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The woke scapegoating of the Jews

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The woke scapegoating of the Jews

The Western left’s response to Hamas’s atrocities has exposed a virulent new form of anti-Semitism.

Frank Furedi

Frank Furedi

Topics Identity Politics Long-reads Politics World

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The assault on southern Israel last weekend was more than an atrocity. This callous and systematic murder of civilians was nothing less than a 21st-century version of a barbaric pogrom. The videos recorded by Hamas operatives as they slaughtered people serve as a frightening testimony to human depravity. They more than match the numerous beheading videos that glorified the barbarism of Islamic State and other terrorist organisations in recent decades.

Seeing the Hamas-orchestrated pogrom was gut-wrenching. But what I have found almost as disturbing are the smug voices of those in the West who say that Israel is responsible for Hamas’s barbarism. That it brought this horror on itself.

Ever since Hamas operatives embarked on their depraved killing spree, self-styled ‘progressives’ have been queuing up to tell anyone who will listen that the evil Zionists had it coming. Not even this week’s reports of Hamas’s massacre of babies have given them pause for reflection. Their victim-blaming is echoed by numerous Western Muslim organisations and even by some mainstream politicians. They too say that Israel had it coming. With his usual smug complacency, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis declared in an interview that he would never denounce Hamas for these atrocities. Pointing the finger at Israel, he stated that ‘the path to ending the tragic loss of innocent lives – both Palestinian and Israeli – begins with one crucial first step: the end of the Israeli occupation and apartheid’.

Varoufakis’s apologism for atrocities against Jewish men, women and children appears civilised compared with the response of the West’s Palestine-solidarity campaigns. Many of them have actively celebrated this pogrom. One speaker at an ‘All Out for Palestine’ protest outside the Israeli consulate in New York seemed to think that the systematic murder of 260 young people at the Supernova music festival provided excellent ‘comedy’ material. ‘As you might have seen, there was some sort of rave or desert party where they were having a great time’, he said, ‘until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took out at least several dozen hipsters’. The rabble assembled outside the Israeli consulate responded to this ‘joke’ about the mass murder and kidnapping of ‘several dozen hipsters’ with gales of laughter.

Time and again, these atrocities are excused and their victims are dehumanised. Dr Mennah Elwan, an NHS medic, tried to excuse Hamas’s assault on innocent Israeli civilians by claiming that these youngsters fleeing for their lives were not civilians at all, because ‘there are no civilians in Israel’. She then said of the revellers that ‘if it was your home, you would stay and fight’.

 Family and friends of May Naim, 24, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists at the 'Supernova' festival, near the Israeli border with Gaza strip, react during her funeral on October 11, 2023.
Family and friends of May Naim, 24, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists at the 'Supernova' festival, near the Israeli border with Gaza strip, react during her funeral on October 11, 2023.

On Saturday, while the pogrom against Jewish people was still unfolding in Israel, Somali-American journalist Najma Sharif felt the need to remind her followers on X: ‘What did y’all think decolonisation meant? Vibes? Papers? Essays? Losers.’ That she associates a blood-soaked pogrom with the objectives of the ‘decolonisation’ movement in Western universities is revealing.

Indeed, Sharif was far from alone in framing this pogrom as an instance of decolonisation. This view has been systematically promoted by Hamas apologists. Maggie Chapman, a Green member of the Scottish parliament, responded to public disquiet over the Hamas attack by posting: ‘The oppressed are fighting back for their rights… Don’t let the Western media fool you into thinking it’s terrorism, this is decolonisation.’ It is worth noting that Chapman is deputy convenor of the Scottish parliament’s human-rights committee. How long before she argues that perpetrating a pogrom is the human right of the oppressed?

The ‘decolonisers’, whether they realise it or not, are sending an unambiguous message to the world: ‘This is no time to be squeamish; after all, they are only Jews.’

An excusable pogrom

It is deeply troubling that so many people seem to have become so desensitised to the sight of piled-up bodies, of women and old people humiliated and brutalised, that they are prepared to join the chorus of ‘Israel had it coming’. What we see here is something very sinister and insidious – namely, the emergence of the idea of ‘an excusable pogrom’.

Tragically, it is not uncommon for extremist ‘anti-Zionist’ voices in Europe to make excuses for or celebrate the Holocaust. For instance, in 2014, on Bastille Day in Paris, a mob of anti-Israel protesters invaded a synagogue filled with congregants. The protesters began screaming slogans such as ‘death to the Jews’ and ‘Hitler was right’.

There have been similar chants in the wake of Hamas’s pogrom. When you hear pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanting ‘Gas the Jews’, as they did outside the Sydney Opera House this week, it is tempting to dismiss them as cranks. But it is difficult to avoid an uncomfortable conclusion – that the classical anti-Semitic version of the dehumanised Jew has made a comeback, albeit in a new cultural form.

