In the aftermath of Anders Breivik's terrorist rampage in Norway, a "blame the Jews" theme has emerged: assertions that Breivik was driven by fanatical devotion to Israel. Mostly, complaints about the media's failure to identify Breivik as a Zionist zealot have been confined to fringe blogs on the left and the right—but they have also cropped up in more mainstream venues, such as the blog of prominent pundit Andrew Sullivan. Daily Beast columnist Michelle Goldberg has pointed to the Oslo killer as evidence of a convergence between right-wing Zionism and European fascism, united by hatred against Muslims.
The recent phenomenon of far-right nationalists latching on to Jewish and Zionist causes in presumed anti-Muslim solidarity is real and troubling (especially given some of these nationalist groups' anti-Semitic roots). But the trope of Breivik as a Zionist soldier is a smear—a gross distortion that plays into the campaign to delegitimize and vilify Israel.
The apparent proof of Breivik's alleged Zionist obsession is that his 1,500-page manifesto, "A European Declaration of Independence," has 359 mentions of Israel and 324 mentions of Jews. That sounds like a lot until you realize the "declaration" is just under 780,000 words.
The document, which Breivik distributed online just before his killing spree, covers many subjects, including the evil of women's liberation (there are 200 references to feminism and feminists). But it has one central focus: Islam and the Muslim menace. The words "Islam," "Islamic" and "Islamist" combined appear 3,360 times; the word "Muslim," 3,632 times.
Virtually all of Breivik's other ideas stem from this obsession: Feminism is bad because it saps Western civilization's (and its men's) ability to resist Islam; Israel is good because it is an ally in this struggle.
Moreover, Breivik's "Zionism" coexists with a virulent brand of selective anti-Semitism—one that sees Jews as likely carriers of cosmopolitan, nontraditional values and targets liberal Jews for special loathing. In his discussion of Nazism, Breivik agrees that most German and European Jews in the 1930s were "disloyal"—"similar to the liberal Jews today." Hitler's error, he believes, was to lump the "good" Jews with the "bad," instead of rewarding the former with a Jewish homeland in a Muslim-free Palestine.
As for the present, Breivik estimates that about three-quarters of European and American Jews, and about half of Israeli Jews, "support multiculturalism"; he urges fellow nationalists to "embrace the remaining loyal Jews as brothers rather than repeating the mistake of" the Nazis. What to do with today's "disloyal" Jews, he does not say.
Anti-Defamation League director Abraham H. Foxman has written that Breivik's professed pro-Zionism is a reminder to "be wary of those whose love for the Jewish people is born out of hatred of Muslims or Arabs."
There's no shortage of such false friends these days. In England, the once-rabidly anti-Jewish British National Party, led by an unrepentant Holocaust denier, has recast itself in an anti-Muslim, Zionist-friendly image. The English Defense League, whose "protests" include such tactics as yelling "Muslim scum" at women in headscarves and invading Asian-owned shops, has also taken part in pro-Zionist demonstrations. (England's premier Jewish group, the Board of Jewish Deputies, has firmly rejected such "support.") Ironically, the EDL's main American champion, Muslim-baiting blogger Pamela Geller, has recently voiced alarm over the growth of anti-Semitism in the group's ranks.
Meanwhile, in the anti-Israel camp, quite a few would gladly tar all Zionist views with anti-Muslim hate. Loonwatch.com, a website that focuses on exposing Islamophobia—and has run intelligent, well-argued rebuttals of extreme anti-Islam propaganda—has also posted items that portray such extremism as virtually part and parcel of Zionism.
Sometimes, such links are concocted. Last October, England's Jewish Chronicle ran an Internet poll on whether rabbis should work with the EDL. (The answer was a resounding no.) Anti-Zionist blogger Terry Greenstein and York Palestine Solidarity Campaign Chairman Terry Gallogly were caught bragging online about trying to rig the poll for the EDL in order to embarrass the Zionists.
Yes, some Zionists have made statements about Muslims that amount to bigotry, or at least to offensive generalizations. Disturbingly, comments defending Breivik's views have cropped up on Israeli online forums. Such ugly sentiments may be explained in the context of ethnic and religious tensions in Israel, but they cannot be condoned—any more than anti-Semitism among Arabs and Muslims can be excused by resentment of Israeli policies.
Therein lies the rub: Talk of Zionism and Islamophobia inevitably raises the specter of the far more violent, vastly more rampant Jew-bashing rhetoric in the much of the Arab and Muslim media today.
Unfortunately, not many prominent Muslims have condemned this hate speech. Moreover, some Western leftists have excused Muslim anti-Semitism as a reaction to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. A few years ago, the British Muslim Council boycotted commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz because the ceremony did not include a tribute to victims of Israeli "genocide." American left-wing blogger and columnist Eric Alterman opined that it was "morally idiotic" to expect Arabs to honor Jewish suffering "while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters—and in this I include myself—are causing much of theirs." Actually, what's "morally idiotic" is to make excuses for racial and religious hatred.
Israel's supporters should avoid dubious alliances that deepen Jewish-Muslim polarization. Critics of anti-Muslim bigotry should clean house.
Cathy Young writes a weekly column for RealClearPolitics and is also a contributing editor at Reason magazine. A version of this article originally appeared at RealClearPolitics.