“Arab Anti-Semitism Debate”: The Birth of New Anti-Semitism In Public and Academic Discourse In Israel

Asaf Turgeman & Gal Hadari. Journal of Modern Jewish Studies. Volume 14, Issue 3. November 2015.

This paper aims to identify the emergence of the concept “new anti-Semitism” in both public discourse and academic research in Israel. Our main argument is that the new anti-Semitism has emerged in tandem with changing values within Israeli society, primarily the adoption of a mythic-traditional perspective. This historical review focuses on description of a key event: United Nations Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism. We argue that increasing adherence to Jewish tradition goes hand in hand with the assimilation of Jewish myths regarding anti-Semitism. Scholarly discourse about new anti-Semitism is presented through critical study of Shmuel Almog’s anthology Sin’at Yisrael ledoroteiha (A History of Hatred of Israel). This study is the first to be published that discusses an updated view of anti-Semitism in Israeli public discourse and academic research, emphasizing how the State of Israel has become its object.

New anti-Semitism has been the subject of lively public discussion and extensive academic research over the last decade. Most studies examine the phenomenon itself as a given, attempting to distinguish it (or not) from others or to assess its extent and uniqueness. Discourse about new anti-Semitism in Israeli society, however, has been neglected as a subject of research. The plethora of published studies lacks a reflexive perspective on the connection between Israeli discourse and new anti-Semitism which would delineate its evolution from a Jewish-Israeli point of view. Discussion of the following two questions is conspicuously absent: which historical crises facilitated the emergence of the concept of new anti-Semitism and what is the significance of the appearance of this notion in Israeli discourse? These questions are derived from the assumption that the emergence of new anti-Semitism reflects not only a changing reality (an argument relevant principally to analysis of the phenomenon itself) but also ideological choices based on changes in Israeli society, preparing for the concept of new anti-Semitism to emerge (Shapira).

Two articles published 15 years apart by the historian Yehoshofat Harkabi, “Antishemiut ‘aravit” (Arab anti-Semitism, Ma’ariv 26 September 1965) and “Le’antishemiut ha’aravit mehadash” (Arab anti-Semitism Revisited), constitute our starting point for discussion (Harkabi). The articles are similar in content but the second includes a retrospective paragraph explaining Harkabi’s need to publish his claims a second time:

The revelation proved uncomfortable for various sectors of the Israeli public and the [original] article for the most part excited a furious response. I think this is odd, as though anti-Semitism in distant countries is intolerable and Israelis are angered by it, where anti-Semitism in Arab countries is, for some reason, tolerated and people are willing to turn a blind eye to it. Moreover, I personally was annoyed to discover that in Israeli and Jewish circles there is a tendency to self-deception, to ignore the phenomenon of Arab anti-Semitism … even a tendency to deny its existence altogether. (Harkabi, 247-259)

Harkabi highlights two assumptions about Israeli society in the mid-1960s. First, that the link he made then between anti-Semitism and the Arab wars against Israel made people uncomfortable or even angry and, second, that Israelis were willing to acknowledge the existence of anti-Semitism in “distant countries” but not among the Arab enemies of Israel. When Harkabi published an updated version of the article at the end of the 1970s, he assumed that now his views would be “more convenient to hear.” Indeed, the second article was included in a collection entitled Sin’at Yisrael ledoroteiha (A History of Hatred of Israel) as a germane contribution, dealing with Israel’s confrontation with anti-Semitism in the Arab world.

The collection is important because it was the first to publish papers presented at the first conference held in Israel in the late 1970s dealing with the phenomenon of new anti-Semitism as a recognized separate entity. Most of the articles included reflect the view of one of the fathers of Zionist historiography, Shmuel Ettinger, who paved the way for a discussion of new anti-Semitism in his paper on the historical continuity of Jew-hatred (Gutwein). Harkabi’s two articles reflect an historical crisis, a turning point in values held by Israeli society, as exemplified by a resurgence of discourse about anti-Semitism and the introduction of the concept of “new anti-Semitism” with Israel or Zionism as its main target. Harkabi argues that this process was facilitated mainly by the reinforcement of traditional Jewish mythological images, together with a revision of Zionist ideology in the spirit of these images. Jewish tradition and classical Zionist ideology each present a different world view of anti-Semitism. We have chosen to present the embedded conflict between these two world views by examining distinctions between mythic and historical narratives, ultimately demonstrating how the two have become intertwined in a revised Zionist discourse that incorporates, rather than denies, traditional Jewish mythology.

We believe that viewing the Arab-Israeli conflict as part of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism is not merely a function of anti-Israel rhetoric in the Arab world as Harkabi argues, but also part of an internal shift in values within Jewish society in Israel. This argument is derived from the absence of the term anti-Semitism as key in public discourse regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict during the first two decades of the State of Israel, despite the similarity of Arab rhetoric cited by Harkabi as examples in his paper to that of the 1960s and 1970s. We can, therefore, assume that Arab anti-Semitism could flourish only when mythological discourse developed and made it easier to see the political conflict as part of traditional hatred of Israel.

