The Danger of Resurgent Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism ranks as one of the vilest of bigotries, especially considering the West’s disgraceful history of persecuting and killing Jews. Any resurgence deserves full-throated condemnation. But the current danger is that Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians is fueling an ugly comeback, warns Alon Ben-Meir.

By Alon Ben-Meir

Horrific outbursts against the Jews are on the rise all over Europe exclamations like “gas the Jews” and “Jews burn best” are being heard at soccer games and similar social gatherings. While there is nothing to excuse or justify such hateful speech, some effort still needs to be made to understand why this is taking place now, and to such a degree that has not been seen for decades.

That means coming to grips with the ways in which Israeli leaders have directly, and Jews in general inadvertently, contributed to this alarming development.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a security meeting with senior Israeli Defense Forces commanders near Gaza on July 21, 2014. (Israel government photo)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a security meeting with senior Israeli Defense Forces commanders near Gaza on July 21, 2014. (Israel government photo)

Although the term anti-Semitism did not become commonly used until the end of the 19th century when Germany popularized it as a scientific-sounding name for Judenhass (Jew-hatred) in a sense, Jews have been experiencing it at least as early as the 3rd century BC. The current rise of anti-Semitism across much of Western Europe, and to a lesser extent in the Americas, cannot be explained, however, by merely referencing its historical persistence.

It is tempting to revert to ready and familiar explanations for anti-Semitism. One such hypothesis which astonishingly is still entertained is the “scapegoat theory,” according to which the Jews have always been a convenient group to blame for the intractable social/political conflicts of the time.

In her seminal study The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt points out the obvious problem with this view namely, that it “implies that the scapegoat might have been anyone else as well” and as soon as we begin to “explain why a specific scapegoat was so well suited to his role,” we have to put the theory aside and get “involved in the usual historical research where nothing is ever discovered except that history is made by many groups and that for certain reasons one group was singled out.”

The opposite, but no less popular, theory is the doctrine of “eternal antisemitism,” where “Jew-hatred is a normal and natural reaction to which history gives only more or less opportunity.” That is, the surge of anti-Semitism is not instigated by a special occurrence or event because it is a natural outcome of an undying phenomenon.

What is surprising is that even Jews themselves share this notion; just as the anti-Semite does not want to take responsibility for his actions, many Jews understandably do not want to consider or “discuss their share of responsibility.”

What has added potency to the substantial rise in anti-Semitism in recent years is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s defiance of international norms of conduct, its leaders’ sense of righteousness and arrogance, and the image they project to the outside world.

The philosopher Slavoj Žižek has observed how, in order to justify its expansionist policies, Israel has been playing a dangerous game with potentially catastrophic consequences. Radical Zionists claim that a multi-culturist Israel cannot survive that apartheid, or something like it, is the only viable alternative essentially acknowledging the argument which was used in earlier European history against the Jews themselves.

It suggests that Israeli extremists on the Right are ready to ignore Western European intolerance towards the influx of other cultures, such as Islam, if their prerogative not to tolerate Palestinians is accepted. We might add that Israeli discrimination is not confined to the Palestinians, but extends even to Middle Eastern and Ethiopian Jews as well.

Žižek is right to point out that Israel is making a tragic miscalculation in deciding “to downplay the so-called ‘old’ (traditional European) anti-Semitismwhen the old anti-Semitism is returning all around Europe.”

It is in this light that we can also understand the strange alliance between the radical Israeli Right and U.S. Christian fundamentalists, who are historically anti-Semitic but passionately support Israel’s expansionistic politics: “Jewish critics of the State of Israel are regularly dismissed as self-hating Jews; however, the true self-hating Jews, those who secretly hate the true greatness of the Jewish nation [are] precisely the Zionists making a pact with [Western conservative] anti-Semites.”

Many Jews still believe that they are the “chosen people,” chosen to be in a covenant with God. But what does “chosenness” signify?

