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The Rebranding of Antisemitism after the Holocaust

12 Oct

[Prefatory Note: there has been past influential writing taking critical aim at the Holocaust as a cover for unrelated wrongs, most notably Norman Finkelstein’s brave critique The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, 2000, updated 2015). This post is concerned with distorting the legacy of the Holocaust by appropriating antisemitism as a policy tool relied upon by Irsrael and Zionist activists to intensify Palestinian suffering and deflect attention from Israeli wrongdoing. Such exploitation dishonors and unduly complicates by (mis)remembering the justifiably hallowed and grotesque reality of the Holocaust. Perhaps, the primary expression of this phenomenon of wrongly appropriating ‘antisemitism’ is the conflation of Zion and Israel in the widely promoted and influential definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) that has been used to discredit the BDS Campaign and defame its supporters.]  

The Rebranding of Antisemitism after the Holocaust

There are no legitimate doubts about the magnitude and depravity of the Holocaust arising from mobilizing the socipathic obsession with hatred of Jews, which culminated in the satanic German resolve to puts all Jews to death solely on the basis of their ethnicity. It is no wonder that a primary legacy of the Holocaust was to render the embrace of antisemitism a hateful embodiment of evil in the post-World War II West. Yet by making the Palestinian people and their supporters bear the ongoing burdens of this grotesque genocide perverts the legacy of the Holocaust, extending the dark shadows of racism over Israel experience and identity in ugly reactive forms. As W.H. Auden reminded the world “those to whom evil is done do evil in return.”

This unfolding post-Holocaust pattern of injustice originated in the lethal interactions between Hitler’s extreme racism and the Zionist Project. Zionism is best considered a utopian undertaking of a political movement within the wider community of the Jewish people. It was launched in the late nineteenth century as a reaction to European antisemitism to establish a Jewish, ‘democratic’ state in an essentially non-Jewish society (the Jewish population of Palestine was less than 10% in 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration) on the basis of an arrogant colonial pledge by the British Foreign Office. It had little prospect of succeeding even with European backing expressed through incorporating the Balfour pledge into the League of Nations approach to Palestine, given the declining leverage of European colonialism. Even this pre-fascist show of largely European support for the Zionist Project was ironically motivated in part by a soft version of anti-Semitism. An attraction of Zionism to non-Jews was its programmatic dedication to reducing the Jewish presence in Europe, an approach that the Nazis later absolutized in the years following gaining control of the German government in 1933. It is of course relevant that this encouragement of Zionist goals preceded the advent of fascism in Germany, but its consummation by way of the 1947-48 War would probably not have happened had not the Holocaust turned a visionary project with little hope of realization into a real world opportunity to make the Zionist dream come true. Yet realizing this dream was organically intertwined with a prolonged Palestinian nightmare. The nakba expressing the Palestinian tragedy featuring the de facto expulsion of between 700,000 and 750,000 Palestinians in that portion of historic Palestine set aside by the UN partition resolution for a Jewish political entity. The nakba is best understood as catastrophic experience of expulsion, but underscored by denying Palestinians a right of return, which was their entitlement under international law. As Palestinian intellectuals have pointed out in recent years, the continuation of Palestinian subjugation, victimization, and discriminatory demographic policies, make it more accurate to consider the nakba as a processrather than an event in time.

It is against this background that several regressive linkages to the Holocaust warrant articulated as not frequently acknowledged for fear of being misunderstood as a mode of belittling this pinnacle of criminality. The intention here is solely to show how the Zionist experience of coping with the Holocaust while working toward their goals of Jewish ethnic sovereignty in Palestine has persisted since the establishment of Israel in ways that are harmful not only to the Palestinian people but to Jews the world over:

            –the ultra-pragmatism of those Jewish political figures who pursued and led the Zionist Project reached its heights in negotiating with the Nazi regime to arrange the permissive departure of Jews from Germany as part of the effort to achieve demographic credibility for Zionist efforts to establish a Jewish entity in Palestine. [See Tom Suarez, State of Terror for extensive narration and documentation] Such opportunism undoubtedly was responsible for saving Jewish lives, but carried over in ways that help explain Israel’s willingness to reach diplomatically and economically advantageous relations with a variety of unsavory governments in the course of its history since 1948. Again, this was an understandable embrace of an extreme form of ‘political realism’ given the degree to which Israel was regionally isolated in what was called by its leaders as ‘a dangerous neighborhood,’ and its central mission of creating a exclusivist Jewish state in an essentially non-Jewish society was subject to censure throughout the non-Western world.

