Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Redefining Anti-Semitism: A Growing Challenge To Freedom Of Speech

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2021

In recent days, the campaign to redefine anti-Semitism has achieved notable  
success. In 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned anti-Zionism as  
a form of anti-Semitism at a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the  
round-up by French police of more than 13,000 Jews at the Winter Stadium, or  
Velodrome d’Hiver. They were imprisoned there for days and were then  
transported to Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe. The French president  
declared: “We will never surrender to the expressions of hatred. We will not  
surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a re-invention of anti-Semitism.”  
In June, 2017, the European Parliament voted to adopt a resolution calling  
on member states and their institutions to apply the working definition of  
anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). In  
addition to defining anti-Semitism as “Rhetorical and physical  
manifestations... directed toward Jewish individuals...toward Jewish  
community institutions and religious facilities,” it adopted the following  
declaration of what constituted anti-Semitism: “Denying the Jewish people  
their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming the existence of the  
State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”  
At a Hanukkah party in the White House in 1999, President Donald Trump  
issued an executive order that, in effect, redefined Judaism as a  
nationality or race, rather than a religion. He did this so the Civil Rights  
Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race or national  
origin, could be applied to Jews. The Civil Rights Act does not mention  
Limiting Criticism of Israel  
What the president was seeking to do was limit criticism of Israel at  
universities by defining it as “anti-Semitism” and placing this in the  
category of prohibited discrimination. The New York Times editorially called  
this executive order an assault on the First Amendment and freedom of  
Evan Carr, the Trump administration’s anti-Semitism envoy, equated anti-  
Zionism with anti-Semitism and considered support for Israel a key tenet of  
Judaism. On a visit to Jerusalem in November 2020, Secretary of State Mike  
Pompeo, appearing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, compared  
the BDS movement to cancer and said that opposition to Zionism, by its very  
nature, is anti-Semitic. Advocates of the BDS movement, which includes large  
numbers of Jews, call for a peaceful boycott of Israeli goods; and  
divestment from Israel until it makes concessions to Palestinians. Its  
advocates compare the movement to a similar campaign against South Africa  
during the years of apartheid.  
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, argues that the organized American  
Jewish community regularly tries to blur the distinction between legitimate  
criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. He says it is a “slippery slope” to  
expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include legitimate criticism of  
Equating anti-Zionism with Anti-Semitism  
Professor Noam Chomsky points out that many years ago Israel’s Foreign  
Minister Abba Evan, “equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in an effort to  
exploit anti-racist sentiment for political ends.” He cites a statement  
Eban made in 1973: “One of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile  
world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-  
Zionism is not a distinction at all.” Chomsky provides this assessment of  
that view: “That is a convenient stand. It cuts off a mere 100 per cent of  
critical comment.” In 2002, Chomsky wrote that this equation of anti-Zionism  
with anti-Semitism was being extended to Israeli policies, not just  
criticism of Zionism. When critics of Israel are Jewish, Chomsky noted, the  
“accusations of anti-Semitism involve descriptions of self-hatred.”  
The attempt to equate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism ignores the long  
history of Jewish opposition to Zionism. In 1897, for example, the Central  
Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution disapproving of any  
attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution declared, “Zion was a  
precious possession of the past... as such it is a holy memory, but it is  
not our hope for the future. America is our Zion.”  
In recent days controversy has grown in Germany about what academics,  
writers and others believe is a limitation on free speech as criticism of  
Israel and Zionism is categorized as “anti-Semitism.” Signatories of an open  
letter say that a parliamentary resolution declaring a campaign critical of  
Israel and embracing the BDS movement is “anti-Semitic” has led to self-  
censorship and is stifling artistic expression.  
Parallels Between Apartheid and Treatment of Palestinians  
The New York Times (Dec. 11, 2020) reported: “In May, a prominent  
Cameroonian philosopher was disinvited from addressing a high-profile arts  
festival in Germany for drawing parallels between the situation of the  
Palestinians and apartheid in South Africa in his writing. The striking of  
Achille Mbembe from the program of the Ruhrtreiniale in May led to months-  
long public debate in which the relationship of genocide and colonialism to  
the Holocaust and Germany’s special relationship to Israel came into  
question. It also sparked the cultural leaders’ decision to go public with  
their fears that the discussion was taking an unwelcome turn.”  
