03.09.2005Brian Klug - Robert WistrichWhen Is Opposition to Israel and Its Policies Anti-Semitic?
Let me explain why I said it is "simplistic" to regard Israel as an "interloper" or "an outpost of the West" in the Middle East. My point was that this view of Israel is one-sided: it is how the Jewish state has looked through Arab eyes. Equally, the view that Jews are "an aboriginal people returning to their historic homeland" is one-sided: this is a Jewish point of view. (More precisely, it is one version of the Zionist point of view.) In other words, both sides tend to oversimplify. Unless both sides grasp that there is this 'clash of perceptions', attitudes will never change fundamentally.
Both sides also give partisan accounts. You say that the exodus of Jews from Arab lands "says it all", and you excoriate the Arab states for the plight of the Palestinians. But there is an alternative narrative that blames Israel or Zionism on both counts. I can imagine someone from
'the other side' agreeing that the Jewish exodus "says it all" – but meaning the opposite of what you mean.
In short, both sides play the 'blame game'. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. Where there is a conflict of interests between nations, each party is entitled to advocate their own cause. But someone can be an advocate without being a racist or anti-Semite.
Which brings us back to the question: When is opposition to Israel or its government anti-Semitic? You suggest several ways of 'drawing the line'. Certainly, critics often single Israel out unfairly, or defame the state, or criminalize it, and so on. All of which undoubtedly is biased. But is it necessarily anti-Semitic? No, it is not. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragic and bitter struggle. The issues are complex, passions inflamed, and the suffering in both populations is great. In such circumstances, there is bias on both sides.
Then when is this bias anti-Semitic? I agree with what you say about "classic anti-semitic stereotypes" and I would sum it up this way. Seen through the eyes of an anti-semite, Jews are essentially alien, powerful, cohesive, cunning, parasitic, and so on. Opposition to Israel or its government is anti-Semitic when it employs some variation or other of this fantasy – just as criticism of Arabs is racist when it is based on the stock figure of the Arab as cunning, lying and degenerate, or as a hateful terrorist who attaches no value to human life.
Now, what can be done to take bigotry – specifically anti-Semitism – out of the Middle East debate? Perhaps this can be the theme of our final round of letters.