CST Blog

Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?

15 November 2013

Jonathan Boyd, Executive Director of London's highly respected Institute for Jewish Policy Research, has a typically well written and thought-provoking article, concerning what is probably the most controversial question in the recent Fundamental Rights Agency survey of European Jews and antisemitism. (See previous CST blog articles: summaries here and here, and more detailed analyses, here and here.)

That question is, not surprisingly, "is criticism of Israel antisemitic"? The analysis shows that most Jews do not consider criticism of Israel to be antisemitic: but they do consider it to be antisemitic, when it involves calls to boycott Israel, or compares Israel to Nazi Germany.

At its conclusion, the article also usefuly states, "Criticism of the Israeli government is legitimate; plenty of Israelis criticise it every day. But the vitriol around the criticism has to stop. It’s not solving the problem, it’s creating a new one."

The entire article can be read here on Jonathan Boyd's own blog, "Jewish People, Jewish Texts, Jewish Homeland". Excerpts as follows (emphases added):

"It’s the debate that seems to rage continually in political discourse...it has led to diplomatic incidents, court cases, tribunals, verbal insults and physical violence, and no small measure of psychological distress. It’s fraught with political tension, it’s littered with innuendo, and it’s extraordinarily divisive. Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?

...recently published results of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) survey of discrimination and hate crime against Jews in EU Member States, conducted by the research team at JPR in partnership with Ipsos MORI, sheds new and important light on it, that ought to be brought to bear when discussing the question in future.

...So what did it find? Respondents were presented with fourteen statements...The statements included various common antisemitic canards, as well as more ambiguous attitudes and ideas. Among the fourteen statements tested was one which asked the Jewish respondents if they would consider a non-Jewish person antisemitic if he or she “criticises Israel.”

Interestingly, it came bottom of the list. Across the eight countries reported, two-thirds of respondents said criticism of Israel is either “probably not” or “definitely not” antisemitic.

...Other statements listed included comments related in some way to Israel or Israelis. Notably, respondents were asked to rate the statements “Israelis behave ‘like Nazis’ towards the Palestinians”, and “Supports boycotts of Israeli goods/products.” And, faced with these statements, the respondents reacted very differently. 81% of them considered the Israeli-Nazi parallel to be definitely or probably antisemitic, and 72% considered support for a boycott to be so...it is clear what the majority view is for respondents in every one of the countries investigated.

The implication is that most Jews surveyed appear to hold the view that whilst criticism of Israel is not antisemitic per se, it can become so when it is manifested in particular ways. In essence, criticism of the Israeli government is by no means off the table...But when the nature of that criticism tips over into these more hostile or aggressive realms, it is experienced as much more prejudicial.

In general terms, the survey found disturbingly high levels of anxiety and fear among Jews in Europe. Three-quarters of respondents feel that levels of antisemitism have increased over the past five years. Almost half are worried about falling victim to verbal insult or harassment. Two-thirds hide their Jewish identity – at least on occasion – because they are concerned about being identified as Jewish. Almost a third have contemplated emigrating. They are particularly concerned about antisemitism online and in the media, both of which they say have increased in recent years. The overarching impression is that they believe antisemitism is becoming more culturally acceptable in Europe, particularly in parts of the political left and parts of the Muslim population. And, not surprisingly, they’re worried.

It is totally unacceptable that any minority in twenty-first century Europe should feel like this. It’s probably even more unacceptable that Jews should feel like this given their history on the continent. Antisemitism has famously been described as “the longest hatred.” It has existed for at least two thousand years. It has led to forced conversions, expulsions, pogroms and genocide. It’s enough. Criticism of the Israeli government is legitimate; plenty of Israelis criticise it every day. But the vitriol around the criticism has to stop. It’s not solving the problem, it’s creating a new one."

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