A very thoughtful and scholarly approach to the causes of modern anti-Semitims.
Anti-Israelism is Anti-Semitism: an Interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld
by Jerry Gordon (September 2013)
Manfred Gerstenfeld, the former Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a noted author and commentator on European and World anti-Semitism. He recently published a book of interviews, Demonizing Israel and the Jews. The book presents important themes on how prevalent anti-Semitism, anti-Israelism and what Gerstenfeld terms “humanitarian racism” are in the West today. See our review in the current edition of the New English Review. Vienna-born Gerstenfeld is a Holocaust survivor who grew up as a child of Jews hidden in Holland not far from Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam. A product of a strongly Zionist and Orthodox Jewish family he left Amsterdam for Paris in 1964 to become a premier pharmaceutical industry stock analyst for Eurofinance – a consortium of 16 international banks. That subsequently led to an illustrious international strategic and financial consultancy career in both Europe and Israel. Making Aliyah with his family in 1968 to Israel, he served in the IDF as a Reserve Officer in Economic Intelligence. In 1999 following the passing of the founding chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he assumed that post which he held from 2000 to 2012. While there he established a program of Post-Holocaust and anti-Semitism studies specializing in the continuing problem of European and global anti-Semitism. Near the close of the 20th Century he returned to Dutch problems, advising on the matter of restitution for Dutch Holocaust survivors on behalf of Dutch Jewish immigrants in Israel. His demand for an apology by the Dutch for the failure of the Government in exile in London during World War Two to recognize the destruction of Holland’s Jews during the Holocaust drew wide international attention. Gerstenfeld has frequently commented in books and articles about the Dutch attitude towards Jews following the Nazi occupation that witnessed the murders of over 100,000 of his Dutch coreligionists in Nazi death camps. In 2012, he was given a Lifetime Award by The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism.
Gerstenfeld’s latest work draws attention to one reason why Israel and Jews are demonized, “humanitarian racism,” meaning the attributing of an “intrinsically reduced responsibility to people of certain ethnic or national groups regarding their criminal acts and intentions.” He has developed an estimate based on several studies and polls that approximately “150 million Europeans have extreme negative views about Jews and the State of Israel.” In an email exchange, Bat Ye’or suggests that Palestianism is the root of “humanitarian racism.” Note how Bat Ye’or defined Palestinism in our interview with her:
Palestinism is a world policy initiated and imposed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its Western allies that aims to transfer to Palestinian Muslims the history, the cultural and religious heritage of the Jewish people. . . . Palestinism encompasses all Western-Muslim relationships.
In a Jewish Telegraph interview on August 9, 2013 titled, “Europe 40 per cent do not like Jews and Israel,” Gerstenfeld commented:
Anti-Israelism is a new form of Antisemitism. People believe Israelis are evil…and behave in a manner worse than the Nazis. . . .These people call themselves anti-Zionists.
Turning from European anti-Semitism, Gerstenfeld had this observation about where a Second Holocaust might come from – the Muslim world:
Large parts of the Muslim world are willing to commit a Holocaust in the sense of exterminating Israel.
A moderate leader in Iran said Israel should disappear. That is calling for a Holocaust, if Iran uses its nuclear weapons.
Gerstenfeld argues that leftist social democratic parties in Europe are aligned with Muslim extremists engaged in demonizing Israel and Jews.
Gerstenfeld identifies as one of the worst examples of “humanitarian racism” a Swedish Social Democrat mayor’s support for Muslims demonizing the small Jewish community in Sweden’s third largest city, Malmö. In an August 2011, Front Page Magazine article, “Norway and Antisemitism”, Gerstenfeld wrote:
Norway is a democracy ruled by ‘progressive’ hate-mongers. The current government headed by Labor Party Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is soft on anti-Israel terror and sometimes even indirectly promotes it. In view of the horrific murders at the Utoya camp of the AUF Labor youth movement, many commentators have been rightly wary to fully expose the anti-Israel hatred which was promoted there to youngsters of 14 years old and up.
