Analysis from Israel

It’s no accident that “Israel Apartheid Week,” an annual two-week extravaganza that began this week, focuses on Western college campuses. It’s not just because that’s where young, impressionable future leaders can be found. It’s also because, as a new study reveals, the educated mainstream is the mainstay of good old-fashioned anti-Semitism in today’s West. That counterintuitive finding explains why college campuses are such fertile ground for attacks on the Jewish state.

Prof. Monika Schwarz-Friesel of the Technical University of Berlin reached this conclusion after studying 10 years’ worth of hate mail–14,000 letters, emails, and faxes in all–sent to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin. In an interview published in Haaretz yesterday, she said she fully expected to discover that most of it came from right-wing extremists. But in fact, right-wing extremists accounted for a mere 3 percent, while over 60 percent came from educated members of “the social mainstream – professors, Ph.Ds, lawyers, priests, university and high-school students,” she said. Nor were there any significant differences between right-wing extremists’ letters and those of the educated mainstream, Schwarz-Friesel said: “The difference is only in the style and the rhetoric, but the ideas are the same.”

To be clear, these letters weren’t just criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; we’re talking about classic anti-Semitism–as evident from the samples Haaretz cited:

“It is possible that the murder of innocent children suits your long tradition?” one letter said.

“For the last 2,000 years, you’ve been stealing land and committing genocide,” said another.

“You Israelis … shoot cluster bombs over populated areas and accuse people who criticize such actions of anti-Semitism. That’s typical of the Jews!”

That modern anti-Semitism is propagated mainly by mainstream intellectuals shouldn’t actually be surprising, as Schwarz-Friesel noted in the original Hebrew interview: “Throughout history, anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred never began in the street, but with educated people – in the writings of the Church, in poems, in novels and fairy tales” (a quote regrettably omitted from the abridged English version). Yet this fact has been forgotten – or deliberately obscured – in the modern West, which still sees anti-Semitism as the province of the far right.

Her research, originally published in German but due out in English next year, also led Schwarz-Friesel to another unambiguous conclusion: “Today, it’s already impossible to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. Modern anti-Semites have turned ‘the Jewish problem’ into ‘the Israeli problem.’ They have redirected the ‘final solution’ from the Jews to the State of Israel, which they see as the embodiment of evil.”

This conclusion is borne out by the samples Haaretz quoted. It’s obviously easy to believe Israel murders innocent children if you think “the murder of innocent children suits [the Jews’] long tradition”; easy to believe Israel steals land and commits genocide if you think Jews have been doing this “for the last 2,000 years”; easy to believe Israel shoots cluster bombs indiscriminately if you think “that’s typical of the Jews.” Modern-day anti-Semites simply assume the Jewish state commits all the evils they deem it “natural” for Jews to commit, and no evidence will persuade them otherwise–just as no evidence will persuade them that child-murder isn’t part of the Jewish tradition.

Hence the genius of Israel Apartheid Week’s organizers: They’re hawking a blood libel against the Jewish state (the apartheid canard) precisely where it will sell most easily, because the educated mainstream found on college campuses contains a reservoir of people primed to believe blood libels against Jews. Then, thanks to the myth that modern-day anti-Semitism exists only on the far-right fringes, these people can in turn market it to their peers–the decent folk who would never knowingly traffic in anti-Semitism–secure in the knowledge that the libel’s anti-Semitic roots will never be suspected.

Thus to counter such libels, we must start by countering this myth. That means we must start challenging anti-Semitism in the places where it primarily lives: not in the far-right fever swamps, but among the educated mainstream.

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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