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How to criticise Israel without being anti-semitic


…or what to tell people carrying swastikas on Gaza demos

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27 thoughts on “How to criticise Israel without being anti-semitic”

  1. Very useful piece of advice. As a Polish Goy, I often get engaged in the discussion and find myself standing on the Jewish barricade opposing various types of numerously and erroneously repeated bollocks.

    Would be nice to see more of similar articles.

    Many thanks for yesterday’s evening, it was splendid.


  2. Good to know. I wanted to double-check whether it’s fair to use the specific word “Apartheid” to describe elements of Israeli policy or not?

  3. Steve, There’s disagreement about whether it’s appropriate to describe Israel as an apartheid state. I would use the word apartheid because of the ingrained racial divisions in the state apparatus. However it’s not a question of whether you think apartheid is the best descriptor, what is clear is that calling Israel an apartheid state is not an anti-semitic statement even if it’s an incorrect one

  4. Steve,

    There’s disagreement about whether it’s appropriate to describe Israel as an apartheid state. I would use the word apartheid because of the ingrained racial divisions in the state apparatus. However it’s not a question of whether you think apartheid is the best descriptor, what is clear is that calling Israel an apartheid state is not an anti-semitic statement even if it’s an incorrect one

  5. I cannot say whether calling it apartheid is legitimate, but Nelson Mandela did refer to it that way.

  6. This is the currently accepted International definition of Anti-Semitism (formally adopted by UK, Germany, Austria and other International Organisations)
    What is Anti-Semitism:
    The three D’s are useful tool to determine what is Antisemitic:
    1.Delegitimisation: of Israel, of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination
    2.Demonisation: portray Israel as the ultimate evil using words such as Nazism, Apartheid, Ethnic Cleansing,
    3.Double Standards: to hold Israel to a higher standard, so that what is acceptable or unremarked for other
    countries is UNIQUELY unacceptable for the Jewish state

  7. Rebecca, the above definition has NOT been adopted by any of those countries.

    As for the term ‘Apartheid’, please refer to consult the legal definition, as Palestinians do. It was refined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002). The Convention defines the Crime of Apartheid as: “inhumane acts…committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” The definition gives a list of examples as a test for Apartheid.

  8. Colin MacWhirter

    Chomsky has disagreed with the use of the term ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel and its policies, but strictly because, he points out, apartheid refers to a specific set of racist policies in South Africa, some of which are similar to those in Israel, but many of which are quite different. He has also said that in certain respects, Israeli policy regarding Palestinians is worse than apartheid South Africa, notably because the white supremacist South African regime actually needed the black population, whereas Israel does not need the Palestinians, making them ‘expendable’.

  9. I think those who want to criticize Israel’s dealings with Palestinians will just have to forget that the word ‘Zionist’ exists and always say they are criticizing Israeli government policy (and even state which policy it is). Anti-Zionist & Anti-Semitism now basically mean the same thing (even if they don’t) to the wider public. Just because British people criticizes the May government doesn’t mean or draw the same accusation: that they are anti-British. To fight the necessary fight to rid the world of anti-Semitism you’re just going to have work a bit harder and cleverer. No-one said it would be easy.

  10. I have an issue with the above accepted definition of antisemitism insofar as it precludes valid criticism of actions taken by the Israeli government that could, arguably, be compared with ethnic cleansing or apartheid actions or policies of other states. If by using these terms one is implying that Israel is somehow uniquely or ultimately “evil” then certainly that’s both false and deeply problematic. But I would defend the right of anyone to state the opinion that Israel’s actions in Gaza, for example, amount to ethnic cleansing. I am NOT saying that they are, or that I agree – I’m just saying that taking such a position is not tantamount to antisemitism.
    I am open to being persuaded otherwise if I have misunderstood or am ignorant of pertinent factors.

  11. Wouldn’t it be clearer and more accurate to simply refer to the “Israeli right-wing” when we are wishing to condemning their actions towards the Palestinians.

    After all there are plenty of Jewish people inside and out of Israel and even in the Knesset itself who would agree with us.

  12. Jed Bland has the correct way of referring to the Israeli debacle and cruelty as that of the right-wing…..nothing to do with Judaism…..

  13. Jed. Unfortunately the settlements were started under a left wing Israeli gov (labour) and on the issue of occupied territories there is little between the parties

  14. I agree, Jed. It is almost as if many people (including both antisemitic critics of Israel, and ardent defenders of Israel’s right to do whatever it likes to Arabs) are unaware that Israel has elections, and in those elections parties other than Likud run, get votes, and even historically have been elected. And some of those parties, voters and governments have radically different ideas such as treating Palestinians like human beings who also have a right to exist. I have been told by Zionists that there are no real Jews who oppose the actions of Israel, and also (by the same people) that to criticise Israel is to criticise Jews; this viewpoint seems as anti-semitic as any other I’ve come across. To assert that any ethnic or religious group of people all think the same, act the same, have the same beliefs, is only a hairs’ breadth away from… well… positing some kind of conspiracy. As well as being demonstrably false.

  15. Thank you for putting together this refreshingly straightforward leaflet…I would really like to use it as part of campaigning, but feel there are some issues of clarity with point no.3. You begin with the entirely accurate:

    “A significant anti-Semitic claim is that Jews as a group intend to control the world and set up a New World Order through secret, sinister channels”.

    This is obviously and unequivocally an anti-Semitic trope. We may criticise elements of the banking & media industries etc, but it makes no sense to relate those criticisms to Jewishness, it would be utterly misleading, irrelevant and racist to do so.

    But to then jump to the following statement (where the term “Jews” is suddenly replaced by “Zionism”):

    “Claims that Zionism is a world-wide, all-powerful entity responsible for sufferings unconnected to Palestinians harks back to dangerous conspiracy theories, whilst also letting capitalism off the hook!”

    …actually risks conflating the two terms, which surely we should be strenuously trying to avoid?

    It is also, arguably, partially inaccurate. Of course Zionism is not a worldwide, all powerful conspiracy. However, it is true to say that some right-wing Zionists engage in activities, sometimes covert in nature, outside of Israel and in collusion with politicians and media outlets who share their interests, specifically in order to discredit and silence their often non-Palestinian political opponents. Whether the effects of this activity could be described as “suffering” is arguable, but it is certainly true that it damages the confidence and effectiveness of left-wing and peace campaigners in combating not only Palestinian suffering, but many other kinds of suffering as well. The aim is to demonise and curtail left-wing and peace campaigns which happen to oppose certain actions of the Israeli state, with the additional effect of repressing free speech and socialist aims in general.

  16. Following on from Becky’s comment…

    If one wishes to avoid seeming to invoke the stereotype of a Jewish conspiracy to control narratives in the media, how should one approach the situation when the most prominent Jewish publications collude to plan a synchronised attack denouncing a leading politician as posing an*existential threat to Jewish life* ?

  17. I wonder if you agree that what’s needed are uniform standards for criticizing ALL religions. This becomes a challenge whenever one religion dominates people of another religion living in the country or occupied by the other country. Do you agree such domination is dysfunctional irrespective of the particular religion or region e.g.the governments of Saudi Arabia or Israel come to mind.

  18. On re-reading your 4 page document, I think its reasonable to the extent that the document makes clear that the same criteria must apply to all religions. Certainly in my lifetime, fortunately, anti-Semitism has generally declined markedly which is a most welcome development. But plainly, racism has markedly increased towards Islam which ironically is the only Abrahamic religion that holds all of the heroes of all the Abrahamic religions in high regard though it does not concur with all the claims attributed to these heroes .
    One wonders if Judea-Christian really should not be revised to Judea-Christian-Islamic.
    best wishes to all for a saner word, Tom

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