Gerstenfeld believes that Israel needs to address the media war that it has virtually lost, despite brilliantly conducting conventional military, high tech cyber warfare and counter-terrorism campaigns.
Against this background we invited Manfred Gerstenfeld for this New English Review interview.
Jerry Gordon: Manfred Gerstenfeld thank you for consenting to this interview.
Manfred Gerstenfeld: Thank you for inviting me.
Gordon: You were born in Austria and grew up in the Netherlands during the Holocaust. How did you and your family survive during the Nazi occupation?
Gerstenfeld: We were in hiding in the heart of Amsterdam, not far from where Anne Frank was in hiding. I was in hiding with my parents for about a year. After September 1944 when there were false rumors that the German army was collapsing and the Allies would march into The Netherlands soon, the German authorities and their Dutch collaborators lost interest in many matters and searching for Jews was one of them. Their main aim became to save their own skin. My parents placed me with Christian former neighbors. I lived there under a false name as a Dutch boy allegedly evacuated from Rotterdam – a town which was bombed by the Germans at the beginning of the war.
Gordon: Why did you leave the Netherlands in 1964?
Gerstenfeld: I left the Netherlands in 1964 for Paris. I went to Israel from Paris in 1968. I understood when I grew up that the Netherlands wasn’t a place where I should stay. This had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitism which I experienced in my youth after the Second World War was insignificant. I even occasionally experienced acts of kindness because I was a Jew. A relatively small Jewish community had remained in the Netherlands. Close to three quarters of the 140,000 Dutch Jews had been murdered during the war. Jewish Amsterdam gave me a very “small-town feeling” of being confined in one place.
My parents and I were immigrants in the Netherlands. I did not have roots in the country and I was looking for a temporary job opportunity outside of the country to become familiar with the world at large. This presented itself in 1964 when I was offered a very attractive position with an international stock market research company, Eurofinance. It was owned by 16 major banks. They were looking for someone whom they could train as a Security Analyst in the pharmaceutical field. Thus I became the first Stock Market Analyst in Europe who specialized in the continent’s pharmaceutical industry.
I came from a Zionist and orthodox family and was a member of the Bnei Akiva Orthodox Zionist Youth Movement in the Netherlands. I became the national Bnei Akiva Chairman and afterwards Chairman of the Dutch Zionist Student Organization NZSO in Amsterdam. As a Zionist, I had always planned to leave Europe for Israel at some point. In 1963, I was nominated and elected as Chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) for four years. At that time it was an unpaid position. So when an opportunity presented itself to obtain a very attractive job in Paris where the WUJS headquarters were then located, it suited me extremely well.
Gordon: Can you highlight your IDF and business career after arriving in Israel?
Gerstenfeld: I cannot claim to have had an IDF “career.” I was only recruited for a relatively short time due to my age at the time of my arrival in Israel. Later on I became a Reserve Academic Officer in the Economic Intelligence Unit at IDF headquarters, where I did my reserve duty for about 13 years.
After my late wife Marianne and our two young sons and I moved to Israel, I continued to work in Europe part of each month for Eurofinance. I also created and managed a consultancy joint venture with Bank Leumi – then Israel’s largest bank – for them. It was the country’s first quality economic and financial consultancy. I remained with this Israeli venture National Consultants until 1980. From 1980 to 1988, I continued as a private consultant with partners. We advised Israeli firms on economic and financial problems including some of the largest companies in the country. The most interesting part of my career remained international consultancy to the chairmen and boards of some of the largest corporations in the world.
Gordon: What prompted your long term involvement with The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs?
Gerstenfeld: The Founder and President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (JCPA) the late Professor Daniel J. Elazar and I were close friends. He was an excellent scholar with a renaissance approach to Jewish studies. You could call him a polymath. He put me on the JCPA board. When he passed away in 1999, a situation was created wherein I was the only board member who did not come out of the academic world. Almost by default I became the most active board member and was elected Chairman of the Board in early 2000, a position I held for 12 years. As President and Chief Executive, we hired former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold who returned from his ambassadorship at the United Nations. In the course of my activities at the JCPA, I realized that there was a need for a new important field of research: Post-Holocaust studies. I initiated at the JCPA what was probably the first conference ever on this topic anywhere.
