For starters, see if you can find yourself in the forward to Fiamma Nirenstein’s new book, “Jewish Lives Matter – Human Rights and Antisemitism,” published online today by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
“More than it is a book, this is an open letter that expresses my utter bewilderment,” she writes. “I was angry and taken aback while pouring out these words, surrounded by a heap of scattered papers and books written by myself and others, who like myself have dealt with antisemitism throughout the years. Years in which antisemitism should have disappeared, but has instead increased and now is a huge phenomenon. We have failed!
“My anger is fueled by pain: I have already explained extensively how antisemitism has turned into hatred of Israel, but this is the first time I see my own friends falling prey – slowly and without realizing it, because they are decent people – to an alien antisemitic spirit. A spirit that has worked its way into their mindset precisely in the name of the good things in which they believe, that is, human rights.
“I never thought that those whom I deemed friends could have been gripped by such an instinctive repulsion for the most important manifestation of the Jewish people, Israel. Instead, this hostility is strong and completely shameless, which is also a new phenomenon. Therefore, I sat down and wrote in order not only to respond to the accusations, but also to accuse.”
Fiamma Nirenstein (born in Florence in 1945) is an Italian-Israeli journalist, author, and politician. Her father, Alberto Nirenstein, came to Italy as part of the Jewish Brigade and met his future wife Wanda Lattes, a partisan. Fiamma grew up in a leftist political environment, but her views began to change after the Six Day War. During the war, she was a volunteer in Kibbutz Neot Mordechai, in northern Israel. In 1993 and 1994 Nirenstein was the director of the Cultural Institute in the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
In 2008, Nirenstein was elected to the Italian Parliament on Silvio Berlusconi’s The People of Freedom party slate. In May 2013, she made Aliyah. In 2015, she was nominated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the future ambassador to Italy but withdrew her own nomination for personal reasons. She is a Senior Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which published her new book, and is a leading columnist for the Italian daily Il Giornale.
In “Jewish Lives Matter,” Nirenstein poses a blunt question: Why did the May 2021 Gaza war, in which Hamas fired more than three thousand rockets at Israel’s civilian population, spark a worldwide uproar of antisemitism as Israel was subjected to intense scrutiny for defending itself?
Nirenstein’s powerful analysis traces the post-Holocaust emergence of a new, virulent, Israel-focused, antisemitism. She challenges the world at large – and the human rights community in particular – to remove its blinders and finally see Israel as a democracy compelled to fight back and as a fulfillment of age-old Jewish aspirations, and its enemies as aggressors bent on its utter destruction.
In a segment titled, “Double Standards and Impunity” (p. 32), Nirenstein writes:
“No levelheaded person can truly believe that Israel can be comparable to Nazi Germany or the racist apartheid of South Africa. Simply uttering this, shouting it in the streets, or writing it in the newspapers, is an admission of bad faith even by those who claim to care about Palestinian lives. The anti-Israeli hate machine can be defined as a specific pathological phenomenon. It hurls unfounded accusations against Israel, legalized by the frantic votes of condemnation of international institutions such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that ignore infinitely more serious violations throughout the world.
“The hate machine seeks to delegitimize the very existence of the Jewish state. How can it be that in the 15 years of its existence the UN Human Rights Council has condemned a democracy like Israel 95 times and Iran 10 times? It is frustrating that self-proclaimed democrats who condemn Israel fail to acknowledge the human rights abuses perpetrated by Hamas, along with its Islamist oppression and its racist, anti-Semitic discourse. In addition, it is disheartening that they don’t take the time to read its charter, which seeks the subjugation of the West while killing Jews.”
“…We don’t hear any calls for Hamas to show restraint, to lay down their arms, to renounce terrorism, or to amend their murderous charter filled with deadly vilification of Israel, and this is part and parcel of the lack of criticism of the Palestinians in general. It also goes unnoticed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as soon as the Biden administration restored American aid, immediately dished out $42,000 “to complete the agreed payment” to the family of a terrorist who killed two Israelis and wounded two others, including a two-year-old child. Palestinians can do whatever they want, and when in 2020 French president Emmanuel Macron went to greet Abbas during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, the big conference on anti-Semitism, it didn’t occur to him to explain that he shouldn’t have outbursts about “filthy Jewish feet” contaminating sacred sites of Arab Jerusalem.”
In the segment, “Today’s Novelty: Full-Blown Anti-Semitism Directed at Israel,” Nirenstein writes:
“…It must be understood that there is something very special about anti-Semitism. It is a crazed urge to say something terrible without having to adhere to the truth or examining any evidence. In this regard, the blood-libel accusation during the Middle Ages is the same as the genocide accusation against Israel today: they are demented inventions that nevertheless work. The repugnant accusation – still heard today – that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children at Passover to obtain blood for unleavened bread is analogous to the accusation that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians. The demand for the Palestinians to renounce this absurd claim should come from the Arab world itself. The idiocy of such accusations proves their ideological origin; in reality, a Palestinian population of 700,000 in 1948 has grown to around six million today.”
In “Confusing ‘Narrative’ with Historical Truth,” she explains:
“When anti-Israeli antisemitism went from being an unspeakable implication to a weapon used in newspaper headlines and public speeches, even some Jewish journalists and intellectuals accepted this shameful international practice without batting an eye, worried about being accused, in concert with Israel, of human rights violations. In a word, they have accepted the idea that Israel should be considered fundamentally racist, an apartheid state, even murderous, and that Jews should wash themselves of any association with it by renouncing Zionism. Many have hoisted, as in the past, the flag of a Judaism that is obligatorily linked to liberal-progressive or even communist values. Why did this happen? The reasons are mainly historical and not philosophical or religious. Following the Nazi-fascist persecutions, Jews found a home and a sense of belonging on the left, and for this, they are certainly not to be blamed because it was a reaction to the thought, power, and deeds of Nazism-fascism and the extreme right.
“Quite another thing is the delegitimization of Israeli policy based on the canard that it swerves dangerously to the right. As long as Netanyahu was prime minister he suffered systematic denigration by the media and much of public opinion despite his respect for the judicial system, the law, and parliamentary procedures.”
Despite her harsh and authentic view of today’s anti-Israel antisemitic machine, Nirenstein’s conclusion is optimistic:
“First and foremost, however, it is the Jews and Israel who must hold their heads high and not be intimidated by the abundance and violence of the accusations we have discussed here. It’s hard, but fighting antisemitism is essential. Jews themselves must be outraged and organize more, without fear, regardless of ideological convictions or moral preferences, mustering the magnificent vitality that has guided them through a thousand difficulties over the centuries until they not only reached a safe haven but also returned home to the State of Israel.
“They indeed hold in their hands the key to their own salvation, which is the ultimate answer to antisemitism: to accept themselves and not be afraid of being Jewish, and to respond blow by blow to the calumnies hurled against them.”