Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism – By Sameh Habeeb


This part of an article published by Middle East Eye in 2016 – Accusing Israel’s critics of anti-Semitism has become a trend to silence those who dare discuss Israeli human rights violations in occupied Palestine.

Former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters was accused of being an anti-Semite, an accusation he absolutely denied. He argued in an interview with the Telegraph: “It is not … true that I am an anti-Semite or that I am against the Israeli people. I am neither of those. I am a critic of the policies of this government of Israel. In fact, a significant minority of the Israeli people, either on religious or on humanitarian grounds, shares my view of the Israeli government’s ill-advised policies.

“Because I am a critic of this Israeli government’s policies and in the absence of this Israeli government producing cogent arguments to defend themselves from my criticism, I am instead routinely subjected to the accusation that I am an anti-Semite.”

Earlier this year, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was accused of anti-Semitism for calling an investigation on the extrajudicial killings of Palestinians in recent months. Although her statements were critical of Israel and its policies, she was regarded in some quarters as an anti-Semite although she did not make any anti-Jewish remarks. She simply criticized Israel.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki was accused of anti-Semitism during a speech he made at the UN. Maliki came under fire for saying: “I call on all the countries to boycott settlements and to boycott the products of settlements and to warn of the possibility of imposing economic and commercial sanctions on the occupying power in accordance with the guidelines on businesses and human rights.”

Although Maliki’s words focused on Israeli settlements, which are illegal by international law, Israel’s ambassador to the UN accused him of speaking “pure anti-Semitism”.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has previously offered an illustration on antisemitism when he made it clear that criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic. He said: “In some cases, anti-Semitism appears to be a by-product of the Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly with the escalation of hostilities in the past several years. Criticism of Israeli policies is one thing. But it is quite another when such critiques take the form of attacks, physical or verbal, on Jewish individuals and the symbols of their heritage and faith.”

The academic narrative is clear on defining anti-Semitism as any verbal or physical attack or any kind of hostility directed against Jews. Gavin I Langmuir, the noted Stanford academic whose work includes History, Religion and Antisemitism and Toward a Definition of Antisemitism, identifies anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism as hostility directed at those identified as Jews. Natalie Isser (1991) has defined anti-Semitism as “hostility to and dislike of Jews”.

Despite these scholarly definitions and the clear difference between criticizing Israel and anti-Semitism, pro-Israeli organisations and the Israeli leadership are employing the accusation of anti-Semitism to silence critics.

Many journalists, activists and human rights campaigners are being regarded as, or accused of being, anti-Semites for calling for an end to the occupation or the dismantling of illegal settlements and so forth. The use of “anti-Semitism” by Israel as a weapon against those who oppose its policies will not achieve the goals that Israel is seeking. The only way for Israel to avoid further boycotts is to abide by international laws and end the occupation – and end any form of religious or ethnic discrimination practised in the occupied territories.