Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Dog-Whistles, Israel and Anti-Semitism.

In light of recent events on a certain blog and elsewhere, and inspired to recommend a wonderful piece dealing with race, I am reposting this diary originally written in May.

Last month the American Association of University Professors and the American Jewish Committee issued a letter that urged for ‘greater scrutiny for claims that anti-Israel statements and activities on campuses amount to illegal intimidation of Jewish students.’

Scott Jaschik notes:

While “anti-Semitism should be treated with the same seriousness as other forms of bigotry,” the letter says that by “trying to censor anti-Israel remarks, it becomes more, not less, difficult to tackle both anti-Semitism and anti-Israel dogma. The campus debate is changed from one of exposing bigotry to one of protecting free speech, and the last thing pro-Israel advocates need is a reputation for censoring, rather than refuting, their opponents.”

The letter suggests that campuses differentiate anti-Israel rhetoric (however strong or offensive) from anti-Semitism by applying a “working definition” of anti-Semitism drafted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The definition notes that expressions of hatred toward Jews as being collectively responsible for Israel may well be anti-Semitic, as are comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany. But the definition adds that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

The “working definition” of anti-Semitism drafted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights:

The purpose of this document is to provide a practical guide for identifying incidents, collecting data, and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with antisemitism.

Working definition: `Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non­Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

• Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

• Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

• Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non­Jews.

• Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

• Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

• Denying the Jewish people their right to self­determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries). Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property—such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries—are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews. Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

The distinction of criticism of Israeli policy and that of anti-Semitism is very clearly outlined.

Yet troublingly often the discussion of Israeli policy (which undoubtedly begets and deserves criticism) here and elsewhere morphs into the pre-emptive ‘I can’t criticize Israel without being called an anti-semite.’ Even when no one has made the accusation.

No doubt some false accusations of anti-Semitism are made, but the real – deal is far, far more prevalent here as any daily visit to the hiddens (and sometimes not hiddens) prove.

So imagine my shock when there was not one, but two rec-list diaries yesterday that mocked accusations of anti-Semitism as a means to silence debate. This of course is under the backdrop of many of the vile and terible things written about Jews and Israelis here.  Or more disgustingly calling those who were offended ‘Israel-firsters‘ ‘Propagandists‘ “Hasbarists‘ ‘Right -Wingers’ or a slew of other names.

Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, remarked:

And what I hear from our 194 posts around the world, and from our close relationship with NGOs in the US in other nations, opposition to a policy by the State of Israel morphs into anti-Semitism easily and often. We record huge increases in anti-Semitism whenever there is activity in the Middle East. This form of anti-Semitism is more difficult for many to identify – but if all Jews are held responsible for the decisions of the sovereign State of Israel, when governments call upon and intimidate their Jewish communities to condemn Israeli actions, when academics from Israel are boycotted – this is not objecting to a policy – this is anti-Semitism. Our State Department uses Natan Sharansky’s framework for identifying when someone or a government crosses the line – when Israel is demonized, when Israel is held to different standards than the rest of the countries, and when Israel is delegitimized. These cases are not disagreements with a policy of Israel, this is anti-Semitism. I feel I must a
lso state: sometimes people hide their anti-Semitism behind criticism of Israel’s existence – but criticism of Israel does not necessary mean someone is anti-Semitic. If so, half of Israel would be anti-Semitic.

Citing a new and growing problem of anti-semitism, Eirik Eiglad suggests twelve basic principles for the left, concluding that:

A principled Left, rejuvenated by reaffirming Enlightenment universalism and democracy, holds the key to the future, both in the Middle East and elsewhere.



  1. Mets102

    “criticism” of Israel to actually mask their anti-Semitism.  Even more distressing is how many non-anti-Semitic critics of Israeli policy will lap up such statements as truthful and clear evidence of anti-Semitism on the part of such individuals despite it being brought directly to their attention.

  2. Strummerson

    in delineating criticism of Israeli policy from anti-Semitism lies in the clause about “exaggerating or inventing the holocaust.”  Clearly, claims that it was invented for political purposes, or that the historical record was exaggerated and sensationalized seems out of bounds.  Yet I think there is room to critique the ways in which Israel and the Zionist movement politicizes the holocaust, and they do.  In Bibi’s Bar Ilan speech, one of the greatest applause lines was his statement that “it’s not so much that because of the holocaust we need the State of Israel, it’s that had the State of Israel been founded in time, there wouldn’t have been a holocaust.”  There’s a big problem with explicitly politicizing an issue, even if legitimately, but then arguing that it is sacrosanct and beyond discussion.  And I think that this discussion often blurs into and is exploited by the criticisms of Israel and its supporters that cross ethical lines.

  3. Stipes

    for democrats.  My criticisms with the current right wing government of Israel stems from my left wing/liberal viewpoint, and that is always where I focus my analysis of the current peace process.  I find Bibi’s current governance of Israel to be remarkably analogous to what happened to the US under Bush.

    It is my fondest hope that Israel experiences the same kind of leftward shift that we managed to take in 2006/8.  In my mind, that will significantly improve the strategic decision making wrt their current foreign policy.

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