At a news conference in Berlin in December 2020, the directors of 32  
institutions released an open letter in which they rejected the sanctions  
and boycott movement but at the same time declared that, “We consider the  
logic of a counter-boycott, triggered by the parliamentary anti-BDS  
resolution, to be dangerous.” They were referring to the resolution passed  
by the German Parliament in May 2019 that designated the BDS campaign as  
anti-Semitic. The advisory declaration called on all of Germany’s states and  
municipalities to deny public funding to any institution that “actively  
supports the movement or questions the right of Israel to exist.”  
Critics in Germany charge that instead of stifling anti-Semitism, the  
resolution has stifled the open exchange of ideas in the public sphere and  
freedom of expression in the arts, both of which are guaranteed by Germany’s  
constitution. In an open letter, one of the signatories, Johannes Ebert, the  
Secretary General of the Goethe Institute, an organization that promotes  
German culture abroad, noted that, “Cultural exchange does not work by  
deciding who we are allowed to talk about, and who we aren’t, especially in  
international cultural exchange. You have to listen closely. You have to be  
willing to speak to people whose positions you don’t share.”  
Director of Berlin Jewish Theater Resigns  
The directors of the Berliner Festpiele, the Humboldt Forum and the Federal  
Cultural Foundation along with the leaders of theaters, museums and  
institutes for Jewish Cultural studies from across the country are among  
those who signed the appeal. Months after the 2019 resolution was passed,  
the director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, Peter Schafer, resigned his post  
amid criticism that he had become too politically involved with the battle  
over the BDS movement. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, director of the Berlin  
Institute for Advanced Study, an interdisciplinary research institute, said  
the resolution limited the mandates of organizations like hers, which  
encourage the free exchange of ideas among scholars. She declared that, “if  
we were to take this resolution literally, then we could not invite many  
Jewish and Palestinian Israeli intellectuals who oppose the human rights  
violations of their own government.”  
Yehudit Yinhar, a Jewish Israeli student at the Weissensee Art Academy,  
learned how the resolution could be interpreted when she found herself,  
along with the other members of a project she jointly organized called  
“School for Unlearning Zionism,” facing accusations of anti-Semitism. “We  
want to do our own homework, teaching ourselves about power and privilege,”  
she said of the events, which consisted of 12 on-line lectures and public  
discussions with titles such as “Zionism as Settler Colonialism.”  
Participants were encouraged to explore what she described as “perspectives  
outside of the language of power” that were learned growing up in Israel.  
The group found their website, which was hosted by the academy, taken  
offline after accusations of links to the BDS movement among some of its  
members appeared in the Israeli and German news media. “No taxpayer money  
should be used to delegitimize Israel,” declared the American Jewish  
Committee’s Berlin office.  
“Using Charges of Anti-Semitism as a Club”  
Peter Schafer told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (Dec. 12, 2020): “The  
accusation of anti-Semitism is a club that allows one to deal a death blow,  
and political elements who have an interest in this are using it, without a  
doubt...The (Berlin Jewish) Museum staff gradually entered a state of panic.  
Then, of course, we also started to do background checks. Increasingly, it  
poisoned the atmosphere and our work.”  
Another prominent victim told Haaretz: “Sometimes one thinks, ‘To go to that  
conference?’ ‘to invite this colleague?’ Afterward it means that for three  
weeks I’ll have to cope with a shitstorm, whereas I need the time for other  
things that I get paid for as a lecturer. There is a type of ‘anticipatory  
obedience,’ or prior self-censorship.”  
In the United Kingdom, Stephen Smedley, Visiting professor at Oxford  
University and a former judge at the Court of Appeals of England and Wales,  
who is Jewish, provided this assessment in The Guardian (July 27, 2018):  
“Anti-Semitism is hostility toward Jews as Jews. This straightforward  
meaning is at the disposal of any institution or organization that needs it.  
It places no prior restrictions on the form anti-Semitism may take... what  
is the point... of the verbose and imprecise definition promulgated by the  
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)?”  
