1, Issue 1 (November2006 / Cheshvan 5767)
Interview with Walter Laqueur*
Alexander H. Joffe
You have commented on antisemitism and anti-Zionism in a
recent book (The Changing Face of Antisemtism, Oxford
University Press, 2006, and a long article in The Times Literary
Supplement. But let us begin on a personal note: You grew
up in Nazi Germany; antisemitism has not been a purely academic
issue in your life. Did you expect a resurgence of antisemitism
after Hitler and the holocaust?
gave antisemitism a bad name, but there had been anti semitism
before and there was no reason to believe that it had come
to an end in 1945. Prior to Hitler antisemites did not mind
to be called antisemites, (there were some exception--the Nazis
did not like the term and virtually banned it during the war
because it was offensive to some of their allies such as Haj
Amin al-Husayni, the Jerusalem mufti). To day this term has
gone out of fashion and there is great indignation in some
circles to if the are charged with antisemitism. In some can
tries it can lead to criminal prosecution. A spade is no longer
called a spade but an agricultural implement. In any case the
impact of the Nazi deterrent was limited to Europe and North
America. There was closed season as far as the Jews were concerned;
this lasted for several decades but was bound to come to an
end. The surviving Jewish communities had been doing too well,
moved into prominent positions in many fields and many people
got impatient to be reminded constantly of the mass murder
which had taken place. After all, they argued, there had been
massacres on a massive scale in other places even in our time,
how could one possibly maintain that the holocaust was somehow
But some critics such as Chomsky maintain that antisemitism has virtually disappeared...
wish he were right, but it is a ludicrous statement. Do we
really have to discuss this? I don't think that upon further
reflection even Chomsky will stick to this thesis. It is true
that antisemitism is changing its manifestation and motivation,
not for the first time in its long history. Racialist antisemitism
has gone out of fashion after the Nazis, at least in Europe
and America. But racialist antisemitism is a relatively recent
(19th century) phenomenon, even though some antecedents can
be found in 15th century Spain (the purity of the blood concept).
Medieval antisemitism was largely religious-theological in
inspiration. The Jews rejected the founders of two of the worlds
major religions and this was bound to lead to great hostility.
Some historians believe there was antisemitism in the ancient
world prior to the rise of Christianity. Others think this
was no more than part of general, free floating xenophobia.
This is a highly specialized field, I am not an expert but
I tend to think the latter are right.
How then would you define the new antisemitism?
is post racialist and in many respect similar to the earlier
religious antisemitism, except of course that certain ideologies
have replaced religion. "Usury" has become "Wall Street". The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion are no longer in fashion
in the West, they have been replaced by the neo-Conservatives
as the nefarious plotters and wire pullers and the all powerful
Jewish lobby in Washington. In the 1920s and 30s one of the
main accusations in the antisemitic arsenal concerned "Jewish
Communism"; today it is Jewish globalism and capitalism. In
Lessing's "Nathan"--the classic 18th century play--there is
a famous repetitive scene: "Tut nichts, der Jude wird verbrannt," ("Never
mind, the Jew is for burning"). Well, for the time being the
Jew is not for burning, only for boycott.
church (and Islam) believed that there was no salvation outside
the church, but the moment the heretics desisted from their
heresies and joined the fold (political correctness in modern
parlance) they were no longer enemies but were treated as equals.
This explains inter alia the presence of Jews (or
lapsed Jews) in their ranks. Post racialist antisemitism (again
I refer to Europe and the Americas--the situation elsewhere
is not the same) does not aim at the expulsion of the Jews
let alone their physical destruction. They want the Jews to
desist from their erroneous belief that they have the right
to have a state of their own and generally speaking take a
Which leads to the issue of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. To what extent (to
pick just one example) is antisemitism involved in the appeals to boycott
Israel committed crimes more heinous than any other country
it would be only natural that it should come in for such massive
attack. But if it is singled out for sins, real or spurious,
committed by many other countries and governments on a far
larger scale, the reasons must be other than those adduced.
According to the peace researchers 25 million people were killed
in internal conflicts since the end of World War Two. 8.000
civilians were killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which ranks
forty-sixth in the list of victims. Yet Israel has been condemned
far more often than all other countries taken together by the
United Nations. Israel has been condemned for its treatment
of its Arab minority and I am sure there could be improvements.
But the situation of the Palestinian Arabs has been and is
infinitely better than that (to name but one example) of the
Dalets (the Untouchables) in India of which there are about
a hundred millions. But I have not heard of any protest demonstrations
in this context in the streets of Europe or any other continent.
Why this relentless focusing on Israel and who are its main protagonists?
varies from country to country. In the UK the teachers unions
have been very active, they were for many years under Communist
influence, today the Trotskyites have key positions. But if
there would be no willingness to follow their lead the boycott
appeals would not be very successful. In the US the influence
of certain churches has been strong. Sometimes the naivete
displayed on these occasion is disarming. I read somewhere
:Why can't we bar Ahmadinejad from coming to Europe on the
occasion of the soccer world championship? After all we (meaning
the European governments) decided not to let enter Lukashenka
of White Russia and Mugabe of Zambia. As if the answer was
not known--if Lukashenka and Mugabe had substantial oilfields
in their countries and if they were close to producing nuclear
weapons, no one would dare to deny them entry.
