Anti-Semitism: What is it?

Several of us among the incurably curious asked ourselves a simple question: what is anti-Semitism? That it must be written with a capital “S” says a lot.

Then we realized it also morphs. To that feature I can attest. In November 2002, I met a “John Doe” in London who proposed a research challenge. While meeting that challenge, I encountered various versions of anti-Semitism.

A colleague advised against this challenge. First he fretted at the criminal nature of what the research has since confirmed. Then he inquired about my safety. That said a lot.

The colleague was M.I.T. Professor Noam Chomsky. For his criticism of Israeli policy, he was attacked as a self-hating Jew. Were he not Jewish, doubtless he would have been an anti-Semite. For critics of Israel, those are the only two options. He cautioned me:

You’ll get the same thing: anti-Semitic, Holocaust denier, want to kill all the Jews, etc. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Bear in mind that you are dealing with intellectuals, that is, what we call ‘commissars’ and ‘apparatchiks’ in enemy states.

Is anti-Semitism a geopolitical strategy? If so, for what purpose? Character assassination?

Ten months ago, I met with Professor William Robinson on the University of California Santa Barbara campus. We met soon after he was attacked by the Anti-Defamation League and its network.

Robinson had read Guilt By Association, the first release based on this research. His question mirrored Prof. Chomsky’s concern: “Are they going to kill me?” he asked. Who are They? Those who attack anyone critical of Israeli policy.

Anti-Semitism—A License to Kill?

For his class on globalization, Robinson provided an email link to a photo essay critical of Israeli policy. The essay had been circulating online for weeks. When two students complained to the ADL, its attack troops insisted on Robinson’s removal while its national network urged alumni to threaten the withholding of gifts and bequests to the university.

Word quickly spread among academics nationwide. That time-critical ADL strategy silenced on-campus criticism of the Israeli assault on Gaza. Is it anti-Semitic to suggest that’s how anti-Semitism works?

When the Anti-Defamation League intimidates on a national scale, does anti-Semitism morph into something even more sinister? The Gaza assault killed 1,400, including 400 Palestinian children. That slaughter was scheduled during America’s political and media “down time”—between Christmas 2008 and the January 2009 inaugural of Barack Obama.

Is it anti-Semitic to suggest a strategic motive behind the timing of Israel’s latest savagery?

Then there’s the motive for 911. Is it anti-Semitic to raise that taboo subject? Ask those members of the 911 Commission who objected—successfully—when the chair and vice-chair proposed hearings on the motivation for that high-profile provocation.

Instead, Americans were left to cope with the results of an overwrought reaction to an unexplained mass murder too quickly blamed on “Islamo” fascism. Only now can we see the full costs in blood and treasure of a war waged on fixed intelligence and false pretenses.

The fiscal tab alone is projected to total $3 Trillion. That includes the future costs of military pensions, disabilities, record-level post-traumatic stress, suicides and so forth.

All that money is borrowed, a first for an American war. The interest cost could reach $700 billion. Is it anti-Semitic to mention here that debt is always the prize?

At the end of WWII, the victorious U.S. was home to 50% of the world’s productive power. Our bonds were gilt-edged and remained so for two generations. Now we are widely hated, our credibility is shot, our credit rating is slipping and our economy teeters on a meltdown.

Is it anti-Semitic to ask, “What happened?”

Is it anti-Semitic to report that the so-called “mastermind” behind 911 cited as his motive the U.S.-Israeli relationship?

Would it be anti-Semitic to ask for an accounting of the “but for” costs of this relationship?

But for this “special relationship” what would be the current condition of the U.S.—financially, militarily, diplomatically, geopolitically? Would the computation of those costs be an exercise in anti-Semitism? How about future costs?

Is it Anti-Semitic to call for a New 911 Commission?

America was misled to wage war in Iraq. Who had a relationship with us privileged enough to succeed with such duplicity in plain sight?

Who had the means, motive, opportunity and—importantly—the stable nation state intelligence to deceive us from inside our own government? Is that question anti-Semitic?

We were betrayed. Does that betrayal trace to those who befriended us?

