A quick quiz. Give yourself one point for each statement you think is true:
- Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want.
- Jews have too much power in the business world.
- Jews have too much power in international financial markets.
- Jewish business people are so shrewd that others do not have a fair chance to compete.
These are some of questions in the Anti-Defamation League’s "Anti-Semitism Index," used to gauge people’s anti-Semitic feelings. Shockingly, very high percentages of many countries’ populations – nearly a quarter of Spaniards, for instance – have agreed with these stereotypes, and harbor negative opinions towards Jews.
Even more interesting – and worryingly – there is a strong trend to apply these classic anti-Jewish canards to Israel, the world’s sole Jewish state. Qualities that have long been seen by anti-Semites as “Jewish” are often applied to Israel too.
Last week readers were shocked when Time Magazine asserted in its cover story “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” that Jews in Israel are too obsessed with making money to have time for peace. The characterization seemed redolent of anti-Semitic stereotypes but “updated” to apply to the Jewish state.
Jews as Obsessed by Money
One of the classic smears against Jews, for instance, has long been that that Jews have too much money and control other people’s access to money. In 2009, an ADL poll found that fully 31% of Europeans blamed “the Jews” for the global economic crisis.
For a long time, it was difficult to apply this anti-Jewish smear to the Jewish state. With a GDP of about $195 billion, Israel is hardly in the first tier of world economies. Israel’s per capita income was $28,400 in 2009, which ranked it 48th in the world. Israel enjoys fairly robust economic growth, though at 0.2% in 2009, it ranked 109th in the world that year.
Unfortunately, poverty remains a persistent problem in Israel; it is estimated that 28% of the population there is poor. Compared with, say, oil-flush Saudi Arabia, or the wealthy United States, Israel would hardly seem a country that anyone could call rich.
Yet, unbelievably, Time Magazine paints a picture of crass, wealthy Jews so busy with buying and selling that they have no real desire to make peace with the Palestinians. The text is accompanied by pictures of indolent-looking Israelis, enjoying time at the beach, while the accompanying text wonders “don’t they know that finding peace with the Palestinians is the only way to guarantee their happiness and prosperity?”
In poll after poll, Israelis have shown and continue to profess an overwhelming desire to make peace.
The short answer is: yes, they do. In poll after poll, Israelis have shown and continue to profess an overwhelming desire to make peace with Palestinians. A recent Tel Aviv University poll showed that nearly three quarters of Israeli Jews favor holding peace talks with Palestinians right now. In fact, a Hebrew University poll has even shown an increase in the number of Israelis supporting the current proposals for peace (the so-called Clinton parameters) since the 2009 Gaza Flotilla raid.
Israelis are sometimes wary of peace talks; they have been enthusiastic about apparent steps to peace, only to have had their hopes dashed so many times before. In 2000, for instance, Israelis were euphoric about the Clinton-led peace talks that seemed about to lead to an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel; they watched in disbelief as Yasser Arafat walked away from the near-completed deal. Five years later, many Israeli’s supported their country’s withdrawal from Gaza and the forcible uprooting of Jewish towns there, only to find the strip ruled by the iron fist of Hamas, and becoming a haven for terrorists and source of continual rocket fire of thousands of rockets into Israel proper.
Given this history, it is amazing that Israelis still hope for peace and desire formal peace talks, yet they do. By wide margins. In fact, the Tel Aviv University poll cited above found that while well over 70% of Israelis want to participate in peace talks with Palestinians right now, only 32% believe they will have any real effect. Yet Israelis continue to believe in a better tomorrow; amazingly, they continue to have faith that the world, and their corner of it, will improve, even against the odds.
Jews as Secret Controllers
Another classic anti-Semitic belief has long been they somehow control the world. This is what Mel Gibson alleged in his infamous drunken rant, it’s the lie at the heart of the enduring anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and – amazingly, given its small size and relative diplomatic isolation – this charge has been leveled at Israel, as well.
A 2007 BBC poll asked people in a number of countries to rate Israel’s “influence” in the world (itself a suspect question – nobody worries about El Salvador’s “influence” in the world, for instance, to take another, similarly-sized country). The results were not encouraging. In Britain, 17% felt Israel’s “influence” was mainly positive; 65% felt it was negative. Germany was even more skewed: 10% felt it was positive, against 77% who responded negative. Even in the United States, long a bastion of pro-Israel support, a third of responders counted Israel’s “influence” as negative, and less than half – 41% - rated it as positive.
The idea of an all-powerful Israel, echoing, classic anti-Jewish themes, perhaps found its most extreme expression by a mainstream politician when Clare Short, former British Secretary of State for International Development, accused Israel of causing global warming. (Scratching your head about that one? Apparently by being so nefariously bad, Israel forces other countries to spend time and energy condemning it, instead of thinking of ways to solve climate change!)
In political debate, there is a popular rhetorical trick called the “Straw Man.” It works this way. You build up a “straw man,” a person, real or imagined, who opposes your point of view, and spend quite a bit of time describing him. The straw man you establish, however, must have a fatal flaw: something that you can easily demolish later. Then, wham! You show his fatal flaw. He’s exposed as a fool, and your argument appears triumphant. It’s a lazy alternative to real argument, used by people who can’t be bothered to face actual counterarguments.
Time magazine's straw men are typical of the anti-Jewish stereotypes that have endured for millennia.
In the case of the Time Magazine article, the straw man so painstakingly described are a couple of shallow-sounding Israelis who care only about money, say they don’t care about anything else, and even imply that they might be dishonest in their business dealings. They are held up as “typical” Israelis, even though they are anything but. They aren’t typical in their wealth, they aren’t typical in their lack of interest in politics, and they aren’t typical in their contention that money is more important than peace.
What they are typical of is the anti-Jewish stereotypes that have endured for millennia: the Jew as rich, the Jew as greedy, the Jew as obsessed by money, the Jew as somehow flawed and bad.
It’s been over 400 years since Shakespeare gave us Shylock, a Jewish merchant so concerned with money that he is happy to allow people to die in his quest for it. Today, Time Magazine has rephrased the stereotype slightly, but the implication remains: Israel, the Jewish country, displays the traditional Jewish penchant for greed. It’s a sickening trope that harms all Jews.
The Talmud counsels that “When a person insults someone else, it is his own defects that he is revealing” (Kiddushin 70a). In the case of Time Magazine, as well as some other news sources and politicians, their lazy, anti-Semitic portrait reveals a lack of serious journalism and inquiry.