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No, criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism

In fact, it could be the best thing a Jew can do these days.

The Jerusalem Post has published an op-ed titled, “Yes, all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic!” As any philosophy student can recognize, it’s one of those arguments that makes the entire debate meaningless – if something is everything then it’s also nothing – but the piece is worth reading (and responding to) nonetheless. The author captures – unintentionally – the zeitgeist in Israeli politics, and also in large parts of the Jewish world. Both have ceased to differentiate between diplomacy, politics, and anti-Semitism as a special form of racism. In this exercise, evidence is meaningless. The author, Benjamin Kerstein, writes:

All criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic because of the specific historical circumstances under which we currently live. That is to say, the historical circumstances under which Israel and the Jews exist in the world today render any non-anti-Semitic criticism of Israel impossible. And, ironically, these are circumstances that Israel’s opponents have themselves created.

This perfect circle melts collective and personal identity, political institutions and individuals, into one being, in the tradition of – oh well – some of history’s worst anti-Semites.

The first – but not only – sign of racism (including anti-Semitism) is that it doesn’t allow its victim a space to change: Jews/blacks/Muslims are inherently A, and therefore they deserve B, goes the racist argument (it could even be a positive one – Jews are “good with money” is a racist declaration, because it presumes something that is inherent to all Jews). A critical argument, on the other hand, targets behavior and choices: An institution/group/person/state does A, and therefore deserves B. Criticism of political choices is not racism. It is simply politics. Recognizing the state that a certain group of Jews has formed – not even a majority – as representing every Jew on earth (and perhaps every Jew in history) is actually closer to old anti-Semite thinking.

It gets worse. The author of the JPost piece, and many like him, doesn’t bother to explain – and it’s no accident – what is exactly “criticism of Israel.” Is it criticism of the government? Of the government’s political behavior? Of the army? Of the state as a structure? Is arguing for an ethnicity-blind state (“a state for all its citizens”) anti-Semitism, as it seeks to change Israel, and in the process, criticize it? Is arguing for the one-state solution a form of anti-Semitism? Is arguing against the occupation anti-Semitism, as it is an Israeli project, carried out by almost all Israelis?

Dwelling on these questions would necessarily label many Israelis, including Members of Knesset and prominent institutions, along with half the world, inherently anti-Semitic.

Naturally, some readers would accept this, and answer that yes! Those groups and people, even if they are Jewish or Israeli, are in fact anti-Semitic. I urge them to reconsider. The effect of such a claim would not be the delegitimization of anti-Semitism, but quite the opposite: Many real anti-Semites would be seen as partners in a large and rational community that deserves to be heard. If everyone is equal to the Nazis, then maybe Nazism wasn’t that bad after all.

Moreover: The terms Zionism, Israeli and Judaism were never meant to overlap. A person can identify with two out of three of those descriptions, or even just one out of three. The current ideological shift in Israel has a lot to do with the integration of different aspects of identity into one. The state (Israel) equals the Jewish people equals the ideology (Zionism), and everyone not abiding with this model is necessarily a traitor – or an anti-Semite.

I am not a big fan of Israeli romanticism – the longing for the lost democratic and liberal past, which I do not believe ever really existed – but I would say this: Israeli politics in the past had the ability to be relaxed enough, focused enough on consensus-building, for it to hold together a structure with many internal contradictions: Judaism and democracy, socialism and free market, Zionists and anti-Zionists. The new Israeli right would like the center of the political system and the public sphere, the former place of fragile consensus, to be ideologically and ethnically pure, and labeling any challenge as an existential danger is an important part of this process. The idea of across-the-board purity was popular in Europe in the late 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century. I’ll stop here.

In the face of such a threat, old truths must be repeated: Criticism of the Israeli government is important, and it’s important most of all for Israelis, because power needs always to be criticized. The right to challenge the political structure – even to change the country (Americans would have called it amending the Constitution) – should be the right of every living human being, including Israelis.

Israel is currently engaged in the longest-lasting military occupation on earth, a racist colonial project, which involves violence and human rights abuses on a structural, large-scale basis. Perhaps it’s not the worst regime on earth and it’s certainly not the worst in history, but it’s bad enough to deserve all the attention it gets, and more. Fighting it is not anti-Semitism. It’s called having a conscience.

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    1. XYZ

      While your statemen is truet:
      The terms Zionism, Israeli and Judaism were never meant to overlap

      the fact is that Israel is perceived by most people around the world as “THE JEWISH STATE”. This even be the case even if the leadership of the state didn’t proclaim this and even if the symbols of the state didn’t reflect it…the fact that the large majority of the population are Jews and the language is Hebrew and the year revolves around the Jewish calendar makes it so by default.
      When I look at Israeli bashing sites, the fact of the matter is that I don’t see any differentiation between Jews and Israel made. Just yesterday I glanced at MONDOWEISS, which is one of the premier anti-Israel hate sites (which coincidentally or not, is run by Jews) and there was a learned discussion about how the laws of Kashrut is a reflection of the fact that supposedly “Jews hate Goyim”.
      Now, of course, there are different defintions of “criticism” of Israel. One could say “I think Israel should give up the West Bank and create a Palestinian state”, and not be perceived as being a “antisemite”, because many mainline Jews and Israelis think the same thing. However to go to things like “Israel is dragging the whole to war” or “AIPAC is destroying America by controlling the gov’t and forcing it to carry out policies inimical to America’s interests” is a whole different ball game. The fact that many Jews say these things as well does not make it any the less antisemitic. These are generalizations that get applied to all Jews, whether one likes it or not.

      Reply to Comment
      • Rachel Golem

        Laughing when Syrians kill each other is NOT Antisemitism!!!

