Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel advocacy

Blood libels may be in the past, but there is a more sinister form of anti-Semitism today.

anti israel graffiti 311 (photo credit:  (European Jewish Press))
anti israel graffiti 311
(photo credit: (European Jewish Press))
How much of the rising crescendo of worldwide criticism aimed at Israel reflects anti-Semitism? Perhaps not the traditional anti-Semitism of blood libels, global conspiracies and crude personal slurs about greed and dishonest dealings, but anti-Semitism manifested in a new way, with Israel now acting in the role of the despised Jew of old? The question comes at a critical time for both America and Israel. Both countries are being forced to make difficult choices in the months and years ahead on such profound issues as Palestinian statehood and Iran’s nuclear program, in an atmosphere where these choices are framed less by their intrinsic merits than by the metastasizing external, political and economic pressure being applied by anti-Israel advocates.
But if that advocacy is rooted in anti-Semitism—and is exposed as such—then much of its political and economic pressure is stripped of any veneer of legitimacy and drained of its power.
Anti-Israel advocacy has reached extraordinary proportions in both its breadth and zeal, aimed squarely at delegitimizing the Jewish state and denying it the rights, protections and privileges accorded to other nations. There are simultaneous worldwide lawfare and boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns being waged to handcuff Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, suffocate the country's economy, deny its citizens free movement and, fundamentally, to offer justification for those who attack Jews and Jewish property.
For example, despite the fact that Israel’s security fence has demonstrated undisputed successes in reducing suicide bombings, the International Court of Justice has nonetheless declared it illegal. The European Court of Justice has ruled that, within the disputed territories of the West Bank, Jewish-owned businesses, unlike Palestinian-owned companies, don’t qualify for a customs duties exemption. And the notoriously one-sided “Goldstone Report,” since repudiated by its author, Richard Goldstone, laid the foundation for criminal prosecution against Israeli soldiers and civilian leaders in the International Criminal Court if the Palestinian unilateral bid for statehood were to be recognized.
Boycott campaigns against Israeli businesses are active in countries across the globe, resulting in divestiture of shares held in Israeli companies, the outright banning of Israeli products in certain jurisdictions, refusals to unload goods from Israeli ships in port and the removal of Israeli products from store shelves. Israeli academics and artists have been denied appointments, engagements and participation at educational and cultural forums and institutions, and non-Israeli academics and artists have refused to participate or perform at venues in Israel. (The stigmatization campaign perhaps reached its absurd zenith when the organizers of Madrid’s gay pride parade barred a delegation of gay Israelis from marching - a delegation from the only country in the Middle East where it is socially and politically possible to be openly gay.) But doesn’t anti-Semitism require goose-stepping stormtroopers, invective against a worldwide conspiracy or crude cartoons of hook-nosed villains? The answer, if drawn from the classically accepted definition of anti-Semitism, makes many uncomfortable, but is nonetheless unassailable as a matter of reason, logic and decency.
Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former minister of justice and attorney general, states the basic formulation: "In a word, classical or traditional anti-Semitism is the discrimination against, denial of or assault upon the rights of Jews to live as equal members of whatever host society they inhabit."
Where the current worldwide campaign against Israel reflects what can only be described fairly as a grotesquely unequal application of moral, social, political and legal standards to Israel, Mr. Cotler’s straightforward articulation of anti-Semitism leads to an unavoidable conclusion, which he states simply: “The new anti-Semitism involves the discrimination against the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations - the denial of and assault upon the Jewish people's right even to live - with Israel as the ‘collective Jew among the nations.’” In other words, what else but this new anti-Semitism could explain the lack of lawfare and BDS campaigns against Saudi Arabia for its establishment of a border fence; against Turkey for waging war on Kurds fighting for equal rights and for a state of their own; against Russia for leveling as much of Chechnya as it deems desirable to crush its people’s independence movement; against China for systematically absorbing Tibet and extinguishing Tibetan culture; and against the long, long list of countries whose human rights records are non-existent, let alone incomparable to Israel’s? Israel’s unequal treatment, when presented as starkly as it is in the current lawfare and BDS campaigns, or, of course, in the relentlessly one-sided focus on Israel in the United Nations, deserves to be called what it is, anti-Semitism, and its propagators what they are, anti-Semites.
The writer is an assemblyman who represents the 25th Assembly District in New York City, and is an advisory board member of the Lawfare Project. The question of a new anti-Semitism and its relationship to the Israel delegitimization movement will be the subject of a forum at the St. John’s University School of Law in New York, co-hosted by Assemblyman Lancman, the Israeli consulate in New York, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center & Archives on Tuesday, November 15 at 6:30 p.m. eastern time.