After Gaza: the return of anti-Semitism?

Saturday 18 October, 13.45 until 15.00, Cinema 1, Barbican Keynote Controversies

This year’s renewed conflict in the Gaza Strip provoked vocal opposition to the Israeli government. But some worry it is motivated less by solidarity with the Palestinians than simple anti-Semitism. At ‘Free Gaza’ demonstrations, placards and chants call for the destruction of Israel and ‘death to the Jews’. There have been attacks on a Jewish synagogue and Jewish businesses in Paris, while swastikas were painted on the walls of Jewish buildings in other European cities. Meanwhile, far-right parties like Hungary’s Jobbik or Greece’s Golden Dawn and figures like French comedian Dieudonné seem to have revived anti-Jewish attitudes many had thought consigned to history. Even the memory of the Holocaust is turned back on the Jews, with Israel accused of Nazi-style genocide against the Palestinians.

On the left, too, opposition to Israel has become a cause célèbre, and the usual hypersensitivity to words or images which might even hint at racism has seemingly been dispensed with. Few on the left have challenged even the explicit anti-Semitism of some radical Islamic protesters. The presentation of Israel as a unique pariah state - with an Israeli theatre group forced to drop out of the Edinburgh Fringe, the Jewish Film Festival dropped for refusing to renounce Israeli Embassy funding, and even Marks and Spencer stores targeted during protests. For critics, such extreme vilification of the Jewish state leaves a bitter taste, regardless of the avowed rationale.

Of course, many protesters rightly insist there is nothing necessarily anti-Semitic about opposing Israeli atrocities, but it can be hard to distinguish today’s ‘anti-Zionism’ from spite against Jews. If in the past, anti-imperialists argued Israel is a tool of American policy, now anti-Zionists claim America is a tool of Israeli policy, evoking classic conspiratorial anti-Semitism with talk of an all-powerful ‘Jewish lobby’. Some see a similarly conspiratorial outlook in the thinking of groups like WikiLeaks and Occupy, whose ‘anti-capitalism’ focuses on shadowy cabals of bankers and power-brokers - with parallels to the ‘Rothschilds’ of old.

Others insist claims of rising anti-Semitism are baseless attempts to discredit legitimate criticism of Israel. Indeed, a high-profile 2009 court ruling in Germany found a Jewish journalist guilty of anti-Semitism merely for criticising Israeli policy. So should talk of anti-Semitism be dismissed as an opportunistic attempt to shut down debate, or is there something going on that must be confronted? Has anti-Semitism returned in a new guise? If so, how, if at all, can it be disentangled from debate about Israel?

Watch the debate:

Speakers
Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, Politics of Fear, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history

Lesley Klaff
senior lecturer in law, Sheffield Hallam University; associate editor, Journal for the Study of Antisemitism

David Mellor PC, QC
former Secretary to the Treasury; founding Secretary of State for National Heritage (now DCMS); broadcaster and music critic

Hugo Rifkind
columnist, The Times, Spectator and GQ; author, Overexposure

Chair
Claire Fox
director, Institute of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Institute of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze
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