“Neutralizing Serious Criticism of Israel”  
In Judge Smedley’s view, the “examples” of “anti-Semitism” provided in this  
definition, such as comparing Israeli policies with regard to the  
Palestinians with Nazi Germany, serve the purpose of “...neutralizing  
serious criticism of Israel by stigmatizing it as a form of anti-Semitism.  
The UK Government, which adopted the working definition and the examples was  
warned by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in October 2016 that in  
the interests of free speech it ought to adopt an explicit rider that it is  
not anti-Semitic to criticize the government of Israel or hold the Israeli  
government to the same standards as other liberal democracies without  
additional evidence to suggest an anti-Semitic intent. This was  
ignored....That is why both Jews and non-Jews in the UK are entitled,  
without being stigmatized as anti-Semites, to contend that a state that by  
law denies Palestinians any right to self-determination is a racist state,  
or to ask whether there is some moral equivalence between shooting down  
defenseless Jews in Eastern Europe and unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in  
In December, 2020, a statement and set of principles was signed by more than  
one hundred Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals  
regarding the definition of anti-Semitism by the IHRA and the way this  
definition has been applied. They state that, “the fight against anti-  
Semitism should not be turned into a stratagem to delegitimize the fight  
against the oppression of the Palestinians, the denial of their rights and  
the continued occupation of their land...Anti-Semitism must be debunked and  
combated. Regardless of pretense, no expression of hatred for Jews as Jews  
should be tolerated anywhere in the world. We also believe the lessons of  
the Holocaust, as well as those of other genocides of modern times must be  
part of the education of new generations against all forms of racial  
prejudice and hatred...It should be part and parcel of the fight against all  
forms of racism and xenophobia, including Islamophobia and hostility to  
Arabs and Palestinians...”  
Many Jews from around the world embraced this declaration, including Dror  
Feiler of European Jews for a Just Peace, Sweden; Donna Nevel, Jews Say No,  
U.S.; Sheryl Nestel, Independent Jewish Voices, Canada; David Camedi,  
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Argentina; Madilyn Garson,  
Alternative Jewish Voices, New Zealand, and Vivienne Porzsolt, Jews Against  
the Occupation, Australia.  
Desmond Tutu Disinvited  
The effort to silence criticism of Israel as “anti-Semitic” has a long  
history, and no one is immune. In 2007, for example, South African  
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Prize winner for his fight against  
apartheid, was disinvited from speaking at the University of St. Thomas in  
Minnesota because of complaints from the local Jewish community. He was  
attacked because of statements he made criticizing Israel’s treatment of  
Palestinians, which critics said were “anti-Semitic.”  
Marv Davidov, an adjunct professor with the Justice and Peace Studies  
program at the University of St. Thomas said: “As a Jew who experienced real  
anti-Semitism as a child, I’m deeply disturbed that a man like Tutu could be  
labeled anti-Semitic and silenced like this. I deeply resent the Israeli  
lobby trying to silence any criticism of its policy. It does a great  
disservice to Israel and to all Jews.”  
After a strong backlash against the decision and a campaign led by Jewish  
Voice for Peace in behalf of Tutu, which produced more than 8,000 letters of  
protest, the university rescinded the ban.  
In December, 2020, faculty and staff at the University of Illinois called on  
the university to reject equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism,  
saying it not only carries grave implications to free speech but also  
distracts from challenging actual racism on Illinois campuses. They  
declared: “As faculty and staff at the University of Illinois system, we are  
writing to renew our outrage at the rampant anti-Semitism and racism at the  
University of Illinois- Champaign-Urbana. We condemn all forms of racism,  
anti-Semitism, homophobia...xenophobia and other forms of hatred and  
“Concerned About the Way Anti-Semitism is Defined”  
The statement continues: “We are also deeply concerned about the way anti-  
Semitism is defined in a joint statement issued by UIUC, the Jewish United  
Fund, Hillel groups and the Brandeis Center in response to complaints that  
these avowedly pro-Israel groups filed against the University based on  
student speech and this conflation of Jewish religious and ethnic identity  
with a viewpoint that supports the State of Israel or Zionism as a political  
ideology is a dangerous tactic that is expressly aimed at silencing any and  
all debate about Israel and Zionism on college campuses.”  
Those faculty and staff at the University of Illinois signing this statement  
urge the University to “...reject this effort because of the grave  
implications it has for academic freedom and student free speech on the  
campuses, the way it distracts from actual racism happening on our campuses  
and the ironic consequences of creating an anti-Palestinian/Arab/Muslim  
environment on campuses by targeting students for expressing their  
experiences and views.” (Mondoweiss, Dec. 24,2020)  
Dr. Joel Beinin, professor of history at Stanford University, writes: “Why  
discredit, defame and silence those with opposing viewpoints? I believe it  
is because the Zionist lobby knows it cannot win based on facts. An honest  
discussion can only lead to one conclusion: the status quo in which Israel  
declares it alone has rights and intends to impose its will on the weaker  
Palestinians, stripping them permanently of their land, resources and  
rights, cannot lead to a lasting peace. We need an open debate and the  
freedom to discuss uncomfortable facts and explore the full range of policy  
options. Only then can we adopt a foreign policy that serves American  
interests and one that could actually bring a just peace to Palestinians and  
“the Politics of Anti-Semitism”  
In the book “The Politics of Anti-Semitism,” Scott Handleman, writes:  
“Partisans of Israel often make false accusations of anti-Semitism to  
silence Israel’s critics. The ‘anti-Semite’ libel is harmful not only  
because it censors debate about Israel’s racism and human rights abuses but  
because it trivializes the ugly history of Jew-hatred.”  
Brian Klug, professor of philosophy at Oxford University, argues that  
excessive claims of anti-Semitism leveled at critics of Israel may backfire  
and contribute to anti-Semitism.” He writes that, “A McCarthyite tendency to  
see anti-Semites under every bed arguably contributes to the climate of  
hostility toward Jews.”  
Professor Tony Judt of New York University suggested that Israel’s insistent  
identification of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has become the  
leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in the world. In the view of  
Professor Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco, mainstream and  
conservative Jewish organizations have “created a climate of intimidation  
against many who speak out for peace and human rights and who support the  
Palestinians’ right of self-determination. As a result of my opposition to  
U.S. support for the Israeli government’s policies of occupation,  
colonization and repression, I have been deliberately misquoted, subjected  
to slander and libel, and falsely accused of being anti-Semitic and  
supporting terrorism! My children have been harassed and my university’s  
administration has been bombarded with calls for my dismissal.”  
Silencing Critical Voices  
Jewish Voice for Peace declares that, “For decades, some leaders of the  
Jewish community have made the preposterous claim that there is complete  
unity, belief and interest between all Jews and the Israeli government, no  
matter what its policies. They must believe their own propaganda, because  
they see no difference between criticism of the Israeli government and anti-  
Semitism, and they do everything they can to silence critical voices. If the  
brand of anti-Semitism is not sufficiently intimidating, the silencing has  
been enforced by organized phone and letter-writing campaigns, boycotts,  
threats of actual withdrawal of funding support from offending institutions  
and individuals.”  
There is now an effort under way to have Facebook change its definition of  
anti-Semitism. With its 2.7 billion users, Facebook is the world’s largest  
and perhaps most influential social media platform. Professor Neve Gordon,  
an Israeli who is now professor of international and human rights at Queen  
Mary University in London, reports that, “Working closely with the Israeli  
government this past summer, the pro-Israel lobbying group  
StopAntiSemitism.org launched the new campaign after receiving funding from  
right-wing philanthropist Adam Milstein. In July, Orit Farkash-Hacohen,  
Israel’s minister of strategic affairs published an op-Ed in Newsweek urging  
social media companies to root out the anti-Semitic ‘virus’ by fully  
adopting the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism...?”  
In August, 2020, 120 Zionist groups sent a letter to Facebook’s board of  
directors calling upon them to fully adopt the IHRA definition “as the  
cornerstone of Facebook’s hate speech policy regarding anti-Semitism.”  
Professor Gordon points out that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism  
includes “examples,” which involve criticism of Israel. He notes that,  
“There is...some irony here. Historically, the fight against anti-Semitism  
has sought to advance the equal rights and emancipation of Jews. Yet, in the  
IHRA definition, those who speak out against the subjugation of Palestinians  
are called anti-Semites. Thus, instead of enabling the struggle against  
those who wish to oppress, dominate or exterminate Jews, this new definition  
of anti-Semitism comes after those who wish to take part in the struggle for  
liberation from colonial rule. In this way—-as Judith Butler has observed  
—-‘a passion for justice is renamed as anti-Semitism.’”  
