Ernest Sternberg. Israel Affairs. Volume 21, Issue 4. 2015.
The term anti-Semitism gained currency in the late nineteenth century, in supposed contrast to judenhass, in the attempt to shake off the connotation that enmity to Jews was merely ancient, superstitious Jew-hatred. It would now become scientific. Adherents who disliked being called Jew-haters could proudly declare themselves anti-Semites.
So it is again with contemporary anti-Zionism, which identifies Israel as the global demon. Now that the old hatred can no longer appeal under the guise of race science, the successor version claims to be humanitarian, and hence can be proudly proclaimed. As we shall see, what the old hatred did for science, the new one does for human-rights discourse.
This article sets out to answer the question why. Israel’s faults cannot possibly be the actual cause; the enmity to it is so vast, ferocious, and out of proportion to what Israel does or does not do that the cause must be sought not in the actions of the hated but in the conditions of the haters. Here is the contention: that in the aftermath of the Cold War, Zionism has become the global demon through the dynamic and mutually reinforcing conjuncture of three crises, those of Islam, European civilization, and the post-communist Left. But we must be more subtle in explanation. Taken together, these three make up only the primary cause of globalized anti-Zionism. There are also secondary and tertiary waves of causes, which are given brief consideration in the final pages below.
At the conclusion of his seminal history of anti-Semitism, Robert Wistrich writes that ‘Hatred of Jews, as we have documented throughout this study, has been an astonishingly resilient and persistent phenomenon through the ages’. It happens again and again. One period’s anti-Semitism serves as a resource and inspiration for the next, even if the modes of expression or underlying theories differ. The Christian anti-Semitism that made Jews the demonic perpetrators of deicide served as background for völkisch nationalism, meant to separate the German nation from the hated Jews. Deicide accusations, depictions of Jews as devils, plus völkisch anti-Semitism served as precedents for the Hitlerian pseudoscience that classified Jews as an anti-human species.
Let us grant this observation: that a pre-existing bigotry about a people, especially a hate-creed developed to such detail and depth, increases the chances that at a later time the bigotry will return, though perhaps in mutated form. In our day, the world’s inherited storehouse of anti-Semitic myths serves as a rich source for this generation’s claims of Israeli malignity, racism, genocide, child-murder, organ theft, conspiracy, and world domination. Still, to describe anti-Zionism simply as the newest resurgence of an ancient hatred is less than satisfactory. That there has been an anti-Semitic pox does not necessarily mean that new generations will be infected by it.
Distinguished commentators grapple for a better explanation. As just one example, after a succinct collation of incidents from the worldwide expanse of Zion-hatred, Efraim Karsh is left with the conclusion that it is ancient hatred redux. He accepts the explanation, but seems less than satisfied, and concludes his article with a question.
But is there any other explanation as to why, more than 60 years after its establishment, Israel remains the only state in the world whose citizens are presented as the heirs to the Nazi mantle; whose economy faces relentless calls for sanctions, boycotts and divestment; whose policies and actions year in and year out are condemned by the international community, and whose right to exist is constantly debated and challenged?
That is indeed the question raised by this article, the question of causes: why globalized anti-Zionism? Why would vast and diverse movements around the world draw on lethal precedent to make Israel or Zionism the object of hatred? As we begin, let us be clear that not every kind of anti-Zionism is under investigation. The topic at hand is globalized anti-Zionism, its current form.
Globalized Anti-Zionism Defined
Here is a cruise recommended only for those with strong stomachs: one through the endlessly winding and interlinked sewers through which malice flows on the internet. One who takes this sickening voyage would well conclude that anti-Zionism (sometimes in plain old anti-Semitic varieties) is the world’s dominant bigotry. To be sure, the neo-Nazis revel in it. On a million—give or take—Arab and Islamist sites, it is de rigueur. On the portals of the Western post-communist Left, it provokes the highest intensities of fury. And on pages of bien pensant Europeans, those of the polite classes, it enjoys legitimacy and popularity, though sometimes in more muted expression.
This article is addressed to those already aware of the renewed hatred and the purpose is to explain. To do so, we should be precise in defining the object we want to explain, or as precise as is possible for a subject-matter as large and amorphous as this. For a working definition, anti-Zionism as discussed in this article is not the criticism of Israel but rather the attribution to it of overwhelming evil.
Where there is such malign attribution, hatred is close by. It is fitting though incomplete, therefore, to refer to anti-Zionism as a hatred, even if the visceral sensation does not accompany it in every instance. This hatred is not, after all, just a psychological condition, of the kind that a person may feel for merely idiosyncratic reasons. Consider this author’s acquaintance who dislikes Israel because it is hot and dusty, has military conscription, and in his opinion has bad cuisine. He may for similar reasons dislike Mali and Arizona, if they have conscription. This does not make him an anti-Zionist. Anti-Zionism is not an idiosyncratic matter, or a matter of taste, but rather a socially caused hatred—a bigotry. Whereas ordinary hatred can be idiosyncratic and random, bigotry is socially formed. Historical forces shape and disseminate the bigot’s beliefs.
In the modern age, that is to say since the Enlightenment and the subsequent disenchantment of the world, bigotry has been made sensible and fitting to the bigot through ideology: a secular system of ideas meant to mobilize followers to overthrow oppressive and corrupt power to create a new and better world. (This view of ideology follows that of Hannah Arendt.) It is not quite correct to say, however, that a particular bigotry, such as anti-Zionism, is in itself an ideology. Nor was Nazi anti-Semitism an ideology in itself, nor the Khmer Rouge’s hatred of urbanites and class enemies.
The targeted demon is rather a frequent, maybe a necessary, component of totalizing utopian ideologies. Where the ideologically impassioned meet obstacles to their plan to reconstruct the world, they routinely discover that a despicable group subverted their dream, and will be drawn to thinking that this group’s liquidation will bring the advent of a peaceful and just world.
Bernard Lewis gets the definition right. Anti-Semitism evaluates Jews according to standards by which no other people are judged and, most distinctively, attributes to them cosmic evil. Reprising earlier forms of the ancient hatred, globalized anti-Zionism attributes devilish qualities to Jews, but in their collective existence as Israel. Both variations of Jew-hatred, the anti-Semitic and the anti-Zionist, traffic in similar accusations. Each claims that Jews carry out repeated atrocities in novel and horrific ways, are callous about the sufferings of others merely because they are gentiles, have astounding riches and mysterious power over politics and media, and operate through secrets and conspiracies. In anti-Zionism’s purest form, Israel is the cosmic demon, the enemy of humanity, the one that perverts human ideals and threatens human existence itself. Its most distinct and readily recognizable expression is the Jew-is-Nazi/Israel-is-Nazi/Zionist-is-Nazi slur.
Not all varieties of anti-Zionism fall under this definition. For pre-World War II debates among Jews about their future, the definition certainly does not hold. In those sad days preceding catastrophe, Jews debated whether they would better assure their survival through European assimilation, abandonment of religion, migration to America, ever more intense piety, or self-defensive nationhood. Under the inevitable human ignorance of what was to come, exacerbated by traditional religious leaders, by socialist universalism, and no shortage of delusion and wishful thinking, Jews naturally had varied opinions. Many were simply loyal Germans and Hungarians and hoped only to have their loyalty recognized. Some opposed Zionism on the eminently practical grounds that it was, in terms of world power balances, very much a long shot and brought its own risks. They had yet to learn the bitterest of lessons, that the risk of having no collective means of self-defence was incomparably greater. These Jewish debaters no doubt exchanged strong words and held strong opinions, but would not have dreamed of calling Zionist co-religionists Nazis. So let it be clear once again: the present argument is about contemporary globalized anti-Zionism, not about the tragic pre-Holocaust debates.
Also for some more recent opponents of Zionism, among them a fair number of Israelis, the definition does not always hold. Especially through the earlier and more innocent days of anti-Zionism and post-Zionism in Israel in the 1990s, many were opposed only to the official Zionism that had characterized Israeli governments or political parties. Enveloped in the steam-bath of internecine Israeli politics, these Israelis disliked some version of political Zionism, usually the particular lineage descending from Theodore Herzl. If these self-ascribed ‘anti-Zionists’ believed in the need for Israel’s existence and believed Jews should be able to defend themselves against annihilation by means of a collective entity, then they were, by standards of the today’s globalized bigotry, mislabelling themselves. They were Zionists after all.
