Anti Semitism is on the rise fueled by growing anti Israel rhetoric. Just a few weeks ago, a former European Commissioner and a prominent Dutch politician, Frits Bolkestein, called on orthodox Jews to leave Holland because of “the anti-Semitism among Dutchmen of Moroccan descent, whose numbers keep growing”. Reading this statement propelled me to learn more about the state of Anti Semitism in Europe and its connection to the efforts to de legitimize Israel’s right to exist. I asked Professor Dina Porat, the founder and former head of the institute for the study of contemporary Anti Semitism and Racism in Tel Aviv University, for an interview to explore the connection between Anti Israel rhetoric, Muslim propaganda and anti Semitism. What is the current state of Anti Semitism in the world?

Professor Porat: Anti Semitism is mostly evident in central and western Europe as well as the USA and Canada. We’ve been measuring and documenting Anti Semitism incidents since 1989. As can be seen in the graph below, it is evident that anti Semitism is generally on the rise. However, each year is different. 2009 was the worst year since monitoring began, in terms of both major anti Semitic violence and the hostile atmosphere generated worldwide by the mass demonstrations and verbal and visual expressions against Israel and the Jews. On the other hand, in 2008 and 2007 we saw a decline in the number of anti Semitic incidents. While there is no complete data for 2010, there seem to be fewer incidents than in 2009. There is a strong feeling in Israel and the Jewish world that anti Israel rhetoric led by Israel’s opponents legitimizes Anti Semitism – can you support that claim?

Professor Porat: In the last few years, anti Semitism has been hiding behind anti Zionism. The calls and actions to de legitimize Israel’s right to exist and to frame Israel as the devil which tortures the poor innocent Palestinians hide in many cases anti-Semitic feelings and expressions. Those that oppose Israel claim they are just voicing legitimate criticism about Israel’s action. Is this really the case?

Professor Porat: There is a clear definition of criticism. When you sound an opinion regarding a certain event, at a certain time and place, you are being critical. For example, someone can say – “I don’t think Israel was acting within its rights when sending its navy to board the Mavi Marmara in international waters. Israel should have waited until the boat reached its own waters”. This is expressing criticism of a specific Israeli action. You can agree with the statement or not, but this is a relevant criticism. The claims made by those de legitimizing Israel are not relevant criticism, but pure anti Zionism. When is the line crossed and criticism of Israel becomes anti Zionism?

Professor Porat: When one says something like “the Israel’s army, the evil army of the occupation, attacked the Mavi Marmara Flotilla with full intent to kill the people on board”, that’s not criticism. That’s a pre-meditated opinion; in this case an anti Zionist one. When one involves certain characteristics which are constant and are not tied to a certain event, one moves away from being critical and starts voicing a subjective opinion. Israel’s opponents often claim that they are against Israel and not the Jewish people. What do you think?

Professor Porat: Anti Israeli literature originates from multiple sides of the political map – left-wing radicals from UK academic institutes, right wing extremists, and Islamic propagandists. Typical literature and statements from these last two groups tend to consider the Jewish state and the Jewish people as one entity. The main difference between anti Israel rhetoric from Islamic propaganda and the BDS movement is the use of religious anti Jewish elements. While Islamic propaganda makes rich use of Christian traditional anti-Semitic elements, left-wing radicals, such as the BDS movement, remain in the academic field and their statements seem more factual than emotional. Let’s talk about proportionality – do you think that criticism against Israel is proportional to Israel’s place in the world?

Professor Porat: There is a complete lack of proportionality when dealing with Israel. If someone would have visited planet Earth from outer space he would get the impression that Israel, that tiny piece of land on earth, is the root cause of all problems in our world. Let’s take a look at the UN, with its 192 member countries. Try to put these countries on a scale according to human rights violations: At the top, you would find countries like Sweden, Netherlands and Belgium. At the bottom, you will find countries like Iran, Saudia Arabia and Lybia. Israel, even taking into account the West Bank and Gaza, will still be in a good place on the scale of human rights violations. And yet, when you look into the UN’s resolutions in its various committees, you get the sense that Israel is the worst offender of all member states.

The UN is making as if a purely political statement but the lack of proportionality makes it impossible to treat these political resolutions with respect.

No one is denying that Israel has its faults – Israel did bomb Gaza in operation Cast Lead causing civilian deaths. Yet look at Iraq, in the course of action there, the US is responsible for countless civilian casualties and yet no one talks about it, and there are China and Tibet, Russia and Chechenya, and so on. But when an Israeli soldier mistreats a Palestinian – it’s all over the news. Why does this lack of proportionality exist when dealing with Israel?

Professor Porat: After pondering about this question for many years, I can think of two main reasons for this disproportional treatment. The first one is that Israel is a democracy and as such it is expected to adhere to certain standards which Iran and Lybia are not. But this is hardly the main reason. The main reason for this lack of proportionality is the fact that Israel is a Jewish state.

Let’s look at the democracy angle. Israeli Arabs and their equal rights are the true face of democracy in action. For example, compare Israel’s equal treatment of its Arabs citizens with the way Gypsies are treated by many European countries. Hungary and Romania are known for their violent treatment of Gypsies. In France, President Sarkozy issued an immediate warrant and expelled thousands of Gypsies across the border, although they are EU citizens. There were no world outcry, nor boycott or divestment initiatives.

