Let us be clear. There is no such thing as “anti-Zionism”. What masquerades as anti-Zionism is antisemitism, because its proponents set standards and ask questions of Israel which they never apply to any other nation state.
Last week in Geneva we saw the ferocity of this form of antisemitism. President Ahmadinejad may have taken centre stage with his denouncements of Israel but he was not alone. There was a lot of support. While the rhetoric is largely empty, the attitudes which underpin Ahmadinejad’s world view can also be found closer to home.
To mark Yom Ha’Shoah, the UK Holocaust Centre commissioned Populus to undertake a survey into the British attitude towards Jews.
In particular, we wanted to see whether Britons saw Jews primarily as victims, in light of centuries of European antisemitism, or whether the one-sided coverage of Israel’s action in Gaza had obscured the broader historical perspective.
At first glance the findings are encouraging: over half of all respondents (51%) saw Jews primarily as the victims of aggression throughout history. A mere two in 100 claimed that Jews were primarily perpetrators.
But the devil, as they say, is in the detail. Almost a third of respondents (30%) saw Jews historically as “victims and perpetrators in equal measure”. This latter figure suggests that almost a third of the population can reasonably argue in their heads, “they may once have been victims, but now they are aggressors” — easy targets for the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad. And those figures remain consistent even for those who lived through the Holocaust. How quickly we forget.
There is, therefore, some encouragement in the finding that there is strong and continuing support for Holocaust education. Some 43% suggested there should be more emphasis on teaching the Holocaust, while a further 44% thought the emphasis was “about right”. Only 13% thought that the emphasis was too great.
The importance of maintaining a historical perspective is evidenced in the respondents’ cynicism of commentary on Israel. Over half of those who expressed a view believed that criticism of Israel was often a cover for antisemitism, with a further 6% saying such criticism was always a cover for antisemitism. In contrast, just 23% believed criticism of Israel always to be legitimate.
So, whilst a minority view, there is clearly an appetite for more from the school of Ahmadinejad. What’s more, the findings make it clear that the link he draws between Holocaust denial and criticism of Israel is not merely a coincidental overlap but that the undermining of the historical fact of the Holocaust is instrumental to the undermining of Israel.
We need to fear this dangerous brand of antisemitism but we need not fear open discussion about Israel as it appears the majority want to understand. If ever there was a correlation between teaching the Holocaust and the fight against antisemitism, the Holocaust denial of the Geneva antisemites is our clue. We still have an open door and an open mind in Britain. We need to push the door to education before it is too late.