The Two Anti-Semitisms – and the people who see beyond them

Israeli governments and their supporters have always been keen to both (rightly) emphasise the unacceptability of anti-Semitism against Jews and (wrongly) to label any and all criticisms of actions by the Israeli government and military as anti-semitic.

The other kind of anti-Semitism : Against Arabs

There is a second kind of anti-semitism though – that against Palestinians or against all Arabs, who are also Semitic peoples (cultures which developed in the Levant in the Middle East).

Perhaps to justify the way Israeli Arabs and Palestinians were treated as a subject race of inferior beings the early Zionist Jewish settlers developed a view of Palestinians and often all Arabs as less than human – a view very similar to the anti-Semite’s bigoted caricature of all Jews.

The Zionist poet Uri Greenberg in the 1920s referred to “the Arab” as “a murderer, knife honed, dipped in poison”. Israeli historian Anita Shapira found that the Zionist newspapers of the 20s and 30s frequently referred to Arabs as “murderers”, “desert savages” and “barbarians” and that Palestinian Arabs were widely seen by Jewish settlers as “sly”, “cunning”, “cruel”, “immoral” and “lazy” (1).Sadly this other kind of anti-semitism – against Palestinians or all Arabs – is still influential in Israel.

Former Israeli General Ehud Barak (who is still a senior member of the Israeli Labor Party) said when he was Prime Minister (in 2002) that Palestinians have a “culture” of lying in which truth is unimportant compared to the “Judaeo-Christian” culture of truth. His government went on to lie repeatedly about events inside Israel involving the shooting dead of unarmed Israeli Arabs (on orders) by Israeli forces (2).

Barak accused Israeli-Arab member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) Azmi Bishara of “abusing democracy” by proposing a single bi-national state of Israelis and Palestinians in which Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs would be full citizens alongside Israeli Jews and claimed this made Israeli-Arabs a “fifth column” inside Israel. The killings referred to above were one result of this rhetoric (3).

Many Israeli government ministers have referred to Israeli Arabs as “invaders” and “criminals”. In 2002 the Israeli Chief of Staff Mosh Ya’alon referred to Palestinians as a “cancer” and said that Israel had not cut the cancer out but was applying "chemo-therapy” (4).

Why the "Palestinians are just crazy" theory doesn't fit the facts

The respected Israeli historian Benny Morris explained in interviews with the Israeli media in 2004 that Palestinians are in some way genetically or culturally violent and cannot be redeemed (5).

Morris said that “when one has to deal with a serial killer, it’s not so important to discover why he became a serial killer. What’s important is to imprison the murderer or to execute him.”

He went on to say that Palestinians are “The barbarians who want to take our lives... At the moment, that society is in the state of being a serial killer. It is a very sick society. It should be treated the way we treat individuals who are serial killers.”

Next he claimed Islam as a religion was sick “There is a deep problem in Islam. It’s a world …in which human life doesn’t have the same value as it does in the West, in which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien. A world that makes those who are not part of the camp of Islam fair game. Revenge is also important here. Revenge plays a central part in the Arab tribal culture. Therefore, the people we are fighting and the society that sends them have no moral inhibitions.”

The same year Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim, at a ceremony for the victims of a Palestinian suicide bombing of an Israeli bus echoed Morris’ (not uncommon) views saying "What is it about Islam as a whole and the Palestinians in particular? Is it some form of cultural deprivation? Is it some genetic defect? There is something that defies explanation in this continued murderousness." (6) Boim’s remarks were condemned by opposition MKs but supported by some of the governing Likud party. Today Boim is Israel’s Housing and Constructions minister.

Yet we know that Israeli society permits and encourages the killing of Palestinian and Israeli Arab civilians for instance in orders to its military revealed by current and former Israeli soldiers – and since it has conscription this must involve a large part of the population plus the judiciary and government.

This does not mean however that Israeli society as a whole is “sick” culturally or that Israelis have a “genetic defect” or that it shows a fundamental problem with Judaism. To suggest anything of the kind would be anti-semitism against Jews and for Barak, Morris, Boim and many other Israelis to suggest the same about all Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims is equally anti-semitic bigotry against Palestinians and Arabs coupled with Islamophobia. This is even more worrying given that Barak and Morris are considered to be on the liberal wing of mainstream Jewish politics.

Morris’ claim about Palestinian society and Islam as a whole is false. Certainly some Palestinians are violent extremists – but there isn’t a country in the world in which military occupation hasn’t led to exactly the same – not even Buddhist Tibet. Military occupation involves violence and killing – and creates the same against the occupiers.

Many Israelis and Palestinians are not blinded by either Anti-Semitism

There are many people in both Israeli and Palestinian society who do not think in the bigoted way that Morris and other Zionists on the one hand and Islamic Jihad and many members of Hamas on the other do. People who want to end occupation, war crimes and terrorism – who want a fair peace.

