Critic or Anti-Semite?

How should the SWC make sure it has put real, genuine, unadulterated anti-Semites on its list?

Steve Apfel,

OpEds Steve Apfel
Steve Apfel

Germans (of all people!) were outraged when the name of compatriot Jakob Augstein appeared on a Jew-hating villain list, the work of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (SWC). He joined nine ‘worthies’ all Jew–antagonists by their own admissions and their adherence to an all-too common belief: Jews don’t deserve to live. What made Jakob Augstein different? Why the outrage, the support for the German publisher and editor, even from a Jewish leader?

Answer: because the SWC used a broad brush to name names, forgetting a compulsory item in the cupboard – the all-important sorter. As day follows night the rain of protest and ridicule was entirely foreseeable. That’s what comes from going off on a witch-hunt before you’ve told people what a witch is supposed to look like. Who can blame Salomon Korn, VP of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, for his cryptic swipe at the SWC? It was, Korn said, ‘very removed from German reality.’

From where we learn that the compiler of the list indicted Jakob Augstein on a record too ambiguous for the liking of his supporters. They may have a point, looking at two of his comments cited by SWC.

"…the Jews also have their fundamentalists, the ultra-orthodox hareidim. They make up 10% of the Israeli population. They are cut from the same cloth as their Islamic fundamentalist opponents. They follow the law of revenge." And,

"With backing from the US, where the president must secure the support of Jewish lobby groups, …the Netanyahu government keeps the world on a leash with an ever-swelling war chant."

Compare Augstein with another of the ten villains, the American founder of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan: "In Washington right next to the Holocaust museum is the Federal Reserve where they print the money. Is that an accident?"

It’s no wonder that Der Freitag, a magazine Augstein founded, laughed off the claim that he hated Jews, and argued that SWC had conflated two quite different people: critics of Israel and anti-Semites. It’s an argument that never fails to extricate "salon critics"  and dump their opponents on the intellectual low ground.

The blunt Farrakhan, ruled by emotional hatred for the Jews, is not a salon critic. Supposedly, Augstein, appealing to the intellect and wearing a political hat, is one. By dumping him in the sin bin, SWC was in danger of allowing nine real villains to clamber out on the back of unscientific methodology.

Hence the root of discord. On one hand there are genuine critics of Israel and on the other hand there are blatant anti-Semites, but how to tell them apart?

Step one would be to spin the salon critic’s full argument – the backbone that keeps him upright. Spun fully, it goes something like this: "Where exactly do you draw the line between a critic of Israel and an anti-Semite? I want peace for the region, but it won’t come as long as Israel acts so badly, and what good will that do for the Israeli people? Frankly Israel’s methods and policies stink. I might protest them in strong and, on occasion, demonic terms. It’s how I feel. But Israel-hater and Jew-hater: never!"

Exit our salon critic – shocked malodorous innocent.

Step two – interrogate the suspects:

  • Is your criticism of Israel irregular or persistent?
  • Do you make use of any and every occasion to denounce Israel?
  • Do you, when denouncing Israel, resort to intemperate language: Criminal, brutal, aggressor, and so forth?
  • Do you go out of your way to enlist supporters?
  • Do you belong to a body that was set up to trumpet Israel’s wrongdoings, or that spends much of its time doing so?
  • Do you sometimes defend Israel and find fault with the Palestinian camp?

At best the results might disclose a tendency, but that’s not the same as a loophole-free conclusion. So back to the old problem: without a definitive portrait of the anti-Semite one cannot presume to elect people to the hall of infamy and polish their plinths.

Make no mistake Augstein and the salon circle are irritable and irritating people. The cleverer your plan to bag them the more slippery and dismissive they get. Happily therefore, the anti-Semite removes himself from the herd by one or more indelible habits, beginning with the polar case - and that's where they are caught.

Habit 1: Israelis are Nazis

A critic – salon or otherwise – who equates Israel or Israelis with the Nazis is no critic. To be short, let the US State Department handle this one:

"Criticism of Israel goes into anti-Semitism when it …vilifies Israeli leaders through a comparison with Nazi leaders, or through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them. This indicates anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of Israeli policy…. "

Habit 2: Delegate Israel - cursing to Jews

The anti-Semite will go out of his way to enlist a Jew (better, an Israeli) to declare Israel guilty of crimes against humanity. Apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and occupation are among the sought-after crimes to level at Israel. It’s not difficult to grasp the value of a Jew on the anti-Semite’s platform. For one thing he can insulate himself from claims of hating Jews. For another he can make his own jibes at Israel as trenchant as he likes. And thirdly, having a Jew to support those jibes lends them weight.

