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Juliana Geran Pilon Reviews: Jews Make the Best Demons: “Palestine” and the Jewish Question

(Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs) The fact that the phrase “history is a mere fable agreed upon” is so often erroneously attributed to Napoleon instead of its true author, Bernard de Fontenelle, only underscores its cynical truth. But if Napoleon’s legendary fame enhances the persuasive power of the proposition, so much the better. For fables can lead to the making of very bloody history indeed, if agreed upon by enough people, whether from ignorance or malice.

As Eric Rozenman demonstrates in his powerful new book, Jews Make the Best Demons: “Palestine” and the Jewish Question, a modern incarnation of one such fable, the ancient blood libel—the fantastic charge that Jews murdered non-Jews and used their blood for religious purposes—still circulates widely in Islamic lands, in the form of the “Palestinian narrative.” That narrative, a vicious form of “historical revisionism leading to denial of the Jewish people’s past, incites hatred of Israel. As such, it functions as the new blood libel” (p. 10). The parallel is simple: “Whereas the blood libel once made Jews agents of Satan, the Palestine lie now casts them as agents of racism, equivalent to the anti-Christ in the secular fundamentalist catechism” (p. 11). Rozenman proceeds to illustrate, in painstaking detail and with irreproachable accuracy, the tactics and underlying strategy of a campaign whose ultimate purpose is nothing less than an attempt, once again, to find a “solution” to the Jewish question. The author does not mince words. Chillingly, he urges his readers: “Stare, and listen. And in doing so, recognize that the Holocaust indeed has resumed with words” (p. 10).

Rozenman documents how anti-Zionism is but a thinly veiled form of antisemitism, all the more dangerous for pretending otherwise. “In the process of attacking Israel, anti-Zionist words invoke, in antisemitic fashion, Jews everywhere,” he argues. This goes not only for the lunatic, supremacist fringe: “They resurrect Jew-hatred on the ‘progressive,’ post-liberal left as fascism employed Jew-hatred on the reactionary, anti-democratic right” (p. 14). This will surprise no one who has read the monumental study by the late Robert S. Wistrich, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel, published in 2012, which documents in great detail and with extraordinary insight the logic of left-wing antisemitism.

A refreshing exception among his mostly progressive colleagues in the media, Rozenman agrees with economist George Gilder’s economic-political assessment that “antisemitism is essentially hatred of capitalism and excellence. It epitomizes all the most reactionary and destructive forces in the world economy and culture. It should be opposed wherever it arises, from US campuses to Middle Eastern regimes” (p. 53). The struggle takes on added urgency in Europe, where anti-Zionism has spread like a poisoned mushroom in the wake of what Rozenman calls “historical inversions” that include “Zionism as racism, Israelis as new Nazis, Palestinian Arabs as new Jews” (p. 14). This post-truth narrative would be risible were it not so malevolent.

The use of “narrative,” as vague a term as it may be, is now common among practitioners of information warfare. As Rozenman defines it, “‘narrative’ is the post-modern literary, historical or psychological term of art for a tightly held, highly personalized substitution, and often partial if not complete falsification, of factual history” (p. 20). The Palestinian narrative is a subset of the latter: “[U]nconnected to—in fact in aggressive denial of—facts, [it] advances the aim of returning the Jewish people, by force when possible, by diplomacy, lawfare, and mass psychological abuse when not, to their pre-state, pre-Holocaust status of powerless scapegoats” (p. 31). Cumulatively, these tactics have proved formidable, enhanced by a media sympathetic to what it perceives as the exploited underdogs, particularly, but not exclusively, in the Arab world.

Israel’s spectacular successes have not helped. Of all the nations created or recreated since 1945, few have begun with less, and none has achieved more than Israel. No wonder everyone loves to hate it. “Rejection, supersession, envy, fear, and scapegoating long have found in Jews, as a small tribe, and in the Jew, isolated or isolatable, the prototypical object and ideal target” (p. 22). The oceanic tide of virulent antisemitism seems altogether unstoppable, notwithstanding the lies at its core.

