Richard Landes argues that the claim made by the signatories of the Jerusalem Declaration that – in the face of the eliminationist antisemitism of the Global Jihad, no less – it is acceptable to call for Israel to be abolished and replaced by a ‘secular democratic bi-national state of Jews and (Palestinian) Arabs’, is either a malevolent denial of reality or a remarkably aggressive naïveté. ‘It’s one thing to oppose an idea that has not yet materialised, and quite another to oppose a reality born out of the ashes of one of the most terrifying and ecumenical tidal waves of exterminationist hatred the world has ever seen.’
Let me begin by saying that, as a historian who studied medieval Jew-hatred before the ‘new antisemitism’ hit in the early 2000s, I find all these definitions way too vague and all encompassing: ‘Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish)’ Is offered up by the pretentiously titled ‘Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism’ (more appropriately considered and henceforth referred to as the ‘Van Leer Declaration,’ given its provenance from a think-tank notable for its receptivity to comparing the Holocaust with the Nakbah). But as Gavin Langmuir has shown, we must at least distinguish between the garden variety, zero-sum, anti-Judaism of supersessionist Christians and Muslims (we’re up/good/right because you (Jews) are down/bad/wrong), which he called ‘anti-Judaism,’ and delirious, paranoid, antisemitism (we must wipe out the evil Jews before they enslave us), that he and others see as already moving in the exterminationist direction as early as the 11th century.
Modern, Nazi-embraced, antisemitism, was a secular upgrade: Jews are a demonic people, racially subhuman, who plot the destruction of the gentiles, and until Hitler gave it a bad name, it was an acceptable ‘scientific’ discourse. In its apocalyptic forms – Crusaders of 1096, Nazis of 1936 – this phobia of Jews can provoke genocidal rages designed to wipe out both the religion and its adherents. Anti–Judaism, then, differs sometimes dramatically in its expressions of distaste for Jews, from the paranoid, exterminationist, antisemitism with which the opening definition lumps it.
Modern Exterminationist Antisemitism
The question then is really, what are the relational dynamics between these two forms of disliking and hating Jews, and how are they currently playing out? And in the 21st century, that means asking: How do we relate to the most vigorous expression of modern exterminationist Jew-hatred, to the contemporary articulation of beliefs that is in the direct lineage of the Crusaders and Nazis, namely apocalyptic Jihad, of which the Palestinian branch is one of the most vigorous and obsessive proponents?
This is the great unspoken, undiscussed hatred of the 21st century, despite its close and terrifying connections, both historically and conceptually, with Nazism. More strikingly, for reasons buried deep in paranoid projection, these new haters of Jews took great delight in accusing the Jews of behaving towards them as the Nazis had behaved towards the Jews. And for reasons that have a great deal to do with both legacy and new media journalists who promoted the new century’s most potent Icon of hatred (The notorious Mohammed al-Durah Case), by mid-decade a plurality of Europeans believed the empirically false (but metaphorically apparently so attractive) notion that the Israelis were committing genocide against the Palestinians.
Suddenly, Nie Weider (Never Again) meant protecting the Palestinians from Israel. By turning the self-proclaimed heirs of the Nazis into the victims of ‘Nazi Israel’, Palestinian irredentism became banalised as ‘nationalism,’ and the fantasy of a coexistence where Israelis cannot defend themselves as ‘peaceful’, becomes, in Penslar’s words a viable ‘alternative to the status quo.’
As someone who warned in 1996 of a possible resurgence of Jew-hatred in the new millennium, I must admit that while the Palestinian Jihadi version that sprung up before our eyes did not surprise me (David Cook had already introduced me to the deeply disturbing literature), the way the Jihadis’ poisonous narratives found enthusiastic favor in the eyes of people who considered themselves members of the Global Progressive Left, left me reeling.
At the very moment that Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilians reached their peak – the first of the global Jihad’s campaigns against democracies in the 21st century – Palestinians became the ‘litmus test of adherence to liberal causes’ (Buruma). Noted Paul Berman wryly, Palestinian terror had become ‘the measure of Israeli guilt,’ proof not of Palestinian hate speech, but of Israeli provocation.
This moral disorientation, forged in the land between the river and the sea, has occupied the center of the West’s 21st century mindset: when Jihadis attack a democracy, blame the democracy. The Caliphators, those wishing to establish a global Caliphate, could not ask for more. It is a potentially fatal disorientation for ‘progressives’. In 2005, after visiting France several times – ground-zero of the new alliance of progressives and jihadis – I wrote that the French keep an open bar for Jew hatred: while they sip on the invidious wine of moral superiority, they keep it well stocked with the hard, exterminationist stuff for French Muslims. Since then, things have only gotten worse: BDS more widespread and aggressive, the replacement narrative of Holocaust Inversion – the Israelis (sovereign Jews) are doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews – coin of the realm. So antisemitism is more than a problem for the Jews, it’s the soft underbelly through which Jihadis attack the West.
The IHRA is right: calling for the dissolution of the state of Israel is antisemitic
The issue of Palestinian exterminationist antisemitism plays out in one of the most contentious issues: the IHRA claim that calling for the dissolution of the state of Israel is antisemitic. Walzer signed the alternative Jerusalem (Van Leer) Declaration because he wants ‘a little distance’ between antisemitic discourse and Palestine/Israel battles, and Penslar agrees, accepting even ‘intemperate’ language from critics of Israel as legitimate. So, while some people who call for the elimination of the State of Israel may indeed be ‘substantively antisemitic,’ it’s not antisemitic ‘in and of itself’ (a favorite Van Leer Declaration phrase).
After all, Walzer writes, there are sincere and dedicated ‘Jewish defenders of the Diaspora’ who feel that:
the centuries of statelessness have been a kind of moral education — and that we are now a post-Westphalian people, too good to manage the brutalities that sovereignty requires (or certain to manage them badly). We should therefore settle for something less than sovereignty in the Middle East, which would actually be, from a moral standpoint, something better.
And Penslar and Walzer both emphasise how in the long history of Zionism, many Jews themselves rejected Zionism. Since the Nazi genocide, however, that discussion expired among Jews and any gentile committed to Nie Weider. Given the (ex ante, inconceivable) genocidal Nazi assault on Jews, and the continuing Palestinian embrace of that exterminationist antisemitism, the idea that one could have a ‘secular democratic bi-national state of Jews and (Palestinian) Arabs’ in 2021 is either a malevolent denial of reality or a remarkably aggressive naïveté. It’s one thing to oppose an idea that has not yet materialised, and quite another to oppose a reality born out of the ashes of one of the most terrifying and ecumenical tidal waves of exterminationist hatred the world has ever seen.
For any gentile after the Holocaust, then, to deny Jews the sovereign right to defend themselves, is indeed ‘in and of itself’ antisemitic: not only does it deny the Jews a right granted principally to all other people, even very recently identified ones like the Palestinians, but it denies it to an ancient people who have many reasons to need self-defense for their survival. In today’s world, where the slightest microaggressions are considered unacceptable, to tell Jews to ‘get over their Holocaust paranoia,’ is in and of itself cruel; and when one then insists Israeli Jews share sovereignty in an Arab-majority state filled with armed and enthusiastic admirers of Hitler, it constitutes, willy-nilly, deep hatred for Jews.
It’s not, as Penslar claims, that the ‘double-standard’ IHRA considers antisemitic is about ‘choos[ing] the communities and causes that matter most,’ choices that make Israel ‘particularly subject to scrutiny.’ It’s that when someone accuses Israel of behaving like the Nazis, or akin to the apartheid regime, or being guilty of systemic racism, or genocide, or ethnic cleansing, they inevitably do so in the unacknowledged context that Israel’s enemies are Nazi-wannabes, whose future ‘state’ will formally adopt apartheid rules for those minorities they don’t ethnically cleanse. It’s not that Jews shouldn’t get extra scrutiny, it’s that those who obsessively scrutinise every speck in the Israeli eye turn a blind eye to the moral beam in the eye of those they support, Israel’s self-declared mortal enemies. The problem is not exaggeration, it’s inversion.
The Jews Walzer describes, who sincerely think powerlessness offers the best conditions for Jews to achieve their moral destiny as members of a post-Westphalian state, need, at the very least, to acknowledge that Israel lives in a neighborhood that has yet to hear of Westphalian states. Indeed, Middle Eastern ‘nation-states’ are currently deep into their own version of the ‘Thirty-Years War’ of religion which, because of the revulsion against it, birthed Westphalian, modern, civil polities. The states neighboring Israel are engaged in what could be a ‘Hundred-Year Jihad’ (till 2076 CE/1500 AH at least). If some Jews insist that despite the historical Holocaust in Germany, and the widespread eagerness for another among some Muslim radicals, Jews should be powerless to defend themselves, then such moralists should have the decency to recognise their superhuman (or suicidal) mystical commitment to moral perfectionism, and to respect their fellow Jews who follow less exalted paths.
But when such moral perfectionism aligns itself with the basest and most hateful forces targeting their own people, it reflects more a moral narcissism in which virtue signaling ranks higher than not damaging those it’s supposed to help (Jews and Arabs). One layer deeper, and one finds an often unconscious, humanitarian racism about non-Jews: dirty sovereignty is for goyim, a fortiori, about Palestinians and Muslims for whom no moral standards apply. And finally, beneath even that, the act of embracing the irredentist Palestinian cause reflects a profound hostility towards Jews who fight back: itself both the attitude of a proleptic (or anticipatory) dhimmi (i.e. a non-Muslim subject to triumphalist Muslim authority), and a proxy honor-killing of family members who bring unbearable shame to ‘good’ diaspora Jews.
