Rising European Anti-Israelism: an interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld

by Jerry Gordon (July 2015)

A festschrift was held in Jerusalem on June 22, 2015 to launch Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld’s latest book on the New Antisemitism; The War of a Million Cuts. The Jerusalem book launch was sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where Gerstenfeld had been the policy think tank group’s long term Chairman prior to his retirement in 2012. Gerstenfeld’s latest book investigates the various dimensions, mechanisms and forces behind a global movement delegitimizing and demonizing Israel and world Jewry. Among those who were prominent speakers at the book’s launch were Steven Linde, Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post, Isi Leibler, Australian-Israeli commentator of note, and Amon Lord, author and editor of Makor Roshon and the webzine Mida. Praise for Gerstenfeld’s latest book came from former Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar:

Israel happens to be a centerpiece of Western civilization. This is why it is under constant attack, and why we should do everything in our power to allow Israel to remain strong, free, and prosperous.

Just prior to the JCPA launch of A War of a Million Cuts, Aznar was interviewed in Ha’aretz about news reports drawing attention to the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. He said: “Its aim is to put pressure on the Israeli government. BDS does not only want to change the government’s policy, it wants to empty the country of Jews.”

Messrs. Linde, Liebler, Lord and Gerstenfeld’s response to Aznar’s Ha’aretz interview was that while BDS is currently prominent, the overarching problem is “delegitimization in general and Holocaust inversion.”

In the wake of the untimely passing at a conference in Rome in May 2015 of renowned expert on Antisemitism, Hebrew University Professor Robert Wistrich, Gerstenfeld has emerged as the leading authority and analyst of European Antisemitism. In 2013, we reviewed and interviewed him on his book Demonizing Israel and the Jews. We also reviewed his latest book, The War of a Million Cuts in the June 2015 edition of the New English Review

In preparation for this interview with Dr. Gerstenfeld, we conferred with him and decided to concentrate on issues that he had raised in his new book about how the New Antisemitism is transmitted and the impact on both Israelis and especially European Jewish communities. 

Against this background we conducted this interview with Dr. Gerstenfeld.

Jerry Gordon:  Dr. Gerstenfeld thank you for consenting to this interview.

Manfred Gerstenfeld:  Thank you for the opportunity.

Gordon:  How has the abuse of language been used as a tool to convey hatred of Israel, the new anti-Semitism?

Gerstenfeld:  One has to understand that semantics are not neutral. A French scholar of rhetoric Georges-Elia Sarfati has undertaken a detailed linguistic analysis of the defamation of Israel. He says that any discourse is formulated on the basis of the ideological views of those who engage in it. Thus words are not neutral. They serve the purpose of the person who uses them. This is explained in detail in the War of a Million Cuts.

One example Sarfati gives, which is an excellent one is the terminology used by the Nazis. One of the words the Nazis invented was, in German, Vernichtungskrieg; meaning a war of total destruction, extermination. Nowadays Israel is accused of conducting a war of extermination of the Palestinians. Unfortunately, there is wide agreement to this hate statement in the mainstream of European society. There are 400 million citizens of 16 years and older in the European Union. Of them 40 percent-plus, certainly more than 150 million think that Israel conducts a war of extermination against the Palestinians. They agree with such a statement when asked in polls. We have seven studies on this subject. The first one dates from 2004 with the most recent one done in 2015. We have many more statistics on Germany than on other countries. In 2004, a great majority of Germans, who should really know better, in view of their own past, saw Israel as a Nazi state.

Gordon:  Did the rumored French-sponsored UN resolution seeking to declare a Palestinian state mask domestic problems in Europe resulting from mass Muslim emigration?

Gerstenfeld:  In the past, in what we call “modern times,” the main force behind anti-Semitism was Hitler. We now live in post-modern times, and everything is very fragmented. It is very important for many European parties to obtain Muslim votes. Their votes may make the difference between winning or losing in national or local elections. In France — where the Muslim population is about 10 percent — in the Presidential elections of 2012 there were indications that the number of Muslims who voted for the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande was much bigger than for the outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy. Analysts estimate that the Muslim votes may have made almost all the difference between the two candidates. So the Muslim vote is certainly a consideration. But there are also other ones. For instance, France today has sunk to be a secondary or tertiary force in the world. It may want to play a role again in the Middle East which is a much publicized area. France would like to polish its image by doing something which makes an impact in that area where it once was a major power, and today has lost virtually all its influence. France, until after the Second World War, was the second major force in the Middle East after the UK. They were the main foreign influence in Syria and Lebanon. Today, it would be unthinkable for France to take on militarily the Islamic State. It can at best be an also ran. Another consideration is that France for many years has been pro-Arab in its foreign policy.

