- A Hungarian Joke: During the June 1967 war, a Hungarian
meets his friend. "Why do you look so happy?" he asks. "I
heard that the Israelis shot down six Soviet-made MiGs today," his
- The next day, the friend looks even more jubilant. "The
Israelis downed another eight MiGs," he announces.
- On the third day, the friend is crestfallen. "What
happened? Didn't the Israelis down any MiGs today?" the man asks.
"They did," the friend answers, "But today someone told
me that the Israelis are Jews!"
- This is the whole story in a nutshell.
- The Anti-Semite hates the Jews because they are Jews,
irrespective of their actions. Jews may be hated because they are rich
and ostentatious or because they are poor and live in squalor. Because
they played a major role in the Bolshevik revolution or because some of
them became incredibly rich after the collapse of the Communist regime.
Because they crucified Jesus or because they infected Western culture
with the "Christian morality of compassion". Because they have
no fatherland or because they created the State of Israel.
- That is in the nature of all kinds of racism and chauvinism:
One hates someone for being a Jew, Arab, woman, black, Indian, Muslim,
Hindu. His or her personal attributes, actions, achievements are
- unimportant. If he or she belongs to the abhorred race,
religion or gender, they will be hated.
- The answers to all questions relating to anti Semitism
follow from this basic fact. For example:
- Is everybody who criticizes Israel an anti-Semite?
- Absolutely not. Somebody who criticizes Israel for certain
of our actions cannot be accused of anti-Semitism for that. But somebody
who hates Israel because it is a Jewish state, like the Hungarian in the
joke, is an anti-Semite. It is not always easy to distinguish between
the two kinds, because shrewd anti-Semites pose as bona fide critics
of Israel's actions. But presenting all critics of Israel as anti- Semites
is wrong and counter productive, it damages the fight against anti-Semitism.
- Many deeply moral persons, the cream of humanity, criticize
our behavior in the occupied territories. It is stupid to accuse them of
- Can a person be an anti-Zionist without being an anti
- Absolutely yes. Zionism is a political creed and must
be treated like any other. One can be anti-Communist without being anti-Chinese,
anti- Capitalist without being anti American, anti-Globalist, anti-Anything.
Yet, again, it is not always easy to draw the line, because real anti-Semites
often pretend just to be "anti-Zionists". They should not be
helped by erasing the distinction.
- Can a person be an anti-Semite and a Zionist?
- Indeed, yes. The founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl,
already tried to enlist the support of notorious Russian anti-Semites,
promising them to take the Jews off their hands. Before World War II,
the Zionist underground organization IZL established military training
camps in Poland under the auspices of the anti-Semitic generals, who also
wanted to get rid of the Jews. Nowadays, the Zionist extreme Right receives
and welcomes massive support from the American fundamentalist evangelists,
whom the majority of American Jews, according to a poll published this
week, consider profoundly anti-Semitic. Their theology prophesies that
on the eve of the second coming of Christ, all Jews must convert to Christianity
or be exterminated.
- Can a Jew be anti-Semitic?
- That sounds like an oxymoron. But history has known some
instances of Jews who became ferocious Jew-haters. The Spanish Grand Inquisitor,
Torquemada, was of Jewish descent. Karl Marx wrote some very nasty things
about the Jews, as did Otto Weininger, an important Jewish writer in fin-de-siecle
Vienna. Herzl, his contemporary and fellow Viennese, wrote in his diaries
some very uncomplimentary remarks about the Jews.
- If a person criticizes Israel more than other countries
which do the same, is he an anti-Semite?
- Not necessarily. True, there should be one and the same
moral standard for all countries and all human beings. Russian actions
in Chechnya are not better than ours in Nablus, and may be worse. The trouble
is that the Jews are pictured and picture themselves (and indeed were)
a "nation of victims". Therefore, the world is shocked that yesterday's
victims are today's victimizers. A higher moral standard is required from
us than from other peoples. And rightly so.