For a few years, those self-described ‘anti-Zionists’ could be excused for being oblivious to the worldwide company with which they linked themselves when they used the term. That excuse was plausible through the 1990s, as world hatred was still consolidating. But the excuse no longer holds. Since the beginning of this century, no matter how abstrusely intellectualized an anti-Zionist academic may be, no matter how mild and pacific the person’s style of self-expression, he cannot escape the contemporary condition: he who self-identifies as anti-Zionist has in effect joined the worldwide community of opprobrium. No educated person even moderately aware of world affairs can any longer claim innocence of the demonization at globalized anti-Zionism’s core.
The Explanatory Problem
It is the rise of this post-1990 global anti-Zionism this article sets out to explain. To do so, it has to make sense of its distinctive feature: the vastness of its worldwide scope and the variety of groups that espouse it. To be sure, for Jew-hatred in general, international scope is not at all new. We remember that during World War II, nearly every port and visa office was shut to Jews, and boatloads were left with the choice to drown or to be fed after all into the machinery designed for their murder. Now in this century’s second decade, another incarnation of Jew-hatred has achieved global scope. But there is something different in the new version; the logics of bigotry are more diverse.
From American right-wing isolationists to angelic Scandinavian humanitarians, Iranian-Shiite theocrats to Pakistani and Syrian foes of Shiites, Arab despots to most Arab opponents of despots; from American activists claiming to represent human rights to Venezuelan neo-progressives espousing strongman rule; from greens preferring hatred over environmental stewardship to black-clothed anarchists ready to break windows and burn banks; from professors to union dock labourers, and among endlessly varieties of angry Leftists and furious Rightists, Israel is monstrosity incarnate.
Global anti-Zionism brings together numerous movements, many with little in common. Other than for their hatred of Israel, these movements are often at odds. Without crazily positing a world conspiracy, how could we now explain that so many people, in such variety of cultural and political leanings, would land upon this small nation to loathe?
It must be something that Israel did or something it stands for, the anti-Zionists are sure. It must be something inherently horrid about Zion itself, that so many would put such visceral energy into despising it. The loathing is indeed too diverse and widespread for any conceivable conspiracy (though here and there collusion plays a part): it is too multicultural, too multi-political. And that, as we shall see, is the clue.
Globalized Bigotry: The Lead-Up
Soviet anti-Zionism was already present under Lenin, in the Yevsektsia, the party sections tasked with destroying traditional Judaism and any revival of Hebrew culture. The party continued in the 1920s to deride Zionism as a foil for British imperialism. Official anti-Zionism would become all the more prominent in Stalin’s purges, since it would not do to use the Nazis’ language against the Jews. It continued to fester in the final decades of the Soviet Bloc, but where it was not just old-fashioned Jew-hatred in transparent disguise, it was cold and expedient realpolitik, hardly the raving fury we now see. And some was mere bureaucratic emanation. As we know from those who have commented on the culture of bureaucratic communism, very few of those who mouthed communist slogans actually believed them. Like the greengrocer’s sign (by which Vaclav Havel epitomized conformity under communism) expressing an opinion about colonialism that the greengrocer never for a second held, anti-Zionist slogans, too, were often just a dull and routine way to show fealty to communist power.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s anti-Zionism was already well documented by the 1970s, and a constant theme of the theocratic regime, but was for a decade or two insulated within Iran’s borders. In the hidden interstices of European and American public life, through the previous century’s second half, neo-Nazi and medieval Jew-hatred persisted, but was unobtrusive and minor enough to be ignored.
Anti-Zionism has also been pervasive since the 1920s in Arab propaganda. Some of the propaganda showed the influence of Nazi anti-Semitic broadcasts and literature. Already by the 1930s, there were those in the Muslim world stoking hatred with anti-Semitic passages found here and there in the Islamic tradition. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Iraqi, Egyptian, Syrian, and miscellaneous other despots were already well-practised fomenters of Zion hatred. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and beliefs in having been humiliated were even in those decades more reliable than bread as staples of the Arab street.
The various despots’ and dictators’ combined efforts reached a temporary peak of success in 1975 with the General Assembly’s Zionism-is-Racism resolution. As all but a few clueless Third World nations understood, anti-Zionism was then still a matter of raw power, driven by the Soviet Union’s anti-Zionist campaign meant to revive its reputation after Soviet-equipped Arab armies lost the 1973 war, and fuelled by oil money and oil fears, at a time when the Arab oil embargo had barely ended.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, the world now thrown into geopolitical disorder, all was to change. It was in the three subsequent crises that globalized anti-Zionism originated.