This ultra-pragmatism has taken an ugly turn in recent years when Israel and its more militant supporters themselves made use of irresponsible allegations of antisemitism as a policy tool to puss back against censure and delegitimation. Critics, as well as international institutions, were stigmatized and defamed as guilty of antisemitism. In other words, this term of opprobrium was twisted, describing not the behavior of neo-Nazis and other persons clearly motivated by hatred of Jews as an ethnicity and Jewishness as a religious tradition and cultural orientation. Netanyahu’s immediate response to the International Criminal Court’s finding earlier this year that Palestinian allegations of Israeli war crimes since 2014 should be fully investigated by the prosecutor was to castigate this legal finding as ‘pure antisemitism,’ a typical if crude example of recourse to this tactic. Any fairminded jurist would appreciate the legal diligence of the ICC Chamber decision and applaud this show of political independence. Similarly, to respond to the release of a 2017 academic report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) concluding that Israel’s patterns of governance overwhelmingly justified the conclusion that Israel had become an apartheid state. [“Israeli Practice Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” E/ESCWA/EC R1/2017/1; available by accessing ,old website ‘palestine studies./org/default/files/ESCWA/2017); in the spirit of transparency, the controversial report was written by myself in collaboration with Professor Virginia Tilley. ]. A more recent example is the ongoing effort to discredit the Durban Process by maligning this UN laudable effort to launch an anti-racist initiative twenty years ago calling for the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, which are neither anti-Israel, nor by any stretch, antisemitic. [the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, 2001, with outcome document the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, A/CONF. 189/12, 8 Sept 2001. Discussed in my essay, “Demonizing the Durban Process,” Transcend Media Service, Aug 16, 2021]

Legacies of the Holocaust: Impacts on Zionist political style, European Diplomacy, and the Rebranding of Antisemitism

My contention is that this kind of discrediting maneuver with its reliance on false accusations of antisemitism can be best interpreted as a hangover from the Zionist opportunistic style that included a willingness to cooperate with the Nazis to advance its policy priority of inducing Jews to populate Palestine. During the Nazi years Zionist opportunism extended to cooperation with the worst of antisemites, while during the existence of Israel it took the form of characterizing as antisemitic anything that the leadership found objectionable.

–A second unfortunate legacy of the Holocaust is to make mere accusations of antisemitism such a potent and intimidating weapon in the domain of symbolic politics. What the Holocaust did was to make antisemitism the crime of crimes by its foundational relationship to the Nazi genocidal ‘final solution.’ The mere prospect of being so accused of antisemitism is intimidating in the way that, for example, comparably severe criticism of Islamic policies and practices is not, at least in the West. This issue has become complicated since right-wing extremists and evangelical Christians affirm Israel for their own reasons and thus join in the condemnation of its critics. [although often accompanied by similar genuine antisemitic tropes—encouraging Jews to leave so that Jesus can return]

–A third unfortunate legacy of the Holocaust is the compensatory mechanisms active in Europe and North America for the failure to act with a greater show of empathy for the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution in the 1930s. This is especially true for obvious reasons of Germany. Angela Merkel observed, in a casual remark, that no matter what coalition government succeeds her CSU leadership will continue to support Israel’s security, implying that no foreseeable German governemtn would dare voice criticism of Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people.

There was a reluctance of liberal democracies to admit Jews as refugees or asylum seekers heightened by the economic strains of the Great Depression, a posture incidentally encouraged by the Zionist Movement that sought to close off all possible places of sanctuary other than Palestine for Jews in need of refuge. Despite this, the behavior of liberal goverments during the Nazi years helps explain the faint sense of liberal complicity in this period of Jewish ordeal, and may help account for international passivity in Europe and North America with respect to addressing Palestinian grievances. There were some signs that this mood may be slightly changing during the May 2021 assault on Gaza.

