LONDON — Tragically, the publication of Jake Wallis Simons’s new book could hardly be more timely.
The full horror of its subject — “Israelophobia,” a passionate loathing directed at the Jewish state — has been graphically displayed by Hamas’s murderous October 7 assault on Israel and the manner in which some in the West have sought to justify, excuse and even celebrate it.
For Wallis Simons, the editor of Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, it has provided a moment of moral clarity like few others in the state’s 75-year history.
“This moment has been a real clarifying time to show people’s real true motivations. It’s been a time when the mask has really come off,” he tells The Times of Israel. “People can no longer hide behind the rhetoric of virtue and social justice. It’s clear. There have been so many people who have been celebrating, whose response to a pogrom and a massacre of Jews has been to chant: ‘Free Palestine.’”
“All over the West, and indeed elsewhere in the world, there has been a groundswell of support for the Palestinians which is nothing more than naked support for the murder and desecration of Jews,” Wallis Simons adds. “I think this extreme time has just brought all of those dynamics out to the fore: you can see people clearly now, you can see where they stand.”
(Full disclosure: This reporter regularly writes about politics and history for the JC).
In Wallis Simons’s telling, Israelophobia is simply “a deceitful new form of the oldest hatred,” drawing upon and parroting centuries of conspiracy theories, paranoia and tropes targeting Jews, refining them, and then using them to attack the Jewish state.
His book, “Israelophobia: The Newest Version of the Oldest Hatred & What to Do About It,” forensically traces the manner in which hatred of the Jewish state has grown, seeded by Nazi efforts to woo the anti-British Arab street during World War II; spread by the Soviets’ massive anti-Zionist propaganda machine during the Cold War; and now pumped out worldwide by a sophisticated Iranian-backed online disinformation campaign.
But, argues Wallis Simons, there is a twist in this sordid tale. Despite its antisemitic, far-right roots — Soviet propagandists drew heavily on “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — Israelophobia has now become “a core part of a suite of views held by the progressives who set the tenor for much of our culture.”
Thanks to the prominent place accorded to Israelophobia in the cannon of a small but powerful “intolerant progressive elite,” he says, “attacking Western history, values and culture often goes hand in hand with attacking the Jewish state.” Thus, Wallis Simons believes, “the first in the firing line when it comes to an attack on Western values are the Jews.”
The potency of Israelophobia, Wallis Simons says, derives from the manner in which the progressive elite deploys the terminology of the social justice movement as a “Trojan horse for antisemitism,” thus making “the old bigotry palatable to the mainstream.”
Israel, we’re told, is guilty of “ethnic cleansing” and “colonialism”; it is a “white supremacist state” knee-deep in racism that practices apartheid; and it is defended by a well-funded lobby that makes hoax cries of antisemitism to detract from its crimes. The key hallmark of Israelophobia is that it “rests upon lies and untruths that are, on the whole, demonstrably untrue,” says Wallis Simons.
However, the appropriation of the language of the modern left to attack Israel has allowed hostility to the Jewish state to run far and wide — “I think it is very widespread,” Wallis Simons says. He cites polling from 2012 which found that 63 percent of Poles, 48% of Germans and 42% of Britons agreed with a statement that “Israel is waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”
Of course, Wallis Simons recognizes, a much smaller percentage “deeply hold” such views and will “dedicate their lives towards furthering the cause of Israelophobia” but their influence remains powerful. The “committed Israelophobes” and the “force of their disinformation, fueled by state-sponsored propaganda past and present — from Berlin to Tehran — has established a powerful gravitational pull,” he writes. “This is sucking in ordinary people, especially on the left, stretching the Overton window to allow indefensible assumptions about Israel to creep into the mainstream.”
Wallis Simons is scathing about the manner in which Israel’s security measures are often characterized and opposed in the West.
Israelis are not just attacked physically in the region, but also attacked ideologically by people who are misconstruing them as mechanisms of oppression
“They are not just attacked physically in the region, but also attacked ideologically by people who are misconstruing them as mechanisms of oppression,” he says.
He cites criticism of Israel’s West Bank security barrier, which eliminated most of the weekly toll of suicide bombings during the Second Intifada, the sealed border with Gaza, and the insistence of many media outlets that the Strip remains under occupation, despite Israel’s 2005 withdrawal.
“Do you want the Israelis to let the borders down? We’ve seen what happens when that occurs,” Wallis Simons asks. “It’s using these sort of disingenuous pseudo-moralistic arguments to try to undermine even Israel’s attempts to defend itself which are contributing towards the real war, which is a war that’s aiming for Israel’s destruction.”
Do you want the Israelis to let the borders down? We’ve seen what happens when that occurs
Wallis Simons, who specialized in foreign affairs reporting before his appointment as editor of the Jewish Chronicle in 2021, believes that many people in the West simply can’t comprehend the nature of the threat Israel faces.