        Reply to Comment
    2. Power?

      What “Power” are you talking about?
      There are 1.5 billion Mohammed worshippers who are eager to blow themselves up to kill Jews. Jews are ritually slaughtered to Mohammed in Itamar, Tolouse and elsewhere and the world doesn’t say a thing. Jewish schools have to be armed camps because everywhere that the Mohammedan or Liberals have colonized they are just itching to butcher Jewish children.
      The most hated nation on earth is Israel. Israelis have no power at all.
      If you want speak truth to power, try drawing a cartoon of your allies’ pedophile god. See what sort of reaction you’ll get. Try critiquing the Quran. Try criticizing suicide bombings.
      If you want to entertain a rich fantasy life where the most hated people on earth – the Jews – have any power, then try walking down a street in America, Malmo or Deerborn with a yamulka and then get back to me.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AS

      I certainly agree that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, and I emphatically agree that criticism of Israel is necessary for Israel become a more just society. However, a great deal of criticism of Israel–I’m thinking mainly of the criticism that comes from Europe and the US– does contain elements of anti-Semitism. I write from the point of view of a politically progressive American Jew. When I’ve tried to discuss this issue I encounter two default responses: 1) Defenders of Israel claim that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. 2) Defenders of Israel bring up anti-Semitism in order to silence debate. Both of these responses seem to me a way for people of the left to avoid dealing with the extent to which anti-Semitic tropes and mythologies shape the discourse about Israel. One of the best essays I’ve read on this subject is Jonathan Rosen’s The Uncomfortable Question of Anti-Semitism: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/04/magazine/the-uncomfortable-question-of-anti-semitism.html?pagewanted=all

      Rosen’s essay was published not long after the 9/11 attacks; the 9/11 attacks generated a plethora of conspiracy theories, nearly all of them involving Jews and/or Israel. The membrane between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel became more permeable after 9/11 because so many of the slanders about Israel and Jews were identical. For example, one of the more popular conspiracy theories claimed that 4000 Jews who worked in the Twin Towers were told to stay home from work that day. But sometimes that same slander would substitute Israelis for Jews, claiming that Mossad alerted 4000 Israelis to stay away from the towers on 9/11. Many of the conspiracy theories that germinated from ground zero have now settled into the discourse about Israel.

      One test for whether a claim is anti-Semitic is whether or not it’s true. For example, it’s not anti-Semitic to state the AIPAC is an extremely powerful lobby. No one disputes that fact. However, it is anti-Semitic to claim that AIPAC controls American foreign policy and the media. That claim is anti-Semitic because it’s not true; it’s based on anti-Semitic mythologies about Jewish power rather than on reality. Let me provide another example: In their book The Israel Lobby, Mearsheimer and Walt argue that America’s support for Israel undermines America’s interests in the world. Fair enough. I don’t agree with that thesis, but it’s a legitimate argument and I wouldn’t consider it anti-Semitic. However, Mearsheimer and Walt cross the line into anti-Semitism when they exaggerate the power of the Jewish lobby in order to support their thesis. Of the many flaws in their book, one of the most egregious is that they did not interview a single member of congress to support their claim that the Israel lobby controls congress. Instead, they resort to arguments that are identical to claims in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In my view, the most pernicious anti-Semitic argument in their book– an argument that has become gospel for many on the left– is that the Israel lobby was a driving force behind the Iraq war. The Iraq war was conceived and prosecuted by George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for their own demented reasons– none of which had anything to do with Israel. The notion that Jews are the true powers behind foreign wars comes straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Unfortunately, that view has become entrenched in the culture, whether it’s expressed by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq and patron saint of the anti-war movement, claiming that her son died for Israel, or Mel Gibson ranting that fucking Jews start all the wars.

      Reply to Comment
    4. max

      “Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”
      Martin Luther King
      I like the JPost article (www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=270755 ) if only for its well-argued provocation. With its message, it’s quite obvious that – despite its claim on the surface otherwise – Kerstein doesn’t refer to all criticism but to that fitting the known result he mentions. So for example internal criticism, which isn’t used by ‘the world’ would be OK. I presume that his intention was to provoke, not to provide a fail-proof position.
      So Noam completely misses the point of the article by getting into the details. The message – which I disagree with – is: Israel’s existence is in peril because so many in the world are anti-Semites wishing for its destruction; providing them with ammunition – even if correct – cannot be viewed as meant to help as the negative effect will be more important. The result will be ‘the operation succeeded, but the patient is dead’.
      Kerstein further explains that this logic, forcing one to face the eventual _real_ consequence of one’s actions, should be applied to both ‘subjective anti-Semites’ and ‘objective anti-Semites’ but his message is obviously targeting the ‘objective anti-Semites’.
      I’m sure that we all can imagine a situation where Kerstein’s logic is easily understood, so the only question is whether this is really Israel’s situation; well, it’s the only question for those that think that anti-Semitism is wrong.

      Reply to Comment
    5. If you want to think about this seriously, then you should stop using the term ‘anti-Semitism,’ unless that is actually what you mean: the ‘racial’ group that in principle includes all whose ancestors were speakers of Semitic languages in the last few millennia. That would include all Arabic-speakers, whether Jewish or not (206 million), not to mention Amharic (27 million), Tigrinya (6.7 million), and Aramaic (about 2.2 million). This may not have been relevant in Wilhelm Marr’s day, but it’s relevant now. In Marr’s day, the contemporary theory of races, with its Biblical Shem, Ham and Japheth basis, was only relevant to Europeans in so far as it applied to Jews. This is not so any longer. Therefore, if one means ‘anti-Jewish,’ one should say so. As it is, the deliberate use of this outdated phrase implies, as it is intended to, that everyone who is regarded rightly or wrongly as anti-Jewish has the same racial theory that Marr had. Neither Jews nor anyone else has the right to impose innaccurate, tendentious, loaded terminology on hyper-sensitive topics in their own interest.

      Reply to Comment
    6. AS

      Yes, “anti-Jewish” is a technically more accurate term for prejudice against Jews than “anti-Semitic.” But anti-Semitic has become the standard term for prejudice against Jews. Maybe it’s not as technically accurate as “anti-Jewish,” but many phrases that have become part of standard usage are not always technically accurate. “Homosexual,” for example, is more technically accurate than “gay” for same-sex attraction, but most people use the term gay when referring to homosexuals.

      When people nitpick about the accuracy of the term anti-Semitism, as you do above, it’s almost always done to deny or mitigate the very real existence of hatred against Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    7. max

      @AS, didn’t you use to comment with another name?
      @RB, as the term is well defined for any person who cares about words – and you seem to be one – and as there are many such instances, all the way to full misnomers, which don’t seem to bother intelligent discussions, why to you claim that in order to think of it seriously one has to abandon the traditional term?

      Reply to Comment
    8. It’s become the standard term because its very vagueness and tendentiousness adds to the difficulty of making concrete criticisms of Israel’s condition. That’s the idea. If you accustom yourself to saying ‘anti-Jewish’ instead of ‘anti-Semitic’ you will immediately notice an improvement in the clarity and self-evidence of what you say. In most cases, as in this JPost case, the purpose of the polemic is to imply that any criticism of Israel that may encourage unspecified third parties to develop anti-Jewish feelings, whether ‘racial’, religious, or merely political, amounts to a recrudescence of Nazism. This is obviously nonsense, but the use of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ automatically implies it without stating it, which is the whole purpose of these polemics.

      Reply to Comment
    9. max

      @AS: I found it

      Reply to Comment
    10. Jack

      This is really a pseudo-debate, thats used by pro-israeli camp to deflect world attention by using the primitive ad hominem. Its has about to crack more and more for every year that pass by.

      Reply to Comment
    11. max

      @RB, the term Antisemitism precedes Nazism; regardless, I can’t make sense of your text, which seems to have a circular logic and – again – this “you will immediately notice” type of ‘arguments’.

      Reply to Comment
    12. AS

      Hi, Max– Yes, I did comment with my real name. When I challenged some of RB’s arguments in another thread, he accused me of being a paid right-wing propagandist– presumably for AIPAC or some other organ of Jewish media control. So I then replied using my real name(Adam Schwartz), even including my website, so he would see me as real person an not as some abstract enemy constructed by his conspiracy theories.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Max, I cited Wilhelm Marr as the source of the term, so it’s obtuse to tell me the term precedes nazism, as if I didn’t know that. Circularity is sometimes a feature of the thing described, so the point is to decide whether the description is accurate, not whether it’s circular. As for self-evidence, this is the whole point of a description: to show that correctly understood the phenomemon does indeed have a self-evident nature.
      Adam, you stepped into XYZ’s shoes and took up his polemic where he left it off, and I suspected that you were either simply him under another set of initials, or a colleague of his. He certainly seems to me to be a professional propagandist, rather than just someone who hangs around here and argues with people because he’s interested in getting at the truth. I know there is formal training for amateur hasbarists, too, so perhaps he has undergone this training without being a paid professional at it.

      Reply to Comment
    14. b.a.

      “Recognizing the state that a certain group of Jews has formed – not even a majority – as representing every Jew on earth (and perhaps every Jew in history) is actually closer to old anti-Semite thinking.”

      This statement seems accurate — however, it would apply not simply to the author of the column that you’re critiquing, but to mainstream political Zionist opionion more broadly, which does tend to view the current State of Israel as representing every Jew on earth (i.e. representing ‘the Jewish people’ conceived collectively). So then your observation would translate into: mainstream political Zionist thought is actually closer to old anti-Semite thinking.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      I’m not really interested in that Jerusalem Post column. This did catch my attention, though, from Noam Sheizaf: “Israel is currently engaged in the longest-lasting military occupation on earth….”
      Is that true? I remember reading that “military occupation” itself is a surprisingly new juridical concept, maybe dating only from the 19th century (I don’t remember exactly). Mostly, it referred to specific situations in a now-vanished world order, the Westphalian order of sovereign states.
      On the other hand, if you’re not talking legalese, then even Palestine itself has been “occupied” for longer, hasn’t it? By the Romans, for instance. And who gets to call himself occupied, anyway? Is Tibet occupied (since 1950)? Is Jaffa occupied (since 1948)?
      Anyway, if what Israel’s been doing since 1967 is a military occupation, then precisely speaking it cannot be (quoting from the same sentence) a “colonial project,” nor can it be (from an earlier article) a de facto state that includes the territories. Come on, lefties, pick one of those choices and stick with it. You can’t have more than one.

      Reply to Comment
    16. I think Kerstein’s parody on the origins of fascism is a wonderful read, worthy of a better newspaper.
      When he comes to Ben-Gurion’s quote, that it’s all about “a world that is overwhelmingly not Jewish”, it reminded me of Monty Python in their best days.
      There is still hope if even the JP turns to humor.
      Let’s all have a good laugh, and end the occupation. One step at the time, since the world is also overwhelmingly not Chinese. But let’s start here.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Joel_O

      @Rowan: I agree very much with Noam’s original post, but I think an overemphasis on a terminological debate of anti-semitism vs. anti-jewishness is confusing, rather than clarifying the issue.
      With that said, I think anti-semitism has been completely over politicized by both right- and left-wing rhetoric. As Noam points out, it is massively damaging to label everything/everyone critical of Israel and its actions anti-semitic for all the above mentioned reasons. However, equally damaging is the rhetoric by the left, which belittles the existence of real anti-semitism directed towards Jews and which denies that NO criticism of ISrael can contain anti-semitic elements or themes – that it’s “only right wingers trying to silent criticism.”
      The consequences of both right- and left-wing abuse of the term results in a complete inability to discuss the very real and legitimate criticism of Israel in a constructive way when both sides are “shouting fool” instead of engaging with the issues.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Joel_O

      @AS: “One test for whether a claim is anti-Semitic is whether or not it’s true.”
      I find this to go to the heart of the matter, how do we separate legitimate claims and criticism from anti-semitic ones? While truth certainly is one test we can apply, it’s not always so simple. For example the claim that Jews have disproportionate power and success is certainly true in many respects. So, when does that claim transcend into being anti-semitic?
      I wrote a short article about it after a rather nasty story in a large Finnish newspaper discussing that very question: http://bunkingaround.blogspot.com/2011/04/disproportionate-jewish-success-fact-or.html

      Reply to Comment
    19. Jack


      The definition is very clear of where the lines are drawn. Only pro-israeli groups trying to cover any criticism against Israel as something else.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Henry

      Lemme just throw this out there:

      COMPLETELY REGARDLESS OF THE CONTENT OF THE ARGUMENT, when I read headlines like the one attached to the jpost piece, my brain does the following:

      “Oh. Well, the thing is, I’m critical of Israel — inasmuch as I don’t think it’s policy vis a vis the treatment of the residents of the west bank is very smart, and because I’m a nuclear non-proliferationist. Neither of those things have anything to do with Jews, or Jewishness, or even the Israeli people, except inasmuch as Israel is a democracy and so those policies are, in some distant sense, the result of the Israeli people — all of them, Jew and non-Jew alike.

      And I’m comfortable with those criticisms. I think they’re well-founded, and I’m going to stick with them.

      But they make me an anti-semite, apparently.

      So, I guess, I’m comfortable with being an anti-semite?”

      Like, seriously, that’s what goes through my brain: a weighing of the possibility that if my opinions of Israel make me an anti-semite, whether I’d be OK with that.

      How fucked up is that? But that’s what happens when people assert the equivalence: it makes me say, well, if that’s true, then it seems to me that THERE’S A SOUND, REASONABLE BASIS FOR BEING AN ANTI-SEMITE.

      WHICH IS INSANE, but if the one necessitates the other, then I really don’t know what to tell you: I’m anti-nuke, therefore I’m an anti-semite.

      I guess what I’m saying is, you’ve got an assertion here that sort of cheapens what it means to be an anti-semite. How on EARTH would it be in any Jew’s or Israeli’s interest to TRIVIALIZE anti-semitism?

      There are things that are repulsive, repugnant, and then there’s everything else. I mean, cannibalism, pedophilia — that sort of ‘cringe at the idea’ stuff. THAT’S where anti-semitism lives, and where it SHOULD live. The minute you make me say, “Hmm — which is more important to me, nuclear non-proliferation or not being an anti-semite?”, and really, like, weigh that in my mind? The minute that happens, anti-semitism as a notion stops being the untouchable, unapology-able thing that it should be, and becomes something negotiable.

      THAT is the harm that conflating these two ideas does: it makes me perform the mental calculus where I weigh ‘not being an anti-semite’ against some other thing that I really hold dear, and that’s really, really not calculus that anyone should be promoting.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Either my point just hasn’t sunk in, Joel, or you have some reason for disputing it that you haven’t stated. As it is, you say, “an overemphasis on a terminological debate of anti-semitism vs. anti-jewishness is confusing,” but then you talk about “real anti-semitism directed towards Jews” and “anti-semitic elements or themes,” as if you know what these are. But unless you break down the misleading aggregate term “anti-Semitism” you will not know what they are. On the face of it (and this is its intention) the term implies a ‘race’ theory a la Wilhelm Marr. But this becomes absurd when the people being accused of it are themselves ‘Semites’ in Marr’s sense, or are defending those who are.
      A second and in fact much older and more significant form of anti-Jewish feeling is religious, and I would suggest calling this ‘anti-Judaism,’ but Christian anti-Judaists and Muslim anti-Judaists are anti- one another as well, so, in order to create the illusion of a united anti-Jewish front comprising racial anti-Semites and also both Christian and Muslim anti-Judaists, you have to create a positive smokescreen of confusion, which most Zionist polemicists do. And this is the point: it is actually anti-Zionism which they are attempting to discredit, by labelling it in such a way as to imply that it is based on racial or religious prejudice, even when it is purely political.
      Finally, they appoint themselves as judges and juries to determine when criticism of Israel becomes ‘anti-Semitic’ in this deliberately and inextricably confused sense, and they invariably conclude that it does so at the point where it disagrees with their own political party policy, even when it comes from other Jews, or even other Zionists, who will then be classified under another bogus rubric, as crypto-anti-Semitic self-haters. Now there is such a thing as Jewish self-hatred, but political polemicists are seldom equipped for the kind of delicate political psychology they would need to determine what it is.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Joel_O

      @Rowan: You say that “anti-semitic themes or elements” are confusing, if they are not broken down. Yet, you are clearly aware of at least some of them, since you refer to Christian anti-jewish sentiments. So clearly, even if I didn’t open the term, you knew what I was talking about. That’s what I mean, many people have an idea of what anti-semitism is, even if they are not scholars in its completely idea-history. That’s why I think anti-semitism is just fine for most occasions, unless a very specific academic point is being made.
      Now, I agree completely many (on the right) have become self-appointed judges of what constitutes anti-semitism (especially in relation to zionism) and what doesn’t. I have myself been accused multiple times of being an anti-zionist, with the point of avoiding my argument altogether.
      But what I can’t make out from your posts is weather you think that NO anti-israel or anti-zionism arguments are or can have anti-semitic themes and/or motives? Because my point was that leftist-rhetoric that denies this is equally unhelpful for a sensible critical discussion about Israel and zionism and their faults.
      For example those Christian anti-jewish themes and myths that you mentioned can today be seen not only in prejudice and stereotypes regarding Jews, but also in SOME of the criticism of Israel and Zionism. So however justified the criticism might be, when it employs ideas and images from traditional anti-semitism it tries to justify those claims, not by factual arguments based on reality, but by appealing to the anti-semitic myths that we might have in our culture.
      Good research on the idea-history of anti-semitism has been done by Henrik Bachner. Unfortunately he has published mostly in Swedish, but this article of him is in english: http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2001-2/bachner.htm There’s some thing I don’t like about the article, but it does a good job in demonstrating the similarities between traditional anti-semitic myths and some criticism related to Israel and zionism.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Rehmat

      There is no doubt that many of Zionist leaders hated their fellow Jews who refused to be dicted by the Zionist doctrine.

      Yehezkel Kaufman in article, titled “The Ruin of Soul” collected quotes from some of the Zionist writers (Frishman, Lenni Brenner, Berdichevsky, AD. Gordon, Schawadron, Klatzkin, Pinsker, Israel Joshua Singer, Chaim Kaplan, etc.), which if repeated on air – would get you fired from CNN, BBC, CBS, etc.

      Chaim Kaplan, who kept a diary during the Warsaw ghetto uprising, wrote his Jew-hating observation: “Every nation, in its time of misfortune, has conspirators who do their work in secret. In our case an entire nation has been raised on conspiracy. With others the conspiracy is political; with us it is religious and national”.


      Reply to Comment
    24. Joel, I think that’s a good example of the sort of writing that passes as ‘research into anti-Semitism’, but I don’t recognise it as a bona fide scientific enterprise. Establishments like the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of the Holocaust and Antisemitism (at Tel Aviv Uni) or the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (at HUJI) are, as their names indicate, wholly funded by ‘philanthropists’ and not accountable to the rest of the academic world for the rigour of their conceptualisation in the way that bona fide history departments, for instance, are.
      I read the paper rapidly, as I tend to do, and it’s quite a mishmash of selective media analysis, amateur psychoanalysis, and coffee table history writing. I would pick out a few axioms that define the author’s sense of what ‘anti-Semitism’ is. One is that ‘Jewish conspiracies’ cannot possibly actually exist, especially large-scale ones. Another is that the conduct of the Israeli state cannot possibly resemble that of the Nazis. Another is that criticisms of the sanctification of genocide in the Bible cannot possibly be justified. Yet another is that no one can possibly question the canonical version of Holocaust history. I stress: these are axioms.

      Reply to Comment
    25. AS

      @Joel@AS: “One test for whether a claim is anti-Semitic is whether or not it’s true.”
      I find this to go to the heart of the matter, how do we separate legitimate claims and criticism from anti-semitic ones? While truth certainly is one test we can apply, it’s not always so simple. For example the claim that Jews have disproportionate power and success is certainly true in many respects. So, when does that claim transcend into being anti-semitic?
      I wrote a short article about it after a rather nasty story in a large Finnish newspaper discussing that very question: http://bunkingaround.blogspot.com/2011/04/disproportionate-jewish-success-fact-or.html

      Very interesting article. Jewish success and achievement can be explained in sociological and cultural terms, but the problems arise once the phenomenon is explained in terms of ethnic characteristics. The pattern of Jewish achievement in the US is now being repeated by East Asians and South Asians. These two communities earn more per-capita than any other group in the United States. 60 years ago, Ivy league colleges had quotas to limit the number of Jewish students; now they have quotas to limit the number of Asian students.

      I like to think the best approach to anti-Semitic claims is to look at them rationally and logically. For example, as I mentioned earlier, many people in the world believed that the 9/11 attacks were planned by Jews and/or Israel and that 4000 Jews were provided with advance notice of the attacks. How does one explain, then, the hundreds of Jews who died in the attacks? Moreover, it’s completely irrational to believe that 4000 people could be told of the attacks in advance and then not tell other people. What are the odds that 4000 people can keep the same secret?

      All right– that’s an easy one. What about the claim that AIPAC controls congress. Jews represent approximately 2% of the US population, and most of the Jewish population resides in a handful of states– New York, New Jersey, Florida and California. There are 435 members of congress, the vast majority of them with a zero-minscule Jewish constituency. Here is the question I would ask of anyone who believes that AIPAC controls the US congress: what possible leverage would AIPAC hold over the many members of congress without a Jewish constituency?

      Alas, if someone is predisposed to believe that Israel carried out the 9/11 attacks or that AIPAC controls congress, I doubt reason or logic would be of much use.