The main stumbling block for progressives here is the way in which Palestinians have couched their moral claims in English – not in Arabic. In English we get ‘demopathic discourse,’ namely the invocation of reciprocal demotic values (human rights, freedom, equality, self-determination) that the invokers have no intention of reciprocating. On the contrary, they demand their rights so they can deny those very rights to their self-declared foes (a Sharia-governed, Judenrein Palestine into which even Palestinian refugees from 1948 are excluded). Thus, BDSers will insist to their progressive allies that theirs is a ‘non-violent’ movement for Palestinian ‘rights’ and not a cognitive war to prepare for Israel’s destruction: ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.’ But one need only listen to how the same people speak in Arabic to understand the deliberate deception. Nor is this merely a problem concerning Israel. It’s one of the main strategies radical Muslims use in their assault on all Western democracies. And it’s successful in no small part because Western liberals and progressives – especially journalists – refuse to acknowledge this demopaths lexicon of double-talk.
The issue then is not, ‘is anyone (Jew or gentile) who supports the Palestinian cause antisemitic?’ The question is, ‘which Palestinian cause are progressives supporting? The cause of leaders ready to sacrifice their people for their irredentist demands that by any progressive scale register as religious fanaticism? Or Palestinians ready to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors either in a Jewish polity (Israel) or a Palestinian one (West Bank, Gaza) or a jointly administered one? And if the former, the question is then ‘Why are people who claim to be progressives supporting antisemitic Palestinians who admire Hitler, and telling Jews to stop being paranoid?’
One need not call Jews who think that the only sovereign Jewish entity should be dismantled anti-Semites; but one does need to ask them what they think they are doing enabling that goal and its platform of Palestinian Jew-hatred. Dupes of demopaths are not in and of themselves demopaths, but how long can they sustain such ignorance? Right now, the progressive left’s discourse about antisemitism and the ‘Israel/Palestine Battles’ is characterised above all by an auto-gaslighting, in which the ‘true progressive’ is forbidden to suspect that he’s being duped.
Penslar writes in support of the Van Leer Declaration’s refusal to consider calls for the dissolution of Israel ‘in and of themselves’ antisemitic:
Israel and the Palestinian territories are a welter of ill-fitting political elements – statehood and occupation, autonomy and settlement enclaves – that perpetuate oppression, resistance, and hatred. It is not inherently antisemitic to propose alternatives to the status quo.
Here, in a sentence meant – presumably – to be a description as inclusive as it is vague, we get a tidy summary of the Palestinian demopathic narrative: We are innocent victims who just want our rights and freedom, and the Israeli Occupation is the cause of the conflict and the hatred. Penslar makes no reference in that ‘welter of ill-fitting political elements’ to the powerful and intimidating presence throughout Palestinian-controlled territories of Jihadi sub-states (Gaza) and armed militias (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda in Sinai, Hizbullah in Lebanon) dedicated to the extermination of the Jews. Nor does he even allude, among his conflict-inducing factors (‘occupation and… settlements [which] perpetuate oppression, resistance and hatred’) to the factories of genocidal desire that permeate these Palestinian enclaves, even the allegedly secular ones. Even if, after careful consideration, one dismisses these factors as major causes not only for the stunning hatred, but for the totalistic ‘resistance’ to the very existence of a Jewish state, one should at least have the intellectual integrity to discuss them.
On the other hand, to characterise the dissolution of Israel and the creation of a binational democracy as somehow a legitimate ‘alternative to the status quo,’ is like calling the Nazi Dolchstoßlegende (the stab-in-th-back myth, an antisemitic conspiracy theory) a plausible reading of why Germany lost World War I. One cannot imagine a good ‘progressive’ today minimising – and thereby allowing others to excuse – ‘White replacement theory’ as a coherent and empirically-based concern. On the contrary, Walzer considers this recent and still marginal belief community on the Right as the main antisemitic culprit from which all this talk about progressive antisemitism distracts us. So why insist on a ‘little space’ for ‘intemperate language’ where attacking Israel is concerned?
None of this makes Penslar or even Walzer antisemites, nor even some of the people unshackled by the Van Leer’s green light. But it does raise questions about the soundness of their thinking, of their reliability as guides to what Penslar calls a battle for ‘territory sacred to more than half of humanity.’ (I wonder how that happened.)
Does Penslar’s brief summary, so close to the Palestinian demopathic narrative, represent his approach in general? If he consistently slights the contrary evidence… and at the same time, on behalf of those whose genocidal narrative he thus ignores (v.t.), he intervenes in order to preserve their right to spread Holocaust-inverting accusations against the Israelis (as long as they don’t get too explicit)… then he does need to explain himself. After all, given that in some parts of Palestinian political discourse one can at once deny that the Holocaust ever happened and openly aspire to finish Hitler’s job, one might hope that a Western scholar, and certainly a Jewish one, would treat the narrative products of such a public sphere with the hermeneutic of suspicion they so richly deserve.
One would not, in a sane world, expect Jewish scholars to object to efforts to close the spigots of Jew-hatred that have poured, only feebly challenged, for now these two decades, both into the Western public sphere and, far more noxiously, in the Umma’s. If, from the start, honest players had put the onus on those who spouted the worst, rather than cover for them, we would not have to produce a necessarily-flawed definition to say, ‘Enough is enough!’