‘New Anti-Semitism’: Wrong term, real problem

‘New Anti-Semitism’: Wrong term, real problem

I don’t like the ‘New Anti-Semitism’ as a term. It’s meant to define a form of prejudice that unfairly and callously attacks the State of Israel, as if Israel were the despised Jew targeted by the “old” anti-Semitism. I agree that many critics of Israel, if not most, go over the top in their criticisms, to the point that there is a kind of bigotry. Israel’s transgressions are magnified and taken out of historical context and the misdeeds or malicious intentions of its enemies are either denied or excused.

Yet anti-Semitism is NOT the motive of most of these people, many of whom are Jews. They are motivated by a more or less sincere sense of outrage against injustices and hardships imposed upon the Palestinians. To make things even more complicated, the use of this term is not necessarily meant to label them as anti-Semites, but it has this effect and therefore misdirects the debate into an unproductive dead end of accusations and counter-accusations.

But the outsized and automatic anti-Israel animus that this term identifies, resembles a form of prejudice. I prefer to call it “anti-Israelism.”

The following was written as a report for ISRAEL HORIZONS, but the primary author decided not to be identified by name. This is about the same event that Chris MacDonald-Dennis discussed in February. Again, I disagree with the use of this term, the ‘New Anti-Semitism,’ but I agree that it refers to a real problem. – R. Seliger

Finding Our Voice: A Conference of Progressives Against the ‘New Anti-Semitism’
By Anonymous and Chris MacDonald-Dennis

…. Undoubtedly, there has been a rise in anti-Semitism since the commencement of the Second Intifada at the end of 2000; this is frequently identified as the “New Anti-Semitism.” What distinguishes it from the old anti-Semitism is that the images and words of prejudice directed against Israel [rather than Jews as such] are reminiscent of attacks on the despised Jew of old….
An environment is created that leaves many Jews both here and abroad feeling oppressed or threatened and seeking to label their distress and find support.

Enter “Finding Our Voice,” a conference held at the end of January and conceived by a gamut of people to offer support and provide tools to those impacted by the New Anti-Semitism. The conference arose through the joint efforts of individual progressives pushing the Northern California chapter of the Anti-Defamation League to host a San Francisco event with a national flavor. It brought the most diverse group of co-sponsors and endorsers together under one marquee for arguably the very first, but hopefully not the last time. Groups supporting the conference ranged from Jewish Voice for Peace, Brit Tzedek, New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now on the left of the spectrum to AIPAC and ADL together with many mainstream Jewish organizations on the right….

The conference was structured around educational sessions in the morning, aimed to provide a base of knowledge to participants, and hands-on skills sessions in the afternoon, providing tools and ideas to use on an interactive basis. Morning sessions covered the history of anti-Semitism, divestment, boycotts, the left, labor movement issues, the New Anti-Semitism, cartoons and editorials in the media, campus issues, Israeli progressive society and more. The interactive afternoon sessions included panels for “Jews of color” and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) Jews and workshops to learn techniques in dialogue, in addressing campus issues, creating Jewish self-esteem, in coalition building and in presenting the message that anti-Semitism is unacceptable in any form….

The internationally renowned keynote speaker was the British lawyer Anthony Julius who represented Professor Deborah Lipstadt in her libel defense against Holocaust-denier, David Irving, in the British High Court…. Julius has written extensively on anti-Semitism in art and in the writings of T.S. Eliot. He holds a Ph.D. in English and will shortly publish a study of English anti-Semitism entitled “Trials of the Diaspora.”

Julius’ keynote speech addressed where and how legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line. After briefly reviewing the ancient heritage of anti-Semitism, Julius turned to the present incarnation. He went on to point out that many anti-Zionists are in denial about the existence of anti-Semitism and that the failure to take anti-Semitism seriously in 21st century culture is far more threatening than the existence of anti-Semitism among anti-Zionists.

This observation was well illustrated in the closing Q&A, when an eminent progressive rabbi criticized the conference for permitting critics of Israel to be labeled as anti-Semites…. [Yet] the message that criticizing Israel in and of itself is NOT an expression of prejudice was repeated at the opening, the plenary, the closing and in many sessions. The expression of anti-Semitism by critics of Israel is determined by the form of their criticisms, not the substance.

Anthony Julius attributed the resurgence of anti-Semitism – the New Anti-Semitism – to two factors:
1) The 1967 Six-Day War that resulted in the current occupation; he believes the occupation threatens the integrity of the Jewish State by encouraging opposition to its existence.
2) The collapse of the socialist project: Julius went back to the collapse of fascism in 1945 that stimulated the growth of communism. Finally collapsing in 1989, the failure of the communist state left a void for many on the left. At roughly the same time, many Zionists moved away from their socialist roots… while parts of the left merged into liberal causes. This encouraged the establishment of leftist ‘boutique’ causes, which opposed nation-states in the name of universalism: e.g., environmentalism, human rights and anti-Zionism.

The most beneficial result of Finding Our Voice was to be able to speak out about the insidious prejudice of anti-Semitism, the reality of which Julius so correctly sees as being frequently denied in modern society. As he stated, racism is all too often regarded as only afflicting disenfranchised, unempowered peoples; it’s a myopia of the left that Jews, by definition, are never categorized as victims today or as being threatened.

The conference provided a gathering space for those who have felt the oppression, to compare experiences, provide support and consider how to create alliances. The keen local and nationwide response of the media to cover the resurgence of the New Anti-Semitism in print and on the air tended to confirm that the hearty attendance was not a chance occurrence….

Anonymous participated in the planning of the ‘Finding Our Voice’ conference. CHRIS MACDONALD-DENNIS, Ed.D., is a college administrator who lives in Philadelphia and is a new member of the board of Meretz USA; he was also a presenter at the ‘Finding Our Voice’ event.

By | 2007-04-11T12:29:00-04:00 April 11th, 2007|Blog|4 Comments


  1. Anonymous April 11, 2007 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    I don’t think Jewish Voice for Peace supported this conference.

  2. Ralph Seliger April 12, 2007 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    I asked one of the authors (who, as a conference organizer, should know) about exactly this point. The response: “JVP was invited, in fact they exhibited materials on an entry table.” I also understand that at least one or two JVP activists participated as presenters.

  3. Chris April 17, 2007 at 3:41 pm - Reply


    The term “antisemitism” was used because the conference, as I have said continually, was not simply about Israel. Thus, antisemitism is the correct term.

    Also, the demonization of Israel that was discussed were cases in which people would use anti-Jewish imagery. This was not about mere “anti-Israelism.” As an expert on the history of antisemitism, I think the terms (without the “new”) is perfectly acceptable. How can you disagree with a term when you were not there?

  4. Ralph Seliger April 18, 2007 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    I agree that Chris’s session was about anti-Semitism. What I critiqued, from a friendly point of view, was the conception called the “New Anti-Semitism.” Regardless of my not having attended, it was perfectly valid for me to contend with this concept as portrayed in the article about this conference.

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