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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Jews against Israel

Filed under: Anti-Semitism
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitic attacks on Israel by Israelis and Jews are frequently indistinguishable from those by gentiles. Among the specific aspects in the anti-Israel writings of some Jews are the use of their family’s Holocaust experiences, their references to being Jewish or an association of some kind with Israel.

  • Gentile assaults on Israel and Jews often use statements from Israeli or Diaspora Jewish defamers as a legitimization.

  • In order to fight verbal attacks against Israel by Israelis and Diaspora Jews more effectively, a much better understanding of their background, motives and methods is required. This issue has largely been neglected by Israel and the major defense organizations. 

In order to fight verbal attacks against Israel by Israelis and Diaspora Jews more effectively, a much better understanding of their background, motives and methods is required. One must identify the origin of their ideas and where they stand politically, as well as how they interact with others. Furthermore, a psychological analysis of the elements of self-hatred in their discourse is required.

Some aspects of this behavior require specific scrutiny, while others should be investigated within the framework of general verbal attacks against Israel, i.e., classical gentile anti-Semitism or the “new” anti-Zionism. To deepen insight into this phenomenon, it should also be studied internationally.

Many gentile assaults use statements from Israeli or Diaspora Jewish defamers as a way of legitimizing their attacks on Israel or Jews. Furthermore, a small number of anti-Israel Jews enable the media to present a Jewish community divided on key Israeli policy. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz mentions that the Boston Globe published two pictures of Israel’s 55th anniversary parade: one of pro-Israel groups carrying flags and the other of the Neturei Karta, a small ultra-Orthodox group at a counter-demonstration, carrying banners that included the slogan “real Jews are anti-Zionists.” This created the impression that an equal number of Neturei Karta and Zionists attended the parade.2

When identifying basic components of the anti-Israel assaults by Jews outside Israel, one important facet is anti-Semitic statements and actions. These have also to be seen in the context of the more general debate about the point at which extreme critique of Israel turns into anti-Semitism.

Defining New Anti-Semitism

Gradually, a consensus is developing on the definition of “new” anti-Semitism, i.e., the variety of Jew-hatred targeting the state of Israel. Once this mutation’s key characteristics have been classified, an analysis of any speech, writing or action can be made to determine its anti-Semitic elements. It is no longer relevant who the author is and whether he is Muslim, Christian, atheist, communist, Maoist, Trotskyite, Socialist, Liberal, neo-Nazi, Israeli or Diaspora Jew.

One effort to define the borders between critique and anti-Semitism was made by the Berlin Technical University’s Center for Research on Anti-Semitism. It characterized new anti-Semitism inter alia as a critique of Israel – that the Jewish state is negatively distinct from all others, and therefore has no right to exist.3

Irwin Cotler, the Canadian Justice Minister undertook a more detailed analysis of the multiple aspects of the new anti-Semitism. He claims that people become anti-Semites when calling for the destruction of Israel and the Jews; when denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination; when they de-legitimize Israel as a state or attribute all the world’s evil to Israel; when Nazifying Israel, denying the Holocaust or singling out Israel for discriminatory treatment in the international arena. Cotler also mentions cultural anti-Semitism as a characteristic of the new anti-Semitism. He defines it by saying that “Israel is attributed a mix of evil qualities by salon intellectuals and western elites.”4

Using mainly Cotler’s definitions, one can analyze anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic statements by Jews abroad. A few examples will illustrate this. To investigate the phenomenon efficiently, texts from the perpetrators are quoted jointly with the comments of various critics.

The Academic Boycott

The prime location to start investigating hate attacks by Jews is the campus. One major aspect of the new anti-Semitism is the academic initiatives to discriminate against Israeli universities and scholars. These efforts began in 2002 and developed rapidly in a number of countries. They took the Israeli government, as well as the Jewish world – including the academic one – by surprise.