There are the Seeds of Peace members. There are Combatants for Peace. They include both Jews and Palestinians. There are the members of the International Womens’ Peace Service. John Pilger has interviewed Rami Elhanan, an Israeli whose daughter was killed in a Palestinian suicide bombing and campaigns every day for peace. He said military occupation leads to “moral corruption. When we don’t let pregnant women through checkpoints and their babies die, we have reduced ourselves to animals and we are no different from suicide bombers.” To those who defend Israeli government actions he said “they should be loyal to real Jewish values and support the peace movement. Yitzhak Frankenthal , whose son , an Israeli conscript, was killed by Hamas, told Pilger “Let all the self-righteous who speak of ruthless Palestinian murderers take a hard look in the mirror..[ask themselves] what they would have done had they been the ones living under occupation…our double standard allows us to boast the highest military ethics, while the military kills innocent children.” (7)

It would be helpful to the cause of peace if the majority of Israeli Zionists could bring anti-Semitism against all Palestinians or all Arabs and Islamophobia against all Muslims to an end. These views are just as mindless and just as unacceptable as anti-Semitism against all Jews or all Israelis. Just as not all Palestinians hate Jews not all Israelis or Jews, not even all Zionists, back the version of Zionism which is anti-Semitism against Palestinians – or bigotry against all Muslims.

Those bigoted against Palestinians and Islam also include some Jewish religious fundamentalist Zionists who see the entire Biblical “Land of Israel” as granted to the Jewish people by God – meaning that Israel supposedly has a Divine Right to annexe the entire West Bank and parts of Jordan , Egypt and Syria and much of Lebanon. (again not all religious Zionists are bigots or oppose peace though – Zionism may mean simply believing Jews have a right to live in Israel, it need not mean Palestinians don’t have an equal right to live there as equals in the same state or their own state).

Nor is it true that none of Hamas will not negotiate with Israel on any terms – many of its leaders are willing to make peace if Israel will withdraw its military and its settlers to behind its borders as they were before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Each of the two kinds of anti-semitism and religious fundamentalism and bigotry feeds the other. Denouncing one kind while allowing respectability to the other is hypocrisy. There is a way past them though.To quote the Israeli historian Baruch Kimmerling :

“All the brave Israeli women who stand before Israeli checkpoints prevent soldiers from harassing Palestinian laborers seeking work in Israel; The men and women from Israel and abroad who set up convoys bringing food and medicine to hungry Palestinian children in besieged towns, villages and refugee camps; And to the conscientious objectors who spent many months in military jail because they refused…to commit war crimes… All of them express the genuine nature of Judaism and the true nature of Israel”(8)

The Palestinians have their peace campaigners too – like the renowned Palestinian academic and PLO member Sari Nusseibeh who said :

“If we ever have a democratic state then it must come about by peaceful means and from below…That is exactly the reason why one should turn to the people. The source of authority for any agreement can either be the respective governments or the people. Since we have so far not gone anywhere in our pursuit of peace on the level of leadership, it becomes necessary to develop the alternative source of power, or authority: the people. If the political leaders should once more be unable to agree, it would not be the end of the road as long as enough people come forward and say: but we want it!... Am I optimistic? No, I have faith” (9).

There are Palestinians and Israelis who see with clear eyes unclouded by either kind of anti-semitism on both sides. There are many of them – and with our support they can bring about a fair and lasting peace.

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007

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Sources and Footnotes

(1) = Shapira, Anita (1992), ‘Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force 1881-1948’, London, 1992 , p43, 53-9, 69, 77,181, 214-215,237, 377)cited in Finkelstein, Norman G.(2003) , ‘Image and Reality of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 2nd Ed.’, Verso, London & New York, 2003, 111-112

(2) = Cook, Jonathan (2006), ‘Blood and Religion : The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State’, Pluto Press, London , 2006, page 55

(3) = Cook, Jonathan (2006) ‘Blood and Religion : The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State’, Pluto Press, London , 2006, page 57

(4) = Kimmerling, Baruch (2003), ‘Politicide : Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians’, Verso, London, 2003 page 165

(5) = ‘Survival of the Fittest?’, An Interview with Benny Morris By Ari Shavit, (First published in Ha’aretz 09 Jan 2004, ‘Survival of the fittest’, )

(6) = Ha’aretz 24 Feb 2004, ‘Boim: Is Palestinian terror caused by a genetic defect?’,

(7) = Pilger, John (2006), ‘Freedom Next Time’, Bantam Press, London, Sydney and Johannesburg, hardback edition, Ch2, esp. pages 96-100

(8) = Kimmerling, Baruch (2003),’Politicide : Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians’, Verso, London, 2003 – dedication

(9) = Open Democracy 8th April 2004, ‘Faith, not optimism: an interview with Sari Nusseibeh’,

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007