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Does Criticism of Israel Represent a New Anti-Semitism?

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 2002

The charge is being made that criticism of Israel represents a new kind of anti-Semitism.  

The Anti-Defamation League declares that, “Anti-Zionism is showing its true colors as deep-rooted anti-Semitism.”  

In an article, “The Return of Anti-Semitism,” published in Commentary (Feb. 2002), Hillel Halkin, one of the magazine’s regular contributors, states that, “... one cannot be against Israel or Zionism, as opposed to this or that Israeli policy or Zionist position, without being anti-Semitic. Israel is the state of the Jews. Zionism is the belief that Jews should have a state. To defame Israel is to defame the Jews ...”  

Halkin notes that, “Only an anti-Semite can systematically accuse Israel of what they are not guilty of.” He proceeds to declare that, “Even this is not putting it strongly enough. There are times when only an anti-Semite can accuse Israel of what it is guilty of ... We must not give an inch on this point. The new anti-Israelism is nothing but the old anti-Semitism in disguise.”  

Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, states that, “The anti-Semites during the ages had excuses, they’ve had disguises. The new anti-Semitism has its centrality in the attacks against the existence of the Jewish state.”  

Responding to the notion that critics of Israel are anti-Semitic, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (April 30, 2002) writes: “If I weren’t a Jew, I might be called an anti-Semite. I have occasionally been critical of Israel. I have occasionally taken the Palestinians’ side. I have always maintained that the occupation of the West Bank is wrong and while I am, to my marrow, a supporter of Israel, I insist that the Palestinian cause - although sullied by terrorism - is a worthy one. In Israel itself, these positions would hardly be considered remarkable. People with similar views serve in parliament. They write columns for newspapers ... I cannot say the same about America. Here, criticism of Israel, particularly anti-Zionism, is equated with anti-Semitism.”  

Cohen said that, “To turn a deaf ear to the demands of Palestinians, to dehumanize them all as bigots only exacerbates hatred on both sides. The Palestinians do have a case. Their methods are sometimes - maybe often - execrable, but that does not change the fact that they are a people without a state. As long as that persists so too will the struggle ... To protest living conditions on the West Bank is not anti-Semitic. To condemn the increasing encroachment of Jewish settlements is not anti-Semitic ... To suggest, finally, that Ariel Sharon is a rejectionist who provocatively egged on the Palestinians is not anti-Semitism ...”  

Many in Israel are also challenging criticism of their government’s policies as “anti-Semitism.” Professor David Newman, chairman of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics, states that, “A country that continually uses, and all to often manipulates, Holocaust imagery to justify its policies of self-defense and ‘never again,’ cannot complain when the rest of the world uses those same standards to make judgments concerning its own policies. We used to play a game of make-believe and convince ourselves that our occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was a ‘benign’ occupation ...” (Washington Jewish Week, April 25, 2002).  

Dr. Newman points out that, “We are becoming the pariah of the world, just as South Africa was during the apartheid era. And if we simplistically attribute it to good old-fashioned anti-Semitism, we are missing the point. Neither President Bush nor Prime Minister Tony Blair can be accused of being anti-Semitic ... But they do oppose our continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and they do favor the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. No amount of newspeak or closure of the territories can change these basic facts and any attempt to argue otherwise only blackens our image throughout the world.”  

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote (April 3, 2002) of “the feckless American Jewish leaders” who have “helped to make it impossible for anyone in the U.S. administration to talk seriously about halting Israeli settlement-building without being accused of being anti-Israel. Their collaboration has helped prolong a colonial Israeli occupation that now threatens the entire Zionist enterprise.”  

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