The Jews who can distinguish antisemitism from anti-Israel

By Anthony Cooper, December 30, 2011
Follow The JC on Twitter

If for every two Jews there are three opinions, it is hardly surprising that there is a distinct lack of unanimous support for any policy from any Israeli government.

But while most British Jews prefer to leave public criticism to Israel's many willing opponents, some feel the need to state their disagreements loudly: the 'as a Jew' crowd.

Their apparent willingness to lend support to the complete delegitimisation of the Jewish state leaves the rest of us unsure how to respond. It is tempting simply to label them 'self-hating Jews'. However, the truth is never so straightforward.

In many, perhaps most, cases the motivation publicly to denounce Israel is in fact the desire to fight antisemitism. As the Community Security Trust has observed, the number of antisemitic attacks in the UK is directly related to tensions and actions in the Middle East. Some believe that the support Israel receives from Britain's mainstream Jewish organisations is a cause of antisemitism and the only way to fight that is to create Jewish anti-Israel organisations.

Racists do not tend to be rational people

The founding declaration of Independent Jewish Voices, for example, placedthe fight against antisemitism at the heart of the organisation. Likewise, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) state that they "extend support to Palestinians trapped in the spiral of violence and repression" because they "believe that such actions are important in countering antisemitism".

Unfortunately, these campaigns are naive and counter-productive. Racists do not tend to be entirely rational people. The egg-throwing thug is unlikely to weigh up the probability that the man walking home from synagogue might disapprove of settlements.

Nor is the desecrater of cemeteries going to check first that his victims haven't signed their names to an anti-Israel letter in the Guardian.

More likely is the attitude shown in a comment allegedly left by a member of the Reading Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He wrote on a website that "not all adherents to the Torah are enemies of humanity", because Neturei Karta are not. By opposing every action by Israel, the impression is given that anyone not joining the public denunciations is fully supportive of all these policies.

Far from destroying the impression of Jewish support for Israeli actions, their opposition reinforces it. And all this is aside from the impact of delegitimisation on our fellow Jews in Israel.

Nevertheless, very few anti-Israel Jews are self-hating. We should recognise this and make sure to keep them within the big tent against antisemitism rather than making them pariahs. They may be opponents of Israel but they can be our allies in the struggle against antisemitism.

An example are the Jews of the PSC. The PSC is a leading force in delegitimisation, using trade unions to advance its call to boycott all things related to Israel, from food produce to musicians and university academics. Its public meetings are often attended by Labour MPs. Last June it was responsible for inviting the banned Sheikh Raed Salah to speak at one such meeting to be held in the Houses of Parliament. Many believe the organisation is incapable of distinguishing between criticism of Israeli actions and antisemitism.

However, during the last 12 months there has been something of a mini-purge of the organisation. Some previously important members have been forced to resign because of their antisemitism. Those effectively expelled from the PSC include a former national chair, the chair of one branch, the secretary of another and the webmaster of a third.

Behind all these resignations appear to be rank and file Jewish members with support from a Jewish member of the executive committee. While the PSC itself may be unable to work out what antisemitism looks like, its Jewish members certainly can.

We have enough enemies already. We shouldn't be looking to create more. So long as anti-Israel Jews retain their sensitivity to antisemitism we can be sure that they are neither self-hating nor hate us. They remain allies in our struggle against antisemitism and in some ways are capable of achieving results in it that the rest of us cannot.

We should thank them for that. If we don't make enemies of them, we may find that we have more friends than we thought.

May the coming year be one of reconciliation and greater unity in our small community. We will all be better off for it.

Anthony Cooper is a blogger who focuses on the PSC

    Last updated: 2:29pm, December 30 2011