Three Ds of antisemitism: demonization, delegitimization, double standards

Defining the ‘3D test’ of demonization, delegitimization and double standards.

Natan Sharansky (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Natan Sharansky
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Antisemitism has returned, and statistics from around the world support this claim. In 2018, France reported a 74% increase over the previous year in antisemitic incidents. In Germany, violent antisemitic attacks rose by 60% in 2018, while in the United States, antisemitic assaults more than doubled. Eleven people were murdered in the deadliest attack on Jews in American history at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement continues its virulently anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric on US college campuses. Antisemitism is no longer the exclusive province of the far Right; it has taken hold on the political Left, in which individuals claiming to hold anti-racist views employ antisemitic narratives in the course of their disapproval of the policies of the State of Israel.
The spate of antisemitic attacks in the world has spawned serious questions. Is social media to blame for the rise in antisemitism? When does criticism of the State of Israel cross the line into antisemitism? How does antisemitism that is directed at Israel influence Jews living in the Diaspora? Why is antisemitism from the Left dangerous to the State of Israel?
Natan Sharansky – who encountered antisemitism as a Prisoner of Zion, spending nine years in Soviet jails, and later served as minister for Diaspora affairs, dealing with Israel’s position among Jews living outside Israel – is uniquely qualified to discuss these issues.
“People can be happily closed off in their own isolated world with Facebook,” he says. “Today, we are experiencing left-wing antisemitism against Israel on one hand, and a resurgence of right-wing antisemitism, on the other.”
The nature of the debate, says Sharansky, requires people to have an open mind to debate and understand the nature of these arguments. Those who are closed off in their own Internet “bubble,” tend to hear the arguments from one side, he says, and are easily swayed to believe the antisemitic arguments.
“We need to be able to make people move from their narrow point of view that they get from Facebook, and see the broader view, and understand the danger of antisemitism,” he says. “Our goal is not to convince the extremists on both sides, those who hate us. Our target is the audience in the middle that is confused.”
Sharansky has developed a simple test to detect when criticism of Israel crosses the line into Antisemitism. He calls it the 3D test: demonization, delegitimization and double standards. For thousands of years, Jews were demonized, charged with blood libel, with poisoning wells, and later, with controlling the global banking system. There were periods in history when the Jewish faith was delegitimized and the Jewish claim to nationhood was denied. Double standards were applied to Jews, either through the imposition of special laws – from the Middle Ages in Europe to the Russian Empire and Nazi Germany – or through government policy discriminating against Jews.
“One may criticize Israel as long as they don’t cross this line,” he says. But once criticism of Israel becomes demonizing, delegitimizing, and imposes a double standard, it becomes antisemitic.
ANTISEMITISM that is directed toward Israel can, says Sharansky, influence Jews living in the Diaspora. “The first time that I understood the power of this influence was when I visited the United States in 2003 during the Second Intifada. I visited many college campuses during my stay. A Jewish student approached me and said, ‘For me, as a liberal Jew, it would be easier if Israel didn’t exist.’” Sharansky explains that liberal post-modern theories identify specific national identity and religion as the source of conflict. Based on those ideas, Israel as a Jewish state has no value.
“Our primary challenge,” says Sharansky, “is to bring a clear message. There is no reason to be embarrassed by the State of Israel. If we really believe in freedom, peace and human rights, we can be proud of Israel.”
While Sharansky, who has lived in Israel since 1986, does not deal with antisemitism in his daily life, David Hirsh – a British sociologist and co-founder of Engage, a campaign against the academic boycott of Israel – deals with it on a daily basis. Hirsh cites numerous examples of antisemitic behavior and remarks by Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour Party, and other British politicians.
There can be legitimate criticism of Israel, Hirsh says. “But the kind of rhetoric which places Jews outside of the community of the Left and outside of decent society – that rhetoric and that culture has nothing to do with culture of criticism of Israel at all.” Antisemitism against Israel, he says, is not really only about Israel. “This is about how Jews in Britain get treated and get regarded as being outside of the community of good people. The boycott campaign in universities is about excluding Israelis from our campuses in London, and the arguments about the boycott always focus on Jews in Britain. So the idea that just because rhetoric is about Israel doesn’t mean that the antisemitism is only the concern of Israel.”
Hirsh, the author of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, says that antisemitism from the Left is dangerous for the State of Israel because of the threat of boycott. “If people won’t trade with Israel,” says Hirsh, “that is a harm. If people treat Israelis as though they are symbolic of everything bad in the world, that is a harm. There’s also the real harm of the boycott to make people think that about Israel as though it was a unique evil on the planet.”
Sharansky says that both left-wing antisemitism and right-wing antisemitism are dangerous for both Israel and the Jewish people at large. While left-wing antisemitism is directed towards the Jews as a whole, living in the State of Israel, right-wing antisemitism is directed toward individual Jews. “Both are very dangerous,” he says, “and we have to fight them.”
Israel’s future and the future of the Jews in the Diaspora are bound together in the struggle against antisemitism around the world.