One of the most hotly debated topics concerning Israel is whether anti-Zionism is a form or cover for antisemitism. Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League, recently gave a groundbreaking speech in which he stated, “To those who still cling to the idea that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, let me clarify this for you as clearly as I can – anti-Zionism is antisemitism. I will repeat: Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” This was the first time a recognized authority on antisemitism had stated unequivocally that Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.
The colloquial definition of Zionism – the right of the Jewish people to determine their own future in their historic homeland – should be accepted by all; after all, why should Jews be singled out as not having the right to self-determination or living on their ancient homeland? There is debate over whether criticism of Israel qualifies as antisemitism. These debates are often visceral and lack the metrics necessary to judge which position is more accurate.
There are many books, articles and position papers that discuss the issue of when criticism of Israel crosses into antisemitism. The most well-known is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which states, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The IHRA provided a few examples: “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” If accusations against Israel include lies or if they are applied using a double standard – where only Israel is singled out – the IHRA defines that criticism as having crossed a line into antisemitism.
The IHRA’s definition of antisemitism and the examples given help us understand antisemitism and when it should be applied, but how did the IHRA reach its conclusions about what criticism of Israel qualifies as antisemitism? To explain, I’ll posit an equation that can help us understand and then offer a few examples to show how the equation is applied.
Using a simple formula of A+X=C, we can formulate an effective manner of identifying antisemitic criticism of Israel. When A is the criticism (for example, criticizing checkpoints) and added or included in the accusation or criticism is discrimination (the X in our equation), the criticism or accusation becomes antisemitic. If the criticism or accusation lacks discrimination it is legitimate and not antisemitic. The factor that determines whether criticism is antisemitic is if it includes discrimination or hate.
If someone criticizes Israel’s checkpoints separating the West Bank from Israel, and their criticism is based on facts without exaggeration or falsification, and doesn’t single Israel out for crimes anyone else is doing, their critique is without discrimination and isn’t antisemitic. If an accusation is levied against the Israeli policy of sterilizing Arab children, it is easy to determine the accusation includes falsification and is therefore antisemitic according to the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
One more factor needs to be mentioned when discussing the line defining when criticism of Israel qualifies as antisemitism. There are certain accusations and criticism levied against Israel that are inherently antisemitic. These include accusations that are made of classic antisemitic tropes, like controlling political systems, using a double standard, calling for the death or harm of Jews, or making dehumanizing, demonizing or stereotypical allegations against Jews. These inherently antisemitic accusations are different from an accidentally antisemitic accusations that requires the addition of hate or discrimination to be considered antisemitic.
The Antisemitic Equation is a highly technical path to determining whether criticism of Israel is antisemitic. Most Zionists shy away from methodical determinations of antisemitism, preferring the gut or intuitive calling out of antisemitism instead. Their argument makes sense; after thousands of years of antisemitism, Jews know it when they see it. Although the technical look at antisemitism isn’t the favored choice, it is a crucial instrument in the Zionists’ arsenal of tools to be used when calling out unacceptable hate directed at them. If Zionist responses to hate were based solely on intuition and feelings, their haters could easily deny the claim against them. With a highly technical way of defining the line of when anti-Israel criticism becomes offensive antisemitism there is an undeniable metric to call out antisemitism.