These discriminatory initiatives have many facets. They cover issues such as calls for a moratorium on cultural and research links with Israel at European or national levels, the severing of relations between European and Israeli universities as well as the boycott of Israeli academics. In the United States, the main pattern has been to promote the divestment of Israeli securities and those of companies that have military dealings with Israel.5

An analysis of the signatories and initiators of the various appeals shows that Jews and Israelis have played an important role in the attacks. The initiative for the boycott in the UK was taken by Stephen and Hilary Rose, two Jewish professors. Other prominent Jews were also among the signatories of an open letter in the Guardian.6

A few weeks later in Australia, a similar initiative began which secured 90 signatories. One of the two initiators was John Docker, a Jewish Australian author from the Australian National University humanities research center.7

In July 2002, The Observer published a lengthy article by the Roses, which detailed Israeli military actions. When mentioning the murders by suicide bombers, the Roses carefully avoided describing these as Palestinians, nor did they refer to any negative Palestinian action in the entire paragraph.8 This is a well-known distorting technique.9 In their article the Roses also compared Israel to South Africa. Even the Jerusalem Post10 and the Jewish Chronicle gave them the opportunity to present their discriminatory ideas.11

In a later article the Roses reported receiving substantial hate mail. They also mentioned substantial support from people they called “pathologically anti-Jewish.” They went to great lengths to dissociate themselves from being Jewish anti-Semites.12 This denial of anti-Semitism is a recurrent motif among Jews who attack Israel.

Trying Again

By March 2004, after boycott attempts largely failed, an open letter was published in the Guardian signed by over 300 academics, asking leaders of Israeli universities to reveal whether they support government policies. It contained many familiar names of anti-Israel academics. Among its signatories were Jews such as Mike Cohen, Stephen and Hillary Rose and John Docker, as well as Jean-Marc Levy-Leblond from France and Lawrence Davidson from the U.S.

Other signatories were Israelis such as Eva Jablonka, Ilan Pappe and Tanya Reinhart, as well as Arabs and notorious gentile anti-Israeli academics such as Mona Baker and Sue Blackwell. Nahman Ben-Yehuda, dean of Hebrew University’s Social Sciences faculty, told the Guardian that the letter recalled the days of McCarthyism.13

Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, wrote in a web log that “Israeli academics have never boycotted Palestinian professors, even in the worst days of terror.” He mentioned that the academic boycott against Israel explicitly imposes a political litmus test on Israeli scholars. “It is radical-style McCarthyism.”14

Noam Chomsky

Several Israeli academics were among the signatories of anti-Israeli petitions.15 Tanya Reinhart of Tel Aviv University was particularly active. In a letter to another left-wing professor, Baruch Kimmerling of Hebrew University, who opposed the boycott, she wrote that what Israel is doing exceeds the crimes of South Africa’s white regime.16

Reinhart, a linguist, is a pupil of Noam Chomsky, a well-known professor of linguistics at MIT in Boston. Chomsky’s pronouncements make him a Jewish paradigm of Cotler’s definition of cultural anti-Semitism. He has systematically attributed to Israel a mix of evil qualities over the decades. In his student days, Chomsky belonged to a group called Avuka (Hebrew for “torch”) which opposed the establishment of a Jewish state.17

Alan Dershowitz considers Chomsky “the intellectual godfather” of the anti-Israel campaign, mentioning that Chomsky seeks the abolition of the state of Israel.18 This makes Chomsky an anti-Semite according to the definitions of both Cotler and the Berlin Anti-Semitism Center, as he expresses views that define Israel as a state fundamentally distinct from all others in a negative sense.

Chomsky also wrote an introduction to a book by the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.19 Yet his reputation has survived internationally among many.20 Chomsky’s systematic role in promoting hatred of Israel has impacted many others. When analyzing academic discrimination of Israel, one finds direct or indirect indications of his influence in many places. One is that among those active in the academic boycott of Israel, linguists seem disproportionately represented. This concerns both Jews and non-Jews. Some examples are the aforementioned Tanya Reinhart as well as Francesco Gatti21 and Rodolfo Delmonteboth of Cà Foscari University in Venice. A disproportionate number of linguists at Harvard and MIT have signed anti-Israel petitions.23 One organizer of a campus divestment campaign was Uri Strauss, a citizen of Canada and Israel and a graduate linguistics student at the University of Massachusetts.24

Chomsky also has made a major effort to promote historian Norman Finkelstein, another adversary of Israel.25 Among Finkelstein’s books is The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.26 Leading Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer called Finkelstein a “Jewish anti-Semite” and considered the attention his book received as a temporary setback in the struggle for Holocaust education.27 Finkelstein’s book received extensive publicity in France28 and other European countries.29 30

Israeli historian Ronald Zweig wrote: “Himself Jewish and the son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein could allow himself to articulate what many people believe but do not dare say in public.”31 Another Jewish distorter of Holocaust memory from the academic world is Sara Roy from Harvard’s University Center for Middle Eastern Studies. She uses being a child of Holocaust survivors. At a Holocaust Memorial Lecture she compared Israelis to Nazis.32