The new way in which Jews are being dehumanised was most strikingly expressed a couple of years ago by some fans of the Dutch football team, Vitesse, who chanted, ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas’. Football fans often chant indecent and offensive things at each other, of course. It’s possible that these Vitesse fans were simply trying to shock or disgust their opponents, Ajax, which is sometimes perceived as a Jewish club. However, what was significant about this chant was that it combined the old Nazi anti-Semitism, as expressed in the Holocaust, with its more recent Islamist iteration. It celebrated Hamas and Hitler.

This marks a significant shift in how anti-Semitism operates in the 21st century. Until recently, many in the West were concerned by the threat posed by Holocaust denial on the far right. Yet there’s little denial going on with this new mode of Jew-hatred. This ‘Hitler was right’ sentiment treats the Holocaust as a good thing. It calls for more gassing of Jews. Indeed, it amounts to a demand for Holocaust 2.0.

In openly revelling in and promoting the slaughter of Jews, Hamas has shown that it also has no interest in denying its genocidal intent. It is flaunting its desire to exterminate Jews in the face of anyone who wishes to watch its videos. Nevertheless, there is a widespread tendency among a small section of Western society to excuse or ignore this behaviour.

The lack of empathy for the targets of Hamas’s pogrom is striking. It shows that anti-Israeli propaganda and the demonisation of Jewish people now go hand in hand. Historically, opponents of Zionism went out of their way to distance themselves from anti-Semitism. But no more. Opponents of Israel today consciously use classical anti-Jewish tropes to promote their objectives. Consequently, the singling out of Israel as a unique source of malevolence runs in parallel with the attempt to dehumanise Jews – indeed, to call into question the moral status of Jewish identity.

A Middle Eastern version of anti-Jewish sentiment has merged with classical European anti-Semitism over recent decades. And it has evolved even further by feeding off of Western identity politics. This is why an anti-Jewish pogrom is currently being heralded by leftist identitarians as a fine example of the politics of decolonisation.

Woke anti-Semitism

Indeed, the resurgence of anti-Jewish ideology is inseparable from the rise of identity politics. At first sight, the identitarian turn against Jewish people makes little sense. After all, identity politics rests on the experience of victimisation. It defines and orders groups according to their respective claims to victimhood. And no other group has been victimised in the way Jews were during the Holocaust. One would think, therefore, that the Jewish identity would be celebrated by identitarians. However, precisely because of the moral authority conferred upon Jews by the Holocaust, Jews have become the focus of resentment among competing identity groups.

As a result, numerous identity groups have sought to minimise the uniqueness of the Holocaust and highlight their own experience of victimisation. They have often done so by using anti-Zionism to undermine the moral authority of Jewish identity. Hence, the issue of Palestine has become a central cause of the Western identitarian left. It is a profoundly cynical manoeuvre. The plight of the people of Palestine has been turned into a weapon for undermining the legitimacy of Jewish identity.

A protester holds up a sign praising decolonisation at a Canadian 'pro-Palestine' rally following Hamas' terrorist attacks on Israel, October 2023.
A protester holds up a sign praising decolonisation at a Canadian 'pro-Palestine' rally following Hamas' terrorist attacks on Israel, October 2023.

Since the turn of the 21st century, devotees of identity politics have portrayed Jews as powerful, privileged aggressors – and, above all, as the oppressors of the Palestinians. Thanks to the efforts of these identitarians, Jewish identity has become what sociologist Erving Goffman characterised as a ‘spoiled identity’ – an identity, that is, that lacks any redeeming moral qualities. It is an identity that invites stigma and scorn. Hence, the recent campaigns against the Jewish practice of male circumcision and the attempts to ban kosher meat in parts of Europe. Through such campaigns, the age-old practices of Jewish people are gradually being made to appear inhumane.

Sadly, it appears to have worked. Identity politics has effectively energised and sanitised anti-Semitism. The moral status of Jews has been thoroughly devalued. Back in March 2021, the BBC’s flagship politics programme, Politics Live, featured a bizarre debate on the topic of whether or not Jews are an ethnic minority. Apparently, this was open to question because some Jews have reached positions of power and influence. They have joined the ranks of the oppressors, in other words. From this perspective, ‘Jewish privilege’ is but an extreme version of white privilege.

Lurking behind the campaign to devalue the moral status of Jewish people is the pathologisation of Israel. So, just as Jews have been cast as hyper-white symbols of white supremacy, Israel has emerged as the exemplar of Western oppression and imperialism. In this way, Jews have re-emerged as the all-purpose 21st-century scapegoat.

Today we see the convergence of three different strands of anti-Jewish sentiment – Islamist, traditional European and identitarian – which has revitalised anti-Semitism. This is why the loss of Jewish life can be met with such indifference, even by a supposedly fervent advocate of human rights like Maggie Chapman.

So thoroughly dehumanised is the Jew among sections of the Western left today that they are willing to excuse a pogrom. Those who collaborated with the Nazis would often claim that they didn’t know that the Nazis were planning to exterminate Jewish people. Today’s left-wing collaborators have no such excuses. The atrocities perpetrated by Hamas are there for all to see.

Frank Furedi is the executive director of the think-tank, MCC-Brussels.

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Graham Linehan and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation

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Topics Identity Politics Long-reads Politics World

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