From Statelessness to Power: Israel and the reversal of antisemitism

November 5, 2017 by Professor Bill Rubinstein
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In recent years the State of Israel has become an object of deep affection for many of the Western world’s conservatives, especially in the United States…writes Bill Rubinstein.

Professor Bill Rubinstein

Right wing candidates for President and other senior politicians have fallen over themselves to make clear their uniquely high regard for the Jewish state. To take one example, US Vice President Mike Pence, an across-the-board conservative and a Roman Catholic, from Indiana, a state where only one per cent of the population is Jewish, referred to Israel as “America’s most cherished ally”. He visited Israel in 2014 to express his support, and in 2016 as Governor of Indiana signed into law an anti-BDS bill. Ted Cruz, the most right-wing candidate for President for the 2016 election, stated prominently in his campaign literature that “We Stand With Israel  ̶ We must make it clear that the US-Israel alliance is once again a strategic bedrock for the United States.” Much the same admiration has been expressed, by Europe’s conservatives, including, rightly or wrongly, its right-wing, so-called “populist” leaders.

This situation is, in fact, the virtual exact opposite of the reality which existed before 1945, when most conservatives were overtly or covertly anti-semitic. It is worth exploring why this was so. Why was the Western world’s conservative so hostile to the Jews? Obviously there were many reasons, including Christian theological antisemitism, but the main factor in my view was the perceived rootlessness and statelessness of the Jews, and their status as the only Western people without a geographically contiguous area of settlement, the necessary prerequisite for independent statehood.  In contrast to all other peoples, the Jews were seen as a permanent class of aliens, strangers, and parasites wherever they went (although this was much truer of continental Europe than of the English-speaking world.) This lack of a contiguous territory led to all the other negative and distinctive features which set them apart from other peoples. They lacked an aristocracy, a peasantry, or a military component of soldiers.  The peculiar social structure of the Jews lay behind their image as uniquely dangerous, sinister, and alien.  The unique failure of the Jews to have a state of their own since Roman times was perhaps the most important single element in Hitler’s antisemitism, referred to in ranting, demented terms in Mein Kampf:

“Since the Jews never possessed a state with definite territorial limits and therefore never called a culture his own…the Jew never thinks of leaving a territory he has occupied, but he sits so fast that even by force it is hard to drive him out…. The Jews…were only and always a parasite in the body of other people….He is and remains a typical parasite, a sponger who like a noxious bacillus keeps spreading as soon as a favourable medium invites him.”

Although Hitler’s insane views were uniquely extreme, these ideas were commonly expressed on the European far right between around 1870 and 1945. To take one example, the famous and powerful champion of Tsarist absolutism and antisemitism, Konstantin Pobedonostov (1827-1907) stated much the same thing to an English interviewer:

“The characteristics of the Jewish race are parasitic. For instance they require the presence of another race as ‘host,’ although they remain aloof and self-contained. Take them from the living organism, put them on a rock, and they die. They cannot cultivate the soil.”

This kind of antisemitism  has almost entirely vanished. The main, and perhaps only reason for this has been the creation of the State of Israel, which totally changed the image of the Jews, giving them a state and a normal society in place of statelessness and their perception as rootless parasites. Indeed, the image of the Jews today is the very opposite of what it was a century ago: Israel is perceived as possibly the most admired country in the world by nearly all of the political right, and is reviled by the far left, which often wants to wipe it out. The crucial importance of the creation and maintenance of the State of Israel in this reversal of antisemitism has probably not received the credit it deserves.

So far has this reversal gone, that Israel under Netanyahu is now a close friend of Hungary under Victor Orban, the latter country’s right-wing Prime Minister, a country whose anti-semitic traditions and history are obvious. Israel today represents everything that many European “eurosceptic” conservatives most admire: based on age-old religious and political traditions, self-confident in its nationalism, answering to no-one for its foreign or domestic policies, especially over immigration:  the “nation in arms,” united for patriotic rather than subversive aims.  It has maintained this national mood while remaining a multi-party democracy with a free press, and independent judiciary, and a country with equal rights for its minorities.  Since 1948 Israel has  experienced the same hostility from most of the Islamic world, and Arab and Islamic terrorism, that the West now knows only too well. In complete contrast, the deep hostility of the extreme left to Zionism and the State of Israel, virtually amounting to anti-semitic paranoia, are also familiar to every reader. Most Jews today understand this, but to those who don’t, this is the new reality and it is unlikely to change.