Gordon:  President Obama has recently hinted during an Israeli Channel 2 interview that the U.S. might not veto a Palestinian state resolution should one be introduced at the UN Security Council. You have analyzed Mr. Obama in this context. What can you tell us about what he’s doing?

Gerstenfeld:  In order to understand President Obama one has to get to the essence of what characterizes him. He is an extreme moral relativist. To put it differently, Obama is a man without a moral compass. That is the case even though he tries to present himself as a moral person. One has to brush off the overgrowth of his words which mislead. I’ll give four examples of his extreme moral relativism. The first one is that he considers that the Islamic state is not part of Islam. That is pure fantasy. If I put it a little bit harsher, it is a lie. There is no doubt that the Islamic State is a minority segment of Islam, which is nowadays a fragmented religion. Also the binary division of Islam into Islamists and Muslims is a fallacy. We are dealing here with a continuum to the extent that you have on the one hand radical, extreme genocidal Muslims; on the other hand, moderate Muslims. But I am not convinced that if you deduct the indifferent Muslims and those in between the two extremes that the number of moderate Muslims in the world exceeds the number of genocidal supporters of Islam. In between, there are people of various degrees as well as a substantial number of Muslims who may want to mind their own personal interests and avoid these ideological fights. That is the first example of Obama’s moral relativism.

The second example concerns Christians. In an Easter statement, Obama expressed his concern about hate speech from Christians. Of course, he is a man who was married by an extreme Christian hatemonger, his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. This inciter said: “God damn America, for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America, as long as she tries to act like she is God, and she is supreme.” Obama was part of his church community, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for many years. This is a sign of extreme moral relativism and a demonstration of his lack of a moral compass. He was one of the last who should have made such a remark about hatemongering Christians. 

Thirdly Obama spoke about the Muslim terrorist killers of Jews in the Paris Hyper Cacher Market in January 2015 as “’violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.” The victims were not random targets they were Jews. And the location was not just a deli, but a kosher supermarket.  

Fourthly, Obama speaks about his tough love for Israel. He did not mention that the largest Palestinian party is Hamas; an Islamo-Nazi party with a genocidal agenda. The easy part for him is to criticize Israel. That is another sign of the extreme moral relativism of a person who has no moral compass.

Gordon:  Popular culture and art have become a graphic means of conveying anti-Semitism along with social media. How important are they, particularly in Europe and in the Middle East, and can you give us some specific examples?

Gerstenfeld:  These are two different things. The best example of graphic means is always cartoons. They appeal to the prejudice of the people who look at them. If one publishes a hate cartoon in the mass media, one can only successfully do that if the audience is receptive to the hate message. A cartoon is not an essay. A cartoon expresses only one idea. In the Arab World, where so many people are illiterate, the cartoon usually takes on a bigger importance. Now, this has been studied in great detail by a Belgian scholar, Joel Kotek who published a book in French and in English on Arab anti-Semitic cartoons. He makes there a selection of a few hundred out of many thousands of anti-Semitic cartoons. Cartoons are an important tool for transmission of genocidal hate in the Arab World. Over decades, each Israeli prime minister has been presented as a Nazi in the Arab world. The same occurs in Europe, but to a much lesser extent. If you ask me which European countries the past years have produced the most extreme hate cartoons, two come to mind – Greece and Norway. The third largest Norwegian daily Dagbladet has published a number of extreme anti-Israeli hate cartoons. Those have depicted the late Prime Minister Sharon as a Nazi, Prime Minister Olmert as a Nazi and compared Gaza to Buchenwald. All these cartoons were drawn by a left-wing German who lives in Norway. In Greece, hate cartoons are spread all over the press. We have seen anti-Semitic hate cartoons also elsewhere. For instance in leading papers in the U.K., in the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany and other EU countries. Now social media are a very big transmitter of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli hate. Anti-Semitism is not well monitored in many countries. However, it is monitored in the Netherlands. There anti-Semitic hate on the internet by far exceeds hate of Muslims. There are many such cases on the internet.

