“Terrorism Targeting Jews Today

Will Not Stop There.”


Interview with Professor Robert S. Wistrich

Yediot Aharonot (19 November 2003)




Prof. Robert S. Wistrich, head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says Istanbul bombings are a classic combination of anti-Israelism and antisemitism. = He warns of a new strain of antisemitism, which likens Israel to a Nazi state. = “Extreme views that used to be strictly limited to Arabs and Neo-Nazis have recently become European mainstream.” =Israel”, says Prof. Wistrich, “must take action, but cautiously, since overly muscular diplomatic activity could, again, be distorted as a Jewish attempt to silence legitimate criticism.



Ariela Ringel-Hoffman talked to Prof. Wistrich this week:


“I do not believe we can isolate the phenomenon of antisemitism from current global trends. On the other hand, antisemitism cannot be simply explained by globalization or any single cause,” says Prof. Robert Wistrich, historian and Director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Prof. Wistrich had been asked if what we have here is not an anti-Israel trend escalating in the world in response to Israel’s policy regarding the territories, which upsets the Western world. “The Istanbul bombings last week are a classic combination of anti-Israelism and antisemitism. Terrorism that is targeting Jews today will not stop there. Severe criticism of Israel is not necessarily antisemitism,” he says, “but what is striking is the methods, the techniques of defamation and the type of expressions used. This is a new strain of antisemitism, when people compare Israel to a Nazi state, inherently criminal, a systematic violator of human-rights. A “rogue state” that recklessly disregards international law. Israel is treated as being even worse than countries like North Korea, Iran or Saddam’s Iraq by many Europeans and virtually all Arabs. This exaggerated and false image creates a dangerous myth. Having studied the phenomenon for many years, I believe this to be one of the basic characteristics of antisemitism: the difference between reality and public image, which creates the negative myth.”


But still, I insisted, they talk about Israeli rather than Jewish “madness”.


          “I think,” Prof. Wistrich said, “that there is a real anxiety in Europe, the concern that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could start World War III or that it provokes global terror. Yet this fear is exaggerated, disproportionate. There are dangerous conflicts worldwide that could lead to such results, which have nothing to do with Israel – such as the Indian-Pakistani conflict. So with all due respect to the [Palestinian] conflict and its influence, the bottom line is that we are still dealing with distorted perceptions that smack of antisemitism, and not just anti-Israel feelings. It is Jewish institutions and symbols that have been targeted: synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, Jewish schools. Jewish teachers and students are being harassed. The targets are not Israeli. It has become impossible to teach Jewish-related subjects, such as the Holocaust.  None of this has anything to do with Israeli occupation. There is an antisemitism emerging world wide, especially in the Middle East and Western Europe, which is a mutation of pre-Holocaust antisemitism. Before World War II, when Fascists and Nazis were in power, antisemitic propaganda branded the Jews as “warmongers”. It was claimed in both Britain and France that the Jews were trying to push Europe into a war against Nazi Germany.  That view was shared by the isolationists in the U.S. To oppose Hitler supposedly served some shadowy Jewish interest. Today, once again, Israel (along with the USA) is seen as provoking war for sinister motives”.


Cabal behind the Scenes

Next week Prof. Wistrich will be addressing MPs in the British House of Commons. Robert Wistrich, an internationally renowned expert on antisemitism, has been invited to present the findings of his research concerning the Muslim and European antisemitism as well as the attitude of the British media towards Israel, not just in the context of the Middle East conflict, but through examining the style and content of public discourse about Israel.


There are plenty of examples, he points out. “One antisemitic image par exellence is that of the “cabal”, a term borrowed from the mystical doctrines of the Kabala. According to this idea, there is a secret ring of Jewish conspirators working behind the scenes to seize control of the levers of power. Recently we heard a long-time member of the British Labour Party, Tam Dalyell, say that Tony Blair was a puppet controlled by a Jewish “cabal”: he referred to several advisors whom he claimed had a strong influence on Blair; Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is not Jewish himself, but had a Jewish grandfather; Peter Mandelson, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, a bright man whose father was a Jew but who does not identify himself as one; and  special envoy to the Middle East, Lord Levy. Dalyell uses a very familiar motif, searching for Jewish origins to explain why certain British and American politicians favored the war in Iraq. Not only Sharon, Israel and the Likud but World Jewry supposedly dictates American and global policy. Dalyell claims that “the Jews” are not only behind Blair; more importantly, they design the policy of George W. Bush.”



Q:      And how did the British react to these accusations?


A:      “The British response was very casual. Those who chose to criticize Dalyell merely called him eccentric. Those who shared his views said that he was right, and hinted that it was dangerous that the Jews were too involved with British foreign affairs.”


          Wistrich will be presenting more examples from his research. “Take prominent left-wing crusading journalist John Pilger, who made a documentary for Carlton TV demonizing Israel as a brutal police state, or Oxford Professor of Poetry, Tom Paulin, who alleges that whenever they are criticized, Jews pull out the ‘antisemitic card’, imagining that the ‘dumb goyim’ (as Paulin puts it) have not yet figured out this trick. Referring to the Zionist project, Paulin rejects the idea it was about securing the freedom of persecuted Jews. No, it was about robbing the Palestinian people of their lands and cutting them off from their roots in order to create an exclusively Jewish foundation of strength and power. Then, at the time of the ‘Defensive Shield’ military operation in April 2002, the British media feasted themselves on gory tales of Israeli ‘massacres’, atrocities and even ‘genocide’ in Jenin. A reporter from The Times said that she had been all over the world, and not even in Chechnya or Bosnia had she seen such atrocities!! In fact, there were about 80 dead in Jenin, compared to 250,000 in the ex-Yugoslavia.


          “There is another, more immediate point. I believe that you cannot separate global terrorism from antisemitism. This is evident when you consider what just happened in Turkey. Antisemitism, along with global terrorism, is part of a long-term war of Al-Qaeda against the Jews, Israel and the ‘Crusader West’. Turkey as a secular, pro-Western, pro-Israel Muslim country was an obvious target.”


“Progressive” Hostility

A distressing new trend emerges from his current research into antisemitism. Prof. Wistrich maintains that it is within “progressive” circles that much of the present hostility towards Israel and the Jews originates. “It is those who have a tolerant, so-called progressive image,” he says, “academics, thinkers, intellectuals and artists who hate Israel the most. In the recent EU opinion poll – which labeled Israel the most dangerous threat to global peace – 66% of the voters across Europe who supported this view were revealed to be college graduates”.


“More and more voices in the academic world, in the media, amongst liberal politicians and in the clergy, are questioning the moral right of a Jewish state (that allegedly “threatens world peace”) to even exist. What was still taboo three years ago, he says, is now being said out loud. What used to be limited to Arabs, Trotskyists and Neo-Nazis has become part of the European mainstream. These views are expressed either overtly or covertly. The Greek composer, Theodorakis, for example, recently said that Jews were the source of all evil; The Nobel-Prize-winning Portuguese writer Jose Saramago declared that Ramallah is like Auschwitz; the popular French Catholic priest, Abbe Pierre, suggested that Jews behaved towards Palestinians like the Nazis had done towards themselves. He defended his good friend, the Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy, whose falsifications are all the rage in the Arab world, where he is a culture-hero.


Conspiracy theories, according to Wistrich, are once again flourishing. The bond between Israel and the U.S., for instance, is twisted into a diabolical plot by wealthy Jews to achieve global domination.


Q:      Some of the criticism is also heard within Israel. We, too, talk against the ongoing occupation and intolerable violations of human rights. We, too, wonder what motivated the American invasion of Iraq, especially when it became clear that what they had set out to find, was not there?


