The Antisemitism Industry doesn’t speak for Jews: It speaks for western elites

Film-maker Jonathan Glazer’s crime at the Oscars was to threaten the establishment’s stranglehold on the West’s narrative about Israel – and itself

Many years ago, the Jewish US scholar Norman Finkelstein wrote a best seller that caused uproar among a group he exposed as the “Holocaust Industry”: people who invariably had not been direct victims of the Holocaust, but nonetheless chose to exploit and profit from Jewish suffering.

Though treated as leaders of the Jewish community, they were not primarily interested in helping survivors of the Holocaust, or in stopping another Holocaust – the two things one might have assumed would be the highest priorities for anyone making the Holocaust central to their life. In fact, hardly any of the many millions the Holocaust Industry demanded from countries like Germany in reparations ever made it to Holocaust survivors, as Finkelstein documented in his book.

Instead, this small group instrumentalised the Holocaust for their own benefit: to gain money and influence by embedding themselves in an industry they had created. They became untouchables, beyond criticism because they were associated with an industry that they had made as sacred as the Holocaust itself.

A follow-up book called the Antisemitism Industry, an investigation into much the same group of people, is now overdue. These ghouls don’t care about antisemitism – in fact, they rub shoulders with the West’s most prominent antisemites, from Donald Trump to Viktor Orban.

Rather, they care about Israel – and the weaponisation of antisemitism to protect their emotional and financial investment. They profit from Israel’s central place in US political, diplomatic and military life:

  • as a giant real-estate laundering exercise, based on the theft of native Palestinian land;
  • as a laboratory for the production of new weapons and surveillance systems tested on Palestinians;
  • as a heavily militarised colonial state, a spearpoint for the West, useful in destabilising and disrupting any threat of a unifying Arab nationalism in the oil-rich Middle East;
  • and as the frontier state for eroding legal and ethical principles developed after the Second World War to stop a repeat of those atrocities.

Anyone who challenges the Antisemitism Industry’s – and therefore Israel’s – stranglehold on Jewish representation in public life is hounded as an antisemite or self-hating Jew, as is currently happening most prominently to Jewish film-maker Jonathan Glazer. He is the Oscar-winning director of The Zone of Interest, about the family of a Nazi commandant of Auschwitz who lived blind to the horrors unfolding just out of view, beyond their walled garden.

I wrote an earlier piece about the manufactured furore provoked by Glazer’s comments at the Oscars. In his acceptance speech, he denounced the hijacking of Jewishness and the Holocaust that has sustained Israel’s occupation over many decades and generated constant new victims, including the latest: those who suffered at the hands of Hamas when it attacked on October 7, and the many, many tens of thousand of Palestinians killed, maimed and orphaned by Israel over the past five months.

Israel’s walled garden

Though it is unclear whether any analogy was intended by the film-makers when they were making The Zone of Interest, the film undoubtedly has especial significance and ironic resonance right now, as Israel commits what the World Court has called a plausible genocide in Gaza.

For the past 17 years, Israelis have lived in their own walled garden, right next to an open-air concentration camp for Palestinians that has been blockaded by the Israeli military from every direction: by land, sea and air.

The Palestinian inmates were not allowed out of their cage. Their fishing boats were confined to only a mile or two from the coast. And Gaza’s skies were filled with the constant buzzing of drones watching over the population, when those same drones weren’t unleashing deadly missile strikes quite literally from out of the blue.

The concentration camp was gradually becoming a death camp. Palestinians were being left to die very slowly in their cage, too slowly for the world to notice.

For a decade, the United Nations had been warning that Gaza was becoming uninhabitable, with more than 2 million Palestinians crowded into the tiny enclave.

Most had no work, and no prospect of ever finding work. There was no meaningful trade because Israel refused to allow it, which meant there was no economy. Gaza was almost completely dependent on handouts. And Gaza’s population was fast running out of clean water, slowly poisoning themselves with water mostly drawn from overstretched and contaminated aquifers.

Israelis had no reason to care about what was happening on the other side of their walled garden – much of it land stolen in 1948 from Palestinian families like those confined to Gaza.

