Guest Notes

Jewish notes

11 April 2020

9:00 AM

11 April 2020

9:00 AM

Is opposition to Israel anti-Semitic?

What is anti-Semitism, and who deserves the label anti-Semite? These are questions that arose from a recently settled defamation lawsuit launched by a former Labor MP against Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper.

By way of finding answers, let’s begin where there’s broad consensus. It is generally agreed that anti-Semitism is the world’s most enduring ethno-religious bigotry having taken a variety of forms over many centuries. The word itself – ‘anti-Semitismuß’ (anti-Semitism) – was coined in 1879 by German pamphleteer Wilhelm Marr who felt that the term then in common use – Judenhaß (Jew-hatred) – failed to convey sufficient anti-Jewish hostility.

From the early Christian era until the 19th century, anti-Semitism was primarily religious in nature. Christian religious authorities – Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant – preached that the Jews forfeited their ‘chosen’ status by rejecting Jesus and that anti-Jewish persecution was divinely ordained as a consequence. This is known by scholars of religion as the ‘Doctrine of Supersession.’

As the West became more secular, anti-Semitism morphed from a religious form of bigotry to a pseudo-scientific one. The theories of Charles Darwin were warped into doctrines that taught how uniquely noxious racial traits justified hatred towards the Jews. This ‘racial’ form of anti-Semitism culminated with the Holocaust and the murder of six million innocents.

But as the second world war faded in memory, a new form of anti-Semitism emerged that repackaged this ancient bigotry as hostility towards Jewish national self-determination and its tangible embodiment, the State of Israel. And this is where the consensus ends.

Leftist critics of Israel argue that their animus toward the Jewish state is untainted by ethnic bigotry. In a recent newspaper opinion piece, the former Labor MP declared: ‘to say Israel is an apartheid state is not anti-Semitic; it is a simple statement of fact.’

But the misapplication to Israel of this politically-radioactive Afrikaans word is both factually absurd and polemically invidious. The presence of fifteen Arab Knesset members from communist and pan-Arab nationalist parties is just one example that demonstrates the noxious imbecility of the apartheid smear.


Yet employment of this term leads to a corollary question that the former Labor MP very conveniently ducks. Unless her opposition to apartheid is less than absolute, simple logic mandates that she must also be opposed to the very existence of Israel as the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people.

Simply put, you can’t be an enemy of the Jewish state without, by definition, also being an enemy of the Jewish people. And this returns us to the question of anti-Semitism.

It’s quite bizarre to see Israel’s detractors assailing Jewish national self-determination while simultaneously advocating that self-same cause for Palestinians. No less curious is the fact that, of the 190-plus nations in existence today, it’s the world’s single Jewish one that has its legitimacy subject to constant challenge.

Some of Zionism’s more sophisticated foes cloak their existential animus behind a veneer of faux-moderation by calling for a peace plan that includes the relocation of seven million Palestinian Arabs to Israel’s heartland. On several occasions, the former Labor MP herself expressed support in the Australian parliament for this ‘right of return’.

But the past quarter-century should have taught us that a well-established culture of political pluralism is a necessary precondition for peaceful multi-ethnic coexistence. From Sarajevo in the 1990s to present-day Syria, Yemen and Libya, we’ve witnessed the bloody descent into barbarism of culturally-diverse societies lacking strong democratic traditions.

The Arab world, in particular, has long been plagued by a pernicious political culture that cultivates despotism and crushes democracy. Fifteen years ago, the UN Development Program reported: ‘in most Arab States, reformers and human-rights advocates have become open targets of official repression’.

And since that time, the situation in the Islamic Middle East has only worsened. Dreams of liberty that emerged during the Arab Spring of 2011 now lie ground into dust by the treads of army tanks and the heels of jihadi boots.

From Tripoli to Teheran, the Islamic Middle East is awash in a savage sea of political repression and civil war. And there’s no reason to believe that an Arab-majority state created by a mass influx of Palestinians into Israel would fare any better.

An Arab-dominated Israel-Palestine would most certainly degenerate into another failed Levantine satrapy where Islamic radicals battle secular autocrats for absolute power. The murderous brutality with which Hamas suppresses political dissent in Gaza would be a mere prologue for the bloodiness to come.

It’s not only individual civil rights that would suffer. The ex-State of Israel’s Jews – now reduced to minority status – would be subject to persecution, expulsion or worse. A likely indication of their fate can be gleaned from the ethnic massacres inflicted by jihadis upon the Kurds, Yazidis and Christians of Iraq and Syria over the past decade.

Is the former Labor MP, in my opinion, an anti-Semite? Lacking an Elizabethan window into her soul, I cannot with any certainty render an informed opinion.

But I do declare with considerable confidence that the policies she advocates, if ever implemented, would wreak genocidal havoc upon the Jewish people.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Ted Lapkin is the Executive Director of the Australian Jewish Association.

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