Fighting antisemitism should not be Israel’s primary concern

August 23, 2021 by Efraim Inbar
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Antisemitism is a phenomenon at least two thousand years old.


Professor Efraim Inbar Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Antisemitic pamphlets appeared in the Roman Empire before the crucifixion of Jesus – an event that moulded the attitudes of Christian generations towards Jews from antiquity to modern times. Even countries with no Jewish communities or a Biblical cultural heritage such as Japan or China have antisemitic incidents.

Such deeply-rooted cultural tendencies are not related to what Jews are or how they behave. Antisemitism is a social disease that plagues the gentile world.

The Jewish state, which is concerned about the destiny of Jews wherever they are due to fraternal-ethnic bonds, is sensitive to displays of antisemitism around the world and has played a central role in the effort to fight this phenomenon.

Yet, antisemitism should not be Israel’s main business. Israel is a small country with limited resources. The aspiration to cure the gentile world of a chronic disease is highly presumptuous and hardly an achievable goal. While it has to protest, small Israel cannot change the world. Most of the world is deaf to Israel’s moral pleas.

Moreover, it is the moral duty of non-Jews to cure themselves of this scourge. It is to the shame of European countries that in the 21st century a Jew cannot wear a kippah or a Magen David in the streets of Brussels or Paris without being harassed. This malady is unfortunately evident also in New York.

Hannah Arendt pointed out that antisemitism is an early sign of totalitarian impulses on the Left and on the Right. Therefore, enlightened Gentiles – there are many of them – should be at the forefront of combating antisemitism. The onus of responsibility for fighting prejudice against Jews should not be on Israel or on Jewish organizations. Gentiles should fund the efforts to improve the moral quality of their societies.

Many Jews make a living by serving in organizations devoted to anti-defamation of Jews. This is a waste of Jewish money in a Sisyphean colossal task of getting rid of long-held pathological cultural traditions. Is there any evidence that these organizations have managed to lower the level of antisemitism in their countries? Did the persistent efforts of Jewish agencies dealing with antisemitism yield any positive results? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is negative. Such organizations should probably be dismantled, and their resources should be put at better use – into Jewish education for example.

Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, should listen to the concerns of the Diaspora, but carry out a foreign policy based upon raison d’état considerations. Antisemitism is a secondary consideration that should be subordinated to state interests. Israel can and should benefit from doing business with leaders of political entities that are not paragons of virtue. Jewish survival over the generations is partly a result of this insight.

The current crisis with Poland is a good example of Israel’s foreign policy going astray due to an exaggerated response to perceived antisemitism. The anti-restitution law passed by Poland is problematic and probably stems also from Polish antisemitism. Yet, it was passed by a democratically elected government and is an internal affair of a sovereign state.

While American officials, as well as international organizations, joined Israel in condemning that legislation, Jerusalem’s official response was harmful to Israel’s national interests. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, decided to downgrade Israeli diplomatic representation in Warsaw, and added: “Gone are the days when Poles harmed Jews without consequence. Today, Jews have a proud and strong country of their own… We do not fear antisemitic threats and have no intention of turning a blind eye to the shameful conduct of the anti-democratic Polish government.” These types of condescending statements of a “proud” Jew are morally wrong and politically counterproductive.

The attempt to educate 40 million Poles is a futile exercise. Poland is not going to change the legislation. The attempt to ensure “historic justice” is doomed to failure. It would be better to reach quiet understandings with the Polish government.

Moreover, Poland, an important European state and the fifth-most populous member state of the European Union, is a good friend of Israel. Poland has helped Israel withstand anti-Israeli sentiments emanating from Brussels. Poland’s voting behaviour in international fora is better than most other European states. The bilateral relations are very good, including important security cooperation.

Poland, like other Eastern European countries that were within the Russian sphere of influence, understands the national security concerns of Israelis. Polish nationalists find Israeli nationalism an ally against supra-nationalist ideas trying to erase national identity.

Israel’s Don Quixotic campaign against Poland should quickly end. Jerusalem should return to a foreign policy that is not fueled by sentiments and historic memories, but by its national interests.

Prof. Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS).



One Response to “Fighting antisemitism should not be Israel’s primary concern”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    I am aware of Professor Efraim Inbar’s work and admire much of it. However, I am in passionate disagreement with everything he says here.

    It is not only Jews in the Diaspora who are affected by antisemitism, so is Israel. You cannot, and should not, disconnect the two. While antisemitism is allowed free reign, without fighting back, the lives and future of Jews everywhere are in danger. Examples of that can be seen throughout history. And HaShoah is a defining one. One does not get anywhere by submitting to or trying to ignore a bully.

    To say it is the moral duty of non-Jews to cure themselves of the scourge of antisemitism is an extremely empty concept, both for its lack of concern for any likelihood of such ever happening and also for the fact that it’s the protection of Jews we are talking about here – their right to equity in the world of human beings – not the elevation or not of the moral fibre of non-Jews.

    Hannah Arendt is not someone I am particularly impressed by insofar as providing any light on the subject. Yes, she wrote on totalitarianism and is famous for it. It should not be forgotten that she also allowed her more ideological/philosophical concepts to get in the way of a fuller, more deep reportage on the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. Her simplification of ‘the banality of evil’ (based to my mind on a circularity of argument that becomes superficial), is a generalisation that erodes fuller realisation and acknowledgement of actuality and reality. It does nothing but harm, as it is parroted without further thought by many. It certainly does not push forward for any kind of exploration or further understanding.

    Anti-defamation organisations in the Diaspora are of the utmost importance, not only for the protection of Jewish people, and as bodies that can be turned to for assistance by Jewish individuals and communities, but increasingly for confronting non-Jews who harbour injustice, lack of balance and sometimes hatred for the Jews in their midst, and for Israel. The two go together – the Jews in the diaspora and Israel. The media and social media in countries other than Israel are more and more turning to unfair, biased reportage, which in turn feeds antisemitism, which in turn feeds more hatred for Israel and wish for its demise. Anti-defamation organisations work tirelessly against this and we would be far worse off without them.

    Taking monies away from funding these organisations and putting it into education? Whose education? The non-Jews we are talking about are not interested in being ‘educated’ – they must be fought instead, more and more loudly, more and more combatively – we will not submit to bullying lying down!

    It is time for Israelis to understand more fully the very real connection between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora and how what affects one affects the other.

    Yes, Israel is a small country, but that hasn’t stopped it punching above its weight, nor has it stopped it streaming ahead in many fields of development important to the world. It should never lose sight of the importance of protecting its own underbelly from antisemitism.

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