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"Anti-Israel Rhetoric: Criticism or Anti-Semitism - How Can We Tell the Difference?"

Posted: June 2, 2010

Speech by Abraham H. Foxman
National Director, Anti-Defamation League
at the ADL Seminar for the Diplomatic Community
"Anti-Israel Rhetoric: Criticism or Anti-Semitism - How Can We Tell the Difference?"


Herzliya, Israel   June 1, 2010
As prepared

                                                                                           

                                                                                                

 

"Criticism of Israel: Good Faith vs Bad Faith"

           

 

The question I am asked most frequently is Is criticism of Israel anti-Semitism?  The more appropriate question should be - When is criticism of Israel anti-Semitism and why? It's tempting to cite the famous comment of an American Supreme Court Justice in a case about pornography that has now become ubiquitous -- "I know it when I see it."

 

The problem is there are intelligent, educated people who don't see anti-Semitism that is plain to many of us; when it is in their face.

 

During the Gaza war, Spain's second largest newspaper, El Mundo, published a cartoon of a Hasidic Jew with a hooked nose and barbed-wire sidelocks payot -- with smoke billowing in the background.

 

It was a clear example of demonizing the Jewish people, and therefore anti-Semitic.  I can easily imagine that cartoon appearing in a Nazi-era newspaper.  It is also easy to imagine an anti-Semite drawing that cartoon.  But I have to ask, how could the editors have published it?  They have highly influential jobs which require a well-honed sense of judgment.  But somehow, they didn't see it.   So we can't rely on the "I know it when I see it" formula.

 

We can all agree that criticism of Israeli actions or policies is not by its nature anti-Semitic.  Legitimate criticism abounds here in Israel.  You follow the media here and you see it in every Israeli newspaper. 

 

But there is an important corollary criticizing Israel is no excuse for anti-Semitism.

When criticism contains anti-Semitism, it loses its legitimacy.

 

It is one thing to say, "Israel's military isn't distinguishing between civilians and combatants in its actions in Lebanon and Gaza."  That statement may be right or wrong, but it isn't anti-Semitic.  We can debate it, based on the facts and on the law.

 

It is entirely different to say, "Those blood-thirsty Jews are killing women and children."  The subject of the criticism Israeli actions in Lebanon and Gaza is the same.  Even the humanitarian law issue of distinction between civilians and combatants is in there.  But when

Attributing wrong behavior to Israel's Jewishness and accusing Jews of being blood-thirsty, the criticism loses its legitimacy.

 

So, one basic rule is whenever the Jewishness of Israelis or the Jewish character of the State of Israel is denigrated, the criticism of Israeli actions becomes anti-Semitic.  This is a rule that we all accept in other areas of our lives and far away from Israel.  We criticize people's actions, not their race, religion, or ethnicity.

 

When well-known anti-Jewish slurs are used or Jews are depicted in ugly age-old stereotypes, the anti-Semitism is even easier to spot.  I mentioned the one about being blood-thirsty.  Others are that Jews are greedy or manipulative or conspiratorial or aggressive.  And sometimes you see them all combined.

 

For example, regarding the Iraq war, we heard more than once that Israel acted as part of a global Jewish plot to manipulate governments around the world so that the Jews can profit from the war.  Jews and money --  that age-old anti-Semitic canard that continues to have life.

 

A second rule has to do with demonization.  You will hear more on this later from my good friend Natan Sharasky, but I want to say a few words on one specific phenomenon equating Israel to the Nazis and its leaders to Hitler.

 

Caricatures that depict Israelis as Nazis appear with alarming frequency in the Arab press, in Latin American and even in some mainstream European newspapers.

 

Holocaust and Nazi analogies are not legitimate criticism of Israel.  You are an educated group, so there is no need to spell it out.  You know what the Nazis did and you know how Israel acts, so you know they have nothing in common.  The reason such comparisons are made is to demonize Israel as absolute evil, the common judgment we hold of the Nazis and the Holocaust.

 

The diplomatic community has engaged in similar demonizing behavior.  The infamous 1975 UN resolution labeled Zionism, the national movement of the Jewish people and the founding principle of the State of Israel, as "a form of racism and racial discrimination."  While that resolution was rescinded in 1991, the slander didn't end.  In 2001, the draft Durban Conference declaration condemned "the Zionist movement which is based on racial superiority."  States that are friendly to Israel, from every continent and many of which are represented here today, worked hard to get that language out of the final document. Yet such language still finds its way into international institutions and non-governmental bodies.

