ANALYSIS - Antisemitism and terrorism: Purposely vague concepts that conceal Israel’s state violence

There is a Sword of Damocles hanging over the world’s head and it has been protecting Israel using ambiguous terms

Dr. M. Tacettin Kutay   | 03.06.2021
ANALYSIS - Antisemitism and terrorism: Purposely vague concepts that conceal Israel’s state violence

*The author is a researcher at the Turkish-German University (TAU). His research focuses on political psychology, secularization theories, religion and science, and occidental culture


Israel is an amorphous entity unlike any other state in the world because of its structure, which is built in such a way that race, religion, and the state are completely intertwined. This uniqueness grants it the luxury of possessing defense mechanisms that the rest of the world does not have.

Israel’s unique defense mechanism is built on three distinct types of violence. The first one is the “violence of action”. Israel, which has the luxury of receiving the ripest fruits of the modern arms industry before they are even available on the global market, is a state so spoiled that it can use these weapons against civilian populations with absolute impunity, thanks to the Western world’s recognition of it as an actor whose legitimacy is absolute and cannot be called into question. This is Israel’s power of action based on brute force. The Western media portrays it as invincible to the rest of the world. The fact that the Iron Dome, which had been touted to be invincible for a long time, was shown to be not so impregnable after all has severely tarnished the image of invincibility produced in the international arena. But no matter how tarnished this image may have become, the real basis of Israel’s power of action is that it is regarded as a state that inherently has the right to enjoy the privilege of using conventional weapons indiscriminately and without consequence. The consistently high rates of civilian and child casualties in its attacks, as well as the fact that this has been going on for decades, indicate that the murders in question are not committed by mistake, but rather as part of a deliberate strategy. This absence of accountability turns into a force multiplier, which bolsters Israel’s ability to act.

The second type of force on which Israel builds its defense mechanism is what we could call “instrumental violence”. I should point out that I use the aforementioned terms based on the classification made by the famous German Sociologist Heinrich Popitz. Instrumental violence is used to describe a kind of power that was gained by scaring the opponents with threats and intimidation rather than the person or institution involved projecting that power itself. What allows this power to exist in this manner is that Israel is constantly given endless credit by the international community, whose key players absorb and neutralize the impact of any criticism or threat directed at Israel before even Israel has to respond.

The third force on which Israel builds its defense mechanism is “authoritative violence”. This type of violence, which is founded on the acceptance of the existence of certain norms, aims to restrain people from crossing certain boundaries. Today, the most powerful component of Israel’s defense mechanism is authoritative defense.

There are two particular terms used to confront all kinds of criticism and defense directed at Israel. These terms are also used to condemn anyone who is trying to defend themselves physically or morally against the state violence that Israel indulges in. These two terms are “anti-Semitism” and “terrorism”. It is not necessary to explain in detail the power of these concepts and the severity of the sanctions that could be imposed through them. What we do need to understand and make sense of, however, is the source of the power of these concepts.

These two concepts that reinforce Israel’s authoritative violence get their strength from uncertainty and ambiguity. The boundaries of both of these concepts are extremely vague; it is hard to tell where they begin and where they end. Therefore, any anti-Israel discourse can only be expressed by taking a huge risk in the face of this ambiguity. Anyone can be labeled an anti-Semite as soon as they remark, “Israel is killing babies.” The concept of antisemitism was originally defined as hostility towards the Jewish race and could be classified as racism. When this definition, as it was originally, proved insufficient for Israel to exploit as a shield, its scope began to expand indefinitely. Though the term has expanded politically, it has shrunk in terms of race. While hostility towards Arabs, who are also a Semitic people, is not included in the definition of antisemitism, criticisms of Israel are almost invariably interpreted as antisemitism since the concept has been consistently expanding in the political field.

The same is true of the concept of terrorism. Anyone who defends themselves against Israel or supports a child who throws stones at an Israeli soldier who is shooting at him risks being labeled a terrorist. Therefore, standing against these two concepts puts you in a precarious position, where you would find yourself fighting against invisible forces. Opposing these two ambiguous concepts is just as predictable and calculable as fighting demons and evil spirits. And for the modern individual, who is so concerned with their reputation, criticizing Israel can be the most difficult thing to do. This is why artists, thinkers and writers in the West and Turkey very rarely speak out on the matter, and when they do, it is usually in the form of meaninglessly neutral wishes for peace. There is a Sword of Damocles hanging over the world’s head and it has been protecting Israel using ambiguous terms.