We were defrauded. Does that treason trace to those we were induced to trust?

As counsel to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee (1980-87), I crafted federal tax law governing funds under management. Those funds surged from $800 billion in 1980 to more than $17,000 billion by the spring of 2007.

Those tax policies created a vast pool of “money-on-autopilot.” Today’s consensus belief can be simply put: money should be allowed to pursue more of itself—freely.

The unspoken assumption is that money is smarter than people. That’s the generally accepted truth behind the finance-fixated obsession we now know as “economics.”

Legions of consensus-touting consultants insist that this One True Faith guide lawmaking worldwide. By law, financial freedom became a proxy for personal freedom. Tribunals under the World Trade Organization may yet enforce that worldview globally.

How did such a narrow perspective become a widely agreed-to mindset? How were we induced to set America’s course by those values peculiar to money?

Rather than the civil rights refrain, “Let my people go,” the consensus refrain is “Let my money go.” Were we induced by a subculture within a subculture…within a subculture to freely embrace the very money myopic mindset that now endangers our freedom?

This mindset first surfaced as the “Chicago model” before morphing over decades into the “Washington” consensus.

How were we as a nation induced to brand democracy with a point of view that, by law, displaces those values not denominated in money? Is that an anti-Semitic question?

Shutting Down Debate

Early on in this challenge, I included the noun “Jew” in a Google search. I received in return an automated response from the Anti-Defamation League implying I was an anti-Semite.


More importantly, how did a Google response appear in my email inbox—automatically—from the Anti-Defamation League?

The ADL network conducts trainings for law enforcement under recently enacted federal hate crimes legislation. By my use of a common noun in an online search, am I now identified in a database as wanting to kill all the Jews?

Mark Yudoff, president of the University of California, could have intervened in the on-campus events that caused Professor Robinson to fear for his life. He declined. Richard Blum, chair of the state’s Board of Regents, could have intervened. He too declined.

Judith Yudoff is the immediate past international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism representing 760 synagogues. Blum’s wife, U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein, chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Is it anti-Semitic to report these facts?

My apologies. Clearly I don’t yet grasp what anti-Semitism is. Thus I throw the challenge to you the reader: what is it? Together perhaps we can sort this out.

Jeff Gates is author of Guilt By Association, Democracy at Risk, and The Ownership Solution. Read other articles by Jeff, or visit Jeff's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. jon s said on March 22nd, 2010 at 2:08pm #

    Here’s a classic expression of Anti-semitism, from the Bible: (Esther ch.3 ,8-9)

    8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus: ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king’s laws; therefore it profiteth not the king to suffer them.
    -If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those that have the charge of the king’s business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries.’

    From Haman’s words you can produce a good definition.

  2. NatanPress said on March 22nd, 2010 at 2:55pm #

    It’s worth noting, I think, that for all the criticism you or Chomsky may get from the ADL, pro-Israeli’s get a lot more from the “‘commissars’ and ‘apparatchiks,’” the intellectuals, in the United States.


    That’s not to say that the American government, or public opinion are anti-Israel. I think it’s simply worth noting that you’re not talking about the few fighting the many. Just the opposite.

    So what is “antisemitism?” I agree that the word gets thrown around far too much these days. It’s an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction, and I think I may be able to help explain the issue.

    Recently I watched a youtube recording of some news broadcast where Congressman Ron Paul was “debating” conservative pundit Ben Stein. Ron Paul, as usual, said many of the things you point out above: 911 commission should be redone, war on terrorism should be ended, etc. I believe he didn’t mention Israel there, although he has often talked about disengagement with Israel (or any other country) for any reason beyond trade.

    Regardless, though he didn’t mention Israel, Ben Stein immediatly jumped in with a completely non sequitur (in my mind) “That’s anti-semetic!”

    Ron Paul said “no it’s not” and went on with what he was saying. Quietly, Ben Stein could be seen and heard sort of retracting his statement. “Well, what I meant to say was that it sounds a lot like other antisemitic things I’ve heard…”

    So the question can be asked: what exactly have you heard, Ben Stein, that makes you say things sound antisemitic?

