Charges of Anti-Semitism & the Silencing of Dissent in Europe

When the Jewish “community” speaks with one voice because its other voices have been eliminated, you will not know it, writes Jonathan Cook. There will be no record of what was lost.

By Jonathan Cook

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has run a fascinating long report this week offering a disturbing snapshot of the political climate rapidly emerging across Europe on the issue of anti-Semitism. The article documents a kind of cultural, political and intellectual reign of terror in Germany since the parliament passed a resolution last year equating support for non-violent boycotts of Israel — in solidarity with Palestinians oppressed by Israel – with anti-Semitism.

The article concerns Germany but anyone reading it will see very strong parallels with what is happening in other European countries, especially the U.K. and France.

The same European leaders who a few years ago marched in Paris shouting “Je suis Charlie” — upholding the inalienable free speech rights of white Europeans to offend Muslims by insulting and ridiculing their Prophet — are now queuing up to outlaw free speech when it is directed against Israel, a state that refuses to end its belligerent occupation of Palestinian land. European leaders have repeatedly shown they are all too ready to crush the free speech of Palestinians, and those in solidarity with them, to avoid offending sections of the Jewish community.

The situation reduces to this: European Muslims have no right to take offence at insults about a religion they identify with, but European Jews have every right to take offence at criticism of an aggressive Middle Eastern state they identify with. Seen another way, the perverse secular priorities of European mainstream culture now place the sanctity of a militarized state, Israel, above the sanctity of a religion with a billion followers.

Guilt by Association

This isn’t even a double standard. I can’t find a word in the dictionary that conveys the scale and degree of hypocrisy and bad faith involved.

If the American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein wrote a follow-up to his impassioned book The Holocaust Industry — on the cynical use of the Holocaust to enrich and empower a Jewish organizational establishment at the expense of the Holocaust’s actual survivors — he might be tempted to title it The Anti-Semitism Industry.

In the current climate in Europe, one that rejects any critical thinking in relation to broad areas of public life, that observation alone would enough to have one denounced as an anti-Semite. Which is why the Haaretz article — far braver than anything you will read in a U.K. or U.S. newspaper — makes no bones about what is happening in Germany. It calls it a “witch-hunt.” That is Haaretz’s way of saying that anti-Semitism has been politicized and weaponized — a self-evident conclusion that will currently get you expelled from the British Labour Party, even if you are Jewish.

The Haaretz story highlights two important developments in the way anti-Semitism has been, in the words of intellectuals and cultural leaders cited by the newspaper, “instrumentalised” in Germany.

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Jewish organizations and their allies in Germany, as Haaretz reports, are openly weaponizing anti-Semitism  not only to damage the reputation of Israel’s harsher critics, but also to force out of the public and cultural domain — through a kind of “anti-Semitism  guilt by association” — anyone who dares to entertain criticism of Israel.

Cultural associations, festivals, universities, Jewish research centers, political think-tanks, museums and libraries are being forced to scrutinize the past of those they wish to invite in case some minor transgression against Israel can be exploited by local Jewish organizations. That has created a toxic, politically paranoid atmosphere that inevitably kills trust and creativity.

But the psychosis runs deeper still. Israel, and anything related to it, has become such a combustible subject – one that can ruin careers in an instant – that most political, academic and cultural figures in Germany now choose to avoid it entirely. Israel, as its supporters intended, is rapidly becoming untouchable.

A case study noted by Haaretz is Peter Schäfer, a respected professor of ancient Judaism and Christianity studies who was forced to resign as director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum last year. Schäfer’s crime, in the eyes of Germany’s Jewish establishment, was that he staged an exhibition on Jerusalem that recognized the city’s three religious traditions, including a Muslim one.

He was immediately accused of promoting “historical distortions” and denounced as “anti-Israel.” A reporter for Israel’s rightwing Jerusalem Post, which has been actively colluding with the Israeli government to smear critics of Israel, contacted Schäfer with a series of inciteful emails. The questions included “Did you learn the wrong lesson from the Holocaust?” and “Israeli experts told me you disseminate anti-Semitism  – is that true?”