Being a democracy, from which exemplary behavior is always required, isn’t the main reason for the disproportional treatment of Israel. This leaves us with only one explanation – the fact that Israel is a Jewish state. Since 1948 about 80% of Israeli citizens are Jewish and the rest are Israeli Arabs and other minorities. The Jewish identity is what makes Israel unique and a target to a disproportional, subjective voicing of opinions. In other words, anti Zionism is combined with anti Semitism. How did anti Semitism became anti Zionism?

Professor Porat: The perception of the Jews was created through the course of two thousand years. It was initially created by the church and in the modern age was impacted by economic factors in the modern era. In the 18th century, Jewish emancipation, the process in which Jewish people in Europe were recognized as equal citizens and granted citizenship, raised fears that Jews are about to take over Europe. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion emerged a few dozens of years after the emancipation began. While they were faked, they reflected the fear from Jewish takeover.

In 1948, Israel as a Jewish state was added into the picture. I believe, that even after 62 years, many people still did not yet come to terms with the fact that the Jewish people have established a state of their own. For so many years the Jews were a weak minority in various countries. They are not supposed to be strong and powerful and to have a state of their own – it goes against many layers of Jews as perceived by many non-Jewish people.

This is not a logical equation; these are strong emotions that there is something not right about the Jews having a state of their own. These emotions are part of what feeds the current efforts to de legitimize Israel. How are these emotions against Israel as a Jewish state expressed?

Professor Porat: These strong emotions against Israel as a Jewish state are expressed through chants in protests and countless caricatures. Young people are looking for a symbol. Let’s look at Israel’s image – the main claim against Israel is the fact that Israel is an occupying force, controlling millions of Palestinians. Israel was originally founded as a safe haven for Holocaust surviving Jews. Nowadays, world opinion claims Israel has played the “victim” card for too long while actually becoming an occupier evil force. We are seeing a reversal effect in which the victim is becoming the abuser. The Jews, the main victims of the Nazis, have turned into the “Nazis” and the Palestinians are now the victims.

There is also a religious angle. In Christianity, redemption is achieved through suffering. But the Jews cannot bring the redemption. Thus the Jews cannot remain the “victims” and that role must be passed on to the Palestinians. Once the reversal is complete, and one views Israel as a Nazi country, then questioning its right to exist is the next logical step. After all, the Nazis have no rights for a state.

Islamic propaganda knowingly makes use of Christian religious and traditional symbols to attribute to Israel’s image as a Nazi state and turn the Palestinians into the ultimate victims, those whose suffering may bring redemption to this world.

Here are some examples:
These caricatures appeared during the swine flu epidemic

This caricature which appeared in a Danish newspaper is a clear example of the reversal impact we’ve explained. Even though the caricature does not represent the Israeli soldiers as Nazis soldiers, it clearly reminds the famous photograph of children and women submitting themselves to the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto and raising their hands. Who falls for such anti Semitic lies in liberal Europe?

Professor Porat: Europe is still going through the process of establishing its European identity. While you can cross the border between France and Germany as if there was no border at all, there is still lack of a unified identity. This is specifically hard on the European youth which are looking for a meaning. You see these youths in protests, wearing a Kafia (Arab head cover), holding posters equating the Jewish Star of David to the Nazi Swastika. They have no idea about who lives in the Middle East. If you show them a map depicting the tiny size of Israel they do not believe you. They are convinced that Palestine was a state populated by Arabs and then the Jews arrived after the Holocaust and drove them away. I once showed students in the US a map of the Middle East and they just didn’t believe me – one student stood up and said “this is not a real map”. Because when you see the facts, you understand this whole vision of Israel is wrong.

The growing Muslim population is also a factor. These second-generation Muslims living in Europe are a prime ground for anti Zionism to manifest. These protests are mainly carried out by second-generation Muslims as well as local European youth looking for a symbol. And who is behind these anti Zionist / anti Semitic protests?

Professor Porat: Radical Islamic elements are the main power behind the campaign to undermine Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They run a very smooth operation, waiting to pound on Israel at every opportunity. Whenever Israel makes a military move against Hamas or Hezbollah, protests emerge within hours. They are constantly building their infrastructure, ready to make a move whenever they can. It is not a reaction to what Israel actually does; the posters are ready ahead of time and are lifted within a matter of hours. How are Jews in Europe impacted by this growing anti Israel trend?

Professor Porat: When there are military operations like Cast Lead against Hamas, or the second Lebanon war, we definitely see an increase in hate crimes against Jews. When things calm down, we see a return to the regular upward trend. Religious Jews with their traditional clothes are those that suffer the most from the anti Israel trend. These are the Jews that the Dutch politician referred to, saying he cannot guarantee their safety.

With 22 Million Muslims in Europe there are clearly neighborhoods that are not safe for Jews. This is the reality and we need to deal with it. Israel needs to work with other minorities as well as with moderate Muslims to combat the anti Israeli trend as well as other discrimination against minorities and groups.