"Pro-Israel and Zionist groups have interpreted intensified criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism as the expression of a "new anti-semitism". The IJV initiative leans towards the view that this charge is far too often used in an attempt to stifle strong criticism of Israeli policies." [my emphasis]Let's examine some of what Lerman describes as "intensified criticism" of Israel and let's see if some of this "intensified criticism" could reasonably be thought of as being connected to contemporary anti-semitism.
Perhaps some of this "intensified criticism" mirrors some old anti-semitic themes? Or perhaps some of this "intensified criticism" contributes to a commonsense notion that Jews, those who do not identify as anti-Zionists anyway, are in some sense reactionary rather than progressive?
First, however, let us note that Lerman believes those who think that anti-semitism is linked to "intensified criticism" of Israel are "pro-Israel" or "Zionist"; they raise the question of contemporary anti-semitism dishonestly in order to de-legitimise criticism as racism. There seems to be no possibility of a person being both an opponent of Israeli nationalism and also concerned with the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism.
The IJV statement mirrors the nasty habit that it sets out to oppose. It opposes anyone who would unthinkingly brand honest critics of Israel as racists. Yet it, itself, brands opponents of anti-semitism as dishonest supporters of human rights abuses. The difference is that it doesn't happen, that a person is branded an anti-semite simply for criticism; yet IJV itself does brand those voices that it opposes as being not only mistaken but dishonest defenders of human rights abuses.
So let's look at some recent "intensified criticism" of Israel made by people and groups who think of themselves as sophisticated anti-racists. We will for the moment entirely ignore "intensified criticism" made by open anti-Jewish racists, such as the president of Iran, like the governing party in Palestine, and like Hizbullah.
In November 2006 the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign hosted an open anti-semite, Gilad Atzmon, who argued at its meeting that Jewish anti-Zionists have no place in the Palestine Solidarity movement. Atzmon was then hosted and defended by the Socialist Workers Party. The Scottish PSC went on to mark Holocaust Memorial Day with a reading of a play which holds "Zionists" responsible for the Holocaust. Comment is free itself then offered the racist Atzmon a platform. Is any of this anything more than "intensified criticism" of Israel?
In September 2006, Ilan Pappe, an Israeli anti-Zionist, argued that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. Now Pappe is certainly not an anti-Jewish racist, but does that mean that this absurd claim is simply "intensified criticism" - and therefore legitimate? I don't think so. I think that Israel has committed serious human rights abuses in Gaza but that to call this genocide is so far from the truth that it feeds into a mood of irrational hatred of Israel, which, incidentally, lets Olmert squirm out of having to answer measured and legitimate criticism.
Accuse me of trying to gag Pappe if you like, but Pappe, a tenured professor at Haifa university, continues to travel the world freely and to make his absurd allegations wherever he likes. And his wages are paid by the Israeli education system. And rightly so. I debated with him, I didn't call upon the Jewish elders to visit some terrible retribution on him.
John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt published a paper in March 2006 which argued that if there had been no "Israel lobby" then there would have been no war against the Saddam regime. These two professors are not antisemites but they did nevertheless hold the "lobby" responsible for the war.
In their paper and in the way the paper was widely read and used, the term "lobby" underwent an immense amount of slippage - from particular organisations into a nefarious conspiracy. The accusation that Jews are responsible for war is an old one; perhaps this time, the "Zionists" are actually responsible for propelling the USA into war against its own interest? Perhaps the incessant use of the "Lobby" to articulate anti-"Zionist" conspiracy theory is, indeed, nothing more than "intensified criticism"?
Perhaps when Baroness Tonge says that she believes that the Israeli lobby has got its financial grips on the western world then this is nothing more than "intensified criticism". Apparently this was the view of "Independent Jewish Voice" Richard Kuper, who was sitting next to her when she said it, and who saw nothing to protest in what she said.
Perhaps when her Lib Dem colleague Chris Davies accuses a "Zionist" constituent of racism and invites her to "wallow in her own filth" then this has absolutely nothing to do with a de facto hostility to Jews. Perhaps when the Independent newspaper illustrates "the Lobby" with a US flag dominated by Jewish stars, then they didn't know about the history of this image and its connection to anti-semitic conspiracy theory.
Maybe when the New Statesman illustrated its headline "A Kosher Conspiracy?" with this image, any similarity with older conspiracy theory was entirely coincidental. Perhaps it was innocent "intensified criticism" when the Independent newspaper produced a classic blood libel image of Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian baby? Perhaps this image from the Guardian, of a disgusting Jewish fist smashing an innocent child's face in, has absolutely no connection with older anti-semitic images? Maybe these two images, created by cartoonist Latuff, who won second prize in President Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial art competition, available on "anti-racist" Norman Finkelstein's website, constitute entirely legitimate "intensified criticism"?
When Tam Dalyell claimed that Tony Blair was unduly influenced by a "cabal of Jewish advisers" perhaps this was only an inelegant way of intensifying his critique of Israel? When George Galloway goes on Syrian TV and makes almost exactly the same intense criticism of Israel as ex-Klansman David Duke, what should we think? When Respect's Yvonne Ridley declares her party to be "Zionist Free" unlike other parties that are "riddled with Zionists", what should we say? How should we react when we are on a demonstration for peace, and find ourselves surrounded by these "intensified" placards?
Why did Ken Livingstone judge that his late night silliness was a political opportunity? How come he lives in a world where if you are accused of anti-semitism then you fight back by crying "Israel"? Would Livingstone tell two "foreign" businessmen to "go back to Iran" if he couldn't spin it, somehow, as an intense criticism of Israel?
Racism is not simply about hatred; it is not enough to say: "I don't hate Jews". Racism is about ways of thinking, commonsense notions and sets of practices that discriminate and that demonise. I do not believe that any of the anti-racists who I mentioned above are anti-semites and I do not call them anti-semites. But I do believe that the discourses of anti-Zionism, which are increasingly "intense", do foster an irrational hatred of Israel, a commonsense notion of Jews as "oppressors" and do therefore, lay the basis for an anti-semitic movement in the UK.
In my judgment the campaign for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel - and only Israel - as though Israel were the most serious human rights abuser on the planet - moves onward from "intensified criticism" towards setting up concrete exclusions. Our unions and our universities would exclude Israeli Jews from our campuses, journals and conferences but would not exclude people from other states which commit equal or worse human rights abuses to Israel. Would IJV consider such a concrete exclusion to be legitimate criticism of Israeli policies?
The figures for anti-semitic incidents in the UK for 2006 were published recently. The demonisation of "Zionists" in discourse is beginning to transform into anti-semitic attacks on the streets, in the cemeteries, on the synagogues. Anti-semitic attacks are up by 31% from the previous year and have been rising sharply over the last 10 years. There is a clear correlation between Israel being in the news and between attacks on UK Jews.
Let's not tolerate any apologies for this. If you're angry with Israel, it is racist to take out your anger on UK Jews. It is not understandable, natural or inevitable. The bad behaviour of Jews in the Middle East does not cause attacks on Jews in London; anti-semites are responsible for their anti-semitism, not Jews.
I hope I have made my position clear. It is not criticism of Israeli human rights abuses that is the problem. The problem is that this criticism so often seems to be subject to a certain kind of "intensification". The kind of intensification that I am worried about is the kind that creates a commonsense notion of Israel, and of the Jews who by and large identify with it, as unique evils in the world. So criticise. Don't demonise. And don't pretend that you can't see the difference. And try to keep away from conspiracy theory. And better to avoid the old themes associated with the blood libel.