Traditional Jewish myth regards anti-Semitism as an ever-present hatred regardless of Jewish conduct or political status. This tradition depends on the rewriting of biblical stories into foundational myths in descriptions of this hatred. Moreover, Bible stories function as typological narratives negotiating between Jews’ faith that guide their reading of texts and the external reality. The archetypal struggle between Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:32) constitutes a typical example. Mediated by exegesis, this story became an early symbolic expression of hatred of Israel with the phrase “Jacob-hating Esau” serving in Jewish tradition as an essentialist, mythical exemplar. Usually it appears explicitly: “Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai said: it is well known that Esau hates Jacob” (Sifrei on Numbers 9:10). Rashbi’s comment in Sifrei describes a common midrashic view of Esau as a typological symbol of haters of Israel, given that Jacob is synonymous with Israel (Yuval). The mythic typology of the relations between Israel and other nations—Esau the Jacob hater—became a traditional idiom describing hatred of Israel.

A second example is the struggle between Israel and Amalek following the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. The battle culminates in a biblical injunction to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25:19). The Bible stresses the perpetuity of the struggle, since “the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 19:16).

Classical Zionist ideology, on the other hand, reflects an historical perspective which challenges the foundations of the mythical story, particularly its assumption of threat and its deterministic view of the nation’s past, present and future as encapsulated in the verse from the Passover Hagadah, “In every generation [people] rise against us to destroy us, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from them.” This verse conveys a divine drama involving a meaningless, eternal cycle of hate and salvation. Classical Zionism aspired to bring about an ideal or pragmatic end to anti-Semitism, in direct opposition to the notion that “the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from them.” This is stated explicitly at the close of Herzl’s The Jewish State: “If we only begin to carry out the plans anti-Semitism would stop at once and forever. For it is the conclusion of peace” (Herzl, 117). In this view, anti-Semitism is irrelevant to the New Jew embracing Jewish nationalism. It is associated only with exile and is expected to disappear with the establishment of the Jewish State.

The rise in importance of traditional Jewish myth in Israeli society in the 1960s and 1970s provided fertile ground for the emergence of a discourse regarding “new anti-Semitism” which not only ceases to distinguish between “old” and “new” Jews, but also identifies all Jews with the State of Israel. We use the term “mythistory” to describe the process whereby Israeli discourse about new anti-Semitism is caught up in a Gordian knot of mythic-religious positions and historical secular ones. In discussion of new anti-Semitism, mythic and historical—traditional and Zionist—narratives are no longer two distinct, separate, parallel versions of the story and ways of reading it. On the contrary, a dialectical interaction exists between these opposing but intertwined fundamentals so that the Israeli view of new anti-Semitism embodies both mythical and historical perspectives bound up with, and complementing, each other. Indeed, contemporary Israeli discourse about anti-Semitism is, at least in part, derived directly from the traditional Jewish myth of hatred of Israel. Our discussion will focus on the mythologization of anti-Semitic discourse in both public and academic spheres.

Our construction of new anti-Semitism in public discourse is based on a review of the print media reporting the kind of critical event likely to provoke lively public discussion as well as extensive commentary in the press (Herzog, Smadar, and Leykin). The critical event in question was Resolution 3379 passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 November 1975. The resolution, which equated Zionism with racism, provoked stormy public debate and led to a new definition of the links between anti-Semitism and the State of Israel, as well as to the inauguration of the concept of new anti-Semitism.

Focus on this period in the present study derives from Liebman and Don-Yehiya’s thesis regarding the shift in values in Israeli society (Liebman and Don-Yehiya). This shift consists, in the main, of updating civil religion in Israel by the introduction of traditional Jewish motifs without any process of secularization or confrontation typical of earlier phases of socialist, national, civil religion. This discourse is an expression of the emergence of a messianic religious level feeding on rabbinical literary sources, rather than as part of the biblical imagery in the Zionist ethos. This traditional Jewish discourse not only fails to stress the dissociation from the period of exile and exilic Jews, the historic leap between the Bible and its heroes, and the Zionist period as was current among the framers of an exile-negating Zionist ideology (Shlilat hagalut) (see Moshkovitz); rather, it emphasizes the link between Jewish tradition in its various contexts and Zionism.

We derive our description of the event from reports in the three unaffiliated Hebrew language daily newspapers: Ma’arivYediot Aharonot and Ha’aretz. We pay particular attention to op-ed pages, editorials and personal columns written during the month following the resolution. This journalistic viewpoint assumes that writers of editorial articles “are representatives of the establishment line which directs all journalistic work” (Yadgar, 9). As such, they harbour symbolic power, having huge potential influence, and they serve as an interpretative framework encompassing social reality. The theoretical framework accumulates reportage and journalistic comment to produce a unified narrative structure with a conventional plot. This type of analysis of the press is largely derived from Yaakov Yadgar’s description of the national narrative in the Israeli press (Yadgar, 18-20), as well as from Tirzah Hechter’s research into political myths in the Israeli press (Hechter). The presence of the Jewish myth may also be discerned in other fields of public discourse besides that on anti-Semitism (Hadari).

Our review of the academic discussion of new anti-Semitism will critique a collection of essays, Sin’at Yisrael ledoroteiha which includes Harkabi’s revised article. This collection was the first published in Israel to discuss anti-Semitism in its new guise, having the State of Israel as its major target. The book not only sets out the range of Israeli academic discourse about new anti-Semitism, but also and most importantly delineates the historical crisis in which the concept of new anti-Semitism is embedded. The essays expose a mixture of mythic and historical discourses, with the historical taking second place to what is essentially a mythic narrative, similar to that prevalent in public discourse regarding anti-Semitism.