“Exclude Criticism of Israel”  
Lara Friedman, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace who  
wrote a report on the campaign for Jewish Currents, points out that the  
letter to Facebook’s board of directors “represents the latest front in the  
battle to use the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism to officially exclude  
criticism of Israel from the bounds of acceptable discourse.” On the other  
side of the political spectrum, A group of scholars specializing in anti-  
Semitism, Jewish and Holocaust history, wrote to Facebook about the dangers  
of adopting the IHRA definition. While urging Mark Zuckerberg to “fight all  
forms of hate speech on Facebook,” the letter called upon him to refrain  
“from adopting and applying a political definition of anti-Semitism, which  
has been weaponized to undermine free speech, in order to shield the Israeli  
government and to silence Palestinian voices and their supporters.”  
Rabbi Brant Rosen of Congregation Tzedek Chicago issued a statement in  
November 2020 in which he declared, “This is a call to Jewish organizations  
and institutions, particularly those who call themselves progressive, and  
there are hundreds across the country, to put out public statements...saying  
loud and clear that BDS is not anti-Semitic and that anti-Zionism is not  
anti-Semitism. Please state something like the following: We want to state  
unequivocally that the Palestinian-led global movement for justice, which  
speaks in the name of international law and human rights, and the call for  
boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is not anti-Semitic. We want to  
state unequivocally that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. We strongly  
oppose any and all efforts by the U.S. and Israeli governments to conflate  
support for BDS or opposition to Zionism with anti-Semitism.” This statement  
was signed by Peter Beinart, an editor of Jewish Currents, Rebecca  
Wilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace, Rabbi Brian Walt, and Professor  
Judith Butler, among others.  
The effort to redefine anti-Semitism as criticism of Israel has been going  
on for many years. Dorothy Thompson, the distinguished journalist who was  
one of the earliest enemies of Nazism, found herself criticizing the  
policies of Israel shortly after its creation. Despite her valiant crusade  
against Hitler she, too, was subject to the charge of “anti-Semitism.” In a  
letter to The Jewish Newsletter (April 6, 1951) she wrote: “Really, I think  
continued emphasis should be put upon the extreme damage to the Jewish  
community of branding people like myself as anti-Semitic...The State of  
Israel has got to learn to live in the same atmosphere of free criticism  
which every other state in the world must endure...There are many subjects  
on which writers in this country are, because of these pressures, becoming  
craven and mealy-mouthed. But people don’t like to be craven and mealy-  
mouthed; every time one yields to such pressure, one is filled with self-  
contempt and this self-contempt works itself out in resentment of those who  
caused it.”  
Accusations of “Anti-Semitism”  
A quarter century later, columnist Carl Rowan (Washington Star, Feb. 5,  
1975) reported that, “When I wrote my recent column about what I perceive to  
be a subtle erosion of support for Israel in this town, I was under no  
illusion as to what the reaction would be. I was prepared for a barrage of  
letters to me and newspapers carrying my column accusing me of being ‘anti-  
Semitic’...The mail rolling in has met my worst expectations...This whining,  
baseless name-calling is a certain way to turn friends into enemies.”  
In 1974, Benjamin Epstein, the national director of the Anti-Defamation  
League (ADL) co-authored “The New Anti-Semitism,” a book whose argument was  
repeated in 1982 by his successor at ADL, Nathan Perlmutter, in a book  
entitled “The Real Anti-Semitism in America.” After World War 11, Epstein  
argued, guilt over the Holocaust kept anti-Semitism at bay. But as memories  
of the Holocaust faded, anti-Semitism had returned—-this time in the form of  
hostility to Israel. The reason: Israel represented Jewish power. “Jews are  
tolerable...only as victims,” wrote Epstein and his ADL colleague Arnold  
Forster, “and when their situation changes so that they are no longer  
victims, or appear not to be, the non-Jewish world finds this so hard to  
take that the effort is begun to render them victims anew.”  
