Eunice G. Pollack, ed., From Antisemitism to Antizionism: The Past and Present of a Lethal Ideology

, October 14, 2017

Eunice G. Pollack, editor, From Antisemitism to Antizionism: The Past and Present of a Lethal Ideology (Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2017). 426 + xxx pp. ISBN 978-1-61811-565-2.

This book is a collection of 14 high-quality scholarly articles by 13 contributors from Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia, and Israel. While most of the contributors are willing to acknowledge a distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, they document the plain fact that much anti-Zionism is rooted in, and derives its special intensity from, hatred for Jews and Judaism.

Israel has been for decades uniquely targeted by campaigns of delegitimization which can be traced to Christian, Arab, Islamic, and Soviet strains of antisemitism. As Joel Fishman notes in the concluding chapter, the purpose of this campaign is “to remove Israel from the society of cultured nations,” thereby making it “fair game for all forms of violence, including terror, by designating it a legitimate target that [is] not entitled either legal recourse or the right to self-defense” (394). White supremacists like David Duke have long been both fiercely anti-Zionist and openly anti-Semitic. Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood have well documented histories of extreme Jew-hatred, and they have large and growing networks of supporters in Western countries who play an increasing role in anti-Israel activism. In these cases the connection between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is as plain as can be, and yet, as David Hirsh documents, in self-styled “progressive” circles, the typical position is that “criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-Semitic” (21-2). Hirsh documents the case of the University and College Union in Great Britain, which explicitly rejected a modified version of this statement, one which pointed out that “much criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic,” while allowing that criticism of Israeli state policy is not necessarily anti-Semitic. As Hirsh and other contributors to this volume document, anti-Zionists increasingly make the illogical move from “not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic” to “no criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.” This allows anti-Zionists on the left (e.g. Jeremy Corbyn, Judith Butler, Ken Livingstone) to embrace fascistic, reactionary, anti-Semitic movements like Hamas and Hezbollah as members in good standing of the “progressive, global left.”

Increasingly, to fit in with their “progressive” friends and colleagues, liberal Jews are identifying themselves as anti-Zionists, or becoming so one-sided in their criticism of Israel that they may as well be anti-Zionists. Edward Alexander examines this phenomenon, placing it within “the ingrained tradition of blaming Jews for the violence unleashed against them” (267). So desperately do American Jews wish to be accepted as card-carrying liberal Democrats that they have turned a blind eye for decades to the anti-Semitism of liberal Democratic hero Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his path-breaking contribution to this volume, Rafael Medoff documents FDR’s intense bigotry toward Jews, arguing cogently that this bias led directly to FDR’s refusal to allow Jewish refugees from Germany into the USA in the 1930s and 40s: “For the entire period of the Nazi regime, 1933 to 1945, more than 190,000 [immigration] quota spaces from Germany and Axis-occupied countries sat unused” (91). They sat unused because FDR appointed, and supported, openly anti-Semitic officials to the State Department office that issued immigration visas, and FDR himself had a long track record of antisemitism (86-112).

While Westerners and Christians have their own history of antisemitism, the contributors to this volume are well aware that the center of gravity of contemporary Jew-hatred has shifted to the world of Islam, and that Muslim immigration to Western countries is now re-infecting the West with this ancient bacillus. Ira Robinson of McGill University notes, for example, that “[i]n recent years, a significant number of Muslims have immigrated to Canada,” and “[t]hey come from a number of countries where anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiment is endemic…” (372-3). Richard Landes notes with consternation that the West, blinded by a self-destructive type of multicultural tolerance, seems oblivious to the extent to which the forces of radical Islam have infiltrated Western societies and their institutions (186-214). Neil J. Kressel, in one of the better chapters, documents in compelling detail the “great failure of the anti-racist community,” namely, the willful ignoring or active denial of Muslim antisemitism (29-67). At a time when the social sciences in the USA are more and more focused on racial and ethnic bias, social scientists almost completely ignore the large, virulent, and growing problem of Muslim antisemitism. Kressel rightly denounces the bias of Western academics, who excoriate white Westerners for their racism and xenophobia while refusing to take seriously the bigotry of non-Western and nonwhite groups, however lethal, widespread, or well-documented that bigotry may be (61-2).

Scholars of antisemitism have long pointed out that hatred for Jews, while pathological in itself, is also symptomatic of broader pathologies. Antisemitism is always linked to reactionary, illiberal, violent tendencies that threaten non-Jews as well as Jews. Joel Fishman concludes the volume with a sobering thought: “Although the subject has been played down, and it is politically incorrect to use the term, we are engaged in a religious war – perhaps even a clash of civilizations…. At stake is the future of Western civilization.”

About Joseph S. Spoerl

Joseph S. Spoerl is the Professor and Chairman, Philosophy Department, Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH, USA.