Watch: Rabbi Sacks explains 'new anti-Semitism'

Former British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explains to BBC why 'anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.'

Ari Soffer ,

Former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

At the height of the UK Labour Party's anti-Semitism crisis in April, former British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks penned a blistering critique of anti-Zionism, which he branded "the new anti-Semitism."

In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, Rabbi Sacks elaborated on why today's anti-Israel movement is the embodiment of anti-Semitism.

"It's always in a new form, because anti-Semitism is so socially unacceptable that it can only survive the way a virus survives, which is by mutating," he said.

"In the Middle Ages Jews were hated for their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries you weren't allowed to hate anyone for their religion, because this is post-enlightenment Europe - so they were hated for their race.

"Today you can't hate anyone for their race, so you hate them for their nation-state. And that is why anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism."

Invoking an argument often used by anti-Israel activists, his interviewer asked whether it was possible some were using claims of anti-Semitism to block legitimate criticism of the Jewish state.

Rabbi Sacks countered that no one has ever ruled out criticizing the State of Israel any more than any other country, citing an encounter he had with a group of schoolchildren who asked him the same question,

"I said, 'Tell me, hands up, which of you believes it's legitimate to criticize the British government?' They all put their hands up.

"I said, 'Which of you believes that Britain has no right to exist?' Nobody put their hands up.

"I said, 'Now you know the difference between (legitimate) criticism of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism."