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Antisemitism in 3-D

Why is it so very difficult to combat the “new antisemitism”?

To modern eyes, classical antisemitism is easy to recognize. Films showing Jews draining the blood of gentile children or plotting to take over the world are clearly antisemitic, and are not only vulgar and illegal, but socially unacceptable throughout the free world.

Movies on such themes screened in recent months by government-controlled media in Iran, Egypt and Syria — and broadcast via satellite to millions of Muslims around the world (including, particularly, in Europe and even America) — employ motifs and canards that are familiar to us.

But while classical antisemitism was seen as being aimed at the Jewish religion or the Jewish people, the new antisemitism is far more subtle, directed as it is against the Jewish state. Hiding behind the veneer of “legitimate criticism of Israel,” this new antisemitism is much more difficult to expose.

Far too often, when we criticize particularly virulent anti-Israel statements as being rooted in antisemitism, our opponents claim that we are trying to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel by manipulatively labeling it as antisemitic.

Yet it has now become clear to leaders of the free world that not all criticism of Israel is legitimate.

Almost a year ago, the leaders of Europe recognized this principle for the first time, in their conference on battling antisemitism led by then-president of the European Commission Romano Prodi and joined by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and others. And just this month, the first report on global antisemitism by the U.S. State Department did the same:

An important issue is the distinction between legitimate criticism of policies and practices of the State of Israel, and commentary that assumes an anti-Semitic character. The demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue.

This recognition of the difference between arguing over Israeli policy and attacking Israel or its leaders can be our starting point. If not all criticism is valid, how then do we define the boundary line?

I offer a simple “3-D” test for differentiating legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism. This “3-D” test applies the same criteria to the new antisemitism that for centuries identified different manifestations of classical antisemitism.

The first “D” is the test of demonization — as noted in the State Department report. Jews have been demonized for centuries as the embodiment of evil, whether in the theological form of a collective accusation of deicide or in the generalized depiction of Jews as money-grubbing Shylocks. Today we must take note when the Jewish state or its leaders are being demonized, with their actions being blown out of all rational proportion.

For example, the comparisons of Israelis to Nazis and of the Palestinian refugee camps to Auschwitz — comparisons heard frequently throughout Europe and on North American university campuses — are clearly antisemitic. Those who draw such analogies either are deliberately ignorant regarding Nazi Germany or, more commonly, are deliberately depicting modern-day Israel as the embodiment of evil.

The second “D” is the test of double standards. From discriminatory laws many nations enacted against Jews to the tendency to judge their behavior by a different yardstick, this differential treatment of Jews was always a clear sign of antisemitism. Similarly, today we must ask whether criticism of Israel is being applied selectively. In other words, do similar policies pursued by other governments produce similar criticism?

It is antisemitic discrimination, for instance, when Israel is singled out for condemnation by the United Nations for perceived human rights abuses while proven obliterators of human rights on a massive scale — like China, Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria, to name just a few — are not even mentioned. Likewise, it is antisemitism when Israel’s Magen David Adom, alone among the world’s ambulance services, is denied admission to the International Red Cross.

The third “D” is the test of delegitimization. Traditionally, antisemites denied the legitimacy of the Jewish religion, the Jewish people, or both. Today, they attempt to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state, presenting it as, among other things, the prime remnant of imperialist colonialism.

While criticism of an Israeli policy may not be antisemitic, the denial of Israel’s right to exist is always antisemitic. If other peoples, including 21 Arab Muslim States — and particularly the many states created in the postcolonial period following World War II — have the right to live securely in their homelands, then the Jewish people has that right as well, particularly given the sanction of the United Nations in setting up and recognizing the country at its founding. Questioning that legitimacy is pure antisemitism.

One recalls those 3-D movies we enjoyed as children. Until putting on special two-toned glasses, the picture was blurry. But with those glasses, the screen came alive, and everything was seen with perfect clarity. Similarly, if we do not wear the right glasses, the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism can become blurred, so that we fail to recognize this ancient evil, much less fight it.

But when we apply the 3-D test and ask whether Israel is being demonized or delegitimized or subjected to a double standard, antisemitism will be easily recognizable. The 3-D test offers a simple and accurate reality-check.

My experience has convinced me that moral clarity is necessary for effectively struggling against evil. Evil must be recognized and isolated to be defeated. Only with clear moral demarcation, can evil be recognized and isolated. Evil thrives in moral confusion and uncertainty where right and wrong become a matter of opinion instead of clear, objective truth. With moral clarity, we can identify and expose the new antisemitism to universal condemnation.

Natan Sharansky is Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs and Jerusalem.

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