Even in the Jewish Press

Jewish journals sometimes print essays of Jewish authors using anti-Semitic arguments. The American magazine Tikkun published an article by Joel Kovel, the Alger Hiss Professor of Social Studies at Bard College (NY). Kovel calls Israel a racist state that “because it automatically generates crimes against humanity and lacks the internal means of correcting them, cannot have that legitimacy which gives it the right to exist.”33 He also compares the Zionist state to the Nazi state.34

Tony Judt, Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University, de-legitimizes Israel in a different way. “Israel is…a Jewish state in which one community – Jews – is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.”35 In his reply to Judt, Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic, claimed Judt considers all Jews responsible for each other’s behavior. He argues this is not a Zionist notion but an anti-Semitic one.36


Norton Mezvinsky, who teaches history at Central Connecticut State University, has been an opponent of Israel for several decades. His spiritual mentor was Reform Rabbi Elmer Berger, executive director of the American Council of Judaism. Jonathan Calt Harris in FrontPage Magazine mentions how in November 2000 Mezvinsky participated in an event in which the central theme “was to compare Israel with Nazism and apartheid.”37

Mezvinsky also updated Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, a book by the extreme left-wing Israeli academic Israel Shahak, and wrote its introduction. On the Amazon internet site, Chomsky comments on the book: “An outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value.” This reaction provides another illustration of the collaboration of anti-Israel forces in academia.

The networking between anti-Israel forces on campus is succinctly described by Ruth Wisse of Harvard: “Like many such initiatives since the 1960s, the petition campaign against Israel is promoted by relatively small numbers of faculty with interlocking interests. Its driving force are Arabs, Arabists, and their sympathizers who help prosecute the war against Israel as a way of diverting attention away from Arab regimes. They are joined by Leftists – including Jews – who see in Jewish particularism the chief hindrance to their internationalist faith; by radicals who consider Israel and America to be colonial powers and who promote their reactionary or revolutionary alternatives; and by antiwar enthusiasts who blame Israel for inviting Arab aggression against it.”38

Categorizing Israel’s Enemies

Israel’s Jewish adversaries must be categorized in order to better expose and combat them. Firstly, there are hard core extremists who have been active against the country for decades. Alfred Lilienthal, author of The Zionist Connection, is a prominent example. In the introduction to his book, Lilienthal praised the UN resolution which equated Zionism with racism and racial discrimination.39

Chomsky, Mezvinsky and Finkelstein are among the better known Jewish distorters of Israel’s image on campus. Others may take even more extreme positions, but their attacks are incidental rather than ongoing.

Besides the hard core of Israel’s adversaries from the academic world there are those who go along. They will never take any initiative but are available to provide support to the initiators by signing petitions. Another category are those incidentally incited to participate in anti-Israel actions. An example of the latter is Peter Fonagy, a Jewish psychoanalyst of University College in London, who signed the Open Letter initiated by Stephen and Hilary Rose, published in the Guardian.40

When he became the subject of severe criticism by Israeli academics, Fonagy responded that he had been under personal stress and had not been thinking clearly when he signed the call for the boycott. He withdrew his signature and apologized for it.

Where to Go from Here?

This essay illustrates some key aspects of verbal Jewish aggression against Israel as well as Jewish anti-Semitism in the world of academia. There is a substantial gap between the importance of the problem and the attention given to it in the Jewish world. The Jewish academics’ attacks on Israel must be analyzed not only in the wider context of academic aggression against Israel, but also within the framework of a profound study of contemporary Jewish anti-Semitism, Israel-hatred and self-hate yet to be undertaken.

Jewish self-hatred manifests itself in Israel as well. It is confined mainly to people outside the mainstream of society. Systematic research covering anti-Semitic texts in Israeli society will illustrate this.41 The World Jewish Congress drew attention to this phenomenon: “Certainly, a most disturbing element in the present situation is the fact that certain extreme left-wing Israeli organizations are often operating in concert with the Arabs in such campaigns and even orchestrating them.”42

The above type of analysis should be enlarged in various directions. Analyzing the anti-Israeli statements of some Jewish politicians is a further avenue to follow. Those of the late Austrian socialist Prime Minister Bruno Kreisky are a prime example for further investigation. A current example of Jewish promotion and initiation of political attacks against Israel is Ronnie Kasrils, former guerilla and current South African Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry. Kasrils initiated a discussion about a possible boycott against Israel in the South African cabinet.43 44

