The new anti-Semitism

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Neve Gordon, Professor of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. (photo: ynet.co.il)

How Israel is “weaponizing” anti-Semitism.

By Neve Gordon | London Review of Books | Jan 4, 2018


The Israeli government needs the “new anti-Semitism” to justify its actions and to protect it from international and domestic condemnation. Anti-Semitism is effectively weaponized, not only to stifle speech — “It does not matter if the accusation is true.” . . . [Its] purpose is “to cause pain, to produce shame, and to reduce the accused to silence” — but also to suppress a politics of liberation.


Not long after the eruption of the Second Intifada in September 2000, I became active in a Jewish-Palestinian political movement called Ta’ayush, which conducts non-violent direct action against Israel’s military siege of the West Bank and Gaza. Its objective isn’t merely to protest against Israel’s violation of human rights but to join the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination. For a number of years, I spent most weekends with Ta’ayush in the West Bank; during the week I would write about our activities for the local and international press.

My pieces caught the eye of a professor from Haifa University, who wrote a series of articles accusing me first of being a traitor and a supporter of terrorism, then later a “Judenrat wannabe” and an anti-Semite. The charges began to circulate on right-wing websites; I received death threats and scores of hate messages by email; administrators at my university received letters, some from big donors, demanding that I be fired.

I mention this personal experience because although people within Israel and abroad have expressed concern for my wellbeing and offered their support, my feeling is that in their genuine alarm about my safety, they have missed something very important about the charge of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ and whom, ultimately, its target is.

The “new anti-Semitism,” we are told, takes the form of criticism of Zionism and of the actions and policies of Israel, and is often manifested in campaigns holding the Israeli government accountable to international law, a recent instance being the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In this it is different from “traditional” anti-Semitism, understood as hatred of Jews per se, the idea that Jews are naturally inferior, belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy or in the Jewish control of capitalism etc. The “new anti-Semitism” also differs from the traditional form in the political affinities of its alleged culprits: where we are used to thinking that anti-Semites come from the political right, the new anti-Semites are, in the eyes of the accusers, primarily on the political left.

The logic of the “new anti-Semitism” can be formulated as a syllogism: i) anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews; ii) to be Jewish is to be Zionist; iii) therefore anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. The error has to do with the second proposition. The claims that Zionism is identical to Jewishness, or that a seamless equation can be made between the State of Israel and the Jewish people, are false. Many Jews are not Zionists. And Zionism has numerous traits that are in no way embedded in or characteristic of Jewishness, but rather emerged from nationalist and settler colonial ideologies over the last three hundred years. Criticism of Zionism or of Israel is not necessarily the product of an animus towards Jews; conversely, hatred of Jews does not necessarily entail anti-Zionism.

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