Most definitely, Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld needs no introduction as he is globally known as a research scholar, author of more than 26 books, popular and esteemed columnist and a rights activist. He is the former Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He founded and directed the Center’s Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism program.
Mr. Manfred Gerstenfeld was born in Vienna, grew up in Amsterdam where he obtained a master’s degree in organic chemistry at Amsterdam University. He also studied economics at what is nowadays Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He has a high school teaching degree in Jewish studies from the Dutch Jewish seminary. In 1999 he obtained a Ph.D. in environmental studies at Amsterdam University. In 1964 he moved to Paris where he became Europe’s first financial analyst specializing in the pharmaceutical industry. He moved to Israel in 1968. There he became the managing director of an economic consultancy firm partly owned by Israel’s then-largest financial institution, Bank Leumi. He was an academic reserve officer in the Israeli Army (IDF). Gerstenfeld was a board member of one of Israel’s largest companies, the Israel Corporation and several other Israeli companies.
In the opinion of Israel’s leading daily Ha’aretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer, writing in 2013, “Gerstenfeld is without doubt the greatest authority on anti-Semitism today.” Isi Leibler, the former chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress, wrote in the Jerusalem Post in 2015: “Gerstenfeld would today…be considered the most qualified analyst of contemporary anti-Semitism with a focus on anti-Israelism.”
Gerstenfeld was an editor of The Jewish Political Studies Review, co-publisher of the Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints, Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism and Changing Jewish Communities and a member of the council of the Foundation for Research of Dutch Jewry, of which he was formerly the vice-chairman. He was chairman of the Board of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a Jerusalem based think tank, from 2000 until 2012, where he headed the Institute for Jewish Global Affairs. He is the 2012 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism. In 2015, he received the International Leadership Award from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Recently, Mr. Manfred Gerstenfeld accorded an exclusive interview to Blitz editor and internationally acclaimed anti-militancy journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. Here is the excerpt of the interview:
Blitz: What are the main categories of antisemitism? Whom do they target?
A: The oldest category of antisemitism is religious antisemitism which was directed against Jews as members of the Jewish religion. The hatred as it continues to exist in a lesser way today was initially promoted by Christians who falsely claimed that Jews killed Jesus and that their descendants should be held eternally responsible. This is extremely perverse. People should be held responsible only for their own behavior and not for acts their ancestors have not even committed. The Jews at that time could not have killed Jesus because the only people at that time who could have killed anyone were the Roman occupiers.
No society can survive if its people are held responsible for the actions of their parents or ancestors. A case in point is Richard von Weizsäcker who was president of Germany from 1984 to 1994. His father Ernst von Weizsäcker was condemned to prison in one of the Nazi criminal war trials of Nuremberg.
Many centuries later religious antisemitism and discrimination against Jews emerged in the Muslim world.
The next major category of classic antisemitism is ethnic antisemitism which promotes hate against the Jews as a nation or a people. Beginning in the 19th century this huge movement of hate reached its absolute lowest point in Germany with the genocidal Nazi movement which with its many European allies carried out the Holocaust.
The third major category of antisemitism targets the Jewish State and developed after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. This phenomenon is referred to as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism. The motifs used are mainly mutations of those applied in classic antisemitism
Blitz: Where do the main threats of antisemitism in the world come from?
A: For many centuries, most antisemitism and threats against Jews came out of Christianity. This type of hate mongering was dominated by the Catholic Church. With the emergence of the reformation in the sixteenth century some Protestant leaders and Protestant movements became extreme antisemitic inciters. The reformer Martin Luther was prominent among the worst hate mongers.
Nowadays major currents of antisemitism are Muslim, right and left-wing antisemitism, as well as anti-Israelism. A speech given in 2003 at the opening session of the Tenth Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (IOC) by the prime minister of Malaysia Mohamad Mahathir stands out for its hatred of the Jews. He represented relations between Muslims and Jews as a worldwide frontal confrontation. He said: “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews.” Mahathir drew applause from the leaders of the 57 Muslim countries present.
Contemporary genocidal antisemitism like that of the Iranian government and of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah only exist in parts of the Muslim world. There are no other heads of state, right-wing or left-wing, who promote genocidal antisemitism or a total confrontation with Israel or Jews worldwide. Right-wing antisemitism mainly exists in Western societies and there are many — usually small –organizations. There are also many left-wing antisemites who mainly target Israel. Part of them also insult Jews. One can also find many antisemites in the moderate Western mainstream.
Blitz: Why is Antisemitism in Europe increasing?
A: For many centuries already antisemitism has been part of European culture. As more information became known about the horrors of the Holocaust after World War Two it became politically incorrect to be an antisemite. Classic antisemitism then gradually mutated into anti-Israelism which is considered more acceptable in the Western world. Jews living there are now more likely to be falsely accused of being responsible for Israel’s policies. Such accusations have now become common antisemitic slurs.
The major immigration into Western Europe without selection from Muslim countries, where antisemitism is promoted by political and religious leaders and other members of the elite, led to the additional influx of antisemites into Western Europe. Reactions to this immigration increased the strength of right-wing parties. This also led to the strengthening of neo-Nazis in some countries. Furthermore, anti-Israelism in Europe has led to a combination of extreme untrue accusations. More than 40% of Europeans falsely believe that Israel intends to commit genocide against the Palestinians. If this were true, there would be hardly any Palestinians left now. The number of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza has in fact increased in the recent decade.
Blitz: Who are the main perpetrators of European antisemitism?
A: The most dangerous perpetrators of antisemitism in Europe come out of segments of Muslim immigrant communities. All Jews murdered in Europe for ideological reasons in this century have been murdered by Muslims. The only calls in Europe for killing Jews have been made by a few imams.
