I am not an anti-Semite, but………….

November 7, 2010 by Raffe Gold
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“I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Occupation”.

Raffe Gold

So screamed Pink Floyd band member Roger Waters following criticism of his recent video clip dealing with the Israeli occupation. Such sentiments have been repeated, in one form or another, by prominent individuals such as former White House doyen Helen Thomas, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Iran’s Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But regardless of what such “anti-Zionists” have been against, be it settlements, the occupation, arms deals etc, when it comes to the State of Israel they find it necessary to begin their defence with “I am not an anti-Semite”.

Go on to any news website such as Huffington Post, Sydney Morning Herald or any of the plethora of sites whose pages contain Opinion Columns, and you’re sure to find that Israel attracts a larger-than-expected number of words. Israel-related articles, even if they are not about the oppression of the Palestinians, will have at least one person denying he or she is anti-Semitic when criticising Israel.

In their infamous article in the London Review of Books, Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer claim that the Israel Lobby, a loose collection of pro-Israel organisations which allegedly control US foreign policy, considers the charge of anti-Semitism as one of its greatest weapons which will be leveled against criticism of Israel. They say that “anyone who criticises Israel’s actions…stands a good chance of being labeled an anti-Semite…it’s a very effective tactic: anti-Semitism is something no one wants to be accused of.”

So what this amounts to, according to Walt and Mearsheimer, is that allegations of anti-Semitism are simply an attempt to shield Israel from criticism and academic proponents of this theory are free to make the claim as much as they wish and they have a legitimate source of reference.

There is no denying that, at times, some supporters of Israel have accused bona fide critics of Israeli Government actions of being anti-Semites. However the majority of Israeli and Jewish defenders recognise that there is a line between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Whilst defenders of the Jewish State sometimes cross this line, Israel’s detractors, to avoid a counter-debate, use it far more frequently.

It is also difficult to avoid the fact that some criticism of Israel is, in fact, anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism has easily found its way into the speeches of Israel’s critics and it is not an uncommon sight at anti-Israel rallies to see and hear anti-Semitic undertones in the placards and chants of some protesters. A quick scan through numerous clips on YouTube of these protests one can hear shouts of overt anti-Semitism, such as “F*ck you Jews” and “Jesus killers” which have no place in a legitimate protest against a government’s policies. You do not hear shouts of “F*ck you Church of England” or “members of the Protestant faith have a substantial role in deciding the foreign policy of this nation” when there are protests against the UK’s war in Afghanistan. The greatest danger that this constant defense against anti-Semitism has is that it dilutes the reality of naked anti-Semitism and makes these anti-Semites appear legitimate under the guise of protesting against Israel or their policies.

The same could be said for the upsurge in Holocaust denialism, which is an unsubtle mask for blatant anti-Semitism. Holocaust denialism has become a cause célèbre in the hands of such as David Irving, Frederick Toben and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Why? Because when the Shoah is denied, it undermines the legitimacy of the State of Israel and that is unbridled anti-Semitism.

The complaint of being labeled an anti-Semite, prior to any such accusation, makes it incredibly difficult for pro-Israel activists to challenge the detractor. Many Jews, mindful of how powerful the term ‘anti-Semitism’ is, prefer to shy away from any possible relation to the word unless in the most extreme of cases. What the detractors have done is silence any criticism of themselves prior to a meaningful debate.

By invoking the term anti-Semitism they have evolved the argument from one about policies or operations to the very question of the Jewish character of the State. Many secular supporters of Israel, whilst proud of Israel being the only state for the Jews, prefer that a debate remain purely at arms length of any religious topic. By claiming that they will often be unfairly labeled as anti-Semitic a detractor of Israel has made it very difficult for any secular supporter to respond to a charge without having to address the issue of anti-Semitism; a topic that should not be raised when debating issues of a country’s legitimate rights to self-defense or its counter-terror operations against its declared enemies.

It is true that some supporters of Israel have labeled mere criticism ‘anti-Semitic’. A line must be drawn that clearly identifies criticism and racism. Israel’s Jewish character cannot be discounted when evaluating the criticism made against her, but it also cannot be the norm as a reactionary measure to stifle debate.

Whilst we in the pro-Israel camp have, in many cases, come to realize this and educate our spokespeople, it is time for our disparagers to do the same. The noted New York Times columnist, and former Middle East correspondent, Thomas Friedman summed it up when he said “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction—out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East—is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest”. Perhaps, over time, the more extreme members of Israel’s detractors can stop trying to shut down a new debate by invoking this very oldest of old hatreds.

Raffe Gold is a political science graduate and will soon emigrate to live in Israel. He can be reached at twitter.com/raffeg


4 Responses to “I am not an anti-Semite, but………….”
  1. Michael says:

    Pretty soon the number of self hating Jews
    Will outnumber the non Jewish anti Semites

  2. Manhattan says:

    Judenhat, like Freudianism, explains everything a priori; Al Jazeera declaimed Wiki Leaks part of an AIPAC plot , given that almost a million secret leaks failed to indicate Israeli involvement in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Such a record would usually cause one to rethink matters; how many years can Sky and Telescope have a $10,000 UFO contest for its hundreds of thousands of subscribers and readers and not have a winner before one declares UFOlogy risible? The problem is twofold: there is always more money to be made blaming Jews than any other group; claims of courage after blaming Jews are always given credence.

  3. Serge Crespy says:

    Does pro-Gentile insinuate anti-Semite? ….. Most curious !

  4. Rita Liddle says:

    When I hear “I am not an anti-Semite, but…” just as when I hear “I’m not a racist, but…” I often think immediately of Queen Gertrude’s famous line: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”*, and more often than not what follows justifies my suspicions.

    *Hamlet Act 3, scene 2, 222–230

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