In those days, anti-Semitism was growing globally at an alarming rate. I then developed a program for Post-Holocaust and anti-Semitism studies at the JCPA which focused on lectures, publications, research, student internships and other related activities. We produced a wide range of more than 100 publications on this subject. Later, I initiated another program called “Changing Jewish Communities.” These two activities were related. Anti-Semitism exerts external pressure on Jewish communities, yet there are also internal developments. The combination of the two merited study. There were over 50 publications released in the Changing Jewish Communities series.
Gordon: What do you consider the more important accomplishments at the JCPA under your leadership?
Gerstenfeld: The JCPA activities are not mainly in the fields in which I was active from 2000 to 2011. In the latter, the JCPA made a very major contribution through the analysis of the current type of anti-Semitism which is different from pre-2000 anti-Semitism. The new century anti-Semitism has a large component of anti-Israelism. However, it is based on the same core motifs as classic anti-Semitism. These hate motifs have existed for 2,000 years and sometimes even longer. The current manifestations of these motifs are very diverse and also far more fragmented than in the past. The JCPA has studied and explained many aspects of this phenomenon.
This is also expressed in my most recent book Demonizing Israel and the Jews. It explains the process of how this demonization is being developed, who the perpetrators are, what the hate messages are and how they are transmitted into society at large. The ‘success’ of this demonization process is reflected in the estimated 150 million citizens of the European Union (EU) who hold the absurd anti-Semitic belief that Israel is exterminating the Palestinians. The book contains 57 interviews with experts from many countries who illustrate how major the current demonization of Israel is.
Gordon: How did you arrive at the number 150 million?
Gerstenfeld: I culled data from four surveys in which people were asked in nine European countries as to whether they agreed with the statement, “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians,” or alternatively, that Israel was behaving toward the Palestinians like the Nazis did toward the Jews.
Those who answered in the affirmative have deeply anti-Semitic views. In seven EU countries, the lowest responses to the first question were in Italy and the Netherlands – around 38% to 39%. Poland’s response was the highest at 63%. In the U.K, Hungary, Germany and Portugal, responses ranged from 40 to 49%. I then did a simple calculation based on the percentage of people 16 years and older in the European Union. Broadly speaking 80% of about 500 million citizens in the EU are 16 years old or over. There are thus an estimated 400 million ‘adult’ Europeans. I applied a conservative estimate based on the lowest country response to the question about Israel exterminating the Palestinians which was 38%, to the 400 million adult Europeans. That is how I arrived at an estimate of 150 million.
Gordon: What do you consider to be the central themes in your new book?
Gerstenfeld: The main theme in Demonizing Israel and the Jews is the explanation of the essence of the process of the demonization of Israel. I have tried to simplify it. It consists of three elements: a perpetrator, a demonizing message and a communication medium to transmit it. We live in post-modern times, thus there are many demonizing messages against Jews and Israel. There was one single major message in classic Christian anti-Semitism which claimed that the Jews committed deicide. Nazi anti-Semitism also had one central message: the Jews are subhuman. The transmission outlets through which you can communicate these demonizing messages include newspapers, TV stations, the internet and the United Nations.
The second major theme of my book is exposing how far the demonizing of Israel has progressed in the European Union. The third major theme is showing the multiple facets of contemporary anti-Semitism. They are expressed in the 57 interviews. The expert interviewees discuss perpetrators such as NGO’s, media and governments. They also analyze Christians, Muslims in Muslim countries and Muslims living in the West. The book illustrates the broad range of demonizers. It also exposes the great variety of demonizing messages as well as how they are communicated through the transmission channels.
Gordon: Why have you maintained such a long interest in the condition of Dutch Jewry?
Gerstenfeld: I have not maintained a continuous long term interest. However, the Holocaust restitution issue once again became a major concern in the Netherlands at the end of the previous century. The Dutch Jewish immigrant community in Israel sought me out as a financial expert to advise on the complex monetary aspects of that restitution process and subsequent negotiations. That brought my interest back to the Netherlands after many years of little or no involvement. Since then, I have maintained my interest which led to two books on the Netherlands. One deals with the renewed restitution process and is titled: Judging the Netherlands.
Gordon: How problematic is the legacy of the treatment of Dutch Jews during the Holocaust in terms of relationships with Israel?
Gerstenfeld: I think if it plays a role, it does so subconsciously. The subject keeps coming up from time to time because new post-war scandals are exposed. Judging the Netherlands led to parliamentary questions and some debate in The Netherlands. After major news agencies gave attention to the issue, it was picked up by hundreds of media outlets worldwide. The question remains though – why is the Netherlands virtually the only country in Europe whose government has never apologized for or even admitted the total failure of the Dutch Government in exile in London during the Second World War, vis-a-vis their country’s Jewish citizens?
Gordon: Why did Frits Bolkestein, a former EU Commissioner, Dutch Political leader and academic say, “I see no future for observant Jews in the Netherlands?”
Gerstenfeld: Mr. Bolkestein once said to me that if you want to be a conscious Jew in The Netherlands you will face difficulties. This is, to a large extent, due to the fact that part of the Muslim immigrants and their progeny are poorly integrated in the Netherlands. The Jewish community is small and a variety of Muslims create problems for them. He also said that Jewish parents should tell their children to leave the Netherlands for the United States or Israel. When I quoted him in my 2010 book in Dutch The Decay, Jews in a Rudderless Netherlands, it led to a major public debate and ultimately to a parliamentary discussion.
Gordon: Could you delineate the principle reasons behind the rise of European anti-Semitism in the 21st century?
Gerstenfeld: Anti-Semitism remained in Europe, albeit in latent form, even after the Second World War. It went public again in the new century. Almost ten years ago I wrote a book Europe’s Crumbling Myths on anti-Semitism in Europe after the Second World War, which intensified in this new century. The deeply rooted European anti-Semitism continued on, but could not be expressed publicly because of what had transpired during the Holocaust. It has since found a new direction, as mainly Arab and leftist propaganda have substituted religious and ethnic anti-Semitism with a new mutation: anti-Israelism.
Gordon: Why is anti-Israelism equated with anti-Semitism?
Gerstenfeld: Hate-mongering by Muslims and others employs the same motifs that Medieval Christians and Nazi hate mongers used. The claim that Israel is exterminating the Palestinians is slanderous because the Palestinian population has only increased in past decades. Palestinian children and babies are cared for in Israeli hospitals. Palestinian patients are treated in Israeli hospitals and so on.
The anti-Israel hate mongers who claim that Israel harvests the organs of Palestinians are promoting a modern mutation of the anti-Semitic blood libel which was invented in England in the 12th century. There are demonizing anti-Semitic statements emanating from the Muslim world claiming that Jews are “descendents of apes and pigs.” This animalization of the Jewish people comes out of the Quran. One problem is that there are so few anti-Semitism scholars in the world that these things have not been properly exposed in great detail. There is no doubt that anti-Israelism is a third major type of anti-Semitism, like religious and ethnic/nationalistic anti-Semitisms were major types. This anti-Israelism has permeated the mainstream in several European countries. We find it for instance in many Socialist or Labor parties, including those in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands and Belgium.
Gordon: Which in your view are the most dangerous European countries in terms of anti-Semitism?
Gerstenfeld: If one asks which town is currently the most anti-Semitic in Europe, most experts would agree that it is Malmö, the third largest city in Sweden. Two things came together there: Until recently, there was a part time anti-Semitic mayor, the Social Democrat Ilmar Reepalu, as well as a large Muslim community with many violent youths. People often think that Muslims commit most of the anti-Semitic acts throughout Europe. This is incorrect. What is true is that Muslims commit anti-Semitic acts disproportionately to their percentage within the population, but they are not responsible for the majority of assaults. The majority of anti-Semitic acts in Europe are committed by non-Muslims. However, Malmö is one of the few exceptions where Muslims happen to be the main perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts.