Fremdschämen & Schadenfreude

Protecting Israel through such ambiguous terms has a Eurocentric cultural background. The German word Fremdschämen means “to feel shame for someone else’s deeds”. The word is unique to German, because any other language would need a compound word or a sentence to convey this concept. At the same time, the word, as a concept, has a powerful impact on German culture. The inhumane process initiated by the government of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), notoriously known as the Nazi Party, resulted in the death of millions of innocent Jews. The Nuremberg trials revealed that many Nazi “leftovers” felt little regret for the atrocities they perpetrated.

The postwar era was marked by lengthy process of accounting, whereby it was questioned how such a murderous frame of mind had emerged. It was acknowledged by many that modernity and radical positivism played an undeniable role in the murders. Because of how Western society and thinking had evolved in the first part of the twentieth century, all of the pain and suffering was attributed not just to the German and Austrian Nazis, but also to a worldview. Radical positivism sustained a major blow, and Western societies had to share the same level of guilt as their “partners in radical positivism”, that is, the Germans and Austrians. Ultimately, the death of 50 million people could not be explained by the modern world’s developed state. This was a “practical” translation of the German word Fremdschämen into other Western languages.

However, the borders of Fremdschämen stretched far beyond the Western world and the borders of the states that had fought in the Second World War. Societies that had nothing to do with the war and had yet to experience modernity were expected to participate in this collective Fremdschämen. Societies that had no idea what they were responsible for were forced to bear the burden of the Holocaust on an equal level with Europeans. Through this burden, all of humanity was eventually persuaded to remain silent in the face of all the excesses committed by Israel. All people of the world were forced to buckle under their “faults” and engage in serious self-reflection, preoccupied with a feeling of “regret”. However, they could not even feel what this “fault” was, under which they were being crushed inwardly. This apportionment of blame and responsibility to the entire globe, as well as the condemnation of the rest of the world to Fremdschämen, has pushed countries like Austria to become overly pro-Israel. Indeed, the Austrian mind, having reasoned that it was only as accountable as the rest of the world for the Holocaust victims, determined that it could only be as accountable as the rest of the world for Israeli murders as well. As Israel was bombing civilian settlements in Gaza, Austria refused to remain silent, but instead of condemning the attacks, the Israeli flag was raised on the roof of the chancellery building. This was nothing but the manifestation of the German phrase Schadenfreude (the joy of inflicting destruction), which is as unique to the German language as Fremdschämen. Here, the perpetrator of a genocide (which is believed to be a collective crime) consolidates its own position by carrying the burden of the barbarism onto a collective ground. With the emergence of a new collective crime, the extraordinary nature of the original crime becomes less tangible.

Cultural memory

Those who are interested in the Palestinian issue offer contradictory predictions about how the process will evolve from now on. It is evident that the solution to the problem, which is supposed to have reached a certain tipping point by now through constant fait accomplis, is not as simple as imposing fait accomplis, because there lies before us a profound cultural memory that spans thousands of years and cannot be easily modified through usurpations. Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel gave rise to a perception that the status of Jerusalem as such had now gained international legitimacy. The problem of the capital of Israel, which was established as a result of a collective crime and whose collective protection was imposed on the entire world, naturally had to be resolved collectively. For many, the permissiveness of the dominant actor in the system, the US, regarding this issue called for a collective solution to the problem. Those who assume that one signature of Trump could make Jerusalem the capital of Israel are failing to appreciate the fact that the symbol of Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock, is an Islamic artifact located inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. For as long as the Dome of the Rock stands there, it will continue to showcase the Islamic identity of the city. This identity will continue to force upon Israel, which claims to be a Jewish nation-state, a diasporic psychology even in its own capital. Israeli Jews in Jerusalem will continue to live a life different from the one they have been living in Tel Aviv, a city that they themselves built. This reality is based on the fact that Israel will never be able to truly make Jerusalem its capital, even if it has the full support of the entire Western public opinion and employs the three types of violence that we have explained earlier. Cultural memory will always confront Israel with a different reality. Time will prove that it will not be possible for an artificial state created by immigration to erase more than a millennium-old natural formation with simple fait accomplis.

Translated from Turkish by Can Atalay​​​​​​​

**Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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