The Crisis of Islam
In varied forms in theocratic Iran, a resentful and humiliated Arabia, and parts of South Asia, there occurred a crisis of Islam. Upon the collapse of communism, and for the first time in a millennium, the Islamic world could not as easily blame outsiders for its economic and technological woes, for its self-perceived backwardness and powerlessness. Nor could political factions seek parochial advantage as easily by playing the world powers against each other. Dominated for centuries by the Persians, Ottomans, French, and British, and then the Soviet–American competition, the Arabs were suddenly bereft, left to their own devices. It was something all could see after Saladin-du-jour, Saddam Hussein, crumbled pathetically under invasion in 1991 and when, for a period, the Americans cleared out.
Post-Cold War America proved to be a reluctant power, ready to intervene and meddle, but just as ready to abandon its client regimes. It had already abandoned the Shah of Iran in 1979, left Saddam in place after 1991, ignored the pleas of pro-Western Lebanese factions, evacuated Iraq as soon as there was a fig leaf of constitutional stability, in 2010 instantly dropped the geriatric Egyptian pharaoh, and in the Syrian civil war since 2011 left the rebels to their own devices.
To many in the Arab world, traditional Islam had let them down, giving new scope to autocrats, Western-oriented modernizers, and radical Islamists, but also threatening face-offs between them, unless some formula, no matter how desperate and bizarre, could be found by which to pin the blame externally. And that sinister force was readily at hand. It was that most despicable of forces, the one that could turn the lowly and despised Jew into a master over Muslims; conquer lands that Islam could not in a nightmare predict would again succumb to Crusaders; import Western values in order to corrupt Muslim youth; in some versions, deceive the world into pitying the Jews for a fictional genocide; and even give powerful America its marching orders. Desperate and irrational, this anti-Zionism was still only a regional obsession. It had not yet become part of the ideological framework that would make Israel’s fiendishness sufficiently persuasive for the global stage. Israel would not have become the global scapegoat only from Islam’s crisis, were it not for two other global crises that soon coincided.
The Ideological Crisis of the Left
The Left’s ideological crisis reached its peak of intensity after the fall of the Soviet Union, but that was not its only cause. The Left was already suffering the dissolution of Marxist–Leninist doctrine, in all the trivial variants through which it had entranced Western intellectuals for generations. The deluge that socialists had feared and never wanted to behold finally roared over Europe’s intellectuals late in the century. There were the revelations of Solzhenitsyn’s Arkipelag Gulag (which rhymed in Russian); the French intellectuals’ uproar over the Black Book of Communism, documenting incomprehensibly massive state-induced famines in China as well as Russia; and in Cambodia, the expulsion of 2 million from Phnom Penh in three days, the enforcement of a new vocabulary and uniform dress, and imposition of numbers instead of names, in the insane quest for a pure classless society. The final lowering of the hammer and sickle at the Kremlin in December 1991 was already a denouement.
It was not as if, in the wake of communism’s collapse, the elite alienation, cultural disgruntlement, self-infatuation, and shallow adventurism which had so motivated the followers of the socialist siren would just disappear. If capitalism was finally proven to have a contradiction, it was its peculiar capacity to generate reactions against itself by the well-heeled and well-fed. For the first time, thanks to capitalism, they could live as professional dilettantes, playing with their own societies’ future. Radical anti-capitalist ideology did not die in the 1990s. Barely buried in one guise, it regenerated in a new one, once again to haunt the world.
What could a heartfelt radical do when economies were globalized, factories could be moved about, multinational entities could break labour organization, and the proletariat could no longer fulfil its revolutionary function? More distressingly, in most of the advanced capitalist world, workers were, by and large, doing quite well, thank you. The vanguard action, if any was to be found, was in hyperventilating social movements: catastrophizing environmentalists and eco-socialists, belligerent pacifists and anti-war demonstrators, post-gender feminists, post- or anti-colonialists fighting ever more abstract imperialisms, gay activists fanatical enough to ally themselves with their most intransigent oppressors (as long as they were anti-neoliberal), and alter-communities of artists desperately transgressing whatever was left to transgress. What could they possibly have in common as a single movement?
