BOOK REVIEW: Israelophobia, a new form of the old hatred

BOOK REVIEW: Israelophobia, a new form of the old hatred

JAKE SIMONS’ new book suffers from political bias but identifies a serious threat to both Israel and to many Jews in the Diaspora, writes PHILIP MENDES. 

BOOK REVIEW
Israelophobia,
by Jake Wallis Simons (Constable)
Reviewed by Professor Philip Mendes (Monash University)

Is there an increasing convergence between older racial forms of antisemitism and contemporary forms of political antisemitism associated with attacks on Israel and Zionism? That challenging question is answered in the affirmative in this new book (published just prior to the October 7 Hamas massacre) by British journalist Jake Simons, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, who also writes for the conservative Spectator magazine.

According to Simons, this newer form of antisemitism should be termed Israelophobia, reflecting its hate-based targeting of the Jewish state rather than Jews as an ethnic or religious group. He argues that Israelophobia has three principal dimensions comprising: 1) Demonisation of Israel as a uniquely evil state; 2) Weaponisation of progressive political movements to mobilise hatred against both Jews and Israel in that western-based protests against Israel often generate hate directed at members of local Jewish communities; and 3) Falsification based on historical manifestations of Nazi and Soviet propaganda.

Simons presents three factors that allegedly underpin this new anti-Jewish bigotry. One is that it emanates from what he loosely labels “progressives” or the “Left”. He asserts that hostility to Israel has become a new orthodoxy amongst academics and students within universities who align their anti-Zionism with a broader critique of racism and colonisation.

That critique is often informed by “Critical Race Theory”, which tends to marginalise antisemitism because adherents (for example Whoopi Goldberg) assume that only black people can be victims of racism. Consequently, some progressives make common ground with Islamic groups such as Hamas despite the fact that the latter’s far right perspective on social issues such as gender and sexual equality should render them beyond the pale to anybody with Left views.

Simons documents how long-standing Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda has distorted Arab views of Jews and Israel.

Although Simons presents many individual examples of progressives colluding with antisemitism, he fails to precisely define what he means by the political Left, and simplistically implies that all progressives adhere to an anti-Zionist orthodoxy when they hold a diverse range of views. In my opinion, a more nuanced analysis would have acknowledged that many moderate social democrats are supportive of Jews and Israel.

Since the October 7 massacre, leading centre-leftists such as the German social democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, and the prominent American progressive Bernie Sanders have firmly condemned anti-Jewish hatred:

A second contributing factor is the actions of some progressive Jews who eagerly provide anti-Semites on the Left with what Simons calls “alibis” by insisting that Jews also share their views. Simons argues that these Jewish collaborators are of major value to the antisemitic Left because they reinforce their dubious claims that they are only critics of Israel and not hostile to Jews per se.

A third factor highlighted is the malevolent impact of Nazi and Soviet propaganda on the Arab world. Simons examines the friendly links formed by the Nazi regime with Arabs including the particularly close alliance with the principal Palestinian leader HajjAmin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, and also the inflammatory Arab-language anti-Jewish broadcasts hosted by Radio Berlin.

According to Simons, Nazi propaganda successfully coupled with existing Arab nationalist and Islamic religious sources to infect emerging groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood with anti-Jewish hatred. The Brotherhood was the direct antecedent of Hamas, and strongly informed that group’s founding charter which presented a Nazi-style conspiracy theory alleging that Jews control international finance, wealth and media, and were responsible for the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution and World War Two.

Simons similarly documents how long-standing Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda, that incorporated antisemitic tropes borrowed from Nazi propaganda, has distorted Arab views of Jews and Israel. He notes, for example, that the KGB even organised in the 1970s a mass distribution of an Arab language version of the notorious antisemitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to Muslim countries.

Indeed, most of the key talking points of the current anti-Zionist Left – that Zionism is racism, Israel is a state of European colonialists, Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians is equivalent to Nazi antisemitism, Israel is an apartheid state similar to South Africa, the Holocaust has been exaggerated and/or was engineered by the Zionist movement – were originally invented by Soviet propagandists.

Nevertheless, Simons cautions that measured criticism of Israeli actions is not the same as antisemitism. Some of the examples of reasonable criticism he presents are abuses of Palestinian human rights by the Israeli military such as the deaths of civilians, acts of violence and bullying by extremist Israeli settlers against their Palestinian neighbours, forms of economic and educational discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens, and the general theft of Palestinian land to build West Bank settlements.

Simons cautions that measured criticism of Israeli actions is not the same as antisemitism.

He also rejects what he calls the “moral relativism” argument that excuses Israeli misdeeds on the basis that other nations such as Iran, China and Syria are guilty of far greater crimes. But then he paradoxically criticises as “simplistic” the use of the term occupation to describe Israel’s ongoing presence in the West Bank, arguing it is far less oppressive than the long-term Chinese domination of Tibet.

This book is unashamedly pro-Zionist, and in parts fails to acknowledge the complexity of the history and politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Consequently, some left-leaning Plus61J readers may be tempted to dismiss the text as a self-serving apology for the Israeli government agenda.

If so, I hope they reconsider because in the final chapter Simons presents one irrefutable example of Israelophobia hatred: that being the accusation that Israel has “no right to exist based on erroneous allegations of illegality, colonialism, white supremacy and racism” (p.185). That argument is a staple component of almost every current pro-Palestine demonstration in Australia and elsewhere.

So even if it is reasonable to question Simon’s political bias, we need to acknowledge that he is identifying a serious manifestation of hatred that poses a genuine threat not only to Israel, but also to the wellbeing of Israel-identifying Jews residing outside Israel.

Photo: Burning of Israeli flag in London (CUFI)