The end to the dream of ending anti-semitism

By David Matas, Winnipeg Free Press, March 1, 2007

Jewish communities around the world will be celebrating Purim this weekend, in a reminder of their triumph against the wicked Haman who sought to annihilate them. Just as we persevered then, we continue to persevere now. This was the spirit in which the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, convened recently in Jerusalem . The conference marked a tectonic shift in the foundations of the State of Israel. The Government of Israel has officially acknowledged that the creation of the State Israel has not ended anti-Semitism.

It was not always so. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, diagnosed anti-Semitism as a disease from which the Jews suffered because of their statelessness. He considered that anti-Semitism would be resolved “on a political basis” through the creation of Jewish state. He predicted that, once a state was created for the Jewish people, the Jews would become like any other people. They would have their quarrels with other nations. But those quarrels would be no different from the quarrels nations then had with each other. He argued in his pioneering 1896 pamphlet The Jewish State that the advent of the Jewish state “would put an end to anti-Semitism.”

One, though far from the only, reason the Jewish state was created after the Holocaust was the acceptance of this very logic. The hope was that, through the creation of a Jewish state, the Jewish people would become a nation like all others.

But, just the opposite has happened. Instead of nationals of the Jewish state being treated like nationals of other states, the Jewish state has come to be treated like the Jewish people. Israel has become the Jew amongst nations – outcast, defamed and demonized.

The realization of the Zionist dream has generated anti-Zionism. This anti-Zionism is not just the refusal to recognize one particular human right of the Jewish people, the right to self determination of peoples. Anti-Zionism has rejected every single reason for the existence of the State of Israel, and, by so doing, has modernized and amplified traditional anti-Semitism.

Israel was created because of the Holocaust. So anti-Zionists deny the existence of the Holocaust. Israel was created because of the wrong of anti-Semitism. So anti-Zionists attempt to show that anti-Semitism is right, giving the old myths of anti-Semitism new life. Israel was created to provide a safe haven to Jewish refugees. The anti-Zionist response is that Israel is a racist state for giving preferential protection or humanitarian treatment to Jews. Israel at its inception was recognized by UN vote as “a peace-loving State which accepts the obligations contained in the Charter”. So anti-Zionists mobilize UN votes against Israel replete with phoney condemnations that Israel violates UN standards. Israel defends itself against armed attack. Anti-Zionists label this self defense as a series of human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Jews and their institutions world wide are attacked verbally and sometimes physically because Jews are actual or presumed supporters of imaginary Israeli crimes.

Those with an eye on reality find it easy enough to dismiss every attempt of anti-Zionists to undermine the rationales for the existence of Israel except one. Anti-Zionists have destroyed the dream of Herzl that the creation of the State of Israel would put an end to anti-Semitism.

The significance of Global Forum for Combating anti-Semitism just held in Jerusalem is that the Government of Israel has finally come to accept this bitter fact. This Global Forum was not the first that the Government of Israel has sponsored. It was rather the fourth. The first three were sponsored by Natan Sharansky when he was Minister for Diaspora Affairs of the Government of Israel and held in August 2003, January 2004, and October 2004. But the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs is so marginal to the Israeli government that the post has been vacant since Sharansky resigned from the government of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in May 2005. Those first three Fora were very much driven by the visionary human rights sensibility of Sharansky himself.

It is only with this Forum that struggle against anti-Semitism was woven into the fabric of the State of Israel. The Forum was hosted by a key Ministry of the Government of Israel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in her address to the Forum, acknowledged: “The lessons [of the Holocaust] were not learnt.” She proposed the elevation of the combat against anti-Semitism to “a central place of priority” in Israel policy. She asserted that the battle against anti-Semitism “is a battle to be fought, first and foremost, by the State of Israel …”

One of the Jewish holy books, the Passover Haggadah, says that in each generation, the enemies of the Jewish people will rise up to smite them. This statement has turned out to be more than just a gloomy religious prophecy. It has turned out to be an all too real fact.

Anti-Semitism, with effort, can be attenuated. But, if a little more than 60 years from the Holocaust, in the lifetime of many survivors, despite the existence of a Jewish state, anti-Semitism still continues, it will never die. This fourth Global Forum for Combating anti-Semitism marked that grim reality – a reality that won’t be far from our minds this weekend, as we celebrate Purim and remember the triumph over our oppressors who sought to destroy us.

David Matas is a Winnipeg lawyer and author of Aftershock: Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism published by Dundurn Press. He represented B’nai Brith Canada at the Global Forum.

B’nai Brith has been active in Canada since 1875 as the Jewish community’s foremost human rights organization. To learn more about its advocacy work and diverse community and social programs, please visit

March 1, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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