It cannot be said that Rozenman is new to this struggle; he has been fighting diligently from the trenches for years. He first edited the 1985 and 1989 editions of Myths and Facts: A Concise Record of the Arab–Israeli Conflict by Leonard Davis (later Lenny Ben-David), whose findings were updated by Alan Dershowitz’s popular 2003 book, The Case for Israel, followed in 2017 by Ben-Dror Yemini’s informative Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli Conflict. But it was during his fourteen harrowing years, from 2002 until 2016, as Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), that Rozenman engaged in daily combat, providing many case studies for this disturbing and important book.

Early in his tenure, for example, he and CAMERA president Andrea Levin met with The Washington Post Foreign Editor David Hoffman, a Pulitzer Prize winner, to discuss several recent examples of what they considered anti-Israel bias in the Post’s coverage. Hoffman had served as his paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief and knew the country well. No sooner had they sat down than he demanded, “with some vehemence, ‘Do you believe the West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied?’” It struck them that this challenge served as “a default defense mechanism when meeting critics of his staff’s Israel reporting” (pp. 153–54). “Yes,” Rozenman answered simply. “Similar to the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union’s occupation of Germany after World War II—a result of defeating an aggressor in war. The difference is that, unlike the Allies, Israel has historical claims to the territories” (p. 153). Hoffman was speechless, evidently unused to such bluntness; the subject was changed. Score one for truth and candor.

The mainstream media seems obsessed with criticism of Israel; the Associated Press (AP) is typical. When its Jerusalem bureau reporter Matti Friedman counted the stories coming out of that office in one seven-week period at the end of 2011, for example, he found no fewer than twenty-seven separate articles documenting “the moral failings of Israeli society.” This tally, he wrote, “was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding three years.” The reason, writes Rozenman, is straightforward enough: “The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel … . [This] mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters”—i.e., the villain, namely Israel (p. 55). As it happens, the Friedman report came out “before revelations of AP’s late 1930s and World War II accommodations with the Nazi propaganda ministry broke in 2017—and which the wire service initially attempted to minimize” (p. 56).

Anti-Zionism has been able to function as antisemitism by following Natan Sharansky’s “three Ds” of political warfare: double standards, delegitimization, and demonization. It is especially disturbing to see the Western media advancing the United Nations agenda against Israel. The result, noted by Bat Ye’or in her chapter in Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism, and Delegitimizing Israel, edited by the great Wistrich, is that modern-day antisemitism is decidedly “global. Europe is no longer its only source, although European states and particularly the European Union, gives [sic] it abundant funding, as well as media, cultural, political, and strategic support. In fact, its main source is the OIC [the fifty-six Muslim-majority countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, organized in 1969, plus the Palestinian Authority, for a total of fifty-seven members], which by its numerous commissions and sub-commissions, infiltrates and pressures all international UN bodies” (pp. 208–9). After half a century of relentless propaganda bordering on the grotesque, there is no longer any doubt that the UN has now become the most highly visible engine of anti-Zionism.

The major turning point against the Jewish State came in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, which proved to the world that Israel had become a formidable military power. Following that triumph, notes Rozenman, “Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had urged Arab leaders to pursue a strategy aimed at liquidating the consequences of the war with no Israeli gains” (p. 291). Things went from bad to worse for the Kremlin after Israel’s victory over Moscow’s Syrian and Egyptian allies in the 1973 Yom Kippur War: “It needed to recoup. If the Jewish state could not be beaten by conventional military means, it would have to be targeted by unconventional warfare—terrorism, in which the Soviet-backed PLO took the lead—and psychological warfare—in which smearing Israel as ‘colonialist’ and ‘racist’ proved invaluable” (p. 291). The psychological war took precedence, and the results go far beyond endangering Jews everywhere. At stake is the viability of the very principles of a free society.

Ultimately, the struggle “is not, as Hitler insisted, mortal combat between the influences of corrupt civilization and natural culture. Neither is it, as [the Mufti of Jerusalem] al-Husseini charged, an end-of-times clash between the religion Islam and its ultimate enemy, the satanic Jews. Rather, to paraphrase [Victor] Frankl, it is the conflict between humanity and inhumanity” (p. 334). Some may ask if that formulation is overly dramatic. If only it were.

Juliana Geran Pilon is Senior Fellow, Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization and author, most recently, of The Utopian Conceit: The War Against Freedom.