How Michael Oren realized that anti-Zionism is antisemitism

October 28, 2023 • 12:30 pm

I’ve sent this article from to several people (all sympathetic to Israel), and all of them found it one of the best articles of its kind. From the Free Press, it may be free of access, and I hope so.

Michael Oren is identified as “formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, a Knesset member, and a deputy minister of diplomacy in the prime minister’s office. For more of his writing on Israel visit his Substack, Clarity.” He also has a Wikipedia page.

This article shows his realization, after the butchery of October 7, that this wasn’t a war against Israel, but against the Jews. Most of us know that, but he writes with great style and conviction, and his own story of awakening is absorbing. Click the headline to read:

I’ll give a few excerpts:

It wasn’t the rallies with “Keep the World Clean” posters and chants of “gas the Jews.” Nor was it the glorification of Hamas paragliders by the Chicago branch of Black Lives Matter or, in New York and London, the tearing down of posters with the faces of Israeli children held hostage by Hamas. Not even the off-the-charts uptick in antisemitic incidents in Germany (240 percent), the United States (nearly 400 percent), and London (1,353 percent) convinced me.

It was, rather, one of those realizations that so many generations of Jews before me have experienced. A realization that they, like me, surely tried to push out of their minds until the reality became unmistakeable.

This war is not simply between Hamas terrorists and Israelis. It is a war against the Jews.

. . .The insight began with the international media’s coverage of the conflict. Again, it wasn’t the press’s insistence on calling mass murderers “militants” or citing Hamas and its “Health Ministry” as a reliable source. For close to fifty years—as a student activist, a diplomat, a soldier, a government and military spokesman, and above all, as a historian—I’ve grappled with the media’s bias against Israel. I’ve long known that the terrorists are “militants” solely because their victims are Jews, and only in a conflict with Israel are terrorists considered credible.

Instead, it was the media’s predictable switch from an Israel-empathetic to an Israel-demonizing narrative as the image of Palestinian suffering supplanted that of Israelis beheaded, dismembered, and burnt. It was the gnawing awareness that dead Jews buy us only so much sympathy.

In fact, there is probably a formula. Six million dead in the Holocaust procured us roughly 25 years of grace before the Europeans refused to refuel the U.S. planes bringing lifesaving munitions to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Fourteen hundred butchered Jews bought us a little less than two weeks’ worth of positive coverage.

Europeans, it’s long been said, never forgave the Jews for the Holocaust. Their guilt was collective and their antisemitism no longer socially acceptable. What a relief many of them felt when it became de rigueur to call Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians Nazi-like. Similarly, haters of Israelis can’t forgive them for being massacred by Hamas terrorists on October 7, and were relieved when, on October 17, they could go back to vilifying the “colonial apartheid state.”

If it’s a formula, it’s not linear, for taking 25 years to get over the Holocaust works out to be 657 Jews forgotten per day, while taking 10 days to get over the death of 1400 Jews (Oren dates the re-vilification of Jews to the explosion of the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital on October 17) works out to be 140 Jews forgotten per day. The rate of forgetting has slowed. (Forgive me, but I’m a scientist and had to check the calculation!) What’s important is not the rate, but the fact that Jews are blamed for their own annihilation, but it takes a while to come around to that view. Read Dara Horn’s excellent book, People Love Dead Jews


Though understandably feeling vengeful toward Hamas and their allies in Gaza, the vast majority of Israelis do not want innocent Palestinians to die. Hamas, however, places its bunkers, rocket launchers, and headquarters in civilian areas. Though Israel warns these noncombatants to evacuate, Hamas tries to prevent their flight, sometimes at gunpoint. The goal is twofold: to kill as many Israelis as possible, and to kill Palestinians to win the sympathy of the world and so that Israel can be denounced internationally for war crimes.

Hamas’s strategy is clear. Yet much of the press prefers to ignore it. Instead, it repeatedly accuses Israel of seeking to inflict the maximum number of civilian deaths and especially of children. In the media’s rendering, Israel is the new Herod butchering Palestinian innocents.

, , , ,Forgotten are the thousands of Gazans who followed Hamas terrorists through the ruptured fence into Israel where they joined in the mutilations and raping. Forgotten are the Gazans who beat and spat at a nineteen-year-old Israeli woman who was raped and paraded through their streets. Gone were Gazans who gave out candy and celebrated the slaughter of 1,400 civilians who were truly innocent.

As I wrote in the comments today, there are not two classes of Palestinians; Hamas on one hand and innocent, non-Jew-hating Palestinians on the other. Although most Palestinians don’t want Hamas in power, many of them do sympathize with Hamas. Of course that doesn’t make even the Jew-haters deserving of death, but neither does it make them free from opprobrium for hatred or for their jubilation (and dispensation of sweets) when Jews are killed. See this site for an incisive gloss on that view.

Oren holds the journalists responsible for fanning the flames of Jew hatred, and certainly that is the case: most of the liberal mainstream media, including the BBC and the New York Times, have made the conflagration worse with their reporting, particularly the NYT’s pinning the hospital explosion on Israel from the get-go. That helped get a peace summit canceled! But of course there are others responsible as well, including some American congresspeople.


But the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is purely Hamas’s fault. As a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office, in 2017–18, I was tasked with improving living conditions in Gaza. I learned how Hamas used Gaza’s water pipes to make rockets and dug tunnels under the aquifer and drained it. I learned how Hamas diverted electricity to illuminate its underground bunkers and drastically limited the supply of basic commodities to the population, keeping it dependent on the terrorists. I learned that, when it came to Hamas, everything I knew about human decency was irrelevant.

These are my responses to the journalists. They listen but are seldom, if ever, convinced. Much of the press, I’ve learned, has internalized the ultimate antisemitic myth: that Jews just have it coming.

Remember, when you shake your head in disgust when you hear that Palestinian hospitals are running out of power because of the no-longer-extant siege, remember that, at least according to the IDF, Hamas has 500,000 liters of fuel squirreled away in storage tanks.  Now the source is the IDF, but I consider them more reliable reporters than Hamas, and of course everyone knows that for years Hamas has sequestered tons of money and goods, taken from their people, to further terrorism. Why do people forget that, or that Hamas cares more for killing Jews than protecting non-terrorist Gazans?

Oren’s conclusion:

In an agonizing irony, Hamas and its supporters have succeeded where the Jews have long failed. Incontestably now, anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Hatred of the Jewish nation-state cannot be distinguished from hatred of the Jewish people. The war between Hamas and Israel, involving the largest and cruelest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, is a war against Jews everywhere. To paraphrase Holocaust historian Lucy Dawidowicz, this is the second war against the Jews.

You don’t have to be in the Middle East to see that. Any campus will do, including my own.

26 thoughts on “How Michael Oren realized that anti-Zionism is antisemitism

  1. A bit of somewhat predictable news from Old Blighty: “MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott, told the crowds at the pro-Palestine rally: “Israeli bombers have killed 3,000 Palestinian children in the last three weeks. Is that self defence?” Other speakers include ex Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and General Secretary of the RMT Mick Lynch.”

    Officially, at least, Labour apparently follows the UK government’s line that Israel has a right to self-defense against Hamas—although there are fissures within the Party (as reported in ).

  2. Since the Honourable Member asks….
    Self-defence involves destroying the enemy’s continued ability to make war on you once he starts. So yes, children dying in Gaza (however many it really is) is self-defence in the circumstances.

    Yes, anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

  3. “I’ve long known that the terrorists are “militants” solely because their victims are Jews, and only in a conflict with Israel are terrorists considered credible.” Sure enough, nobody referred to the Al Qaeda fanatics who flew the 9/11 planes into buildings merely as “militants”; and no student groups adopted a festive logo showing a plane hitting the World Trade Center. After the Bataclan massacre in Paris in 2015, how many public figures in France or elsewhere called for a ceasefire in actions against ISIL?

