A psychotherapist (cofounder of the Association for Women in Psychology) and women’s studies professor, Phyllis Chesler is most recently author of The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It. Her website is www.phyllis-chesler.com. A liberal feminist, Dr. Chesler recently talked to NRO about “The New Anti-Semitism.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What is “the new anti-Semitism”? Isn’t it quite old?
Phyllis Chesler: The phenomenon is very complex, but let me mention at least five or six ways in which both new and old anti-Semitism operate in the world today.
The “old” anti-Semitism is still with us: Many people still believe that the Jews run the media, control the banks, killed Christ, seek world domination, and have ears everywhere, but also remain a people “apart.”
Today, what’s new about anti-Semitism is its extraordinary global reach. Jew hatred is being mass-produced. The Internet, films, and the media have the power to circulate these virulent opinions around the globe, 24/7. The most illiterate of peoples have “seen” the Israelis commit a “massacre” in Jenin, something Israelis did not do–even the United Nations finally admitted this. But no matter: A false picture is more powerful than a thousand words.
What’s new is that Jew-hatred has reached a surreal level in the Islamic world. The Arab Islamic Middle East is almost entirely judenrein (free of Jews), except for Israel, which remains under profound and almost permanent siege. Christians still remain endangered in Muslim lands. Historic Islamic and Koranic views portray Jews as “pigs and monkeys,” to be segregated, impoverished, jailed, tortured, exiled, and massacred.
What’s new is that these ideas and practices, which are native to Islam, gathered additional force over an 80-year period in which Arab Muslims collaborated–literally–with Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s, and with Stalinists from the 1950s until the fall of the Soviet Union. Islamic Jew-hatred, anti-Americanism, and totalitarianism now fuse both East and West.
What’s new is that this hatred has, incredibly, been embraced and romanticized by Western liberals, public intellectuals, Nobel Prize winners, all manner of so-called progressives and activists and, to a great extent, by the presumably objective media. The educated elites claim that they do not in fact hate Jews. How can they–the noblest among the “politically correct”–be racists? They loathe racism–except, of course, where Jews are concerned.
What’s new is that Jew-hatred (disguised as anti-Zionism) has itself become “politically correct” among these so-called intellectuals. They have one standard for Israel: an impossibly high one. Meanwhile, they set a much lower standard for every other country, even for nations in which tyranny, torture, honor killings, genocide, and every other human rights abuse go unchallenged.
Today anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism. Israel has increasingly come to represent the Jews of the world, and is treated as they have been treated for thousands of years. She is demonized, isolated, and attacked while the world either actively rejoices, or simply does nothing to stop it. Israel has also become the symbolic scapegoat for America and for Western values such as democracy, religious freedom, and individual and women’s rights.
The intellectuals control the masses with linguistic distortions that would make George Orwell weep. The way language is being used to misrepresent both the truth and Jews is relatively new. The intelligentsia tell us that Israelis are the “new Nazis” and “worse than Nazis.” This is a new form of Holocaust denial. It lets Europeans off the hook: they no longer must wrestle with their own formidable colonial pasts and their persecutory-collaborationist-bystander roles in the Holocaust.
The propagandists go further, calling Israel the apartheid state. This is a lie. Islam is the largest practitioner of both gender and religious apartheid in the world: It persecutes all non-Muslims. Jews cannot apply for citizenship in Jordan, for example, and yet no Western group has called for divestment campaigns there. Meanwhile, the Arab leadership continues to terrorize the last Jewish enclave in the Middle East.
Lopez: Who is your target audience in The New Anti-Semitism?
Chesler: I hope to reach and strengthen all those who are still guided by reason, moral clarity, and intellectual sanity, Americans especially. We must understand that a new war has been declared against us and it is one we must fight–appeasement is not an option. I also want to reach the uninformed, and the misinformed, especially young people. I hope to strengthen existing and create additional necessary alliances between Jews and Christians; Jews and those moderate Muslims who have the courage to resist Islamic fascists and terrorists; peoples of faith for religious freedom and democracy; and between Jews and conservative Christians and Republicans who have been standing fast for Israel.
Lopez: You say that most anti-Zionists are probably anti-Semitic. That’s a significant accusation. Is it really fair? I mean, you yourself aren’t a blind acolyte for Israeli policy.
Chesler: This probably makes me a very good defender of Israel, and of America too. I have gone on record calling for both Israel and America to “do better.” For example, I am part of a landmark lawsuit on behalf of Jewish women’s religious rights in Jerusalem, asking that women be allowed to pray in women-only groups in the Kotel, the strictly female section at the Western Wall. Our case has so far received three separate decisions in the Israeli Supreme Court. Had we tried to bring such a lawsuit in Iran, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, we would probably have been imprisoned and executed. While Israeli Arabs (i.e., Palestinians) are second-class citizens, their live birth rates, incomes, health care, and freedom of worship and expression are vastly greater in Israel than in any Arab country. In a sense, those Palestinians who might find themselves fenced in by Israel’s self-defense might also, theoretically, become Israeli citizens, which would improve matters for them.
