When Does Criticizing Israel Become Anti-Semitic?


Now living in South China, the writer was formerly a senior advisor in the Privy Council Office serving Canada’s Prime Minister and the federal cabinet. Earlier he taught history and law at universities in New York, Montreal, Toronto and Hong Kong. Are Jews a People?

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says Anti-Semitism means “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group”. This definition reminds us that Jews are more than simply adherents of a particular religion, i.e. Jews also self-identify as an ethno-cultural group, a tribe, a People — just as there is a Japanese or an Italian People.A “firewall” between criticism of Israel and Anti-Semitism?

Like other countries, Israel has features that invite criticism. But, crafting a fair critique is troublesome because it requires something like respect for natural justice, consideration of generally-applicable norms, reference to the usual practice of States, as well as giving reasons to support particular judgments. Thus, criticizing Israel is not necessarily Anti-Semitic. But, it is untrue to say that there is a logical distinction that prevents a persistent pattern of bitter criticism of Israel from being Anti-Semitic. To the contrary, the methodologies applied in more than a half-century of modern human-rights law make it clear that a persistent pattern of targeting Israel with discriminatory criticism is Anti-Semitic.Why can criticism of Israel become Anti-Semitic?

A persistent pattern of discriminatory criticism of Israel is Anti-Semitic because modern human-rights methodologies are astute enough to examine not only a pattern of impugned behavior but also the likely effects of that pattern. Consider the following: (1) Jews have been an historically victimized People for more than 2,000 years, just as the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada and African-Americans have been historically victimized. (2) Now with about half the world’s Jewish population, Israel is the historic and current homeland of the Jewish People, just as Greece is the home of the Greek People. When these two points are considered in terms of modern human-rights methodologies, the conclusion is that a persistent pattern of discriminatory criticism of Israel is Anti-Semitic because it is likely to harm Jews.Critics of Israel statistically linked to Jew-haters?

An imaginary watertight compartment separating Israel from the Jewish People is as improbable as trying to uncouple the notion of China from the Han Chinese People or Turkey from the Turkish People. This is an important point because the hallmark of the modern Anti-Semite is precisely reliance on the unpersuasive claim that there is a clear line that prevents a persistent pattern of bitter criticism of Israel from being Anti-Semitic. To the contrary, statistical evidence links critics of Israel to Anti-Semites. Firstly, public opinion polls tend to show a correlation between respondents who strongly oppose Israel and those with marked negative feelings towards Jews and Judaism. Secondly, police records from Europe and elsewhere reveal spikes in Anti-Semitic incidents coincident with major military actions involving Israel, e.g., in Lebanon (2006) and recently in Gaza. Moreover, anti-Israel terrorist groups also target local Jews in foreign countries, as in the 1994 attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Thus, those who explain or justify Anti-Semitism by pointing to alleged misdeeds by Israel are simultaneously acknowledging the link between the State of Israel and the Jewish People.What does Anti-Semitism mean today?

Modern Anti-Semitism includes persistently targeting Jews and/or Israel and persistently applying to Jews and/or Israel a more exigent standard than applied to other Peoples and countries. Friends of Israel may also be said to “target” Israel in the sense that they too focus on Israel. Friends are disposed to pay more attention to Israel than to other countries. But, they are unlikely to seek to tar Israel by persistently expecting more from Israel than from other countries. To the contrary, friends are likely to defend Israel by applying a less demanding standard. Anti-Semites also persistently target Israel, but then go further to consistently judge Israel according to strict criteria that they do not regularly apply to other countries. Anti-Semites aim to portray Israel in a negative light. Their underlying motivation is sinister, in that they seek to defame Israel to fabricate justifications for extreme measures likely to do grave harm to Jews, whether in Israel or abroad.Why is Anti-Semitism so powerful?

Because of explicit pejorative references to Jews and Judaism, the texts of both the Christian gospels and the Muslim Koran have directly played a role in spawning civilizations with exceptional attitudes towards Jews and Judaism. In the Western and Islamic Worlds, many individuals find it natural to harbor distinctive (often negative) views about Jews and Judaism. However, there is often a lack of awareness that the prevailing cultural software has been so significantly infected by the virus of Anti-Semitism. For this reason, many individuals remain comfortable persistently targeting Jews and/or Israel and persistently applying to Jews and/or Israel a more exigent standard than applied to other Peoples and countries.How did the Holocaust Begin?

Shouting “Dirty Jew!” or attacking Jews in pogroms or sending Jews to die in concentration camps are obviously Anti-Semitic. But many individuals in the Western and Islamic Worlds have a blind spot that prevents them from recognizing Anti-Semitism in other toxic manifestations. Here it helps to recall the Holocaust that killed six million Jews in Europe (1939-1945). That horrendous crime traced its immediate origins to 1933, when Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler began a program of well-organized discrimination that singled out Jews via legal and bureaucratic expedients. In the same way, modern Anti-Semites contrive strategies to support persistent patterns of bitter discrimination against Israel, e.g., in organs of the United Nations. The strategy is to demonize Israel by persistently judging it according to a more exigent standard than regularly applied to other countries. The ultimate goal is to justify the destruction of Israel and the killing of the six million Jews there.Jews tainted by Anti-Semitism?

The ad hominem argument of being Jewish or having Jewish parents (even concentration camp survivors) is no logical defense to a charge of Anti-Semitism. Today, many Jews fail to understand that the meaning of Anti-Semitism includes any persistent pattern of discrimination against Jews and/or Israel. Many falsely imagine that, because they themselves are Jewish, they have a special license to freely engage in these persistent patterns of discrimination against Jews and/or Israel. However, the harm done by such Jews is as real as that done by the Anti-Semitism of non-Jews. In fact, such persistent patterns of anti-Israel discrimination by Jews can do even more damage, because Jews can gain greater credibility by trumpeting their own Jewish credentials.An ideological license to permit discrimination against Israel?

Human-rights methodologies offer nothing to suggest that either “the Right” or “the Left” has a dispensation legitimating persistent patterns of discrimination against Jews and/or Israel. This means that Anti-Semitism cannot be justified with reference to an alleged greater good to be derived from Nazism, fascism, socialism, communism, environmentalism, anti-colonialism, the Non-Aligned Movement or any other cause or ideology. Nonetheless, many enemies of Israel remain astonishingly confident in their mistaken belief that their preferred doctrine entitles them to indulge in such a persistent pattern of discrimination, while immunizing them from a charge of Anti-Semitism. This is a pitiful and hollow illusion. Intellectual honesty and decency demand that we decry the Anti-Semitism of those who persistently target Jews and/or Israel and persistently apply to Jews and/or Israel a more exigent standard than applied to other Peoples and countries.

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