One day in the 1940s a man knocked on the door of my family’s house in the east end of Toronto, seeking signatures for a petition. After he said the petition was an attempt to keep Jews off our street, my parents declined to sign and he went away. Later I asked my mother why he and others were against Jews. She answered with probably the least offensive accusation she had heard about them: “People say they give loud parties.” She was not interested in the petitioner’s more virulent arguments.
That was my first brush, at age 10, with anti-Semitism, a prejudice I’ve tended to watch with great interest over the years. By the time I was grown it was much diminished. The barriers to Jews in the professions and business fell, one after another. Eventually, it seemed reasonable to say that, while anti-Semitism still existed, it no longer played a significant role in shaping Canadian society.
But lately it has re-appeared, not just in Canada but across the West. Now, however, it takes the form of hostility to Israel. And now it is significant.
The man said the petition was aimed at keeping Jews off our street. My parents declined to sign and he went away
There are many people who campaign against Israel but claim not to be anti-Semites. They have nothing against Jews, they say, but they passionately oppose the alleged imperialism, militarism and racism of Israel. That’s intended as a reasonable proposition, but it ignores the alleged imperialism, militarism and racism of many other countries. Their foreign policy is focused on a single state, the Jewish state. How did they choose Israel over other states deserving of their critical attention?
In 2017, news of anti-Semitism is hard to avoid. A letter from the Gatestone Institute a few days ago noted that “Anti-Semitism has returned as one of Europe’s worst diseases.” Recently, at McGill University, an anti-Semitic email was used in a campaign against a Jewish candidate for the board of the student union. Noah Lew, a third-year arts student, posted on his Facebook page that “I was blocked from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity and my affiliation with Jewish organizations.”
At the University of British Columbia, vicious anti-Semitic signs have recently appeared on campus. A news report from Paris yesterday announced, “Anti-Semitism is devouring the French Republic.”
Now the political context of anti-Semitism sharply differs
Now the political context of anti-Semitism sharply differs. A few decades ago it usually emerged from those with right-wing views. In the U.S., the race-conscious “alt-right” falls within the traditional view of anti-Semitism, as do the advocates of “white supremacy.”
But now anti-Semitic opinions are often held and spread by leftish forces. Last summer, a vast, nearly 1,000-strong convention of the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed the anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement. They are no doubt sincere and virtuous socialists, and they believe that trying to hurt Israel is a sincere and virtuous expression of socialism, a thought they hope to install in the campaign of the Democrats.
This week brings a report titled The Anti-Israel Agenda: Inside the Political War on the Jewish State (Geffen Publishers), by Alex Ryvchin, an Australian Jewish writer who details the anti-Israel activities of Oxfam, the UN and other forces. Ryvchin criticizes members of the anti-Israel movement as “self-righteous Westerners.”
Since 1948, Israel has withstood three invasions on multiple fronts, and hundreds of terrorist attacks
He points out that since 1948 Israel has withstood three invasions on multiple fronts, and hundreds of terrorist attacks, yet has emerged intact. So, he says, its enemies have opened a new front — “a full-scale political assault on Israel’s legitimacy.” Institutions of moral and political influence, including Western governments, the universities, the UN and the churches are being turned against Israel.
Their purpose is “to isolate and cripple the state until it can no longer defend its interests or its people.” He believes the campaign began at the UN’s World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The Durban Conference developed a strategy for attacking Israel on moral grounds. Creating the image of Israelis as occupiers, colonists and oppressors has become a triumph of modern propaganda, a project both impressive and totally unfair. Ryvchin has given Israel’s supporters and fair-minded observers an explanation of how this outrageous libel became so widespread.