Many Jews know that Europe has witnessed a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the past decade. But how bad is it? Which countries pose the greatest threat? To what extent are Muslim immigrants influencing their host countries?
These questions and others are addressed in Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld’s latest book, Demonizing Israel and the Jews. In it, 57 journalists, academics, and politicians address various aspects of anti-Semitism – one chapter per person – under such headings as “The BBC: Widespread Antipathy toward Israel” and “Distorted Dutch Views of the Jews.”
The Jewish Press recently spoke with Dr. Gerstenfeld.
The Jewish Press: You open the book by citing several polls that indicate that 40 percent of Europeans – over 150 million people – are anti-Semitic. That is an extraordinarily high figure. Can it possibly be accurate?
Dr. Gerstenfeld: Look, I am merely quoting the numbers. The University of Bielefeld [which conducted one of the polls] has published first-rate research on discrimination for many years. There is no reason to assume that its poll is not accurate. The polls done in Norway, Switzerland, and Germany also showed similar figures.
All these polls asked either “Do you agree that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians?” or, alternatively, “Do you agree Israel behaves toward the Palestinians like the Nazis do?”
The belief that Israel is attempting to exterminate the Palestinians seems rather illogical. Israel, after all, is not a weak country. If it wanted to exterminate the Palestinians, it could have easily done so many years ago in a matter of weeks.
Look, my conclusion from this is that large percentages of the European population are as irrational as their ancestors were six or seven hundred years ago when they thought that the plague broke out because the Jews had poisoned the wells.
People generally like to think we’ve made progress since then…
Yes, people like to think that. But this proves that we are living in a world that has a totally wrong perception of itself. I think there is no structural development in the irrationality of people in the western world.
Is there no hope, then, for mankind?
Of course there is hope. But basically we should be very skeptical of the optimists and many of the people in the liberal part of society. In fact, you find among these [liberal] so-called anti-racists a lot of racists. For example, the NGOs who condemned Israel at the United Nations’ anti-racism conference in 2001 in Durban were racists dressing up as anti-racists. The United Nations Human Rights Council is a racist body even though it says it protects human rights.
Bias against Israel is so obvious sometimes that even a Spanish translator at the United Nations recently reacted to a flurry of anti-Israel resolutions by blurting out to her colleague – while her microphone was still accidentally on – “It’s a bit much, no? … There’s other really bad [things] happening [around the world], but no one says anything about the other stuff.”
Look, what do you want? Even the United States speaks about the illegality of the settlements even though it is not clear at all that the settlements are illegal. There were a thousand lawyers and jurists who recently signed a statement that Israel has full rights to settle in the West Bank. But a man like [Secretary of State John] Kerry makes statements which have no substance in law, and he speaks about it as if it’s the most normal way of [discussing the subject]. There are many things which Kerry says which aren’t logical at all.
Jewish activists often argue that Israel needs better PR to combat statements from people like Kerry. Others, however [like MK Moshe Feiglin], argue that the root of the problem is Israel’s refusal to announce forthrightly to the world, “The land is ours.” It always stresses Arab terrorism, but that doesn’t address the heart of the dispute – which is, “Whose land is it?”
The problem is much deeper. The problem is that Israel is the subject of a new type of propaganda war. All propaganda wars in the past, such as in the Second World War, played out in what we call modern society. People said straightly what they thought. If you listened to Hitler you understood clearly what he wanted to say.
Today, we live in a society which is called post-modern. That means it is far more chaotic and far more fragmented. So while many Arabs say exactly what they want, Europeans and Americans are far more confused and very often speak from behind masks.
Israel’s government hasn’t understood how to deal with a propaganda war in post-modern society. Israel should establish a body which analyzes this war and develops answers. For example, if Israel is attacked militarily, Israel has an instrument – the Israeli Defense Forces. It is a very advanced military. If Israel is attacked by spying, or terrorists, we have the Mossad and a domestic intelligence agency which is very sophisticated. We are now working on a cyber-war unit which probably, within a few years, will be the most sophisticated in the world.
But in the propaganda war, which is part of the total war against Israel, Israel is totally backward. Its government doesn’t understand that it should develop new tools and a new unit which oversees the propaganda battlefield. That is why Israel is losing the propaganda war.
Don’t you think stating explicitly “The land is ours” would help too – something that Israel almost never says? As matters stand now, the world hears the Arabs claiming the land is theirs and the Jews responding, “Maybe, but we can’t give it to you as long as you’re violent.” Is it so surprising, then, that many neutral bystanders listening to the two sides wind up backing the party that claims the land actually belongs to it – even if it is using violent means to acquire it?