What Has Zionism to do With Anti-Semitism?

The assumption that Zionism is the historical antithesis of traditional, mythic perspectives on anti-Semitism, directs many studies and has been the subject of an extensive literature. We call the classical Zionist narrative regarding anti-Semitism “historical” since it entails an aspiration to detach from the mythic, eternal perspective of Jew-hatred, positing Zionism and Israel as a response to “the Jewish question.” The historical view is, therefore, premised on regarding anti-Semitism as a soluble problem. Indeed, the prevalent term “the Jewish question” in classical Zionist literature always implied the solution presented by a Jewish State. In this model, Jewish existence is no longer seen as subject to myth mediated by a determinist cycle of catastrophe and salvation as reflected in the verse from the Haggadah quoted above. The tyrant is no longer seen as an instrument in the divine drama of exile and redemption. Jew-hatred, which is the major subject of “the Jewish question,” is turned on its head in a significant about-face, appearing as a problem having an entirely human solution in keeping with the mood of the times.

The Zionist solution revolved in the main around an ideology of negating exile in two respects. The first, more general one, affiliated with classical Zionist thought, identifies the lack of a territorial centre as the cause of the hatred. Hence the establishment of a sovereign homeland for the Jews which will regenerate their lost nationalism constitutes the solution to the Jewish question. The second requirement was to negate the entire way of life and identity of exilic Jews. This focuses on details and therefore tends at times towards the kind of destructive criticism dubbed “Jewish self-hatred.” Those subscribing to this view see territory only as a means, albeit vital, of change and of counteracting Jew-hatred. It is important to note that this view dominates discussions about negation of exile, apparently due to the assumption that the absence of a territorial centre fostered an abnormal identity, behaviour and history among the Jews.

Following the establishment of Israel, the historical-political perspective and its product, an ethos of denial of exile, played an important part in the establishment of the position led by David Ben-Gurion. Charles Liebman and Eliezer Don-Yehiya situate the notion of sovereignty as a stage in the establishment of a secular, civil religion during the new State’s early years. In general, the idea of sovereignty reinforced the ideology of through its affinity with decision-makers and shapers of policy, led by Ben-Gurion (Liebman and Don-Yehiya). Indeed, many of Ben-Gurion’s statements about his view of Jewish history, his attitude to traditional Judaism and especially the division into the old exilic versus the new Zionist Judaism confirm that negation of exile contributed greatly to his political understanding. Indeed, Ben-Gurion’s statements negating exile evoke the work of classical Zionist thinkers such as J. H. Brenner, M. Y. Berdichevsky and H. Hazaz.

Despite this kind of discourse, Herzl’s idea, as adopted by classical Zionist thinkers, that “[i]f we only begin to carry out the plans anti-Semitism would stop at once and forever” (Herzl, 117), was amended in light of later events. For Ben-Gurion, anti-Semitism was not a function of anything special about the Jews but, rather, of their exceptional status in the diaspora, lacking the basic conditions for normal national self-realization. He stressed not the end of anti-Semitism, rather this view of Jewish exile and victimhood, as both cause and effect. The Jew as a victim of anti-Semitism is the Jew who is not part of the Jewish State. All the terminology and definitions of anti-Semitism are relevant only to this type of Jew. Thus sovereignty discourse after the Holocaust and particularly after the establishment of Israel understood anti-Semitism to be inextricably entwined with the exilic Jew, unable or unwilling to defend himself, as opposed to the new Hebrew Jew fulfilling his national calling, achieving normalcy in an historical road to “the bosom of the civilized peoples” (Don-Yehiya, 60).

Liebman and Don-Yehiya argue in this context that the sovereign age augured the “normalization of the Jewish people realized by their return to their land and renewal of political sovereignty.” This constituted “a return to history … to bring about the repair and normalization of relations between Israel and the peoples [of the world].” Liebman and Don-Yehiya argue that this position has deep roots in Zionist thought (Don-Yehiya and Liebman). It is no wonder, then, that in keeping with those “deep roots” and with the spirit of sovereignty, Ben-Gurion argued that

the Jewish people were mistaken in blaming anti-Semitism for all the troubles and suffering endured in the diaspora … should the world behave towards us as though we were ministering angels? … It is not the wickedness and suffering of the gentiles that we call anti-Semitism—but rather our peculiar status, which does not suit the gentiles’ normal framework of life. (Ben-Gurion, 212)

Following the establishment of Israel, Ben-Gurion chose to consign anti-Semitism to the past, unworthy of mention for the new generation of Israelis: “Anti-Semitism in Germany, the Dreyfus case, persecution of Jews in Romania … are for us events in the exilic past and sad memories of the Jews in the diaspora, but not formative psychological experiences or facts of life” (Ben-Gurion, 8). The vision of a sovereign universality contributed to the view of Israel’s conflict with her neighbours as “normal,” a conflict between countries rooted in a conflict of interests or border conflicts, certainly not part of the traditional pattern of Jewish-Gentile relations.