    I was born in Israel. If it had not been for Israel, I would not exist, and it is likely neither would have my parents. However, I am now an American, and I have certain values that call on me to question many Israeli practices. I believe in personal property, for instance. Therefore I do not believe in land grabbing and the expansionist policies of Israel (more on this later).

    However, that does not mean that I therefore believe in the policies of the Arab governments surrounding Israel. I call them Arab governments because that is how they self-identify (and it is an important distinction). They have, in the past, called for many wars against Israel in order to establish a unified Arab government, essentially approximating the Ottoman empire. Now, they probably don’t actually want these things. That is, those in power don’t want to relinquish power to a greater Arab state (hence the many political squabbles in the region amongst Arab powers themselves).

    The policies of the Arab governments surrounding Israel are collectivist, authoritarian, and legally mostly based on some interpretation of Sharia law. I believe no left leaning American would consider the domestic policy of the Arab states better than the domestic policy of Israel. Just the opposite. Israel’s domestic policy is based on socialist ideals, and liberal democratic traditions. However, Israel’s foreign policy overcomes any discussion of the relative merits of the governments. Why?

    Israel was created (along with another, Arab state) by the UN, after England and France had already, arbitrarily divided up the rest of the Ottoman Empire and then set those arbitrarily created units free. England, before giving up its claim to the increasingly difficult region of Palestine to the newly created UN (remember this was just after WWII), had begun allowing Jews to leave Europe and settle in Palestine. There were some Jews there already, and they were very much a part of the local community (that is, it would be hard to distinguish between Jew and Islamic or Christian Arab in Jerusalem). But England allowed Jew from Europe, westernized as they were, to set up (at that time Socialist, agrarian) shop in Palestine. Those were the Zionists who believed in a homeland, and who wanted out of European nations who would soon prove their true antisemitism in horrific ways. This movement can be equated with the movement of African Americans who wanted to “return” to Liberia. Some Jews were interested, and some Jews weren’t and wanted equality where they were, thank you very much. The Holocaust disabused many Jews of the notion that they would ever achieve equality in Europe, and many came to Palestine (as they were not allowed to go to England, or the United States).

    Palestine became a hotspot of confrontation. The Arab Nationalist movement that England helped birth (see Lawrence of Arabia) against Ottoman rule, became, as such English inspired movements often do, an anti-western movement. And the Jews coming from Europe were bringing many un Arab things with them. Many Arab elites wanted an Arab Ottoman Empire. The western Jews, and Israel, were a threat to what the Arabs considered theirs. Where Jews and ARabs worked together, so did certain factions amongst them work apart. Some Jews wanted a “true” Jewish homelend, and fought violently (as terrorists) against Arabs, as some Arabs did against the Jews. The English tried to bring peace but were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, many Jewish settlers created a lot of infrastructure, bringing western innovation to the desert. The English gave the Palestinian problem to the UN, and the UN tried to divy up the land. The day Israel was created, the Arab nations surrounding Israel (not the Palestinian people), waged war on Israel. Israel won that war, taking some cities, like Jaffa, that had been originally granted to the Arab population. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank were taken and held by Egypt and Jordan, respectively. Some Arabs stayed in Israel (and became Israeli citizens), and some Arabs were forcibly evicted during the chaos of the first war.

    Before 1973 the United States pretty much stayed out of the conflicts in the middle east. Israel developed its own arsenal (guns, tanks, fighters, and tanks). It was very successful in this regard, using both it’s own technological advances, and those stolen from other governments via espionage (like France’s Mirage fighter). Israel’s second war was a proxy war. France and England wanted access to the Suez canal, and convinced (tricked) Israel to invade Egypt to keep Egyptian forces busy while French and English soldiers took the canal. Tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors made this easy. Those tensions would escalate and lead to war a number of times in the next two decades. In the ’67 “Six Day War” Israel took parts of Jordan and Syria and Egypt. Included was the West Bank, where the Jordanian government kept Palestinian refugees from the first Israeli war, and the Gaza Strip where the Egyptian Government kept Palestinians. These refugees were not allowed into Arab societies. When Israel took the West Bank many of those Arabs left and entered refugee camps in Jordan. The slaughter by the Jordanian government of the Palestinians was far greater than any claimed about Israel. The numbers proclaimed by non-other than Arafat about this tragedy are in the tens of thousands. Even if that’s a gross exaggeration, you can look up accepted neutral numbers. Israeli aggression does not compare. Why don’t people hear about that?