A:      “Fair enough. It is legitimate to criticize Israel. But you have to wonder, after the deaths of 100 thousand Chechnyans, for example, why the Russians are not condemned so harshly? Something is surely wrong here…”


Q:      Perhaps we are dealing with double standards rather than antisemitism. And besides, what the Russians do, does not in any way justify what is going on here in Israel.


A:      “There are certainly double standards.  But it is not just that whatever Israel does is scrutinized under a magnifying glass: antisemitism means demonising the whole Jewish nation. The image of Israel in the world has become that of an oppressive, criminal state, with no moral or humane restraints, aggressive and interested only in taking over other people’s land. This is false, a gross caricature.”


Q:      Is this not anti-Israeli, rather than anti-Jewish, discourse?


A:      “That is what many people want to believe. But the distinction between Jewish and Israeli became opaque a long time ago. A British journalist (Richard Ingrams), who regularly attacks Israel was recently quoted as saying that when he receives a letter signed with a Jewish-sounding name, he automatically throws it into the rubbish bin. This means that to him, there is no difference between Israelis and Jews. A third of all Italians polled, also believe there is little difference. Many do not even consider the Jews of Italy to be Italian. Recent surveys also show that a third of all Europeans believe that Jews exploit the Shoah.  A similar number believe that Jews have too much influence.  But the fact is that we are far from being the Superpower that antisemites and anti-Zionists like to depict. We are not omnipotent and we cannot manipulate the U.S.A. These are antisemitic  fantasies.”


Q:      What if Israel’s policy in the territories changes? For instance, what if we accepted the Geneva Accord?


A: “It could calm down some of the hate and resentment for a while. It might temporarily confuse those who believe us to be the epitome of evil. But these attitudes will stay alive. They will always find a reason or pretext. The myth of Jewish financial power or Jewish manipulation of governments, control of the media, or of  Hollywood, is endemic in modern antisemitism. Europeans also hate American Christian fundamentalism, which they perceive as ‘messianic’, threatening and allied to right-wing Zionism. They are much more tolerant about Islam.”


          “Even in the Netherlands, where there have been cases of violence and incitement against the Jews originating from the local Muslim population (mostly Moroccan immigrants), there is a veil of silence over this aspect.  The same is even more the case in France and also Belgium. However, 74% of the Dutch regard Israel as the great threat to world peace. Just think about that! This shows how ignorant, blind and deluded they (along with many other Europeans) have become regarding what really threatens them. As if the little State of Israel were a threat to Europe


Q:      In other words, it does not matter what we do.


A:      “It does matter, but treating superficial symptoms will not cure the disease. Look what happened to Ehud Barak – he should have been a hero by European standards, given the huge concessions he was ready to make. But the moment the Palestinian intifada started, Barak’s efforts were in vain. Israel became the bad guy. It was Israel which was blamed for the Intifada, not Arafat.”


Q:      And where does it all lead?


A:      “All these trends may get worse. But despite everything, I believe that this is a good opportunity to fight back. People are more aware today of the phenomenon of antisemitism, and the danger to peace that goes with it. In recent months even the Israeli government has become more involved with this issue. Let us not forget that Israelis also kept saying what the whole world has been repeating: that antisemitism is marginal, that it appears only in backward areas, that it expresses protest and rebellion against oppression in general and the plight of the Palestinians in particular. This issue has not been adequately addressed in Israel’s political agenda.  No strategy was developed to deal with it. If anything, Israel was just going through the motions. In July 2003, Minister Sharansky did organize a convention of Jewish representatives from all over the world, to address the issue of antisemitism that was a step forward. A month or two earlier, a conference was held in Vienna by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), with participants from the U.S., Canada, Russia, as well as the EU. I spoke there and called on delegates to recognize the specificity and seriousness of antisemitism. The conference was the first ever in the OSCE’s history to be dedicated to antisemitism. One of the more important conclusions was that antisemitism constitutes a major violation of human rights.”


Israel must act firmly yet with caution, says Prof. Wistrich. Overly muscular diplomatic activity could boomerang and be seen as Jewish manipulation and a deliberate attempt to silence criticism.