Violent antisemitic attacks are also carried out by people on the extreme right. Furthermore, verbal attacks on Jews come from all segments of European society. Left-wing antisemitism seems to be more prominent here than right-wing antisemitism.
Blitz: Can you give an example of some major false claims of antisemites?
A: The most common antisemitic claim is that Jews living outside Israel have ‘double loyalty,’ both to Israel and to the country they live in. If that were true Jews would not vote for anti-Israeli parties. The clearest example concerns Jews who vote for the British Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, a man who calls genocidal antisemitic terrorists his ‘friends’ and incites to the extreme against Israel. Similarly, a poll showed that in the 2017 parliamentary elections, 19% of Dutch Jews supported the Dutch Labor Party, which holds anti-Israel views, as compared to 6% of the general population.
Another recurring claim is that Jews control European governments. Yet there are few Jews in leading positions in parties in European countries.
Even the extreme ancient antisemitic accusation that Jews need the blood of non-Jews for religious purposes has mutated into new claims. For instance, the leading daily in Sweden, the socialist Aftonbladet, published an article with the totally invented claim that Israelis kill Palestinians in order to reuse their organs for transplants.
Blitz: There are people who oppose Zionism. In your opinion, how important is Zionism for the existence of the State of Israel?
A: Zionism is important for Israel. Part of the immigrants make major contributions to Israeli society. If they were not Zionists they would move to countries where they can earn more money. It is however primarily important for the existence of the Jewish people outside Israel. The Law of Return gives Jews abroad the right to immigrate to Israel and become citizens even if they have never done anything that benefits the country or will do anything to contribute to its society. As antisemitism steadily increases, more Jews are considering leaving European countries where antisemitism increases.. Growing nationalist parties want to close borders of their countries to immigrants. As the pool of countries open for immigration shrinks, the option to leave to Israel for Jews who want to emigrate from Europe becomes more valuable.
Various Jews are also seen opposing to Israel. Some even demand elimination of the Jewish State. Do these people cause harm to Israel?
The most common definition of antisemitism is that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). According to it those who deny the right of the Jewish people to their own state are antisemites. This organization of 32 countries accepted the antisemitism definition in 2016. If a Jew denies the right of the Jews to their own state he or she is an antisemite like anyone else who denies this right.
Once there is an accepted definition of antisemitism, acts defined as antisemitic according to this definition can thus be committed by anyone, including Jews. Antisemitic Jews cause some harm to Israel because antisemitic non-Jews use them as supporters for their cause. For some Jews opposing Israel may be a way to get more attention in society than they would otherwise obtain.
Denying that the Holocaust ever happened is a major distortion of the Holocaust. You have however written in your book, The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses that there are various other major falsifications.
Blitz: Can you mention some of these other categories and give examples?
A: In this book I mention eight categories of Holocaust distorters. Holocaust denial is the best known, but there are other major distortions. The worst is Holocaust inversion — the portraying of Israel and Jews as Nazis. Another distortion is Holocaust equivalence. Various American presidents for instance have been compared to Hitler. Yet another distortion is obliterating Holocaust memory — the destruction and vandalizing of Holocaust memorials. An example of Holocaust trivialization is speaking about slaughtering animals as the ‘animal Holocaust.’
Blitz: You have on occasion published articles about antisemitism within European Social Democratic Parties, mainly focused on Israel. Can you cite some examples?
A: In the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, hundreds of antisemites have been identified. Two former social democratic prime ministers, Swedish Olof Palme and Greek Andreas Papandreou have compared Israel’s acts to those of the Nazis. The same was done by former French socialist President François Mitterrand. There are many other examples of antisemitic statements from leading figures in a variety of social democratic parties.
Blitz: Why is the anti-Israel BDS movement antisemitic?
A: One characteristic of antisemitism is that it singles out Israel for certain acts while it does not act against countries with similar behaviors. The IHRA definition says this clearly. The BDS movement often attacks Israel for its presence in the disputed territories of the West Bank, however for example it never attacks Turkey which has occupied parts of Cyprus.
Blitz: Why is the EU not playing a more active role against antisemitism?
A: EU opposition against antisemitism consists mainly of rhetoric and hardly of any action. As said before, European culture is permeated by antisemitism. Occasionally the EU even commits antisemitic acts, for instance when it decided that all products from Israeli villages in the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Golan should be specifically labelled even though the West Bank is a disputed and not an occupied territory. No such measures were proposed for instance for the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus, Tibet occupied by China, Western Sahara occupied by Morocco and so on. According to the IHRA definition singling Israel out is a typical example of antisemitism.
Blitz: What were the most positive steps that have been taken against antisemitism in Europe in recent years?
A: In order to start fighting antisemitism, first a definition was needed. The acceptance of the IHRA definition which required the agreement of the 32 members — which are mainly, but not only European countries –represented on its board, was a huge step forward. Since then various European countries including the UK, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia have accepted this definition for domestic use as have a variety of municipalities, universities and other institutions.
Another major step has been the increasing number of studies published which reveal the percentage of the main perpetrators of antisemitism in countries or areas around the world, the leading antisemitic slurs and how European Jews experience antisemitism.
Yet another important act was government action that placed guards at synagogues and other institutions.
A further important development was the appointment of antisemitism commissioners. Germany leads Europe in this area with a national commissioner who reacts to antisemitic events and also a number of antisemitism commissioners in various federal states. The EU has an antisemitism commissioner, but she has been given very limited resources.
Another important development has been the opposition to BDS by some governments.