Liebman and Don-Yehiya point out that as early as the beginning of the 1950s, during early discussions relating to the establishment of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Memorial, this idea of sovereignty began to crack. Public discussion of the subject contradicted the sovereignty approach and, together with other political interests, contributed to the reduction of this ideology. There was a turnaround during the 1960s, particularly following the Eichmann trial and even more so following the Six-Day War. During this decade, there was a significant retreat from an ideology of negating exile and its updated guise of sovereignty. The crisis is apparent in the way the Six-Day War was generally discussed. The imagery of classic, sovereign Zionism faded with the emergence of Jewish traditional imagery. Zionist ideology became infused with mythological, traditional ideas including its position on anti-Semitism and, more surprisingly, it focused on the connection between anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.

The mythological trend increased during the 1970s, apparent from descriptions of the Yom Kippur War. Yona Hadari argues that written expressions of public thinking, particularly with regard to the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars, are equivalent in content, language and imagery to Jewish lamentations written following the crusades, which were

redolent of images of blood, redemption, vengeance, corpses and the enbalmers’ fees … I have no answer to the question of whether the poets and writers were familiar with the Jewish bards of the crusader period, since I have found no evidence of that. But one assumes that as a basic model, these poems penetrated into war poetry in Israel. (Hadari, 231)

Similarly, in a survey of the way the wars were represented in Hebrew daily newspapers, Yaacov Yadgar describes a range of images to do with “gentile hatred” in public discourse, as inspired by mythical axioms: “Esau hates Jacob” or “Wipe out the memory of Amalek,” although he notes the reluctance of columnists to use the term “anti-Semitism.” This is despite the fact that their columns reveal an understanding that these were not typical territorial wars, but rather a struggle provoked by eternal hatred of Jews and of Israel (Yadgar). Two years after the Yom Kippur War, this process was given the name “new anti-Semitism,” which meant hatred of the Israel, with views on the subject prominent in public discourse surrounding UN Resolution 3379.

UN Resolution 3379: Expressions of New Anti-Semitism in Public Discourse

Identification with Israel and the common destiny of the individual Jew past and present with the Jewish State became a motif running like a thread through newspaper reports and op-ed columns. Israel was described in public discourse as the reflection of a dispersed, divided and weak people. Descriptions of new anti-Semitism, or United Nations anti-Semitism, operated within the mythic cycle linking Israel with Jewish fate throughout the generations, thus restoring significance to Zionism:

Seventy two countries threw stones at her—some more, some less/and seventy two countries raised their accusing hands: racist/and seventy two countries stood there and in concert spat in her face/and kicked her and cursed her like a lowly servant girl/and black eyes, blue eyes, slanted eyes/shot her glances of wickedness and ancient hatreds/and seventy two countries seemed to wish to destroy her at a stroke/and we saw her on the podium and she was the eternal Jew/ … /Hear O Jews in all the diasporas, for all two thousand years/they are attacking “free immigration” overrunning “my heart in the East”/coming upon “for the sake of Zion I will not cower”, on “when we remember Zion”, on all of the Bible/breaching the strongholds of “Herzl”, “Nordau”, “Borochov”, and “Ben-Gurion” / the storm-troopers of anti-Semitism on your right, at your left the Protocols of the Elders of Zion / “Their way was strength, they wore strength, in aid of the people.” (Hefer)

Hefer’s lines make it clear that there is no distinction between Jew and Zionist. The resolution calling for the abolition of Zionism is equivalent to a call to destroy the Jews since all those who “define themselves as anti-Zionist … do we not immediately recognize faces thought to have disappeared forever beneath the ruins of the Third Reich, those disseminators of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Goebbels’s men, the Mufti’s disciples, the anti-Semites?” This common fate obliges the “remnant of Jewry to join the battle which, while being fought under different conditions from those of the 1930s, is no less critical for Israel and for the Jewish people.” It is the duty of “every Jew” to stand … and fight for his life in the face of the “UN anti-Semitism” since it is now apparent to all that the barriers between sectors of the Jewish people have fallen and that “by whichever name we choose—Zionists, Jews, Israelis—we cannot escape this truth: the sword has been brandished against us. Against us, the Jews. Us the Zionists. Us the Israelis” (Bartov).

This breakdown of barriers also necessitates a closer amalgamation of religious Judaism and Zionism. The latter, updated in the spirit of Yisrael Saba, must be woven together with “a spiritual resurgence” expressed as “highlighting the uniqueness of being a Jew”:

With the UN becoming the centre of anti-Semitism, it is perhaps the right time to pin the following notice on the door of every Jew, wherever he may be: “I am a Jew, I am a Zionist.” There is vast educational value—not only demonstrative propaganda value—in this pan-Jewish campaign. The “you shall teach [your children]” is an important value in itself, especially when carried out with manifest Jewish national pride. For our non-Jewish environment to know of the importance of Zionism, that is Judaism, we must substantially increase our inner Zionist-Jewish awareness … . Hitler imposed Judaism on assimilated [Jews] too, as well as on their children’s children. The Arab-Communist-African majority in the United Nations has henceforth imposed Zionism on each and every Jew, and if the Nazis invented the yellow star as a badge of shame—we must wear our Zionist identity as a badge of pride. The resolution passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations has put an end to the historical argument fiercely conducted between various sectors of the Jewish people. This resolution has undermined and utterly destroyed any wall or barrier dividing the Jew from the Zionist. Now a new—although actually ancient and rooted in Jewish sources—halakha [religious dictate] has been determined: that Judaism and Zionism are one, and that the Jew is in any case a Zionist. (Yerushalmi)

