Part of the complexity of the current antisemitism debate and its analysis is the multiplicity of aspects. One cannot just compare a specific act to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition (IHRA) of antisemitism in order to determine whether it is antisemitic. The acceptance of this definition in 2016 by the IHRA Board required the agreement of more than 30 western countries and was a major achievement. However, this definition covers only part of the many manifestations of antisemitism.
The previous chairman of the British Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, called the genocidal antisemitic organizations, Hamas and Hezbollah, his ‘brothers’ and ‘friends.’ These were expressions of extreme antisemitism, yet those statements are not covered by the IHRA definition. There are many other antisemitic acts which do not fall under the definition. The IHRA text had to be short, with a limited number of examples. Its initiators could not have easily imagined a leading western politician identifying with the most extreme genocidal antisemites.
For the antisemitism analyst it would be mistaken to limit his assessment to antisemites. There are a substantial number of people who are not antisemites themselves, but can be considered their allies. This can best be analyzed in Germany.
The hugely criminal past of the country still has consequences today. These problems were already there, but have greatly increased since the 2015 massive welcome policy for immigrants. Among those that arrived from the Muslim world, many are antisemites.
The leading German immigration supporter, Chancellor Angela Merkel is the leading importer of antisemites into Western Europe. An indirect result of her policy was the growth of a right-wing party, the AfD. This party has an extreme wing with many problematic figures.
The allies of antisemitism and of antisemites in Germany come under a variety of headings. A major category are whitewashers of either antisemites or antisemitic acts or both.
An extreme case happened earlier this year in regard to the so-called Achille Mbembe affair. This Cameroon-born, philosopher teaches at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. He had been invited to be the keynote speaker by the organizers of the Ruhr Triennale, an important music and culture festival that was to have taken place this summer.
It became known that Mbembe was an extreme anti-Israel inciter and part-time antisemite. Later, German journalist, Alan Posener, would prove that Mbembe is an anti-enlightenment supporter, democracy minimizer and nihilist. The festival was cancelled due to the Corona epidemic and with it, Mbembe’s speech. In the meantime, additional information about Mbembe’s antisemitic positions and behavior became known.
Yet many intellectuals in Germany and abroad — including in Israel and Africa — whitewashed Mbembe. A first open letter defended him. Among the signatories was Wolfgang Benz. He had been director for the Center for Research on Antisemitism at Berlin Technical University between 1990 and 2011.
In an article, Mbeme showed himself to be also a sizable liar. He falsely claimed that he had been attacked because he was black. Yet this hadn’t come up in the discussion prior to this. Furthermore, Mbembe wrote that his attackers came from the extreme right. This was untrue as most of the attacks came from mainstream authors.
In this debate, a second category of allies of antisemites appeared. They not only whitewashed Mbembe, but also requested that the government fire the national antisemitism commissioner, Felix Klein. Earlier in the debate, the latter had rightly called Mbembe an antisemite. Later, additional information further supported his statement.
In view of the rampant antisemitism, the German government appointed Klein in mid-2018 as its first national antisemitism commissioner. He has done a remarkable job in calling out many of the aspects of antisemitism in the country. Succeeding in removing such a key national figure would be very beneficial to antisemites and their allies. When attacked Klein received much support from German organizations as well as some from abroad.
This more aggressive category of allies of antisemites also consists of Jewish teachers at Israeli and US universities and artists — many of them well-known Jewish masochists. They wrote to the German Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer. They claimed that Mbembe was not an antisemite, that BDS was not antisemitic and that the national antisemitism commissioner, Felix Klein, should be dismissed.
On May 17th, the German parliament, the Bundestag, adopted a motion equating BDS with antisemitism. In response, 240 Jewish and Israeli scholars wrote a letter rejecting this equivalence (!) They called on the German government not to endorse the motion and to protect and respect freedom of speech, which they claim are under attack.
It was a letter German antisemites could rejoice about.
A further expression of the allies of antisemites occurred when in 2020 a book appeared whose title translates as: The Conflict Antisemitism: The Claim on Power to Interpret, and Political Interests. Its editor is Benz. It claims, for instance, that antisemitism has to be dealt with together with the fight against racism. This is a far-going argument to weaken the fight against antisemitism, as the history of antisemitism and racism are greatly different.
