January 20, 2019

Defining the Root of Anti-Semitism

Editor’s note: The following is a transcription of Yossi Klein Halevi’s response to a student’s question at DePaul University on Nov. 14 in Chicago. According to an online post by Halevi, the student asked whether “humanizing” Zionists was comparable to asking African Americans to “humanize members of the KKK.” Halevi was on a speaking tour with Walid Issa, executive director of the American Palestinian Hope Project.


My understanding of anti-Semitism is the following: Anti-Semitism is not simply hating the other — the Jew as other. Anti-Semitism works a little bit differently. What anti-Semitism does is turn the Jews — “the Jew” — into the symbol of whatever it is that a given civilization defines as its most loathsome qualities. And so, under Christianity, — before the Holocaust and Vatican II — the Jew was the Christ-killer (“His blood be upon our heads and upon our children” [Matthew 27:25] ). That’s forever. Under Communism, the Jew was the capitalist. Under Nazism, the Jew was the race polluter, the ultimate race polluter.

Now we live in a different civilization, where the most loathsome qualities are racism, colonialism, apartheid. And lo and behold, the greatest offender in the world today, with all the beautiful countries of the world, is the Jewish state. The Jewish state is the symbol of the genocidal, racist, apartheid state. That’s Israel. That’s the Jewish state. An Israeli political philosopher named Yakov Talmon once put it this way: “The state of the Jews has become the Jew of the states.” What that means to me is, criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Criticism of Israel’s existence — denying Israel the right to exist, calling Israel the Zionist entity — that is anti-Semitism. That is a classical continuity of thousands of years of symbolizing the Jew. So, using that kind of language places you in very uncomfortable company. That kind of language can come today from the far left. It can come from white supremacists. It can come from Islamist extremists. It can come from many sources, but all of those groups converge on one idea: The Jew remains humanity’s great problem.


Yossi Klein Halevi is an American-born Israeli author and journalist. His most recent book is “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.”