Antisemitism: How will I know if I see it?

I was particularly struck by the profound concern and fear expressed by the high school-parents group, who shared with me a number of troubling incidents.

Students' Union, University of Essex, Colchester Campus, across Square 3 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Students' Union, University of Essex, Colchester Campus, across Square 3
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I recently gave a series of talks on BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), anti-Zionism, and antisemitism. I first spoke at a leading synagogue in Manhattan, then to a group of parents of high school and college students with children applying or already in college, and then to students at a local high school.

At the high school, I was confronted after my lecture by one of the teachers. He first told me, disingenuously, that he was “right-wing” on Israel. Then he proceeded to tell me that Israel ethnically wiped out all of the Palestinians, and Jews have no right to be there just because a few thousand years ago they lived there. Fortunately the majority of students were engaged and asked important questions. One young man couldn’t understand why it is antisemitic to be against Israel.

I was particularly struck by the profound concern and fear expressed by the high school-parents group, who shared with me a number of troubling incidents.

An Israel club was denied permission to form at a high school with a large Jewish population. Another parent told me that her son, who was attending one of New York’s most prestigious private schools, was given as an example during a writing exercise, of someone representing Israel’s supposedly egregious human rights abuses in Gaza. Other high school parents told me that when visiting prospective campuses, they were horrified to see the presence of BDS and an intimidating environment for Jewish students on campus.

I remember watching a UCLA non-Jewish college student, Lauren Rogers. She told her harrowing story about intimidation and administrative indifference after she was forced to defend herself before a university judicial committee. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) charged Rogers with bias because she did not to vote to divest from Israel while on the UCLA student council. Her crime was visiting Israel with AJC’s educational program. This is BDS in action. A hostile climate toward Jewish students goes hand-in-hand with the level of SJP activity on campus.

There are plenty of safe spaces for every ethnic group on today’s college campus, with administrators bending over backwards to thwart every alleged micro-aggression there is – unless you are a Jewish student.

Prof. Deborah Lipstadt has said that people know antisemitism when they see it.

Let’s do an instructive exercise. Imagine what would have happened to a white male Congressman if he said everything Rep. Ilhan Omar said about Jews and Israel. He would definitely not have been treated with kid gloves. If he had, there would have been an uproar, with rallies in Washington. And all the cable news talking heads would be beside themselves with righteous indignation against right-wing antisemitism.

Fighting antisemitism would be politically correct for the moment, a weapon for political gain.

Let’s be clear, repeated antisemitic statements – ranging from dual loyalty to Jewish power to Jewish money to legitimizing a debate over Israel’s right to exist – are antisemitism.

Clouding the debate on antisemitism are the moral-equivalence arguments used by groups like J Street, which are blind to left-wing and Islamic antisemitism, and use a double standard for bigots from the Right than they do from the Left.

Illustrating the point, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami said, “[We] made clear to lawmakers our concern that the timing of the resolution could be seen as singling out and focusing special condemnation on a Muslim woman of color, Rep. Ilhan Omar – implying that her insensitive comments somehow posed a greater threat than the torrent of hatred that the white-nationalist Right continues to level against Jews, Muslims, people of color and other vulnerable minorities.”


ALLOWING DEFENDERS of an antisemite to change the narrative by transforming an antisemite into a victim, simply because she is considered part of a minority or persecuted group, is unhealthy for our democracy. And by the way, if a Jewish person said the same things Ilhan Omar said, they too would be antisemitic. Antisemitism is not about being a Semite, it is about what you say about Jews and Israel.

Falsely claiming, as Elizabeth Warren did, that “branding criticism of Israel as automatically antisemitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse,” is not only blatantly untrue, but dangerous for our melting-pot society.

Bashing Israeli policies is a national sport for Israelis, as well as for American Jews, making a mockery of those who claim all defenders of Israel cry antisemitism for every criticism of Israeli policy. However, claiming Israel has no right to exist because it is a colonialist, apartheid, human-rights abuser crosses a line from legitimate criticism into antisemitism.

Boycotting all of Israel and having a double standard that you don’t apply to other nations is antisemitism. BDS is an antisemitic movement. Representatives Omar and Rashida Tlaib support BDS.

As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “Denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.”

And as the late Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking antisemitism.”

French President Macron said, “Anti-Zionism is one of the modern forms of antisemitism, behind the negation of Israel’s existence, what is hiding is hatred of Jews.”

In the Arab world, Israelis are simply called Jews.

Are you listening congresswomen?

A strong predictor for antisemitism on a college campus is the presence of BDS. The international definition of antisemitism adopted by the US, UK, Germany and many other countries, says delegitimizing, demonizing and having double standards targeting Israel are antisemitism.

Unfortunately, on our college campuses, supporters of Israel are told that they are not welcome to be part of the social justice movement, as it is completely incompatible with Zionism, a racist ideology. Israel is an oppressor and so it must be dehumanized.

BDS is the sword against the oppressor, so we must stand with the most victimized people on earth, the Palestinians. Ask a BDS supporter why Palestinians could have turned down having their own state five times over the last 70 years, and you will be screamed down on today’s college campus. BDS advocates claim it is their First Amendment right to scream so loud and so long to silence you, because any opinion other than theirs is evil by definition, especially the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

Just ask Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, who was chased off the stage at the University of Chicago last year by SJP. His great offense was saying that we need to reconcile with our Israeli neighbors.

BDS is not about two states for two peoples. It is about the demographic destruction of Israel through the right of return, ending the colonization of Arab land (Dar el Islam).

Did you know that the Palestinian BDS national committee based in Ramallah coordinates BDS worldwide, and that it includes designated terrorist organizations?

Jonathan Schanzer, a former US Treasury official and a contributing expert for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, explained during congressional testimony last year that former employees of Hamas-linked charities now work for the American Muslims for Palestine. It is the key sponsor for Students for Justice in Palestine, creating a toxic environment for Jewish students through talk of apartheid walls, intimidation of speakers, divestment resolutions, academic indifference, and professors refusing to write recommendations for students studying in Israel.

BDS is an antisemitic movement by its words and actions. Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib support BDS.

Antisemitism, now you know it when you see it.


The writer is the director of Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post and i24TV.