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Antiglobalism’s Jewish Problem
Antiglobalism's Jewish Problem
Anti-Semitism is again on the rise. Why now? Blame the backlash against globalization. As public anxiety grows over lost jobs, shaky economies, and political and social upheaval, the Brownshirt and Birkenstock crowds are seeking solace in conspiracy theories. And in their search for the hidden hand that guides the new world order, modern anxieties are merging with old hatreds and the myths on which they rest.
There is no shortage of symbols representing peace, justice, and economic equality. The dove and the olive branch. The peace sign. The rainbow flag. Even the emblem of the United Nations. So why did some protesters at the 2003 World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, display the swastika?
Held two months prior to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, this year's conference - an annual grassroots riposte to the well-heeled World Economic Forum in Davos - had the theme, "Another World is Possible." But the more appropriate theme might have been "Yesterday's World is Back." Marchers among the 20,000 activists from 120 countries carried signs reading "Nazis, Yankees, and Jews: No More Chosen Peoples!" Some wore T-shirts with the Star of David twisted into Nazi swastikas. Members of a Palestinian organization pilloried Jews as the "true fundamentalists who control United States capitalism." Jewish delegates carrying banners declaring "Two peoples - Two states: Peace in the Middle East" were assaulted.
Porto Alegre provides just one snapshot of an unfolding phenomenon known as the "new anti-Semitism." Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the oldest hatred has been making a global comeback, culminating in 2002 with the highest number of anti-Semitic attacks in 12 years. Not since Kristallnacht, the Nazi-led pogrom against German Jews in 1938, have so many European synagogues and Jewish schools been desecrated. This new anti-Semitism is a kaleidoscope of old hatreds shattered and rearranged into random patterns at once familiar and strange. It is the medieval image of the "Christ-killing" Jew resurrected on the editorial pages of cosmopolitan European newspapers. It is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement refusing to put the Star of David on their ambulances. It is Zimbabwe and Malaysia - nations nearly bereft of Jews - warning of an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world's finances. It is neo-Nazis donning checkered Palestinian kaffiyehs and Palestinians lining up to buy copies of Mein Kampf.
The last decade had promised a different world. As statues of Lenin fell, synagogues reopened throughout Russia and Eastern Europe. In a decisive 111 to 25 vote, the U.N. General Assembly overturned the 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism. The leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization shook hands with the prime minister of Israel. The European Union (EU), mindful of the legacy of the Holocaust and the genocidal Balkan wars, created an independent agency to combat xenophobia and anti-Semitism within its own borders. Confronted with a resurgence in hatred after what had seemed to be an era of extraordinary progress, the Jewish community now finds itself asking: Why now?
Historically, anti-Semitism has fluctuated with the boom and bust of business cycles. Jews have long been scapegoats during economic downturns, as a small minority with outsized political and financial influence. To some extent, that pattern still applies. Demagogues in countries engulfed by the financial crises of the late 1990s fell back on familiar stereotypes. "Who is to blame?" asked General Albert Makashov of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation following the collapse of the ruble in 1998. "Usury, deceit, corruption, and thievery are flourishing in the country. That is why I call the reformers Yids [Jews]." But other countries don't fit this profile. How, for instance, does one explain anti-Semitism's resurgence in Austria and Great Britain, which have enjoyed some of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe?
Rising hostility toward Israel is also a significant factor. The 2000 Al-Aqsa Intifada was more violent than its 1987 predecessor, as helicopter gunships and suicide bombers supplanted rubber bullets and stones. This second Intifada also marked the emergence of the "Al-Jazeera" effect, with satellite television beaming brutal images of the conflict, such as the death of 12-year-old Palestinian Muhammed al-Dura, into millions of homes worldwide. In Europe, Muslim extremists took out their fury on Jews and Jewish institutions. Some in the European press, even as they dismissed anti-Jewish violence as random hooliganism or a political grudge match between rival ethnic groups, used incendiary imagery that routinely drew comparisons between Israel and the Nazi regime. This crude caricature of Israelis as slaughterers of the innocent soon morphed into the age-old "blood libel" - as when the Italian newspaper La Stampa published a cartoon depicting the infant Jesus threatened by Israeli tanks imploring, "Don't tell me they want to kill me again."