  4. I know it is a Saturday weekend afternoon, but I hope more people are reading Michael Oren’s column than what is reflected in the few comments thus far. He certainly reflects a horrible, sinking feeling and realization that I am suddenly aware of as a Jew who has grown up in America over the exact 75 years of Israel’s existence.

  5. “Europeans, it’s long been said, never forgave the Jews for the Holocaust. ” I had never heard of that statement, and yet it really jolted me.
    At some recent times, I’ve wavered in my views a bit after seeing blocks and blocks of ruined buildings in Gaza. Of course those meant many innocent, or innocent enough lives that were lost. ‘Surely there is such a thing as a proportional response?,’ I would think. But although I cannot be sure if this or that individual building might have been spared, Hamas is interwoven in that society at all levels, and underground it too. The free world (and all of us in it) lacked the will to prevent its metastasis. We even funded the damn thing, in a way.
    My fellow lefties who are to the left of me who are only decrying the destruction of Palestinians have taken the easy way out. The lazy but feel-good-about-myself way out. The bandaid must be ripped away.

    1. “My fellow lefties who are to the left of me who are only decrying the destruction of Palestinians have taken the easy way out. The lazy but feel-good-about-myself way out.”

      Astute evaluation, IMO.

  6. Jerry, would you please follow what, if anything, happens to UChicago “dean on call” Shevvy Booze, who allegedly took no action to assure the freedom of speech of the legal holders of the forum discussion on the terrorist attack on Israel, and, moreover apparently supported the disrupters in both action and attire. She appears to be a pretty low level official (an assistant director of residence hall life – not a titled dean) to be assigned this important duty. I am getting the feeling that the new administration is not as serious about freedom of speech and ideas as was that of President Bob Zimmer. The delay in getting the panels from the kick-off of the new Chicago Forum posted on you tube…only the first, welcoming panel which featured the president has been posted with the full second day of panels still in an edit phase according to the university services people, when I inquired… is an example.

  7. I think the lack of comments here is that most don’t want to wade into the controversy, and I myself am hesitant to do so. And I certainly admit to a lack of expertise in Mideast history and politics.

    I am in fact reluctantly in favor of Israel’s land invasion of Gaza. There can be no peace as long as Hamas has free reign there. To ask that Israel not do so is to ask its people to accept and forgive the murder of its own people in order to protect the people in the territory that attacked first. This is the inevitable result when one state starts a war with another.

    The politics and history however is murkier. Israel has pursued policies that have treated Palestinians unfairly, particularly in taking settlement land and resources, particularly water. But even more fundamental is the very idea of Israel, and this is where one can make a distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The former is the belief that Jews have an inherent right to the land, and when the country was established, it was justifiable to expel people already living there. The reclamation of that land is the rallying cause of Hamas and all the other militant groups. And the justification of the taking of land, particularly the settlements, is at least partly driven by religious dogma, in a country that is increasingly moving toward a rigid theocracy.

    One can be not anti-Semitic but still be opposed to the existence of a Zionist state. In an ideal world, one shouldn’t have to segregate one cultural group from all others for its own protection, and if that rationale were correct, then why wouldn’t other cultural groups get their own countries?

    Of course the reality is that Jews in particular have rarely been allowed to exist in peace within other cultures, and have suffered more pogroms than most other groups, at least among caucasians. Native Americans and Rwandan Tutsis suffered worse.

    The reality, I’m sure is vastly more complicated, and what’s done is done in terms of the establishment of Israel, but this is why no one can find a solution. As much as I understand the need to eradicate Hamas, it’s unrealistic to expect that that will solve everything, or even anything. There are no good choices anymore, only least bad ones.

    1. >Native Americans and Rwandan Tutsis suffered worse.