New radicalisms became the rage, in flavours raging from Chomsky, to Said, to Deleuze, among dozens of others. More varied than Marxism, but no less obscurantist, the post-communists soon found that the world’s oppressed did indeed have a common foe: a body of ideas called ‘neoliberalism’ and a body of rapacious exploiters, collectively called Empire. The oppressed in sweatshops, the oppressed in brothels, the oppressed by race, the oppressed by corporations, the displaced by dams, the oppressed unemployed, the oppressed homeless, the oppressed in homes, the oppressed in jungles, the oppressed hungry, the oppressed obese, the oppressed by processed food, the oppressed by cars—their sufferings emanated from Empire.
Communism’s burial notwithstanding, a new anti-Empire vanguard would soon be on the march. It would be a networked neo-progressive (or neo-communist) movement of movements, a global anti-globalization intifada, composed of seekers after a purer world, which was to be built upon the hoped-for ruins of Empire. Empire was, however, big—very, very big—and formidable. Its operations were too abstract and complex to function well as motivators of hate. And the varied movements were too motley for common purpose. Like ideological movements of the past, the movement of movements to purify the world needed a scapegoat. The twentieth century’s totalizing ideologies had had their kulaks, their city dwellers, their middle peasants, and of course their Jews. In the new century, which would serve?
It further mattered in the choice of demon that the movement needed allies who would shoot more than words at the imperial enemy. The fractious offspring of the crisis of Islam would serve best. They could be counted as additional victims of Empire, sort of like fighters against racism, fighters for indigenous rights, and so forth, and even if they were not genuinely aiming for social justice, they were, at least, genuinely fighting. They were angry, third-worldish, and armed. Smoothly excusing suicide murders as ‘resistance’, well-heeled Western intellectuals and street-level anti-globalizers were ready to join them in battle, vicariously of course.
There was the unfortunate matter of Iran’s and the Arab world’s record on women, gays, and minorities. The potentates seemed to be in no rush to eliminate wealth, and their peace-and-coexistence rhetoric was not quite up to par. Such pesky details would not have to prevent a coalition, if only a sufficiently hated common enemy was at hand.
Imperial neoliberal America, with its global corporations and predator air forces, was a pretty good candidate for global demon, but a lasting victory against it, if that were at all conceivable, would be so unlikely and would be premised on such travail, and would threaten American activists with such discomfort that it would not be worth the bother.
Much better a small enemy, against which it was possible to foresee victory, and in whose very smallness, and insistence on surviving despite large odds, there was already implicit proof of unfathomable villainy and secret global power. The theorists Chomsky, Said, and Deleuze, among dozens of lesser lights, knew exactly whom to loathe. In the years after the collapse of the Soviets, it would become increasingly obvious that it was on the thorn called Israel that hopes for anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism teetered.
Europe’s Civilizational Crisis
And not least, there was Europe’s (and to a lesser extent, America’s) cultural crisis, which took many forms, among them penitent post-Christianity. For the post-World War II generation, could there be a more horrific inheritance than Europe’s? Its civilization had rent the continent in mechanized warfare, nearly exterminated the Jews in industrially systematized genocide, conquered and colonized the world, and once dominated the slave trade. Its destruction of the earth and atmosphere proved its continuing malignity. Europe’s religions, cultural pretensions, and national identities were soiled; each of Europe’s national identities had become a dreary stigma.
Never mind that the same civilization had tempered itself through struggle and suffering. Despite its crimes, it had also brought forward democracy, civil rights, free inquiry, social tolerance, scientific quest, individual liberties, theologies that now respected freedom of conscience, a modus vivendi between religion and public life, and the very capacity for critical debate that had made the new dogmatists’ self-alienation possible. The shame was so deep that Europeans could take pride in wallowing in it. Shame could function as a form of narcissism.
Even the European inheritance of reason and tolerance would have to be relativized, since it would count as still further imperialism to reciprocally request tolerance and reason from others. Freedom of expression would have to be restricted for fear of treading on other cultures’ sensitivities. The greatest moral obligation was to succour those identified as victims, ones to be perpetually infantilized, who could be expected to have no moral obligations of their own. In this post-Christian Europe, the upshot is self-glorification through self-blame, the implied condescension being usually unapparent: that those apotheosized for victimhood could not be held up to moral scrutiny.
