The debate over the connection between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism suffers from a fundamental disagreement over the nature of anti-Semitism. The common conception of anti-Semitism is that it is a prejudice towards the Jews derived from any one of a multitude of historical events or libels. Some say that modern anti-Semitism comes from medieval Jewish usury. Others trace it to the accusation that the Jews murdered Jesus. Anti-Semites often justify their own anti-Semitism with blood libels or conspiracy theories. The fact remains that anti-Semitism predates all of these claims, regardless of their veracity.
If no event or libel caused anti-Semitism, the next logical assumption is that it is a baseless racial prejudice, much like racism against American blacks. Anti-Semitism often features ethnic or religious prejudice, but it does not fit in with other prejudices. Most ethnic and racial prejudices denigrate their targets and exist in specific historical circumstances to serve political or social purposes. Anti-Semitism often exaggerates the power of the Jews instead of defaming them. It has arisen in many, diverse historical periods and has often run contrary to the best interests of the societies that most virulently espouse it.
The term anti-Semitism is an 1879 euphemism for the German word Judenhauss, or Jew-hatred. It is a hatred of Jews – however you choose to define them – that exists independently of historical circumstances. It exists as a latent popular sentiment, which periodically erupts into prejudice or violence and justifies itself using libels or incidental trends. Anti-Semitism has a cause: the Jews are chosen. Different people choose to interpret this in different ways depending on their beliefs and identity. Some Jews might argue that God ordained anti-Semitism when he chose the people of Israel. Others have claimed that anti-Semitism exists because the world resents the Jews for introducing monotheism and Abrahamic morality to society. Those who do not believe in the divine Torah point out that anti-Semitism could simply be a reaction to the chutzpah inherent in maintaining a claim of exclusivity for a few thousand years. The idea that anti-Semitism is a negative reaction to positive qualities of the Jewish people does not reflect well on those who dislike the Jews.
Those who do not view themselves as anti-Semitic but either unconsciously hate Jews or believe libels against the Jews may find this definition of anti-Semitism insulting. Tracing the origins and causes of anti-Semitism to specific historical events both alleviates personal responsibility for Jew-hatred and enables people to justify hatred caused by certain libels while rejecting hatred caused by others. When anti-Israel sentiment is equated with anti-Semitism, both anti-Israel and “neutral” individuals protest that such a proposition is an ad hominem attack and falsely equates opposition to the polity of the State of Israel with a hatred of the Jewish people. This outrage is understandable given the implications of the label “anti-Semite” and the previously explained disparity in definitions.
Those who claim that anti-Israel sentiment is rooted in anti-Semitism rarely accuse everyone who is anti-Israel of being an anti-Semite. What they argue is that anti-Israel sentiment is merely the contemporary historical circumstance used to justify the public expression of latent anti-Semitism. Without contesting the particulars of claims against the State of Israel, they seek to show that such claims often originate from openly anti-Semitic sources or circumstances and that these claims are only popular because they justify veiled hatred of Jews. The result of this popularity is that many people who do not explicitly hate Jews come to believe the libels leveled at them. Even Jews are susceptible to this: it is not surprising that there is a long history of Jews buying into anti-Jewish libels given the prevalence of these lies. Criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, but the vast majority of external “criticism” of Israel serves the broader cause of Jew-hatred. This does not mean that it is wrong to criticize Israel, merely that to do so can have unintended significance.
Review Managing Editor Joshua Kauderer recently published an editorial in the Not-So-Daily Dartmouth that claimed anti-Israel sentiment was a form of anti-Semitism. A student named Isaac Green penned a response in which he justified criticism of Israel and delved into unrelated attacks on Donald Trump. Mr. Kauderer has chosen to defend his writing on page six of this issue, but I feel obligated to defend Israel from one of Mr. Green’s many attacks. Green wrote that, “the U.N. also created Israel and with every passing day Israel deserves less and less the title of true democracy.” Israel is not remarkable because it is a democracy. That it is one is nothing more than an accident of history, and there are many democracies in the world and throughout history. Forms of government come and go, as will Israel’s. It is remarkable because it is a Jewish State – the only Jewish state – and it is the first such state to exist in just under two thousand years. Someone who loves Israel for the sole reason that it is a democracy does not love Israel.
While the second part of Green’s statement is a fairly commonplace criticism, his first claim is jarring. The League of Nations recognized the right of Jews to a sovereign state in all of Mandatory Palestine. The United Nations voted to recognize a divided State of Israel, against the objections of the Arab world. But the United Nations did not create Israel. God gave Israel to the Jews, and they redeemed it with willpower, with blood, and with the grace of God. Green’s assertion that the world, likely in a bout of guilt over the Holocaust, deigned to give the helpless Jews a small plot of land is an insult to the memory of the thousands who gave their lives in defense of their home.
Jews have always faced anti-Semitism, but it should not bother us. It is the burden of our birthright, and in three thousand years, it has failed to bring us to our knees. We are a people with a will like no other, because we have the courage of our convictions. Others who face hatred based solely on their identities can learn from our suffering and our achievements. Nothing is won through pity or the aid of others: the will to fight hatred through force, work, or love is all that is necessary to defeat it. As Theodore Hertzel said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”