      No. That’s just not true. About 800,000 Tutsis were massacred in the single Rwandan genocide following the civil war. The number of Native Americans deliberately killed is not knowable explicitly, least of all by me, a foreigner. There have been attempts to exaggerate the number of aboriginals living off the land in North America pre-contact, to make the reduction in numbers since contact look more dastardly. There were massacres that everyone knows about but most deaths were due to European diseases and starvation after the bison herds stopped coming. It would be a big stretch to claim that more natives died of all causes in the 5+ centuries since Columbus than Jews died during the 12 years of the Third Reich alone.

  8. I have had an interest in Jewish culture and a bit of history since reading Anne Frank in high school. That was long ago.

    It’s been clear to me for many years that the relative tranquility that Jews were made “to purchase” with the Holocaust was melting away. And now it’s largely gone.

    There should be no question that “occupier” is simply another way of saying destroy Israel and Kill Jews…everywhere.

    And things crystallized resolutely for me when I started to hear about “equity”, which is an all out war on merit. But something more subtle at work: Judaism is a highly dialectical religion (think Talmud) and “wokeness” “intersectionality” are highly fundamentalist, hence their horror of argument.

    Jews, arguably the most maligned group of people in history, have been extraordinarily successful in the United State and elsewhere….and yet a group who has suffered sans pareil. And the main claim to marginalization and justification for relaxation of standards is suffering. Jews’s success throws that equation into question.

    The resentment and hate against them have no bounds….

      1. Of course, a significant majority of those calling for “decolonization” are living in the US (and aren’t American Indians). Reckon the Israelis could get away with offering a meaningless land acknowledgment or two? (Not that they’d need to, given their actual historical roots FFS!)

  9. “The reclamation of that land is the rallying cause of Hamas…” Not exactly. That might
    be the rallying cause of the Palestinian Authority, but Hamas, as Islamic Resistance makes a more expansive claim. The Hamas Covenant, Article 11: “Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?
    This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement.”

    Thus, the issue is not a mere land dispute (which could be negotiated), but a matter of eschatology and religious obligation. And one which applies, explicitly, to a few other places, including the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, parts of southern modern-day France and Italy, etc. etc.

    1. Yes, you’re right, which is why I agree that the eradication of Hamas is essential to any hope for peace. But then what about Hezbollah, and whatever arises from their ashes if they are eradicated.

      1. Since Hezballah means “Party of God”, I guess the only answer to the question “what about Hezballah?” is that God only knows.

        We have long told ourselves that things like that would dwindle as societies just modernized. Yet Lebanon is a relatively modernized Arab country, once a financial hub of sorts, and famous as the home country of traders. I don’t know the answer to the question, but part of the answer (recall also Al Qaeda and ISIS and Al Shabaab and Boko Haram) seems to fall under the heading of “Islamophobia”.

        On the other hand, Germany was as modernized as any country in 1933. Maybe there is something badly lacking in our formulaic picture of “modernization”. ???

        1. Yes, it appears that the commonality is a real or perceived injustice, which evolves into alienation from society, no matter how modern, which justifies any level of violence. We can see the beginnings of such groups in the US and in other advanced countries.

  10. Oren is so right. Hamas’s actions have unmasked latent antisemitism around the world, such that Jews everywhere are now at risk.

  11. There is a think with this article that seriously irritates me:
    It is the presumption that Europeans – and Germans in particular – should still feel guilt for the Holocaust.
    I am a German and my parents were not yet born when this abhorrent crime was perpetrated. Why should I feel guilt? Guilt is for the guilty and I cannot find any rational way why I should be guilty of the Holocaust.

    I rather feel a responsibility or duty due to my heritage. A duty to try and prevent a repeat of this particular stretch of history. To prevent authoritarian regimes fanning hate against sub-groups of people, killing them en masse.
    A responsibility to prevent a rewriting of the past in order to glorify bloody parts of history and to face the crimes of our ancestors perpetrated in a different cultural environment.

    Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by many definitions of Zionism (often as an antisemitic trope). The ambiguity surrounding these two terms makes is really hard to criticize Israel – both its concept and its actions. I want to stress, that in relative terms, Israel is by far the good side in this conflict. With that, I would like to present two criticisms regarding Israel:

    1) From everything I have read, the establishment of Israel wasn’t a clean affair. The Holocaust was terrible, but it doesn’t justify the Nakba. The Nakba is a justified cause for grievance – especially in the face of the poverty the descendants of the displaced face. However, it was done in a time where might-makes-right was more widely accepted and it was two generations ago.
    It doesn’t mean that Palestinians have a moral right to land and property in Israel, anymore than I have a moral right to property in the Czech republic, where my grand-parents were displaced from by the Red Army. However, when I read about things like Israel banning mentions of the Nakba in school books and similar measures to sweep the suffering caused under the rug, I think that Israel as a nation is not doing a good job owning up to the suffering its creation caused.

    2) Israel as a Jewish state brings baggage. If you take “Jewish” as a reference religion, then it’s akin to the Islamic Republic of Iran. If Poland would turn into the “Catholic Nation of Poland” many people – me included – would be very uneasy. It’s even worse, when you take the ethnic meaning of “Jewish”.

    The Jewish people have suffered massively under the envy and hate of others – there is no doubt about that. Transforming the suffering of your ancestors into an entitlement to sympathy and support is exploitative. The calculation of X “Jews forgotten per day” is exactly this cynical transformation of suffering. Does the German holocaust memorial post stories of suffering on a daily basis because their death has been forgotten? But it must have been, because European governments didn’t support the war effort of Israel. Isn’t that exactly the conflation of Israels and Jews that makes an honest discussion so difficult.
    Israel is free to do whatever it deems right and in the face of Hamas it has a lot of leeway in my book. Israel shines due to the contrast with Hamas. When viewed on its own, there are many blemishes – just as with every nation, since none is perfect.

    1. I fully agree with your two first paragraphs, the first saying that the guilty were the perpetrators, not their descendants. And I agree with the second: that the descendants (in any nation) have a responsibility to guard against repeating of the crimes of their ancestors. (Which is why it’s so jarring to hear on the streets of Germany shouts “Death to Israel” or “Jews to the gas”.)

      About your first point. The term “Nakba” was first used by a Syrian historian who used it to describe the result of the war of five Arab armies against the nascent Israel. It was an accusation against the Arabs, not Jews! Jews accepted the division of the land, but Arabs rejected it and started the invasion of a one-day-old Israel. Even previously (between the UN’s Resolution in November 1947 and the declaration of Israeli independence in May 1948), rich Arabs left the country to wait out the war in neighbouring countries, and later Arab authorities urged Arab Palestinians to leave their homes in order to give the coming Arab armies a free hand to crush Jews. The “refugees” were promised to be able to return in a week or two to a land free of Jews. But Israelis did expel some of Palestinian Arabs – those who fought against them with weapons in hand. Arabs who didn’t fight and wanted to stay were left alone. The false meaning now given to “Nakba” – forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs by the mighty Jewish army – is rightly forbidden to teach in Israeli schools.

      All suffering attending the creation of Israel falls on the Arab leadership (like today’s suffering of Gaza’s inhabitants is on Hamas’s head). Had Arabs NOT started their war against the nascent Israel there would be not be a single Arab refugee! Which is not to say that there were no crimes committed by Jews during the War of Independence. There is no army in the world in which some soldiers or units do not commit crimes.

      Point 2): Being a Jew has both religious, ethnic and cultural dimensions. And each facet can designate a person “a Jew”, even without the other two. I am an atheist, my culture is Polish and still I am a Jew because all my ancestors were Jews. Israel is a Jewish state, which does not mean that it’s a religious state. It consists of all sorts of Jews. As a Polish Jew I can assure you that is has nothing in common with the idea of a “Catholic Nation of Poland”

      Criticizing Israel is very easy. As long as you do not demonize, defame and delegitimize it, you can criticize it like you criticize any other country in the world without any fear of being called an antisemite.