Gordon:  How has the UN conveyed messages demonizing and delegitimizing Israel?

Gerstenfeld:  The UN is a major demonizer and hatemonger of Israel. That includes UN-associated bodies such as the United Nations Human Rights Commission, UNESCO, UNWRA and many others agencies. The UN is supposed to be a moral body. When it comes to Israel its views reflect the extreme moral degradation of this largest supranational body. Hate expressions and double standards against Israel symbolize that. Witness for instance the statements by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. 

Gordon:  Related to that is the Palestinian use of Lawfare against Israel. What can you tell us about these troubling episodes?

Gerstenfeld:  It has become a question whether international humanitarian law is really a branch of law. Perhaps it is not more than a construct in the mind of a bunch of left wing academics as Alan Dershowitz has said. It is certain that the application of international humanitarian law by so-called humanitarian NGOs often is an expression of double standards or racism. The Palestinians have skillfully abused it. I have a number of years ago coined a new term: humanitarian racism. It is a kind of reverse continuation of the colonial racist types who said that there is a law for the natives, or the colored people, and there is a law for the white people. That has conflated itself nowadays where there is a law for Israel and there is a law for the Arabs. The Palestinian entity is on average at least as criminal as many Arab states. The largest party Hamas in fact, is more criminal. Hamas is a genocidal Islamo-Nazi party, which means it’s a Nazi-like party, not in the name of Hitler, but in the name of Islam.

Gordon:  In Europe, how have violent Muslim public protests and attacks intimidated Jewish identification?

Gerstenfeld:  It is not only the fault of Muslims, but it is mainly the Muslims. Europe has led in an unselective way massive numbers of Muslims from countries where anti-Semitism is rife. This has introduced into Europe a large number of people, not all Muslims of course, who have brought with them, a harder anti-Semitic language and more extreme anti-Semitic incidents. You see that best in France, where we have had a number of cases of Muslims murdering Jews. The most recent one was the Hyper Casher Market attack in Paris, this past January.  So, you can’t only blame Muslims for that because the governments in Europe should never have let in so many people from hatemongering anti-Semitic countries. This is the worst thing that has happened to Jewish communities since the end of WWII. I would add that a 2013 study by the Fundamental Rights Agency in Europe shows that a large number of European Jews will no longer publicly identify as such.

Gordon:  While European leaders have condemned the rise of anti-Semitism, European Jewish communities no longer believe they can rely on national and local governments to protect them. What realistic options do these communities have other than possible immigration to Israel and perhaps North America?

Gerstenfeld:  I don’t think that – unless something extreme happens – more than a limited minority of European Jews will emigrate. I think the people who emigrate are right because Europe is an increasingly decaying continent. You leave a continent whose glory is in the past for other places which have more drive and a future. The realistic options are, one, keeping as low a profile as possible, two, assimilating if you don’t chose the emigration option, which only a relatively minor percentage will choose. I don’t see the majority of any European Jewish communities moving out of a country unless the situation deteriorates extremely.

Gordon:  What incidents occurred prior to and during Operation Defensive Edge in 2014 that underscore the uncertain future prospects for European Jews?

Gerstenfeld:  I can give you examples of such incidents in two countries which go beyond what we have ever seen since the end of the Second World War. The first one is France. We had attacks on synagogues by groups of violent criminal Muslims in Paris and elsewhere. We have never seen that before. Before that, we mainly had attacks by individuals or a few people.  

In the Netherlands, we had in the summer of 2014 during Israel’s Protective Edge campaign the phenomenon, of about 15 Jewish businessmen hiring bodyguards. That has never been seen before. The chief rabbi of the Jewish communities outside the major cities like Amsterdam the Hague and Rotterdam said that he was actually thinking of leaving the country. He concluded that he cannot do that because the captain must be the last to leave the ship. Never has a leading Jewish personality said that in the past 400 years of the Jewish community in the independent Netherlands.

Not everywhere in Europe was the year 2014 the worst one as far as anti-Semitism is concerned. In 2009 the Muslim anti-Semitic riots in Oslo were the biggest ever  in Norway. There 2009 was worse than 2014.