Schäfer observes:

“The accusation of anti-Semitism  is a club that allows one to deal a death blow, and political elements who have an interest in this are using it, without a doubt… The museum staff gradually entered a state of panic. Then of course we also started to do background checks. Increasingly it poisoned the atmosphere and our work.:

Another prominent victim of these Jewish organisations tells Haaretz:

“Sometimes one thinks, ‘To go to that conference?,’ ‘To invite this colleague?’ Afterward it means that for three weeks, I’ll have to cope with a shitstorm, whereas I need the time for other things that I get paid for as a lecturer. There is a type of ‘anticipatory obedience’ or ‘prior self-censorship.’ “

Ringing off the Hook

There is nothing unusual about what is happening in Germany. Jewish organizations are stirring up these “shitstorms” – designed to paralyze political and cultural life for anyone who engages in even the mildest criticism of Israel – at the highest levels of government. Don’t believe me? Here is Barack Obama explaining in his recent autobiography his efforts as U.S. president to curb Israel’s expansion of its illegal settlements. Early on, he was warned to back off or face the wrath of the Israel lobby:

“Members of both parties worried about crossing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Those who criticized Israeli policy too loudly risked being tagged as “anti-Israel” (and possibly anti-Semitic) and confronted with a well-funded opponent in the next election.”

When Obama went ahead anyway in 2009 and proposed a modest freeze on Israel’s illegal settlements:

“The White House phones started ringing off the hook, as members of my national security team fielded calls from reporters, leaders of American Jewish organizations, prominent supporters, and members of Congress, all wondering why we were picking on Israel … this sort of pressure continued for much of 2009.”

He observes further:

“The noise orchestrated by Netanyahu had the intended effect of gobbling up our time, putting us on the defensive, and reminding me that normal policy differences with an Israeli prime minister – even one who presided over a fragile coalition government – exacted a political cost that didn’t exist when I dealt with the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, or any of our other closest allies.”

Doubtless, Obama dare not put down in writing his full thoughts about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the U.S. lobbyists who worked on his behalf. But Obama’s remarks do show that, even a U.S. president, supposedly the single most powerful person on the planet, ended up blanching in the face of this kind of relentless assault. For lesser mortals, the price is likely to be far graver.

No Free Speech on Israel

It was this same mobilization of Jewish organizational pressure – orchestrated, as Obama notes, by Israel and its partisans in the U.S. and Europe – that ended up dominating Jeremy Corbyn’s five years as the leader of Britain’s leftwing Labour Party, recasting a well-known anti-racism activist almost overnight as an anti-Semite.

It is the reason why his successor, Sir Keir Starmer, has outsourced part of Labour’s organisational oversight on Jewish and Israel-related matters to the very conservative Board of Deputies of British Jews, as given expression in Starmer’s signing up to the Board’s “10 Pledges.”

It is part of the reason why Starmer recently suspended Corbyn from the party, and then defied the membership’s demands that he be properly reinstated, after Corbyn expressed concerns about the way anti-Semitism  allegations had been “overstated for political reasons” to damage him and Labour. (The rightwing Starmer, it should be noted, was also happy to use anti-Semitism as a pretext to eradicate the socialist agenda Corbyn had tried to revive in Labour.) It is why Starmer has imposed a blanket ban on constituency parties discussing Corbyn’s suspension. And it is why Labour’s shadow education secretary has joined the ruling Conservative party in threatening to strip universities of their funding if they allow free speech about Israel on campus.

Jewish Dissidents

But the Haaretz article raises another issue critical to understanding how Israel and the Jewish establishment in Europe are politicizing anti-Semitism to protect Israel from criticism. The potential Achilles’ heel of their campaign are Jewish dissidents, those who break with the supposed “Jewish community” line and create a space for others — whether Palestinians or other non-Jews — to criticize Israel. These Jewish dissenters risk serving as a reminder that trenchant criticism of Israel should not result in one being tarred an anti-Semite.

Israel and Jewish organizations, however, have made it their task to erode that idea by promoting a distinction — an anti-Semitic one, at that — between two types of Jews: good Jews (loyal to Israel), and bad Jews (disloyal to Israel).

