Why It’s Wrong To Call The Anti-Israel Crowd Antisemitic

For years, pro-Israel folks have maintained that much of the anti-Israel sentiment in the world stems from anti-semitism.  And for years, most of the world scoffed, including the vast majority of Jews.

This is maybe the first year where people are starting to see evidence that they have been correct all along.

Just yesterday, a few drunk Australian teenagers entered Jewish school buses and started yelling out antisemitic slogans and angrily bullying the kids within.

Newsweek’s front page story this month was about a new exodus of Jews leaving Europe due to antisemitism.

Antisemitic vandalism and attacks have happened all over the world, from Miami to New York to Paris.

And so, it’s understandable, then, that so many people are starting to become more brazen in accusing anti-Israel advocates of being anti-semitic.

And, of course, the anti-Israel crowd immediately rolls their eyes and says, “Again?”

I think there are two main reasons that anti-Israel people tend to accuse others of antisemitism:

1. They believe that many anti-Israel people secretly harbor feelings of antisemitism

2. They think that anti-Israel positions, and especially the anti-Zionist perspective, are objectively antisemitic.  In other words, just because a person may not actually feel hatred toward Jews, holding an anti-Zionist point of view essentially makes them into antisemites.  To believe in the dissolution of the entire state of Jews is to argue, essentially, for ethnic cleansing, and so it makes no difference if someone hates Jews: their position makes them antisemitic.

I think point #2 is the far more prevalent argument among the pro-Israel community.  They feel a need to point out that anti-Zionist positions, especially actions like boycotting Israel, are acts of antisemitism.  They hurt innocent Jews.  They unfairly focus the ire of the world on only the Jewish people, as Syria, etc, slaughter hundreds of thousands of Muslims a year.

But this position, in my opinion, is a mistake.  It’s even worse to call such people antisemites to their faces, but I think it’s almost as bad to harbor the feelings within ourselves.

George Orwell is famous for saying the words that, “Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist” during World War II.  His point was that by opposing the war, pacifists were objectively enabling fascism to spread, since the only way to combat fascism was with war.

What he is less famous for, however, is regretting these words.  Here’s what he had to say about the famous line:

We are told that it is only people’s objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are “objectively” aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant.

And further:

In my opinion a few pacifists are inwardly pro-Nazi, and extremist left-wing parties will inevitably contain Fascist spies. The important thing is to discover which individuals are honest and which are not, and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of hatred in which controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like.

I think Orwell’s words get right to the heart of why pro-Israel folks need to stop throwing around the word antisemitic.  The word “antisemitic” is not about an objective position, but about the subjective intention of the person.  Thus, when we call a person antisemitic for protesting Israel, even for protesting Israel’s existence, we are accusing them of something very serious: an irrational, deep-seated, hatred of Jews.  This is not right, it’s not fair, and it’s self-defeating.

And our attempt to turn it into some objective reality, something we can throw at people simply because of the positions they hold, confuses us, and hurts any communication we may have with these folks.

In other words, intention does matter.

The vast majority of the people in the world do not hate Jews.  Even the ones who protest Israel.  Even the ones who support BDS.  Even the ones who are against the very existence of Israel.

The vast majority of people in the world are good, honest, true people.  Many of the people protesting Israel are reacting reflexively to the images of the corpses of dead children being splayed across the screen like some sort of sick Hamas pornography machine.  Many others are well-informed and have simply chosen that Israel’s choices were wrong.

Among them, it is true, there are true antisemites, haters of Jews, the ones who stir the pot and manipulate and lie to push an agenda that inherently hurts Jews.

Our job should be, as Orwell stated, to find the honest ones.  To differentiate between the hopeless haters and the potential friends.  To connect with them.  To communicate.

The moment we accuse someone of antisemitism (even within our own minds, but especially outwardly) we have ended the conversation before it has started.  We have demonized them, we have assumed their intentions are not good and they do not deserve our attention.  They, in turn, have decided that we are not worth talking to as well.  They see that we hate them, that we dismiss them, that we don’t respect them.

What a horrible mistake.  What a sad occurrence.  Thousands, millions, of good people in the world being dismissed off-hand, when they could be reached on a human level, on a soul level.

Yes, perhaps their positions hurt Jews.  Innocent Jews.  That does not make their intentions evil.  Especially in a world where the good and the bad are so mixed up, where truth is so hidden among falseness, it is wrong to accuse others of having evil intentions.

