There’s a growing campaign to label critics of Israel as being guilty of “anti-Semitism.” Among those who have been characterized in this way are such respected organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the Harvard Crimson. This tactic is not a new one and, sadly, tends to trivialize the real examples of anti-Semitism.
Some Israelis openly admit that this is precisely what they are doing. Shulamit Aloni, a former leader of the Meretz Party and former minister of education who received the Israel Prize for her “struggle to right injustices and for raising the standard of equality,” described how this works: “It’s a trick. We always use it. When from Europe, somebody criticizes Israel, we bring up the Holocaust. When, in the United States, people are critical of Israel, then they are anti-Semitic.”
Early Israeli leaders promoted this idea even before the state was established. Abba Eban, who served as Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and United Nations from 1949 to 1959, expanded the definition of anti-Semitism. He said that “One of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all.”
In a prerecorded speech at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) annual leadership summit on May 1, 2022, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt declared, “Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.” He argued that groups calling for equal rights for Palestinians in Israel are “extremists,” and he equated liberal critics of Israel with white supremacists.
Greenblatt told the ADL, “Anti-Zionism as an ideology is rooted in rage and is predicated on one concept: the negation of another people, a concept as alien to modern discourse as white supremacy. It requires willful denial of even a superficial history of Judaism and the vast history of the Jewish people. And when an idea is born out of such shocking intolerance, it leads to, well, shocking acts.”
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Greenblatt equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and said its rhetoric runs the same risk of violent outcomes. ‘That is why we are seeing this jump in anti-Semitic incidents,’ he said. He singled out groups on the Left: Jewish Voice for Peace, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Students for Justice in Palestine for what he said were anti-Semitic conspiracy mongering…”
In an editorial, in its April 29, 2022 issue, the Harvard Crimson endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, declaring BDS “a living breathing movement of great promise to liberate Palestinians.” Anticipating accusations of “anti-Semitism,” the editorial made clear that it opposes bigotry of all kinds: “In the wake of accusations suggesting otherwise, we feel the need to assert that support for Palestinian liberation is not anti-Semitic. We unambiguously oppose and condemn anti-Semitism in every and all forms, including those times when it shows up on the fringes of otherwise worthwhile movements. Jewish people—like every people, including Palestinians, deserve nothing but life, peace and security.”
The backlash was immediate. A letter from six former Crimson editors declared that the editorial “is quite simply an accelerant of anti-Semitism.” Former Harvard president Larry Summers declared that the BDS movement was “taking positions that were basically anti-Semitic and immoral.” A petition was signed by more than 60 Harvard faculty members condemning the editorial as “anti-Semitic.” Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz declared, “The megaphone of the Crimson will increase the high rate of anti-Semitism on campus. It takes no courage on campuses to oppose Israel’s existence.”
The tactic of trying to silence criticism of Israel by calling it “anti-Semitic” is becoming increasingly recognized. Jewish Voice for Peace executive director Stefanie Fox notes that, “Instead of dismantling anti-Semitism by fighting white supremacy, the ADL is dangerously conflating all Jewish people with the State of Israel and attacking groups that hold the Israeli government accountable for running an apartheid regime. We’re not backing down. The anti-Zionist left and the movement in solidarity with Palestinian liberation is growing stronger daily and we won’t stop until we’ve built a future grounded on justice and equality.”
Rabbi Brant Rosen of Congregation Tzedek Chicago notes that his congregation recently amended its core values statement to say that “we are anti-Zionist, openly acknowledging that the creation of an ethnic Jewish nation state in historic Palestine resulted in an injustice against the Palestinian people. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny the fundamental injustice at the core of Zionism.”
For many years critics of Israel have falsely been called “anti-Semitic.” One of the leading practitioners of this tactic has been Norman Podhoretz, for many years editor of Commentary. In an article “J’Accuse,” published in September 1982, Podhoretz charged America’s leading journalists, newspapers and television networks with “anti-Semitism” because of their reporting of the war in Lebanon and their criticism of Israel’s conduct. Among those so accused were Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, Nicholas Von Hoffman, Joseph Harsch of the Christian Science Monitor, Rowland Evans, Robert Novak, Mary McGrory, Richard Cohen, Alfred Friendly of the Washington Post and a host of others. These individuals and their organizations were not criticized for bad reporting or poor journalistic standards. Instead, they were the subject of the charge of anti-Semitism.
