Squeezing the wiggle room between anti-Zionism and antisemitism

Protestor holds a sign urging the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel (Jewish News)
Protestor holds a sign urging the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel (Jewish News)

Most Jews maintain that calls for boycotts of Israel are at least ‘probably’ antisemitic, if not ‘definitely’ so. Data JPR gathered for the EU in 2018 demonstrate that 75% of UK Jews hold one or other of these positions; across Europe, the average is 82%.

But clearly, not all Jews agree. And even the examples of antisemitism listed in the IHRA working definition leave a bit of wriggle room. First, the word “boycott” doesn’t appear in the definition, nor does the word “apartheid” – another contention about Israel made by the country’s more hostile critics. Second, in judging whether any of the IHRA’s examples are antisemitic, the definition clearly states that one should take “into account the overall context.”

So things are a little woolly here, as they probably should be. In at least some instances, support for boycotts or accusations of apartheid by non-Jews are not motivated by racist malice, but come rather from a desire to break the deadlock in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or are more knee-jerk: influenced by the crowd, grounded in an incomplete understanding of reality, but free of any anti-Jewish prejudice. But the new JPR/CST study indicates this is rare – the more anti-Jewish beliefs people hold, such as those relating to wealth, superiority or nefarious uses of power, the more likely they are also to maintain that Israel should be boycotted.

The wooliness creates space for Israel’s harshest critics to plead innocence in the face of accusations of antisemitism. But this new study demonstrates that there is a clear and undeniable correlation between these anti-Israel ideas and more standard anti-Jewish ones. The study cannot look into any individual’s conscience, but it can explore statistical probability. And it clearly finds that endorsement of either the apartheid or boycott contentions tends to align with some degree of anti-Jewish feeling.

About the Author
Jonathan Boyd is the Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, an independent research organisation based in the UK specialising in the study of contemporary European Jewish life. He holds a PhD in education and MA and BA in Modern Jewish History, and is the author of numerous sociological and demographic studies of Jews in the UK and across Europe. A former Jerusalem Fellow at the Mandel Institute in Israel, he is a Board member of the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry (ASSJ) and a regular columnist for the Jewish Chronicle.
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