- Has Europe become anti-Semitic again?
- Not really. The number of anti-Semites in Europe has
not grown, perhaps it has even fallen. What has increased is the volume
of criticism of Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians, who appear
as "the victims of the victims".
- The situation in some suburbs of Paris, which is often
cited as an example of the rise of anti-Semitism, is a quite different
affair. When North African Muslims clash with North African Jews, they
are transferring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to European soil. It
is also a continuation of the feud between Arabs and Jews that started
in Algeria when the Jews supported the French regime and Muslims considered
them collaborators of the hated colonialists.
- Then why did most Europeans state in a recent poll that
Israel endangers world peace more than any other country?
- That has a simple explanation: Europeans see on television
every day what our soldiers are doing in the occupied Palestinian territories.
This confrontation is covered more than any other conflict on earth (with
the possible exception of Iraq, for the time being), because Israel is
more "interesting", considering the long history of the Jews
in Europe and because Israel is closer to the Western media than Muslim
or African countries. The Palestinian resistance, which Israelis call "terrorism",
seems to many Europeans very much like the French resistance to the German
- What about the anti-Semitic manifestations in the Arab
- No doubt, typically anti-Semitic indications have crept
lately into Arab discourse. Suffice it to mention that the infamous "Protocols
of the Elders of Zion" have been published in Arabic. That is a typically
European import. The Protocols were invented by the secret police of Czarist
- Whatever inanities may be voiced by certain "experts",
there never was any widespread Muslim anti-Semitism, such as existed in
Christian Europe. In the course of his fight for power, the prophet Muhammad
fought against neighboring Jewish tribes, and therefore there are some
negative passages about the Jews in the Kor'an. But they cannot be compared
to the anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament story about the crucifixion
of Christ that have poisoned the Christian world and caused endless suffering.
Muslim Spain was a paradise for the Jews, and there has never been a Jewish
Holocaust in the Muslim world. Even pogroms were extremely rare.
- Muhammad decreed that the "Peoples of the Book"
(Jews and Christians) be treated tolerantly, subject to conditions that
were incomparably more liberal than those in contemporary Europe. The
Muslims never imposed their religion by force on Jews and Christians,
as shown by the fact that almost all the Jews expelled from Catholic Spain
settled in the Muslim countries and flourished there. After centuries
of Muslim rule, Greeks and Serbs remained thoroughly Christian.
- When peace is established between Israel and the Arab
world, the poisonous fruits of anti-Semitism will most probably disappear
from the Arab world (as will the poisonous fruits of Arab-hating in our
- Aren't the utterances of the Prime Minister of Malaysia,
Mahathir bin Muhammad, about the Jews controlling the world, anti-Semitic?
- Yes and no. They certainly illustrate the difficulty
of pinning anti- Semitism down. From a factual point of view, the man was
right when he asserted that the Jews have a far bigger influence than
their percentage of the world's population alone would warrant. It is
true that the Jews have a large influence on the policy of the United
States, the only super-power, as well as on the American and international
media. One does not need the phony "Protocols" in order to face
this fact and analyse its causes. But the sounds make the music, and Mahathir's
music does indeed sound anti-Semitic.
- So should we ignore anti-Semitism?
- Definitely not. Racism is a kind of virus that exists
in every nation and in every human being. Jean-Paul Sartre said that we
are all racists, the difference being that some of us realize this and
fight against it, while others succumb to the evil. In ordinary times,
there is a small minority of blatant racists in every country, but in
times of crisis their number can multiply rapidly. This is a perpetual
danger, and every people must fight against the racists in their midst.
- We Israelis are like all other peoples. Each of us can
find a small racist within himself, if he searches hard enough. We have
in our country fanatical Arab-haters, and the historic confrontation that
dominates our lives increases their power and influence. It is our duty
to fight them, and leave it to the Europeans and Arabs to deal with their
- Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with
Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices
of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's hot
new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: