Anti-Semitism has a long history in the West and is deservedly a subject that has been written about in countless books, some scholarly and some not. Here’s a link to an Amazon search. I haven’t delved into the subject beyond what one picks up through casual reading and via osmosis, though I did read James Carroll’s book “Constantine’s Sword” some years back, which is a history of anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church. And of course Catholics aren’t the only ones. Every Protestant knows or should know that Martin Luther started out seemingly sympathetic to Jews, thinking their rejection of Christ understandable given “papist” mistreatment, and ended up ranting against them when they continued to refuse to become Christians, to the point where his admiring biographer Roland Bainton wrote that it would have been better if he had died sooner, before he could write that dreck.
And of course the resurgence of European anti-Semitism is in part what sparked the Zionist movement. After WWII the Western world became belatedly ashamed of its anti-Semitic past. Anti-Semitism was no longer acceptable. There was a movement to stamp it out.
What happened next is interesting. What started as a laudable attempt to make up for past bigotry morphed into an excuse for supporting a new type of bigotry. In order to atone for anti-Semitism, some started to give their unconditional blessing to Zionism. The Presbyterian booklet on Zionism called Zionism Unsettled has a few pages on how this worked out among Christians. With liberal Christians it was guilt over anti-Semitism. With evangelical Christians it was more the influence of dispensationalism–the belief that the rebirth of Israel was a signpost on the road to the Second Coming. With liberals in general, it was guilt.
Palestinians were the scapegoat for Western sins. In order to atone for Western crimes one had to pretend the Palestinians didn’t matter, or didn’t exist, or brought it on themselves (see, as an example, James Michener’s historical novel “The Source”) or at best should be satisfied with whatever scraps the Israelis chose to toss their way. With many, Jews and non-Jews alike, it seems to have become an article of faith that Zionism was an inherently noble idea, and anyone who argued for Palestinian rights had to be an anti-Semite. Palestinians were an embarrassment, so they had to be portrayed as bigots or at best, as Arabs who could be moved into other Arab countries. As if one could displace a million Americans from their homes because there are plenty of other places where people speak English.
That was a short and potted history, but we need more. How did this happen? How did it become acceptable for liberals to brand the struggle for Palestinian rights a form of Jew hatred? How did a movement against bigotry become, in some cases, a movement in favor of a different form of bigotry? How did anti-Arab racism manage to masquerade, in instances, as a crusade against bigotry, and then penetrate into popular culture?
I don’t think this is a flimsy topic. To a large degree these attitudes have helped determine US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the terms in which it is discussed in the press and by our politicians.
But there is ample scope here for PhD dissertations and scholarly volumes and popular histories. So all you historians of ideas, sociologists, scholars of religion, and political scientists–get to work.