One of the leading practitioners of the effort to silence criticism of  
Israel by calling it “anti-Semitic” has been Norman Podhoretz, for many  
years the editor of Commentary, which was originally published by the  
American Jewish Committee. In an article titled “J’Accuse” (Commentary,  
September 1983), Podhoretz accused America’s leading journalists, many of  
them Jewish, with “anti-Semitism” because of their reporting of the war in  
Lebanon and their criticism of Israel’s conduct. Among those accused were  
Anthony Lewis of The New York Times, Nicholas von Hoffman, Joseph Harsch of  
the Christian Science Monitor, Rowland Evans, Robert Novak, Mary McGrory,  
Richard Cohen, Alfred Friendly of The Washington Post and a host of others.  
These individuals and their news organizations were not criticized for bad  
reporting or poor journalistic standards. Instead, they were the subject of  
the charge that always seemed to be upon Podhoretz’s lips: anti-Semitism.  
John Kerry Accused of “Anti-Semitism”  
A list of those who have been falsely accused of anti-Semitism because of  
their criticism of Israel would be a long one. In 2014, Jerusalem Post  
columnist Caroline Glick declared that Secretary of State John Kerry is  
“anti-Semitic.” According to Glick, “Kerry is obsessed with Israel’s  
economic success... The anti-Semitic undertones of Kerry’s constant chatter  
about Jews and money are obvious.” At the same time, Moti Yogev, a Knesset  
member in the governing coalition,, said that Kerry’s efforts at achieving a  
peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians had “an undertone of anti-  
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Cameron Kerry, a brother of  
the Secretary of State and formerly general counsel to the U.S. Department  
of Commerce, declared that charges of “anti-Semitism” against his brother  
would be “ridiculous if they were not so vile.” Cameron Kerry, a convert to  
Judaism, recalled relatives who died in the Holocaust. The Kerrys’ paternal  
grandparents were Jewish.  
The reaction to the 2014 Presbyterian study guide, “Zionism Unsettled,”  
issued by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church  
(U.S.A.) was vitriolic. The Anti-Defamation League claimed the study guide  
“may be the most anti-Semitic document to come out of a mainline church in  
recent memory.” Even J Street, which promotes itself as a more moderate pro-  
Israel lobbying group than AIPAC, was almost as harsh. It said that the  
church document promotes “polarization” and “intolerance.” Saying it was  
“deeply offended,” J Street asserted that “one has to question the...motives  
in publishing this ‘resource.’”  
Critical of Anti-Semitism Within Christianity.  
In fact, the church document, which examines the role of Zionism and  
Christian Zionism in shaping attitudes and events in Palestine and the  
region, devotes extensive space to a discussion —-and harsh criticism —-of  
anti-Semitism within Christianity and its influence in the rise of Nazism.  
it rejects racism and religious bigotry in all its forms. And it has many  
strong Jewish supporters. Rabbi Brant Rosen notes that, “As a Jew, I’m  
especially appreciative that while ‘Zionism Unsettled’ is strongly critical  
of Zionism, it doesn’t flinch from extensive Christian self-criticism.”  
Israeli political scientist Neve Gordon said: “I welcome the effort to  
emphasize a conception of Judaism and Christianity that espouses  
universalistic ethics—-whereby all humans are imago dei—-and to use it to  
expose injustices carried out in my homeland.”  
Jewish critics of Israel are as likely to be denounced as “anti-Semites” as  
non-Jews. For example, columnist Caroline Glick, writing in the  
International Jerusalem Post (Dec. 23-29, 2011) found New York Times  
columnist Thomas Friedman guilty of employing “traditional anti-Semitic  
slurs” and “of channeling long-standing anti-Semitic charges.” She described  
Friedman as a “dyed-in-the-wool Israel-hater” for writing that he “sure  
hopes that Israel’s prime minister... understands that the standing ovation  
he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. The ovation was  
bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”  
Those who have been labeled “anti-Semitic” by Jewish groups because of their  
criticism of Israeli policies include former President Jimmy Carter,  
journalists Andrew Sullivan and Bill Moyers, and groups such as Amnesty  
International and Human Rights Watch. Peter Beinart, the author of “The  
Crisis of Zionism,”. calls the idea that such individuals and groups are  
anti-Semitic “absurd.”  
