Fight real antisemitism, not Emma Watson - editorial

If we shout “antisemitism” too often about relatively tame criticism of Israel, and if many people become inured to the shouts, we lose the larger struggle against more serious forms of Jew-hatred. 

Actress Emma Watson is seen on the red carpet (photo credit: REUTERS)
Actress Emma Watson is seen on the red carpet
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Israeli politicians and officials have expressed outrage in recent days over a post by Emma Watson, an actress who expressed solidarity with the Palestinians.

She was accused of antisemitism by Danny Danon, former ambassador to the United Nations, who tweeted in response: “10 points from Gryffindor for being an antisemite.” It was a reference to the Harry Potter series, in which Watson played Hermione Granger, one of Harry’s close friends.

Watson’s post on Instagram to her 64 million followers was relatively benign. She had posted a photo of a pro-Palestinian protester with a banner reading “Solidarity is a Verb,” adding herself to a long line of celebrities and influencers who expressed solidarity with the “Free Palestine” movement back in May during the IDF’s Operation Guardian of the Walls.

It wasn’t immediately clear why this post provoked such a backlash. 

Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan also slammed the post.

 Ambassador Gilad Erdan at the UN General Assembly (credit: ISRAEL MISSION TO THE UN) Ambassador Gilad Erdan at the UN General Assembly (credit: ISRAEL MISSION TO THE UN)

“Fiction may work in Harry Potter but it does not work in reality,” he wrote. “If it did, the magic used in the wizarding world could eliminate the evils of Hamas (which oppresses women and seeks the annihilation of Israel) and the PA (which supports terror). I would be in favor of that!”

Many critiqued Danon for accusing Watson of antisemitism, since it was not clear if drawing attention to her post helps Israel or the cause of fighting antisemitism. This is because if we shout “antisemitism” too often about relatively tame criticism of Israel, and if many people become inured to the shouts, we lose the larger struggle against more serious forms of Jew-hatred. 

And there is a real struggle that needs to be waged against antisemitism. In December, for example, a report by the Anti-Defamation League found that rhetoric used by anti-Israel groups on US college and university campuses frequently demeans and ostracizes pro-Israel Jewish students, and occasionally descends into antisemitism. In preparing the study, ADL experts identified what they said was “a pattern of anti-Israel groups and activists blatantly demonizing pro-Israel and Zionist students,” and on occasion espousing antisemitic tropes, such as those alleging Jewish or Zionist power and control over the media and political affairs.

This trend requires a real strategy and, first and foremost, the confirmation of Deborah Lipstadt as the US envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism. 

Lipstadt is an Emory professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies, and one of the most well-known voices in discussing modern antisemitism. But instead of an easy confirmation, Lipstadt’s appointment has encountered fierce opposition from Republican senators and has yet to even receive a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

This is a dangerous precedent. While it is understandable that domestic politics will get in the way of nominees on domestic issues in the United States, matters such as antisemitism should not become politicized.

Both parties care deeply about fighting antisemitism. That we know. We also know that Israel is close to the hearts of many members of Congress. This means that holdups of these kinds are not because one party is softer on antisemitism than the other. Unfortunately, the deep partisan battles in Washington are holding up the Lipstadt confirmation.

We urge the Senate to move it forward and confirm her as quickly as possible. 

As we look forward to the coming year, there are unfortunately places where antisemitism is growing stronger and rearing its head. Too many countries, cities and schools are allowing hatred of Jews and Israel to spread. What the world saw happen in London over Hanukkah, for instance, conjures up dark memories. The Community Security Trust told the BBC there had been a fivefold increase in reports of antisemitic incidents since the May war between Israel and Hamas.

Authorities in the US, UK and elsewhere must take swift action to apprehend people who attack Jews and Jewish institutions.

But we also should not confuse real threats against Jews and a Hollywood actor’s poor social media choices. Antisemitism is a real threat that requires real action to confront it. Don’t confuse the two.