If you ask which are the leading European countries where anti-Israelism is promoted, Norway comes to mind. There is a left-wing government which has a number of ministers who can be defined as either part-time anti-Semites or humanitarian racists. Humanitarian racism – a term I coined five years ago – is a type of racism which is not commonly known. Such racists think that only white people and some other powerful individuals can be responsible for their acts. Humanitarian racists ignore Palestinian crimes for instance, or at best, reduce them. People who are not held responsible for their criminal acts, are in effect ‘animalized.’ Who else is not held responsible for his acts? A retarded or insane individual, or an animal. Humanitarian racists look away from the enormous ideological and other criminality which permeates Palestinian society and large parts of the Arab and Muslim world.
Gordon: How much of the rise in European anti-Semitism can be attributed to Islamic doctrine?
Gerstenfeld: It’s an essential part. I will be publishing a major essay on this subject soon in The Journal for The Study of Antisemitism. Muslim anti-Semitism is a complex issue and in no way does involve all Muslims. The few studies we have on this subject show that anti-Semitism among European Muslims from a young age is substantially larger than in the non-Muslim population. Out of the Muslim community also come the most extreme anti-Semitic acts. One can see this in France in particular, where there were cases of murder of Jews by local Muslims. They are different from earlier deadly anti-Semitic attacks by Muslims who came from abroad to murder.
Gordon: Why are some international church groups supporting delegitimization of Israel?
Gerstenfeld: Christian anti-Semitism is far from dead. This anti-Semitism has been marketed for many centuries by the Catholic Church, yet also by some prominent Protestant reformers and leaders of Eastern churches. These attitudes were latent as well in Europe after the Second World War. It now manifests itself with the same motifs we found in ancient Christian anti-Semitism. The current external appearance of that anti-Semitism is again mainly that of anti-Israelism. One finds it in some North American liberal churches. In Europe it is there for instance in the Church of Scotland. One also finds it in some Christian movements including Catholic ones on the European continent. You could call it recycled and redirected Christian anti-Semitism.
Gordon: How do you view those in Europe and the West who oppose the threat of Islamization? Do you view them as allies?
Gerstenfeld: Many of these people want to stereotype Islam and some are also outright anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli. In several but certainly not in all of these parties, one finds neo-Nazis. For example, Golden Dawn, which is prominent in the Greek Parliament, is a pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim movement. Jobbik in Hungary is fascist and anti-Semitic. Other extreme right wing movements are easier to get along with. Basically they all embody problems for Jews. For instance, the pro-Israel Freedom Party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands opposes ritual slaughter. At the same time, it exposes many occurrences of Dutch anti-Semitism.
Another problem for Jews with such parties is that one should stay away from stereotyping all Muslims. There is no other major religion involved in so much violence and other crimes, as Islam. Blaming all Muslims for it is false however.
Irrational discrimination of Muslims exists in Europe. At the same time, one should clearly state that there are rational reasons to have a negative opinion of many major developments in the Islamic world as well as in parts of the Muslim population in Europe.
Gordon: Why are progressive academics in the West prominent in the International Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign against Israel?
Gerstenfeld: In several academic circles, mainly so-called ‘progressive’ ones, you can find numerous humanitarian racists. These racists in the so-called anti-racist camp should be exposed publicly. One mainly finds such humanitarian racists in liberal circles. This should not be falsified by saying that the majority of liberals are humanitarian racists. It is unfortunate that hardly anyone within the anti-racist camp exposes their racist colleagues.
Gordon: Why are some Jews in Israel and the West engaged in the BDS Campaign?
Gerstenfeld: The idea that Jews cannot be anti-Semites is incorrect. When one reads either the European Union or the US State Department definitions of anti-Semitism, it is clear that Jews can be anti-Semites. When I analyze a text, I don’t care whether it has been written by a neo-Nazi, a fascist, a progressive academic, a Muslim, an Israeli or a diaspora Jew. If the text is anti-Semitic, then the author is an anti-Semite – irrespective of which community or religion he comes from. This self-hate phenomenon has a long history in the Jewish world. There is also a lengthy Jewish masochistic tradition. The latter should be explored, yet there is hardly any scholarship on this issue either.
Gordon: Can Israel survive as a bastion for world Jewry surrounded by Islamic anti-Semitic forces seeking its destruction?
Gerstenfeld: In principle, Israel can survive and flourish. Yet it has to get much smarter. What shocks me is the incompetence of Israel in the propaganda war. This is combined with an unjustified satisfaction about one’s own — in fact poor — performance in several Israeli government circles. Israel is confronted with an all-out war against it by many Arab and Muslim forces. They have powerful allies in the Western world. Israel has a first rate military. It also has a renowned cyber warfare unit. In the propaganda war however, Israel is extremely backward and that is a very worrisome situation.
Gordon: What can Israel and world Jewry do to combat the rise of demonic anti-Semitism?
Gerstenfeld: In post-modern times, there is no single remedy against widespread hate-mongering. The government of Israel has to set up a much more comprehensive infrastructure to fight this war and it must properly fund it. One must develop a detailed concept of how this is going to be done.
One aspect of this is to expose anti-Semites. The estimated figure of 150 million European anti-Semites with extreme negative opinions about Israel is so shocking that not a single non-Jewish paper in Europe has dared to publish it. I have received a lot of media attention for Demonizng Israel and the Jews in Jewish circles. So far articles in at least eight languages have been published about the book.
In the non-Jewish world in Europe however, there is silence. I have been interviewed by journalists from major European papers. Their editors would not print the interviews. These interviews would most likely open up a Pandora’s box. My publisher Rene van Praag said that just as there are many stories which are too small for the media to deal with, there are also stories which are too big.
Once one starts to publish that there could be a huge number of people in Europe who hold a false, irrational and criminal view of Israel, the consequences are not be easily controlled. If you have a totally unfounded and criminal view of others, you yourself possess a criminal mindset. Consequently, the basic image of Europe as “cultured and a promoter of human rights” completely collapses. Europe also becomes a huge conglomeration of individuals with ugly beliefs. These people also recycle evil medieval concepts.
From there the opened Pandora’s Box leads to even more unpleasant developments for Europe’s political and civil leadership. The question then has to be asked: Who has enabled the creation of this satanic image of Israel? Who is responsible for its development? Which politicians in Europe have demonized Israel and what is the E.U. going to do about them? Will people in high positions in the European Union be fired because they are anti-Semites disguised as anti-Israelis? What should be done with politicians in European countries who are demonizers of Israel? Should some social democratic parties in Europe be exposed like neo-fascists are? And thereafter, the issue comes up that the European Union has to change its policies.
Subsequently, the question of how to re-educate segments of Europeans mindsets arises. One would be compelled to study what is happening in European schools. One would have to expose trade unions which are extreme Israel-haters in countries such as the U.K., Ireland, Norway — which is not an EU country — and Belgium. These are only some of the many aspects of opening this Pandora’s Box. Europeans do not want to deal with such a dangerous subject, which exposes the reality behind their humanitarian mask.
The truth, after exposing the massive presence of “ugly Europeans,” will slowly make its way up. I have learned a lot about how this happens since I published my book Behind the Humanitarian Mask, the Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews almost five years ago. Initially, even colleagues of mine thought that I was wasting my time exposing Scandinavian anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism.
Today it is fairly commonly known that the Norwegian government has several anti-Israel hatemongers among its ministers. This got wide exposure when mass murderer Breivik killed almost seventy youngsters in a youth camp of the Labor Party on the island of Utoya in 2011. Breivik’s crime is in no way diminished by the fact that he killed people at a camp which incited youngsters from 14 years old and up against Israeli democracy. His murders had a strange side effect: stronger international exposure of the anti-Israel incitement which went on at the camp by key people in the Labor party.
Gordon: Manfred Gerstenfeld, I want to thank you for this comprehensive and engrossing interview.