Swans Commentary » swans.com April 25, 2005  



Deliberate Misstatements Of Anti-Semitism Are Counterproductive


by Philip Greenspan






(Swans - April 25, 2005)  The possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the bitter confrontations over the evacuation of the settlers from Gaza are among the current Israeli news stories generating headlines. Meanwhile, claims of anti-Semitism simmer on the back burner.

Has a rash of anti-Semitism broken out recently?

Arial Sharon has been warning Jews in the Diaspora of a serious anti-Semitic outbreak and advising them to relocate to Israel. In a different context, sympathizers of Palestinians are attacked as anti-Semites by Zionists and their supporters. Being a skeptic, I do not accept such statements and accusations at face value so I did a little digging to determine if there was any validity to either claim.

I googled to the Web site of the Anti-Defamation League. The heading on the site, "To stop the defamation of the Jewish people . . . to secure justice and fair treatment for all" convinced me I had located a source that, if anything, would scrupulously uncover rising anti-Semitism. Clicking on "Trends in Anti-Semitism" I was linked to a press release headed "ADL Survey Finds Some Decrease In Anti-Semitic Attitudes In Ten European Countries." (1) After reading the release I concluded that Sharon's claim of an outbreak of anti-Semitism is baloney.

Next I dug into the semantics and etymology of the word "anti-Semitism." Result: From its introduction into the language in the latter part of the nineteenth century, its definition was consistently limited to a hatred of Jews and Judaism.

Obviously there's no validity to either claim. So what gives? Why make such charges? What is the ulterior motive? Only those originating the claim know; but they certainly won't tell. So all one can do is surmise.

I believe it's because Sharon and Israelis are desperately resisting shrinkage of the Israeli-Palestinian demographic balance, and of their world-wide public relations image. Demographics are a most important factor in whether settler colonialism will succeed. (2) Immigrants prevailed in the western hemisphere, Australia, and New Zealand because as they flocked in and moved further and further into hostile interior lands, they not only overpowered but overwhelmed the natives numerically. The same was not true in Rhodesia, South Africa or Algeria. Although the settlers were more powerful, they were outnumbered and eventually they lost out.

From its earliest days Israel's major goal was to ingather most of the world's Jews. Over the years Israel has employed every device to ensnare potential settlers. Wherever there were large Jewish populations they would opportunistically pick up a chunk. The collapse of the Soviet Union created favorable conditions for Soviet Jews to emigrate. It produced a big upsurge in Israel's immigration statistics but that source has been dwindling. Total yearly immigrants dropped from a high of 200,000 in 1990 to where it hit an all time low of 22,500 in 2004. (3) Emigrations of Israelis -- numbers the Israeli government does not disclose -- are presumed to be large enough to cause net losses at times. (4)

The urgent need for immigrants has relaxed the strict requirements for entry. It is no secret in Israel that not all Soviet immigrants are Jews. (5) Peruvian Indians who converted to Judaism have also been admitted. (6)

Anti-Semitism has been the primary reason for Jewish emigration from Diaspora homes. Zionists have actually instigated anti-Semitic attacks in the past! (7) Is it unreasonable to assume that Israel would resort to it to augment those numbers? It worked before!

Taking up the other claim, ad hominem attacks on critics of Israeli policies are a reckless effort to stymie an ever growing opposition (8) that will boomerang. The worldwide sympathy that the state of Israel has received from its inception has been declining, even in the U.S. and Israel where news coverage has maintained its pro-Israel bias. That Jews, Israel's most loyal and generous advocates, are amongst their strongest critics is a serious blow. How can this predicament be reversed since the criticism is justified? Simply, as it cannot be attacked on its own merits, by resorting to ad hominem rhetoric, which, unfortunately, often works. But legitimate opposition resulted from the critics being tagged with the anti-Semitism label.

How does the dictionary, the authoritative source, define anti-Semitism? Since the late nineteenth century when the word came into usage its meaning has remained consistent, "hatred, prejudice, oppression, or discrimination against Jews or Judaism." Is there any way that definition can become more inclusive? The dictionary ascribes meanings based on current usage. By repetitive use new words and new meanings of existing words are inserted and words no longer in use are dropped with each edition.

Many trade names through ubiquitous and repetitive use have become generic and precious trademarks wind up in the trademark graveyard. Competitors can then use such proprietary words such as aspirin -- owner, Bayer AG, a pain reliever of acetylsalicylic acid); Velcro -- Velcro Industries B.V., a cloth hook and loop fastener); escalator -- (Escalator Company, a moving stairway); and Band-aid -- (Johnson and Johnson, an adhesive bandage).

Lavish usage of the erroneous anti-Semitic characterizations will add another definition to the dictionary for that disparaging term. A major assist has been provided by the US State Department. It now incorporates the anticipated definition in its report on global anti-Semitism. (9) I believe the tactic will backfire. No longer will it stigmatize those identified as anti-Semites; instead the term will lose its potency.

The ADL survey, referred to above, elicited the opinions of respondents on Jews and Israel as well. Results: Jews were viewed favorably; the state of Israel, unfavorably. Compared to a 2002 survey, anti-Semitism decreased while negative opinion of Israel increased. Many people clearly recognize differences between a nationality and actions of its government. They often experience those differences personally in disagreements with their own government.

Israelis themselves have been protesting Sharon's policies. Included are prominent voices in government, academia, media, and even the military. Included are all branches including the prestigious Israeli Air Force; included are all ranks from generals on down; included are "refuseniks" who will serve prison terms rather than serve in the occupied territories. (10)

Organizations around the world and particularly in Israel are constantly forming and enlarging their numbers. [8] As more and more abominable actions against Palestinians become known, Israel gets looked on more and more unfavorably.

It is unlikely that a P.R. campaign to slap the "anti-Semitism" tag on its critics can reverse that problem.

In time anti-Semitism will lose its sting by diluting the definition. There will be multiple definitions for that generic term. Just as the generic "dog" includes a Mexican hairless and a Saint Bernard, the generic "anti-Semitism" will include anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel.

One who will fall under the latter category will become just as recognizable as the Saint Bernard. He and those of similar opinion will look upon the anti-Semite label as a badge of honor.

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1.  Press Release - ADL Survey Finds Some Decrease In Anti-Semitic Attitudes In Ten European Countries.  (back)

2.  Born Again Apartheid by Eqbal Ahmad.  (back)

3.  Ministry of Immigrant Absorption - Total Immigration to Israel.
Also, Jewish immigration to Israel down 13% from last year.  (back)

4.  Jews who leave Israel for good.  (back)

5.  Israel as a NonArab State: The Political Implications of Mass Immigration of NonJews, by Ian S. Lustick; The Middle East Journal, Volume 53, Number 3, Summer 1999.  (back)

6.  Coming home, by Neri Livneh, Ha'aretz, July 19, 2002.  (back)

7.  The Jews of Iraq, by Naiem Giladi.  (back)

8.  Activist and Peace Groups -- Human Rights and Peace Groups.  (back)

9.  US Department of State - Report on Global Anti-Semitism.  (back)

10.  Wikipedia - Refusal to serve in the Israeli military.  (back)


Internal Resources

The Dream That Turned Into A Nightmare, by Philip Greenspan

Israel & Palestine on Swans


About the Author

Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).



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Published April 25, 2005