Then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The U.S.-Israeli relationship - bound together by shared values, shared enemies such as Iran and Iraq, $2.7 billion a year in economic aid, and a powerful U.S. Jewish lobby - had allegedly brought down the wrath of the Islamic world and dragged the West into a clash of civilizations. This sentiment only deepened with U.S. military action against Iraq, when anti-Semitism bandwagoned on the anti-war movement and rising anti-Americanism. How else to explain a war against a country that had never attacked the United States, it was argued, if not for a cabal of Jewish neocon advisors who had hoodwinked the U.S. president into conquering Iraq to safeguard Israel?
But another element of the new anti-Semitism is often overlooked: The time frame for this resurgence of judeophobia corresponds with the intensification of international links that took place in the 1990s. "People are losing their compass," observes Dan Dinar, a historian at Hebrew University. "A worldwide stock market, a new form of money, no borders. Concepts like country, nationality, everything is in doubt. They are looking for the ones who are guilty for this new situation and they find the Jews." The backlash against globalization unites all elements of the political spectrum through a common cause, and in doing so it sometimes fosters a common enemy - what French Jewish leader Roger Cukierman calls an anti-Semitic "brown-green-red alliance" among ultra-nationalists, the populist green movement, and communism's fellow travelers. The new anti-Semitism is unique because it seamlessly stitches together the various forms of old anti-Semitism: The far right's conception of the Jew (a fifth column, loyal only to itself, undermining economic sovereignty and national culture), the far left's conception of the Jew (capitalists and usurers, controlling the international economic system), and the "blood libel" Jew (murderers and modern-day colonial oppressors).
First They Came for the WTO
Jews have always aroused suspicion and contempt as a people apart, stubbornly resisting assimilation and clinging to their own religion, language, rituals, and dietary laws. But modern anti-Semitism made its debut with the emergence of global capitalism in the 19th century. When Jews left their urban ghettos and a small but visible number emerged as successful bankers, financiers, and entrepreneurs, they engendered resentment among those who envied their unfathomable success, especially given Jews' secondary status in society.
Some left-wing economists, such as French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, depicted Jews as the driving force behind global capitalism. Other socialist thinkers saw their theories corrupted by the racism of the era. In 1887, German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies published his classic work, Community and Society, wherein he blamed capitalism for undermining society's communitarian impulses and creating a merchant class that was "unscrupulous, egoistic and self-willed, treating all human beings as his nearest friends as only means to his ends." A few years later, German social scientist Werner Sombart took Tönnies's theories to their next step and meticulously explained how Jews "influenced the outward form of modern capitalism" and "gave expression to its inward spirit." Sombart's book, The Jews and Economic Life, would influence an entire generation of German anti-Semitic authors, including Theodore Fritsch, who was honored by the Nazis as the altmeister ("old master") of their movement. Anti-Semitism would become the central defining ideology of the Third Reich, the "glue that held Nazism together," notes historian Robert Katz. "It delivered up the external enemy, ‘international-finance Jewry,' by which Hitler succeeded in galvanizing and mesmerizing a Germany feeling itself victimized by otherwise less-definable outside forces."
Modern-day globalization – the opening of borders to the greater movement of ideas, people, and money – has stirred familiar anxieties about ill-defined "outside forces." Last June, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press published a survey conducted in 44 countries revealing that, although people generally have a favorable view of globalization, sizable majorities of those polled said their "traditional ways of life" are being threatened and agreed with the statement that "our way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence." And many believe "success is determined by forces outside their personal control."
With familiar anxieties come familiar scapegoats. Today's financial crashes aren't on the same scale as the economic dislocations of the 1880s and 1930s. But, as the 1997 Asian crisis revealed, in an era of volatile capital flows, damaging financial contagion can sweep through nations in a matter of weeks. Countries in the developing world, who view themselves as victims of globalization, sometimes see conspiratorial undertones. Modern-day resentment against the perceived power of international financial institutions has merged with old mythologies. The 19th century had its Rothschilds; the current era has had Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin at the U.S. Treasury Department, Alan Greenspan at the U.S. Federal Reserve, James Wolfensohn at the World Bank, and Stanley Fischer at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad once lashed out against "Jews who determine our currency levels, and bring about the collapse of our economy." The spokesman for the Jamaat-i-Islami political party in Pakistan complained: "Most anything bad that happens, prices going up, whatever, this can usually be attributed to the IMF and the World Bank, which are synonymous with the United States. And who controls the United States? The Jews do." Economic chaos in Zimbabwe, where a once thriving Jewish community of 8,000 has dwindled to just 650, prompted President Robert Mugabe to deliver a speech declaring that the "Jews in South Africa, working in cahoots with their colleagues here, want our textile and clothing factories to close down."