While the Berlin Wall loomed, penitent post-Christianity was still budding. During the Cold War there were still real prospects for European continental war. Only after being fairly sure of never having to face waging it could the European penitent fully embrace pacifist self-infatuation. With the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Europe’s multicultural-ecological-pacifist-humanitarianism could reach full flower as a religion of humanity. Revelling in civilizational void, Europe’s morally depleted leaders could not even summon the will to fight genocide in a fractured Yugoslavia. Nor would Europeans spare much thought for those slaughtered in Darfur and the Congo. Since it was Africans who killed Africans, no tears were due.
There is no need to elaborate here that the group that would most elicit Europe’s pity would turn out to be Palestinians. For Europe, there was in the Palestinian as the designated victim a special satisfaction. How delicious and how comforting that the one targeted as his victimizer was the Jew. For Europeans disoriented by a civilizational crisis, the image of Jew-as-Nazi was a triple pleasure: it was penance for past sin; moral self-aggrandizement at the expense of former and now discredited victims (who had fallen from the grace once granted by victimhood); and, not least, indulgence in their forebears’ hatreds.
Israel would serve well as scapegoat for another reason: because it existed in a world where it could never win, but only survive, against enemies who could pursue on-again off-again total war, on the dream of eventual, total, victory. The war would persist. But adherents of the religion of humanity could never recognize the necessity of defence in this war, since any such admission would undermine the faith in communication and humanitarian goodwill. And the war’s persistence could not be attributed to Arabs, since humanitarianism had designated them the victims, so the fault had to be the Jews’, who had become the world’s warmongers. In Israel, the post-Christians found their scapegoat, the one that had to be sacrificed on the altar of pure humanitarianism.
The European humanitarians did include some who still claimed the mantle of Christianity. These neo-Christians were also present in America and had partners in a few neo-Judaists, the minor tikkunist sect. But that discussion is for elsewhere.
Broadly, the Europeans’ post-Christian spite would be directed at America, Western civilization’s successor-state. Much more acutely, spite would be targeted at the crucifiers of baby Palestine, namely the Zionists, onto whom the Europeans could, with great relief, project all that they hated about their own past.
Secondary and Tertiary Factors
As we have seen, prominent observers distressed at the rise of globalized anti-Zionism have thought it to be the old hate-creed re-ascendant. That explanation is, in historical retrospect, all too plausible, but is still inadequate. It does not tell us why the new bigotry has arisen, at the time it did, in the form that it took, amid social movements describing themselves as humanitarian. In search of an answer, we have looked at the spread of ideologies at the time that Zionism acquired its globally demonic role: the period 1990–2010, when the Cold War’s wake brought crises to Islam, European civilization, and the Left.
The conclusion is that the ideological responses converged and conjoined. Anti-Zionism is their spawn. Their ideological conjuncture is the primary—the foundational—cause of globalized anti-Zionism. Among the secondary factors are money, media, and academia, these being the explanations that friends of Israel usually give when asked what causes anti-Zionism.
Money has oiled and energized the machinery of demonization. But even oil sheikhs would not be at a loss for more palaces on which to spend their money, nor would it be hard for penitent Europeans to find causes for their charities. The decisions of the former to spend on propaganda and incitement and of the latter to spend on anti-Zionist NGOs were reactions to the crises just mentioned.
Bias in TV, newspapers, and their digital successors has spread plenty of hatred, but could not have caused the three converging crises. These conjoined crises were the primary factor that infected a generation of post-Christian humanitarians, post-communist Leftists, and disoriented Muslims with the desire to broadcast hatred. Whether they took up old-fashioned jobs as journalists, or new roles as fabricators of documentaries and disseminators of prejudice on the internet, they would serve as the regurgitators of the anti-Zionist message. They were recursive second-round fomenters, re-enacting the ideological couplings that had spawned them. The critical lesson here is that media response, by defenders of Israel, can help reduce the forces of bigotry, but cannot overcome them, because historical forces have already generated them.
Biased reporters and academic ideologues (on which there is more below) would in turn establish, in ordinary salon discussion, the taken-for-granted of Zionist perfidy. That is the tertiary factor in the growth of bigotry: that anti-Zionism is now in many or most Western social milieus a taken-for-granted condition. In its midst, potential doubters would have to confront the social risks that befall the nonconformist. To be a Zionist in our time requires moral courage, not a common trait in the best of times; to identify oneself as such is to risk ostracism or slander or worse. The new global bigotry has its tertiary cause, therefore, in the silence and cowardice with which even its doubters and sceptics endure it.