Haaretz reports that officials in Germany, such as Felix Klein, the country’s anti-Semitism  commissioner, and Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, are being allowed to define not only who is an anti-Semite, typically using support for Israel as the yardstick, but are also determining who are good Jews — those politically like them — and who are bad Jews — those who disagree with them.

Despite Germany’s horrific recent history of Jew hatred, the German government, local authorities, the media, universities and cultural institutions have been encouraged by figures like Klein and Schuster to hound German Jews, even Israeli Jews living and working in Germany, from the country’s public and cultural space.

When, for example, a group of Israeli Jewish academics in Berlin held a series of online discussions about Zionism last year on the website of their art school, an Israeli reporter soon broke the story of a “scandal” involving boycott supporters receiving funding from the German government. 

Hours later the art school had pulled down the site, while the German education ministry issued a statement clarifying that it had provided no funding. The Israeli embassy officially declared the discussions held by these Israelis as “antisemitic,” and a German foundation that documents anti-Semitism  added the group to the list of antisemitic incidents it records.

Described as ‘Kapos’

So repressive has the cultural and political atmosphere grown in Germany that there has been a small backlash among cultural leaders. Some have dared to publish a letter protesting against the role of Klein, the anti-Semitism commissioner. Haaretz reports:

The anti-Semitism czar, the letter charged, is working “in synergy with the Israeli government” in an effort “to discredit and silence opponents of Israel’s policies” and is abetting the “instrumentalization” that undermines the true struggle against anti-Semitism .

Figures like Klein have been so focused on tackling criticism of Israel from the left, including the Jewish left, that they have barely noted the “acute danger Jews in Germany face due to the surge in far-right anti-Semitism,” the letter argues.

Again, the same picture can be seen across Europe. In the U.K., the opposition Labour Party, which should be a safe space for those leading the anti-racism struggle, is purging itself of Jews critical of Israel and using anti-Semitism smears against prominent anti-racists, especially from other oppressed minorities.

Extraordinarily, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, one of the founders of Jewish Voice for Labour, which supports Corbyn, recently found herself suspended by Starmer’s Labour. She had just appeared in a moving video in which she explained the ways anti-Semitism was being used by Jewish organizations to smear Jewish left-wingers like herself as “traitors” and “kapos” – an incendiary term of abuse, as Wimborne-Idrissi points out, that refers to “a Jewish inmate of a concentration camp who collaborated with the [Nazi] authorities, people who collaborated in the annihilation of their own people.”

In suspending her, Starmer effectively endorsed this campaign by the U.K.’s Jewish establishment of incitement against, and vilification of, leftwing Jews.

Earlier, Marc Wadsworth, a distinguished black anti-racism campaigner, found himself similarly suspended by Labour when he exposed the efforts of Ruth Smeeth, then a Labour MP and a former Jewish official in the Israel lobby group BICOM, to recruit the media to her campaign smearing political opponents on the left as anti-Semites.

In keeping with the rapid erosion of critical thinking in civil society organisations designed to uphold basic freedoms, Smeeth was recently appointed director of the prestigious free speech organization Index on Censorship. There she can now work on suppressing criticism of Israel – and attack “bad Jews” — under cover of fighting censorship. In the new, inverted reality, censorship refers not to the smearing and silencing of a “bad Jew” like Wimborne-Idrissi, but to criticism of Israel over its human rights abuses, which supposedly “censors” the identification of “good Jews” with Israel — now often seen as the crime of “causing offence.”

Boy Who Cried Wolf

The Haaretz article helps to contextualize Europe’s current anti-Semitism “witch-hunt,” which targets anyone who criticizes Israel or stands in solidarity with oppressed Palestinians, or associates with such people. It is an expansion of the earlier campaign by the Jewish establishment against “the wrong kind of Jew,” as identified by Finkelstein in The Holocaust Industry. But this time Jewish organizations are playing a much higher-stakes, and more dangerous, political game.