American Jews Need Uncomfortable Conversations  
Writing in Haaretz (July 19, 2017), Rebecca Wilkomerson of Jewish Voice for  
Peace provided this analysis: “Seventy years into the ongoing dispossession  
and displacement of Palestinians, 50 years into Israel’s military  
occupation, and ten years into the siege on Gaza, we think it is time for  
American Jewish communities to have some really uncomfortable  
conversations... Challenging anti-Semitism requires us to distinguish  
between anti-Jewish ideas or actions and legitimate criticisms of the human  
rights abuses of the Israeli state and of Jewish institutions which aid in  
supporting or justifying the domination of another people.”  
Ironically, what few Americans, or others, understand is that there has been  
a long historical alliance between Zionism and real anti-Semites —-from  
those who planned pogroms in Czarist Russia to Nazi Germany itself. When  
Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism served in Paris as a  
correspondent for a Vienna newspaper, he was in close contact with the  
leading anti-Semites of the day. In his biography of Herzl, “The Labyrinth  
of Exile,” Ernst Pawel reports that those who financed and edited La Libre  
Parole, a weekly dedicated “to the defense of Catholic France against  
atheists, republicans, Free Masons and Jews,” invited Herzl to their homes  
on a regular basis. Yet Herzl was not entirely displeased with anti-  
Semitism. In a private letter to Moritz Benedict, written in the final days  
of 1892, he writes: “I do not consider the anti-Semitic movement altogether  
harmful. It will inhibit the ostentatious flaunting of conspicuous wealth,  
curb the unscrupulous behavior of Jewish financiers, and contribute in many  
ways to the education of the Jews...In that respect we seem to be in  
Herzl’s book “Der Judenstaat,” was widely disparaged by the leading Jews of  
the day, who viewed themselves as French, German, English or Italian  
citizens and Jews by religion—-with no interest in a separate Jewish state.  
Anti-Semites, on the other hand, eagerly greeted Herzl’s work. Herzl’s  
arguments, Pawel points out, were. “all but indistinguishable from those  
used by the anti-Semites.” One of the first reviews appeared in  
Westungarischer Grenzbote, an anti-Semitic journal published in Bratislava  
by Ivan von Simonyi, a member of the Hungarian Diet. He praised both the  
book and Herzl and was so carried away with enthusiasm that he paid Herzl a  
personal visit.  
Believes in the Blood Libel  
Herzl wrote in his diary: “My weird follower, the Bratislava anti-Semite  
Ivan von Simonyi came to see me. A hypermercurial, hyperloquacious  
sexagenarian with an uncanny sympathy for the Jews. Swings back and forth  
between perfectly rational talk and utter nonsense, believes in the blood  
libel and at the same time comes up with the most sensible modern ideas.  
Loves me.”  
After the barbaric Kishinev pogrom of April 1901, when hundreds of Jews  
were killed and wounded, Herzl came to Russia to barter with V.K. Plehve,  
the Russian interior minister who had incited the pogrom. Herzl told Jewish  
cultural leader Chaim Zhitlovsky, “I have an absolutely binding promise from  
Plehve that he will procure a charter for Palestine for us in 15 years at  
the outside. There is one condition, however, the revolutionaries must stop  
their struggle against the Russian government.”  
Zhitovsky, incensed at Herzl for dealing with a killer of Jews, and aware  
that Herzl had been outsmarted, persuaded him to abandon the idea. Still,  
the Zionist leaders in Russia agreed with the government that the real  
responsibility for the pogroms rested with the Jewish Bund, a socialist  
group urging democratic reforms in the Czarist regime. Zionists wanted Jews  
to remain aloof from Russian politics until it was time to leave for  
Celebrating Hitler’s Revolution  
Dr. Joachim Prinz, a German Zionist rabbi who subsequently emigrated to the  
U.S., where he became Vice-chairman of the World Jewish Congress and a  
leader in the World Zionist Organization, published in 1934 a book “Wir  
Juden” (We Jews) to celebrate Hitler’s so-called German Revolution and the  
defeat of liberalism. He wrote: “The meaning of the German Revolution for  
the German nation will eventually be clear to those who have created it and  
formed its image. its meaning for us must be set forth there: the fortunes  
of liberalism are lost. The only form of political life which has helped  
Jewish assimilation is sunk.”  
