academic at one extreme with the scurrilous at the other. The academic end of this spectrum of opinion has, since 1996, found rich expression in Alan S. Rosenbaum’s voluminous anthology, Is the Holocaust Unique? Perspectives in Comparative Genocide, which has now run into three editions.2 The other, scurrilous, extreme can be encountered in the spatter of openly antisemitic and Holocaust-denial websites to be located by typing the words “was the Holocaust Unique?” into a search engine.

 

Part IV. Regional Manifestations

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SINA ARNOLD

THE CONTEMPORARY political Left has often been described as one of the central actors of the “New Antisemitism” in the United States. So far, however, little empirical research has been conducted to analyze this specific political milieu. Writing on the topic often focuses on the German context (e.g., Imhoff 2011, Knothe 2009, Stein 2011, Ullrich 2013), but works looking at the history of the U.S. Left’s uneasy relationship to antisemitism are few and far between (Liebman 1979, Norwood 2013). This lack of attention is surprising, since the current economic crisis has been met by various popular responses in the United States, including the emergence of the left-wing Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Crises, however, are often times when antisemitic ideologies resurface, so the question of the relationship between antisemitism and the Left becomes even more relevant. Moreover, the success of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the proliferation of pro-Palestinian groups opposing the Israeli occupation—particularly on college campuses—have in recent years renewed questions as to the fine line between critiques of Israel and antisemitism.

 

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