The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas described it most aptly: “The chosenness of the Jewish peopleis always considered as a surplus of responsibility very often it takes on an attitude of excellence, a pretension to aristocracy in the bad sense of the term, the right to privileges. In authentic thinking, however, it means a surplus of obligations.”

This idea that one is chosen places an extraordinary moral responsibility on the individual. Israel failed miserably as it did not attempt to reconcile between its moral obligation toward the Palestinians and the Jews’ presumed sense of “chosenness.”

Israel’s political leadership has managed to feed the flames of anti-Semitism through obnoxious and irresponsible statements, race-baiting, etc. Such leadership provokes more hatred; Israeli leaders continue to use clichés and stale talking points that their enemies reject and their friends no longer respect.

Using national security to justify its racist policies, including the mistreatment of the Palestinians and the expansion of settlements, became the mantra of Israel’s domestic policy and provided anti-Semites with a daily dose of venom against Israel and its people.

One would think that those who suffered persecution as much as the Jews would treat others with care and sensitivity. That the victim can become a victimizer is painful to face, but it is a reality nonetheless. It is as if having suffered so much gives one the license to do things he would not have done otherwise.

I maintain that the continuing occupation remains the single most potent cause behind the rise of anti-Semitism. There is a common failing shared between anti-Semites, Islamic militants, and radical Zionists; namely, an epistemic failure a belief in their own moral infallibility, which leads to arrogance, indifference, complacency, and a sense that one does not need to provide a justification for one’s words and deeds. It also can lead to ruthless acts of violence.

H. L. Mencken wisely stated that “Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them.”

It is unlikely that anti-Semitism will be eradicated someday, as there will always be bigots who derive perverse satisfaction in divesting themselves of moral responsibility, for whom hatred of the Jews has an almost intoxicating, delirious effect. However, the current rise of anti-Semitism can be curbed.

Israeli leaders and the public must return and recommit themselves to the moral principles that gave birth to the state of Israel. They must begin by engaging in an honest public narrative based on the reality of coexistence with the Palestinians in which Israel finds itself, and not a fictional, self-indulgent narrative that distorts the truth about the rights of the Palestinians which even a fool can discern.

Israel’s poor public relations projects the country as conceited, and the old and tired talking points are dismissed as empty, self-convincing gospel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that he represents world Jewry is a false claim and only implicates the Jews as partners to the repugnant occupation and the ill treatment of the Palestinians.

Israel’s provocative actions need to be curtailed first and foremost by ending the expansion of settlements and halting the annexation of yet more land. Israel’s conduct in the territories does nothing but add fuel to the expanding fire of anti-Semitism.

Israel is the only country that has maintained a military occupation for nearly 50 years, in defiance of the international community. The Holocaust, incomparable to any catastrophic event in human history, must not be used to justify oppression of the Palestinians.

The Israelis’ complacency about the occupation damns Jews all over the world and as long as the occupation lingers, anti-Semitism will continue to rise. Israeli leaders and the public in particular must look inward. The Zionist dream of creating a vibrant, just, moral, and caring Jewish state is quickly fading.

Today’s Israel is consumed by corruption at the top; the poor are becoming poorer and the country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a handful of families. Hundreds of millions of dollars are siphoned off to spend on illegal settlements, while impoverished towns with mostly Middle Eastern Jews are left to rot.

The discrimination against Sephardic Jews is still present four generations after the establishment of the State of Israel. The recent violent clashes with Jews of Ethiopian origin only reveal the depth of Israel’s social dislocation.

Israel’s President could not have put it more succinctly and painfully than when he stated that “Protesters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv revealed an open and bloody wound in the heart of Israeli society. This is a wound of a community sounding the alarm at what they feel is discrimination, racism and disregard of their needs. We must take a good hard look at this wound.”

