Robert S. Wistrich, who died suddenly last week, was considered the foremost scholar of anti-Semitism, which he called “the longest hatred,” one that appears to be metastasizing in the current era.
Writing about Nazi anti-Semitism ruffles no feathers within academia and other elite circles. Mr. Wistrich, however, had been warning that “anti-Semitism has undergone a process of growing ‘Islamicization,’ linked to the terrorist holy war against Jews and other non-Muslims with its truly lethal consequences.” This “new” anti-Semitism,” he added, targets Israel, the only state with a Jewish majority: “the collective Jew.”
“New” is a relative term: It was 40 years ago that the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Zionism, a charged word that actually implies nothing more than support for the right of the Jewish people, like other peoples, to self-determination in part of their ancestral homeland — territories that for centuries had been ruled by foreign empires. Within these lands there has never been a Palestinian nation-state, but a majority of Israelis would help establish such a polity — if Palestinian leaders would only commit to peaceful coexistence with their neighbors across an agreed-upon border.
While most Muslims do not support terrorism, Mr. Wistrich noted, “levels of anti-Semitism among Muslims clearly remain the highest in the world,” and Islamists — most succinctly defined as those committed to the imperative of Muslim dominance over all others — “are the spearhead of current anti-Semitism.”
Aided and abetted by anti-Semites of the radical left (who view Israel as an outpost of American empire) they have created what Mr. Wistrich called a “culture of hatred” that is “sufficiently radical in tone and content to constitute a new warrant for genocide.”
Such ethno-religious antipathy takes many forms. Three examples: Last week, Greek officials demanded that the Star of David be removed from a new Holocaust museum in a Greek city where some 1,500 Jews were murdered by Nazis. Though Israeli hospitals have opened their doors to casualties of the civil war in Syria, the U.N. has just labeled Israel the world’s top violator of “health rights.” And last month Mohammad Neza Naghdi, commander of Iran’s Basij paramilitary force, said, “The destruction of Israel is non-negotiable.”
Another manifestation of anti-Semitism is the so-called “boycott, divest and sanction” (BDS) campaign. Though it aims to damage Israel economically, it has so far made little progress. More perniciously perhaps, it means to demonize and delegitimize Israel, particularly in the eyes of young people on college campuses — an investment in the future of Jew-hatred.
BDS propagandists are patently Orwellian. Hamas fires missiles at Israeli villages and digs tunnels under Israeli farms to facilitate hostage-taking and mass murder; they call that “resistance.” Israelis attempt to defend themselves; they call that “genocide.”
Close to 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab and Muslim. They enjoy freedom of worship and speech, cast votes, hold seats in the Knesset and sit on the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, BDS advocates slander Israel as “apartheid.” Some, utilizing a tactic Mr. Wistrich termed “Holocaust inversion,” call Israelis Nazis.
BDS advocates shed no tears for victims of jihadi head-choppers, for young girls enslaved by “mujahedeen,” or young men hanged for “sodomy” under strict readings of Islamic law. All that pales next to Israel’s refusal to make additional concessions to Palestinian leaders who rule out compromise.
BDS advocates sometimes claim they are only attempting to pressure Israelis to soften their policies in regard to the West Bank and Gaza. But leaders of the campaign have acknowledged that the “occupation” is a pretext.
“The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel,” California State University professor As’ad AbuKhalil has said. “There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.” Pro-BDS author John Spritzler has written: “I think the BDS movement will gain strength from forthrightly explaining why Israel has no right to exist.”
Despite such threats, boycott, divest and sanction has faced few serious challenges — until now. Rep. Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican, Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, and Rep. Juan Vargas, a California Democrat, have authored bipartisan measures — amendments to the major trade act currently being considered by Congress — that would discourage America’s trading partners from discriminating against Israelis.
At the same time, Illinois is poised to become the first state in the nation to defend Israelis against economic warfare. Last week, an anti-BDS bill supported by newly elected Gov. Bruce Rauner passed the state House and Senate — with bipartisan unanimity.
“The significance of the bill cannot be underestimated,” wrote Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at Northwestern University. “BDS is not like the civil rights protests, as its supporters love to claim but rather more like the anti-Jewish boycotts so common in Europe in the 20th century and in the Arab world until this day.” European financial institutions that have become concerned about the risks — legal, economic and reputational — of doing business with Israelis will now need to consider the risks of refusing to do business with Israelis.
Other states are considering similar actions. In Congress, additional measures are being proposed. For example, Rep. Doug Lamborn, A Colorado Republican, has introduced the Boycott Our Enemies, Not Israel Act, which would require government contractors to certify that they are not shunning America’s most reliable ally.
Mr. Wistrich devoted his life to understanding anti-Semitism which, in the 20th century, pursued the goal of a Europe without Jews. He also recognized the goal of this century’s anti-Semites: a Middle East without a Jewish state.
Those who mourn his passing may take some consolation in knowing that there are now a few American statesmen doing more than averting their eyes and wringing their hands.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.