Haaretz rightly fears that the Jewish leadership in Europe is not only silencing ordinary Jews but degrading the meaning — the shock value — of anti-Semitism through the very act of politicizing it. Jewish organizations risk alienating the European left, which has historically stood with them against Jew hatred from the right. European anti-racists suddenly find themselves equated with, and smeared as, fledgling neo-Nazis.

If those who support human rights and demand an end to the oppression of Palestinians find themselves labelled anti-Semitic, it will become ever harder to distinguish between bogus (weaponized) “anti-Semitism ” on the left and real Jew hatred from the right. The anti-Semitism smearers — and their fellow travelers like Keir Starmer — are likely to end up suffering their very own “boy who cried wolf” syndrome.

Or as Haaretz notes:

“The issue that is bothering the critics of the Bundestag [German parliament] resolution is whether the extension of the concept of anti-Semitism  to encompass criticism of Israel is not actually adversely affecting the battle against anti-Semitism . The argument is that the ease with which the accusation is leveled could have the effect of eroding the concept itself.”

The Anti-Semitism Industry

It is worth noting the shared features of the new Anti-Semitism Industry and Finkelstein’s earlier discussions of the Holocaust Industry.

In his book, Finkelstein identifies the “wrong Jews” as people like his mother, who survived a Nazi death camp as the rest of her family perished. These surviving Jews, Finkelstein argues, were valued by the Holocaust Industry only in so far as they served as a promotional tool for the Jewish establishment to accumulate more wealth and cultural and political status. Otherwise, the victims were ignored because the actual Holocaust’s message — in contrast to the Jewish leadership’s representation of it — was universal: that we must oppose and fight all forms of racism because they lead to persecution and genocide.

Instead the Holocaust Industry promoted a particularist, self-interested lesson that the Holocaust proves Jews are uniquely oppressed and that they therefore deserve a unique solution: a state, Israel, that must be given unique leeway by Western states to commit crimes in violation of international law. The Holocaust Industry – very much to be distinguished from the real events of the Holocaust – is deeply entwined in, and rationalized by, the perpetuation of the racialist, colonial project of Israel.

In the case of the Anti-Semitism Industry, the “wrong Jew” surfaces again. This time the witch-hunt targets Jewish leftwingers, Jews critical of Israel, Jews opposed to the occupation, and Jews who support a boycott of the illegal settlements or of Israel itself. Again, the problem with these “bad Jews” is that they allude to a universal lesson, one that says Palestinians have at least as much right to self-determination, to dignity and security, in their historic homeland as Jewish immigrants who fled European persecution.

In contrast to the “bad Jews,” the Anti-Semitism Industry demands that a particularist conclusion be drawn about Israel — just as a particularist conclusion was earlier drawn by the Holocaust Industry. It says that to deny Jews a state is to leave them defenceless against the eternal virus of anti-Semitism. In this conception, the Holocaust may be uniquely abhorrent but it is far from unique. Non-Jews, given the right circumstances, are only too capable of carrying out another Holocaust. Jews must therefore always be protected, always on guard, always have their weapons (or in Israel’s case, its nuclear bombs) to hand.

‘Get Out of Jail’ Card

This view, of course, seeks to ignore, or marginalize, other victims of the Holocaust — Romanies, communists, gays — and other kinds of racism. It needs to create a hierarchy of racisms, a competition between them, in which hatred of Jews is at the pinnacle. This is how we arrived at an absurdity: that anti-Zionism — misrepresented as the rejection of a refuge for Jews, rather than the reality that it rejects an ethnic, colonial state oppressing Palestinians — is the same as anti-Semitism .

Extraordinarily, as the Haaretz article clarifies, German officials are oppressing “bad Jews,” at the instigation of Jewish organizations, to prevent, as they see it, the re-emergence of the far-right and neo-Nazis. The criticisms of Israel made by the “bad Jew” are thereby not just dismissed as ideologically unsound or delusions but become proof that these Jews are colluding with, or at least nourishing, the Jew haters.

