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Steven Beller’s dismissal of antisemitism

Antony Lerman has just posted the most extraordinary piece by Dr Steven Beller on his blog. It opens:

I am not sure ‘antisemitism’ is the right term any more for the hostility in Europe to Israel and the Jewish communities in Europe, which, on the evidence of this article, appears now to be mainly coming from young Muslim immigrants in Europe. If the leadership of those Jewish communities adopt an approach of complete solidarity with the aggressive foreign policy of Israel, as a sovereign state separate from the countries in which those Jewish communities live, then this is an externalized relationship of conflict, unlike the historically internalized relationship of conflict.

Where does one start?  Some might want to begin by arguing that it is perfectly reasonable to support Israel.  And even those who strongly dispute that will at least (usually) agree that events in the Middle East are no excuse for antisemitism.

When some critics of Israel conflate their target of hostility with the Jewish communities in the various countries, they are only doing what Israel and its Zionist supporters have said they should do -saying that you are in complete solidarity with Israel means that you share responsibility for Israel’s moral decisions and actions.

What does it mean to assert that Zionists ‘share responsibility for Israel’s moral decisions and actions’? Obviously robust challenge is fine. But nowhere in his post does Beller address the violence and hate which have spiked following hostilities between Israel and Gaza.  One could argue, I suppose, that supporters of extremist Muslim organisations ‘share responsibility’ for those groups ‘decisions and actions’. But this still wouldn’t justify displays of crudely anti-Muslim slogans and imagery  – which have a potential impact on all Muslims – or, of course, violence.

Then Beller seems to argue that today’s antisemitic protests have a ‘root cause’, distinguishing them from old school antisemitic displays.   But, to labour the point, something similar could be said of the EDL.  Beller dismisses antisemitic tropes with a casualness which would normally be seen as unthinkable with regard to any other kind of bigotry.

Let us call these protests ‘anti-Israeli’, ‘anti-Zionist’, or even, at a stretch, ‘anti-Jewish’, but I do not think they have the same causation as historic antisemitism, and it is misleading to continue dragging this term in here.

Even when historical antisemitic tropes are used by Arab and Muslim opponents of Israel and the supporters of its policies, the core reason for them doing this (to bolster their arguments) appears to me to be Israel and its anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, policies. If there is a rise in anti-Jewish hostility, and anti-Jewish attacks, in modern-day Europe, the main provoker of this hostility is what Israel does, either in expanding settlements, bombarding Palestinian civilians, or making deliberately excessive demands on a relatively moderate Fatah Palestinian leadership in peace talks.

Whatever one’s views are of settlements, or Israel’s conduct in the peace talks, these issues simply cannot justify the kind of naked racism on display in many European countries. It’s outrageous that Israel’s policies are used here as a way of excusing a discourse which certainly does not discriminate between Jewish supporters and opponents of Israel’s recent actions.

Beller concludes by removing agency from those guilty of racism and violence, shifting the blame onto Israel instead:

If Israel continues its attitude of defiance of international legal norms and of the wishes of the international community as regards settlements, then this is almost inviting a real resurgence of a form of historical antisemitism[.]

I am at a loss to imagine under what circumstances any other manifestation of racism would be contemplated with such sanguine unconcern.