In any debate about Israel and the Palestinians these days, one is likely to hear the allegation that Jews and other supporters of Israel use accusations of antisemitism to shut down, deter or deflect anti-Israel critics.
The reality is that, while there are some hotheads on the pro-Israel side as in any other group, most leaders of the organised Zionist and Jewish community are actually pretty careful about making such accusations. We do respond to and take issue with what we see as unfair criticism of Israel, but we almost never say it is per se antisemitic unless there is much more evidence than just unfair or ill-informed criticism of Israel involved.
In fact, it is quite common for those criticised for unfair comments about Israel to complain that they are being accused of antisemitism when in fact absolutely no such claim has been made.
Nonetheless, I would not be at all surprised if many observers not involved in this debate remain confused about what to make of the claims and counter-claims about anti-Zionism and antisemitism.
A recent example should help clear up what is really going on.
On Aug. 21, the Melbourne Age reported that al-Manar, Hezbollah’s satellite TV station which openly recruits and fundraises for the banned terrorist organisation and also engages in blatant antisemitism, was back in the Australian market courtesy of an Indonesian satellite company. Various Jewish groups, including AIJAC, called for government action to do what can be done to enforce a November 2005 decision by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to create guidelines banning broadcasting by stations recruiting for or seeking funds for banned terrorist organisations.
Age reporting made it very clear that it is hardly the case that al-Manar’s propaganda is directed only against Israel or “Zionists.” The Age mentioned a television series based on the classic antisemitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which also portrays Jewish rabbis as murdering Christian children to use their blood in Passover matzahs. It also reported that the station refers to Jews as “sons of pigs and monkeys”, a traditional antisemitic trope in the Muslim world based on religious texts.
The Age didn’t report it, but Hezbollah leaders like Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah make clearly anti-Jewish, and not merely anti-Zionist, statements on al-Manar regularly. For instance, in 2001 Nasrallah said, “Throughout history the Jews have been Allah’s most cowardly and greedy creatures. If you search the entire face of the earth you will not find anyone more miserly than the Jews or more greedy than they.” He also said in a 2002 speech that “if they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” (That was reported based on other sources, and I have not been able to positively confirm that al-Manar broadcast that particular speech, but it would be very uncharacteristic of al-Manar to fail to broadcast any important speech by Nasrallah.)
In short, if al-Manar does not meet someone’s criteria for antisemitism, it is very difficult to see what would.
Well, sadly, a couple of figures in the Australian Arab community have declared that al-Manar does not meet their criteria for antisemitism. Why? Basically, because it’s anti-Israel.
First there was Australian Arabic Council head Roland Jabbour. He reportedly told the Age (Aug. 22) that “Hezbollah was not anti-Semitic” and that while “he would not call Jews the offspring of apes and pigs… in the context of ‘the crimes of the state of Israel’ it was reasonable for al-Manar to do so and to portray Israeli rabbis as killing Christian children to use their blood in Passover meals.”
Then Moammar Mashni of Australians for Palestine wrote in to the Age (Aug 25) to declare that it was “absolute hypocrisy” to call for al-Manar to be banned, asking “when, if ever, someone can be critical of Israel and not be labelled an anti-Semite?” He then went on to label those who call for al-Manar’s banning “typical of those who have no real defence of Israel’s brutality, and thus brand anyone who is critical of Israel anti-Semitic, when this term should be reserved for those who hate Jews just for the sake of it.”
The common thread in both Mashni’s and Jabbour’s statements is that while both claim to be defending the proposition that not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, which everyone agrees is true, this is actually not what they are saying at all. They are claiming that no one fighting Israel should ever be labelled antisemitic, even if they label all Jews offspring of pigs and monkeys, and say rabbis kill Christian children as part of Jewish religious rituals.
Needless to say, this claim is logically bizarre and morally indefensible. And while most of those who invoke the false claim that “defenders of Israel silence critics of Israel by labelling all such criticism antisemitism” do not express this view as crudely as Jabbour and Mashni, this is a reasonable description of the worldviews of many of them, if you probe a bit deeper.
This should clear up what is really happening when unfair or ill-informed critics of Israel claim that responses to their criticism amount to using accusations of “antisemitism” to silence them.