In this way, Germany, the U.K. and much of Europe have come to justify the exclusion of the “wrong Jew” — those who uphold universal principles for the benefit of all — from the public space. Which, of course, is exactly what Israel wants, because, rooted as it is in an ideology of ethnic exclusivity as a “Jewish state,” it necessarily rejects universal ethics.

What we see here is an illustration of a principle at the heart of Israel’s state ideology of Zionism: Israel needs anti-Semitism. Israel would quite literally have to invent anti-Semitism  if it did not exist.

This is not hyperbole. The idea that the “virus of anti-Semitism” lies semi-dormant in every non-Jew waiting for a chance to overwhelm its host is the essential rationale for Israel. If the Holocaust was an exceptional historical event, if anti-Semitism was an ancient racism that in its modern incarnation followed the patterns of prejudice and hatred familiar in all racisms, from anti-black bigotry to Islamophobia, Israel would be not only redundant but an abomination — because it has been set up to dispossess and abuse another group, the Palestinians.

Anti-Semitism is Israel’s “get out of jail” card. Anti-Semitism serves to absolve Israel of the racism it structurally embodies and that would be impossible to overlook were Israel deprived of the misdirection weaponised anti-Semitism provides.

An Empty Space

The Haaretz article provides a genuine service by not only reminding us that “bad Jews” exist but by coming to their defence – something that European media is no longer willing to do. To defend “bad Jews” like Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi is to be contaminated with the same taint of anti-Semitism that justified the ejection of these Jews from the public space.

Haaretz records the effort of a few brave cultural institutions in Germany to protest, to hold the line, against this new McCarthyism. Their stand may fail. If it does, you may never become aware of it.

Once, the “bad Jews” have been smeared into silence, as Palestinians and those who stand in solidarity with them largely have been already; when social media has de-platformed critics of Israel as Jew haters; when the media and political parties enforce this silence so absolutely they no longer need to smear anyone as an anti-Semite because these “anti-Semites” have been disappeared; when the Jewish “community” speaks with one voice because its other voices have been eliminated; when the censorship is complete, you will not know it.

There will be no record of what was lost. There will be simply an empty space, a blank slate, where discussions of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians once existed. What you will hear instead is only what Israel and its partisans want you to hear. Your ignorance will be blissfully complete.

Jonathan Cook is a former Guardian journalist (1994-2001) and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. He is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support.

This article is from his blog Jonathan 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


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12 comments for “Charges of Anti-Semitism & the Silencing of Dissent in Europe

  1. Dave
    December 17, 2020 at 16:07

    I wonder how long it will be before “pro-semitic” and Zionist / Israel apologists and advocacy groups attempt to obtain a trademark or copyright on the term “anti-semitic”. If I recall correctly, the term “semite” as defined in Anthropology 101 referred to middle-eastern ethnic tribal groups loosely connected by a linguistic affinity and that have existed for many centuries. It had zero to do with anti-Jewish attitudes.

    Kudos to CN and Jonathan Cook for bringing a degree of common sense to the subject.

  2. rick
    December 17, 2020 at 06:56

    Of equal concern is the unequal targeting of the left as anti-Semitic compared to the right in the UK suggesting that the anti-Semitic smear campaign has been initiated for two reasons firstly to eliminate criticism of Israel and secondly to rebrand anti-Semitism in the public’s perception as a badge of the left in a revision of history intended to legitimise the growth and utility of extreme Nationalism in UK politics by the ruling elite.

  3. Carolyn L Zaremba
    December 16, 2020 at 15:41

    Excellent article. Thank you. I concur with the previous commenters.

  4. John Earls
    December 16, 2020 at 14:49

    Suppose Haaretz itself will soon be declared Anti-Semetic after publishing that article… ;-)

  5. Daniel
    December 16, 2020 at 11:56

    This is all so completely ridiculous and transparent, not to mention damaging, which is exactly the point of the exercise. Still, it is shocking the degree to which people live in fear of this crap and are roped into completely surrendering their critical thinking skills in service to what is so obviously a global smear campaign, all to cover for the-country-who-shall-not-be-named (tcwsnbn)’s crimes against humanity. Up is down. Black is white. And tcwsnbn has now turned into their historical oppressors. Great world they’re making for us, ain’t it?

