The spike in Jew-bullying since Israel’s confrontation with Hamas last month has resolved the decades-long debate about whether anti-Zionism blurs into anti-Semitism. By targeting kosher restaurants, defacing synagogues and beating visible Jews, the haters clearly target Jews and Israelis as one.
The storm has been so fierce that when CBS ‘ John Dickerson asked far-left Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) about the growing use of the word “apartheid” to demonize Israel, Sanders advised : “We should tone down the rhetoric.” As some progressives unfairly view Israel’s national conflict with Palestinians through an overly simplistic racial prism , Israel’s harshest critics have mainstreamed an even more poisonous phrase, this time straight out of the Nazi handbook—”Jewish supremacy.”
Jew-haters’ obsession about Jewish “power,” as Jews endured centuries of powerlessness and persecution, proves that Jew-hatred, the world’s oldest hatred , is also the most plastic hatred —artificial, fungible and sometimes lethal. Jews have been persecuted for being rich and poor, Marxist and capitalist, fitting in too much and standing out too much. Nazis justified their mass murder of Jews by escalating the canard about Jews controlling the world into a struggle against “Jewish supremacy.”
In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler warned Germans against “the movement for expanding Jewish power on a wider scale and finally subjugating the world to its rule.” Hitler claimed that, following the Great War—World War I—the Jews’ “work of destruction now goes ahead more quickly, reducing one State after another to a mass of ruins on which they will erect the everlasting and sovereign Jewish Empire.” That is why, Hitler believed, “by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
Nearly two decades later, Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels noted: “The Führer is of the opinion” that, in seeking domination, the Jews were following “a strong racial instinct that always leads them to the actions shown throughout their entire history.” The Nazi propaganda rag Der Stürmer railed against “Jewish mastery,” while Washington’s Holocaust Museum houses a photograph of a Hitler Youth proclamation that “Adolf Hitler bricht mit seiner Bewegung die jüdische Vorherrschaft,” translating to “Hitler breaks Jewish supremacy with his movement.”
In 2003, on his way to becoming America’s leading white supremacist, David Duke also adopted this theme. In Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening to the Jewish Question , Duke describes his maturation as an adult who started wondering: “What was it…about the Jewish people that inspired such hate” over millennia? After dishonestly cherry-picking certain biblical and Talmudic selections, he blamed “Jewish supremacism”—which he defined as “Jewish chauvinism, suspicion and anger against Gentiles.”
Just as Hitler considered Zionism an attempt to build “a central organization for [Jews’] international world swindle, …a haven for convicted scoundrels and a university for budding crooks,” Duke also deemed Zionism to be a launching pad for Jewish power. Duke asserted: “I would have to defend my people from the intolerant sector within the Jewish community that seeks domination rather than conciliation.”
There is no justification whatsoever for resurrecting this horrific Nazi term to now slander Zionism. Beyond the millions who were tortured and murdered based on this vile lie, the term remains rooted in an obsessive, distorting hatred of the Jewish people. Zionism is simply Jewish nationalism. Like all nationalisms—in fact, like all expressions of a particular identity—it necessarily distinguishes between “us” and “them.” That’s what Palestinian nationalism and Black nationalism do, what feminism and queer pride do, and what Americanism and Canadianism do as well. But commonality isn’t superiority; celebrating the bonds that form a community builds up the “us” without necessarily denigrating the “them.”
If Zionists were Jewish supremacists echoing white supremacy, apartheid or Nazism, Israel would treat every Arab equally—equally harshly, that is. The State of Israel’s relationship with Arabs varies, from its Arab-Israeli citizens to its new Abraham Accords friends to its Palestinian neighbors. Israel’s relationship varies with different groups of Palestinians too, whether they live in Gaza, in East Jerusalem, in the Galilee or in Jordan. These variations based on differing jurisdictions prove that these are political and national questions, not racial and ethical ones. Israel adjust its relationships based on all kinds of changing political dynamics. And the notion that Israel treats all Arabs—in fact, all non-Jews—equally contemptuously as do racists is a grotesque lie.
Words matter. In popularizing the phrase “Jewish supremacy,” Palestinian supporters—including dozens of woke Jewish studies and Israel studies professors—continue to try piggybacking on America’s racial reckoning and the West’s necessary fight against white supremacy. They are also continuing the broader campaign to demonize Zionism and Israel—dooming any peace efforts with slashing, delegitimizing rhetoric. So the next time Israel-bashers want to use “Jewish supremacy,” be honest about its true origins: Use the ugly, demonizing, blood-drenched phrase in the original German, die jüdische Vorherrschaft.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.