Lopez: Why do feminists generally not seem to care about Israeli women?
Chesler: Two books ago, I wrote about woman’s inhumanity to woman. That was the book’s title. Like men, women are not necessarily compassionate or even fair towards other women–especially if those other women are identified as “evil racist settlers” and the enemies of a beloved revolution. Feminists are no better but perhaps no worse than other women in this regard. Female concentration-camp guards in Nazi Germany were not known for their compassion, but rather for their cruelty towards their female prisoners. Female members of the Ku Klux Klan are not known for their sympathy for African-American women. Women on both sides of a number of hot political issues do not behave in “sisterly” fashions. Most women are human beings, have internalized misogyny just as men have, have a higher standard for female than for male behavior, and are more comfortable competing with other women than with men.
Actually, in romanticizing Muslim suicide bombers as “freedom fighters,” Western feminists jeopardize Muslim women, Muslim feminists, and Muslim intellectuals whose fates are desperate and tragic under jihadic Islam.
No feminist worth her salt would ever say that simply because men of color may be unemployed or oppressed, that they therefore have the right to batter their wives and assault their children. Many feminists are not thundering against gender apartheid in the Islamic world (some have done so, but in restricted ways), but feminists are thundering against Israel as the apartheid state.
If we applied a single feminist standard to all humanity, we would loudly oppose Arabs stoning women accused of adultery, honor killings, polygamy, veiling, seclusion, sexual and domestic slavery, etc. Feminists have done so in limited ways, but have relaxed their attention to this matter when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Feminists and leftists have also opposed the American liberation of both Afghanistan and Iraq. But however difficult and imperfect these plans are, what other option do freedom-minded feminists have?
Many feminists who are quite principled on certain issues (equal pay for equal work, reproductive freedom, gay rights, sexual and domestic violence, childcare, etc.) unthinkingly believe that their critiques of patriarchy and of specific American policies can and must be transformed into a generalized hatred of America–the very country in which they practice their dissent–and transferred to the Middle East. Many feminists are totally blind to their own Jew hatred and are now more obsessed with the occupation of disputed lands in the Middle East than they are with the occupation of women’s bodies worldwide.
Lopez: Do feminists have a position on female suicide bombers?
Chesler: In my view, certain feminists seem to have a deep and abiding respect for the so-called “freedom fighter” who is willing to die for the “revolution” and to kill the “colonial oppressor.” The fact that Palestinian suicide bombers, and their fascist and misogynist Iranian and Saudi funders, are not stirring a democratic or feminist revolution is cause for irony and tears. Some feminists are still fighting against the Vietnam War and have confused it with American and Israeli wars of self-defense against al Qaeda.
Lopez: You’re a liberal feminist. Is it odd to have more in common with the Right than the Left on this issue?
Chesler: These distinctions are no longer useful for any of us. I am a hawk on American, Israeli, and Western self defense. I am a bleeding-heart softie when it comes to the slaughter of innocent civilians held hostage to terror anywhere, though many right-wingers are too.
I am also a hawk on abolishing the global sexual slavery of women and children–which, increasingly, the Bush administration has taken on as a serious issue and which the liberal feminist movement has opposed.
I am a religious Jew and thus have the greatest respect for other people of faith. Atheists and secularists are extremely intolerant toward religion, and do not view freedom of worship–even for women and gay people–as an important issue.
As I write in my book, 9/11 was a direct attack on democracy, modernity, religious pluralism, and women’s rights. When Islamo-fascist terrorists are attacking my country, my culture, and my people, I oppose them. While war is hell, self-defense is a duty.
If the fact I understand all this makes me a conservative, then so be it.
Lopez: Recently the Jerusalem Post called for the assassination of Arafat. Does that kind of talk feed anti-Semitism?
Chesler: That’s like asking whether the call for Hitler’s assassination feeds anti-Semitism. Arafat has done as much evil in the world as Hitler did. He has waged unceasing war against Israel and has turned down every offer of a separate Palestinian state (which would be the 23rd Arab state in the region, by the way). He has impoverished his own people and enriched himself personally. He has been the willing and canny tool of the Arab leadership who for generations have exploited the Palestinians, keeping them as a permanent wedge against the Jews and Westerners in their midst. Not a single Arab country granted citizenship to the roughly 200,000 Palestinian Arabs who fled in 1948; Israel granted citizenship to more than 700,000 Arab Jews who fled post-1948. In my view, Jordan and parts of Syria, not Israel, should be Palestine.
Lopez: Did anything surprise you about Mahathir Mohamad’s recent outburst?
