ANTI-SEMITISM. Now that’s a word that’s getting a lot of airing in the world today, often accompanied by a lot of hot air and even strong overtones of hysteria. Granted, it’s not new but Malaysians are suddenly sitting up and noticing it because the word is being directed at Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad largely by certain Western leaders and media.
Yet the term has been used without any explanation of its basis and background.
What really is the meaning of anti-Semitism and why are so many people getting so worked up by it?
The Semites are people who descended from ancient times in West Asia and North Africa (Middle East) and they included the Jews, Arabs and several others.
Organised anti-Jewish attacks started in the West, especially in Europe before World War Two, when the Jews were perceived to be a “threat to society,” especially in Germany.
After the war, the term “anti-Semitism” was used by certain influential Jewish groups to refer to anything they perceived as anti-Jewish.
This situation has been reinforced over the years until today.
True, there are still xenophobic feelings and attacks against the Jews by white supremacist groups and the extreme right in the West.
Such attacks are indefensible and should be opposed by all right-thinking people.
The right of the Jews to practise their religion and to enjoy equal rights as others should be defended resolutely.
But the rest of the world and people of other faiths should not be held at ransom by certain groups who use the past sufferings of the Jews (especially the Holocaust) as initial justification for the forced creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the continued oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people and Israel’s expansionary policies and acts of aggression.
This is basically what Zionism is all about.
The recent speech by Dr Mahathir at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Kuala Lumpur, where he spoke about his theory of global Jewish domination as part of his wake-up call to Muslims to unite and be smart, has raised a storm in the Western media which has accused him of being anti-Semitic.
For example, the Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ), an influential regional paper, in its editorial entitled “Hatred and Democracy” on Oct 21 condemned Dr Mahathir for promoting anti-Semitism, racism, hatred against the Jews and using demagoguery in his speech.
The editorial also accused him of the usual stereotypical dictatorial practices of Third World leaders and of upping the Islamic label to satisfy domestic political expediency when his audience was clearly international.
It even implied that the reason he was doing this was to “maintain his power” when the whole world knows he would be stepping down from power voluntarily on Friday.
AWSJ followed up on the editorial with a series of articles along a similar vein; one article said Malaysia would be better off without him.
What’s more, these critics even questioned his motives in his speech which urged Muslims to move away from senseless violence and focus on being smart and effective and strive for unity and real peace based on justice.
They became fixated on what he said about Jewish domination and his call to Muslims “to assess our weaknesses and our strengths, to plan, to strategise and then to counter-attack.”
But what Dr Mahathir is “counter-attacking” is not Semitism but essentially Zionism.
It should be recalled that the United Nations General Assembly as far back as 1975 condemned Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination under Resolution 3379.
Due to strong pressure from the US and the condition set by Israel for participation in the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, this resolution was revoked that year after staying valid for 16 years.
Zionism is a movement and ideology based on the forced creation of a special state, Israel, exclusively for Jews at the expense of Palestinians.
The persecution of the Jews by the Nazis was used as a basis to campaign for such a state.
There has never been a precedent in history of the forced creation of a new state for a particular religious group at a place which has already been populated.
It is worth noting that there are many Jews who have lived and integrated well in other societies and who are firmly opposed to Zionism.
Jewish people are those who profess and practise the religion of Judaism so although some Western historians and social scientists may claim otherwise, the Jews are not a race but a religious group wishing to practise its religion anywhere like everybody else on this planet.
When people criticise Zionism, it is important to understand that they are not criticising the religion but the forced creation of Israel at the expense of Palestinians and Israel’s expansionary ambitions and its aggressive policies against its neighbours and other religions.
The proponents of Zionism often deliberately confuse or deflect any criticism or condemnation of Israel’s unjust policies with anti-Semitism, exemplified in its worst form by the persecution of Jews by the Nazis.
The post-war Zionist leadership used the Holocaust as a licence to commit any acts on any people it chooses and anyone who dares to oppose its policy would be implicated in the past persecution of Jews.
The emotional over-reaction of many Jews to perceived “anti-Semitic” views is largely due to their inability up to today to come to terms with their past and comprehend fully the horrors of the persecution of their ancestors at the hands of the Nazis, which somehow the rest of the world is also implicated in for “allowing” this part of history to take place.
Are Dr Mahathir's critics saying that the Israeli or Zionist leadership cannot be criticised for any of its past and present wrongdoings including acts of aggression, senseless killings and illegal land annexations?
Anti-Jewish views in the West, wrong as they are, are often equated with anti-Semitism and portrayed as being “racist” as well.
Let’s define and understand racism since Dr Mahathir has also been accused by the AWSJ and others of being so.
Racism – as opposed to racialism or even communalism – is not a mere dislike of someone with a different skin colour or race.
It is not a subjective phenomenon but based on history and objective reality.
Racism is the systematic oppression of one race by another and it has its origins in the slave trade (and subsequently in the slightly more “benign” form of colonialism).
It is an ideology developed and used in the Western society to justify the conscience of the white society for the inhumane treatment and utter disrespect of black and coloured people as “soul-less” animals.
Racism’s most blatant recent manifestation was in the form of apartheid in South Africa.
Racism still exists subtly in Western society and often surfaces in cases of racial attacks, intimidations and slurs.
Several institutions in the West have been accused of being racist and discriminating against the very people who are already oppressed and disadvantaged – the blacks and other minorities.
Black people, Asians and Muslims cannot be racists even if they want to be as historically they have never systematically oppressed another group of people based on race.
The privilege of such a negative tag only belongs to white people and they have to deal with their own past and conscience of whether or not their present developed status is achieved by brute force, deceit or otherwise at the expense of the people of underdeveloped countries.
This is why it has been said many times that racism is essentially a “white man’s disease” although, of course, not all white people are racists.
The UN General Assembly’s past condemnation of Zionism as a form of racism was based on the fact that the Zionist leadership was systematically discriminating against and oppressing Palestinians in their own homeland and even discriminating against Oriental Jews.
The Israeli leadership today is even bolder and more arrogant in its acts of violence and aggression, thanks largely to the crucial support it gets from its powerful backers.
It is significant too that a growing section of its own population and many Jews elsewhere are strongly opposed to such unjust acts by the Israeli government.
As for Dr Mahathir’s theory about Jewish domination, surely if the Western media like the AWSJ believes in the freedom of speech and ideas as they always liked to proclaim loudly, Dr Mahathir is just as entitled to state what he believes is true.
He was explaining a phenomenon and not making fun of the Jewish people or religion.
And he was not condemning all Jewish people per se nor was he equating the Jews with Western society.
It is up to those who disagree with his theory to challenge it with facts rather than resorting to name-calling and character assassination.
One should remember the Muslims and the Asians had nothing to do with the Holocaust so why should they be apologetic about it?
K.K. Tan is the CEO of a think tank, special management consultancy and project development firm based in Kuala Lumpur.