The same can be said about the racist policies directed against Israeli Arabs, whose loyalty to the state is ironically questioned, when in fact the government’s policy of deliberate discrimination only galvanizes anti-Jewish sentiments among Israeli Arabs, who constitute 20 percent of the population. Israel has no friends left and it can no longer rely even on the U.S. to provide it with the political cover it has been accustomed to.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise not only in Europe but in the U.S. as well, which provides the last bastion of public support for Israel. Israel must not conveniently dismiss anti-Semitism simply as an incurable disease when in reality it is practicing “anti-Semitism” against a large segment of its own population.

The responsibility of diminishing anti-Semitism falls squarely on the shoulders of the Israeli political leaders and the public. Israel must embrace the moral values on which it was founded; its future, if not its very survival, may well depend on it.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. [email protected]. Web:

16 comments for “The Danger of Resurgent Anti-Semitism

  1. jacobo
    May 12, 2015 at 08:39

    Israeli leaders couldn’t care less that the Zionist nation’s ill-treatment of Palestinians is what’s stoking antisemitism. Indeed, for them flare-ups of antisemitism represent opportunity for increasing Jewish (preferably Ashkenazi) immigration, possibly postponing thereby, the dreaded but inevitable demographic shift to a population of Israel/Palestine that’s majority Palestinian. That’s why, after the recent shooting of several French Jews by antisemites, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to French Jews to “come home”. Apparently he’s never entertained the possibility that if Israel only respected the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people, antisemitism would be reduced to a size that could be flushed down a toilet.

  2. Mrk
    May 8, 2015 at 18:53

    The problem is this – the same Rothschild Barons (Jacob, David, Evelyn) who own the major corporations and banks, also founded and own Israel. The people of Israel don’t.

    If you don’t believe me, be my guest:

    Now if you try to find anything of that on the web, you have to wade through pages and pages of anti-semitic websites. Which I don’t think is a coincidence. Check out the history pages of the Rothschild family, and you will find the owners of the biggest banks, oil, and mining companies in the world. The kind of companies armies rely on for their raw materials. And in good neo-colonial fashion, the locals don’t get paid for that, which means they have to be suppressed.

    The history pages of corporations are always fascinating:

    Rothschild ventures have become the stuff of legend: the funding of Wellington’s armies, the Gold Rush, the Suez Canal, the arrival of the railways and the quest for oil.

    Seven generations

    As brokers and financiers, as bankers to royal houses and governments, as railway magnates, politicians, personalities, patrons and philantropists, the Rothschilds have never forgotten how to “walk with Kings – nor lost the common touch”.

    The Rothschilds have thus remained united in every endeavour, from the creation of De Beers and the financing of Royal Dutch to the privatisation of the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. Today, the family’s British, French and Swiss institutions and their subsidiaries, especially along the Pacific Rim, have matched their skills to the new requirements of venture capital and financial engineering.

    On the Rothschild’s founding of Israel:

    KNESSET: ” Baron (Edmond James) de Rothschild was a public figure, known as the “Founding Father of the Yishuv” (Settlement) during the time of the First Aliyah.”

    KNESSET: ” Baron de Rothschild demanded to remain anonymous and he was mostly known as “The known benefactor.” “

    It isn’t the Jews, it’s the Rockefellers, the Rothschild Barons, and the monarchs (in that order) they represent, through the corporations that they own – Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum, (Standard Oil:) ExxonMobil and Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, etc. That’s the ‘western system’ and the ‘special relationship’ all in one.

    We need a different system of global relationships. Where people in poor countries get paid the value of their raw materials. Today, that value goes to GlencoreXstrata, Anglo-American De Beers and more.

  3. Cal
    May 8, 2015 at 14:57

    I suggest anyone in or around the Isr-Pal or any thing that touches on Jews familarize themselves with ‘ Pilpul’—what Jewish tribal identity writers like Alon Ben-Meir use in their articles—it will probably save you time — cause you will already know what they are going to say. Its always the same…..we must fight anti semitism cause its the worst thing in the world! —-way worst then Jews killing Palestines every day.

