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When criticism of Israel blurs into anti-Semitism

David Landau, editor of Haaretz English Edition, answered readers' questions live online on May 28. Read his comments on when criticism of Israel blurs into anti-Semitism and whether the "anti-Semitism" label is used to silence legitimate criticism of Israel.

Landau has reported extensively on the Jewish world in his 30 years as a journalist in Israel. Landau, a member of the Haaretz editorial board, writes on politics and Jewish affairs on the op-ed page of the paper. In 2002 he traveled to the United Kingdom to report for Haaretz on the wave of anti-Semitism that swept that country in the wake of the intifada and September 11.

Do you not see the difference between anti-Israeli sentiment and the negative view of Israel's actions that are held by supporters of Israel? People like me are pro-Israel but oppose Israeli cruelty and theft of the land of the indigenous Arab-Palestinian people.
James Holton
Asheville, NC, U.S.A.
David Landau:
Absolutely. I thank you for the question because it is important to establish, from the outset of this discussion, the distinction between criticism of Israel - justified or even unjustified - and anti-Semitism, which is a very different thing. It is worth noting at the outset, too, that two dangers exist side by side: the danger of treating all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism; and the danger of discounting unequivocally anti-Semitic outpourings as mere "criticism of Israel." (A similar question was asked by T. van den Berg from Tiel, The Netherlands; Matthew Weaver, Magdalena, USA)
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Israel is a regional and occupying superpower. Why shouldn't this be expected to create hostility? Why is this different from "anti-Americanism," of the kind presented in William Lederer's 1957 bestseller "The Ugly American"?
James Adler
Boston, Mass., U.S.A.
David Landau:
This question brings us to the core issue: the definition of anti-Semitism. I would suggest a test of irrationality. Hatred of Jews - or for that matter of Israelis - that is rooted in irrational, inexplicable, visceral sentiments, and not backed by rational argument (no matter how extreme) qualifies as anti-Semitism within this definition. By the same token, therefore, an irrational and visceral hatred of another nation or object, American for instance, comes out of the same dark recesses of the human condition - and they can be compared to anti-Semitism.
 
