Contrary to much conventional thinking that treats ‘anti-Semitism’ as exclusively a form of ethnic hatred, there is a second kind of attitude that is alleged to be ‘anti-Semitism’ because it is critical, often justifiably so, of Zionism and Israel’s policies and practices. This second type of supposed anti-Semitism is a tactic deployed to discredit critics of Israel by insisting that criticism of Israel and hatred of the Jewish people should not be distinguished. These two distinct types of anti-Semitism actually work at cross purposes, and although there may be situations of overlap, it is a dangerous confusion to lump them together.
It is rather unusual for even the harshest critics of the behavior of the U.S. Government to be castigated as anti-American except sometimes in the midst of international security crises, but even then such accusations usually reflect the outlook of red neck patriots or extremists who identify with the right wing of American politics. Also, such accusations, although unpleasant, lack the sting of anti-Semitism, which carries with it an implicit secondary allegation of indifference to the Holocaust, to the Nazi genocide, and to the long history of persecution directed at the Jewish people. In my view this labeling of Israel’s critics as ‘anti-Semites’ is a short-sighted form of unsavory state propaganda, generally implemented overseas by hard core Zionist groups, and partly responsible for an emergent backlash that is being expressed by hatred and hostility toward Jews. This is a highly sensitive subject matter that is almost certain to be treated emotionally in a manner shaped by strong ideological alignments for or against the way in which Israel has behaved since its contested establishment in 1948 and in relation to attitudes toward close connections between the Zionist movement and the Jewish people.
Type I anti-Semitism is a form of virulent racism, which is characterized by hatred and envy, and leads to manifold forms of hostility toward Jews. It has been often accompanied by strong governmental and societal support for a punitive response to Jews so as to safeguard the dominant religion and ethnicity, and to uphold the values and traditions of the non-Jewish political community that are supposedly under threat as a result of Jewish activities; historically, Type I anti-Semitism traces its historic roots back to the origins and rise of Christianity, reinforced in later centuries by European restrictions on Jewish ownership of land and permissible habitats that led Jews to focus on money and banking, creating a close relationship between Jews and the rise of capitalism, especially finance capital.
Extreme cases of Type I anti-Semitism involve the capture of state power by an anti-Semitic outlook as exemplified by Hitler’s Germany. It is also relevant to observe that anti-Semitism was relatively rare in the Islamic world, which upheld freedom of worship by religious minorities although claiming a hegemonic role for Islam, especially in the era of the Ottoman caliphate. Until the problems generated by Zionism, anti-Semitism was not a serious issue in the Middle East where Jews in most Arab countries were mostly treated as an authentic religion and a respected minority. Throughout modern history Jews suffered mostly from European anti-Semitism with Russia considered part of Europe.
In Germany the Nazi seizure and abuse of state power led by stages to death camps, genocide on a massive scale, given its distinctive historical status by becoming known as the Holocaust. This genocidal implementation of anti-Semitism was prepared by Nazi ideology and its ruthless and overtly discriminatory practices, which demonized Jews along with the Roma people and others deemed unfit to propagate Aryans, put forward as the master race. Type I anti-Semitism in post-Nazi Christian societies has generally disappeared beneath a thick cloud of guilt and denial related to the past, although mild patterns of societal prejudice persist. These patterns involve a variety of exclusions and discriminations, ranging from informal and unspoken patterns of discrimination in employment and social life to ethnic profiling that calls public attention to unfavorable aspects of physical appearance or behavior attributed to Jews, and includes jokes that perpetuate stereotypic views of ‘the Jew.’ Such societal attitudes are to some extent offset by the widespread recognition of Jewish achievements and influence disproportionate to their small numbers, and the remarkable resilience of the Jewish people over the centuries despite facing many daunting challenges.
Christian Zionism, so-called, is best viewed as an indirect endorsement of Type I anti-Semitism that hides beneath the veil of ardent support for Israel as a state and Zionism as a movement. Its anti-Semitic animus is directed against Diaspora Jewry, deriving from a reading of the Book of Revelations that anticipates that the Second Coming of Jesus will only occur once all Jews have returned to the Jewish state of Israel. To foster this prophetic claim, Christian Zionist favor taking steps to encourage Jews to emigrate to Israel, and in this respect are in accord with the most influential tendency in Zionist thinking. The further anti-Semitic character of Christian Zionism is directed at a subsequent stage of the Last Judgment, a time of reckoning at which all those who have not embraced the Christian faith would be consigned to permanent damnation. Despite these anti-Semitic underpinnings, Israel has officially and existentially bonded with Christian Zionism, giving its organization a diplomatic status and welcoming its unconditional support within the American political scene. This connection between Israel and Christian Zionism typifies a Faustian Bargain, and functions to tip the political balance within the United States even further in an Israeli direction than might otherwise have been the case.
