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Home arrow Sociology arrow Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism Representation

I Introduction


In the past, the most dangerous antisemites were those who wanted to make the world Judenrein, “free of Jews”. Today, the most dangerous antisemites might be those who want to make the world Judenstaatrein, “free of a Jewish state”.

Per Ahlmark Former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden

11 April 2002

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are complex, delineable, yet inter-related social psychological phenomena. While antisemitism has been described as an irrational, age-old prejudice (Wistrich, 1991), anti-Zionism is often represented as a legitimate response to a “rogue state” (Corrigan, 2009). Antisemitism and anti-Zionism have been the subject of much discussion among social and political commentators. There are diverse views on them. Not everybody agrees. People rarely admit to being antisemitic but many would readily disclose their opposition to Zionism, an ideology that has acquired negative connotations in many societies. Antisemitism evokes imagery of fascism, extremism, death and genocide, while anti-Zionism evokes imagery of anti-capitalism, anti-racism and minority rights. The former has a malevolent action orientation, while the latter is understood to have a benevolent one. Yet, both antisemitism and anti-Zionism are forms of hostility and prejudice. While antisemitism reflects hostility towards the Jewish people, anti-Zionism essentially constitutes hostility towards the Jewish State. There have been gradual shifts in thematic focus – Jews have been described as excessively cosmopolitan and as insular traditionalists; as weak and effete, as well as mighty and powerful. Moreover, in history, particular groups have been more or less associated with antisemitism – the most aggressive forms of antisemitism were observable among European far-right groups, while today Islamists and many on the political left appear to invoke antisemitic myths in their diatribes against the Jewish State. Despite the multifarious forms that antisemitism has taken in history – including its most recent manifestation in the guise of extreme anti-Zionism – its underlying patterns and action orientation appear to have remained remarkably uniform.

The Necessity of Studying Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism

In history, Jews have suffered unthinkable persecution in their host countries – during medieval times, they were indiscriminately murdered in the European towns in which the blood libel accusation gained traction; in the Russian Empire, thousands of Jews, including young children, were murdered in the violent state-
endorsed anti-Jewish pogroms; and during the Nazi regime, at least 6 million Jews were murdered in a systematic attempt to wipe out European Jewry (Dundes, 1991; Gilbert, 1985; Herf, 2006; Klier and Lambroza, 1992). The Holocaust, as the culmination of long-standing European antisemitism, has come to function as a metaphor for the turbulent Jewish history.

Many decades after the Holocaust, overt antisemitism has become disreputable in most circles, but it does manifest itself under newer, subtler guises which bypass the stigma of overt prejudice and racism. Its newer manifestation in the form of anti-Zionism, which is rarely devoid of antisemitic metaphors and imagery, is enthusiastically endorsed by a multitude of actors, groups and organisations – principally left-wing groups and Muslim groups. There is a widespread societal perception that antisemitism is a thing of the past and that it disappeared after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed to the world. However, this perception is erroneous. Antisemitism lives on. In history, multifarious myths, motifs and representations emerged and contributed to the delegitimisation, demonisation and, many cases, destruction of Jews. In contemporary times, diverse myths, motifs and representations are created, re-created and crystallised in order to delegitimise, demonise and destroy the Jewish State. There appears to be much synergy in representations of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, which can render the delineation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism somewhat difficult. What these forms of prejudice share is a destructive effect upon intergroup relations.

Following the establishment of the State of Israel, the main centre of antisemitism shifted to Arab countries, from which hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced to leave, either through direct expulsion or due to violence and intimidation from their Muslim neighbours (Shulewitz, 2001). In these countries, Jews continue to be openly delegitimised and demonised. Moreover, self-identified anti-Zionist state organisations in the Middle East have perpetrated deadly attacks against Jews, as exemplified by the bombing of a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1994. Since 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has led the global campaign against Zionism and Iranian officials have not shied away from employing overt antisemitism in their anti-Zionist campaign. Iran's fervent antiZionism has induced suspicion, distrust and fear among the Israeli administration (Jaspal and Coyle, 2014). Hostilities have been exacerbated by Iran's nuclear programme, which Israel believes is intended for the development of nuclear weapons to be used against Israel (Pardo, 2007). Tense relations between Iran and Israel have raised fears in the international community over a potential armed conflict between the two countries, and these fears have not necessarily waned after the election of “moderates” in Iran.

Young disaffected Muslims, many of whom were born and raised in European countries, have vented their anger at Israel's perceived treatment of the Palestinians on (non-Israeli) Jews and Jewish institutions in the West. In March 2012, Mohamed Merah, a young man of Algerian descent, shot dead four Jews at a Jewish day school in Toulouse, allegedly because he believed that Israel was responsible for the deaths of innocent Muslims. In France, there have been countless cases of the
defacing and burning of synagogues and Jewish cultural centres, physical attacks on Jewish school children and, in 2006, the kidnap, torture and murder of a young Jewish salesman by an antisemitic gang (Golsan, 2010). In Britain, antisemitism is said to be on the rise and spearheaded by Muslim minorities similarly angered by Israel's alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians. The rise in antisemitism is observable all over Europe, as compellingly exemplified by the pages and pages of “antisemitic incidents” which are summarised at the beginning of each issue of Journal for the Study of Antisemitism (e.g. Baum & Rosenberg, 2012, 2013).

Antisemitism did not end with the discovery of the Holocaust, but rather it continues to exist and is expressed in diverse ways. It has a complex relationship with anti-Zionism, which is explored in this book. Both forms of prejudice are encouraged and manifested to varying degrees in Arab/Islamic and European countries, respectively. It is difficult to speak of antisemitic/anti-Zionist “tendencies” in specific countries, given that particular social groups within these countries may be more or less committed to these forms of prejudice. This book is intended to provide an understanding of the social and psychological motivations and processes underlying antisemitism and indeed anti-Zionism in order to facilitate positive intergroup relations.

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