The abandonment of the Jewish people “persecuted and slaughtered among the nations” and “the war of annihilation” against the people of Israel are no surprise, especially where the United Nations—”the carrier of Hitler’s flag in our generation” (Yustus) is concerned. From the moment, the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism was passed, “the greatest danger befalling us since the establishment of the State” (Har’el) this organization ought to be called “United Nazis” (Shamir). The UN “sanctified the murderers, who carry axes in their knapsacks to behead Israelis and bring their heads home, to Damascus” (Harshefi). The UN gave “the forces of evil in the world permission from the nations … to continue Hitler’s unfinished satanic work” (Har’el). It is a “racist anti-Semitic organization” whose location “on 42nd St. in New York—a street of pornography and drugs—is no coincidence” (Rubinstein, Ma’ariv, 21 November 1975).

The countries voting, “hands raised in favour of the destruction of the State of Israel,” are provocatively ignoring the only meaning of racism, since “racism is not just a scientific theory” but a theory “which has been ultimately refined and implemented in one concrete instance—the Final Solution to the Jewish problem” (Harshefi). We should note these commentaries’ particularist point of view: the single most concrete implementation of racism was the Holocaust. This singular connection between racism and the Jews as the exclusive object of its theory and practice loosened the columnists’ critical reins. This was principally evident in their attitude to the various African countries, most of which supported the UN resolution and thereby revealed not only their hatred but also “ingratitude” towards the Jewish State which had tried to “drag them into the civilized, developed world” (Shamir). Thus, under the headline “climbing down from the trees and denigrating Zionism,” Aharon Shamir chose in his op-ed column to speak out against this trend and thereby reveals an example of his own racism, assuming of course that racism can also be a Jewish trait:

A person suddenly gets up in the morning, sees that he is a people, climbs down from the trees and begins to denigrate Zionism. It’s no shame to climb down from the tree and become a people … but the development of a people, like the development of a person, begins in kindergarten, via school and then higher education. Just as it would be shameful for a kindergarten graduate to be appointed rector of a university, it’s a disgrace that the person just down from the tree should become a world leader. (Shamir)

The outburst of feeling also led to a furious explosion of writing, replete with satire and loaded with nationalist slogans, reaching far beyond the event under discussion. The following is a humorous example of the turbulent discourse about UN Resolution 3379:

Who is the UN anyway? A piece of dead meat! A body without a soul! Non- existent! Resolutions passed there have no value! Big deal! Who cares?! Since when do we pay attention to what the UN thinks? What’s all this hysteria which has gripped us?! Losing our head over such nonsense? Just because a few illiterate countries have condemned us?! … We should entirely ignore the UN, because it does not exist! It’s dead! We shouldn’t mention it, or talk about it at all! Enough! We’re sick of it! Let’s move on to the next subject! There are more important things at this troubled time, and the most important which should be preoccupying us at this moment is the UN, our response to the wicked resolution and how we can weaken its standing. Not demonstrations and speeches, because as we know, the UN is dead, and one shouldn’t regard a dead body, moreover it is also anti-Semitic … our response to this despicable UN should be to annexe the Golan Heights, the Etzion Bloc, Judah and Samaria! … and therefore, we should stop talking about the UN all day! It no longer exists, and it will not direct our actions! (Yariv)

There is a paradox in the supposedly organic identity between the Jewish individual and collective and Israel, made by linking Israel with anti-Semitism. This form of arbitrary hatred of the Jews, regardless of time or place, is an expression of an historical watershed. Commentators at the time swung between aspirations to normalcy and self-criticism, with repeated attempts to rationalize a return to history by becoming a nation among the nations. In the case of UN Resolution 3379 specifically, the historical-political approach of Zionism on one hand, and coming to terms with the abnormality of Jewish existence and the uniqueness of the Jew, on the other, set against the constant onslaught of hatred towards its incarnation as the State of Israel, are well represented in a column by Yaakov Herzog entitled “Am levado yishkon” (A people dwelling alone), published soon after UN resolution 3379 was passed. He attempted to correct the “errors” of the Zionist fathers:

Classical Zionism, the basic political Zionism which established the State of Israel, did not grasp … two fundamental problems: it did not understand the Jewish people or the Arab people. The Zionist leaders were of the opinion—when you read their speeches … you can see this clearly—that we would return here … we would attain independence here and the world would recognize that independence. We would become what is called “a normal people” and would be released from the burden of exile and accepted the world over; we were holding out a hand to cultivate a desolate, barren region and together we would establish an innovative human society throughout the Middle East. (Ma’ariv, 14 November 1975)

Up to this point Herzog describes Zionism as a political solution to the “Jewish problem” apparently distanced from mythical assumptions. He expresses an aspiration to become a “normal people” and thus to redeem not only the Jews from their suffering, but also the desert, in order “to cultivate a desolate and barren place.” The plan is to integrate the “Arab people” and thereby to create an “innovative human society throughout the Middle East.” But he goes on to depict the awakening of the present generation from the naïve vision of “basic political Zionism” along with the rise of a traditional-mythic narrative:

