Hypocrisy is everywhere, perhaps, and it can be a full-time occupation to call it out. For years, the anti-Israel movement, which generally comprises advocates of social justice who envision themselves as defenders of human dignity and respect for the diverse experiences of peoples, has employed the most toxic language and imagery imaginable against Israel. This includes the routine equation of Zionism with Nazism, apartheid and even Satanism. “IsraHELL” is commonly used in online commentary, and how frequently have we seen images of Israeli leaders with devil’s horns drawn on them?
Such language and imagery are often condemned as antisemitic, because, well, they are – regardless of the insistence of perpetrators that the target is Israel, not Jews. It is sheer hypocrisy when concern about antisemitism is dismissed as Jewish posturing to “silence” criticism of Israel or deflect attention from Israel’s “war crimes” and other “atrocities.” There is almost certainly no other ethnic or cultural group whose expressed concerns would be so summarily disregarded by people who proudly carry the mantle of social justice and human equality.
Criticism of Israel is not necessarily antisemitic, of course. But sometimes it is. And well-intentioned people will take the time to distinguish when it is and when it is not. Instead, while asserting that Zionists equate “any” criticism of Israel with antisemitism, the anti-Israel side goes full-tilt in the opposite direction, claiming that no criticism of Israel is tainted by antisemitism. Antisemitism, in their narrative, is not a bigotry to be confronted, but an always-false assertion used to deflect or negate criticism of Israel.
Antisemitism, as we have said here before, has its own name because it differs in critical ways from other forms of discrimination and bigotry. For instance, where many forms of racism are premised on the idea that the perpetrator perceives themselves as better than the victim, antisemitism, in some instances, is founded on the assumption that Jews perceive themselves as better than other people – see how often the “chosen people” concept is raised in online dialogue as criticism of Israel and Jews.
Similarly, anti-racism activism sees race as integral to economic and class division, which it often is. But, because one of the key prejudicial assumptions about Jews is that they are both economically and socially advantaged, Jews de facto cannot be victims of discrimination. The corollary of this is twofold. Jews do not (in the narrative of contemporary anti-racism activism) experience economic disadvantage, therefore, there is no evidence of antisemitism. Ergo claims of antisemitism are a cynical attempt to gain sympathy by a group of people who have long since exhausted the world’s reserve of empathy.
Alternatively, there are those who accept that antisemitism may exist. After all, it is hard to ignore the Jew-hatred spray-painted on walls, prevalent on social media and filling the comments sections after almost any news story involving Israel or Jews. Yet even this evidence may not elicit sympathy or allyship. In fact, there may be a counterintuitive response. Given the prejudiced idea that Jews consider themselves superior – usually founded on an ignorant misreading of the concept of chosenness – there may be a frisson of satisfaction among some that the uppity Jews are getting taken down a notch.
In the face of this reality, what should we do? For one thing, we should not allow the hypocrisy of others to distance us from the values we share with those others. We must not abandon the fundamentally Jewish commitment to racial, social and economic justice that has been central to our identity for hundreds of generations before this postmodern incarnation of social justice emerged a couple of decades ago. We should not cower from the concept of chosenness, because we know this is not a symptom of superiority but of a humble role in service of tikkun olam, of a better world.