The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism states that, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities…. Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
As a Jew born in Hungary in 1937, I have some problems with this definition. Firstly, I don’t at all understand why or how anti-Semitism would be directed towards “non-Jewish individuals”. As for “targeting the state of Israel”, as it is a “Jewish collectivity” this is surely inaccurate. Israel has a very mixed population, with citizens of many religious faiths, as is Britain, for that matter. Is the United Kingdom a “Christian collectivity” because the majority of the population would declare themselves to be Christians?
I have criticised Britain much for its trade in enslaved Africans, which it did not stop in 1807 when Parliament made it illegal; for the use of slave labour; for its colonial devastations; for the ongoing racial discrimination; and for the exploitation of all workers in Britain itself. Is it acceptable, therefore, for me to criticise Israel for its treatment of Palestinians when this is similar to some of Britain’s actions of which I have been critical? I hope so.
I agree with the Alliance that “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is not acceptable. It is the state of Israel that has to be held to account.
Read: Zionism is anti-Semitism
Among its “contemporary examples of anti-Semitism in public life”, the Alliance includes “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” With this I totally disagree. I was a Jewish child in Budapest. In those days children even in not very rich families in the cities were looked after by nannies, who were peasant girls. So the woman I grew to love, who was with me 24 hours a day, who cuddled me, walked with me and played with me, was Kisuka. I don’t know from which part of Hungary she came, or why she needed such a job. What I do know is that a law was introduced making it illegal for Jews to hire non-Jews. Thus, I lost my surrogate mother. Not long after that my real mother and I were forced to move, as many parts of Budapest were declared illegal for Jews to live in; I lost my home, my toys, my books… We then had to move again, to a newly-created Jewish ghetto. I was homeless; homeless. My mother was unused to looking after me and was bewildered by all this homelessness. I had not seen my father for years, as he had been sent early in the war to the Forced Labour groups supporting the military. And, of course, I could not go to school.
My life was saved by a Christian minister who baptised Jews to save them; he gave them new names and was risking his own life in doing so. With a new name, we had to move again, this time to a tiny flat shared with a similarly-baptised mother and her son; I now had a brother. Sometimes we went for walks, and once I saw people being shot and pushed into the Danube. They were Jews. I was told that if we were questioned on the street I was to be the one to answer, as I was older and knew my new name, my new place of birth, etc. I was not questioned very often, thank goodness. Would I also have been shot if I made a mistake and revealed my real name?
When I began to read about the treatment of Palestinians by the Jews settling in Palestine, I was absolutely horrified. I had been displaced myself, as had many other Jews. Surely we could not inflict the same on the people of Palestine? Why were Jews going there, I wondered as a teenager, instead of struggling for total acceptance in the countries in which they had lived for centuries? After all, they had emigrated from Palestine thousands of years ago.
Now, reflecting on those years, I also remember how I protested against my parent’s proposal to emigrate in 1948. I cried. I wanted to remain. I was Magyar (Hungarian). We had survived the Holocaust, now we had to rebuild. “No,” said my parents. What I did not know then was that this might have been a response to the Soviet takeover, not down to anti-Semitism.
Reflecting further on the state of Israel, I ask many questions: did so many Jews emigrate those thousands of years ago in search of a better life? Why, when, where, did they confront anti-Semitism? How did they respond? And why and how did anti-Semitism develop? For what reason? It certainly existed in Britain.
This takes me to more questions. That Balfour Declaration, for example; was Balfour covering up his own anti-Semitism? Was it to get more votes? Of course, as Britain was the major colonial power in the world and had never believed that the people it was ruling had any rights to their lands, their cultures or their religions, the Palestinians were ignored by the then British Foreign Secretary.
Millions of people left Britain from the 18th century onwards, mainly to escape poverty; they settled in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa. The people native to those lands were killed or died of new diseases; those who survived were forced to move to the least cultivatable areas. What would be the reaction here and abroad if the descendants of all those emigrants now copied the Jews, claimed Britain as their homeland and demanded the right to return “home”?
I also question the £50 million gift from the British government for a Holocaust Memorial in London. After all, there are already quite a number, and the Imperial War Museum is completing a new, large memorial. Is this simply a payoff in order to retain the friendship of Israel, Britain’s friend in the Middle East?
In conclusion, I reject any claim that I or anyone else am anti-Semitic for criticising Israel. It is, surely and logically my right to be critical of the state’s founding ideology for the harm that it has inflicted on the Palestinians. Am I anti-Semitic? Certainly not. Am I anti-Zionism? Most definitely.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.