BANGOR — Anti-Semitism has adopted a “new” look, but the age-old hatred of Jews still exists, a guest lecturer told an audience of approximately 50 people at Congregation Beth Israel on Aug. 25.
In a lecture sponsored by the Shilouv Project, Dr. Asaf Romirowsky discussed “The ‘New’ Anti-Semitism: The Political War on Israel.” An adjunct scholar at both the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Middle East Forum, Romirowsky hails from Philadelphia, but he grew up in Jerusalem.
He was an international relations liaison officer for the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and in Jordan. Romirowsky has worked extensively with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East.
Romirowsky defined “the new anti-Semitism” not as “the legitimate criticism of Israel” and its governmental policies, but as “the questioning as to whether or not Israel has a legitimate right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Citing historical anti-Semitism — from the medieval European claim that “Jews are Christ killers” to the 20th-century Hitlerian belief that “Jews are racially and inherently wrong” — Romirowsky then talked about “the situation we are in today.
“The Jewish state itself (Israel)” has become an international focal point for anti-Semitism, he said. “Israel is a viewed as a racist entity.”
In the late 19th century arose a political belief, Zionism, that Jews should establish a Jewish nation in Palestine, then an Ottoman Empire backwater. Many European Jews immigrated to Palestine; after Britain captured Palestine in World War I, immigration increased, especially during the 1930s as the Nazis seized power in Germany.
Responding to the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II, the United Nations General Assembly voted in November 1947 to partition British-held Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. Israel was envisioned as a Jewish country from its inception; hope existed that anti-Semitism, expressed virulently in Nazi-occupied Europe, would disappear with time, Romirowsky indicated.
Instead, the ensuing 66 years have “not diminished anti-Semitism. It is growing,” he said.
Modern anti-Semitism is expressed more subtlety than in the past, Romirowsky claimed. Rather than explicitly target Jews (at least in the West), modern anti-Semitism equates Zionism with racism.
In November 1975 the United Nations General Assembly approved Resolution 3379, stating that “Zionism is a form of racism.” Though revoked by another General Assembly resolution in 1991, the 1975 resolution reinforced an international mindset that “anything that Israel does is racist by nature,” Romirowsky said.
That perceived racism focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; according to Romirowsky, in the new anti-Semitism, “Israel is an apartheid state” illegally occupying territory captured in the 1967 and 1973 wars. Continual claims of human rights abuses committed by Israeli settlers and troops have led detractors to initiate artistic, economic, and scholastic boycotts of Israel similar to those undertaken against white-controlled South Africa in the 1980s.
One particularly widespread effort, Boycott the Settlements, involves “boycotting products coming out of the [Israeli] settlements” established on the West Bank since the 1967 war, Romirowsky said. In the United States and Western Europe, BTS supporters have pressured educational institutions and government entities to divest their investments in companies doing business with products from West Bank settlements.
Boycott the Settlements has especially strong support in American academia, Romirowsky said, citing Columbia University, Georgetown University, and the University of California at Berkeley as examples. “There are many” such schools, he commented. “The fact there are Jews on these campuses doesn’t make a difference.”
To his chagrin, “many of the people [in the United States] … who have adopted the narrative of this movement are Jews.”
Equating Zionism with racism allows Israel detractors to express their dislike of particular Israelis not because they are Jews, but because they are Zionists, Romirowsky claimed. He cited Britain’s Kenneth Livingstone as one example; while the mayor of London in March 2005, he referred to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in print as “a war criminal.”
With such an accusation, Livingstone could claim he was anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic, said Romirowsky, who believes that “anti-Israel and anti-Zionism and anti-Semitic are one and the same thing.
“If Jewish nationalism (Zionism) is viewed as racism,” then the logical conclusion is that “Jews do not have any right to their own nation state in Israel,” he said.
“In the final analysis, there is a growing attempt to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel,” Romirowsky said.
The Shilouv Project is a non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen the ties between Christians and Israel. For more information, log onto shilouv.org.