Many insights on strong anti-Israel bias can also be gleaned from British Labour MP Gerald Kaufman’s speech in the House of Commons delivered after the Jenin Defensive Shield operation.45 In March 2004 he called for economic sanctions against Israel.46 In the financial world, American Jewish billionaire fund manager George Soros’ statements illustrate a highly problematic attitude. He said inter alia, “I’m also very concerned about my own role because the new anti-Semitism holds that the Jews rule the world…As an unintended consequence of my actions…I also contribute to that image.”47

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that Soros blames the victim of anti-Semitism for all of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s ills.48 Such attitudes have manifested itself in many ways in the post-war period.

Financial and Other Areas

In the 1950s, Gordon Allport discussed various aspects of self-hate. Among these, he mentioned “the subtle mechanism” whereby the victim agrees with his persecutors and “sees his own group through their eyes.” He said that a Jew “may hate his historic religion…or he may blame some one class of Jews…or he may hate the Yiddish language. Since he cannot escape his own group, he does in a real sense hate himself – or at least the part of himself that is Jewish.”49

New versions of the old motif have now emerged. Among these are Jews who hate the Jewish state or see it through the eyes of “politically correct” members of some Western elites. They may even lead, not just join, these attacks.

Anti-Semitic Jews have also become an important tool in the anti-Israeli campaigns of Western media. On the British media, Robert Wistrich observes: “Only those Jews who smash Israel appear in the media, and Israel is routinely represented as an ethnic-cleansing rogue state – when not compared to Nazi Germany and South Africa – and at the same time is held to a higher standard than other countries.”50

So far there have been many rewards with correspondingly limited penalties for some of the Jews who attack Israel. They have positioned themselves in society in such a way that they are applauded by part of the non-Jewish environment and provide useful alibis for Israel’s Western enemies.

A Multidisciplinary Assessment Required

One also finds anti-Israeli Jews in various human rights organizations and other NGOs. Jews with a strong anti-Israel bias in the media are another group requiring in-depth research.

A more profound analysis should not be limited to the factual assessment of speech, text and actions. The phenomenon should also be assessed politically, culturally, psychologically and socially. Though there is collaboration between Israeli and Jewish anti-Israel forces, there are also important differences between the two which should be detailed. As aforementioned, if one reads anti-Semitic texts without knowing the author, one is often unable to guess whether the author is Jew or gentile. Yet there are specific aspects in the hate writings of some Jews against Israel. These concern the use of one’s family’s Holocaust experiences, references to being Jewish and an association of some kind with Israel.

It would have been a wise policy for Israel and the Jewish defense organizations to have confronted these attacks on Israel much earlier and more aggressively. Once a phenomenon reaches greater proportions without checking, it becomes far more difficult to fight.

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1. I express my thanks to Michelle Baruch and Jeremy Wimpfheimer who have collected part of the background material used for this article.
2. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Alan Dershowitz, in American Jewry’s Challenge: Conversations Confronting the 21st Century (Lanham. Md. Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), p. 116.
3. “Manifestations of Antisemitism in the European Union,” drafted for the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) by the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZFA) at Berlin Technical University, p. 17,
5. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Academic Boycott Against Israel,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 15, nos. 3 & 4, pp 9-70.
6., “Protest against Call for European Boycott of Academic and Cultural Ties with Israel,” The Guardian, Original Press Release, 6 April 2002.
7. Patrick Lawnham, “Academics Split on Israel Sanctions,” The Australian Newspaper, 22 May 2002.
8. Stephen and Hilary Rose, “The choice is to do nothing or try to bring about change,” The Guardian, 15 July 2002.
9. Andrea Levin, “Headlines Cover for Palestinian Violence,” The Jerusalem Post, 17 March 2003.
10. Ori Golan, “A Conscientious Objector,” The Jerusalem Post Magazine, 17 January 2003.
11. Helen Jacobus, “Wars of the Roses,” The Jewish Chronicle, 31 January 2003.
12. Andrew Beckett, “It’s Water on Stone – In the End Stone Wears Out,” The Guardian, 12 December 2002.
13. Polly Curtis, “Academic boycott of Israel gathers momentum,” The Guardian, 25 March 2004.
15. In the initial days the following names appeared on the list. Some of these may have since withdrawn their signatures. Others may have added them. Prof. Daniel Amit, Hebrew University; Iris Bar, Haifa University; Prof. Rachel Giora, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Eva Jablonka, Tel Aviv University; Dr. Haggai Katriel, Haifa University; Prof. Smadar Lavie, Tel Aviv; Dr. Ilan Pappe, Haifa University; Prof. Zvi Razi, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Tanya Reinhart, Tel Aviv University; Dr. Tuvia Shlonsky, Hebrew University.
16. Tanya Reinhart, “Why an academic boycott: a reply to an Israeli comrade,”, 17 May 2002.
17. Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Devil’s Accountant,” The New Yorker, 31 March 2003.
18. Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2003), p. 198.
19. Ibid.
20. Samantha Power, “The Everything Explainer” The New York Times, 4 January 2004.
21. Sara D’Ascenzo, “Boicottiamo i prof israeliani: sostengono Sharon,” Corierre Del Veneto, 8 February 2003. [Italian]
22. Silvia Grilli, “Venti di antisemitismo a Cà Foscari,” Panorama, 13 February 2003. [Italian]
23. Private Communication David Kazhdan.
24. Cheryl B. Wilson, “Divestment from Israel debated,” Gazette Net, 1 March 2003.
25. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel (eds.) Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, (New York: New Press, 2002), p. 245.
26. Norman G. Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (London: Verso, 2000).
27. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Yehuda Bauer in Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Jerusalem, 2003), p. 119.
28. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Shmuel Trigano in Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism, op. cit, p. 215.
29. Michael J. Bazyler, Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts (New York: New York University Press, 2003) p. 289.
30. Henrik Bachner, “La Suède” in Manfred Gerstenfeld & Shmuel Trigano, Les Habits neufs de l’antisémitisme en Europe (Île de Noirmoitier, Café Noir, 2004) p.194. [French]
31. Ronald Zweig, Journal of Israeli History, Vol. 20, nos. 2/3 (Summer/Autumn, 2001) pp. 208-216.
32. Sara Roy, Second Annual Holocaust Remembrance Lecture, Baylor University, 8 April 2002.
33. Joel Kovel, “On Left anti-Semitism and the Special Status of Israel,” Tikkun, 9 May 2003.
34. Ibid.
35. Tony Judt, “Israel: The Alternative,” The New York Review of Books, 23 October 2003.
36. Leon Wieseltier, “What is Not to be done: Israel, Palestine and the return of the binational fantasy,” New Republic, 27 October 2003.
37. Jonathan Calt Harris, “Palestine U, Connecticut USA,” www.Front, 8 March 2004.
38. Ruth R. Wisse, “Israel on Campus,” Wall Street Journal, 16 December 2002.
39. Alfred M. Lilienthal, “The Zionist Connection II: What Price Peace?”
40. For a more detailed description of the Fonagy case, see Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Academic Boycott Against Israel,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 15, nos. 3 & 4, pp. 53-58.
41. For some aspects of this issue see: Arieh Stav, “Israeli Anti-Semitism” in Shlomo Sharan (ed.) Israel and the Post-Zionists: A Nation at Risk, (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, Ariel Center for Policy Research, 2003), pp. 163-188.
42. Institute of the World Jewish Congress, “The Revival of the Arab Boycott – Round Two,” Policy Dispatch, No. 59.
43. Brendan Boyle, “Boycott Israel, says Jewish Minister,” Dawn International, 25 April 2002.
44. Robert Wistrich, “The Strange Case of Bruno Kreisky,” Encounter, May 1979.
45. 16 April, 2002.
46. “Sanctions urged to rein in Israel,” Agence-France-Presse, 29 March 2004.
47. Uriel Heilman, “In rare Jewish appearance, George Soros says Jews and Israel cause anti-Semitism.” JTA, 9 November 2004.
48. Ibid.
49. Gordon W. Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (New York: Doubleday, 1958), p. 147.
50. Abigail Radoszkowicz, “An Ancient Evil Stirs,” The Jerusalem Post Magazine, 17 January 2003.

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Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is an international business strategist who has been a consultant to governments, international agencies, and boards of some of the world’s largest corporations. The most recent of his nine books are Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003), The New Clothing of European Anti-Semitism (Editions Café Noir, 2004) (French), which he coedited with Shmuel Trigano, and American Jewry’s Challenge: Conversations Confronting the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).