Changing Face of Anti-Semitism isnt pretty

Anti-Semitism is a peculiar form of hatred that simply refuses to go away.

For centuries, its motivation, at least in the West, was predominantly religious. But although mainstream 20th century Christianity has revised its attitude towards the Jews, anti-Semitism hasn’t disappeared. It just morphed into new forms that, predictably, bear clear resemblance to the old.

Walter Laqueur’s book “The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism” is a sweeping and provocative exploration of the development of anti-Semitism from the pre-Christian era to the present. Laqueur, a prominent historian and political commentator with professorships at Brandeis, Georgetown, Harvard and the author of many books and articles, has held a number of high-impact administrative positions.

In short, when Laqueur speaks, people listen.

The first chapter tackles the all-important question: Is there “new anti-Semitism?” Many people argue that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Obviously, justified criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. But, as the author continues, “Israel does not border on Holland or Switzerland.” It simply cannot survive in a hostile environment unless it plays by local rules.

Many minorities in the world, he writes, have been “systematically persecuted, abused, raped, burned, shot, gassed, and their property demolished.” That has happened in Rwanda, Darfur, Indonesia, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo, etc. Altogether, “25 million people have been killed in internal conflicts since WWII … the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ranks forty-sixth in the list of victims.”

Yet, “Israel has been more often condemned by the United Nations and other international organizations than all other nations taken together.”

Similarly, the Palestinian refugee problem has not been the largest refugee problem in modern history. Indeed, as a result of decolonization, two world wars and many local wars, the borders between countries changed, creating tens of millions of refugees who were subsequently absorbed by host countries, but only the Palestinian refugee problem continue to dominate public discussions.

Laqueur argues that this selective indignation cannot be explained rationally: There must be something else involved, and if it is not anti-Semitism, what is it?

His book does not answer this question, but it draws insightful parallels. The notion of “Wall Street,” as it is used in anti-Zionist media, replaces the old notion of “usury.” The conspiracy of the neocons aiming to control the world replaces the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” But while Jews used to be attacked for their prominent role in communism and other left-wing movements, now the main attack comes from the populist left.

The term “anti-Semitism” is a misnomer, he notes; it was coined by a 19th-century German journalist to distinguish modern non-religious attacks against the Jews from medieval accusations.

To stress that this term means hatred of the Jews, but not peoples speaking other Semitic languages, some authors prefer the spelling “antisemitism” to “anti-Semitism.” Curiously, Arab spokesmen often use this semantic nuance to deny existence of anti-Semitism in their countries, since Arabs are Semites.

The most depressing chapter is devoted to anti-Semitism in the modern Muslim world, because while Christianity has evolved in this respect, Islam has not.

A strong point of the book is that it points to common threads linking various manifestations of anti-Semitism — similarities among medieval accusations of well poisoning during the Black Death in Europe, the 1953 alleged “doctors’ plot” in the USSR and Muslim fundamentalist propaganda accusing the Jews of spreading AIDS.

Sadly, the end of the book is not optimistic. The emergence of major Muslim communities in Western societies will probably shape anti-Semitism in this century. Militant Muslims in Europe use the terms “Zionists,” “Israelis” and “Jews” interchangeably. Ironically, Jewish groups have always lobbied for increased immigration and, hence, contributed to the problem.

“The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism” by Walter Laqueur, (240 pages, Oxford University Press, $22).