Then came the facts and slapped this theory across the face … and we see the facts. Why was the theory fundamentally flawed? Because political Zionism held that the notion of “a people dwelling alone” is abnormal; but in fact the notion of “a people dwelling alone” is the natural status of the House of Israel. After 20 years, if you ask me how to describe in a single sentence this entire, tremendous experience, shocking the world … whether it is mainly about an ingathering of the exiles, to a degree that no one could imagine; that more than a million Jews from distant Yemen and Morocco, from India and Western Europe, would come here, all of them feeling first and foremost that they had come home, a kind of phenomenal unity beyond time; or if you ask how the State of Israel has withstood those fundamental tests of her defences when vast countries in terms of their numbers, wealth and weaponry rose against her to destroy her; or if you ask how her economy flourished, or how unity with diaspora Jewry was maintained—ultimately one must repeat that this is a “people dwelling alone.” This is a “people dwelling alone” not only existentially but also and not least in terms of its right to exist and moreover its ability to exist. Precisely this isolation, which is in the nature of the Jewish people, is perhaps the key not only to faith but also to translation of this faith into the language of deeds, incorporating the people’s ability to exist in the past, the present and into the future. (Ma’ariv, 14 November 1975)

The above survey of public discourse surrounding UN Resolution 3379 highlights the tension between the historical and the mythical in chronicles of anti-Semitism. The reversal in Israeli public discourse about anti-Semitism in the 1960s and 1970s enabled Zionist view of the Jewish State not only as a potential victim of anti-Semitism, but also as standing as a target in a series of persecutions, enmity and violence towards the Jews throughout history. This brought with it an almost obligatory use of mythic images and allusions in public discourse, including the press. While more unusual in academic, and particularly in historical discourse, we argue that the pendulum swing back and forth between the mythical and historical in discussions about anti-Semitism is also apparent in academic discussion of the subject. Yehoshafat Harkabi’s original essay “Ha’antishemiut ha’aravit” (Arab anti-Semitism) (Harkabi) constitutes a link between academic and public discourses and demonstrates the existence of a crisis of understanding taking place in both.

A History of Hatred of Israel: New anti-Semitism in Academic Discourse

Between 1965 and 1967, a lively debate was conducted in Israeli public discourse which was dubbed “the Arab anti-Semitism controversy.” The debate began with a series of articles by Yehoshafat Harkabi, published in Ma’ariv beginning on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in 1965. Harkabi sets out his argument that anti-Semitism underwent a sea change when adopted by the Arabs, directing their actions until it became “essential and fundamental in the Arab-Israeli conflict” (Ma’ariv, 26 September 1965). Harkabi believed that Arab anti-Semitism is different from the anti-Semitism of the past because of its main object, hatred of Israel, with Jew-hatred coming second, if it exists at all. The expressions of hatred, Harkabi argued, highlight the fact that “the centre of gravity of global anti-Semitism has been shifted to the Arab countries” and that “they are worse than Hitler, since they have prior knowledge about what happened in the case of Germany” or because “Hitler admitted only tactical exploitation of anti-Semitism.” Harkabi repeatedly warns his readers against ignoring the phenomenon, ostrich-like, or calling it by another name: “it is not pleasant to see things this way, but we need to look reality in the face without embellishment, without distortions rooted in ideology and faith. Arab anti-Semitism is key for Arab positions in the conflict and lends those positions their true significance” (Harkabi).

Harkabi’s arguments provoked a broad range of responses ranging from absolute negation from agreement with his observations laced with misgivings and disagreement with his conclusions to unreserved support. Objectors argued among other things that “only an apolitical people like the Jewish people have always been, could arouse mass hatred in the form of anti-Semitism” (Zacks). Harkabi felt that his supporters were in the minority, while categorical in their agreement with him: “Everything which has been said and written is the absolute truth and anyone attempting to challenge it merely fooling himself and others. Arab anti-Semitism … is an indisputable fact” (Tamir). Both supporters and disparagers of Harkabi’s position provide many examples in their attempts to respond to the notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is simply another incarnation of anti-Semitism.

About a decade later, in the late1970s, the debate appeared to have been won. Harkabi re-published the original article with minor revisions, under the title “La’antishemiut ha’aravit mehadash” (The New Arab anti-Semitism). This time the article was included in a collection of academic essays entitled Sinat Yisrael ledoroteiha (A History of Hatred of Israel). Beyond the significance of its inclusion in such a distinguished collection, we should examine Harkabi’s review of the development of the Arab anti-Semitism debate since his first article, ten years earlier.

Harkabi points to the discomfort of part of an Israeli public used to viewing anti-Semitism as something happening to Jews in “distant countries” rather than as a local phenomenon, now prevalent among Israel’s neighbours. When the revised article was published, however, Harkabi admits to being aware that interestingly, these things had become “more comfortable [for Israelis to hear].”

This debate reflects the tension between the historical and the mythical in Israeli discourse as well as the sea change in the Zionist view of anti-Semitism. Harkabi’s essay points to anti-Semitism as a dominant motive in the Arab-Israeli conflict thereby seeming to contradict the historical Zionist view of anti-Semitism as relevant only if there exists a helpless victim: the exilic Jew. The historical approach to anti-Semitism, based on classical Zionist beliefs and the political importance of sovereignty, was expressed in the extensive criticism to which Harkabi’s articles were subjected when first published in Ma’ariv. In face of this criticism, Harkabi now presents a new approach to anti-Semitism which necessitates conducting an “objective” examination “without distortions rooted in ideology and faith.” This approach is also apparent in other articles in Sinat Yisrael ledoroteiha in which Harkabi’s essay was published in its academic incarnation in 1980.