Throughout the Middle East, where economic growth remains stagnant everywhere but Israel, Islamists and secular nationalists alike portray globalization as the latest in a series of U.S.-Zionist plots to subjugate the Arab world under Western economic control and erase its cultural borders. A former spokesman for the militant group Hamas warned in the early 1990s that if Arab governments accepted the Jewish state's existence, "Israel would rule in the region just as Japan dominates Southeast Asia, and all the Arabs will turn into the Jews' workers." Mainstream Arab media outlets, such as the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram and the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam, publish columns that praise Osama bin Laden as the "man who says ‘no' to the domination of globalization," and which cite the The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion – the infamous 19th century forgery of a purported blueprint for Jewish world domination – as hard evidence of globalization's true intent.
In the West, anxiety over globalization provides opportunities for far-right political parties, who exploit the fears of those who see their way of life threatened by migrants from the developing world and who believe their sovereignty is besieged by regional trade pacts and monetary union. Jörg Haider, the head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front Party – who both rode to electoral success on anti-immigrant, anti-Europe platforms – kept their anti-Semitic sentiments under wraps as they campaigned before the media. But other far-right organizations in Europe are not shy about pointing a finger at the "true culprits" behind their countries' woes. In Italy, the Movimento Fascismo e Liberta identifies globalization as an "instrument in the hands of international Zionism." In Russia and Eastern Europe, "brown" ultra-nationalists and "red" communist stalwarts have formed an ideological alliance against foreign investors and multinational corporations, identifying Jews as the capitalist carpetbaggers sacking their national heritage.
In their war against globalization, the browns on the far right have also found common cause with the greens of the new left. Matt Hale, the leader of the U.S. white supremacist World Church of the Creator, praised the 1999 antiglobalization protests in Seattle as "incredibly successful from the point of view of the rioters as well as our Church. They helped shut down talks of the Jew World Order WTO and helped make a mockery of the Jewish Occupational Government around the world. Bravo." To lure in activists planning to protest the 2002 G-8 summit in Calgary, the National Alliance - the largest neo-Nazi organization in the United States that maintains ties with white supremacist groups worldwide - set up a Web site called the Anti-Globalism Action Network, dedicated to "broadening the anti-globalism movement to include divergent and marginalized voices."
Antiglobalization activists find themselves fighting a two-front battle, simultaneously protesting the World Trade Organization (WTO), IMF, and World Bank, while organizing impromptu counter-protests against far-right extremists who gate-crash their rallies. A bizarre ideological turf war has broken out. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) voice alarm about neo-Nazis "masquerading" as anti-globalization activists. On the Web site of the white supremacist Church of True Israel, an aggrieved Walter Nowotny retorts: "This accusation implies that we are late-comers to this movement and only associate with it to jump on a bandwagon that already has considerable momentum. But who are the real infiltrators and trespassers?"
History is repeating itself. As in the 19th century, the far right is plagiarizing left-wing dogma and imbuing it with racist overtones, transforming the campaign against the capitalist "New World Order" into a struggle against the "Jew World Order." The antiglobalization movement is, however, somewhat culpable. It isn't inherently anti-Semitic, yet it helps enable anti-Semitism by peddling conspiracy theories. In its eyes, globalization is less a process than a plot hatched behind closed doors by a handful of unaccountable bureaucrats and corporations. Underlying the movement's humanistic goals of universal social justice is a current of fear mongering - the IMF, the WTO, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) are portrayed not just as exploiters of the developing world, but as supranational instruments to undermine our sovereignty. Pick up a copy of the 1998 book MAI and the Threat to American Freedom (wrapped in a patriotic red, white, and blue cover), written by antiglobalization activists Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, and you'll read how "Over the past twenty-five years, corporations and the state seem to have forged a new political alliance that allows corporations to gain more and more control over governance. This new ‘corporate rule' poses a fundamental threat to the rights and democratic freedoms of all people." At an even more extreme end of the spectrum, the Web site of the Canadian-based Centre for Research on Globalization sells books and videos that "expose" how the September 11 terrorist attacks were "most likely a special covert action" to "further the goals of corporate globalization."
Unfortunately, conspiracy theories must always have a conspirator, and all too often, the conspirators are perceived to be Jews. It takes but a small step to cross the line dividing the two worldviews. "If I told you I thought the world was controlled by a handful of capitalists and corporate bosses, you would say I was a left-winger," an anarchist demonstrator told the online Russian publication Pravda. "But if I told you who I thought the capitalists and corporate bosses were, you'd say I was far right."