History is rife with instances of anti-Semitism. Do you think this current surge is a mixed blessing in that it is a reminder to all Jews that the fate of Israel is inseparable from that of the Jews of the Diaspora?
Julian Kaye
El Cerrito, U.S.A.
David Landau:
At present, the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, especially in Western Europe, has indeed enhanced Jewish solidarity worldwide. But there is no guarantee that this situation will prevail indefinitely. It has been argued that to the extent that Israeli actions and omissions trigger or exacerbate anti-Semitic mainifestations, Jewish communities suffering such manifestations may with time grow weary of this form of victimhood by association.
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Is there really an increase in the 'old anti-Semitism'? Or is it Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism reflecting the emotions built up from the never-ending Palestinian-Israeli soap opera?
Daniel Goldwater
Auckland, New Zealand
David Landau:
What seems to have happened in many countries over the past 32 months of intifada is that the "old (Christian) anti-Semitism" of both the far-right and far-left variety, have been powerfully exacerbated by "new" Muslim anti-Semitism linked to the Middle East situation. Not only have the left and right varieties been boosted, they have been fused by the impact of the new variety, so that the upshot is an alloy of the most poisonous and pernicious nature.
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At precisely what point does the 'anti-Zionist' discourse become 'anti-Semitic' in nature?
Matt Aberman
California, U.S.A.
David Landau:
This is a very difficult question to answer - particularly as a member of a newspaper which itself is sometimes accused of anti-Semitism by irate readers (presumably Jewish). My own rule of thumb, which I offer with diffidence, is that the line is crossed when Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state is challenged. I feel that when people argue against the very validity of the basic Zionist premise - that the Jews have the same right as any nation to a homeland of their own - then one is veering into anti-Semitic territory.
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Do you really think that aggressions from excited hooligans watching the situation in the occupied territories is anti-Semitism? Are you seriously suggesting that France is anti-Semitic?
Marcel-Francis Kahn
Paris, France
David Landau:
Didn't Dreyfuss seriously think that France was seriously anti-Semitic - and that was a few decades before any excited hooligans started watching the situation in the occupied territories.
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Since Germany has the second largest Jewish community in Europe, does the Israeli public still think there is anti-Semitism in Germany? And if so, what do you think has to be done to change that?
Stefan
Kiel, Germany
David Landau:
The Israeli public, to the extent that I can represent it, is acutely aware - and appreciative - of the constant vigilance of the German authorities against any anti-Semitic excesses in that country. German politicians have traditionally maintained a frank sensitivity to the particular danger still present in their country. A man like Joschke Fischer never misses an opportunity to reiterate the lessons of the Holocaust and the need to inculcate them into the younger generation. Muslims living in Germany, unlike perhaps those in other European countries, understand full well just how intolerant the German establishment and German society are today to manifestations of anti-Semitism.
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When will Israel and the Jews understand that assimilation is the answer to anti-Semitism? It's the kid in the schoolyard who tries to be different who gets beaten up. Can you imagine what it would be like here in America if every nationality in this country only married their own kind and thought about their historic homeland more than they thought about America?
Frank Link
Fort Lauderdale, U.S.A.
David Landau:
I must say it is incongruous and somewhat jarring to see a question phrased quite in these terms in this multi-cultural age. No Jew was more assimilated than Alfred Dreyfuss, but that did not save him from anti-Semitism. Another totally assimilated Jew, Theodore Herzl, understood from watching the Dreyfuss trial that, contrary to your assumption assimilation does not save Jews from anti-Semitism. Not long after, large numbers of German Jews who, too, were confident that their assimilated - and in many cases converted - status would protect them, went up in smoke in Auschwitz.
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Christian anti-Semitism was based largely on religion, Nazi anti-Semitism on race - don't you think that the current political hostility to Israel (regardless of its rationality or irrationality) is a fundamentally different phenomenon?
Walter Benn Michaels
Chicago, U.S.A.
David Landau:
Scholars have suggested, among them the British Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, that hatred of the state of Israel as a Jewish collective, rather than hatred of individual Jews, is the anti-Semitism of the 21st century. I am not sure if I fully agree with that thesis. But what I find lends it cogency, is indeed the irrationality which sometimes characterizes modern-day Israel bashing and is so reminiscent of classical anti-Semitism.
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What kind of influence are the new Arab media and the highly popular TV stations in Arabic having on the Arab population and the spread of hatred against the Israelis in particular, and Jews and Zionists in general?
Esteban Bromberg
Buenos Aires, Argentina
David Landau:
I would suggest an alternative outlook on these developments. The Arab world, before the new media and TV stations came into being, managed quite well to spread and propagate hatred against Israel. The new TV stations, such as al-Jazeera, whatever else they disseminate, disseminate INFORMATION. That cannot be a bad thing. To the contrary, it is in Israel's interest that the broadest possible Arab audience have at its disposal the information, the facts, the news in real time, upon which to make its own assessments rather than be fed tendentious information from government sources. (A similar question was asked by Eddy in Toronto, Canada)
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What can the State of Israel do in order to protect Jews in the Diaspora?
Henryk Paszt
Paris, France
David Landau:
It can exist. It can be strong. It can be right. This very existence of a strong and just Jewish sovereign state is the surest bulwark that Jews in the Diaspora can have. Israel's history is replete with instances when it stepped in to protect or save other Jews. In the early years of the state whole communities were brought over from Middle Eastern countries. Later, Romanian Jewry was literally bought into freedom, and later still the Jews of Ethiopia were airlifted to safety by Israeli operatives. At the same time, Israeli power and pretensions are not omnipotent. The massive task of saving Soviet Jewry, physically and spiritually, was accomplished not by Israel alone, but by the entire Jewish nation, led by Israel and American Jewry, working with people and countries of goodwill the world over.
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Don't you think that many Israeli officials and many leaders in the Jewish diaspora use the charge of anti-Semitism to stifle legitimate debate on Israel and its policies?
Balint Molnar
Ottowa, Canada
David Landau:
I do think so. And I think, moreover, that your accusation is generally more validly levelled at Israelis of the right than of the left. The cry "The whole world is against us," is too often harnessed to serve an agenda of evading or blurring tough, but legitimate questions levelled at Israel itself. The purported rationale is this: since the whole world is against us there is no point, indeed no need, to defend ourselves or justify ourselves in the face of such questions. However, there often is a real need to do so and resorting to the anti-Semitism "cop-out" is a time hallowed way of dodging the issues.