Habit: Only one victim

Anti-Semites never allow Israelis to be victims – not even of terror attacks. Palestinians hold the exclusive victim patent. For the lengths they will go to protect this patent, look at the BBC: ‘Deadly bombing targets Jerusalem bus stop.’ From the BBC headline we are to understand that the bomb was not targeted at Israelis. No – its target was a bus stop, an object fixed on the side of the road. Better the victim be a bus stop than Israeli people.

Another thing; when Israelis die in terror attacks the silence of the Jew-hater is deafening. After the atrocity of the Park Hotel Seder massacre in 2002 Palestinians were not condemned, Israelis were offered no solace. But a John Pilger film at the time, reflecting Israelis treating Palestinians badly at checkpoints, got anti-Semites off the couch. The victims were delayed. Anti-Semites found the humiliation insufferable.

Habit 4: Set conditions that would destroy Israel

Genuine critics and Jew haters can be told apart by the nature of demands they make. The former demand that Israel adopts different policies, or changes the way it implements policies. Anti-Semites on the other hand, demand that Israel gives in to Palestinian demands even if that means – especially if Israelis say that means –Israel’s destruction.

None other than Norman Finkelstein, anti-Israel guru, confirmed this.

(BDS supporters) think they are being very clever; they call it their three-tier. We want the end of the occupation, the right of return, and …equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they are very clever because they know the result of implementing all three is what…? You know and I know what the result is. There’s no Israel!

Habit: Engage in role reversal

The mindset of the true-blue anti-Semite: ‘For every crime Palestinians or Arabs commit, I will make the Jews guilty of it.’

When Palestinians murder Israeli children, I’ll accuse the Israeli army of murdering Palestinian children. Where Arabs ethnically cleansed the Jews from their lands, I’ll accuse the (1948 rag tag) Jewish army of doing that to Palestinians. When rockets are launched at Israeli cities, I’ll condemn Israel for attacking Gaza. When almost all Israeli fatalities were civilians, I’ll turn it around and claim that almost all Palestinian fatalities were civilians. And when I seek to gag Israel supporters, I’ll accuse them of doing that to me.

Habit: Play the ‘gagging card.’

Of the many variant claims, all intended to make pro-Israel opponents look ridiculous, here’s but one example. "The government of Israel is placed on a pedestal, and to criticize it is to be immediately dubbed anti-Semitic."

The claim is meant to stop pro-Zionists in their tracks while making potential allies think twice about joining forces against the habitual villain. Or, to achieve the same thing, the anti-Semite prepares the ground in advance. Here's the spokesman for the Russell Tribunal doing that: "…This is no Israel-bashing occasion, nor anti-Semitic, nor anti-Jewish…" But call his bluff, ask him to explain his record and the villain dives for cover, blustering: "I have told you this correspondence is closed."

Habit: Riddled with paradox and inconsistency

Open up the anti-Semite and you’ll discover paradox after paradox. Hatred and rationality never sit well, and inconsistency follows.

Look to Christian leaders who punt for the Palestinians. On the evidence one would expect the opposite. A believing Christian has every reason to be pro-Israel, where alone in the Middle East Christendom’s holy sites are protected; where Christians pray openly; and where Christian followers face no pressures to convert. On the Palestinian side of the barrier none of those freedoms are found.

Or take the flotilla crews that sailed to free Gaza, media workers on board going along. They sailed to free a strip where media workers are controlled, intimidated, kidnapped and murdered – to free it from the grips of Israel where media workers can do pretty much as they like.

Or gay anti-Semites whose hatred of Israel, the one gay-friendly country in the region, makes no more sense than their love affair with a Palestinian camp that brooks no tolerance of gays.

So when you follow the SWC and look for anti-Semites, be sure to take along this identikit, and you’ll not snare genuine critics in your bagful of villains.