Hen Mazzig

The new Antisemitism is built on lies, so let’s tell the truth

Only by doing so can we hope to stem the hatred and foster a more informed and just society


(Photo by YASIN AKGUL / AFP)

June 05, 2024 10:13

One of the most common rationales that activists offer for why they support the pro-Palestine movement is, as one British woman in London recently told me, because Palestinians are experiencing what Jews suffered during the Holocaust. In other words, Israelis – and Jews by association – are the new Nazis.

This belief has become so pervasive that activists have even weaponised it against Holocaust survivors themselves. One of my colleagues at the Tel Aviv Institute is 90-year-old survivor Lucy Lipiner. Since October 7, she has been called a “Zionist liar,” a “Nazi” and a slew of other libels on social media, most often by users with a Palestinian flag in their handle.

While this new brand of antisemitism should disgust us all, it is not without precedent. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks aptly described antisemitism as a virus that mutates over time. While antisemitism at its core is a conspiracy theory that paints Jews as deceitful and malicious, its post-October 7 mutation features a revised set of false equivalencies. Examples of this distortion can be seen across the Western world, from prominent media outlets to public demonstrations to comments by elected officials.

In late October, a leaked email showed a BBC staff member encouraging colleagues to use terms such as “settler-colonialism” and “ethnic cleansing” in reference to Israel’s response to Hamas’ attacks. On the streets of London, thousands have marched in protests with signage that accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians. And in April, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar told a journalist during her visit to the Columbia University encampment that Jewish students are either “anti-genocide or pro-genocide”. This binary framing creates a false moral dichotomy that shuts down debate and smears dissenters of this antisemitic campaign as supporters of mass slaughter.

When we recognise these tropes we must call them out, even at the risk of causing the virus to mutate once more. So here I go again.

As the son of Iraqi and Tunisian Jewish refugees who fled their countries due to rampant anti-Jewish hatred in the mid-20th century, I know the meaning of ethnic cleansing. The current war in Gaza is not that. According to the European Union, ethnic cleansing is defined as “using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group”. Yet the Palestinian population has grown over fivefold since 1948.

Pro-Palestinian activisits also accuse Israel of being an “apartheid” state. Today, Israel is home to more than two million Arabs, many of whom even serve in Israel’s parliament, courts and the Israeli Defence Forces. Meanwhile, no Jews remain in Iraq, while very few live in Tunisia, Syria, and other Muslim-majority nations. It was Israel that provided refuge to nearly one million Jews who lost everything in a series of violent anti-Jewish pogroms, such as the Farhud in Iraq, which we commemorate this month, that are rarely taught about in schools.

The increasingly sophisticated and hateful distortions of the narrative don’t stop there. In recent months, activists have described Jerusalem as ancient Palestinian land that Jews are guilty of “Judaizing”. Over the holiday season, one popular social media trend featured hundreds of users calling Jesus – a Jewish man from Judea – a Palestinian, invoking the ancient antisemitic trope that the Jewish nation is responsible for killing him.

The libel has also extended to the actions of the IDF. Despite having such a low civilian-to-combatant death toll and operating under strict ethical guidelines, they’ve been accused of intentionally targeting civilians and killing babies, much like the old antisemitic trope of Jews slaughtering non-Jewish babies for alleged ancient rituals. Meanwhile, Hamas actively targets innocents, holds a one-year- old Israeli baby in captivity and even uses its own population as human shields.

The false equivalence drawn between Palestinian prisoners and Israeli civilian hostages exemplifies the distorted lens through which the conflict is viewed. Palestinian prisoners are arrested for committing crimes, often terrorism, and they receive all rights including Red Cross and family visits, while Israeli civilians, kidnapped into Gaza for committing no crime but existing, have little to no humanitarian oversight or international concern.

While some in the pro-Palestinian camp may genuinely not understand what they support, many do. Their insidious tactics of equating the Israeli-Hamas war with the Holocaust, portraying Jerusalem as solely Palestinian, claiming Jesus was a Palestinian and mischaracterising the practices of the IDF are all libels that further perpetuate age-old antisemitic tropes.

So what can we do about it? It may seem overly optimistic but I contend that calling out these tropes and educating the public are the best antidotes. We must be as adaptive in fighting these pervasive and evolving forms of antisemitism as those who spread it. We must expose tropes, counter false narratives and ensure that the public discourse remains grounded in truth and historical accuracy. Only by doing so can we hope to stem the hatred and foster a more informed and just society.

June 05, 2024 10:13

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