    1)–Pitpul –>…”in a sense, Jews have been experiencing it at least as early as the 3rd century BC. ‘
    (Establishing the ‘truth’ that Jews were always unjustly persecuted and never did anything to provoke legitmate actions against them

    2)–Pitpul–> ..’especially considering the West’s disgraceful history of persecuting and killing Jews. ”
    (Establishing the ‘truth’ that The West–ALL the ‘others’ always persecuted and killed Jews.

    3)—Pitpul–>..” Israel must embrace the moral values on which it was founded; its future, if not its very survival, may well depend on it”.
    (Establishing the ‘truth’ that Israel had ‘moral values’ to begin with—as they killed or ran off 700,000 Palestine and stole their land and homes.)

    One actual truth nugget—>..”What is surprising is that even Jews themselves share this notion; just as the anti-Semite does not want to take responsibility for his actions, many Jews understandably do not want to consider or “discuss their share of responsibility.”

    As some Jewish writer whose name I forget at the moment once wrote….”We (Jews) have never be able to look into the ‘others’ eyes and see when they have had enough of us”.

    So I wont be joining the battle for or against anti semitism –Because—after 2000 years of myths about themselves the general collective isnt going to ever accept responsibility for they have done, past or present, and they will never look into the others eyes and know when its time to give up their own hostility toward all others.

    What Is Pilpul, And Why On Earth Should I Care About It?

    ”What this means for contemporary Jewish discourse is critical: Even though many contemporary Jews are not observant, pilpul continues to be deployed.

    Pilpul occurs any time the speaker is committed to “prove” his point regardless of the evidence in front of him. The casuistic aspect of this hair-splitting leads to a labyrinthine form of argument where the speaker blows enough rhetorical smoke to make his interlocutor submit. Reason is not an issue when pilpul takes over: what counts is the establishment of a fixed, immutable point that can never truly be disputed”

  4. Vesuvius
    May 8, 2015 at 10:33

    Real anti-Semitism is a phenomenon of the past. The arrogance and cruelty, the contempt and hatred executed towards Israel’s neigbors in Palestine, are of course generating protests against Israeli politics, Branding such well-deserved criticism against Israel is false and ridiculous, and should never be accepted.

  5. Zachary Smith
    May 7, 2015 at 23:25


    Jews are just like everybody else. They have sinners and saints. People who are very bright and those who are very stupid. Short/tall. Ugly/pretty. Just like everybody else.

    Unfortunately the entire religion got slandered as “Christ Killers” by early Christians.

    • Zachary Smith
      May 8, 2015 at 01:29

      you need to put down whatever “History” books you’ve been reading and go seek out some real history.

      I have quite a few history books, and undoubtedly my public library can supply many others, either from their stocks or from interlibrary loan. (but I don’t have the neo-nazi stuff and probably the library doesn’t either – nor will I be buying any)

      So give me the titles that’ll demonstrate how Hitler’s Germany had no “banking loans” or “army buildup.”

      How “the whole Bolshevik movement was in fact a Jewish movement, led by Jews”.

      And why the “Christ killer thing” is funny.

  6. Zachary Smith
    May 7, 2015 at 23:21

    How can they be the “scape goat” for so many different types of people?

    I’d imagine that’s because they ran into some version of Christianity at every place where they had trouble.

    As for the rest of your post, there are so many errors of fact that you really ought to seek out a first-class history book at your local library. Better yet, a stack of such books.

