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Oh, the Irony! Historical Western Anti-Semitism and the “Anti-Semitic” Critics of Israel

Real anti-Semitism has resurfaced in the US, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the opposition to Israel.

With threats to blow up Jewish community centers and the overturning of Jewish cemetery graves, true anti-Semitism has reemerged in the US. Yet it bears absolutely none of the hallmarks of pro-Palestinian activism, which critics often decry as “anti-Semitic.”

Despite the West’s historical anti-Semitism, it has created conditions for the Jewish state to be legitimately opposed due to Israel’s oppressive policies. In turn, the West projects its own historical anti-Semitism onto those who oppose Israeli state oppression, namely Palestinians, and Palestinian rights supporters in the Arab world and across the globe.

Let me explain.

Throughout history, apart from Israelite slaves in Egypt, the maltreatment of the Jewish people has principally been at European hands. It was the Spanish Inquisition that led the country’s Jews (and Muslims) into exile, the Russian and Eastern European pogroms that targeted Jews, the German Nazis’ efforts to eliminate the Jewish people and Roman repression that led to the post-Masada Jewish diaspora. In contrast, Jews in Islamic societies were often given greater autonomy and faced significantly less repression than in the West.

This leads us to the 20th century, particularly the post-World War II period, which has seen Westerners’ claims that it is Muslims — and those who support Palestinian rights — who are the anti-Semites.

The early 20th century world power, Great Britain, embraced what was then a less-than-popular idea among Jews of creating a Jewish state in Palestine, through the Balfour Declaration in 1917. After driven out by the Romans approximately two millennia ago, the Zionist idea called for the creation of a Jewish state in a land that Jews had long ago inhabited. The problem was rested in the fact that this was not a vacant land; it consisted of densely-populated coastal cities, an agricultural heartland and the third most holy site in Sunni Islam, Jerusalem. Furthermore, the European medieval crusaders had tried to capture this region, along with Napoleon Bonaparte’s more recent crusade-like expedition into Palestine. In short, it has been a much-coveted throughout history and its Palestinian residents did not wish to give it up.

Just as there would not likely have been a perpetual Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza without US support, there would not have been the creation of Israel without the British Empire. Rather than granting independence to territories “liberated” from the Ottoman Empire, as was promised to garner Arab support for Britain in World War I, the British assisted and enabled the repopulation of Palestine by European Zionist settler-colonists. Great Britain, thereby, began orchestrating the transformation of a long-oppressed people into the oppressor.

Inevitably, Palestinians and neighboring Arabs were not happy with the repopulation of land and dispossession of their people, especially after being promised independence after World War I. During the Mandate period and as Israel developed into a regional hegemon, the resentment of Palestinians and other Arabs began to swell against Israel and their great power backers, Great Britain and, later, the United States.

On rare occasion, this resentment morphed into what can be accurately described as anti-Semitism, which considered Jews, as a people, usurpers and resembled a medieval European-style mythology against Jews. However, this was the overwhelming exception. In most cases, resentment towards Israel was a rational response to mass land confiscation and the inhumane treatment of Palestinians.

Nevertheless, supporters of Israel used the anti-Semitism frame to refer to all who opposed Israel’s state policies of land theft and oppression. Thanks to successful lobbying, this convinced Americans and, to a lesser extent Europeans, of maintaining unyielding support to any Israeli policy in the supposed interest of security. On a side note, it is a small wonder that Israel’s so-called “security” policies of dispossessing people, keeping part of the population under siege and military occupation has inevitably resulted in increased security problems for Israel.

Because this framing projects the historical European anti-Semitism onto detractors of Israel’s policies, few in the West, particularly the US, will dare say anything against Israel to avoid the anti-Semitic label. Ironically, despite the history of Western anti-Semitism, today the Palestinians and Arabs are often depicted as the anti-Semitic ones. Palestinians, who have faced similar persecution to that of the Jews, have been oppressed by a former victim for the past hundred odd years.

The West created the conditions for this former victim to gain regional power, allowing Israel to engage in unchecked repressive policies. In short, the West produced the paradigm of this new victim and the new oppressor. When the new victim and rights advocates complain of Palestinians’ inhumane treatment, the West and Israel quickly designate them as anti-Semitic for opposing criminal state policies. This kind of psychological trickery, supported by successful propaganda and lobbyists, has helped allow for the unmitigated and ongoing “ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”

Recently, in the US, real anti-Semitism has resurfaced, with bomb threats to Jewish community centers and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. And, not surprisingly, it has absolutely nothing to do with the opposition to Israel.

Its ilk is that of tribalism, that is Western, all too Western.

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