State Dept: Criticism of Israel = Anti-Semitism?

In the most recent edition of its annual “Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism” released Thursday, the State Department — and hence the U.S. government — moves ever more closely to a long-standing neo-conservative tenet: that criticism of Israel or Israeli policies often, if not always, equals anti-Semitism. The report also suggests that comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to South African apartheid — as former President Jimmy Carter did in his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid — also amounts to anti-Semitism. And it focuses on the United Nations as a breeding ground for anti-Semitism as expressed through criticism of Israel, another major neo-conservative theme that has intensified sharply over the past five years, notably through the efforts of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the National Review Online and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.

Here’s the argument as laid out in the introductory section of the report entitled Contemporary Forms of Anti-Semitism”:

“Anti-Semitism has proven to be an adaptive phenomenon. New forms of anti-Semitism have evolved. They often incorporate elements of traditional anti-Semitism. However, the distinguishing feature of the new anti-Semitism is criticism of Zionism or Israeli policy that — whether intentionally or unintentionally — has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel’s perceived faults to its Jewish character.

“The new anti-Semitism is common throughout the Middle East and in Muslim communities in Europe, but it is not confined to these populations. For example, various United Nations bodies are asked each year on multiple occasions to commission investigations of what often are sensationalized reports of alleged atrocities and other violations of human rights by Israel. Various bodies have been set up within the UN system with the sole purpose of reporting on what is assumed to be ongoing, abusive Israeli behavior. The motive for such actions may be to defuse an immediate crisis, to show others in the Middle East that there are credible means of addressing their concerns other than resorting to violence, or to pursue other legitimate ends. But the collective effect of unremitting criticism of Israel, coupled with a failure to pay attention to regimes that are demonstrably guilty of grave violations, has the effect of reinforcing the notion that the Jewish state is one of the sources, if not the greatest source, of abuse of the rights of others, and thus intentionally or not encourages anti-Semitism.

“Comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is increasingly commonplace. Anti-Semitism couched as criticism of Zionism or Israel often escapes condemnation since it can be more subtle than traditional forms of anti-Semitism, and promoting anti-Semitic attitudes may not be the conscious intent of the purveyor. Israel’s policies and practices must be subject to responsible criticism and scrutiny to the same degree as those of any other country. At the same time, those criticizing Israel have a responsibility to consider the effect their actions may have in prompting hatred of Jews. At times hostility toward Israel has translated into physical violence directed at Jews in general. There was, for example, a sharp upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide during the conflict between Hizballah and Israel in the summer of 2006.” [Italics added.]

Of course, it would be interesting to apply this analysis to the rhetoric used by senior political figures, neo-conservative groups (such as FDD or the American Enterprise Institute), and media in the U.S. and Europe about Islam, Muslims or about various kinds of Islamic political movements in the Arab and Islamic worlds, particularly with respect to the notion that these actors may have a “responsibility to consider the effects their actions may have in prompting” Islamophobia. [I suspect the report’s author meant “promoting” rather than prompting.]

The report purports to apply a definition of anti-Semitism established by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) to its own analysis. But it actually goes beyond that by suggesting at various points, particularly in relation to UN conferences, resolutions, and the reports by UN Special Rapporteurs, that any comparison of the treatment by Israel of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories with apartheid amounts to anti-Semitism. Carter, however, goes unmentioned, perhaps because the report’s scope does not cover the anti-Semitism in the United States. If it did, I suppose it would have to also address the anti-Semitism — as opposed to the philo-Zionism — of the Christian Right, and that wouldn’t be good for a Republican administration. That anti-Semites like Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell can be the most zealous supporters of Israel, particularly a Greater Israel, for theological reasons certainly poses some delicate challenges for those disposed to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. So far as the neo-conservatives are concerned, however, that conundrum was settled 25 years ago when Irving Kristol noted that Jews should not be concerned about an alliance with the Christian Right despite its anti-Semitic beliefs. “Why would it be a problem for us?” he wrote back in the early 1980s. ”It is their theology; but it is our Israel.”

The report is being issued in advance of next Wednesday’s a meeting at AEI next week on the subject of “Anti-Semitism and the War on Terror” featuring Germany historian Matthias Kuentzel, the author of the ‘Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11.’ As pointed out in the AEI blurb, the author’s “central thesis is that a great deal of contemporary Islamist anti-Semitism comes directly from the Third Reich, that it was institutionalized in the Middle East during the Second World War, and that is has grown ever since, thanks to organizations and individuals who — in many cases — received direct ideological, political, and financial support from teh Nazis and who are still very active.” AEI fellows Michael Ledeen and Michael Novak (who personally assured me at another AEI seminar back in 1981 that the Argentine military junta could not possibly be considered a neo-Nazi regime as alleged by one its most famous victims, Jacobo Timerman, after his release — as a result of pressure from Jimmy Carter, no less — from one of its secret torture prisons) will comment after the presentation.

Visit for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

Author: Jim Lobe

Visit for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service's Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.