When does criticism of Israel cross over into antisemitism? Here’s five examples showing how

This blog forms part of a three-part series looking at freedom of religious belief, freedom of expression and religious intolerance concerning the Abrahamic faiths and their communities. 

In this blog, Stephen Hoffman (a supporter of a two-State solution who identifies as pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and pro-peace), explains the difference between legitimate criticism of Israeli politics/policies and antisemitic abuse.  

By Stephen Hoffman

When it comes to Israel or Zionism, many people frequently embrace their inner antisemite either consciously or unconsciously. Many seem to think they can get away with blatant antisemitic tropes and language if you replace the word “Jew” for “Israel” or “Zionism”. It is perfectly described by Peter Ahlmark, former deputy Prime Minister of Sweden who said:

In the past, the most dangerous antisemites were those who wanted to make the world Judenrein, ‘free of Jews.’ Today, the most dangerous antisemites might be those who want to make the world Judenstaatrein, ‘free of a Jewish state’.

In this blog, I will highlight where criticism of Israel, crosses over into antisemitism territory.

1. When criticism of Israel ends up painting Jews as part of a worldwide cabal with dastardly plans of controlling the world, media, or politicians, you are utilising age-old conspiracy theories of Jews possessing excessive power and wielding this power to subjugate non-Jews.

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This is an example of the idea that Jews are nefarious and powerful, controlling our minds, our money, and the media and therefore are to blame the evil that is present in the world.

2. Sometimes those who criticise Israel use horrific medieval-era tropes, such as those used in the Middle Ages that spread across England that Jews murdered and drank the blood of non-Jewish children, the so-called “blood libel”. This led to the death of Jews and their expulsion from England in 1290.

One of the most infamous examples of these sorts of tropes being used when criticising Israel was provided by Baroness Tonge, then a Lib Dem (now an Independent) Peer. In February 2016 she demanded that the Israeli Government disprove completely specious allegations that Israeli emergency medical teams who went out to Haiti to help those devastated by earthquakes had harvested the organs of earthquake victims for transplants in Israel. This is a modern day equivalent of the medieval blood libel.

3. One of the most common antisemitic calling cards is the dual loyalty canard. It’s the claim that Zionists are only loyal to Israel and not where they live or were born. It plays on the antisemitic idea that Jews can never be trusted.

It will come as no surprise to most that this type of antisemitism – presented as fair criticism of Israel – has become prevalent in a Labour Party riddled with antisemitism.

Disconcertingly, Momentum activists in Barnet, an area with one of the largest proportions of Jews in the UK, seem to revel in talk of Jew’s dual loyalties. The clearest example of this came from leaked conversations The Independent received in which one participant in these conversations claimed:

There were people in the Labour Party whose allegiances lie with a foreign government.

For years, Jews have been accused of undermining the state they live in. Now Jews are treated as being agents for Israel, by those who are blinded by hatred of Israel.

4. A common way those addicted to demonising Israel reveal antisemitic colours is by treating Israel as the collective Jew.

This was bought home to me when, after I tweeted my solidarity with the Jewish people who were murdered in a Kosher store in 2015 by a murderous terrorist, I was attacked by the left-wing journalist Mira Bar-Hillel who saw it fit to tweet the following in response to my solidarity with French Jews.

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Here, Bar-Hillel uses her hatred of Israel to highlight why Jews are selfish and deserve no sympathy, with the inference being Israel is such an evil nation because it embodies Jewish values.

5. A common idea in any type of antisemitism is the idea that Jews are a foreign entity. Not only is this antisemitic, but it breeds hatred, because throughout history those who are the unknown outsiders are the scapegoats to blame for anything going wrong.

Sadly, none other than the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn used this type of language when he stated at a conference in London in 2013 run by the Palestinian Return Centre that unnamed Zionists in the audience have two problems:

One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.

This plays into the idea that Zionists living in the UK are alien to British culture and therefore deserve disdain and ridicule. Replace the word Zionist for Jew and you have the sort of tropes used against Jews for centuries to make them feel unwanted wherever they lived.

I believe that there are many good people who support the Palestinian people who express this support without an iota of antisemitism. However, it cannot be ignored that far too many use a hatred of Zionism or apparent support for Palestinians to spread the noxious virus of antisemitism, whether consciously or unconsciously. It does the Palestinian cause inordinate harm and gives new life to the world’s oldest hatred. It’s time those leading the support for Palestinians take a hard line on antisemitism, whenever it reveals its ugly head. For everyone’s sake.

This blog is an amended version of an article first published via Israel Hate Watch (28/11/2018)

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