The anthology opens with a theoretical introduction by the scholar of anti-Semitism Shmuel Ettinger, “Sin’at Yisrael baretzifuta hahistorit” (Hatred of Israel as an Historical Continuum) in which he sets out his ideas about the pervasiveness of Jew-hatred and negative Jewish stereotypes throughout history. The following passage describes a reversal in Zionist values similar to that emerging in the public discourse discussed above:

The assumption, particularly by the fathers of Zionist thought, was that the tension between non-Jews and Jews is a result of their special situation in the world as a permanent minority in all countries. … Hence the assumption, that if the Jews (and non-Jews) themselves were to undertake collective actions to change this state of things, national and social tensions would gradually disappear, or at least diminish. And if a Jewish State were established, or a Jewish society, based on healthy foundations, which would resemble the societies of the surrounding peoples, then these tensions would disappear altogether. The special, that is abnormal, Jewish fate which makes the Jew what he is, would gradually disappear. (Ettinger, 226-227)

In a few sentences Ettinger summarizes Zionist ideology concerning the “Jewish Question.” He then goes on to describe revisions to that ideology: a kind of awakening in which Zionists came to understand that “the special, abnormal Jewish fate” will not only not “gradually disappear”, but also will be forefronted along with the abnormal fate of the Jewish State:

The collective Jew, meaning the Jew dwelling within Jewish society, has not lost his particular Jewish traits and the existence of the State of Israel has not essentially weakened the tensions between Jews and Gentiles. Neither have the signs of tension and hostility diminished—with regard to stereotypes and the attempt to refute the negative image of the individual Jew or the Jewish collective. That is, the tension and hostility, a legacy of European history, have been transposed to the present day and are extrapolated to the Jewish generality. Today, more than ever, it is clear that anti Zionism and anti-Semitism are one and the same. Or more accurately, anti-Zionism is the direct historical and psychological continuation of anti-Semitism. There is no evidence that the existence of a Jewish political centre, of Jewish political and social, directed and collective activity, will disrupt the continuum of stereotyping or the centrality of the Jews in people’s consciousness. (Ettinger, 227)

Ettinger’s theoretical perspective forms the basis for a mythic-historic discussion. The anthology includes chapters by various scholars who discuss the phenomenon of Jew-hatred from ancient times, through the Middle Ages and up to modernity, ending with the intimate connection between anti-Zionism and Israel’s struggles against anti-Semitism today. Some scholars stress the distinctions between the various periods, as is appropriate for an historical study, but taken as a whole, the collection is imbued with the mythical connection linking manifestations of the hatred in different places, periods and particular circumstances, as a single, continuous phenomenon involving similar mechanisms. Rather than distinguishing between Jews (or even non-Jews) in different places and national situations, the anthology lumps them altogether into a single mass of hatred. The editor, Shmuel Almog, explains the mythical approach in his introduction with the simple axiom that “all the nations hate Israel” (Almog, 7). Thus, for example, the universality of Jew-hatred is illustrated by reference to anti-Semitic caricatures originating in France, Hungary and Nazi Germany and to “Islamic countries” including the Ottoman Empire, Morocco and the Arab states, from the Middle Ages until today. The overall position of the book is that anti-Semitism is no longer a European but, rather, a global phenomenon, transcending periods and cultures. The founders of Zionism viewed anti-Semitism as a problem with a solution. Now, at the height of the Zionist solution, the State of Israel itself serves as the object of hatred/anti-Semitism. One should point out that the historical context serves Almog merely as a jumping off point for an orderly discussion:

It is sometimes difficult to separate out the continuity of anti-Semitic consciousness and the eternity of anti-Semitism, … that is to say it is as though we need the ancient tradition of hatred of Israel in order to prove that it has always existed, has never ceased and, it seems, never will cease. But such a separation is crucial to our historical understanding. (Almog, 8)

Thus, there is no essential distinction between the events only a contrived one, made for the sake of “our historical understanding.”

Arieh Gertner’s article, “Dmuta shel antishemiut be’artzot habrit” (The shape of anti-Semitism in the United States) is another example of the mythical-historical approach adopted by the anthology. On the one hand, in keeping with the overarching theory governing the book, one should view “anti-Semitism in the US …  as a link in the historical chain of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel” (Gertner, 309). On the other hand, this scenario is open to criticism: “The scholar is liable to assume that anti-Semitism exists and is expressed in all times and places, and that if he has not discerned it—that is simply because his research is flawed or because of his own blindness.” But Gertner stresses that this statement is “ahistorical.” He therefore proposes to examine the continuity of the phenomenon as a “causal regression.” Thus, the reasons for anti-Semitism should be examined as a phenomenon which, although in keeping with Zionist assumptions, “appeared in the past, perhaps in the distant past,” nevertheless has consequences still apparent in “various circumstances.” This ambiguity is carried through to the beginning of the sentence in which Gertner states that “the historical chain is not infinite and it may even end suddenly someday.” Nevertheless, the same sentence ends by confirming the endless historical chain of anti-Semitism as implied by the verse from the Haggadah “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us,” saying that “in the case of anti-Semitism this possibility [of an end] is most unlikely” (Gertner).