Gordon:  Why, in your view, have many European social democratic parties on the left formed alliances with domestic émigré Muslim communities espousing fundamentalist anti-Semitism?

Gerstenfeld:  They haven’t really espoused fundamentalist anti-Semitism, but they want Muslim votes. This is a major reason. Both in national and local elections in European countries that have significant concentrations of émigré Muslims, the Muslim vote may determine who is elected. In many European countries you have trade unions who hope to replace their declining membership partly with members drawn from the Muslim community proletariat. So if these Socialist parties are inattentive they go beyond supporting the weak. That leads to include both non-Muslim and Muslim criminals. These left Socialist, Labor or progressive parties are in fact indirect supporters of the Palestinians, of which the largest party, Hamas, has a genocidal agenda. Thus, you can say that many progressive parties in Europe are indirect supporters of genocidal Muslims. We have seen various Socialist and Labor parties in Europe supporting a Palestinian racist state; the current President of the Palestinian Authority says that no Jews can live there. The majority Palestinian party is Hamas an Islamo-Nazi party. Socialist parties in Europe often go hand in hand with Palestinian genocide-promoters and racists. That is true for the ruling Socialist Party in France, for the Labor party in the U.K., for the socialist government in Sweden and the Labor party in the Netherlands.

Gordon:  Will the rise of anti-Muslim immigration political parties in domestic and EU parliaments exacerbate or alleviate the situation of beleaguered European Jews?

Gerstenfeld:  This is a very difficult question. You have to understand that the right-wing parties are nationalistic parties. That, by definition means that they differ from country to country. Let’s take two examples which are among the more acceptable ones, even though they are very different from each other. The Front National in France, which in the next Presidential elections in 2017 may become the largest party. Marine Le Pen its leader tries to diminish as much as she can the anti-Semitic character which was its hallmark under her father. But it is very difficult because there are fascist, anti-Semitic elements in this party, and they are not insignificant. On the other hand, if you take the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders its leader came out of the Dutch liberal party. He has seen to it that you have no people in his party that have either a fascist or neo-Nazi past. You might say that the Swedish Democrats are in between. Then you have, of course, parties which go totally beyond this, such as the extreme racists of Jobbik in Hungary. Golden Dawn in Greece or the neo-Nazis in Germany. These are clearly neo-Nazi parties, and they are also anti-Muslim. Of course the rise of these parties may have various consequences. It’s not very comfortable for Jews to live in a society where there is racial hatred, including if it is against Muslims. Another development could be where other left-wing parties try to get Muslim votes that are anti-Israeli. Now you may get a fight for the white vote among the other parties. Other parties seeking the white vote may thus become more anti-Islamist. That will create a very unpleasant climate in European countries. It is difficult to foresee because the Muslims may react by scapegoating the Jews even more. So it is very unclear unless the anti-immigration parties create such an unpleasant reality for Muslims that many of them return to where they came from.

Gordon:  How effective has the Israeli propaganda war been against international critics, whether in the Middle East, North America or the EU?

Gerstenfeld:  There are 15 million Jews in the world, including Israelis. There are an estimated 1 billion anti-Semites so unless you are smarter than your enemies, you cannot survive. Israel has a high technology industrial base and a powerful military, the Israeli Defense Force. Israel has three very effective domestic, military and international intelligence services. They are Shin Bet, Aman and Mossad. Israel’s cyber defense and security is among the most advanced. There is a United Nations report that says that Israel is on the way to become a cyber power. On the other hand Israel has totally failed combating hostile demonizing propaganda. It is explained in my new book, The War of a Million Cuts. Israel has missed every opportunity to create an anti-propaganda structure. That is one of the reasons – not the only reason – why Israel has allowed its critics to have a free anti-Semitic lunch. If there were an anti-propaganda agency, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, who is an inciter, would never have been able to do that. Israel has allowed the rise of the international boycott divestment and sanctions movement. That could have been avoided if Israel had analyzed the situation and financed an anti-propaganda agency

Gordon:  Manfred, we want to thank you for this, informative interview.

Gerstenfeld:  You’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me.




Also see Jerry Gordon’s collection of interviews, The West Speaks.


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