The book presents the BDS movement as marginal. It supposedly only aims to end the Israeli occupation of “Palestinian territories”. Yet a variety of publications show that within the BDS movement there are many groups who call for violence, promote antisemitism and have links to terrorist organizations.
Widespread in Germany is the pejorative expression “Du Jude,” “you Jew.” The book claims that this expression doesn’t necessarily have to be antisemitic. It is a typical example of minimizing antisemitism.
Another important way of helping antisemites is attacking the IHRA definition. Its initiators knew that it wasn’t perfect. Yet it was an important step forward in the battle against Jew-hatred. Its existence is very inconvenient for many antisemites. It hampers part of their freedom to incite. They and their allies therefore attack the definition’s validity. A very common claim is that the definition should not include attacks on Israel.
Antisemites and their allies usually present the definition as being a way to prevent criticism of the Jewish state. Yet the combined texts of the IHRA definition concerning Israel in regard to what is antisemitic do not prevent criticism of the Jewish state. They read: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor, applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, using symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelism, and drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
In August 2020, 60 German and Israeli intellectuals and artists sent an open letter to Chancellor Merkel accusing Klein of suppressing open debate and muzzling criticism of the Israeli government. Benz was among its signatories. Klein noted that none of the signatories of the letter attacking him acted when the German government adopted the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism in 2017.
German antisemitism expert, Gunther Jikeli, points out that this letter indicates a debate to brand the accusation of antisemitism as a scandal rather than antisemitism itself. He noted that many of the signatories of the anti-Klein letter have made critical statements of Israel in the past.
Antisemitism scholar, Monika Schwarz-Friesel reacted to the letter of the 60 writing that in Germany a climate of fear exists — not among left wing intellectuals — but among Jews. The anti-Israel narrative in the country is aggressive. Pro-Israel or Israel neutral voices are massively discredited.
To expose the high-sounding pseudo- moral claims of the allies of antisemitism, one usually only has to investigate a simple issue. How much, if anything have each of these individuals in the past few years published about the death culture that permeates Palestinian society, i.e., the promotion of genocide by the Palestinian majority party –Hamas, the rewards to Palestinian murderers by the Palestinian Authority which is controlled by the second largest Palestinian party, Fatah and so on?
To illustrate the abovementioned phenomena one best can focus attention on one person. Benz’s record brings the issue to light. In 2014, he claimed in an interview with the weekly,Die Zeit, that antisemitism hadn’t increased in Germany. He made this claim despite attacks on Jews and Jewish sites during Israel’s defense operation in Gaza.
In 2018, two youths took down an Israeli flag and unsuccessfully tried to burn it. The largest German paper, Bild, considered it evidence of Muslim antisemitism. Benz reacted saying: “Taking down Israeli flags in the street does not make you antisemitic.”
In a 2019 interview, Benz said only one thing about Palestinian Arabs: “Empathy for the civil population of occupied Palestine is not antisemitism.” He didn’t feel the need to mention the major genocidal currents among the Palestinians and their glorification of the murder of Israelis including civilians. Benz also expressed the false whitewasher idea that those who considered the boycott movement in its nucleus as antisemitic were fanaticized and no longer had objective judgment.”
In 2019 Benz again claimed that antisemitism in Germany in recent years had not increased. The commissioner of antisemitism of the Berlin Jewish community, Sigmount Königsberg, accused him of turning from a researcher into a whitewasher of antisemitism.
In a 2020 interview, Benz claimed that: “95% of hate crimes against Jews were perpetrated by right-wingers and not newcomers.” It is unthinkable that Benz, the expert on antisemitism, does not know that these German statistics are manipulated. In half of the antisemitic incidents, the perpetrators are unknown. Authorities assume that all these are right-wingers.
The Israeli government has not seen fit for many years to create a professional body to combat the propaganda against it. Thus, the battle against the most sophisticated forms of aggressive anti-Israelism is left to a few individuals. They try to fill in as much as they can for what should be a national effort.