Weaponizing Anti-Semitism Against the World Court

Antony Lerman says Israel’s response to the ICJ ruling continues a decades’ old ploy for neutralizing criticism of, and generating sympathy for, the Jewish state

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in 2018. (Kremlin.ru, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)

By Antony Lerman
Declassified UK

Thousands of Israelis gathered in Jerusalem on Jan. 28 for a far-right conference.

It called for the Jewish resettlement of the Gaza Strip and the transfer of the population living there, described dubiously using the euphemism “a legal way to voluntarily emigrate them.”

Featuring as key speakers were prominent extremist government leaders. This included Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister from the Jewish Power Party, and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich from the Religious Zionist Party.

Their scheme, which members of the far-right Israeli government were floating from the earliest days of the Gaza war, constitutes ethnic cleansing.

Any Palestinians remaining in Gaza would be subjected to the extension into the territory of the state-sanctioned apartheid prevailing in pre-1967 Israel, post-1967 West Bank and the Golan Heights.

This genocidal plan was hailed by Likud’s Tourism Minister Haim Katz as an “opportunity to rebuild and expand the land of Israel.”

‘Anti-Semitic Bias’

This signified a comprehensive rejection of the 26 January decision of the U.N.’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) that “Israel must take action to prevent genocidal violence by its armed forces” and “prevent and punish” the incitement to genocide.
It was also an endorsement of the flood of accusations of anti-Semitic treatment of Israel that the ICJ decision provoked. First out of the blocks were Israeli government representatives. The court displayed “antisemitic bias,” they declared.

Leaders of the J7, the large U.S. Jewish Communities’ Task Force Against Antisemitism, concurred. The ICJ has been “captured by antisemitic propaganda,” wrote Jewish Chronicle editor Jake Wallis Simons in theTelegraph.

Such a deployment of weaponised anti-Semitism to deflect criticism of Israel’s responses to the Hamas Oct. 7 attacks on Jewish settlements and Israeli army units beyond the security fence on the eastern side of the Gaza strip was evident even as news of the atrocities was still emerging.

And reaction to the ICJ decision came as no surprise. After all, this is a gift that keeps on giving — using past experience of anti-Jewish persecution to neutralise criticism of, and generate sympathy for, the Jewish state — and is decades old.

Propaganda Offensive

As I have analysed in my book Whatever Happened to Antisemitism? this ploy is remarkably adaptable to practically any Israeli violation of the human rights of Palestinians.

It was deployed from the first day to describe Hamas’ motives, and continuously since then to undermine and deflect demands for an immediate ceasefire.

Within hours, in what had all the hallmarks of a coordinated propaganda offensive, Israeli government officials and politicians were calling the attacks “pogroms” and characterising the events as the “deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust”.

And these descriptions continue to frame public discourse and understanding of the Oct. 7 events.

Pogrom is a Russian word referring to violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian Empire and in other countries in the 19th century. They were perpetrated by the powerful oppressor against the weak and vulnerable.

However grotesque, Hamas’s attack was precisely the opposite: “an unprecedented display of anti-colonial violence,” wrote Tareq Baconi in a comment for Al Shabaka, the international Palestinian think tank.

It was an attack on what was always a vulnerable target that symbolised the anti-Palestinian racist regime, the powerful Israeli state, driving subjugation of Gaza’s population.

‘Trick We Always Use’

Shulamit Aloni in the Knesset in 1965. (Moshe Pridan, Government Press Office, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

As for the Holocaust comparison, such apocalyptic language distorts and trivialises the Nazi genocide of Jews.

The late outspoken and respected head of Israel’s then most left-wing party Meretz in the 1990s, Shulamit Aloni, candidly condemned it “as a trick, we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticizing Israel, then we bring up the Holocaust.”

If we compare the weaponisation of antisemitism then, when it was still in its infancy, with its dimensions today, we find that the role the Holocaust is shamelessly made to play in whitewashing Israeli apartheid and justifying ongoing dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has become increasingly significant.

The institution through which this was made possible is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the “working definition” of anti-Semitism it adopted in 2016, known worldwide simply by the organisation’s acronym: IHRA.

Irrespective of what’s in the definition, who would question something disseminated by a body with ‘Holocaust Remembrance’ in its name? Especially since the definition’s promoters virtually decreed that it was sacreligious to do so.

And yet most of the examples of anti-Semitism the definition contains serve the purpose of justifying the curtailing of the right of Palestinians to speak publicly about their experiences of ethnic cleansing and ongoing dispossession, and do nothing to protect Jews from real anti-Semitism.

Protected Behaviour

Even before Oct. 7, standard anti-Semitism narratives characterised Palestinians as almost exclusively associated with terrorism.

Today, “Palestinian” and “Hamas terrorist” are often seen as synonymous. Therefore, to suggest Palestinians might be deserving of rights, sovereignty, and solidarity is itself an expression of support for violence against Jews,writes the journalist and academic Natasha Roth-Rowland.