          Following Jewish and foreign protest, says Wistrich, President Jacques Chirac convened the cabinet to discuss antisemitism in France, as a special item on the agenda. “I think this is an indication of change,” he says, “I suppose it was the sharp personal criticism that made him do this. He is very aware that his anti-American foreign policy and opposition to the war in the Gulf was very damaging to him in the U.S.; as, of course, were the reports about antisemitic violence in France itself. Americans began to boycott the French wine and cheese industry. American tourism declined. He needed to act.”


Q:      There are about 600 thousand Jews living in France, and 6 million Muslims, mainly from North Africa. How come the French hate the Jews and not the Muslims?


A:      “There are strong anti-Arab sentiments in France as well as antisemitism. Le Pen’s National Front is hostile to Muslims. But still, Jews are currently being harassed more frequently than Muslims, and it is Arabs who are the perpetrators.”


Q:      And how do you explain that?


A:      “Most of the Arabs come from North Africa (especially Algeria) and they brought with them a tradition of hostility towards the Sephardic Jews, exacerbated by the Middle East conflict. The younger, marginalized Maghrebin Arabs also project their anger towards France, against the Jews, who are seen as controlling the media and politics. As for the French elites including the media and the intellectuals, they have created a strongly anti-Israel atmosphere which has spilled over into hostility towards Jews. These same elites were silent for a long time about the Muslim attacks on Jews.”


A Long Term Struggle

Islamic Judeophobia, according to Wistrich, is the most dangerous current strain of antisemitism. It is inseparable from the general crusade against Israel. Jihad, he says, is inextricably linked today with an anti-Jewish ideology which is also anti-American. Israelis and the rest of the world must comprehend that political or ceasefire agreements will not solve the problem overnight. We may be facing this problem for a long time. Iran and al-Qaeda have their own agenda. There is a global Jihad. The attempted Islamicization of Palestine is the prologue to a much broader revolutionary goal directed against the so-called “Crusaders” and western civilization itself.


Q:      Do you anticipate an increase in the number of Jews making Aliya following the acceleration of antisemitism in the world?


A:      “The present economic and security situation in Israel does not really encourage significant Aliya. If there is any movement at all, my estimation is that apart from France it may gradually emerge from the Anglo-Saxon countries. That is the largest reservoir.”


Q:      And more mixed marriages in the Diaspora?


A:      “Not necessarily.  Antisemitism could even limit the number of mixed marriages. Young Jews in Europe today are asking themselves whether this is the type of society into which they would like to integrate.”


Q:      Do you see a growing Ultra-Orthodox trend?


A:      “Perhaps, but not a mass movement.”


Q:      And in the meantime?


A:      “Apart from the Palestinians and Muslim antisemitism, we should focus on the European front. We must fight against European tolerance for antisemitic tendencies. There should be no compromise about that. If the Chief Rabbi in France has to advise Jews in Paris or Strasbourg or Marseilles to refrain from wearing a Kippa in public, that is a shocking signal. The same is true about London, Brussels, Amsterdam or Berlin. It shows how intimidated Jews have become. Muslims are free to wear their traditional garments in the street, while Jews are advised to leave their Kippot at home. Synagogues are being turned into fortresses. And still there are Israelis and Jews, as well as self-interested anti-Zionist Gentiles who pretend there is no problem! How blind can one be?


          “Antisemitism today is concealed under a humanist mask. It is full of shallow rhetoric, blindly identifying with the “victim”, with the oppressed and the poor, irrespective of the atrocities that are committed in their name.  This is deeply immoral. We have to condemn and expose this hollowness. It is intolerable that the Holocaust cannot be taught at schools in France, the Netherlands, Belgium or other European countries without abuse being showered on the teachers.  We cannot permit a situation where the Jewish voice is simply



Yediot Aharonot

19 November 2003

This is a slightly fuller version of the interview which originally appeared in Hebrew and has been translated into English under the author’s supervision.