Emeritus Professor Bill Rubinstein held chairs at Deakin University and the University of Wales and is now connected with Monash University.


4 Responses to “From Statelessness to Power: Israel and the reversal of antisemitism”
  1. Bill Rubinstein says:

    Many thanks to Maxine Finberg for her kind remarks. Gary Max: I was talking about the current position of the mainstream right throughout the Western world, not the crackpot far right.
    If I tried to discuss the far left’s current hostility to Israel,and often to Jews, this J-Wire website would not be large enough to hold the evidence – one would need a library.
    The Southern Poverty Law Center is a discredited source, demonising as it does anyone who disagrees with it, including voices of reason and moderation. Dennis Prager’s “Prager University” video site recently summed up its agenda very well:
    Professor William Jacobson, who runs the Legal Insurrection website, has also devastatingly analysed its extremist agenda and thrust:
    Somewhat in the manner of the Online Hate Prevention Institute here, the SPLC brands as “racist” anything it doesn’t like.

  2. Gary Max says:

    So right-wing anti-semitism has disappeared since 1948? Not according to Ira Rifkin in my Jewish Learning, who writes, ‘The new anti-Semitism is most apparent in Western Europe and the Muslim world. But even in the United States, long viewed as the world’s safest nation for Jews, anti-Semitism’s resurgence may be seen in the proliferation of websites maintained by right-wing extremists and anti-Israel activists, and in the rhetoric of left-wing anti-globalization demonstrators on the streets of New York and Washington, many of whom equate Israel with fascism.’
    In the US, Richard Spencer and his National Policy Institute are a preeminent example alt-right’s continuing anti-semitism.
    Of European ant-semitism, Rifkin writes, ‘Writing in The Jerusalem Report, commentator Stuart Schoffman postulates that Western European anti-Semitism is both an attempt to shake off Holocaust guilt by arguing that Jews no longer warrant sympathy due to Israel’s alleged wrongs, and “a twisted expression of atonement–in France and Belgium in particular, but elsewhere too–for (Europe’s) own sordid colonial past.”’
    So while left-wing and Muslim anti-semitism are most prominent in Europe, right-wing ant-semitism is slowly reemerging because the existence of Israel and the passage of time has assuaged European guilt, rather than Israel winning the right’s admiration.
    Studies in the US, by Carolyn Gallaher – School of International Service – and Keegan Hankes – Southern Poverty Law Center – show that there is a trend for some right-wingers to reassert their broader xenophobia and anti-semitism, pointing out the distinction between the alt-right, those expressing ant-semitism, and alt-lite, those continuing to be polite (or shtum) about Jews.
    It may be a little early to claim, ‘That this type of anti-semitism (right-wing) has almost entirely vanished’ and it is certainly too early to claim, ‘this is the new reality and it is unlikely to change.’

  3. Maxine Finberg says:

    This is an excellent article. Bill Rubinstein has elucidated with utmost clarity the positive effect that the proud democratic State of Israel has had on the political Right as opposed to the political Left, which comprises much of the world’s media, the UN, EU and has sympathies with the Islamic world.
    As Bill Rubinstein says, the Right and Left have reversed their positions.
    This is the new reality.

  4. Lynne Newington says:

    Since 1948…….yet it wasn’t until 1993 the Romans of later times would even acknowledge you…then for land grab holy sites [still in operation] concessions and fiscal benefits.
    Shall I include in between years where you were still at their mercy during the Roman supported dictatorship of Argentina, not withstanding Nostra Aetate [In our time] originally conceived by John XX111 between Rome and the Jews.
    Don’t take just my word on it…

    Q: Does Nostra Aetate talk about religions other than Judaism?

    A: As originally conceived, the declaration was to be about the church and the Jews only. Traditionalists, and Middle Eastern bishops unsympathetic to the new state of Israel, objected. Bea decided on a less contentious goal: a document that stressed ecumenism and discussed other faiths.

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