On the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme on February 19 2004, Chief Rabbi Sacks said: “There is a conviction now not only that it is legitimate to criticise Israel, but also to demonise it, to blame it for the problems of the world and not to make a distinction between Israelis and Jews wherever they are. That is a seriously dangerous phenomenon.” The accusation that Zionism, as a fascist movement, and Israel, as a Western colonial implant in the Middle East, are responsible for all the ills of the world is reminiscent of historic antisemitism. These slanders achieved mythic proportions in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published 1903 in Russia, which has been reprinted in millions for sale and free distribution in Muslim countries and communities throughout the world.
Ironically, the now familiar anti-semitic motifs of countless cartoons, showing Israel as a Nazi state and Moshe Dayan as Hitler, with the Star of David replacing the swastika, first originated in Soviet Russia, following Israel’s victory of the 1967 war. It is understandable that the Arab world, which has always resented the Jewish state, as it did Crusader rule of Palestine, should use whatever tools are at hand to delegitimise Israel, which in their eyes is a Western imperialist implant in their dar al-Islam, the Muslim patrimony. Many Muslims maintain both that the Jews invented the Holocaust to justify their right to be given a place of their own and that the West gave them Israel because the Christians did not want the Jews in their own countries.
The fact that non-Jews believe this antisemitic propaganda requires explanation. The pervasiveness of antisemitism in the Western world for millennia is well documented – pogroms, ghettos, forced conversions and expulsions, and Jews banned from owning land and engaging in any crafts. Christian children, it is fair to say, sucked in anti-semitism at their mothers’ breasts. Even those good Christians who felt well disposed to individual Jews still saw them as members of the nation that had killed their Lord. This did not end with the Enlightenment, or with Jewish emancipation. The Dreyfus case and the mobs crying, “Kill the Jews” persuaded the Hungarian-Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl that anti-Semitism could not be defeated and that the only viable option was national self-determination. Thus was the Zionist movement born at the outset of the last century. Jews flocked to the Holy Land from Europe. Land was purchased from (usually absentee) landlords. By 1912, Jews owned 40 villages in what is now Israel, including 23 villages in what is now the West Bank.
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