As Howard Jacobson recently wrote, the equation is simple: ‘Not all critics of Israel are anti-Semites. I am a critic of Israel. Therefore I am not an anti-Semite’.
Of course, anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism. Those who insist on drawing equal signs between the two are only suffocating legitimate complaints of anti-Semitism. Yet the existence of the State of Israel is the greatest friend to the modern anti-Semite who is aware that traditional public displays of hatred are unacceptable nowadays. But wrap it up in thinly veiled anti-Zionism, and you cannot be criticised.
During an unspectacular Israel Apartheid Week event at the University of Birmingham (UK) this week, the panellists informed students that claims of anti-Semitism directed at the anti-Israel movement simply represent a Zionist tool to shut down debate and freedom of speech.
Yes, the baseless lies and inflammatory language of Israel Apartheid Week are frustrating, but they are manageable. Far more disturbing, even dangerous, is the reduction and trivialisation of legitimate claims of anti-Semitism to nothing more than an underhand tactic to repress the ‘truth’. By suggesting that alleged anti-Semitism is nothing but a Zionist slur grants free reign to any critic of Israel, however dubious their motives may be.
In using this strategy to absolve itself of any responsibility to purge anti-Semitism from its own ranks, the anti-Israel movement puts the legitimacy of their discourse in serious doubt.
Encouraging the dismissal of every allegation of anti-Semitism as a smear campaign places the Jewish population in an entirely unprotected position. As long as the ‘J-word’ is replaced by either ‘Zionist’ or ‘Israeli’, the most virulent anti-Semite is cleaner than clean.
This situation is disquieting, but it is severely compounded by the burden of guilt now being placed on the offended. It is the intention that the offended Jew should be disgraced and stigmatised for considering it appropriate to defend himself in front of an often-hostile crowd. The right to be free from discrimination is merely an inconvenience in the speaker’s mission to spread his/her one-sided rhetoric.
While Israel Apartheid Week failed to pretend to offer a positive solution to the conflict – the word ‘conflict’ was not mentioned once in their event – the solution to this issue is seemingly simple. The power to identify and challenge anti-Semitism can never be negotiated. Nor can it be cheapened to nothing more than a devious ploy. It is the duty of both the individual and the necessary authorities to be aware of and rebut this ruse, and take strong action wherever necessary.