  7. Evangelista
    May 7, 2015 at 22:39

    Under current circumstances I don’t think there is any possible chance for ‘diminishing anti-semitism’. It is going to increase, Israel and ICE (the International Commercial Elite) both associate to “semitism’ (as misapplied a term as ‘Catholic’, ‘Capitalist’, ‘Democracy’ and all the rest of the terms adopted for propaganda-abuse) and both are generating hatred, which will inevitably focus to themselves and to ‘Jews’, who are defined to represent the elitist-aristocracy values both advocate in practice, and in assertion. The well-known ‘God’s Chosen’ that is asserted by ‘Jews’ is elitist and aristocratish, and not exclusive to ‘Jews’: All of the medieval European aristocrats, and the aristocracy of the Roman Christian Church defined themselves as elected, chosen or favored by God. Assuming devine preference is universal among elites.

    Two things contribute to Jews’ problems with elitism and the antagonism it engenders amongst the ‘lesser’, which leads to such events as the French Revolution and the Nazi’s activities. The first also contributes to internecine strifes in all Judeo-Christian aggregations, it is the imperial nature of the Judeo deity, who is styled the one and only and ruler of all, emperor of the universe, who brooks no equals and whose viceroys hold his sceptre and brook none either. There is no better way to generate antagonism to ones self and people than to tell others they are dirt and their beliefs and thoughts don’t count. The second contributor is historic, that from Roman times, at least, and continuously through the rennaisance, Jews were ‘used’ for tax-collectors. Not all Jews, imperially, or royally, favored ones were, because they were a separate people and better they should be hated by the people for gouginig them than those employing them. Tax-collecting Jews made matters worse by over-collecting, but they had to, really, because their employers assumed they did and demanded from the ‘overcollected’, even if it did not exist, which the tax-collectors would have to make up.

    It should be noted that the royally favored tax-gathering Jews swung weight, in Rome and in Europe after, and used their ability to direct the state, and the church, to advantage themselves among the Jews, wherefore Jews who were of minority sects, or did not mind their patron-favored masters were subjected to persecutions directed or peremitted by thir fellow ‘semites’ with influence, so the picture is complicated, not simple.

    Today the best any of us can do, but especially non-Jews, is to attempt to control ‘anti-semitic’ sentiments, by differentiating between ‘normal human Jews’ and the elitist, to encourage haters to not put all Jews in the basket ones such as Netenyahu appears to want to bring all into, with apparent intent to control all for fear for their lives against ‘anti-semites’. It is the same that we need to do to combat the other ‘anti-semitism’, against all Moslems, Arabs, etc. The need is to humanize them by educating to individualities amongst the ethnic populations. Vladimir Putin appears to be engaging in this practice, with what appears to be success.

    The competition, opposing the practice will be the Netanyahus, who need innocents to hide amongst, to push forward for assaults, so they may raise the ‘antisemitism!’ cry.

  8. Rick
    May 7, 2015 at 20:31

    I am from Detroit. We had a black mayor who is now behind bars. The man was corrupt, and did nothing for either his people or his community. To criticize him is not being racist. He was a bum. I feel the same way regarding the policies of the Israeli regime. They are simply wrong by any reasonable standard of fairness. That is not anti-Semitism. And to continue to hide behind this claim is helping neither Israel nor the prospects of peace in the Middle East. Good article.

  9. B. Corsica
    May 7, 2015 at 20:03

    Randy, I wish you were alongside the German townspeople burying the remaining corpses from the camps. Maybe you would have believed the Holocaust occurred. Just like Pol Pot. Or the Armenians. Or do you deny they happened too?

    As for the Jews being scapegoats, they were a minority, with strange customs who kept mainly to themselves. This made them “outsiders” and easily identifiable as targets.

    Why did poor whie people look upon blacks as inferior. Because they could, and it made them feel they weren’t at the bottom of the food chain. They were easy to prey on and made easy scapegoats too.

    As for Germany, if it wasn’t for the Marshall Plan, there would have been a repeat of the failure of Versailles.

  10. Zachary Smith
    May 7, 2015 at 17:36

    Using national security to justify its racist policies, including the mistreatment of the Palestinians and the expansion of settlements, became the mantra of Israel’s domestic policy and provided anti-Semites with a daily dose of venom against Israel and its people.