    Criticizing government actions is not inherently (or, in this case, especially) racist, no matter how much tcwsnbn wants to conflate the two in people’s minds. This is not hard to understand or defend, and Corbyn made a grave mistake kowtowing to this narrative. Glad to see some push back against it.

    • Moi
      December 16, 2020 at 21:38

      Daniel, up is down and black is indeed white. Example: despite hundreds of acts of war by Israel against Iran, the MSM have brainwashed the public into believing that Iran is somehow the aggressor.

  6. December 16, 2020 at 10:53

    The emptiness of the argument about criticism of Israel being a form of anti-Semitism becomes blindingly clear with a comparison from history.

    The Soviet Union was a state a great many people criticized, people of many political beliefs. And that was despite the USSR’s having some worthy declared goals and ideals in its constitution.

    Yet, the claim was never made that such criticism of the USSR was hatred of the Russian people.

    I certainly criticized the Soviet Union, yet I have always felt affection for Russian culture – its literature, its music, its food, its architecture, its vibrant history, its science, and, although I speak no Russian, even the sound of its language.

    Just so, Israel.

    Like the old USSR, Israel is a state bristling with heavy arms and secret police and intelligence services, even nuclear weapons. Its behavior for over seventy years towards millions of Palestinians closely parallels that of the Soviet Union towards dissidents and critics and some minorities – the people Stalin called “wreckers.” It is oppressive, arbitrary, and often extremely violent.

    If you cannot criticize a state for injustice and violence without being accused of hate and prejudice, absolutely all our Western ideals – from the Enlightenment to the great struggles for freedom and fair treatment – are removed from our political culture.

    I regard that as a sick prospect, one that in the long term actually supports all the hateful and murderous interests of the earth.

    I think eventually this method of attacking legitimate critics will wither and die off. It has no substance, its results are poisonous, and it very much resembles the tale of the Shepard boy who kept crying, “Wolf!”.

    A society defended in this fashion is not worthy of defense.

    • December 16, 2020 at 19:08

      Excellent Point. Somewhat off the point – now at 70 remembering as a child how I was so thankful not to be living in Russia, and happy that they at least had the Voice of America so that they could know the truth. Today the shoe is on the other foot – now I’m thankful that we have RT and Sputnik for more truthful coverage of world events than anything in our corporate propaganda machine. Thankful for CN as well.

    • PEG
      December 17, 2020 at 03:39

      Although I agree with your sentiments, the analogy to the old USSR isn’t apt. Despite the oppressiveness of the regime and Stalin’s wartime application of “collective guilt” and deportation to ethnic groups such as the Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars and Kalmyks (which measures were later reversed under subsequent leadership), the USSR was a multiethnic state that generally respected minorities. Sad to say, the more apt analogy to present-day Israel is the USSR’s former totalitarian neighbor to the West and its occupation of Poland during World War II, including displacement and degradation of the native population and introduction of settlers from the “preferred” ethnic group. Here, I must think of my late father, who having escaped from Nazi Germany at the last moment with his life, considered the Israeli state as having policies close to those of European fascism – which regrettably he had personally experienced.

  7. Boba
    December 16, 2020 at 10:02

    Brilliant article ! So truthful, so courageous, so needed. Bravo Jonathan! Bravo!

  8. PEG
    December 16, 2020 at 08:03

    Great article.

    It’s really disgusting how the slur of “antisemitism” is being used as a cudgel to silence and intimidate critics of Israel’s expansionism, militarism and harsh treatment of the Palestinians – such critics being the least “antisemitic” people of all, as they are fighting for the ethical principles underlying the Jewish religion and for human rights of the Palestinians, who have an equal right (at least) to be called “Semites”.

    The hypocrisy and cowardice of the political class and intelligentsia are breathtaking – with the noble exception of such heroic truthtellers as Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Max Blumenthal and Jonathan Cook.

  9. James Whitney
    December 16, 2020 at 08:00

    Here in France advocating a non-violent boycott of Israel is illegal since November 2015, reference

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