Chesler: If one reviews Islamic materials (sermons, learned literature, websites, materials distributed at conferences and demonstrations), one is not surprised by what Mahathir said. It is what Muslims say about Jews everywhere. The Arab political, economic, ideological, and cultural collaboration with Nazis, then with the Soviets, and most recently and successfully with the United Nations, saw to that. Thus, I was not shocked by the standing ovation Prime Minister Mahathir got from every Arab and Muslim leader. What was shocking was both America’s and Europe’s slow start at condemning it.
Lopez: U.S. News & World Report had a cover essay on “the new anti-Semitism” a few weeks ago. What did you think of it?
Chesler: I read it cursorily, and certainly much of what Zuckerman says in the essay is true. However, he does not focus on any public-policy implications and makes few strategic suggestions. Nor does he mention the many recent books, including my own, on the subject, beginning with Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin’s excellent 1983 work, Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism. Nor does he mention the fiery and relevant writings of Alain Finkielkraut, Pilar Ruhola, Fiamma Nirenstein, Oriana Fallaci, Jerome Chanes, Paul Iganski, and Barry Kosmin (on contemporary Judeophobia in England), etc. More importantly, Zuckerman does not talk about the scholarly works on dhimmitude–the legal status of non-Muslims under Islam–and the nature of Islamic terrorism, for example, the works of Bat Yeor, Paul Berman, Ibn Warraq, Irshad Manjie, Walid Phares, or Robert Spencer, just to name a few. These are important voices that the West must hear.
Lopez: How can this new anti-Semitism be combated (along with the old)?
Chesler: I write about this in my book. We–Jews and Americans–must understand that we do not cause anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, and that both Jews and Americans have been the targets of a massive hate campaigns against them.
We must monitor this, and get it to stop; we must fight the lies wherever we find them. We must unceasingly stand up to evil as best we can. Writing a letter to an editor, withholding monies from anti-American or anti-Israel academic programs, speaking at conferences, conducting teach-ins, finding and funding pro-American and pro-Israeli faculty to teach our young the truth–all are crucial things to do.
We must move beyond rigid ideology. I am now a “hawk” on Israel and America and a “dove” on other issues. I am beyond “Right” and “Left,” and so must we all be. I do not agree 100 percent with the Republican party, but I do not agree 100 percent with the “politically correct” crowd either. I agree with the Bush administration’s war on terrorism, support for Israel, and increasingly strong opposition to the sexual trafficking of women and children.
We must support Israel’s right to exist, and to exist free from terrorist violence. Israelis have endured the equivalent of 9/11 almost every other week for the last three years. I am a psychologist and a pioneer of trauma and healing therapies, and even I cannot imagine the level of post-traumatic stress symptoms Israelis must be suffering–they, who have lived through so many wars of self-defense and whose parents and grandparents endured Hitler’s Final Solution, the gulags, Cossack pogroms, and persecution and exile from Arab and Muslim lands. We understand that Israel cannot afford to lose a single war, not even a single battle.
We must form Jewish-Christian alliances. Perhaps we must form alliances among all the dhimmi–Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Assyrians, Zoroastrians, Kurds, Persians, etc.–who are suffering under Islamic jihadic rule.
We must continue to oppose the liberal media on all these issues.
I am especially interested in restoring campus civility and freedom of speech in America. I would like to work with others who have the same goals. American students must see credentialed public intellectuals take on the likes of Noam Chomsky, and the works of Edward Said, whose analyses are glorified and who have been part of the politically correct hijacking of American universities.
Lopez: Where do you fall when it comes to this new Mel Gibson movie?
Chesler: He has the right to make any movie he wants. And we–even Jews, who were carefully kept away–have the right to see it. My fear is that given how susceptible people normally are to believing films are true, people may not understand that his film is simply one artist’s imaginative and non-factual rendering of history. If they take it as gospel truth and then feel further empowered to behave as medieval European mobs behaved towards Jews after viewing a Passion play, then we are all in great trouble. Many Christians have challenged the veracity of his script as well as his motives.
Lopez: What’s the most important message you hope people take from your book?
Chesler: That, unbelievably, the dark side of Jewish history is repeating itself; the world is again demonizing Jews and creating a situation in which another Holocaust might be possible. I want all people of good will to make sure this does not happen.
I also want my readers to understand that all civilians are Israelis now. I would like us to combat terrorism with all our hearts and minds and might.
Americans must understand that a new kind of war has been declared upon our civilization, and that we must patiently, carefully, morally, militarily, and strategically find effective ways of stopping those who wish to destroy Western civilization and freedom. Appeasement is no longer an option.
As imperfect as American democracy might be, what we have achieved here would constitute a revolution in any Islamic or Arab country. This is a quiet view, not an apocalyptic one. Perhaps that is why so many progressive Americans refuse to entertain it. It is true that America may have risen on the backs of others, but it is also true that Islamic countries have refused to enter the modern era.
I would like us to feel proud that we are Americans, and to understand that America is really trying to bring religious and individual freedom to a region in which they do not exist at all.