Anti-Semitism is an explosive term, not to be bandied about lightly. The ongoing situation in Israel, and the place of Jews in the Diaspora, evoke a heated dialog. Israel is often demonized, delegitimized and measured by a double standard. When that happens, some people cry, "anti-Semitism!" Their opponents respond with a startled look, and accuse their accusers of wanting to stifle legitimate discussion. The question is: When does criticism become bigotry?

To partially answer that, we can take a look at the meanings and origins of anti-Semitism.

To give Judeophobia a more scientific veneer, Wilhelm Marr concocted the term "anti-Semitism."

Anti-Semitism is a relatively recent name for Judeophobia, that is, an attitude of hostility towards, opposition to, prejudice against, and intolerance of the Jewish people. The term developed partly as a result of the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers held that human reason had the power to sweep away superstition, ignorance and tyranny. They also embraced cultural relativism, the belief that groups have no right to impose their own cultural values on others. That being the case, European Gentiles couldn't rightly insist that European Jews either convert or remain stymied by legal and social barriers. Accordingly, in the middle 1800s, European Jews were granted rights of full citizenship.

Given the tolerant tenor of the times, one couldn't rationalize Judeophobia, hatred of Jews, on grounds of religion or cultural habit. A new approach appeared in 1879. A German atheist, Wilhelm Marr, in an effort to give Judeophobia a more scientific and, hence, respectable veneer, concocted the term "anti-Semitism." He didn't object to Jews because of their religion. He asserted Jews were Semites, an inferior, non-European race that posed a direct threat the superiority of the White European race. Anti-Semitism objected to Jews because of their race. This updated approach went over very well.

The new term "anti-Semitism" could be used comfortably in academic circles. The outlook was an unexceptional mindset in the mainstream of society. That changed after the Holocaust. As the reality of the death camps became known, anti-Semitism was rightly disgraced. Discrediting race-based Judeophobia did not eliminate Judeophobia any more than discrediting religion-based Judeophobia.

The current tenor of the times has made it necessary again to drape Judeophobia in new and socially acceptable clothes. Many people who would never consider themselves racists or prejudiced have no trouble identifying themselves as "anti-Zionists." Proponents have nothing against the Jewish religion, nor the so-called Jewish "race." Of course not. What they object to is the intolerable behavior of the state of Israel. Israeli behavior poses a direct threat to the security of the world. Anti-Zionists have no issue with Jews, but only with Israel, the Jewish state and those who support it. This line of reasoning would bring a smile to the lips of Wilhelm Marr.

Can there be legitimate criticism of Israel? Of course. But can that criticism be a socially acceptable cover for bigotry? Absolutely.

It is necessary again to drape Judeophobia in new and socially acceptable clothes.

In order to identify the elements of Judeophobia, Natan Sharansky has given us something he calls the "3 Ds." He defines these as: demonize, delegitimize and double standards. They represent a handy litmus test to see when criticism of Israel crosses the line.

Judeophobes demonize Jews. Judeophobes do this to justify their hatred and justify the crimes they are hoping to commit. Jews are accused of callously trampling on the values society holds most sacrosanct. In earlier times, Jews were demonized as blood-suckers, Christ-killers and child-killers. These days, the anti-Zionists routinely describe the State of Israel as genocidal, apartheid, fascist, racist, terrorist, imperialistic and Nazi. The Israeli army is portrayed as child killers.

A bit of honest research shows these accusations to be baseless. But these accusations are the modern blood libels. The facts are immaterial. The point is to brand Israel with odious labels. Criticism of Israel that uses these terms as a starting point is simply a cover for bigotry.

The prime minister of Iran and other Judeophobes argue that Israel is an illegitimate state. If the state is illegitimate, its very existence becomes a wrong that must be corrected. No policy, no compromise, no accommodation can remove the sin of illegitimacy. Again, the Judeophobes are offering justification for the crime they are planning. The facts of a Jewish archaeological record in Israel going back to before the birth of Christ mean nothing. The goal is to brand Israel as illegitimate. Criticism that uses this as a premise is also a mask for bigotry.

Double standards
Judeophobes single out the Jews and judge their actions by a different standard. In the last 150 years, the world has seen scores of national movements, as differing peoples on every continent have striven towards nationhood. It is an example of applying double standards when only one, Zionism, out of scores of movements, is singled out for condemnation.

Demonize, delegitimize and use double standards.

During the recent war, Israel was castigated in the press for bombing civilians. Yet, the press scarcely mentioned how Hizbullah placed ammunition dumps in mosques, located command and control centers in apartment buildings and launched missiles from suburban neighborhoods. Magnifying the shortcomings of one party does not eliminate the failings of the other party. Legitimate criticism must measure the parties by the same yardstick; otherwise, such criticism is something else.

Israel is not a perfect country and, yes, there can be legitimate criticism. However, criticism that demonizes, delegitimizes or uses a double standard is not legitimate criticism. It is anti-Semitism, Judeophobia, Judenhass, and should be so labeled.