Last week, students at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt, performed Sobibor, a play about the Holocaust and the eponymous Nazi extermination camp in Poland. The genocidal slaughter depicted on stage enraged the Egyptian audience, which instigated verbal altercations with the performers, but not because members were so horrified watching how the Nazis tormented, murdered, and burned Jews. Instead, the audience and critics were outraged because the play was too sympathetic to Jews and, somehow, biased toward Israel. Prominent art critics accused the performers of "defending Zionism," falsifying history, and begging for sympathy for the Jewish people. Critics also argued that Jews are hypocritical because they denounce the crimes they suffered at the hands of the Nazis while Israel commits the same atrocities against the Palestinians today. "Why go so far as to arouse sympathy for the Jews in 2019 while we are witnessing the massacres done by the Zionists in the Arab region now, including Egypt and not Palestine alone?" one critic asked.
The controversy that Sobibor triggered among Egyptians, especially within the artistic community, is just another example of how, in the Arab world and the broader Middle East, there is no distinction between hating Jews and hating Israel. The line is so blurred that it is irrelevant. Zionist means Jew—the terms are interchangeable—and Israel means the Jewish people. The state of Israel did not even exist during the Holocaust, and yet portraying the events of Hitler's attempted genocide is somehow Zionist propaganda. Anti-Zionism is, unambiguously, anti-Semitism.
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It is easy to dismiss such hatred as typical bigotry found in the backward Middle East, where Islamic anti-Semitism is pervasive, and among neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the West. Yet many left-wing progressives in Europe and the United States similarly use the words Zionist and Jew interchangeably when making anti-Semitic comments and equate Israel's policies toward the Palestinians with the Nazis' "Final Solution to the Jewish question." Indeed, when reading and listening to Western progressives, it is impossible to distinguish between their hatred of Israel and hatred of Jews. That is because their efforts to demonize, delegitimize, and destroy the only Jewish state—most notably the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement—are, inherently, anti-Semitic, going miles beyond legitimate criticism of a country or its policies.
Progressives—those who view mainstream liberals as too centrist and moderate—have a bizarre, illogical obsession with Israel and Zionism, one that causes them to invoke conspiracy theories about the Jewish state controlling media, banks, even American foreign policy, and to portray Israel as the most wicked country on earth. The core feature of anti-Semitism is accusing Jews of cosmic evil. How is accusing the only Jewish state of cosmic evil not anti-Semitic when that state is, in reality, a vibrant, tolerant democracy and when, by all relevant standards, other countries are far more deserving of such condemnation? History shows that anti-Semitism is a virus that mutates with time to conform to what is socially and culturally acceptable: Falsely describing the Jewish people as devilish and guilty of mass slaughter is deplorable today, but describing the Jewish state in such terms is fine—in some circles, even woke and intellectual. And the best part for anti-Semites: One can actually describe Jews in blatantly anti-Semitic terms; they just need to use the word "Zionist" as a disguise.
Many of these progressives, such as Linda Sarsour, Peter Beinart, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), claim that neo-Nazis and white supremacists support Israel, and that Israel is a prime example of their racist, nationalist vision. The second point is just absurd and false—about one-fifth of Israel's population is Arab, and they enjoy the full rights and benefits of living in a thriving democracy, including the ability to protest their government's policies. The first point is a made-up narrative. The notion that anti-Semites who hate and may even want to hurt Jews would support the Jewish state is illogical. Just as anti-Semites on the political left have directed their bigotry toward the Jewish state, anti-Semites on the political right have done the same. Neo-Nazi, white nationalist websites, for example, routinely publish articles supporting the Palestinians and castigating Israel. Headlines like "The Brutal Occupation of Palestine Continues—Thanks to America's Jewish Masters" are not exactly endorsements of the Jewish state. Neo-Nazis in the America urinate on Israeli flags, and neo-Nazis in Germany participate in protests against Israel, waving Palestinian flags in the streets.
Speaking of Germany, Die Rechte, a German far-right, neo-Nazi political party, campaigned for the European Parliament's elections earlier this year using the slogan, "Israel is our misfortune," a slight rewording of the old German anti-Semitic phrase, "The Jews are our misfortune." Moreover, neo-Nazis avidly support the BDS movement, a campaign of economic warfare against Israel championed by progressive politicians and activists. In fact, neo-Nazis and white supremacists use pro-Palestinian and pro-BDS Facebook groups to incite hate and violence against Jews. The claim that far-right racists support Israel is a fabrication of the progressive movement meant to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.
The three strands of anti-Semitism today—far-left, far-right, and Islamic—all see Israel as a cosmic, satanic evil, a dark manifestation of Jewish interests playing puppet master with the strings of global influence—media, finance, etc. To try to separate hatred and demonization of Israel from classic Jew-hatred is an act of willful blindness. There is no serious way to separate them. Anyone who cannot see the substantive difference between criticizing Israel's settlements as immoral and the chief obstacle to peace with the Palestinians—a misguided but perfectly legitimate position—and calling Israel a racist state guilty of ethnic cleansing and uniquely deserving of international condemnation is either dishonest or ignorant. Anti-Semites can have completely opposing political views and social values, but they all have one thing in common: hatred of Israel, the Jew among nations.