If Palestinian groups tried to make a noise by firing home-made rockets out of their prison, Israel had an Iron Dome system that intercepted the projectiles. Quiet – or “calm” as the western media calls it – largely reigned for Israelis. Or it did until October 7.

Were Glazer ever to make a modern retelling of The Zone of Interest, the Nova music festival, filled with young people dancing through the night on the doorstep of the Gaza concentration camp, might provide good material. Except this updated tale would have an unexpected twist: the youngsters living the dream right next to 2 million people living a nightmare suddenly found themselves caught up in the nightmare too, when Hamas broke out of the Gaza prison on October 7.

“Wrong kind of Jews”

Glazer’s crime at the Oscars was to threaten the Antisemitism Industry’s stranglehold on the West’s narrative about Israel.

In Britain, the Antisemitism Industry calls them the “wrong kind of Jews” – Jews who care about all human suffering, not just Jewish suffering. Jews who refuse to let Israel commit crimes against the Palestinian people in their name. Jews who rightly described as a witch-hunt the smearing of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, including his Jewish supporters, as antisemites.

Glazer seized the rare opportunity provided by the awards ceremony this week to grab the microphone from the Antisemitism Industry and represent a Jewish voice that westerners are not supposed to hear. He used the Oscars as a platform to highlight Palestinian suffering – and to suggest that it is normal to care about Palestinian suffering as much as it is Israeli and Jewish suffering.

In doing so, he threatened, like Finkelstein before him, to expose the fact that these antisemitism witchfinder generals are dangerous charlatans, conmen in the true sense.

Unlike the Antisemitism Industry, Glazer has profound, universal things to say about the Holocaust and the human condition. He makes his living from tapping deeply into his humanity, insight and creativity, not wielding his power like a bludgeon to terrorise everyone else into submission.

Which is the context for understanding the comments, widely cited in the media, of David Schaecter, the figurehead of the Holocaust Survivors’ Foundation USA.

Schaecter, who denies that Israel is occupying the Palestinian people – and therefore rejects the the very basis of international humanitarian law established to stop a repeat of the Holocaust – says it is “disgraceful for you [Glazer] to presume to speak for the six million Jews, including one and a half million children, who were murdered solely because of their Jewish identity”.

Schaecter is, of course, projecting. It is he, not Glazer, who presumes to speak for those millions of Jews.

There are plenty of Holocaust survivors who have spoken out against Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian people, including Finkelstein’s own mother and the late Hajo Meyer, the distinguished physicist who became one of Israel’s harshest critics. Meyer regularly made comparisons between what Israel did to the Palestinians and what the Nazis did to Jews like himself.

But unlike Schaecter, Meyer got no help or funding to set up a foundation in the name of Holocaust survivors. He was not feted by the western media. He was not treated as a spokesman for the Jewish community and given a bullhorn.

In fact, quite the opposite. Meyer found himself silenced, and vilified as an antisemite. He even became the pretext in 2018, four years after his death, for a new round of accusations against Corbyn for supposedly fostering antisemitism in the Labour party. The Labour leader had shared a platform with Meyer at a Holocaust Memorial Day event in 2010, five years before he became Labour leader.

Such was the onslaught that Corbyn denounced Meyer for his views and apologised for the “concerns and anxiety caused” by his appearance with the Holocaust survivor.

Today, Meyer might be astonished to find that he would be banned from being a member of the British Labour party, and that the grounds on which he would be disqualified are antisemitism. Like most other major western political parties and organisations, Labour adopted a new definition of antisemitism that equates Jew hatred with trenchant of criticism of Israel.

Meyer, the Holocaust survivor and believer in a universal ethics, would find himself unwelcome in every major British political party. Glazer, the humanitarian Jewish film-maker who cares about Palestinians as much as he does other Jews, is currently being cast out of respectable society in precisely the same way.

It can happen only because we let western establishments foist on us these Antisemitism Industry charlatans and conmen. It is time to listen to the people who care about humanity, not the people who care about their status and their wallets.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.