    The war of 1973 was fought by Arabs with Russian weapons against Israelis with Israeli weapons. Israel won that war too (at a great loss to itself), but it was only when the Israeli army was a day outside of both Cairo and Damascus that Russia and the United States stepped in to STOP Israel. Martin Kramer makes some argument that the United States began engaging with Israel in order to muscle the Arab countries into providing oil without embargoes (something like, if we make Israel really strong, then the Arabs will respect our influence, and stop raising the price of oil). Dont quote me on that. I think it had more to do with the US fighting another proxy Cold War battle, using Israel as a pawn against Arab states at that time supported militarily by Russia.

    The Palestinians were the tragic losers in every way because of this mess. Not because of Israel, but because of Israel, the surrounding Arab states (that forced Palestinians into refugee camps, or killed them, and exiled them to Lebanon), and the greater world conflicts of the time.

    The Arab elite were, and are, still the same Arab Nationalist Elite. The Arab republics translate and post their goals for a unified Arabia openly on the internet. The more extreme elements (and, though extreme, very powerful) also translate and post their reasons for being on the internet. They want something inherently Islamic Arab (NOT Islamic, NOT Arab, but both…see the plight of the Copts in Egypt, or the Christians in Lebanon, or the long standing conflict between Arab states and other Islamic states). Bowing to Russia, or the West is, understandably, not in their interest. Neither is allowing a Jewish state in their midst.

    Here we get to the gist of my answer. The history of antisemitism is closely related to the history of anti-westernism. The rhetoric is the same. Capitalism is for the greedy, Jews are greedy, or, better yet, Jews create greed. See Marx’s early “On the Jewish Question.” Capitalism = Judaism and vice versa. These beliefs are inherent in the reactionary stance of Germany before WWII. Germany must fight the West, and rid the world of Jews.

    Of course, many Jews in Eastern Europe led the fight for Communism (including both my maternal great-grandfathers, later imprisoned or tortured to death in the purge). Communism is also a reaction against “the West” and many Jews who had to leave Eastern Europe because of royalist oppression, the Nazis, or Stalinism, came to the United States and started the Socialist movement (or started the Socialist state of Israel).

    The antisemitic nature of Stalin’s government started to turn many eastern Europeans, especially Jews, against the Left. In the United States, most Jews were still of the Left, and also started to identify with Israel, as the only place where a Jew could truly be safe.

    The Arab Elite, let down by Russia (to say the least), started using much of the same old Nazi rhetoric. The war against Israel was always the war against the West, Capitalists, and now Communists as well. Jews are the epitome of everything that is bad. They carry that Western, Capitalist, Communism inherently in their blood.

    Evidence of this is Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. But what of Arab action against the Palestinians? Or against other Arabs? Or against Persians?

    Why focus on Israel at all? So many horrible things are happening in this world. Far greater atrocities than land grabbing, and using greater force against a weaker enemy. I don’t mean to downplay the immorality of what Israel is doing. But a lot of what Israel is doing is being played up, over and above what other nation or people do. Why do we focus so much on Israel? Why not Sri-Lanka? Why not any number of African nations? Why not Russia? Why not, you know, what the US does? Why is Israel such a focus for so much of the Western world?

    My answer is that Israel is the West, and it provides a perfect stomping ground for all those Westerners who react against the West, as the Nazi’s did, and who equate Jews with whatever it is they hate about the West.

    Unfortunately, that leaves those of us with legitimate criticism sounding a bit like people who are antisemitic. It is right to criticize the US government. It is unfortunate that a lot of critics of the US government sound exactly like, lets say, David Duke.

