This is why UN hearings on anti-Semitism are a very, very bad idea. The General Assembly "informal" conference opened Jan. 22 with a keynote address by French philosopher (of Sephardic background) Bernard-Henri Lévy—yes, the same who was recently in the news over having pressured Charlie Hebdo to fire an anti-Semitic cartoonist, was a few months back the target of angry protests in Tunisia over his supposed intrigues against the post-revolutionary government, and also made headlines in 2011 with his unseemly defense of accused rapist Dominque Strauss-Kahn. A choice perfectly designed to turn the whole affair into a counter-productive farce. Arab and Israeli diplomats did not fail to deliver opportunistic obfuscation that just makes everyone stupider.
Jewish News Service flaunts the predictably problematic prognosis of Saudi Arabia's ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi, who posed the occupation of Palestine as at the root of the recent ugliness in Europe: "Colonization and occupation fuels [sic] anti-Semitism… occupation is an act of anti-Semitism. It threatens human rights and human kind [sic]." Al-Mouallimi also condemned all words and acts that lead to "to hatred, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia"—a not-so-veiled reference to Charlie Hebdo.
OK, what exactly does al-Mouallimi mean by "occupation is an act of anti-Semitism"? Does he mean that it inevitably gives rise to a backlash against Jews and therefore is responsible for anti-Semitism? Which is rather letting the Jew-haters off the hook, as if they were automatons that must respond reflexively. Or does he mean that the Palestinians are Semites too, and their oppression is therefore anti-Semitism?
The irony is that there is an element of truth to both these interpretations, even if the ambiguity is itself testament to al-Mouallimi's dishonest intent. Yes, the occupation of Palestine does "fuel" anti-Semitism, in that it provides Jew-haters with potent propaganda. We must again call out the twin errors that are nearly ubiquitous in commentary on the question. One is to deny the context of the Gaza bombardment (or latest Israeli outrage) and portray the recent attacks on Jews as mere arbitrary anti-Semitism. The other is to deny the anti-Semitic element, as if fire-bombing a synagogue or shooting up a kosher market were a legitimate way to protest Israeli atrocities.
The second interpretation also contains a grain of truth. Zionism is a European ideology, informed by the racist assumptions of European colonialism which saw Semites, Black Africans, Asians and Amerindians as inferior peoples to be either exploited or pushed out of the way. This explains the evident streak of self-hatred in Zionism. But if an element of anti-Semitism is at work in Zionism, there is also such an element at work in Islamism, and it similarly makes no difference that Arabs are also Semites. The European ideology of anti-Semitism has spread to the Islamic world—a paradoxical reality, but an unavoidable one, after Egyptian TV has run a series based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (also referenced in the Hamas charter), and works like Henry Ford's The International Jew are promoted on websites with names like Radio Islam (PDF).
OK, next up is Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor, who offers: "Violent anti-Semitism is casting a shadow over Europe... This summer, disguised as humanitarian concern, delegates have used this podium to commit anti-Semitism, accusing Israel of behaving like Nazis. It doesn't matter how much you're angered or frustrated by our conflict. There is no excuse for statements like that."
Again, this exploits an element of truth. Equating Israel with Nazi Germany is indeed alamentable rhetorical excess (at its very best). And when those who make excuses for Bashar Assad or Saddam Hussein call Israel a "Nazi state," you know their thinking is not kosher. But dismissing the "humanitarian concern" as a mere excuse is no more honest. For the most cynical Jew-haters, it may be. But far more numerous are those genuinely outraged at Israel's all too real atrocities, but fed anti-Semitism instead of principled anti-Zionism.
Speaking of cynical Jew-haters, we've now all heard that Lutz Bachmann, leader of Germany's Islamophobic anti-immigrant Pegida movement, has had to step down after a photo emerged of him dressed up as Adolf Hitler, with hairpiece and moustache and everything. (BBC News) So let's be done with this wrong assumption that the interests of Jews are with those who would purge their Fortress Europe of Muslims. It is astonishingly blind not to get that anti-Semitism is endemic to the nativist right. The Bachmann affair is yet more evidence of what we've had all too many occasions to point out: anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are genetically linked phenomena.