Recently there have been a number of articles written on the subject of anti-Semitism. Some of them have sought to distinguish between criticism of the state of Israel and genuine anti-Semitism. A greater number have warned of an apparent alarming rise in attacks on Judaism in Europe so serious that it is reminiscent of the 1930s.
In any debate there is usually a conflict in definition, and this is particularly important when dealing with something as sensitive as racism or religious hatred. An article in the Guardian on Monday 17th June provides an intriguing insight into the confusion surrounding the current discussions on anti-Semitism.
The article in question concerns a rise in Israelis seeking to obtain German citizenship, through a clause in the constitution over Holocaust compensation, for insurance, "should the conflict with the Palestinians worsen."
As background to the situation, the report cites the controversy in Germany over alleged anti-Semitic remarks made by Jürgen Möllemann, the deputy leader of the FDP party, when he compared the Israeli government’s actions to those of the Nazi regime. Since his remarks Jewish groups have taken to the streets to call for Mr Möllemann’s resignation.
Comparisons between the Israeli government and the Nazis is unwise and unsound, since the Israelis have not (at the time of going to press) exterminated in a systematic fashion an enormous percentage of the Palestinians. Cold-blooded killings, beatings, house demolitions, vandalism, occupation, military assaults, and two historical pushes at ethnic cleansing–yes. Full fledged genocide–no.
However, the comparison is not anti-Semitic. It does not make racist assumptions, nor does it smack of bigotism. Whether you agree with him or not, Mr Möllemann’s comments cannot, on their own, be called anti-Semitic.
The Guardian article concludes with the most attention-grabbing section of the piece. It cites a poll undertaken by the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt, in which thirty-six per cent of participants said they would agree with the statement "I can understand very well that some people are unpleasant towards Jews." This was taken to indicate an increase in anti-Semitism, since it was a dramatic increase from 20% three years ago.
I was somewhat startled by this, since I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are. There are, in fact, a number of reasons. One is the state of Israel, its ideology of racial supremacy and its subsequent crimes committed against the Palestinians. It is because Zionists have always sought to equate their colonial project with Judaism that some misguidedly respond to what they see on their televisions with attacks on Jews or Jewish property.
Secondly, and related to the first point, is the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media. Once again, due to the (theologically false) mergence of Zionism with Judaism, unconditional support for the state of Israel in the media can lead some to misguidedly respond with charges of a ‘Jewish conspiracy’. Thirdly, European culture has a history of anti-Semitism (as it has also been guilty of racism to other peoples) that has been, and probably still is, embedded in collective consciousness. Its roots can be traced, at least to some extent, to the shameful teachings of many in the Church.
Of course, the common denominator in all forms of racism is the disturbed emotional profile of the protagonist. I do not pretend to be a psychologist, but I imagine factors could be ignorance, a dominant influential personality in their life, low self-esteem and numerous other religious, socio-economic dynamics.
I have just provided a by no means comprehensive list of reasons why "I can understand very well that some people are unpleasant towards Jews." I do not agree with them, but I can understand.
To interpret agreement with this statement as an indication of anti-Semitism is wrong and intellectually flawed. It can only contribute to real anti-Semitism by the creation of hysteria and polarisation that real racists thrive on, whether they are in a slum in Marseille, a dinner party in Berlin, or the Knesset.
Ben White can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org