 

So, rule number two: when Israel is demonized, the criticism is illegitimate and anti-Semitic.

 

There is a third kind of criticism that is not legitimate and borders on anti-Semitism, if not being outright anti-Semitic.

 

And that is the disproportionate and one-sided criticism of Israel among the nations of the world. Israel may not have a perfect record on human rights, and in that respect it is no different from the states represented here, whether the issue is human trafficking in Europe, law enforcement abuses and impunity in Latin America, religious discrimination in the Muslim world, or violations of political and civil rights in Asia and Africa.  But unlike each of your states, Israel's treatment at the UN bears no relation to reality. 

 

From 2003 to 2008, 40% of all UN human rights resolutions on countries targeted Israel.  The runner up, with 6%, was the Democratic Republic of Congo, where millions of civilians have died in its ongoing conflict.  And if Israel were the worst violator of human rights, in a category far beyond the DRC, Sudan, Iran, and North Korea, then it might be legitimate.  But that is pure nonsense and cannot be defended.

 

Often Israel is targeted for human rights violations as a foreign occupier with worldwide attention paid to it.  The UN Human Rights Council just began its 14th regular session with its first agenda item devoted to accusations against Israel as a foreign occupier.  At the council's prior session, five resolutions against Israel were passed.  Not one resolution considered human rights in other cases of occupation: Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Northern Cyprus, or the UAE's islands occupied by Iran.

 

Why is Israel the subject of so much discussion at the UN as a human rights violator?  The diplomats in the room know the answer.  So does everyone else.  There is a political motive.

 

And what is the result of this disproportionate criticism?  A kind of demonization!  In late 2003, in a European Commission poll, 60% of Europeans said Israel was the greatest danger to world peace.  That's the same year that Iran's secret nuclear program was exposed; that North Korea withdrew from the NPT and fired missiles into the Sea of Japan; that the US-led coalition invaded Ira; that tens of thousands of people were killed in Darfur.  Yet somehow, Israel was judged the greatest danger to world peace.

 

There is a common thread that ties together the individuals who criticize Israeli actions, because Israel is the Jewish state, and the countries that spotlight and slander Israel in international forums.  What unites them is bad faith.   

 

Whether anti-Semitic slurs are used or not, criticism made in bad faith is not legitimate.  Bad faith criticism is not about human rights or the laws of war or negotiating peace.  Bad faith criticism is simply an attack on Israel.   

 

So, how do we know when criticism is made in good faith or bad?  I've already mentioned two tests, when anti-Semitism is involved and when there are clearly ulterior motives, often political.  There are other indicators.

 

When we see people who criticize only Israel among the nations of the world, their comments are suspect.

 

When we see people who have only criticism for Israel, who can't manage to find a single positive thing to say, their comments also are suspect.

 

If someone criticizes Israel and refuses to change their mind when presented with facts that vindicate Israeli decisions, then their criticism is also suspect.  One can criticize Israel for bombing a mosque.  But if later we learn that the mosque was being used to store explosives will that person change his or her mind?   

 

These are important tests that contribute to judgments about the legitimacy of the criticisms.

 

Whether criticism is in good faith or bad is also to say whether it is constructive criticism in the pursuit of peace, human rights, and protection of civilians, or if it is meant only to blacken Israel's name. 

 

In my experience, those who have no hatred for Jews or for the State of Israel will find their legitimate criticisms given full consideration.  They and their comments will not simply be brushed aside.  Because as Jews Israelis and non-Israelis we hold ourselves to a high ethical standard and we want to respond to legitimate criticism.

 

If we want productive conversations to dominate the debate about Israel's actions and policies, we all have to work for it.  It can't just be the Jewish community that is on guard against anti-Semitic language and demonization.  You too have a responsibility to make a good and legitimate exchange of views possible. 

 

When you see and hear anti-Semitism in criticism of Israel, denounce it.  Don't let it poison the debate.

 

When you see attempts to hijack UN bodies, don't allow it to happen.

 

Just as the remedy for bad speech is more good speech, so too, we need good faith, lots of it, from every one, to remedy the bad faith criticism.

 

When bad faith criticism is marginalized, the legitimate and constructive criticism will stand out and the discussions we are having today will no longer be necessary.

 

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