Preventing this and fighting it when it happens “essentially posits Israeli state violence — ethnic cleansing, mass incarceration, extrajudicial killing, land theft — as a form of protected behaviour because it is being carried out by Jews.”

As some plausibly argue, one manifestation of the redefinition of anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism is that anti-Aemitism is no longer about “who hates Jews,” but “who Jews hate.”


Demonstration outside the South Africa’s embassy in Washington, D.C., to thank South Africa for launching hearings at the International Court Of Justice against Israel for genocide in Gaza. Jan. 10. (Diane Krauthamer, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The continued success of weaponisation relies on a distorted and instrumentalised view of Jewish history: the notion that, on the one hand, anti-Semitism is eternal and unchanging, and yet on the other, anti-Zionism is the “new antisemitism.”

Either way, the politicised anti-anti-Semitism organisations constantly encourage people to believe that anti-Semitic annihilation is just around the corner.

The first, eternalist understanding of the Jewish past, described as the lachrymose view, ignores anti-Semitism’s contingent and historically specific forms.

As for anti-Zionism, nothing could be more Jewish. Jews were the first anti-Zionists, overwhelmingly remained so until the Second World War, and hundreds of thousands remain anti-Zionist to this day.

However, it serves Israel’s interests to continue to cultivate the view that Jews everywhere are equally and eternally vulnerable, even though Zionism was supposed to bring Jew-hatred to an end.

When so many seem to welcome being milked for sympathy because of doubtful claims of ever-rising anti-Semitism, why not continue to instrumentalise the discourse of Holocaust and pogroms as clear and present dangers?

For Israeli leaders, every military confrontation, every battle with Hamas or Hezbollah is on behalf of the “Jewish people.” Never mind that making no distinction between the state of Israel and Jews worldwide is an anti-Semitic belief according to the IHRA.

Ephraim Mirvis, the British United Synagogue’s chief rabbi, certainly hadn’t read the script when he praised the Israeli soldiers committing genocide in Gaza in the name of eradicating anti-Semitism, as “our incredible heroic soldiers.”

Could it be any more obvious that weaponised antisemitism is a clear and present danger for Jews not calling for equal rights for all from the river to the sea?

Antony Lerman is a senior fellow at the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, Vienna, and honorary fellow at the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, Southampton University. He is the author of Whatever Happened to Antisemitism? Redefinition and the Myth of the ‘Collective Jew’ (Pluto Press 2022) and The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist: A Personal and Political Journey (Pluto Press 2012).

This article is from Declassified UK.

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

5 comments for “Weaponizing Anti-Semitism Against the World Court

  1. Nyah
    February 19, 2024 at 13:58

    Please stop using the phrase “Jewish state”.

    In the Talmud, Tractate Kesubos 111a, it says that Jews are forbidden from having their own state before the messiah. Zionism is thus blasphemous to the Jewish religion. Using the phrase “Jewish state” gives undue legitimacy to the Zionist state and gives strength to imperialism’s phony narrative about it.

  2. Share
    February 19, 2024 at 09:51

    I watched this documentary on Kanopy before looking to see if it was on Youtube so I could share it. It is, for now anyway (according to a commenter it gets removed routinely). It is practically a companion-piece to this article. My new hero Norman Finkelstein is in it for a tiny while toward the end. After seeing what they put Isreali youth through, to make so they “never forget” the Holocaust, it is no wonder they are totally brainwashed and fearful of any non-Jew saying the word Jew. Sick society out in the open. This is 15 years old and could have been made yesterday.

    From Yoav Shamir Films : Defamation

  3. rosross
    February 17, 2024 at 22:40

    Except it does not work anymore. Younger generations, including Jews, either do not know history or if they do, have no interest in atrocities which happened nearly a century ago but care about atrocities happening today and rightly so. Perhaps the Jews also squirm at watching Zionist Israel inflicting a genocidal holocaust on the Palestinians, the longest in modern history and also one of the worst.

  4. anaisanesse
    February 17, 2024 at 14:46

    Surely these latest actions should banish the word and idea of “antisemitism” to obscurity. Who cares if the genocidal maniacs are Jewish by whatever definition these Zionists use? The objection is to their words and actions towards those not in their tribe. Lies, robbery and murder are the evils anti-Zionists deplore, NOT whatever religious or personal beliefs of self-declared Jews from wherever they spring. Muslims are constantly blamed for “terrorism”, and so many Muslim countries are criticised and fought against for this, especially if they dare attack, or resist, Western powers. Only Israel is allowed to be perfect and never accept any blame for its aggression, always remaining the victim.

  5. Vera Gottlieb
    February 17, 2024 at 10:36

    After Nazi-style massacre of Palestinians, this is one nation that has lost my sympathies totally and absolutely. I am ASHAMED of my Jewish background and have terminated relations with Jewish part of my family. And from the Anglo/Saxon world…a horrifying and deafening silence. For shame.

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