When we stop the accusations, when we get past the anger that we feel, and the unjustness of it all that we are so aware of, then we can get deeper with these people.  We can talk openly and honestly.  We can be calm.

Until we let go of that internal and external road block, there will be nothing to discuss, and we will continue to only talk to ourselves.

  • Greg Lauren

    we have to ask ourselves the following questions:

    why are seemingly “progressive” people lining themselves up with those who will kill them as soon as they get the chance…ie Islamists?

    when ISIS, for example, is done with the Middle East, they are coming for Europe (if their cohorts haven’t already)

    so when you say that people who are anti-zionist are simply misguided…i beg to differ.

    in fact, they are EXTREMELY guided.

    they see America as a hegemon and they see Israel, who’s leaders try to play Robin to America’s Batman, as an extension of that hegemony in the Middle East…and all they see is the result of that.

    (granted it’s been distorted and Pallywood-ized to the point of chronic sheker…but that doesn’t matter. it plays into their preconceived notions.)

    another question you have to ask yourself is:

    has Eisav REALLY stopped being himself? in other words, is Europe (as well as some circles in the US) really done hating the Jewish people?

    all evidence points to the fact that, no, he hasn’t really stopped being himself. he despises Yaakov more than ever. and it’s really irrational. you can’t seem to argue logic with him. you can say “well…Hamas (uncle Ishmael) is using human shields. what can i do? i have to fight him somehow.”

    this is not a sufficient response for Eisav. all he knows is that you’re killing Ishmael’s kids and it’s all over TV and Ishmael isn’t killing as many of yours.

    so while it’s not what i would call “active” anti-semitism…it’s “spiritually engrained” or subconscious anti-semitism.

    in other words, the European or American leftist consciously does not realize that he is being anti-semitic. that he is STILL Eisav.

    but the fact remains…Eisav will always hate Yaakov…until the coming of Moshiach.

    • All your points are fine except for the fact that you apply it to ALL people, and that is exactly my problem with this discussion.

      • Greg Lauren

        i’m definitely not applying it to all.

        European leftists and “some circles” in the US.

        that’s not ALL people. but it’s most certainly enough to be concerned about.

        there’s a reason we even have a Righteous of the Nations concept…because it obviously doesn’t apply to all non-Jews.

        • Well, that’s the entire point of my post. We need to be able to differentiate and not apply broad labels.

  • Greg Lauren

    in short:

    anti-semitism is not an “active sentiment”.

    it’s in the Torah. to go even further, it’s halacha.

  • Britni Weiss

    While I don’t this all people who are anti-Israel are anti-semites, the fact is that there are lost of people with signs at rallies saying “kill the Jews” “gas the Jews” and similar sentiments. THAT IS ANTISEMITISM. There are plenty of ways to be anti-Israel without attacking Jews or equating Israel to the Nazi regime; if people were employing those arguments against Israel, I would not call them anti-semites. But they are using those overtly anti-semetic terms, so I feel there is nothing to call them except anti-semites.

    • There is nothing wrong with calling people who ARE ANTISEMITES antisemites. Of course we should point out those people and those protests. In fact, our position will be much more strengthened by separating them from the others. As I said in the post, our job is to find out who is good and who is honest and who is not. Not to label all.

  • I would never, ever, ever call all anti-Zionists antisemites. I even wrote something years and years ago on how to distinguish the two (it’s still online, somewhere). But I think things look different here in Europe to the US. Here, the three classic antisemitic tropes have been resurrected and are continually thrown against Israel: the conspiracy theory (Jews control the world), the blood libel (Jews murder innocent children in cold blood) and even the deicide allegation (the Jews killed Jesus – bizarre as it may seem, some churches are adopting the anti-Israel narrative that Jesus was not a Jew killed by the Romans, but a Palestinian murdered by Jews, the first Palestinian martyr). And these are not fringe pronouncements, but appear in the pages of mainstream newspapers and even on Christmas cards issued by a well-known charity.

