Editorial: When we knew what antisemitism was

By Larry Brook

It was so easy when we knew what antisemitism was.

You just looked for the robe or the swastika, the sign that said “no Jews” or the restrictive covenant, and that was it.

But with the increasing demonization of Jews from the left, in addition to the traditional right-wing antisemitism, and poisoned atmospheres on many college campuses, it became time to have a definition of what is — and isn’t — antisemitism. The world’s foremost experts discussed at length and came up with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition on Antisemitism. Many countries have adopted it as a guide to determine what incidents may well fall under the umbrella. Universities are also adopting it.

But there has been pushback by anti-Israel groups, afraid that antisemitic demonization of Israel will be labeled as… well… antisemitism. They say their obsession against the world’s one Jewish state can’t be seen as… well… being anti-Jewish. They want the freedom to refer to the world’s Jewish haven as a Nazi regime, and not get called out for it.

They want the freedom to say about Israel and do to Jews what they dare not say or do to any other group.

It is a world where an attack on a European synagogue is not prosecuted as a hate crime, but is considered to be a political statement regarding Israel. Yet we’re told that anti-Zionism can’t be conflated with antisemitism. Or that Israel’s policies are the reason for antisemitism around the world, as if antisemitism is a brand-new phenomenon. In the name of freedom, they say a new definition of antisemitism is needed, designed by the foxes in the henhouse and given lofty names like The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. Jerusalem should sue for defamation.

The entire difference between IHRA and these “substitutes” is over criticism of Israel, because naturally, everyone acknowledges that antisemitism doesn’t come from the left, but is a right-wing phenomenon, and as such must be condemned. Why, these anti-Israel groups even condemn antisemitism and want to make alliances to fight against it… when it comes from neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Critics of IHRA falsely claim IHRA goes beyond antisemitism to stifle criticism of Israel, though IHRA specifically says criticism of Israel that is similar to that of any other country can not be considered antisemitism.

It’s when the criticism moves to demonization, or the denial of national rights solely to Jews among the world’s peoples (while advocating for Palestinian national rights, no less). That’s when it becomes antisemitism.

In recent years, all the old antisemitic tropes — Jewish power, Jewish supremacy, Jews harming or ritually killing non-Jews, Jews controlling the world — have been adapted to describe the world’s one Jewish nation. But hey, don’t consider that antisemitism, it’s part of the “reasonable criticism” that opponents of IHRA say is being suppressed.

It’s one thing to say that Israel should not build communities in the territories because it supposedly harms the prospect of peace with the Palestinians. Reasonable people can disagree about that. It’s another thing to say that the settlers are a bunch of bloodthirsty zealots trying to perpetrate a Palestinian genocide.

But, those behind the new definitions explain, pro-Palestinian voices are being silenced. A laughable assertion to anyone who has been paying the slightest attention. In the zeal to protect freedom of expression, none of these groups ever complain about free speech being stifled when their groups shut down pro-Israel speakers. For those groups, all criticism and all blame is on one side of the aisle — the Israeli side.

Silencing pro-Israel speakers in the name of free expression? Of course! Can’t let those noxious Zionist (white European) supremacist ideas be spread to our students.

While there are numerous mainstream, if left-leaning, Jewish academics (such as, for example, Susannah Heschel) who signed on to the Jerusalem Declaration, there are many signatories who have themselves had a troubled past in terms of anti-Israel criticism crossing the line into overt antisemitism, or defending those who traffic in antisemitic rhetoric. Those, in particular, are the anti-Israel critics who want a free pass on antisemitism, and want it with a Jewish stamp of approval.

It comes across like David Duke complaining that he had no input in defining what counts as racism. The only difference is that Duke revels in his label of being racist, while those on the left take umbrage at the label of antisemite.

The Jerusalem Declaration says that efforts like the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement are not, on the face of it, antisemitic. Sure, people boycott all the time, for wildly different reasons. Ask Home Depot or Chick-Fil-A about the current state of U.S. politics.

However, the notion that the BDS movement is merely a political statement against settlements and Israeli policies and presence in the territories has long since left the station. It is clear by the words and actions of BDS activists and leaders that aren’t the idealistic newcomers that the goal of BDS isn’t to reform Israel, but to replace Israel — from the river to the sea.

When asked about singling out Israel, activists deny it but say they have to start somewhere in the great push for international peace and understanding. But for some reason, the activism that starts with Israel never moves on to other countries. Repression of the Palestinians by Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, far worse than anything Israel is accused of, gets ignored by the “pro-Palestinian” groups, because Israel can’t be blamed.

Meanwhile, you’ll pass out holding your breath waiting for them to say anything about the modern-day concentration camps China has for the Uyghur Muslims in their country, and how they are using them as slave labor to pick cotton. Slaves picking cotton, in the 21st century! But you can’t say anything about that, the Chinese market is far too important to the NBA and “woke” American companies, and they don’t want to lose out.

Eliminating the Jewish population of Europe through a governmental system of extermination camps, that’s antisemitism. Eliminating the one Jewish nation on the planet and ridding the region of so-called white supremacist colonialist foreigners (that is, the Jews) — that’s simply political discourse. Can’t you see the difference?

The Jerusalem Declaration even gives cover to those who make the “Israel is the new Nazi Germany” allegation and claim there is currently a “Palestinian Holocaust” going on. Aside from being totally detached from reality, how is that assertion anything other than antisemitic?

The sad part is, efforts like the Jerusalem Declaration give a Jewish fig leaf to the most hard-core anti-Israel extremists.

We can’t be antisemitic, they say. After all, “the Jews” agree with us.

As the writer for the “Unofficial Mossad” Twitter account put it, “any Palestinian solidarity group who opposes IHRA is effectively saying they can’t function without comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, calling for the killing of Jews, denying the Holocaust, or hold Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.”