The browns and greens are not simply plagiarizing one another's ideas. They're frequently reading from the same page. In Canada, a lecture by anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist David Icke was advertised in lefty magazines such as Shared Vision and Common Ground. ("Canadians voted down free trade and we got it anyway," said one woman who saw the ads and attended the event. "So there has to be something to that.") Far-right nationalists, such as former skinhead Jaroslaw Tomasiewicz, have infiltrated the Polish branch of the international antiglobalization organization ATTAC. The British Fascist Party includes among its list of recommended readings the works of left-wing antiglobalists George Monbiot and Noam Chomsky. A Web site warning of the dangers of "Jewish Plutocracy, Jewish Power" includes links to antiglobalization NGOs such as Corpwatch and Reclaim Democracy. The Dutch NGO De Fabel van de illegaal withdrew in disgust from the anti-MAI movement when it learned that the campaign's activities were attracting the attention of far-right, anti-Semitic student groups. "By pointing to this so-called globalisation as our main problem, the anti-MAI activists prepare our thinking for the corresponding logical consequence – the struggle for ‘our own' local economy, and as a consequence also for ‘our own' state and culture," the director of De Fabel warned. "Left-wing groups are spreading an ideology that offers the New Right, rather than the left, bright opportunities for future growth."
The greens and the browns share another common cause: opposition to Israel. Given the antiglobalization movement's sympathy for Third-World causes, it's not surprising that French activist Jose Bove took a break from trashing McDonald's restaurants to show his solidarity with the Palestinian movement by visiting a besieged Yasir Arafat in Ramallah last year.
But, in the case of the new left, the salient question is not: What do antiglobalization activists have against Israel? Rather, it is important to ask: Why only Israel? Why didn't Bove travel to Russia to demonstrate his solidarity with Muslim Chechen separatists fighting their own war of liberation? Why are campus petitions demanding that universities divest funds from companies with ties to Israel, but not China? Why do the same anti-globalization rallies that denounce Israel's tactics against the Palestinians remain silent on the thousands of Muslims killed in pogroms in Gujarat, India?
Israel enjoys a unique pariah status among the antiglobalization movement because it is viewed as the world's sole remaining colonialist state - an exploitative, capitalist enclave created by Western powers in the heart of the developing world. "They're trying to impose an apartheid system on both the occupied territories and the Arab population in the rest of Israel," says Bove. "They are also putting in place - with the support of the World Bank - a series of neoliberal measures intended to integrate the Middle East into globalized production circuits, through the exploitation of cheap Palestinian labor."
Opposing the policies of the Israeli government does not make the new left anti-Semitic. But a movement campaigning for global social justice makes a mockery of itself by singling out just the Jewish state for condemnation. And when the conspiratorial mindset of the antiglobalization movement mingles with anti-Israeli rhetoric, the results can get ugly. Bove, for instance, told a reporter that the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was responsible for anti-Semitic attacks in France in order to distract attention from its government's actions in the occupied territories.
The consequences of embracing a double standard toward Israel are all too apparent at antiglobalization rallies. In Italy, a member of Milan's Jewish community carrying an Israeli flag at a protest march was beaten by a mob of antiglobalization activists. At Davos, a group of protestors wearing masks of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (wearing a yellow star) carried a golden calf laden with money. Worldwide, protesters carry signs that compare Sharon to Hitler, while waving Israeli flags where the Star of David has been replaced with the swastika. Such displays portray Israel as the sole perpetrator of violence, ignoring the hundreds of Israelis who have died in suicide bombings and the role of the Palestinian Authority in fomenting the conflict. And equating Israel with the Third Reich is the basest form of Holocaust revisionism, sending the message that the only "solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is nothing less than the complete destruction of the Jewish state. Antiglobalization activist and author Naomi Klein has spoken out against such displays, but she is in the minority. The very same antiglobalization movement that prides itself on staging counter-protests against neo-Nazis who crash their rallies links arms with protestors who wave the swastika in the name of Palestinian rights.
Like the antiglobalist left, far-right activists have also embraced their own form of anticolonialism. For them, globalization is synonymous with "mongrelization," an attempt to mix race and cultures and destroy unique heritages. When the greens preach the virtues of "localization," a hearty "amen" echoes among the browns, who seek to insulate their countries against the twin evils of human migration and foreign capital. The far right sees nationalist movements and indigenous rights groups as allies in the assault against the multiculturalism of the new world order. And it sees the Palestinians, in particular, as a resistance movement against the modern-day Elders of Zion. American neo-Nazi David Duke summed up this worldview in an essay on his Web site: "These Jewish supremacists have a master plan that should be obvious for anyone to see. They consistently attempt to undermine the culture, racial identity and solidarity, economy, political independence of every nation.…[They] really think they have some divine right to rule over not only Palestine but over the rest of the world as well."