(and the Jews) have been singled out for attack because they
were few and weak. Let us engage in a simple exercise in counterfactual
history. If the Ottoman Empire had collapsed not in 1918 but
at the time of the Crimean war, or after the Russian-Turkish
war 1828/9. What if the great majority of European Jewry would
have decided to migrate to Palestine , and what, if with a
birthrate like the Gaza Strip, it would now have fifty million
inhabitants or even more? Such a Greater Palestine extending
from the Nile to the Euphrates with substantial oilfields would
be a major force in world politics. It would live in peace
with its neighbors, the refugee issue would be settled, just
as it has been settled everywhere else, no one wants to trifle
with a country this size. It would be a honored member of the
United Nations, Muslim religious leaders would invoke quotations
from the Koran and the Hadith stressing the closeness and friendship
between Muslims and Jews, children of the same ancestor---
Abraham-Ibrahim. The Norman Finkelsteins of this world would
sing songs of praise concerning the miraculous renaissance
of an old people its progressive, tolerant character--or legoyim--a
shining beacon to the rest of the world.
are of course mere fantasies that might have appealed to a
visionary like Disraeli. The Ottoman empire did not collapse
and the Jews did not emigrate and Israel is a small country
without oilfields or other such resources. It is safe to attack
This may explain anti-Zionism and hostility towards Israel, but to what extent
does it explain the new antisemitism? Where is the border line?
goes without saying that not all anti-Zionism is antisemitism.
We should not forget that up to the 1930 the great majority
of Jews were either opposed to Zionism or indifferent--which
did not make them antisemites. And there is room for legitimate
criticism of Israeli policy; I for one have been more than
uneasy since 1967 about Israeli policy vis-a-vis the West Bank
and Gaza which I thought shortsighted and self defeating. This
explains why Israel lost a great deal of sympathy. But it does
not explain why other countries, many of them not great and
powerful, who have been responsible for gross violations of
human rights have been immune to attack--no demonstrations,
no UN resolutions, no boycott. In other words there is some
specific animosity whenever Israel is concerned--whether to
call this Judeophobia or post racial antisemitism or radical
anti-Zionism is an interesting semantic question. But whatever
terminology is used, there is some element involved which does
not exist when the behavior of other people is judged. If Palestinian
hostility can be explained as a consequence of the conflict,
why should Israel and the Jews generate such strong passions
among the likes of Mikis Theodorakis or Carlos the Jackal,
people without a known personal stake in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict who have not suffered from it physically or emotionally?
Sympathy with the underdog? But if so why concentrate on one
specific underdog and ignore all the others?
To what extent is the situation of European Jewry affected by the new wave
has been affected for years; Jewish institutions such as schools
all over Europe need special protection by police and other
security forces; no other ethnic or religious group is in a
similar position. Amsterdam has a Jewish mayor, but he cannot
move a step without his bodyguards. I am less concerned about
the countries in which antisemitism was rampant before World
War Two, simply because the Jewish communities there are quite
small. There is xenophobia and aggression against aliens, but
the Jews are a very small part of these aliens and if dangers
are perceived by, for instance, ultra nationalist Russians
they are threatening from very different directions.
there is a physical danger facing Jews in countries such as
France it comes from among Muslim radicals. We all know that
the ethnic composition of European countries is rapidly changing.
About a third of the young generation in many West European
cities (and this goes not only for France but also for Germany,
the Netherlands, etc) is now of Muslim origin, and their birth
rate is much higher than that of the local population. Since
the Jewish communities are also concentrated in the big cities
it means that soon they will live in a largely or even predominantly
Muslim milieu. Some years ago a French left wing intellectual
wrote in Le Monde that the political implication of
the fact that there are ten times as many Arabs as Jews in
France cannot be disregarded. The person was attacked, but
he only articulated what many others were thinking. In less
than a generation from now there will be more politicians such
as a Ken Livingston the mayor or London. He is not of course,
an antisemite, some of his assistants are Jews, some are Muslims.
But these Muslims hate the Jews, and the Jewish friends hate
the Zionists, whatever that may mean. In brief, the situation
of Jews in this new Europe will not be an easy one.
What about Jewish self hate, which is sometimes mentioned as a motive--and
our time a great many people have been distancing themselves
from religion and (to a lesser degree) from their ethnic origins.
This is true a fortiori for the Jews among whom assimilation
has been more widespread than among any other group. It has
been in many ways a natural process and I find nothing reprehensible
in it--there is no moral obligation to identify with the Jewish
community or support Israel. But if "anti-Zionism" is the only
known Jewish activity of such a person, the question of a deeper
motive such as self hate inevitably arises. Self hate does
exist. And it is not a Jewish monopoly, Pascal wrote "le moi
is haissable". This goes back among the Jewish left too for
a long time, well before the existence of Israel. Rosa Luxemburg
wrote in one of her letters from prison to Mathilde Wurm (I
quote from memory)--do not come to me with your specific Jewish
concerns (she had written about the pogroms in Eastern Europe).
The fate of the Indians in Putamayo (Colombia) she wrote was
closer to her. She felt, that she had to prove that she was
a true internationalist. There was something (to put it very
mildly ) self-conscious in such utterances.
Laqueur was director of the Wiener Library in London and chairman
of the International Research Council of the Center for Strategic
and International Studies in Washington. He is the author of
over 25 books on history and contemporary affairs, including Dying
for Jerusalem: The Past, Present and Future of the Holiest
City (Sourcebooks, 2006), The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism:
From Ancient Times to Present Day (Oxford, 2006), No
End to War: Terrorism In The Twenty-first Century (Continuum,
2003), A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution
to the Establishment of the State of Israel (Random House,
2003), and Fascism: Past, Present and Future (Oxford,
Alexander H. Joffe is co-editor of Covenant and
director of research for The David Project of Boston, Massachusetts.
An archaeologist and historian, he has written widely on
the ancient Near East, arms control and international security,
and cultural politics.
- Global Jewish Magazine 2006