    That’s a good place to look actually. Read some David Duke. See how much he sounds just like Chomsky. How many of his arguments are so similar if not the same.

    Imagine that you’re a member of a Jewish organization that reads that sort of Hate regularly, and then runs into the discourse of someone like Chomsky. What would you think?

  3. Don Hawkins said on March 22nd, 2010 at 3:11pm #

    Again for me read this it’s work together or down and down hard.

  4. NatanPress said on March 22nd, 2010 at 3:55pm #

    For further reading on the origins of modern antisemitism, I strongly suggest Liah Greenfeld’s Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. It’s about far more than antisemitism. In fact, antisemitism isn’t really a focus of the book. However, where she discusses the formations of the German and Russian Nations especially I think you’ll see a lot of what I’m talking about.

    What is the “West” or “Modernity?” What solidified a German national identity, and how did Nazism manage to be its outcome? How did an anti-religious, anti-ethnic political philosophy like Communism engender such radical ethnic and religious bigotries?

  5. Rehmat said on March 22nd, 2010 at 5:04pm #

    “Well, it’s a trick, we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticizing Israel then we bring up the holocaust. When in this country US) people are criticizing Israel then they are antisemitic. And the organization (Israel Lobby) is very strong and has lot of money. And the ties between Israel and american estab- Jewish establishment are very strong – and they are strong in this country as you know. And they have power which is ok.” – Former Israeli cabinet minister, Shulamit Aloni (born 1928), during her August 14, 2002 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

    Hatred toward Jews (aka anti-semitism) have existed since the birth of Christianity, over 2000 years ago. Jewish communities have a long history of persecution and expulsion in almost every western country. However, the term has not been used as a political too by the Zionist world until the 1967 war. After Israel’s humiliating military setback against Lebanese Islamic Resistance group Hizbollah in 2006 and Israel’s deminishing PR abroad and after the 23-day genocide of Gaza people during Dec.-Jan. 2009 – have made the Jewish lobby groups and pro-Israel governments in the US, France, Canada and Germany very nervous. In their desperation they have geared up the false accusation of anti-semitism as a weapon to silence the criticism of Israel’s Nazi behaviour.

    Israel’s deadliest weapon

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on March 23rd, 2010 at 2:30am #

