The organised and concerted effort by successive Israeli governments to conflate criticism of some of their policies with anti-semitism, is one of the most morally distasteful developments in political debate of the last 20 years.
To criticise the specific actions of a specific elected government in a specific country is NOT the same as racially slurring an entire people or calling for the destruction of that state. It is perfectly legitimate to criticise the specific actions of specific Israeli governments from both within or outside Israel. If this is not possible then democratic politics within Israel and in the Western democracies ceases to have meaning. In the UK we elect governments who have foreign policies. It is widely accepted that the Israel/Palestine problem is an issue of global importance that affects the security of every nation on earth. To have a situation in the UK whereby NO criticism of the actions of ANY Israeli government is permitted, is to render our democracy meaningless. How can we in the UK hold our government to account regarding their actions in the Middle-East if we are not allowed to even discuss the most important issue in the Middle-East, perhaps even in global politics?
Any government, of any nation, anywhere in the world, who acted as successive Israeli governments have with regard to the Palestinian people, would be subject to criticism.
That criticism would be contested of course by the governments in question and their supporters,( see the reaction to the Russian interventions in Crimea and Ukraine for example), and this has always been so. Governments anywhere who engage in any form of armed combat will receive criticism and condemnation from some quarters.
But in the case of Israel to make even measured, rational, reasonable, evidence-based, criticism of government actions is now portrayed as being in and of itself an anti-semitic act. To criticise any Israeli government, whatever it does, is said to be anti-semitic.
And this is a most grievous accusation because after the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were industrially slaughtered in one of the most appalling crimes in human history, to call someone ‘anti-semitic’ is to accuse them of murderous intent against the Jews, to accuse them of being violent racists hoping for the destruction of the State Of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people.
But for a political activist in the West to criticise the actions of a specific Israeli government is NOT synonymous with calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. No one would claim that to criticise Putin in Russia and call for the withdrawal of Russian troops back to the their own borders, is calling for the dismantling of the Russian state and the annihilation of the Russian people! To criticise Putin and Russia does not imply a desire for mass murder. Yet with Israel it is claimed that to criticise, say, the illegal ‘settlements’ in the West Bank, is to call for the end of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people.
This is not to deny that there are indeed people in the world calling for the end of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people, but to claim that ANYONE making ANY criticism of ANY Israeli government policy regarding the Palestinians, is one of them, is mendacious in the extreme.
In the 1970’s the UK were involved in an asymmetric terrorist war with a nationalist terrorist organisation intent on bringing an end to the State. In furtherance of these aims the IRA bombed civilian targets in N.Ireland and on the British mainland. There were troops on the street, check-points, armed borders and much loss of life on both sides. The terrorists also had ‘support’ from republicans within the Catholic Community and from foreign governments. It was a desperate time, during which Habeas Corpus and trial by Jury were suspended in N. Ireland and terrible miscarriages of justice took place (see The Birmingham Six). There were many in the UK and abroad, especially in the USA, who criticised the British government for their ‘brutal’ crack down on the Catholic Community, despite British Government claims that they were merely trying to keep law and order and defend the democratic will of the majority in the N. Ireland to remain part of the UK.
BUT despite all this, at no point in ‘the war against terror’ in N.Ireland were Catholic areas of Belfast relentlessly bombed by the British government. At no point were Catholic hospitals bombed by British troops. At no point were troops used to move Protestants into Catholic areas displacing the Catholics and making them refugees in their own land. At no point was the Republic Of Ireland attacked or bombed, even though it was known that IRA terrorists operated out of the Republic, using it as a base to store weapons and equipment, and where known terrorists could walk about free as a bird, and were even regarded by some as ‘heroes’.
So when apologists for successive Israeli government policy regarding the Palestinians claim that ANY government would react the way they have to being constantly attacked by terrorists from within Gaza and the West Bank, they are simply wrong. Recent history shows us that even a nation with a brutal colonial past like the UK, can take a much more measured and proportionate response to terrorists attempting to bring down the state.
This not to deny that anti-semitism is still a genuine and tragic phenomenon across the world, or to deny that there are millions of people in the Middle East who would happily see Israel destroyed. But it is to say that attempting to slur ALL critics of ANY Israeli government with the accusation of being murderous racists is to shame the memory of those six million slaughtered by the Nazis, to use them as pawns in a political battle to defend the indefensible, and it has to be resisted.