The Anti-Zionist Intellectuals
Academic ideologues should be classed in the secondary round of fomenters of hatred. They follow upon the bigotry that the three converging post-Cold War crises generated, and then recursively contribute to it.
As was the case during the rise of the modern era’s other great ideologies, whether Jacobinism, Nazism, Maoism, or Marxism-Leninism, intellectuals have the special role of codifying and elaborating the dogmas that confer upon the ideology an elite justification. Nowadays intellectuals by and large are those who enjoy academic sinecures in the social sciences and humanities. From these bastions, they observe the remarkable fact that, in times of headlong technological progress, the world is still haunted by war, corruption, injustice, and anger.
Freed to read and ponder, spend time with their keyboards, and to seek prestige and self-regard through this strenuous labour, they can readily present themselves as masters of elaborated dogma, hoping for the glory that will befall the newly anointed Marx, or, failing that, a bit of acclaim at an academic conference. If the ambitious dogmatist wants her theory to ascend in notoriety as compared to others’ theories, she must address the preoccupations of potential adherents. In the early twenty-first century, theorists with radical ambitions soon realize that, if they have any hope for their ideas’ acceptance, they must be anti-Zionist. The modern university has acquired a newfound role as an incubator of global bigotry.
The campus has become an arena for the loathing of Zionists in part because the campus is, of course, inextricable from the societies to which it belongs. European-style post-Christian purity washes through the souls of freshmen, predisposing them to succumb to instructors already intent on further purging their morals. Even for students not initially inclined toward such beliefs, universities serve as inculcators of ideological purity. Disagreement is punished through ridicule, isolation, and shunning, and, more subtly, through the non-hiring, non-invitation, or non-promotion of opposing voices. Where Islamist agitators have penetrated the Western campus to foment hatred, the polemics they have sponsored inevitably take on a neo-progressive or post-Christian humanitarian idiom. The tactic reveals the agitators’ awareness that only claims to peace, environmental purity, justice, multiculturalism, victimhood, and the like, and not claims to Islamic tradition, work with Western students.
While radical ideologies and their accompanying hatreds converge on the campus (from the outside world, so to speak), the campus itself serves (from the inside) as a fount of ideology. The ones spewing it are the radical intellectuals; they confer upon the espoused bigotries the legitimating veneer of theory.
The intellectuals have the dual function of revealing and hiding. In one role, they must draw attention to corporate greed, impending environmental catastrophe, the sufferings of the Palestinian (the ones warehoused by their brethren for the very purpose of showcasing the suffering), the existence of war, the destruction of nature, the wealth of the West, the poverty of the rest. They must reveal the structures that dominate the world’s peoples. The whole point, thereby, is to create antagonism against a horrific status quo. But that antagonism is still against an abstract force. Could there not be a more specific entity against which revulsion can be stoked? Who is the enemy of the peoples? We already know the answer; it is up to the radical dogmatists to clothe the answer in theory.
In their other role, the radical intellectuals must hide and disguise. They must hide the welfare state’s production of underclass squalor. They must never let students study the actual genocides and ethnic cleansings, the suppressions of rights and speech, the murders of homosexuals, the vast suppression and mutilation of women, the executions of apostates, the military bombings of their own citizens, because the neo-progressive intellectuals are committed to depicting the perpetrator as either handmaiden or victim of Empire.
It is in fulfilling this second radical function that dogmatist-in-chief Noam Chomsky can wink and nod and excuse left-wing Holocaust deniers, and sequentially ridicule, deny, downplay, and blame reports of genocide in Cambodia. It is not that Chomsky really doubts there was a near-extermination of Europe’s Jews. And it is not that he would forever deny the Cambodian killing field; he did eventually acknowledge it (yet dismissed his mistake, if that is what it should be called, as a distraction from larger concerns). Rather, he was fulfilling the radical intellectual’s role of channelling outrage. To have focused on the Holocaust or the Cambodian genocide would have been, ideologically speaking, a distraction. It would have diverted attention from the world-shaking clash, in which designated victims are in a cosmic conflict with Empire.
The unapproved victim and undesignated victimizer are distractions. There is no point, after all, in confusing young minds attracted to radical utopias. Following the well-worn pattern of totalizing ideologues, the radical intellectual must hide, disregard, ridicule, or soft-pedal oppression—no matter how vast—that is discordant with dogma.