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In which country in Europe did you find the highest level of anti-Semitism and why in that country?
Uri Dotan
New York, U.S.A.
David Landau:
France has the dubious honor to figure at the head of most observers' lists. This is generally ascribed to the high number of Muslims - some six million, mostly from North Africa - living in France at this time. Their reaction to the intifada has fed into strong latent strains of anti-Semitism that have informed French society for more than a hundred years. Another country that is sometime forgotten, but should not be left out of the roll of dishonor, is Austria, where anti-Semitism was rife above the surface before the intifada, too. Austria, which spuriously claimed victim status for itself after World War Two, never underwent an expiatory process - and it shows.
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Do you believe that, at times, anti-Semitism may play a useful role in that it pushes Jews to immigrate to Israel or at least toward greater Jewish self-awareness?
Robert Akkerman
Brooklyn, U.S.A.
David Landau:
Even if I do believe that, what practical conclusion might be drawn from it. After all, you are not suggesting, and nor am I, that Israel or anyone else foment or provoke anti-Semitism anywhere in order to enhance aliya or deepen Jewish self-awareness. Of anecdotal interest, one figure in Jewish history who did accept your thesis was Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, the founder of the Lubavitch Hassidic movement. He did everything he could to support the Russians, inveterate anti-Semites, against Napoleon, who had emancipated the Jews in France and Germany, on the grounds that emancipation was bad for Judaism.
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Being a Zionist student on a college campus in America has been very difficult these past two years. Is this generation of "Israel haters" the next generation of "Jew haters"? Or are the two actually unrelated, as so many students against Israel claim it to be? Is this a threat that should have students such as myself truly worried?
Yehuda
Northhampton, Mass., U.S.A.
David Landau:
I think the entire Jewish world is aware by now of the really heroic fight that Jewish student activists have been putting up on campuses across the U.S. and in many European countries, on behalf of their loyalty to Israel. It is really tragic that so many intellectuals, both faculty and students, seem to be stampeded so facilely into positions which, as I previously suggested, verge on the anti-Semitic in that they deny Israel's very right exist.
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It seems that us reasonable (left-wing) Jews are destined to be ostracized by mainstream Jewish opinion in the Diaspora and liberal intellectual opinion elsewhere? Also, how do we attempt to reverse the perception of 'Zionism' as a dirty word?
Neil Solomons
London, U.K.
David Landau:
While your frustrations are wholly understandable, there is no place for despair. Some brave souls in English intellectual circles are out there making the case for a humane and moderate Israel and bravely battling anti-Semitism. I am thinking for instance of Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian columnist, who hides neither of these lights under a bushel.
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Considering the fact that Israel and Zionists around the world use and abuse the word "anti-Semitic" in order to gain world sympathy, don't you think that it is of poor taste to accuse Arabs, who themselves are mostly Semites, of being anti-Semitic?
C. Sirry
Cairo, Egypt
David Landau:
Your question is more in the realm of semantics than substantial polemics. Call it irrational Jew-hatred rather than anti-Semitism since, as you rightly imply, most Semites aren't Jews. On a deeper level, I would add, that "Muslim anti-Semitism" is a misnomer. Not just because, as you say, most Semites are Muslims, but because, for two thousand years, the primary source of Jew-hatred was Christianity. There is no inherent conflict between Judaism and Islam and there is much truth in the assertion that Jews were not historically persecuted under Islamic rule as they were in so many Christian societies.
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You have extensively written of the importance of maintaining a close relationship with the diaspora. Why? Why allow Jews in the diaspora to have a say in what goes on in Israel.
John
Madrid, Spain
David Landau:
The fundamental tenet of Zionism is that the state of Israel is the homeland of the whole Jewish people. The Jewish people today is divided, essentially, in three parts. A third live in Israel. A third live in the U.S. and the rest of the diaspora. And a third are dead because they were killed in the Holocaust. The affiliation of any individual Jew to any one of these thirds is purely a matter of accident of birth (or death). That is why, as I see it, Jews who by accident of birth survived the Holocaust and now live outside Israel should indeed have a say as to what goes on inside Israel.
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The media often add to the anti-Israel views of many in the world by tilting stories against Israel. Haaretz seems to frequently demonstrate these harmful characteristics, and itself adds to the world's anti-Israeli attitudes (and perhaps to the world's anti-Semitic attitudes) by the paper's unceasing criticism. How do you justify such tilted reporting?
David Zion
New York, U.S.A.
David Landau:
I do not justify "tilted" reporting, but I do not have to justify it because we in Haaretz do not practise it. To the contrary, we are scrupulously careful to ensure that our reporting is as untilted as humanly possible. We cover both sides of the conflict - our own, Israeli side with sympathy and solidarity, and the Palestinian side with accuracy and professionalism. We do indeed run critical articles and are ourselves often critical too of Israeli government positions or Israeli government actions. We know, moreover, that our very wide reach, especially on the internet, enables many people, including tendentious traducers of Israel, to use, misuse and abuse our material for their propagandistic purposes. We know this, and it troubles us. But we cannot forego our journalistic mission to report the facts and to articulate the truth as we see it.
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Questions
Do you not see the difference between anti-Israeli sentiment and the negative view of...
Israel is a regional and occupying superpower. Why shouldn't this be expected to create...
History is rife with instances of anti-Semitism. Do you think this current surge is a...
Is there really an increase in the 'old anti-Semitism'? Or is it Arab/Muslim...
At precisely what point does the 'anti-Zionist' discourse become 'anti-Semitic' in nature?
Do you really think that aggressions from excited hooligans watching the situation in the...
Since Germany has the second largest Jewish community in Europe, does the Israeli public...
When will Israel and the Jews understand that assimilation is the answer to...
Christian anti-Semitism was based largely on religion, Nazi anti-Semitism on race - don't...
What kind of influence are the new Arab media and the highly popular TV stations in...
What can the State of Israel do in order to protect Jews in the Diaspora?
Don't you think that many Israeli officials and many leaders in the Jewish diaspora use...
In which country in Europe did you find the highest level of anti-Semitism and why in...
Do you believe that, at times, anti-Semitism may play a useful role in that it pushes...
Being a Zionist student on a college campus in America has been very difficult these past...
It seems that us reasonable (left-wing) Jews are destined to be ostracized by mainstream...
Considering the fact that Israel and Zionists around the world use and abuse the word...
You have extensively written of the importance of maintaining a close relationship with...
The media often add to the anti-Israel views of many in the world by tilting stories...

 

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