Is Another World Possible?
Commenting on the resurgence of anti-Semitic imagery in the Egyptian press, BBC correspondent Kate Clark noted that "if and when real peace comes, the Egyptian media are likely to forget their anti-Semitic line."
But, even if and when real peace comes, the conditions conducive to anti-Semitism aren't going away. The very existence of Israel offends those who view it as a colonialist aberration. Arab governments remain averse to serious economic and political reforms that would open their societies and lift their citizens out of poverty. War, terrorism, and recession may periodically slow the pace of globalization, but the movement of people and money around the world continues unabated. The anxieties that accompany global integration - the fear that nations are surrendering their cultural, political, and economic sovereignty to shadowy outside forces - will not simply disappear.
It is paradoxical that Jews should find themselves swept up in the backlash against globalization, since Jews were the first truly globalized people. The survival of Jewish civilization - despite 2,000 years without a state and the scattering of its diaspora to nearly every nation on Earth - undermines the claim that globalization creates a homogenized world that destroys local cultures. Jews accommodated, and at times embraced, the foreign cultures they lived in without sacrificing their identity. The golden age of Jewish learning was not in ancient Israel, but in medieval Spain, where Jewish religious study, literature, and poetry flourished under the influence of Muslim scholars.
Given its long experience adapting to new contingencies, the Jewish community is confronting global anti-Semitism with global solutions. For the first time in its history, the state of Israel convened an international conference of Jewish leaders from around the world with the explicit objective of coordinating a strategy to confront the resurgence of anti-Semitism. Jewish NGOs, such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and the Anti-Defamation League, tirelessly publicize incidents of anti-Semitism and lobby governments worldwide. Responding to evidence that the problem had reached crisis proportions, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last June convened an unprecedented conference on anti-Semitism attended by representatives of 55 governments. Protests from the Israeli government and Jewish organizations compelled the United Arab Emirates to shut down a think tank, the Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up, which had hosted a Saudi professor who alleged Jews used human blood to prepare "holiday pastries" and had issued a press release declaring "The Zionists are the ones who killed the Jews of Europe."
Jewish organizations are also becoming more of a presence in the antiglobalization movement. Last year, there were fears that the Johannesburg-hosted World Summit on Sustainable Development would turn into a replay of the ill-fated 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, where anti-Semitic rhetoric culminated in a draft resolution adopted by the NGO forum singling out Israel as guilty of "genocide." The SWC urged 180 ecological organizations planning to attend Johannesburg to ensure the conference stayed on message. The responses were largely positive, reflecting the frustration of many Third World NGOs who felt that the controversy at Durban had overshadowed vital issues on their agendas.
And then there are the Jews within the antiglobalization movement itself. Many are drawn to the movement for the same reason that Jews have always been disproportionately represented in campaigns for social justice: the principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world). It imparts a commitment not only to care for the Jewish community, but for all of society. The antiglobalization activists who are Jewish carry a unique burden in that they are made to feel like strangers even though they are passionately devoted to safeguarding the environment, advocating human rights, and promoting economic equality. But rather than abandoning the movement, they seek to wrest the agenda from the extremists who would exclude them. A measure of their success could be seen in the final day of the 2003 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. While street protesters waved their swastikas, a small group of Jewish and Palestinian peace activists organized a series of workshops, funded by local Jewish and Palestinian communities in Brazil. The result was a joint statement, read to 20,000 cheering activists, calling for "peace, justice, and sovereignty for our peoples," and a Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel.
Some Jewish groups sympathetic to many of the antiglobalization movement's goals have mistakenly chosen to remain on the outside. Jewish voices need to be raised when the shouting of the militants threatens to drown out other issues. And tikkun olam imparts a mandate to counter demagogues in the developing world who scapegoat Jews and Israel as an excuse to perpetuate systems that keep their nations mired in poverty. In that spirit, Rabbi Joseph Klein told his congregation at a synagogue in Michigan last June, "We will have to develop a strategy that allows us to participate in the effort to bring social equity and economic justice to all people, while at the same time distancing ourselves from these newest purveyors of the Protocols." He concluded his sermon by quoting from Pirkei Avot, the Jewish book of ethics: "It is not for you to complete the work, but neither are you free to withdraw from it."
Mark Strauss is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.