      1. Germany is cracking down against open hate – which is by the vast majority from what I can tell propagated by the Muslim German population. I’m afraid that they are cracking down a bit too hard, since it plays into the murmurs of “special treatment” on the far right – a trope that has been fuels in parts by the expectation of guilt and the demands that come with it perpetrated by parts of the Jewish community in e.g. Germany.

        Regarding 1) the Nakba:
        It’s interesting to hear another side, since the one given on e.g. Wikipedia does a poor job. However, given the demographics I’m highly doubtful that Israel could have been a Jewish state if those fleeing the war (not fighting) had been allowed to return. A sweeping statement like “All suffering…falls on the Arab leadership” seems exceedingly bold.

        Regarding 2)
        I’m aware of those dimensions, not at least since you were the one elaborating them for me in another thread (thank you again). However, none of these dimensions makes Israel look good. The ethnic angle probably being the worst (nobody wants to see a Germany make itself about being specifically for those of German heritage – that’s exactly the Neo-Nazi’s thesis in Germany). The cultural angle also has severe problems; problems harshly critizised by the Jewish community in Germany, when the conservatives wanted to codify a “lead culture” (Leitkultur) for the nation that other cultures in Germany should assimilate into.

        Your bounds of critique for Israel strongly depend on your subjective judgement of “defame” in particular. Am I defaming/delegitimizing Israel for criticizing it’s “Jewish” focus? I can agree to demonize, but the other two bounds can and have been weaponized before – with many examples in German political discourse (though that has died down in the last decade). A recent example being the discourse around reparation demands against Germany for the atrocity and botched response around the Munich games.

        1. Israel was created to provide a REFUGE for those people who were subject to harassment and pogroms wherever they went; the state was necessary because Jews were persecuted no matter where they went. That didn’t happen to Germans, as you know. State after state without an ethnic majority has fractured (e.g., Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia).

          As Malgorzata said, yes, people are ignorant of history, and don’t know that most Arabs left Israel, a legally constituted state, because they were told to leave by the Arab states attacking Israel or were attacking the nascent state.

          Frankly, I don’t care about whether Israel “looks good” to you. It was formed to serve as a home for refugees and it served its purpose.

          This discussion has reached its terminus.

  12. So I’m playing with a half thought through miasma of an idea.
    1. The Jewish people have endured discrimination and pograms and forced diasporas from Europeans and Islamic peoples off and on for at least two plus millennia.
    2. During challenging times, some leaders have targeted their Jewish residents to be the scapegoats for civic unrest, ensuring the leaders and members of their class, let’s call them the elites, aren’t the targets instead. The Holocaust was a possible example that broke through the usual boundaries of a pogram when Germany began conquering countries with large Jewish populations.
    3. The young elites in Europe and America are being taught two political science theories in their expensive schools and colleges; critical theories based on perceived group inequalities and Marxist? theories basing human dynamics on oppressor/oppressed groupings. These theories are inculcated in young elites while they are young enough to believe that their feelings about issues are more important than trying to think through the implications of their ideas.
    4. Young American elites have lived through covid, George Floyd, and Donald Trump. And now another war in the Middle East. Their emotions are unsettled and their cerebral cortexes are not yet fully mature.
    5. Under the oppressor/oppressed paradigm they’ve been taught, some oppressor group or groups are responsible for all these maladies. Since the elite have always tried to get the great unwashed to scapegoat each other rather than the folks with the most resources, themselves, American academic, cultural, and economic elites have turned to the Jewish people to take the fall one more time.
    6. So yes, the Jewish people are in peril again, this time from Americans as well as Europeans and members of Islamic nations.

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