The original article, in Swedish, was published on 8 November 2023 as part of the LU Newsletter Apropå.
Every violent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has led to an increase in antisemitism in many countries. This is also the case with the current war between Israel and Hamas, argues Svante Lundgren, a historian of religion with a focus on the Middle East.
– This is nothing new and has been going on for decades. Every time things heat up in the Middle East, there is activity here too. Now, however, the fighting is more extensive and risks lasting longer, which in itself can also strengthen antisemitism in parts of the world, says Svante Lundgren.
Increased Hatred and Violence
A 2016 study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights shows that events in Israel and Palestine have an impact on antisemitism in Europe, particularly in Western Europe, such as increased hatred and violence against Jewish institutions. However, Hungary and Poland are not affected to the same extent.
– In Hungary and Poland, there is a historical antisemitism that is not directly linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Western Europe, antisemitism is often related to the conflict, partly because of larger populations with roots in the Middle East, but also because we have addressed the more traditional antisemitism, says Svante Lundgren.
The Living History Forum ("Forum för levande historia") has investigated antisemitism in Sweden in two reports published in 2005 and 2020. The results showed that traditional antisemitism, which focuses on Jews as a group having a special position of power, is relatively weak in Sweden. However, more than one in five agree with the statement that "Israel's policy is characterised by a desire for revenge rooted in the Old Testament". According to the Living History Forum, this statement is an example of antisemitism related to Israel.
Criticism of Israel or Antisemitism
"From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" is a controversial and commonly used slogan referring to the area between the Jordan River ("river") and the Mediterranean Sea ("sea"). The area described geographically covers both Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Defenders of the slogan claim that its purpose is to express a political position in favour of Palestinian self-determination and not a position against Jews as a people. The slogan can be favourably interpreted as a call to create a free Palestine where Christians, Muslims and Jews can live in harmony, says Svante Lundgren:
– However, many interpret it as meaning that the Jews should be expelled from the area and Israel should cease to exist. With that interpretation - that they want to destroy Israel - it is unambiguously antisemitic.
So where is the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism?
– Criticising Israel's policy towards Palestinians or questioning the proportionality of its response to the terror attack is not antisemitic. Antisemitism begins when criticism takes on demonising forms, such as invoking old myths about bloodthirsty Jews who enjoy killing children. Or when, like Fridays for Future, it suggests that the media is brainwashing people in the West, which is based on the antisemitic idea of Jewish media control, says Svante Lundgren.
More Perspectives from LU Researchers
Researchers from Lund University regularly contribute to the news site The Conversation, which publishes articles on a wide range of topics.
Here are examples of articles on the topic of Israel and Palestine: