In recent years numerous studies have shown that anti-Semitism is growing in some European countries and that its strongest foundation is within three groups: the extreme right, Islamist circles, and parts of the left. The increased appearance of, and tolerance toward, anti-Semitic attitudes and notions within the left is often said to be visible primarily in the media. It has frequently been argued that events in the Middle East are what “trigger” (or rather revive latent) anti-Semitic attitudes and notions, which often find expression in otherwise legitimate criticism of the state of Israel.

This was the background to a study conducted by the author in the fall of 2007 at the department of history of the University of Uppsala, Sweden. The aim of the research was to ascertain whether or not anti-Semitic attitudes and notions could be found in the reports and opinions expressed during the period of the war between Israel and Hezbollah, and the fighting in Gaza, in the summer of 2006. This was done by analyzing the content of the Swedish newspapers Aftonbladet (Social Democrat), Arbetaren (Syndicalist), Broderskap (Social Democrat), Flamman (Socialist), Folket i Bild/Kulturfront (Socialist), Internationalen (Trotskyite), Proletären (Marxist-Leninist), and RiktpunKt (Marxist-Leninist) between 12 July 2006 and 21 August 2006. Of primary interest were the presence and nature, rather than frequency or changes over time, of any attitudes and notions expressed in these newspapers.

These eight newspapers were chosen because they cover a large proportion of the left-wing spectrum of Swedish politics. The two Social Democratic newspapers-Aftonbladet and Broderskap-are both closely linked to Sweden’s biggest party in 2006, the then-governing Swedish Workers Party (SAP), and therefore (unlike the rest of the newspapers) support an inner-parliamentary policy. Aftonbladet (majority-owned by Landsorganisationen, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation) is Sweden’s biggest, and some would argue most influential, newspaper, while Broderskap is the body of the Christian Social Democratic Association of Sweden (SKSF). This dynamic makes an analysis of the content of these two newspapers in comparison to the remaining, more radical, and relatively small ones of even greater interest.

The results of the study strongly suggest that a phenomenon detected in a number of European countries can be found in Sweden as well: all of the eight newspapers of the Swedish left analyzed contained (albeit in different forms and quantities) anti-Semitic attitudes and notions, and/or a deeply problematic form of anti-Zionism which bears a kinship to certain anti-Semitic beliefs.

“The United Kingdom has been a European leader in several areas of antisemitism in the new century. It holds a pioneering position in promoting academic boycotts of Israel. The same is true for trade-union efforts at economic boycotts.

“Although the anti-Zionist narrative is worldwide and widespread in the European Union, this discourse in the UK probably exceeds that of most other Western societies. Thus antisemitism has achieved a degree of resonance, particularly in elite opinion, that makes the country a leader in encouraging discriminatory attitudes. Trotskyites who infiltrated the Labour Party and the trade unions back in the 1980s are an important factor in spreading this poison.”

Prof. Robert Wistrich holds the Neuberger Chair for Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since 2002 he has been director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at that university and has been vigorously involved in the struggle against its inroads.

He adds: “There is also no other Western society where jihadi radicalism has proved as violent and dangerous as in the UK. Although antisemitism is not the determining factor in this extremism, it plays a role. This Islamist radicalism has helped shape the direction of overall antisemitism in the UK.

“Another pioneering role of the UK, especially in the area of anti-Israelism is the longstanding bias in BBC reporting and commentary about the Jewish world and Israel in particular. Double standards have long been a defining characteristic of its Middle East coverage. This has had debilitating consequences. The BBC plays a special role owing to its long-established prestige as a news source widely considered to be objective. It carries a weight beyond that of any other Western media institution.

“One characteristic of English antisemitism has been its often understated nature, in keeping with British tradition. That makes it more effective because one does not become aware of it so easily. One example among many is the British journalist Richard Ingrams, who was editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye for twenty-three years starting in the 1960s. He once wrote in the Observer that he threw away unread all correspondence he received from people with Jewish names regarding the Middle East because, he thought, they must be biased on the subject. If someone were to tell him he is an antisemite he would, of course, reject that. But would he publicly write the same thing about Arab correspondents?”

The wave of global anti-Semitism that erupted in 2000 prompted an array of studies and conferences, most notably an international conference in Berlin in April 2004, sponsored by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In the United States, advocates of American governmental action against anti-Semitism sought to use the momentum from the Berlin conference on anti-Semitism to bring about a new U.S. approach to the problem.

In a potentially significant gesture, the Bush administration named former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch to head the U.S. delegation to Berlin. Although Koch had endorsed George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, he remained a staunch Democrat and his appointment therefore seemed to signal the administration’s interest in defining the fight against anti-Semitism as a bipartisan effort.

Secretary of State Colin Powell at first did not intend to participate in the Berlin conference. Subsequently, at the urging of Rep. Tom Lantos (Dem., California), Powell agreed to take part. Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, strongly believed Powell’s involvement was necessary to “give the issue of European anti-Semitism the high-level attention it needs and deserves.”  Indeed, “all eyes followed [Powell] wherever he went,” a member of the U.S. delegation to the conference later recalled. “With his presence, the glamour and prestige of the Conference increased exponentially and made it clear that there would be meaningful results and not just talk.”

Powell went further in his remarks than the usual general condemnations of anti-Semitism made at such events. He declared, “It is not anti-Semitic to criticize the policies of the state of Israel, [b]ut the line is crossed when Israel or its leaders are demonized or vilified, for example by the use of Nazi symbols and racist caricatures.”Powell’s statement represented the first time the U.S. government officially recognized the Israel-Nazi analogy as crossing the line between legitimate criticism and outright bigotry.

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