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Mark W. Weber
Winter 2022

Recently, I attended a reception for Jewish students and instructors who were  
part of an ongoing adult education program. Drink in hand, I stood on the  
periphery of a small circle of students as a local “expert” on antisemitism was  
treating those assembled to his opinions which held that “antisemitism has been  
around for two thousand years and is best represented today by the views of those  
who criticize the world’s only Jewish state.” Yes, that’s right…apparently the  
poster children for the “new antisemitism” are young artists such as Irish  
novelist Sally Rooney and actor Emma Watson, both of whose apparent “crime” was  
to declare their solidarity with the Palestinian people in the midst of a brutal  
occupation of Arab lands by the Israeli military. Ms. Rooney and Ms. Watson join  
an ever-growing list of “antisemites” such as Susan Sarandon, Roger Waters,  
Richard Gere, Tilda Swinton, Viola Davis, Lena Headley, and Natalie Portman. All  
of these artists and actors have publicly taken a stand to oppose the Israeli  
military occupation. When Desmond Tutu, a valiant crusader against South African  
Apartheid, died recently, several local Israel backers condemned the Bishop’s  
critical comments about Israel as an apartheid state.  
No, antisemitism is not two thousand years old. The term “antisemitism” was  
coined in the year 1891 by a German racist named Friedrich Wilhelm Adolph Marr  
(1819-1904). Marr was heavily influenced by the Eugenics movement in the United  
States as well as by the books of such advocates of Nordic superiority as Arthur  
de Gobineau, Madison Grant, and Houston Chamberlain. This was an age of  
“scientific” theories about race and language. Friedrich Marr sought to place  
hatred of Jews within this spectrum by repudiating hatred of Jews based on  
religion and replacing it with hatred of Jews based on race. According to Marr  
and his followers, Jews were a stain on the purity of Nordic culture and this  
stain could not be eradicated through conversion to Christianity. No, instead,  
Marr argued that the Jews of Imperial Germany should be banned from all public  
life and from the professions. Marr was vocal about the need to remove all Jewish  
presence from the life of the Reich. Marr did not specify just how this was to be  
done. Forty years later, Adolph Hitler would fill in the blank as to the method.  
This was the birth of “antisemitism.” This was a term used by Marr because he  
felt that it implied that this type of Jew-hatred had a “scientific” basis and  
was therefore “respectable.” Antisemitism was the name used to apply to the  
hatred of Jews based on their “racial inferiority.” To promote this new ideology  
of hatred, Marr founded and led the ALD (German Antisemitic League) which pushed  
for the Jews of Imperial Germany to lose their citizenship rights and to be  
excluded from what passed for civil society in Wilhelmine Germany. About 150  
years ago, the term antisemitism was born…not 2,000 years ago according to some  
writers. Jew hatred (with a variety of motivations) has a long lineage. However,  
the specific doctrine of antisemitism is a product of the culture of pseudo-  
scientific racial theorizing so popular in the late Nineteenth and early  
Twentieth Century. It was never intended to serve as the cudgel to be welded by  
those who support every action of the state of Israel. However that is precisely  
what it has become.  
The Term "Anti-Semitism" Expands in Scope  
Today, much has changed. Since 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel, the  
term antisemitism has been greatly expanded in scope to include criticism of the  
state of Israel and especially criticism of the state of Israel. This criticism  
motivated by Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of  
Gaza. The criticism also stems from the violent attacks on Palestinians caused  
by gangs of armed Jewish settlers who are often under the protection of the  
Israeli Army. Then in 2005, about 150 Palestinian civil society organizations  
signed a call for an international boycott of Israel often called BDS or Boycott,  
Divestment, and Sanctions. Israel and its formidable lobby in the United States  
responded by pressuring state lawmakers for legislation to criminalize the  
advocacy of BDS at state institutions such as schools and colleges. These laws  
have been passed in more than half of the states. Such laws vary in their  
specific content but in general they force entities doing business with a given  
state to sign an anti-BDS pledge. A few of these laws in some states require job  
applicants with the state to sign an anti-BDS pledge as a condition of  
employment. I am old enough to remember the loyalty oaths of the McCarthy Era.  
Apparently those days have returned when it comes to even the mildest criticism  
of Israel.  
Of course, false accusations of antisemitism are meant to deflect attention away  
from the oppression of Palestinian Arabs through the military occupation by  
focusing on the motives of Israel’s critics…such as Emma Watson or Sally Rooney.  
Since they are unable to defend what is actually happening on the West Bank and  
Gaza, Israel’s defenders resort to lies, innuendo, and intimidation. However,  
while verbal attacks on those who have the courage stand up and challenge what is  
happening to the Palestinians is one result, there are two other dangers that  
lie hidden just below the surface of what passes for public discourse.  
1. There is the claim by many of Israel’s supporters that Israel is  
the “nation state of the Jewish people.” It is, they tell us, the nation state  
that realizes the Jewish dream of self determination. Hebrew is the language of  
this state. The 2018 Nation-State law makes this very clear. The promoters of  
Israel endlessly harp on the contention that Israel is THE Jewish state and that  
support for this Jewish state is one of the core tenets of Jewish identity. The  
general public, after a while, makes a connection between the two.  
2. The second issue, which is a problem for all Jews the world over,  
is this: When Zionists trumpet Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people  
and when Israel continues to engage in a violent occupation of Arab lands and  
the blockade of Gaza, many in the world make the connection that Jews all over  
the world and Israeli oppression are somehow linked. There is no doubt that some  
of the hatred expressed toward Jews in various parts of the world is stoked by  
anger over the brutal policies of Israel toward indigenous Palestinians.  
One important solution for this deadly dilemma is to break this false connection  
between Israel and Jewish identity. Israel is a settler colonial enterprise that  
has no relationship to the important ethical teachings of Judaism. Judaism is the  
religion of the Jewish people. There are different ways to practice this  
religion. However, whatever religious expression of Judaism one chooses, ruling  
over and taking the land of indigenous people should NOT be part of it.  
Emma Watson and Sally Rooney are the latest young people to publicly proclaim  
their solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinian people. What these people  
are saying is that all people everywhere should have basic human rights and  
political democracy. Palestine is not the only place where people are under  
military occupation. However, it is a place that demands our attention…… now.  
Mark W. Weber received a B.S. in History from the  
University of Wisconsin, an M.A. in History and  
Education from Colgate University and an M.A. in  
Library Science from the University of Wisconsin.  
He served as Dean of Libraries and Media Services  
at Kent State University and is a member of the  
Board of Directors of the American Council for  

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