In recent days the US polemicist Norman Finkelstein has injected a crude claim into the debate about antisemitism in the UK Labour Party: ‘the brouhaha is a calculated hoax — dare it be said, plot?’ This kind of denialism and victim-blaming is, of course, itself an example of contemporary antisemitism, and if the UK Labour Party listens to the counsel of Norman Finkelstein about antisemitism in its ranks then it really will have lost its way, and perhaps for good. In response, Fathom is making available an extract from ‘Denial: Norman Finkelstein and the New Antisemitism’ a chapter by our editor Alan Johnson in Unity and Disunity in Contemporary Antisemitism, edited by Jonathan Campbell and Lesley Klaff (forthcoming, Academic Studies Press, Boston, 2018). The editors wish to express their thanks to Academic Studies Press for permission to publish the extract. We encourage our readers to buy the book. The other contributors are David Hirsh, the late Robert Fine, Kenneth Marcus, Dave Rich, David Seymour, Bernard Harrison, Matthias Kuentzel, Rusi Jaspal, Amy Elman, and Lesley Klaff.
The concept of a ‘new antisemitism’ directs our attention to some of the ways in which some people talk about Israel, Israelis and ‘Zionism’, suggesting that these ways have left the terrain of ‘criticism of Israeli policy’ and become something much darker. The concept is concerned to distinguish between legitimate criticism of that policy (most obviously, of the occupation of the territories, the settlement project, the treatment of minorities in Israel, and the degree of force Israel uses to restore deterrence against Hamas) and an essentialising, demonising and dehumanising discourse which bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism (and most Jews) out of shape until they are fit receptacles for the tropes, images and ideas of classical antisemitism.
The concept alerts us to antisemitism’s tendency to shape-shift through history. And to the possibility that since the creation of a Jewish state, in some quarters, what the demonized and essentialised ‘Jew’ once was, demonised and essentialised Israel now is: malevolent in its very nature, all-controlling, full of blood lust, and the obstacle to a better, purer, and more spiritual world.
The new antisemitism, which might also be called antisemitic anti-Zionism, has three components: a political programme to abolish the Jewish homeland, a discourse to demonise it, and a movement to make it a global pariah state. The old antisemitism – which has not gone away, but co-mingles with the new form – believed ‘the Jew is our Misfortune’. The new antisemitism proclaims ‘the Zionist is our misfortune’. The old antisemitism wanted to make the world ‘Judenrein’, free of Jews. The new antisemitism wants to make the world ‘Judenstaatrein’, free of the Jewish state which all but a sliver of world Jewry either lives in or treats as a vitally important part of their identity.
We have no right to be disbelieving of this development. After all, antisemitism has never really been about the Jews, but about the need of some non-Jews to scapegoat Jews. As those needs have changed throughout history, the physiognomy of antisemitism has also changed.
For Finkelstein, however, the concept of a new antisemitism is nothing but a ‘variant’ of the ‘Holocaust card.’ Playing the card has been simple enough for the Zionists: ‘A central thesis of my book Beyond Chutzpah is that whenever Israel faces a public relations debacle its apologists sound the alarm that a “new anti-Semitism” is upon us.’ His argument proceeded as a triple unmasking: of the agencies that promote the fraud of the new antisemitism, of the motivations of the fraudsters, and of the components that make up the fraud. This extract from the chapter will now examine Finkelstein’s claims about all three.
Finkelstein asks who has ‘foisted the new antisemitism on the international agenda’? His answer: not ‘honest and decent people’ with ‘ordinary moral values’ but Israel’s apologists. (These two categories pretty much exhaust the cast of characters in Finkelstein’s books.) He indicts Jewish ‘impresarios’ such as former ADL director Abraham Foxman and Jewish ‘ancient divas’ like the novelist Cynthia Ozick for creating ‘the new antisemitism scam’ with the backing of ‘well-heeled “pro” Israel organisations and foundations’ – the ‘de facto agents of a foreign government’ – supported by ‘the Bush administration and Israel.’
And everybody is in on the scam! From the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to the left-wing veteran Todd Gitlin; from the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel to the National Executive Committee of the UK Labour Party; from successive US Administrations to those US University Presidents that are strapped for cash; from ‘entrepreneurial black professors’ like Henry Louis Gates Jr. to theGuardian’s Jonathan Freedland, ‘a hack who regularly plays the antisemitism card’; from all the ‘organisations directly or indirectly linked to Israel or having a material stake in inflating the findings of antisemitism’ to a ‘stupid Goys’ such as, according to Finkelstein, the present author.
And why have Israel’s apologists invented the new antisemitism? READ MORE.