Type II anti-Semitism comes in two very diverse variants. The first variant is what might be called ‘an Arab branding of anti-Semitism,’ taking the form of condemning Jews and the Jewish people for the implanting of a Jewish state in Israel. Anger is also directed at Israel for granting a right of return to all Jews throughout the world while denying every Palestinian any right of return, withholding such a right even from those Palestinians and their descendants who either fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948. This kind of conflation of a state project with the ethnicity of the people involved is unacceptable, and is a form of anti-state propaganda that assumes a hateful form by targeting an ethnicity in addition to a political entity. Most Arabs do not subscribe to such an outlook are careful to draw the distinction between Israel as an illegitimate political phenomenon and Jews as a distinct and geographically dispersed ethnicity. It is important, as well, not to brand Arabs as ‘anti-Semitic’ because some do cross this line of ethnic hatred.
The second expression of Type II anti-Semitism oddly enough indirectly endorses Arab anti-Semitism by saying that hostility to the state of Israel cannot be distinguished from hostility to the Jewish people. The central contention is that strong criticisms of Israel as a Jewish state or directed at the Zionist Project or expressing sharp disapproval of the policies and practices of Israel are thinly disguised expressions of hatred toward Jews as a people and Judaism as a religion. Proponents of what might be called ‘the Zionist branding of anti-Semitism’ do their best to make people believe that the two types of concern are not properly distinguishable. In this way critics of Israel are denigrated as ‘anti-Semites’ in its authentic sense of hatred of Jews. If Jews themselves become strong and visible critics of Israel they are branded as ‘self-hating Jews’ or simply lumped together with Type I anti-Semites. This is not to deny that some Jews may actually as a matter of deep psychological outlook hate their Jewish identity, and try hard to escape from it, but criticizing Israel and rejecting Zionism should not be used as evidence of such self-hatred. In fact, some anti-Zionists rest their views on strong convictions that Zionism is a betrayal of Jewish values and tradition, and exhibit great pride in their Jewish heritage.
I recall an encounter in Cyprus more than a decade ago with hasbara specialist, Professor Gerald Steinberg of UN Monitor and the Israeli ambassador to Greek Cyprus at a meeting of the Inter-Action Council devoted to conflict resolution in the Middle East. The Inter-Action Council is composed of former heads of state, and I was invited as ‘a resource person.’ This session was on Israel-Palestine was chaired by Helmut Schmidt, the former German Chancellor. In the discussion, the Israeli participants argued strongly that Israel, Zionism, and Jewish identity were a unity, and any criticism directed at one of three perspectives was an attack on the other two. I intervened to say that I strongly dissented from such a view, and felt as a Jew a critical attitude toward both Israel’s behavior and Zionist claims. Afterwards, several participants, including Mr. Schmidt, thanked me for saying what they believed, but told me they were unable to say because they feared that it would be treated as proof of their anti-Semitism. In contrast, Mr. Steinberg was quite hostile after the meeting, informing me in a peremptory manner that my comments were ‘most unhelpful.’
In my view it is most unfortunate to consider criticism of Israel, even if strongly worded unless amounting to hate speech, as tantamount to anti-Semitism. Type II anti-Semitism has several serious undesirable consequences: it conflates a valid repudiation of ethnic hatred with invalid efforts to ethnicize or discredit criticism of Israel and Zionism; It makes many non-Jews believe that if they are critical of Israel they will be unfairly discredited as anti-Semites and Jews are made to fear that they will be regarded as self-hating, thereby inhibiting criticism of Israel and Zionism. For this reason it allows Israel to hide its criminal policies and practices toward the Palestinian people by invoking the memory of the Holocaust and the long history of Jewish victimization, and thereby inhibit criticism. Also, it leads many people to believe that there is no difference between Jewish identity and Zionist solidarity. This fosters a tendency by some non-Jews to regard Jews as an ethno-religious-political category, even if they have no connection with the state of Israel, and hence responsible as a people for the victimization of the Palestinian people. This insistence that Type II anti-Semitism is a genuine form of anti-Semitism actually encourages Type I anti-Semitic behavior. When Arab youth in the banlieux of Paris throw stones at any Jew they can find on the streets of the city the hateful act is based in most instances on their bitter hostility to Israel. It is clear in such behavior that a symbiotic relationship exists between the equally invalid Arab and Zionist efforts to link Israel/Zionism with hatred of Jews.
American popular culture inscribes this confusion. For instance in an early episode of the TV series House of Cards a U.S. senator is completely discredited as a viable candidate for elected office because his opposition found that he was the author of an unsigned editorial in a student newspaper while an undergraduate that criticized building of settlements in the West Bank. Once his authorship was publicized, it was treated as ‘a no brainer’ that his political career was over without any consideration of his age, of the reasonableness of what he had written, and of the supposed openness in a constitutional democracy of diverse views. During the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza this same atmosphere in Washington produced a resolution with 100% backing expressing unreserved support for Israel’s right to defend itself. In polarized America to find such unanimity confirms above all the undeniable success of pro-Israel forces to treat Type II anti-Semitism as synonymous with hatred of Jews. As John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have convincingly argued, with ample documentation, this skewing of the political atmosphere has interfered with the rational pursuit of American national interests in the Middle East.