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by Neil Godfrey

Charges of anti-Semitism are ever in the news: UK’s Labour Party defections over accusations of anti-Semitism; Macron’s move to criminalize anti-Zionism as covert anti-Semitism; the Ilhan Omar debacle in the U.S., Netanyahu accusing a UN report seriously critical of Israel’s killing of Gazans last year of being “based purely on an obsessive hatred of Israel.”

Time for some clarity of thought:

True anti-Semitism conceives of Jews as being different from other people, in various invidious ways, which gives those others license to single them out and persecute them in both large and small ways. Anti-Semites maintain that Jews who are engaged in what seem like legitimate political activities—running for office, contributing to political campaigns, writing articles and books, or organizing lobbying groups—are actually engaged in dark and secret conspiracies. Real anti-Semites sometimes favor harsh measures to deny Jews full political rights and at times advocate even more violent persecution of Jews. Even in its milder forms, anti-Semitism indulges in various forms of stereotyping and implies that Jews should be viewed with suspicion or contempt, while seeking to deny them the ability to participate fully and freely in all realms of society. In its essential features, true anti-Semitism resembles other forms of racist or religious discrimination, all of which have been roundly condemned in Europe and the United States since the end of World War II.

By contrast, almost all of the many gentiles and Jews who now criticize Israeli policy or worry about the lobby’s impact on U.S. foreign policy find such views deeply disturbing and categorically reject them. Rather, they believe that Jews are like other human beings, which means that they are capable of both good and bad deeds, and that they are entitled to the same status as other members of society. They also believe that Israel acts like other states, which is to say that it vigorously defends its own interests and sometimes pursues policies that are wise and just and sometimes does things that are strategically foolish and even immoral. This perspective is the opposite of anti-Semitism. It calls for treating Jews like everyone else and treating Israel as a normal and legitimate country. Israel, in this view, should be praised when it acts well and criticized when it does not. Americans are also entitled to be upset and critical when Israel does things that harm U.S. interests, and Americans who care about Israel should be free to criticize it when its government takes actions that they believe are not in Israel’s interest either. There is neither special treatment nor a double standard here. Similarly, most critics of the lobby do not see it as a cabal or conspiracy; rather, they argue—as we have—that pro-Israel organizations act as other interest groups do. While the charge of anti-Semitism can be an effective smear tactic, it is usually groundless.

Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen M. Walt. 2007. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 194-95.


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6 thoughts on “Anti-Semitism”

  1. I looked at the recent media articles condemning anti-semitism in the UK Labour Party but somewhat confused I couldn’t find an example of an anti-semitic utterance. I suspect that most of the alleged comments were anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian and this offended certain groups.
    I found some of the actions at the end of the Labour Party Annual Conference were personally annoying. Especially when they started waving Palestinian flags around and promising to recognise Palestine. I’d prefer they concentrate on domestic issues like providing UK housing rather than condemning Jewish settlements in occupied territory.
    But I would not go so far as saying that the Labour Party was anti-semitic. In fact they have a pro-semitic tradition.
    Jeremy Corbyn is not anti-semitic, despite what Deborah Lipstadt claims.
    By the way, she’s released a book on the rise of “Antisemitism – Here and Now”. Curiously, she makes no mention of characters such as Madoff (the notorious swindler), Dick Fuld (the controversial head of Lehman Brothers), our own billionaire scrooge Philip Green, and Cohen (Trump’s corrupt bagman). She is hopelessly blind-sighted and refuses to address real world concerns.

    1. I see nothing but good in condemning Jewish settlements in occupied territory. It is the powers with the imperialist heritage that are continuing to support the illegal imperialist takeover of others’ land today — and I fear once again it is the powers who have emerged from such imperialist endeavours are are the only ones opposing it today in the UN.

    2. “Curiously, she makes no mention of characters such as Madoff (the notorious swindler), Dick Fuld (the controversial head of Lehman Brothers), our own billionaire scrooge Philip Green, and Cohen (Trump’s corrupt bagman).”

      I’m confused, Richard. Why should she?

      Neil, do you have an opinion on this?

      1. I think I expressed my view on such an omission in the post itself. Trying to sweep up every Jewish person and organization or whatever with a tainted record and lumping them all together as, by implication, a “Jewish problem”, is obviously antisemitic.

        On Deborah Lipstadt in particular, I do not accept her sweeping condemnation of any critic of Israeli policy as anti-semitic, either. But that’s not the same point Richard was making.

  2. Much needed article …

    It’s so difficult to voice opinion these days. My only point to add is exactly that – freedom of speech – itself in some ways can be antisemitic.

    We are verging on the notion that criticising someone’s accusation of another being antisemitic is also antisemitic, which means the accusers can go by unchecked. The label sticks – even if wrongly applied. I believe they are doing this with Corbyn, because those imperialists are using their wildcard to reduce Corbyn’s chances of becoming PM. They’ve reached a level of desperation.

  3. I find it ironic that these accusations of antisemitism look for all the world like… a “Jewish Conspiracy”. Those promoting this line of thinking should be more careful – they risk creating genuine antisemitism in people who see the accusations as so much hypocritical bullshit.

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