. . . At what point does anti-Israel rhetoric become anti-Semitism? It’s a threshold question, and is therefore subjective. My threshold: Any criticism of the policies of the government of the State of Israel — indeed harsh criticism — is entirely legitimate. The Israeli public is itself deeply divided over the peace process, settlements, its relations today and tomorrow with the Palestinians, government policies on religion and personal-status matters and economic policy. The point at which attacks on the policies of Israel become anti-Semitism is the point at which the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise — or of the State of Israel — is questioned. Because it is at that point that the legitimacy of Jewish peoplehood is questioned.
But one might indeed argue for the necessity of distinguishing anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. Let’s not confuse these, goes the argument. Anti-Israelism is a concerted prejudice against Israel, birthed in large measure by leftist anti-globalist politics, but without a discernible hatred of Jews. Oppression and liberation, oppressors and oppressed — it’s another riff on the political rivalries that characterized much of ancient anti-Judaism.
Is there a specifically anti-Jewish bias here? Perhaps what motivates the Israelophobes is anti-Semitism. Perhaps not. But to tar all critics of Israel with the brush of anti-Semitism is unfair, so the argument goes, and may be counterproductive.
This view is bolstered by the numbers. The various polls commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League in Europe show a sharp fault line between attitudinal anti-Semitism (the numbers fluctuate, but are generally down) and anti-Zionism (the numbers are up).
. . . The primary political challenge for Europe today is that of moving beyond the nation-state, that is, the problem of European integration — a problem that is framed as the clash between nationalism and post-nationalism (with progressive or “good” opinion very much on the side of the latter). . . . Israel, as the product of 19th-century European nationalism, acts as the ideology of nationalism suggests sovereign states do and should act: It is ready to employ the force of arms to defend the nation’s interest. This behavior is what drives Europeans crazy. It strikes their post-nationalist sensibilities as retrograde and racist. Israel squares off against the Arabs in the same benighted manner as the French used to against the Germans, and so on. . . .
I should add that Zionism, the darling of the left 75 years ago, became successful — created a nation-state — precisely at a time when the nation-state fell out of fashion. It’s one of the great ironies of history.
So what’s “new?” First, the collective expression of anti-Semitism, with Israel as a focal point, rather than the individual animus of the past. This gives weight to the claim of distinguishing between anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. Second, the center of gravity of much of anti-Semitism is now in the Islamic world. Finally, what’s new is also very old: the “double-standard.” That’s the assertion that Jews may not defend themselves as may any other people or person. If this is the case, then by extension the legitimacy of a Jewish historical identity is challenged. Deriving from this, of course, is the isolation of the State of Israel and the relegation of Israel to the status of “pariah state.”
And that’s what’s playing out on many campuses, in church councils, in academic circles. There’s nothing “new” about it.