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    26. Deirdre Shaw

      The term anti-Semitic does not relate specifically to Israel or Jews. Semitic is an ethnological and linguistic term referring to a language group that includes Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew, so unless a person is making an accusation directed at all members of all the people who speak the languages included in that group, they are not being anti-Semitic. It is about time people stopped hijacking words with very particular meanings either to mean something else or only to refer to one small part of the meaning. If you want to accuse people of being prejudiced against Israeli citizens then you should say anti-Israeli. If you want to accuse people of being prejudiced against Zionist expansionists, then you should say anti-Zionist. If you want to accuse people of being prejudiced against Jews generally, then you should say anti-Jewish. By misusing the term anti-Semitic, you mislead and oversimplify. Worse what you do is to role up these three different positions in one and therefore include accusations that are probably inappropriate. After all, with due regard to accuracy, if those opposed to Israel are anti-Semitic so are those opposed to Palestine because the Palestinians are Semites too. It is perfectly possible to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. It is just about possible to be anti-Israel without being anti-Jewish. Your misuse of English completely negates any worth your article might have and, if you want to be taken seriously, I strongly recommend that you rewrite it with some regard to precision.

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    27. max

      @HENRY, I think that your question bears its answer… If you protest against nukes you don’t protest against Israel, but against all that have it; if you find out that you only protest Israel’s nukes then chances are you’re not anti-nuke.
      Assuming – of course – that you’re not Israeli.
      But as I wrote earlier, dealing with the JP article at this level completely misses its point – have you read it?

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    28. PS to my reply to Joel: the author of that paper “has a Ph.D. from the Department of History of Ideas and Science at Lund University.” That implies the ability to exercise scholarly rigour, I don’t deny. But once a scholar has his doctorate, he doesn’t always maintain the rigour he used to get it.

      Now, Adam: “many people in the world believed that the 9/11 attacks were planned by Jews and/or Israel” is not a statement you can dismiss just by dismissing the one you attach to it, “4000 Jews were provided with advance notice of the attacks.” I agree with your grounds for dismissing the latter statement, but ther former statement is perfectly plausible without it. I think it’s wrong, but there is one very clear reason for suspecting a Jewish involvement, namely, the fact that the towers seem to have been pre-rigged with demolition charges, presumably with the connivance of their owners, Larry Silverstein and Frank Lowy. There is equally strong reason for suspecting Saudi involvement, in the matter of the planes. And there is overwhelming evidence of US involvement, naturally. As to your AIPAC question, it’s got nothing to do with votes, and everything to do with funding or defunding the candidates’ campaigns.

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    29. Joel_O

      Rowan, I think you are rightly suspicious of the centers you mention. However, Bachner is an independent researches from Sweden, who’s research has been published in perfectly respectable journals and his doctoral dissertation on which the article is based is accepted in Lund University.
      The article in turn doesn’t do his dissertation justice. It does indeed make many assumptions and it doesn’t present the conceptual history he is talking about in sufficient depth. But I think that comes with the nature of a relatively short article on a subject like this. His dissertation discusses many axioms you question and gives reasons for why he has made them. All research makes them, so weather or not they degrade the work largely depends on weather or not they are reasonable for the work at hand.
      As for the specific examples you gave: I don’t think all of them are in fact made by Bachner, at least in the form you state them and some of them are very reasonable indeed, for example that we do in fact know quite well what happened during the Holocaust. Sure, it and many other axioms can be questioned, but research has to be focused on and assumptions in relation to other fields have to be made to move foreword.

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    30. max

      @DEIRDRE ” It is about time people stopped hijacking words with very particular meanings”
      I’d say it’s about time people would learn about the root of terms before they go on ranting, exposing their total ignorance

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    31. jay aaron

      I am a very well educated Jew, and getting old; I’ve been around the world, and of course, seen a lot. I’ve thought a lot too. I’d like to be “fair” and agree with the premise of this piece, but actually, I do think that anti-Zionism is really anti-semitism. I say this because I know how many times, and to what extent, successive Israeli governments have tried to come to an accord with the Palestinian leadership and, like Abba Eban said, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. I have read about what’s what many times. I have witnessed what’s happening in the minds of some in Europe. Sadly, I conclude it IS anti-semitism (because Israel has bent over backwards to be fair, to make peace)

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    32. There’s an astonishing amount we don’t know about the Holocaust, in the sense of forensic proof. This is partly because all the key sites remained under Soviet control until the 1990s. Another hampering factor is that excavation at the Operation Reinhard sites remains forbidden for reasons of Jewish religious sensitivity. This is not a matter of mere morbid interest; historians would normally expect the ability to use forensic methods to quantify such appalling losses objectively. Let me give you two examples.
      From 1986 to Apr 3 1990, the words on the English plaque at the International Monument read: “FOUR MILLION PEOPLE SUFFERED AND DIED HERE AT THE HANDS OF THE NAZI MURDERERS BETWEEN THE YEARS 1940 AND 1945.” In 1990, the plaques with the figure of four million were removed. It was not until 1995 that new plaques were placed at the International Monument. The number of deaths on the plaques was changed from ‘four million’ to ‘about one and a half million.’ The English inscription now reads: “FOR EVER LET THIS PLACE BE A CRY OF DESPAIR AND A WARNING TO HUMANITY, WHERE THE NAZIS MURDERED ABOUT ONE AND A HALF MILLION MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN, MAINLY JEWS FROM VARIOUS COUNTRIES OF EUROPE. AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU 1940-1945.” According to Dr Franciszek Piper, chair of the Historical Department at the Auschwitz State Museum, the correct figure is “at least 1.1 million.” Nizkor suggests that, although the Russian figure of four million Auschwitz deaths had long before been refuted by Gerald Reitlinger (who arrived at a figure for Auschwitz deaths of 800,000 to 900,000, the 1986 plaques carried it because the site was controlled by the east German government, and international Jewish scholarship was unable to prevail upon them to take account of post-war research. But what then of the overall total of six million? The Nizkor authors state: “Few (if any) historians ever believed the Museum’s four million figure, having arrived at their own estimates independently. The museum’s inflated figures were never part of the estimated five to six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, so there is no need to revise this figure.” However, I find it hard to escape the impression that, the six million figure having become canonical, successive exercises in Holocaust scholarship fixed the facts around this figure.
      Mass grave find at Treblinka – Lee Cain, Daily Mail (UK), Jan 18 2012 – A British forensic archaeologist has unearthed fresh evidence to prove the existence of mass graves at the Nazi death camp Treblinka. Some 800,000 Jews were killed at the site in north east Poland during WW2. Forensic archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls has now undertaken the first co-ordinated scientific attempt to locate the graves. As Jewish religious law forbids disturbing burial sites, she and her team from the University of Birmingham have used ground-penetrating radar. She says that the pits contain the burnt remains of thousands of bodies. The forensic archaeologist has now presented her findings to the authorities responsible for the memorial at Treblinka. Again, I would comment that there is a considerable difference between “thousands of bodies” and 800,000 bodies.

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    33. Joel_O

      Rowan, those are perfectly good examples of how we constantly learn more about even well known events such as the holocaust. But Bachners research is not dependent on that level of precision in Holocaust history. For his analysis the general events, which we do know quite well, is sufficient. This is what I mean with staying focused at the question at hand. And our question at hand was weather some anti-israel and anti-zionism rhetoric contains elements, themes and myths from classic anti-semitism, which not only Henrik Bachner, but also internationally known anti-semitism scholar Wolfgang Benz has demonstrated.
      It feels a bit like Bachner is trying to calculate how quickly his car will stop using Newtonian mechanics and you question it, by saying that Newton was wrong, as Einstein with his relativity theory and modern quantum mechanics has demonstrated. But Newton wasn’t wrong, his mechanics are accurate enough to calculate how quickly his car will stop. As is Bchner’s assumptions about holocaust history and some of the other axioms you mentioned.

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    34. Well now, relativity effects are absolutely infinitesimal, and I am talking about quite large numbers. But the point is that these writers lump all such questions together under the rubric of “Holocaust denial,” which is really a theological term. It assumes that we already know what ‘the Holocaust’ is, and some heretics are trying to ‘deny’ it. And, in my opinion, ‘anti-Semitism’ is also a theological term, in that we proceed as if we knew what it was, whereas in fact we don’t. But anyway, I shall let this matter rest now. It’s getting too late in the evening for such things.

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    35. max

      @RB, you seem to have difficulties stepping from conspiracy to analysis.
      “However, I find it hard to escape the impression that, the six million figure having become canonical, successive exercises in Holocaust scholarship fixed the facts around this figure” – after an anecdotal, yet interesting story, you summarize by a shallow, irrelevant ‘impression’ (or do you claim that the 6M figure was calculated on the base of ‘your’ original 4m?).
      The practice in Treblinka was to burn the bodies after the killing. Only in some (more remote) places were the pits left closed.
      The numbers of the victims are known thanks to the extensive Nazi documentation, not based on counting the bodies in mass graves.
      All this senseless text of yours just to not have to agree with Joel? Amazing

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    36. Joel_O

      Well, let me then also end it with a note from Popper: We cannot know the truth, we have to suffice with the verisimilitude of it. In other words, no truth is perfectly accurate, but until we have a better truth, we need to operate with the truth we have. That’s what theology once was, until it was replaced by science. Today, anti-semitism can be used both as theological and scientific term. And just because it is often used as a theological term, doesn’t mean that it always is, like when it is used by scholarly rigorous researches, like Bachner or Benz. But ‘nough about that now indeed.

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    37. max

      @JOEL_O, on your own blog you write “… claims regarding Jewish success…” in the context of this often – though not necessarily – leading to (or used as background for) Antisemitism.
      In RB’s case – my words that he agreed with – success is an indication of conspiracy, while
      someone else claimed an affinity between conspiracies and Antisemitic tendencies.
      @RB, as your ideas are often not more than exercises in ‘prove that this isn’t’ and rarely ‘here’s a proof that this is’, I wonder what’s your motivation?

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    38. Alex

      The best thing a Jew can do these days is to learn Torah, take pride in his/her Jewish heritage, and thank G-d we are back in the Land of Israel AND with an army to defend ourselves. Our strength is in our fealty to HaShem and loving our fellow Jews even if we disagree with them.


      In that light, I disagree with you, Noam. While you may be technically correct in the short run, in the long run people hate Israel because of us Jews, not because of its policies. If it were about policies (except the policy of existing), then there would be peace.


      That being said, you are my Jewish brother and I hope you find a great place to spend Shavuot! From Friday night to Sunday night (in Israel) and to Monday night (outside of Israel), celebrating Shabbat and then Shavuot is the “best thing a Jew can do these days.”



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    39. Deirdre Shaw

      Immediately, after my posting above, I emailed +972 asking for it to be deleted because I suddenly realised that whilst what I posted was factually correct, I had completely misdirected my criticisms and it was the Jerusalem Post I should have been addressing, not this website which, on reflection, I realised I was agreeing with. I offered to rewrite my offering if the original was deleted and, because I was so quick to email, I hoped it would be done without anyone realising there had been a post from me. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened and I would like to apologise to everyone who read my posting which I deem, in its present form, to be inappropriate. I still hope that it will be deleted because the last sentence, at the very least, should be deleted from a revision and I would also wish to make the tone of the whole essay less strident.

      My apologies again.

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    40. Joel_O

      @Max: People who are prone to conspiracies in general are probably also prone to conspiracies regarding Jews. But where we to accuse Rowan of being anti-semitic (as you insinuate) just because he thought Jews can conspire because they are successful and/or powerful, would we do anything different, as we create conspiracy theories about Rowans ulterior motives? – No, it’s right to be critical, but there is a limit to the benefits of it. And personally, I need A LOT more systematic evidence before I think anybody or anything is anti-semitic… just as I need A LOT more evidence before I change my perception of the overall events in the holocaust, for example.

