The true threat of "the new anti-Semitism" emanates not from right-wing nationalists, but from the Left and anti-globalization activism, a University of Toronto conference on anti-Semitism heard yesterday.
"Before the [Second World War], the Right rather than the Left was the paramount source of hatred and contempt for European Jews," said Todd Endelman, a professor of modern Jewish history at the University of Michigan.
"This is no longer true. On the right, anti-Semitism no longer functions as a cultural code or a rallying cry, while on the Left, it has become entangled with and draws energy from ... anti-Americanism, Third Worldism and the anti-globalization campaign," Dr. Endelman said.
The two-day conference, called Anti-Semitism: The Politicization of Prejudice in the Contemporary World, brings together nearly two dozen academics to probe the roots and scope of anti-Jewish bias and hatred.
Yesterday, scholars defined the differences between the old anti-Semitism that was embodied in Nazi Germany and the often more subtle manifestations seen today.
Anti-Semitism is again on the rise, said Dr. Endelman.
"There is more hostility to Jews in Western Europe now than there was a decade or two earlier.... Alongside the taunts of hooligans and the ravings of skinheads, expressions of overt hostility have sprouted in the liberal media."
Dr. Endelman offered examples, including the New Statesman, the flagship weekly journal of the British Left, which carried the cover headline "A Kosher Conspiracy?" with artwork that would not have seemed out of place in Nazi Germany, and the Italian daily La Stampa, which carried a cartoon of an Israeli tank attacking Jesus in a manger.
"In short, the bien pensant chattering classes experience no compunction, as they might once have, about deploying classic anti-Jewish tropes," he said.
In recent years, a rampant anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment has emerged within the left-wing circles that besieged European Jews once sought refuge.
"The role of the Palestinians in the imagination of the European left today was played previously by other progressive, freedom-loving peoples, including Cubans, the Vietnamese, the Nicaraguans and the Chinese," Dr. Endelman said.
"Just as radical-minded college students once travelled to Castro's Cuba to help harvest sugar cane, so too students today rush to join Yasser Arafat in his compound in Ramallah."
Steven Zipperstein, a professor of Jewish culture and history at Stanford University, said Israel is in danger of being "written off by much of the left and, perhaps, by [many] liberal opinion-makers in the Western world, as this decade's South Africa," he said, referring to international opposition to that nation's former apartheid regime.
"In Europe, hundreds of academics, primarily in England, pressed the European Union to cease its dealings with Israeli academics and their institutions as a protest against Israeli policy in the occupied territories," said Dr. Zipperstein.
In the United States, there is an effort to pressure universities to divest from financial holdings in Israel, echoing an activist tactic of the anti-apartheid movement.
Dr. Zipperstein said the obsession with Israel's actions by these academics, anti-globalization activists and left-wing adherents stems from a "distorted and painfully simplistic" analysis -- one that craves an obvious oppressor and a clear-cut oppressed group -- but it is not, in itself, anti-Semitic.
"Such prejudice against Israel, as disturbing as it is, isn't the same as anti-Semitism, although the two can, undoubtedly, co-exist and in some instances clearly do," he said.
Dr. Endelman echoed that sentiment, but questioned whether "forceful criticism of Israeli policy has become the acceptable face of anti-Semitism, a respectable vehicle for venting hostility to Jews."
There is a clear distinction between thoughtful disagreement with Israeli policies and anti-Semitism, he said.
Dr. Endelman suggested the line is crossed when opponents: question the legitimacy of a Jewish state and Jewish nationalism, but no other state or any other nationalism; blame the Arab-Israeli conflict on Jews alone; and when there is an obsessive concern for the "sins of the Israelis and the plight of the Palestinians" while virtually ignoring other nationalist issues, occupations and human suffering.
"When these lines are crossed, one has left the world of rationale foreign policy debate and plunged into a cesspool of fantasy, obsession, fear and irrationality," Dr. Endelman said.
As if to illustrate the speakers' themes, posters promoting an anti-war march were pasted on utility poles around the university. They feature a large portrait of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevera and promote speakers from an anti-poverty group, a socialist coalition and a pro-Palestinian organization.
The linking of anti-Semitism with the anti-globalization movement clearly upset one conference attendee, who said he is both Jewish and an activist who sucked in tear gas during anti-globalization protest rallies.
He said many Jews support the current anti-war movement, which is "protesting against the pending holocaust in Iraq."
The conference, organized by the university's Munk Centre for International Studies, continues today.