A Word on Strategy
On the matter of strategy for combating the revived bigotry, suffice it to say that the portfolio of responses must include theory itself. This may seem at first thought to be frivolous advice. After all, measured by statistical surveys in America, most students do not care about Israel or actually favour it. And most students could not care less about arcane claims to global justice. But the politically involved students, many dedicated to what they hope are ways of bettering the world, will become the next generation of authors and teachers, some to become political activists of one kind or another, and they do very much care.
Those who take up the fight against neo-totalitarian dogmatism should not give ground on theory. We should apply theoretical reason to the vicious bigotry through which the new ideologues wish to reform the world, and we should throw light on the hypocrisies in the new humanitarianism. We should elucidate the dogmatists’ complicity in the world’s emerging terrors. And we should never, ever give ground on justice. We should always be clear that the fight against globalized anti-Zionism is the fight against bigotry and brutality.
Conclusion: An Overdetermined Bigotry
During the post-Cold War decades, anti-Zionism could spread rapidly and because it was already latent in spores set adrift by World War II’s annihilationist anti-Semitism. The survival of Israel as the Jewish refuge, despite much Arab combat to extinguish it, and more Arab rhetoric meant to do the same, made Israel the ready scapegoat for Muslims’ alleged humiliations past and future. Occasional interludes such as Oslo aside, the fall of the Soviet Union and the declining hegemony of the former Western colonizers had effects contrary to expectation: they made Israel an even more essential foe. The Cold War’s end would launch a period of even shriller demonization, more desperate violence, and ever more bizarre paroxysms of suicidal self-martyrdom. Zionists had been branded the mortal enemy for all time.
The atrocities of World War II provided the impetus for European crises of conscience so profound that they would, by the end of the Cold War, undermine European civilization itself. Whereas Israel’s existence would necessarily make it the butt of Arabs’ and Islamists’ hatred, it did not have to elicit Europe’s hate. But post-Christian worshippers of humanity could no longer admit that that a technologically advanced people, who were themselves of European ancestry (only about half were, but never mind the details), would have to fight to survive. The battles the Israelis fought could always be ripped from historical context and made to seem sinister. European humanitarians no less than Iranian mullahs could try to rip Israel from the pages of history. Then there was the Palestinians’ relegation to statelessness under the thrall of supposed Arab allies, and their fate as international wards under European and American subsidy. They had become professional victims, offered up to Europe’s newfound compassion. To the European conscience, this selection of victim was all the more pleasurable because Jews could be named the victimizers.
The fall of communism also belatedly crippled, even if it did not fully kill off, Marxist thought. Though alternative anti-capitalist theories had already existed before 1990, they would from then on gain ever more clout, competing with each other in the academic market to become the preeminent anti-capitalist brand. The dogmas flew their separate banners for attention, but their miscellaneous adherents would still want to march together against global Empire.
Like previous ideologies, the post-communist dogmas would discover that they mobilized more successfully through the demon to be detested than through any ideal to be aimed for. In view of the many divisions among the multiple movements that made up the new movement, a common foe was all the more essential. And it was essential, too, to find an enemy that militant Islamists could share, since they were the vanguard fighters against Empire. On whom would the lot fall? Who would be the devil?
For ready tropes that would stoke hatred in Europe as well as the Middle East, there was plenty of historical precedent. In rallies, internet interchanges, and meetings at which various factions gathered, the answer would inevitably flare up. Everyone could see it and hold hands and sing peace songs around it. No conspiracy was necessary.
Durban was the turning point, marking the convergence. The potentates’ ambassadors, the warlords’ emissaries, and intifada warriors were there. So were the pacifists, the seekers of justice, and the seekers of social progress. And so were the NGOs representing post-Christian and neo-Christian worshippers of humanity. In their separate clans and in various gradations and combinations, they could all dance together there in a blazing festival of hatred.
The upshot is that new global bigotry is overdetermined. Too many historical developments and social forces sustain it. If Jew-hatred’s anti-Semitic phase lasted about 70 years, and the anti-Zionist phase is set for a similar lifespan, then we have much work to do. Our greatest immediate challenge is perseverance, calm dignity, and common effort, in the midst of whirlwinds of hatred.