Dealing with the ‘new anti-semitism’

Where there’s a way, there’s a will. Given an opportunity to wield power, some knucklehead, somewhere, will use it. That’s why I worry about signs that so many folks lately — left and right — are playing into what’s called the “new anti-Semitism.”

The new anti-Semitism may be a cask of hogwash, but it’s an opportunity for sociopaths and the misguided to do what people have done for millennia — use hatred for the Jews to achieve their ends, much as Hitler used Jews to pave his twisted road to the Third Reich.

Hitler practiced the “old anti-Semitism,” which directly fingered Jews as a people apart, who conspire to prosper at the expense of states they prey upon and whose satanic powers of manipulation allow them to succeed despite their small numbers.

The new anti-Semitism is indirect. It’s said to have begun in earnest sometime between the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 and the ugliness of 9/11. It pours its molten lead more acceptably on the state of Israel. But its real target is the same as ever. True anti-Semites dig it, because it hides their hate under a cloak of respectability.

Many argue that the new anti-Semitism is bogus, and they have a point. Sincere progressives, who have worked through this complicated issue, are confident that their gripe is with Israel, not Jews, and I believe them. Many are Jews themselves. They stress there are legitimate causes for criticizing Israel _ its mistreatment of Palestinians; its heavy-handed, U.S.-style uses of force; and so on. And they resent Israel-boosters who try to silence them with shallow accusations of anti-Semitism.

The trouble is another source of power _ psy-ops _ which pretty much everyone uses regularly. Psy-ops says your cause won’t get very far unless you oversimplify and exaggerate your grievances. You vilify your enemies. You don’t cut your foes slack, except for effect. In the case of the war in Lebanon, for example, you stress the suffering Israel is causing and mention Hezbollah’s faults, if at all, only in passing.

As a result, some Israel-critics on the left sound eerily similar to me these days, at a distance, from the dark armies of neo-Nazis, Islamic fascists and such. By ironic contrast, some on the Christian right sound like Israel’s best buddy _ while, in truth, they are crypto-anti-Semites who see Israeli Jews as the launchpad for Armageddon and the ultimate demise of Judaism.

I don’t sense that a worldwide neo-fascist putsch is imminent. But I do see, in this era of rampant, coinciding conspiracy theories, opportunities for people on both the left and right to multiply their effect by aligning with one another _ especially against a target historically as productive as Jews. And given the chance, someone will take it.

So should leftists stop criticizing Israel? No. What, then? Throw out the psy-ops and embrace the complexity. In the Middle East, nothing is black or white. It sucked for Palestinians when Israel was forced on them by “the new Crusaders.” It sucks for democratic Israel to be surrounded by bigots who not only want but have tried to exterminate Israel and have no Plan B for where surviving, stateless Jews should go.

Talking in those terms isn’t so effective. But it’s less likely to end in genocide.

(Jack Ehn is opinion editor of The Tribune in Albuquerque, N.M.)