A list of those who have been falsely accused of anti-Semitism because of their criticism of Israel is a long one. In 2014, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick declared that Secretary of State John Kerry is “anti-Semitic.” According to Glick, “Kerry is obsessed with Israel’s economic success…The anti-Semitic undertones of Kerry’s constant chatter about Jews and money are obvious.” Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Cameron Kerry, a brother of the Secretary of State and formerly general counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce, declared that charges of “anti-Semitism” against his brother “would be ridiculous if they were not so vile.” Cameron Kerry, a convert to Judaism, recalled relatives who died in the Holocaust. The Kerrys’ paternal grandparents were Jewish.
Others who have been labeled “anti-Semitic” because of their criticism of Israeli policies include former President Jimmy Carter, journalists Andrew Sullivan, Bill Moyers and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Peter Beinart, a contributing editor to Jewish Currents and author of The Crisis of Zionism, calls the idea that such individuals are anti-Semitic “absurd.”
Despite Zionism’s claim that Israel is the “homeland” of all Jews, few Jewish Americans ever shared that view. Now, the State of Israel, in the view of increasing numbers of American Jews, has become for many a replacement for God and the Jewish moral and ethical tradition, indeed, a form of idolatry, much like the Golden Calf in the Bible.
Israel claims to speak in the name of all Jews. This is, of course extraordinary, for any state to claim to speak in the name of millions of men and women who are citizens of other countries. Beyond this, its actions toward the indigenous population of Palestine violate essential Jewish moral and ethical values. Jewish Americans believe in equal rights for people of every race, religion and nation. However, in Israel, Jews are given preferential treatment to Palestinians. In the illegally occupied territories, Palestinians are clearly a colonized people. American Jews also believe in religious freedom. Israel has a state religion, ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Reform rabbis cannot perform weddings, conduct funerals or have their conversions recognized. This is not a government which in any way represents the values of the American Jewish community.
In recent days, the number of Jewish voices, in both Israel and the U.S., protesting Israel’s mistreatment of Palestine’s indigenous population, are growing. Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Amira Hass notes that, “Zionism was a Jewish mutation.” In her piece, “Will someone finally say Israel has lost it?” she says that the messianic side of Israeli society, nurtured by decades as a violent, expansionist tool by the secular founders of Israel, has now taken over. Hass calls on the world to act against “the Jewish mutation of Israel in which all of Israel’s Jewish citizens are complicit.”
Also writing in Haaretz, B. Michael declares that, “Zionism was a naive mistake…It’s time for Jews to go back into exile. We’re really terrible at being a nation. We very quickly become as stupid, violent, greedy as most of the other nations of the world and in a short time we brought destruction on ourselves…Seventy-five years of racism and violence have thoroughly corrupted the Israeli electorate…There’s no choice but to admit Zionism was a mistake and go into exile again and refresh our values.”
Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum, a prominent American advocate for Israel, now concedes that Zionism may have “failed.” He points to the indifference in Israel to the killing of prominent Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the police attack on her funeral because mourners flew the Palestinian flag as well as the Flag March through Jerusalem in which Jewish youths chanted “Death to Arabs.” He says that this “reminded even a hard-line Zionist of the onset of fascism in Europe.” In Koplow’s view, “If waving a flag threatens Israel’s existence, then not only is Israel in far bigger danger than anyone understands, but Zionism itself has failed… Honing in on flags says far more about Israeli predilections than it does about Palestinian ones.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, Alan Dershowitz, Larry Summers and others who use the term “anti-Semitism” to try to silence critics of Israel’s inhumane and un-Jewish treatment of Palestinians, are trivializing the term. If and when real anti-Semitism appears, intemperate and injudicious voices such as these will find it difficult to gain a hearing. Israel has been accused of being an “apartheid” state by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem—not because these groups are “anti-Semitic,” but because Israel has been acting toward Palestinians in an inhumane manner which violates Jewish moral and ethical standards. In the end, history will decide and there is little doubt what that decision will be.
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