    Now, I agree that some people use these tropes without awareness of the implications. They are, if you like, fools, but honest fools. But fools can learn from their folly; haters do not. Consider: in the last Gaza conflict (2012), The Guardian’s cartoonist Steve Bell ran a cartoon showing Binyamin Netanyahu as a puppet-master controlling British politicians. The Community Security Trust, the NGO that monitors antisemitism in the UK, wrote a polite letter saying that Bell is surely not an antisemite, but this is an antisemitic trope and please don’t use it. Bell’s response was to scream that he was being silenced by the Jewish lobby, producing a further THREE cartoons that suggested that the Jews control both the world’s media and President Obama. Bell even mocked the concept of antisemitism, consistently spelling it “Aunty Semuntism”. It is difficult to imagine him mocking racism or sexism in this way. This is not foolishness, this is deliberate, and it happened on the pages of Britain’s self-styled “leading liberal newspaper”, the newspaper believed to be the most read by teachers, academics, left-wing politicians and journalists i.e. the important opinion formers.

    And this just one example. I could site a number of others.

    As I said, be no stretch of the imagination can all anti-Zionists be called antisemites. But from a European perspective, there is a lot of antisemitism mixed up with it, right from the top of the movement, enough that reaching out to these people and finding common ground is an awful lot harder than you suggest.

    • Interesting. A lot of people have brought up this point on my Facebook page, and it seems like a really strong argument. Fascinating how different it can be across continents.

      • Fascinating how different it can be across continents.

        Bear in mind, the US has no real tradition of political antisemitism, and even its religious antisemitism is limited compared to Europe. The US had no crusades, no blood libels, no pogroms, no expulsions… There were no politicians and political movements built primarily around antisemitism in the way that there were in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Nazism being the most well-known, but far from the only example (e.g. the anti-Dreyfusards in France or Karl Luger in Vienna, both in the late nineteenth century). The closest comparison would be the role of race in American politics, which does not exist in the same way in Britain (I don’t know about the rest of Europe).

        After the Holocaust, antisemitism went underground. No one would admit to it publicly, but outside of Germany only rare individuals or organizations examined their history of Jew-hatred and tried to understand it and move away from it. For example, the antisemitism of the far-left, which goes back as far as Karl Marx himself (a classic self-hating Jew) and ran straight through the Soviet era (feeding into Soviet support for the Arab world against Israel) has never been acknowledged by left-wing thinkers, let alone fought, and that definitely feeds into the left’s contemporary discourse on Israel. One could say the same about many of the churches – no sooner is overtly-religious antisemitism rendered unacceptable than it comes back disguised as anti-Zionism, often using the exact same imagery and language as I noted in my previous comment.

        I do want to say that on a personal level, I have managed to talk to non-Jews about Israel and, if not turn them into Zionists, then at least explain to them that the conflict is more complicated than the media and politicians present it. BUT these were people who had known me as an individual for a while, sometimes in person or at least regularly reading my blog, so they knew I wasn’t some crazy extremist or bigot. I simply do not know how to reach the average anti-Zionist who might not be an antisemite, but has been force-fed antisemitic imagery and ideas by people and media outlets s/he greatly respects.

  • Chosid

    ר’ שמעון בן יוחאי:הלכה היא בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב

  • bat Sarah

    I was in middle of an online debate on a public forum in which a guy was saying Jews should go back to Europe. My immediate internal reaction was “whoa anti-Semite!”
    Then, as the conversation continued and somebody called him out on his comment – “of course Jews have a right to continue living where they are; what are you saying?!” – and he responded “No No. The Jews consisted of about 20% of palestinian population before the 1948 palestinian exodus and had lived their peacefully for centuries. They are more than welcome to stay”, eventually I began to understand that he was saying the Jews should go back to Europe because he did not believe there should be an exclusively Jewish state – but not necessarily because he believed Jews didn’t belong “on his turf” or because he hated Jews or whatever.
    Later on in the conversation, he posted: “I don’t want the state of Israel to exist. Does that make me anti-semite?”
    I said, “it might. it depends on what you do want.”
    And I was reminded that just because somebody has an opinion that is likely shared by many anti-Semites, that does not make him an anti-Semite.

    Reading your post makes me realize that the first part of my response – “it might” – was wrong. Not wanting the state of Israel to exist is not potential criteria for anti-Semitism. It is a frequent desire of anti-Semites, yes. But the only thing that makes a person an anti-Semite is hatred for Jews.

    I think I’ll go edit that.