Concluding Remarks  

My main contention is that the Holocaust experience accentuated the tendencies of the Zionist movement to be opportunistic in the course of its long effort to attain, little by little, its territorial and ideological goals. This opportunism has had the further effect of greatly hampering the Palestinian struggle for basic rights, particularly the right of self-determination. Such assessments do not pretend to be the whole story of Zionist success and Palestinian frustration. Many factors also contributed shaping present circumstances, including the geopolitical muscle provided by the United States.

Demonizing Durban: Obscuring Racism

18 Aug

Demonizing Durban

[Prefatory Note: The post below describes the campaign carried on over the last 20 years by pro-Israeli propaganda, both government and NGO, to defame the UN dedicated anti-racist efforts as a new species of antisemitism. It is a perverse effort that shields Israel’s racist policies and practices toward the Palestinian people behind a perverse contention that criticism of these policies should be viewed as antisemitism. The piece was originally published in Transcend Media Service, and appears here in its original form. For the link to the original <; ]

EDITORIAL, 16 Aug 2021 

#706 | Richard Falk – TRANSCEND Media Service


16 Aug 2021 – An insidious campaign has been underway to demonize the UN sponsorship of an anti-racist initiative to hold a one-day conference at the UN on September 22, 2021 that is a continuation of what has come to be known as the ‘Durban Process.’ This identifies the ongoing effort over the last twenty years to implement the Durban Declaration and the accompanying Program of Action that was adopted at the “World Conference Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance DURBAN” held in Durban, South Africa 20 years ago.

The Durban Conference was controversial even before the delegates convened, anticipated as a forum at which Israel, colonialism, the legacy of slavery, and victimization of vulnerable ethnicities would be depicted and condemned. It was formally under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, whose High Commissioner, Mary Robinson was put under pressure from the West to cancel the event. She refused, and instead of being praised for her independence, this highly principled former President of Ireland was denied support by Washington for reappointment to a second term as High Commissioner. Israel and the United States withdrew from the conference and boycotted smaller follow up events in 2009 and 2011, which explains why the forthcoming gathering is identified as Durban IV.

At the 2001 conference, which was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which occurred just days after the close of Durban, there were many speeches delivered by representatives of various governments, including several that criticized Israel for racist policies and practices perpetrated against the Palestinian peoples, including the allegation that Zionism was a form of racism, which had previously been asserted in GA Resolution (see GA Res. 3379 passed by a vote of 72-35 with 32 abstentions, A/RES/3379, 10 Nov 1975; revoked in 1991 without explanation in GA Res. 46/96)). In addition to the inter-governmental Durban Conference there was a parallel NGO Forum devoted to the same agenda in which inflammatory speeches and declarations were made. Yet the overriding inspirational theme was provided by the successful struggle against apartheid in South Africa as both legitimating the event and the current need to address the long unfinished anti-racist agenda.

The Outcome at Durban

The main formal outcomes of the Durban Conference were two significant, comprehensive texts known as the Durban Declaration and the Durban Program of Action. The Durban Process subsequent to 2001 has been more or less exclusively concerned with the implementation of these two formal UN documents, which are wide spectrum depictions of a whole range of grievances arising from the mistreatment of various categories of vulnerable people by war of the enforcement of human rights law and through a variety of means including through education and the activism of civil society, NGOs, and even the private sector. There exists absolutely no basis for complaining that Israel has been singled out for criticism or that provisions of the conference documents can be fairly read as antisemitic or even anti-Israeli, yet as will be shown below, such a campaign has been relentlessly waged to discredit all that Durban stands almost exclusively because of its supposed extreme bias against Israel.

A fair reading of both documents would conclude that Israel actually been spared justifiable criticism, most probably as a result of pressures brought to bear on both the UN and media before and during the conference. If we look at the texts we come away with an impression that Israeli sensitivities were understood and respected. Apartheid and genocide were condemned in general terms, but without any negative reference to Israel, and in fact an inclusion that did single out Israel in a manner that it should have welcomed. In para. 58 of the Declaration we find the following assertion: “..we recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.” And para. 61 takes note with “deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.” It seems outright perverse to discredit the Durban Declaration as a screed against Jews.

In the course of the Declaration’s 122 paragraphs the Israel/Palestine situation is only mentioned in Para. 63, and then in a neutral manner that seems to overlook the deliberate victimization of the Palestinian people. It reads as follows: “We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation. We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion.” What can possibly be offensive to even the most ardent Israeli supporter about such a provision, which is buried deep in a 30 page declaration in language that points no accusing fingers at Israel.

