A Holocaust historian saw disturbing trends in the “perfect storm” of anti-Semitism that accompanied the recent Israel-Gaza conflict. Though he felt confident that the current situation is not in danger of descending into another Holocaust, he warned that there were some similarities that warranted extra attention.
Professor Rozett: Attacking Jews for Israel’s actions is the oldest form of anti-Semitism
Professor Robert Rozett, a Senior Historian in the International Institute for Holocaust Research, noted that the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza was accompanied by an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism in the US.
“There is an ongoing and unresolved discussion about when does anti-Zionism become anti-Semitism,” Dr. Rozett explained. “There are aspects of anti-Zionism that are not necessarily anti-Semitic. But what happened now is that in many places around the world, a welling of pro-Palestinian protest accompanied by a tremendous wave of anti-Israel rhetoric and violence.
“The idea behind most of the anti-Israel protest happening abroad was that Jews abroad represented Israel and were agents of Israel. This was even used to justify attacking synagogues. This is the modern manifestation of the ancient anti-Semitic canard that Jews have dual loyalty, a canard that was most famously illustrated in the Dreyfus affair in France in the late 1800s. This aspect of anti-Semitism is still around today and many people believe that Jews even in the US are agents of Israel.”
“This manifestation of anti-Semitism is why Jews around the world are being held responsible for Israel’s action.”
Demonization of Israel
“This blaming of the Jews is accompanied by another manifestation of anti-Semitism which is the demonization of Israel. Demonization runs counter to logic. The conflict is deeply complex and has spanned almost one hundred years. The one thing you absolutely cannot say about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is that it is black and white, that one side is entirely wrong. But what routinely happens outside of Israel is that Israel is demonized as always being the aggressor. This is true even in the most reliable or mainstream media.
“The news is only showing what happened in Gaza. The people in the US are only getting one side of the story so it makes it easy and reasonable for people who may not necessarily be anti-Semitic to demonize Israel. Social media is the great amplifier of all this.
“The demonization began in the media, passed to social media, and frequently translated into violence. Much of the language was Holocaust-based with expressions of ‘Hitler was right’ and variations of that theme. This is clearly the demonization of Israel and Jews.
“The worst thing you can be on social media right now is a Zionist. In its simplest form, Zionism means that you believe that the Jews have a right to live in their ancestral homeland. But demonization has added many more implicit negative connotations to the term Zionist in the public discourse today. Other discussions have been going on which have added the untrue accusations that Israel is racist and colonialist. A racist is the worst thing you can be in today’s political environment. The natural next step beyond being a racist and nationalist is to be a Nazi.
“Nazism is the biggest sledgehammer that you can bring into social discourse. Comparing anyone to a Nazi is calling them the worst villain in human history. It is, of course, horribly insensitive to call a Jew ‘Nazi’, but that is the way social media works. At the same time, invoking the Holocaust is the way to amplify that cause as the ultimate victimhood since the Jews in the Holocaust were the victims of the worst outrage ever carried out in human history. But victimhood should not be a competition or graded.
“Comparing Israel to the Nazis is clearly an extreme and it is demonization. It can be a way of people cleaning their conscience if they feel guilty for being anti-Semitic or even for national or ethnic guilt for the Holocaust.
“Again, it is painful in the extreme for a Jew to be called a Nazi perpetrating such an outrage and there is no way what happened in Gaza could be compared to the Holocaust, not in scale or in intent or in impact.
Three sources of anti-Semitism
“There are also many people that have an inclination, or more than an inclination, to anti-Semitism. There is fertile ground so that when an event happens and it is presented in a one-sided manner, anti-Semitism will result. But, of course, there are other people, undeniably anti-Semitic, who are just waiting for an opportunity to express their anti-Semitism.”
“Anti-Semitism today has three sources; extreme right, extreme left, and the world of Islamist extremism. This recent conflict was the perfect storm of anti-Semitism, opening the door to everybody, converging them all into one wave of anti-Semitism.
“They clearly cannot entirely join forces. There is an open question about the left-wing joining Islamist causes, like with Hamas, even though there are clearly differences in principles and ideals, most notably in women’s issues and LGBT issues. But this is an open question that is not addressed.
“In some circles, it is harder to face that we are being threatened by anti-Semitism on the left. This happened in Britain when the Labour party was suddenly discovered to have a large anti-Semitic element. Left-wing anti-Semitism is not new. It has always existed. It certainly existed in the Soviet Union and other communist countries and socialist movements. But it is more difficult to acknowledge than right-wing extremism. Since the left-wing is perceived as defending the underdog, it is assumed they will protect the Jews who are historically an oppressed minority.
“In this case, the left-wing perceives the Palestinians as the underdog and Israel is being portrayed as the colonial racist oppressor. The left-wing in the US portrays Israel as white and in today’s narrative, white people are oppressors and racists. This is, of course, not an accurate depiction of the demography in Israel but the narrative is not about accuracy or truth. Since Palestinians are being portrayed as being oppressed, they cannot be racist. Jews in the US are perceived as part of the ruling class which the left characterizes as racist and oppressive.
Can the Holocaust happen today?
“The Holocaust did not happen for just one reason. It had complex roots. The world today is very different than it was in the 1930s so the short answer is that another Holocaust cannot take place again today. The more complex answer is that many things are happening today that are deeply concerning. The demonization and the anti-Jewish rhetoric going mainstream is deeply concerning. The Nazis came into power into a country that gave them a place to enact their agenda. It was a democratic process but the democracy in Germany was very rickety in the 1930s, imposed on them after World War I. The US has a much stronger democracy than Weimar Germany. I don’t see the political ideology to destroy the Jews coming into power in the US as it did in Germany. Targeting Jews for Israel’s actions is a danger and can turn anti-Semitism into a mainstream political agenda.