    jon s is really a treat! He gives us the Judaic version of the Purim story, with the evil Haman urging the destruction of the Jews, quaintly enough for doing what they do to this day, keeping themselves separate from the societies in which they live and acting always in their tribal interest rather than for the common god, but leaves out the interesting bit. That,of course, is the killing, by the Jews, of Haman, his numerous sons and 75,000 of his followers, plainly a huge proportion of the Persian population of the time. In other words Purim,like Passover, celebrates genocide by and for the Jews. Of course this religious bloodlust, is very slightly reduced in its horror by knowledge that it is entirely fictional, but the religious ideology that flows from such fables is very much alive.
    Not only does Judaism celebrate massacres as holy events, but the Torah is replete with descriptions of genocides committed by the Jews and demands from the Judaic God for further mass killings,in particular the Amalek story. All this would simply be the detritus we can find in all the monotheisms but for its application today in the ideology of the Judaic fundamentalist fascists, and the consequent state policy of the terrorist Israeli state. For there is no question that Israel and its leaders, safe in the knowledge that they control Western politics and the media through Jewish money power, regard the rest of humanity, institutions like the UN and international humanitarian law with open and utter contempt. Israel has had a comprehensive peace offer on hand from the Arabs since 2002, which even Hamas has now indicated it supports, but Israel, intent on illegal expansion of its unlawful settler infestations, has rejected it contemptuously, and the Western media sewer and its execrable inhabitants have suppressed knowledge of the peace proposal’s very existence, cravenly obeisant to their owners as ever.
    Anti-semitism, of course, exists. People repulsed by the wretched behaviour of Zionist child-killers, or by the presumption and arrogance and contempt for the rest of humanity of some Jews or by Jewish economic dominance and lack of scruple in financial manipulation, may make the wrong conclusion and hate all Jews for it. That, of course, would be wrong, as not all Jews are fascists, criminals and business parasites. Many are fine, noble people. Some are just run-of-the-mill human beings. To label a whole group as a single, undifferentiated mass of good or evil, without thought to individual differences of character and behaviour is imbecilic and despicable. Interestingly enough this is precisely what the Judeofascists and their Sabbat Goy stooges do with regard to Arabs, Moslems and Palestinians. For years the Australian media, Murdoch’s cess-pool and the ABC since Howard to the fore, have been dominated by incessant, vile and relentless hatemongering against Islam, its followers, Arabs and any who dare resist Israel. Nothing remotely like it concerning Jews is tolerated, indeed even the most well behaved and moderate criticism of Israel is now virtually absent. In particular the Palestinians have been banished almost entirely from presenting their point of view. And behind the hatemongering, the vilification of Hezbollah, Hamas, the Gazans, the incessant bloodlust for the destruction of Iran, the demands to attack every Islamic state not in the Israeli pocket, lie Zionist Jews, either as the authors or as the employers or sponsors of the propagandists.
    Of course a campaign like this, to drive the world to religious war, to demonise hundreds of millions of people, to steal their land and resources and kill their leaders and children, raises opposition from decent people. This opposition has been growing as Israeli atrocities worsen and as Israel moves more and more to a religio-fascist Right. Israel still controls the Western political and media apparatus to an almost comic state, where obeisance to Israel and Jewry has become so craven, so obsequious, so groveling as to be frankly hilarious. Zionists are also plainly allying themselves with fascist Islamophobes, as the numerous Star of David flags present at the racist ‘English Defence League’ (itself an echo of Kahane’s Jewish Defence League, showing who is pulling the strings behind this mob)march recently shows. In the face of the upsurge of anti-Israeli mobilisation, the Judeofascists have replied in the only way they know how, with vilification,intimidation, threats and lies. There will be much more of this to come, and increasing violence, for these are people motivated by visceral hatred and rage, the product both of a religiously derived belief in their absolute supremacy over the rest of humanity and of unrelieved and probably irredeemable anger as the result of the Nazi Judeocide. The problem is that both alternatives lead to disaster. Acquiescing with Israeli barbarity will only lead to a slow motion genocide for the Palestinians, or their expulsion, and the growth of Judeofascism until it dominates the region, and, through its US puppet, the world. Israel will lead the world into an era of globalised apartheid, with the Western elites, themselves dominated by Jewish money power, lording it over the poor world, destroying non-obedient societies with the ferocious brutality we have witnessed in Iraq and as is being planned for Iran. Or we can resist and hope against hope that decent Israelis and Jews somehow prevail in the face of religious fascists who despise them as much as they do non-Jews. This is the moral position, and the only one that offers any hope of a decent outcome both for the Israelis and their victims. In this fight we should bear the false badge of ‘anti-semite’ with pride, it being far preferable to the real accusation of racist and fascist that we can so honestly apply to our enemies.

  7. jon s said on March 23rd, 2010 at 9:13am #

    My intention was to show that Haman’s formulation, as quoted in the Bible, still stands as a classic Anti-Semitic attitude: the Jews are hated because they assert their right to be different and to maintain their identity, as expressed in their traditions and customs. Purim does not “celebrate genocide” but rather Jewish survival, including the exercise of self-defense. In any case, Purim has become a harmless, kid-friendly carnival-style holiday. Mulga’s mention of Passover is slightly more puzzling. The story of Passover, of a people’s emergence from bondage to freedom, has been an inspiration for liberation movements for generations.
    In a lighter vein, there’s a saying that all the Jewish holidays boil down to : “They tried to annihilate us. They failed. Let’s eat!”

  8. Rehmat said on March 23rd, 2010 at 2:22pm #

    If one read the Jewish Bible one would find out that it is more anti-Semitic than the New Testament.

    Israelite slaves did not play any significant part in the Passover. It was Moses who with his royal connections got the freedom for the Israelites – but as the present-day Jews – Moses was too betrayed by the Israelites.

    Purim does celebrate the Holocaust of over 72,000 innocent Persians at the hands of Israelites.