You can’t silence us either

'We do not try and silence you because you are anti-Semites, we try to silence you by exposing your moral vacuity.'

Anti-Israel protesters 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Anti-Israel protesters 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
There’s nothing Israel-haters like to shout more loudly than the fact that they won’t be silenced by accusations of anti-Semitism. “We won’t be silenced by accusations of anti-Semitism!” They shout this in order to prove how un-silenced they are by any such accusations, to everyone’s immense sadness. But is anyone out there actually trying to mute critics of Israel with such accusations? The last time I looked, the anti-Israel brigade was on just about every news report in Europe: they were boycotting and disrupting orchestras and actors, protesting across cities from London to San Francisco. Methinks they doth protest too much. Their hallmark is in fact their tedious ubiquity and there is no commensurate counter-movement of angry Zionists accusing these people of anti-Semitism in a vain effort to change that. 
The reason Israel’s enemies tell you that they “won’t be silenced by accusations of anti-Semitism” is not because they face any real threat of being muffled by this charge, but precisely because they don’t. It suits their purposes to shift the debate to this terrain, they deny an indictment which no one has made. The unprovoked refrain craftily implies that Israel’s supporters are not engaged with the substance of the issues and that they have instead resorted to paranoid smears. It also carries the inescapable implication that cheerleaders for the Jewish State are blind to contemporaneous facts by an obsession with historical persecution. More sinister still, for those select critics of Israel who are genuinely anti-Semitic, the vigorous pre-charge denial inevitably belittles those brave souls who rightly call Jew-haters by their proper name, ex post facto
In November 2012 I wrote an essay for the Jewish Chronicle in which I argued that a cartoon in The Guardian was anti-Semitic. It depicted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as a puppet-master amongst Stars of David, manipulating Western powers in his oversized hands against a background of rocket fire. I felt that it took its place in a long line of drawings showing Jews as pulling the strings behind malevolent world affairs. However, online comments failed to grasp that the charge of anti-Semitism was specifically targeted and criticised the charge being levelled as a matter of principle. One person stated: “I think you make a mistake by labelling all opponents of Israel's occupation anti-Semites.” But there was not one sentence in the 2,000-word article capable of being construed as such a general characterization. This commenter already had his anti-Israel position firmly marked out and did not like attacks of any nature on those who shared his sympathies. Just as it may be wrong to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel by resorting to generalized allegations of anti-Semitism, it is equally wrong to use generalized criticisms of Israel to stifle legitimate criticism of anti-Semites.
The present European hysteria regarding Israel has rendered such careful but vital distinctions impossible to police. The public appetite for scrutinizing Israel is vastly different from the reaction to far bloodier conflicts and massacres such as in Sri Lanka, or the Congo. Has any European liberal interrupted a Syrian cultural event or arranged a boycott of Syrian goods? Does any other nation state have its “existence” discussed on BBC panels as a subject of fair debate? There is a dangerous new trend whereby disenfranchised liberals with no cogent belief-structure, and certainly no knowledge of the Middle East, are rushing to adopt an anti-Israel position they perceive to be trendy and fuelled by aggressive social media campaigns. These are rebels without a cause following a cause without any rebels.
In this febrile debate, frequently now galvanized by anonymous 140-word communiques, we must be astute in not allowing the charge of anti-Semitism to lose its extraordinary gravity.  
Critics of Israel who wrongfully protest that they are being accused of anti-Semitism should be put firmly in their place; we do not try and silence you because you are anti-Semites, we try to silence you by exposing your moral vacuity. It’s never right to target innocent civilians with rocket fire. This behavior is to be contrasted with the IDF, which does everything possible to avoid the deaths of innocents whilst destroying terrorism. As Colonel Richard Kemp stated in relation to the fighting in November (and he knows a thing or two about warfare having been the Commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan), “[Israel] has shown amazing restraint — far more restraint than most other countries would show in the face of this sort of provocation… [the IDF is] a very moral army. Their ethos are excellent and they will never seek to cause unnecessary civilian casualties.” More generally, we must put principled arguments to a liberal public who share Israel’s values more than they realize: why do young Europeans support homophobic agitators and misogynists in Hamas against a country with one of the world’s largest Gay Pride movements and equal rights for women?
We must also not be afraid to recognize that where the blurring of the line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel does exist, it must be confronted. That it may not account for all, or most debate regarding Israel does not mean it should not be confidently identified when it does occur. We should not seek to silence Israel’s opponents, but we must make sure that by their saying that we do, they do not silence us either.