  • m613

    I do believe that if you deeply believe that Israel shouldn’t exist that, although it may be unintentional, it is in its basic form an anti-semitic belief based on practical matters. If one believes that the state of Israel shouldn’t exist, they are basically believing that a non-Jewish group should have control (a little bit of anti-semitism in that), and practically, that would mean the Palestinian groups and most likely a disputed Hamas-Palestinian Authority/PLO group. However, if G-d forbid this was the case, thousands if not millions of Jews could be murdered, meaning that a belief that Israel should not exist is indirectly a belief that millions of Jews should be left in the hands of Hamas/PLO, as a result. On a side note, this is also a somewhat arrogant opinion – imagine someone saying the U.S. has no right to exist. Is that not arrogant? Believing that a personal opinion is more important than the beliefs and dedication of millions of people in support of their country.
    However, those who oppose Israel’s actions, but do accept that Israel has the right to exist are not inherently anti-semitic on any level, although some still may be. You explained perfectly how they are likely just having a natural reaction to seeing footage of badly wounded women and children, and calling for a decrease in violence, which most normal people would do. The media overlooks violence on the other side however (or just does not have access to it), and therefore these people have a valid conclusion/opinion based on the evidence provided to them.
    The BDS movement, although not anti-semitic by definition, is ignorant, hypocritical, extremely naive, and at the very least, a pointless means to try coerce Israel to change, with variably good or bad intentions. They can boycott as many Israeli olives, dates, and bananas as they want, but they are not going to boycott their smartphones, cars with safety systems, or flash drives. And by boycotting Israeli produce, they are also boycotting Arab-Israeli produce, as well as decreasing the land’s human carrying capacity, by decreasing food production, and therefore forcing Arabs out of the country.
    No matter what a person believes in though, as you said, we must engage them in discussion – and not discussion over Israel’s validity, discussion over peace.

  • Arnie Samlan

    I have to disagree with this. While political Zionism and the modern State of Israel are newcomers to the Jewish scene, both have been accepted by the vast majority of the Jewish people, in some form or other. As a result, to deny the right of the Jewish State to exist in a secure way may not equate with anti-Semitism 100%, the overlap is large enough to at least strongly suggest some level of anti-Semitism.

    • Nat

      You equate a form of racism/bigotry with not sharing the same political views, I think that is a mistake, as is the strawman of focusing exclusively on existence and of no people’s interests other than the Jewish majority’s. It’s a fact that people are more emphatic/sympathetic to those with similar beliefs, but lets not conflate that with racial hatred; to oppose anti-Semitism might be aided by understanding but it has never been about forcing others to be like minded.

      Every argument I have ever heard against Israel has not been about it’s right to exist so much about it’s right to exist at the expense of people in the region who have been displaced and are suffering. The article almost completely ignores this, only once touch upon the issue mentioning “dead children”, and suggesting that those who literally oppose dead children should not be labelled anti-Semites for doing so.

      By disagreeing do you seriously mean to take the position that people opposed to “dead children” are anti-Semitic? It’s been 3 years, have you changed your mind since?

  • David Zion

    I think that you are generally wrong or at least miss the big picture. Why is Israel singled out for attack? Many more people killed in Syria, Iraq, Libya, etc. but only when Jews doing the killing is there such moral outrage. Why is that? Their actions are objectively anti-Semitic and obviously so. Some of their best friends may be Jews but they single out the one Jewish country for attack. There where many whites in the US who went along with school segregation, you would say that they were not racists, most people would disagree with you.

    It is one thing not to oppose fascism but it is another thing to actively oppose those who fight it -which is a better analogy.

  • Rachamim Dwek

    What utter nonsense. While philosophically one can argue subjective intention versus ultimate activity until the cows come home life is not a Philosophy 101 classroom in some community college. Most Nazis PROBABLY did not give a farthing about Jews but they ebabled the extermination of entire Jewish Languages and cultural groupings and in the end the murder of 1/3rd of all Jews. It is objective action that ultimately defines us. The author’s argument simplified is that if you did not intend it you aren’t guilty.

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  • In online discussions, usually the people who are anti-Israel and also antisemitic show their true colors sooner or later. They’ll say something about Jews controlling the media or using the Holocaust to play on people’s sympathies, etc.

  • Chicho Blanco

    This article takes the position that being against Israel means that you wish to see the destruction of the state of Israel. I don’t wish the see that. I despise the right-wing Israeli government and their illegal occupation of Palestine. I despise the cowards who keep electing these right-wing terrorists as they are implicit in the continuing violence.