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    41. AS

      @RB: ” there is one very clear reason for suspecting a Jewish involvement, namely, the fact that the towers seem to have been pre-rigged with demolition charges, presumably with the connivance of their owners, Larry Silverstein and Frank Lowy.” The towers were not pre-rigged with demolition charges, but, for the sake of argument, let’s say they were. Why would this indicate Jewish involvement?

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    42. AS

      @RB: “As to your AIPAC question, it’s got nothing to do with votes, and everything to do with funding or defunding the candidates’ campaigns.”

      No, it has a lot to do with votes as well as funding. The Tobacco industry had more money than God– even more money than AIPAC– but all that money could not keep congress and the attorneys generals of 46 states from gutting the industry once voter sentiment turned against Big Tobacco. For many years, advertising was the lifeblood of the tobacco industry, but now the tobacco industry is banned from advertising on television and can only advertise in a very limited capacity in print media. The 46 states won a 206 billion dollar judgment against the tobacco industry. Despite your theories that the American media is bought and paid for, the tide began to turn against the tobacco industry once the mainstream media– the very media that earned billions of dollars in advertising revenues from the tobacco industry– began to relentlessly expose the mendacity of the tobacco industry and the great harm caused by Big Tobacco.

      So, yes, votes matter as much as funding. If Israel were as reviled by the American public as the tobacco industry is, then all the money in the world couldn’t help AIPAC. The National Rifle Association is also one of the most powerful and richest lobbies in the US. I loathe everything they represent, but I understand that I live in a country where millions of people are nuts about guns and those people support the NRA and the elected representatives who support NRA legislation. The NRA is powerful not just because of money but because they have the support of millions of citizens. The same is true for AIPAC. You might loathe their agenda, but they have clout because a majority of Americans are supportive of Israel. Sometimes democracy is a bitch!

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    43. Richard Witty

      An impressive, laudable moral argument, Noam.


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    44. ginger

      Some hatred against some Jews is entirely justified – for example, a Palestinian who hates Avigdor Lieberman because Lieberman wants to ethnically cleanse him and then squat in his house has every reason in the world to justifiably hate a Jew like that, an Eskimo like that, or a Kalahari bushman like that

      The reality is that the sacred ‘Anti-semitism’ claimed by so many Jews, in modern times, cannot be divoreced from the many Jews who have participated in crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing and should be up on warcrimes charges in the Hague

      Sorry to change the sacred topic of converstation

      The Anti-semitism and Holocaust card, when used by Jews to condone Jewish atrocities, should be treated as the grain of salt it is

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    45. Rehmat

      In Europe in the past, the term ‘anti-Semitism’ was used to decribe Christians’ hatred toward Jews. These days, it’s used to vilify those whom the Zionist Jews don’t like.

      Israeli philosophy professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz said a few years ago that the Holocaust is new Jewish religion.

      The so-called “self-hating Jew” like Shraga Elam, Gilad Atzmon, Yoshua Shalev, Dr. Finkelstein, Roger Tucker, etc. believe that Jews today are either atheists or shun the religion of Judaism. Therefore, the Jewish people had to adopt belief in the ‘Holocaust’ as their new religion. They have spread this religion all over the world. ‘Holocaust’ museums are the new houses of worship and are present in most major cities. The new religion has its commandments, its decrees, its prophets, its high priests, its circle of saints, its rituals and its pilgrimages. It knows neither mercy, nor forgiveness, nor clemency but only the duty of vengeance. If you question the ‘Holocaust Religion’, you will go to prison.


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    46. AS

      Ginger writes: “Some hatred against some Jews is entirely justified… ”

      I wonder what assumptions we would make about a person who began a sentence “Some hatred against Muslims is entirely justifiable…” Who would write a sentence like that? Avigdor Lieberman, maybe?

      @Rhemat– This has been a long and sometimes confusing discussion of anti-Semitism. Thank you for providing such a clear and vivid example of anti-Semitism in your last post.

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    47. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Has this variant of Godwin’s Law been noted?—As an online discussion of anti-Semitism grows longer, the probability of a statement that Arabs are Semites too will approach one.

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    48. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      OK, so here’s how I define anti-Semitism: being opposed to Jews *as* Jews. I know that that definition doesn’t match current or past usage. It’s meant to be useful, to cut reality at the joints – dialectics, not rhetoric.
      Given this definition, it follows that anti-Semitism can be bad, good, or neutral, depending on context. Expanding on Ginger’s comment, some anti-Semitism is justified, for instance Arabs who oppose Jews moving into their neighborhood because they’re Jews; they can’t be opposed as individuals, obviously, because they can’t be known as individuals, only as members of a group. Once you stop using “anti-Semitic” as a swear word, you can start to think.

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    49. XYZ

      (1) I am curious as to why Noam has that picture of the tattered flag on this piece. What is that supposed to mean…are you saying this is the end of Israel? Is that something desirable?
      (2) Aaron the FT –
      Isn’t it interesting how all these “critical of Israel” sites attract so many antisemites? Why is it that people like Silverstein and Phil Weiss (both of whom supposedly moderate their sites) feel much more comfortable with antisemites than they do with “right-wing” Jews?
      BTW-I like your nom de plume. If I were to pick a new name, maybe I would pick “Lying Hasbaraist”.

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    50. Aaron the fascist troll says “I define anti-Semitism: being opposed to Jews *as* Jews.”
      Ahem… we don’t really know what a ‘Jew’ is…

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