Israelis, supporters of Israel and Jews in general are constantly asked: “You can criticize Israel without being antisemitic, can’t you?”
There are various ways of answering this slightly irritating query. For my part, I believe that, in our current moment, all criticism of Israel must be either subjectively or objectively antisemitic. When mobs are rampaging through major cities calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people and the president of Harvard cannot bring herself to condemn it, there is no possible way that “criticism” of Israel, however well intended, is not going to feed the beast.
I realize, however, that this is not a popular opinion. Most people, and indeed most Jews, feel that criticism of Israel is not by definition antisemitic. If we accept this for the sake of argument, then the next step is to find a way to define whether a specific criticism is antisemitic or not.
There have been several attempts to do this, of which the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism is the most famous and widely adopted. It defines antisemitic “criticism” of Israel as
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor. Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation. Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
Another definition was provided by former Prisoner of Zion and Israeli politician Natan Sharansky. It is similar but has the virtue of brevity. It uses “Three D’s” to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism: “Delegitimization, demonization and double standards.”
These definitions are both useful and largely accurate. In some ways, however, they miss the larger point. The real litmus test for criticism of Israel is not necessarily the nature of the specific criticism, but rather the nature of the critics. That is to say, one must examine the critic and ask: What is the measure of their hate?
This goes to the heart of the matter in a way that more detailed methods cannot, because hate is what antisemitism is. If it does not hate, then by definition, it cannot be antisemitism.
The issue of hate is also essential because attempts to rationally define antisemitism will always fail to one degree or another. In the final analysis, antisemitism is not rational. It is an extreme emotional state, akin to a neurosis or even a psychosis. Whatever seemingly rational arguments—or “criticisms”—it makes are purely coincidental, mere epiphenomena atop what is ultimately a derangement.
Antisemitism is, in fact, something like an attack on rationality itself. No one driven by anything other than delirious emotion could believe that 0.2% of the population of the world somehow rules it. Nor could they believe that the call to slaughter an entire people may or may not be problematic, depending on the “context.” They certainly could not believe that the most well-documented series of atrocities in human history never happened. Nor could they dismiss, justify or celebrate horrific acts of barbaric terrorism. This is not even to mention insanities like the blood libel.
So, what is the measure of their hate? It is, of course, impossible to see into a person’s soul. We can only know what they say and what they do.
Very well. We know that “critics” of Israel openly call for the slaughter of at least 15 million people on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion and nationality. We know that they are willing to take to the streets in the tens of thousands to proclaim as much and are proud to do so. We know that they emotionally and physically attack and abuse Jews at every opportunity. We know that, in at least one case, this has led to a wanton act of murder and that it may well lead to another. We know that they routinely deny the Holocaust, celebrate the Oct. 7 massacre and do everything in their power to truncate Israel and the Jews’ ability to defend themselves against such atrocities. We know that they have made Jewish life virtually unlivable in many parts of the world. We know that they engage in the most vitriolic rhetoric and incitement in order to bully others into agreeing with them or at least submitting to them by silence. We know that they have built an industry, a regime, dedicated to furthering these activities. We know that they have corrupted entire institutions and industries in order to do so. We know, above all, that their fanaticism is of such an intensity that they will not stop unless they are stopped.
This is the evidence. It is incontrovertible. In the face of it, the only defense offered is a rhetorical question that not only fails to contend with this evidence but strategically ignores it. In other words, the question of whether one can criticize Israel without being antisemitic is not a question. It is an attempt to do an end-run around reality. After all, everyone knows what hate looks like, including the haters themselves. Those who claim they do not are lying.
So, we must say to the questioner: If you cannot see this hate, it is because you do not want to. And if you do not want to, you never will. That being the case, please stand aside and refrain from bothering us with questions to which you already know the answer.