We’re dealing with a very complex issue. What you said is one aspect of it….
But you will also never hear an Israeli politician say that the criminality in the Muslim world is much greater than the criminality and violence that comes out of any other religion. That sort of statement is taboo even though it’s the simple truth. You will also never hear a liberal American Jewish leader say these obvious things.
If we start looking at it, we see that Muslims are the most persecuted people in the world because this year at least 70,000 Muslims will be killed for religious, ethnic, or political reasons – and they will be killed by other Muslims. What I’m saying to you is the simple truth, but you will hear hardly anybody telling you that.
Can you talk a bit about Christian anti-Semitism, which is one of the topics addressed in your book? Because of the strong evangelical Christian support for Israel, some Jews are unaware of the sizable pockets of Christian groups that still oppose Israel, especially among liberal Protestants.
Yes, of course, but we always get to the same point. In the blood libel of the Middle Ages, they said the Jews needed blood for baking matzos. Today, you get people who say Israel goes into Gaza because it likes killing children and women. It’s the same motif, only dressed up in another dress.
You had the largest paper in Sweden saying that Israel was killing Palestinians because it needs its organs. You had the third largest paper in Norway having a cartoon on how bloody brit milah is. Leading English papers a few years ago showed how Prime Minister Sharon was eating a child.
These are all blatant anti-Semitic ideas which Catholicism and Lutheranism, for instance, have for hundreds of years pumped into western society – in particular Christian societies. And these motifs are part of European culture.
What would you say to people who might react to your book by saying: “Yes, we know all about anti-Semitism; it’s a tired subject and there’s nothing we can do about it”?
These are lazy people – that’s what I would say. There are many ways of fighting anti-Semitism. There are many ways of embarrassing anti-Semites. There are many ways of exposing anti-Israelis. But if you are lazy, you don’t do anything.
What, for example, can a person do?
First of all, you can show how the Durban conference of the NGOs was a racist conference. You can show what they said about Israel and then show the criminality going on in the Muslim world which they said nothing about.
If you apply a double standard to things, you are an anti-Semite. If you treat Jews and Israel differently than you treat Saudi Arabia or Syria then you are structurally an anti-Semite because according to the United Nations’ Human Rights Declaration, all people are responsible for their acts. If you say that Palestinians who want to commit genocide are not responsible for their acts, then you are treating them as animals and you are a racist.
So expose anti-Semites…
Expose them, attack them. You should take away their mask. There are all kinds of liberal organizations and NGOs that attack Israel and are much less aggressive toward very criminal states. You should expose them and say, “You are not human rights people; you are racists masking as anti-racists.”
And if you do that a sufficient number of times, then you will get them off your back.
What’s your background? How did you get involved in this line of work?
My background is that I have been a business analyst and adviser to some of the largest corporations in the world, at the highest levels, for decades. So when I became, by chance, chairman of a leading Israeli think tank – the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs – in 2000, it so happened that I gradually got into the emerging explosion of anti-Semitism, and I applied the same analytical techniques which I applied to complex business problems.
I have advised in mergers of billions of dollars. I have investigated highly complex issues such as corporate environmental policies. I have a Ph.D. in environmental studies and a Master’s degree in chemistry. And if you do analytical work for very large multinational corporations at the highest level, you get a certain skill after a few decades.
How about your upbringing? You’ve written books in Norwegian, Italian, and Dutch…
Look, let’s just get that clear: Some of my books, I cannot read. I speak Dutch, German, French, Italian, Hebrew, Yiddish and English, but I don’t speak Norwegian or Greek in which I’ve published books.
I was born in Vienna in Austria. As a baby I came to the Netherlands in 1938. My parents and I were hidden [by a non-Jewish family] in Amsterdam for two years, and I lived and studied there until 1964. Then I lived for four years in Paris, and in ‘68 I came to Israel.
Out of Zionistic reasons?
I was always a Zionist. I was the chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students from ‘63 to ‘67. I was the chairman of the Zionist student organization in Amsterdam, and I was the chairman of one of the Zionist youth movements in the Netherlands.
What was your aim in publishing this book? What did you hope to accomplish?
I wanted to expose the reality, and I hope that this book will be used by others for that purpose. It has already been used by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. They raised the issues in my book with the pope. They also sent the book to a number of senior archbishops and cardinals in the western world so that people cannot say, “We don’t know about it.”
About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.
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