Gertner is contradicting himself here. It is not clear how the “causal regression” theory fits into the dissonance between the observation that “anti-Semitism exists and is expressed in all times and places” and the view that “the historical chain [of anti-Semitism] is not infinite.” What is this “causal regression” if not a restatement of the mythic view regarding the unending existence of anti-Semitism “in all times and places?”

A more explicit example of the presence of Jewish myth in the historiography of anti-Semitism is Yigal Elam’s harsh criticism of Moshe David Har’s contribution to the collection, “Tguvatam shel hahahamim lesin’at Yisrael ba’olam hahelenisti-Romi” (The Response of Jewish Sages to Hatred of Israel in the Greco-Roman world). Elam’s anger is directed specifically at Har’s discussion of the talmudic exegesis of a verse from Deborah’s victory ode in Prophets 5:11, where Deborah celebrates “righteous acts towards the inhabitants of his villages in Israel.” The Talmud remarks, “The Holy One Blessed Be He was committing a righteous act in scattering them among the nations.” This talmudic exegesis is immediately followed by a story:

When he of that kind said to Rabbi Judah the Prince, we are preferable to you; of you [the Jews] it is written: “For six months Joab dwelled there with all Israel until every male in Edom had been smitten down,” while we [the gentiles] have allowed you to dwell for many years amongst us and we have done nothing to you … Rabbi Oshia turned on him saying: because you do not know how to act, if you kill all [the Jews] you will no longer rule over them; you will kill those you rule over—they will call you an amputated kingdom. He said to him: by the Capitol of Rome! By that we rise up and by that we fall.

Elam sees in Rabbi Oshia’s retort a precedent for the particularist principle of the Jewish religion, interpreting Rabbi Oshia as follows:

You, the Romans, cannot harm even the Jews under your jurisdiction, because you cannot afford to destroy your reputation as an integral kingdom, a kingdom sustaining all the inhabitants in its charge. Rome’s reputation rises and falls according to their treatment of the Jews. The gentile is prepared to admit the extremely flattering truth of this. (Elam, 80-81)

Elam argues that this reading of the text is the most literal and correct. He is, therefore, fiercely critical of Moshe David Har’s alternative interpretation of “By that we rise up and by that we fall.” Har says:

Here the truth of the claims of the non-Jew who accuses the Jews of hatred of humanity is exposed to the light of day. The non-Jew admits that it is not the Jews who plan to destroy the human race, but the non-Jews, the Romans, who plan to destroy the people of Israel, and this idea preoccupies them from when they lie down at night until they get up in the morning. (Har, 43)

Elam responds furiously, “Never in my life have I encountered such a far-fetched and ridiculous interpretation” (Elam, 80). He argues that Har has adopted a traditional Jewish perspective, or more precisely Rashi’s interpretation of the story. According to Elam, Rashi’s reading is not surprising since he believed all elements of the mythical Jewish narratives about Jew-hatred even contributed to their development: “which is not the case with the professors of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They are educated men of science and are supposed to demonstrate facility in written comprehension and an ability to analyse a text at an academic level. How shameful” (Elam, 80-81). Elam’s criticism is directed particularly at scholarly discourse, as conducted by “the professors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.” It would befit such discourse, if not to critique the generalizing significance of the myth, at the very least to make clear its awareness of the mythic levels embodied in interpretations of the text. On the contrary, Har adopted the Jewish myth as is and wrote his historical research, presented above, without the criticism as we might have expected from research of this kind.


Classical Zionism embraced an historical perspective on anti-Semitism, integral to its proposed political solution to the problem of Jew hatred, and predicated on negating the exile. Once the State of Israel were established, the ideology of the Ben-Gurion school would be implemented, in direct opposition to the assumptions of the traditional hatred-of-Israel myth. When Yehoshafat Harkabi’s essay first appeared in 1965, this classical Zionist perspective still reigned supreme and shaped the discourse on anti-Semitism. It is not surprising, therefore, that Harkabi’s views about Israel’s wars as resulting from Arab anti-Semitism were widely criticized at that time.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, however, we see a historical crisis leading to the adoption of an updated, mythistorical, Zionist perspective in which myth is intertwined with history in the way Zionism views anti-Semitism. Thus, myth and history could no longer be thought of as mutually exclusive, or myth as extraneous to Zionist thought. Instead, there was a pendular movement between the two, in keeping with current events. The Zionist view of anti-Semitism still included a sense of threat and involved the construction of a mythistorical discourse bridging between the mythical and historical, avoiding either extreme. The rise of mythical, deterministic discourse regarding Jew-hatred as eternal has led to the redefinition of anti-Semitism as “new anti-Semitism.” We see this reversal in Harkabi’s argument in his revised 1980 version of his original 1965 article that his comments are now “more convenient to be heard” as well as in the entire anthology of essays Sin’at Yisrael ledoroteiha, in which Harkabi’s article was included. It is fair to say then that Israeli discourse regarding anti-Semitism, both public and academic, is still based, at least in part, on the myth of hatred of Israel as reflected in ancient Jewish tradition.