    There are some of us who aren’t yet “anti-semites”. But somehow ordinary folks who simply disapprove of casual murder by God’s Favorite People didn’t register on Dr. Ben-Meir’s radar.

    Israeli leaders and the public must return and recommit themselves to the moral principles that gave birth to the state of Israel.

    I’m sorry, but if the author believes this sentence, he’s either dishonest or an ignoramus. Even before its birth, proto-Israel was assisted by the British in a stealthy takeover of Palestine. Not that this did the Brits any good, for the Zionist Terrorists turned on them as the chance for the first big land grabs neared.

    I’d like to see Dr. Alon Ben-Meir plainly say that Israel must Immediately Exit All Recently Stolen Lands, and pay reparations for their previous thefts.

    Frankly, I don’t expect such a statement.

  11. Fillmore
    May 7, 2015 at 17:12

    Israel arrogance is not the only cause of rising anti semitism. At least as important is the hugely disproportional Jewish representation among economic and political elites in the West. Something like a third of the people on the Forbes 400 listing of the richest Americans are Jews. If economic and financial conditions get really ugly In the West, anti semitism will probably surge much higher than it already is.

    • Brad Owen
      May 8, 2015 at 09:28

      Two questions occur to me, upon seeing “…Forbes 400…”. Who are the other two thirds of these 400, the 267? And is this WIDELY published list just a list of 400 “fall guys”? The list of the REAL rulers of this global Empire is probably a deeply-guarded secret. Probably the greatest “thing” a man or woman of unimaginably GREAT wealth and power can own, is ANONYMITY… and they probably go to great lengths to secure it. Just wondering is all.

  12. Joe
    May 7, 2015 at 17:08

    It is good to see a careful consideration of the causes of such discrimination.

    The label “anti-semitism” is both deceptive and self-defeating: the Semites include Arabs and other non-Jews, and Jews are the only group that demands a special label for discrimination against itself, an arrogant presumption that some special process is involved.

    While unique historical circumstances were involved in early anti-jewish discrimination (their once-abhorred retail trade and usury, their use of tenement names and matronyms as surnames, their status as a religious minority, their sometimes distinct appearance) those no longer apply in developed nations.

    What has worked against Israel is Zionism, the tragedy that discrimination leads to the ascendency of the right wing, which invents and even provokes outside enemies so that its leaders can demand power in their own group and accuse their domestic opponents of disloyalty This the same strategem of tyrants over a democracy described millennia ago by Plato in his Republic. The rise of Naziism was fed by discrimination against innocent Germans after the defeat in WWI. Zionism in turn was much boosted by Nazi discrimination. This is the problem of tyranny everywhere; Jews too must throw off internal tyranny to have good relations with other groups.

    Sadly, the Zionists have severely damaged US democracy by controlling mass media and elections, and there is no reason that this should be tolerated; it has become a disaster for the whole world. This tyranny over the US is so pervasive and serious that the fate of Israel and the Jews has become secondary. It makes one suspect that the same thing happened in prewar Germany, as the Nazis claimed. If so, the author has a point that some arrogant sense of chosenness in Jewish culture is the cause.

  13. hammersmith
    May 7, 2015 at 16:49

    That was then; this is now. And now Zionist, Israel, and their supporters around the world are the epitome of bigotry and oppression.

    • Peter Loeb
      May 9, 2015 at 04:53


      To Hammersmith:

      Absolutely perfectly said.

      I can only ad that while “Anti-Semitism” can be seen as evil if viewed
      in a vacuum—a vacuum that intentionally preserves the then as now–
      anger against one’s brutal oppressor is perfectly justified.

      Being Zionist or Israeli will never provide free reign to the repulsive
      acts of the Israeli government. A review of the history of the
      Zionist project demonstrates that the oppression (and consequent
      anger of the oppressed) was guaranteed from the start.

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