“I think that there’s a moral limitation in the minds of most Western people which restricts us from being able to assimilate the level of brutality and fanaticism and bare cruelty that predominates in much of the Middle East,” he says.
He believes that culture — which “sacralizes this cult of bloodshed” — drives Iran’s “bloodlust in their theological fanaticism.” It was evident in both the “acts of absolute Medieval brutality” perpetrated by Hamas’s terrorists and “the grotesque celebration of murder, rape and mutilation … [and] the desecration of dead bodies” which followed their butchery.
“Because it’s so far out of our range,” Wallis Simons says, “we tend to underestimate consistently the venomous nature of Iran” and its proxy armies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
This outlook has several dangerous consequences, he believes. It leads the West to mistakenly treat these entities as if they’re rational actors and produces a “soft” foreign policy of appeasement which is allowing Iran and its proxies to “gain the advantage again and again.” It also produces a “despicable, woeful judgmentalism” to be passed by the West on the Israelis “who do understand the threat and who are taking steps to protect themselves and stay alive.”
Wallis Simons denies neither Israel’s sins nor the injustices suffered by the Palestinians. He simply calls for context to expose the “demonization” that rests at the heart of Israelophobia. However tragic, for instance, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians attracts huge — and, says Wallis Simons, disproportionate — attention from the media, activists and human rights groups. But, he points out, in the 75 years of conflict between Israel and its neighbors, roughly 86,000 Arabs have been killed. By comparison, some 601,000 people were killed in the three years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, while 12 years of civil war in Syria claimed a similar number of lives, more than half of whom were civilians.
While Israel Apartheid Week has become popular on campuses throughout the world, says Wallis Simons, there’s no Syria Apartheid Week to mark Assad’s victims or Chinese Apartheid Week to protest the brutal treatment of the Uyghurs. “In their preoccupation with the evils of the Jewish state,” writes Wallis Simons, “Israelophobes … remain unmoved by the atrocities of far more deplorable regimes.”
And, as the author notes, it’s not simply a question of comparing Israel with mass murdering, authoritarian states such as Myanmar, China or Syria.
“Britain, one of the most enlightened and tolerant societies the world has ever seen, comes with deep shadows of its own,” he writes, noting the harsh treatment meted out by British forces during the 1950s in Malaysia and Kenya or, more recently, during the fight against IRA terrorism in Northern Ireland.
“Pointing out these double standards is not ‘whataboutery,’” argues Wallis Simons. “It is a way of showing how Israel is demonized.”
And demonization — one of the key characteristics of Israelophobia, the book contends — is but a prelude to the effort to destroy Israel. After all, if Israel is indeed a “white supremacist” apartheid state, acts like the Nazis and practices ethnic cleansing, why shouldn’t it be treated as a pariah and snuffed out?
I’m always very wary of suggestions that antisemitism is the fault of the Jews
Wallis Simons’s Israel is no utopia. He faults the Israeli government’s policies towards its Arab citizens, suggesting more needs to be done to close social and economic inequalities and foster a “broader sense of national identity.” He has no time for fringe Jewish extremists, such as the gang of settlers who rampaged through Huwara in February.
And he is no fan of the far-right parties sitting in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. But Wallis Simons is adamant that their presence and rhetoric shouldn’t in any way be used to justify Israelophobia.
“I’m always very wary of suggestions that antisemitism is the fault of the Jews,” he says. He goes on to quote Ze’ev Jabotinsky: “As one of the first conditions of equality we demand the right to have our own villains, exactly as other people have them.”
Wallis Simons continues: “We’re seeing now more than ever the villains of Israel come to the fore but the instinct to not tolerate any villains amongst the Jewish community — to call upon Israel to, as Saul Bellow put it, ‘uphold the moral burdens that everybody else has dumped’ — is part of demonization and is simply an excuse for antisemitism. Antisemites are extremely good not just at finding cover and alibis, but at finding excuses.”
In the final analysis, Wallis Simons says, Israel is “just another country, with its own qualities and its own sins.” There is, the book argues, much to criticize and the country should not be shielded from legitimate criticism. There is, however, a line to be drawn: “stray into the realm of conspiracy theory, bigotry and demonization,” he says, and you enter the territory of Israelophobia.
Israel may be “just another country,” but it is also on the frontline of an extraordinary battle, Wallis Simons contends.
Hamas’s brutal massacre, he believes, has “made clear, more than ever, how incumbent it is upon all of us to stand with the side of liberalism, the rule of law, freedom of expression and respect for minorities against this Islamo-fascist movement which is finding useful idiots in the left to help advance its cause.”
Israelophobia by Jake Wallis Simons
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