Israel’s Anti-Durban Campaign

And yet the reality of Durban, the violence of the language used to denounce these documents and the Durban Process seems extreme, and to emanate from sources known to follow closely the official line disseminated by Tel Aviv. British Colonel Richard Kemp writing on the notoriously right-wing website of the Gladstone Institute is rarely outdone in his backing of Israel’s use of force against defenseless Gaza. Kemp brands the Durban Process “as the UN’s infamous 20-year old showpiece vendetta against Israel” and pronounces his judgement that “Durban IV will re-energize this shameful process.” [“Fighting the Blight of Durban,” July 29, 2021] Kemp is comfortable invoking the hyperbolic language of UN Watch that absurdly labels Durban as “..the worst international manifestation of antisemitism in the post-war period.”

UN Watch separately expressed its venomous view of the Durban Process a month earlier in a news release under the grossly misleading headline, “Durban IV: Key Facts,” May 24, 2021, summarized by the phrase a “perversion of principles of anti-racism.” This characterization of Durban is made more concrete by asserting that it makes “…baseless claims against the Jewish people,” is used “to promote racism, intolerance, antisemitism and Holocaust denial…and to erode Israel’s right to exist.” This libelously false language of UN Watch should be compared with the texts of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, the implementation of which is the overriding goal of the Durban Process, to gain some insight into the dark motivations of these Israeli oriented critics.

2021- Israel and Apartheid

True enough as of 2021 there would be no way to avoid supposing that ‘the plight of the Palestinian people’ was a direct result of Israeli apartheid, which is not only condemned by the Durban process, but is firmly established as a crime against humanity in both the 1974 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and Article 7 of the Rome Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court. It is no longer reasonable to dismiss allegations of Israeli apartheid as extremist, much less as manifestations of antisemitism. Yet because Israel, with U.S. support, still controls the mainstream discourse in the West, the media stares at such stark findings in stony silence despite the prolonged suffering of the Palestinian people—a convincing reminder that where geopolitics and morality/legality clash, geopolitics prevails.

Redeeming the Durban Process 

There are two sets of observations that make these attacks on a laudable UN effort by way of Durban to highlight the many facets of racism and racial discrimination shameful and shameless. The Durban Process has become the core of a worldwide human rights campaign to increase public awareness and raise concerns within the UN as to the many varieties of racist criminality, as well as to underscore the responsibility of governments and the potential contributions of civil society activism.

It is notable that Israel and its behavior are not given nearly the attention in the Durban Declaration and Program of Action that such other issues as the abuse of indigenous peoples, Roma, migrants, and refugees. Indeed, in light of more recent developments that confirmed earlier concerns about Palestinian victimization the Durban Process, if anything, can be faulted for backgrounding Israel’s racism and falling into to the hasbara trap of imposing symmetrical responsibility on the oppressor and the victim, blaming both sides, precisely to foil the growing tendency of Israel’s organized support to play the antisemitic card as a growing tactic to deflect public attention away from a growing consensus that Israel operates as an apartheid state.

Perhaps, in the atmosphere of 2001 it was politically provocative to accuse Israel of racism and apartheid, although as I have tried to show, these allegations directed at Israel in the open debate at Durban were never followed up in the formal outcome of the Durban Conference. And as has made clear by its proponents, the Durban Process is primarily concerned with implementing the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. By 2021, what was provocative twenty years ago has become multiply confirmed by trustworthy and reliable detailed assessments, and indirectly endorsed by the Israeli Basic Law enacted by the Knesset in 2018. The highlights of this dynamic have taken place over the course of the last five years: –the release in March 2017 of an independent academic study sponsored by  UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia(ESCWA) that concluded that Israel’s policies and practices constituted overwhelming confirmation of allegations of apartheid [“The Practices of Israel toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid”;—the report of the Israeli human rights NGO, B’Tselem, “A regime of Jewish Supremacy from The Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid,” 12 Jan 2021—the Human Rights Report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, 27 April 2021.

It is no longer plausible to contend that associating Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people as antisemitic. As a Jew myself, I regard Israeli justifications for its behavior toward Palestine as the embodiment of antisemitic behavior, bringing discredit to the Jewish people.


Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019).