Israel’s notoriously militant Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, equated criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism on Wednesday, in light of rising European support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).
“In the past, we saw European leaders speaking against the Jews. Now, we see them speaking against Israel. It is the same anti-Semitism of blood libels, spreading lies, distorting reality and brainwashing people into hating Israel and the Jews,” Shaked told the Washington Post. “Today, it is not politically correct to be anti-Semitic but being anti-Israeli is acceptable. People who have such anti-Semitic views should not be allowed to hold central leadership positions.”
Shaked’s view that criticism of Israel is akin to anti-Semitism is widely shared among right-wing supporters of Israeli policies. Such criticisms have even been leveled at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is Jewish, after his comments that Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza involved a disproportionate amount of force.
Certainly, some criticisms of Israel veer into blatant anti-Semitic territory or have support from anti-Semitic individuals or factions, and anti-Semitism in general has not disappeared. At a pro-Palestinian protest in Germany in 2014, for example, the Washington Post noted that organizers had to line out a list of rules for demonstrators.
“No burning the Israeli flag. No shouts of ‘Death to Israel.’ And absolutely no repeating the slogan ‘Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone’ — a rhyming chant in German that had become increasingly common at pro-Palestinian rallies here before being nipped in the bud by German authorities,” the Post reported.
But likening all criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism is a slippery slope. “If we think that to criticize Israeli violence, or to call for economic pressure to be put on the Israeli state to change its policies, is to be ‘effectively anti-Semitic’, we will fail to voice our opposition for fear of being named as part of an anti-Semitic enterprise,” American philosopher Judith Butler wrote in the London Review of Books in 2003. For its part, BDS focuses strictly on Israel and not on the larger global Jewish community.
“This distorted understanding of BDS is grossly unfair. The BDS movement does favour a one-state solution called Palestine, but not one achieved through violence and not one where Jews are second-class citizens or are denied access to their religious sites. Its manifesto is a radical political position, but it is not anti-Semitic,” Britain-based journalist Alastair Sloan wrote in Al Jazeera. “BDS supporters do not boycott Jewish shops — what they do is boycott shops that buy goods from Israel, and a proportion of these shops are, unfortunately, Jewish.”
In fact, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which was founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” addresses this notion on their website.
“Certainly the sovereign State of Israel and its government can be legitimately criticized just like any other country or government in the world,” the ADL says. “Criticism of particular Israeli actions or policies — even harsh and strident criticism and advocacy — in and of itself does not constitute anti-Semitism.”