The victory of Nazism ruled out assimilation and inter-religious marriage as  
an option for Jews. “We are not unhappy about this,” said Rabbi Prinz. In  
the fact that Jews were being forced to identify themselves as Jews, he saw  
“the fulfillment of our desires.” Further, he states, “We want assimilation  
to be replaced by a new law: the declaration of belonging to the Jewish  
nation and the Jewish race. A state built upon the principle of the purity  
of nation and race can only be honored and respected by a Jew who declares  
his belonging to his own kind. Having so declared himself, he will never be  
capable of faulty loyalty towards a state. The state cannot want other Jews  
but such as declare themselves as belonging to their nation...”  
Still, as late as January 1941, the Zionist group LEHI, one of whose  
leaders, Yitzhak Shamir, was later to become prime minister of Israel,  
approached the Nazis, using the name of its parent organization, the Irgun  
(NMO). The naval attaché in the German embassy in Turkey transmitted the  
LEHI proposal to his superiors in Germany. It read, in part: “It is often  
stated in the speeches and utterances of the leading statesmen of National  
Socialist Germany that a New Order in Europe requires as a prerequisite the  
radical solution of the Jewish question through evacuation. The evacuation  
of the Jewish masses from Europe is a precondition for solving the Jewish  
question. This can only be made possible and complete through the settlement  
of these masses in the home of the Jewish people, Palestine, and through the  
establishment of a Jewish state in its historical boundaries.”  
“The good will of the German Reich”  
It continues to state that, “The NMO...is well acquainted with the good will  
of the German Reich Government and its authorities towards Zionist activity  
inside Germany and towards Zionist emigration plans”. and states that, “The  
establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian  
basis and bound by a treaty with the German Reich would be in the interests  
of strengthening the future German position of power in the Near East...The  
NMO in Palestine offers to take an active part in the war on Germany’s  
side...The cooperation of the Israeli freedom movement would also be in line  
with the recent speeches of the German Chancellor in which Herr Hitler  
stressed that any combination and any alliance would be entered into in  
order to isolate England and defeat it.”  
The Nazis rejected this proposal for an alliance because, it was reported,  
they considered LEHI’S military power “negligible.”  
In his study, “The Meaning of Jewish History,” Rabbi Jacob Agus provides  
this assessment: “In its extremist formulation, political Zionists agreed  
with resurgent anti-Semitism in the following propositions: 1. That the  
emancipation of the Jews in Europe was a mistake. 2. That the Jews can  
function in the lands of Europe only as a disruptive influence. 3. That all  
Jews of the world were one ‘folk’ in spite of their diverse political  
allegiances. 4. That all Jews, unlike other peoples of Europe, were unique  
and unintegratable. 5. That anti-Semitism was the natural expression of the  
folk-feeling of European nations, hence ineradicable.”  
When the term “anti-Semitism” is casually used to silence those who are  
critical of the government of Israel, it should be noted that Zionism’s  
history of alliance with real anti-Semitism has been long-standing and this  
has been so precisely because Zionism and anti-Semitism share a view of Jews  
which the vast majority of Jews in the United States and elsewhere in the  
world have always rejected.  
Confronting Israeli Critics of Their Government’s Policies  
At the present time, those who would redefine anti-Semitism to include  
criticism of Israel and its policies have yet to confront the fact that  
Israeli critics of their government’s policies are often harsher than those  
in other countries.B’Tselem issued a statement in January 2021, for example,  
which declared that the Israeli Government was an “apartheid regime.” It  
stated that, “A regime that uses laws, practices and organized violence to  
establish and maintain the supremacy of one group over another is an  
apartheid regime.”  
Those who would redefine anti-Semitism to include anti-Zionism and criticism  
of Israel ignore the long history of Jewish opposition to Zionism and it is  
evident that the sole purpose in promoting such a view is simple and  
transparent: to silence criticism of Israel and its policies. In this they  
are failing, and this failure is most dramatic among Jews who are  
increasingly outspoken in their dismay over those who violate Judaism’s  
humane moral and ethical values in their name. Sadly, we have seen examples  
of real anti-Semitism in recent days. Any comparison of real anti-Semitism  
with the criticism of Israel which has been characterized in that way shows  
us how irrational and ahistorical such claims really are.*  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.