Strenger Than Fiction / Carlo Strenger

Memo to Netanyahu: Read ADL Survey, and Stop Equating Israel Criticism With anti-Semitism!

Israel’s right wingers consistently make the most horrible of mistakes by associating with European parties and politicians from the extreme right.

Olivier Fitoussi

The Anti-Defamation League’s monumental anti-Semitism survey produced a host of insightful results, some of which have been insightfully discussed by Chemi Shalev. I want to focus on one result that is particularly important for Israeli policy.

Israel’s right wingers, led by Netanyahu, have turned the conflation between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel’s occupation and settlement into a national sport. Any time somebody criticizes Israel, Bibi starts the lamentation that Israel’s existence is being delegitimized, that anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head again and that the Jewish people’s continuity is being threatened. In doing so, Netanyahu, of course, implies that critics of Israel are by definition anti-Semites, and therefore immoral.

I have pointed out time and again that I believe Netanyahu’s position on the issue untrue and harmful. I did so primarily on the basis of my close acquaintance with Western Europe and American liberals. Liberals in general tend to be critical of Israel’s occupation policy for a very simple reason: It contradicts their value of universal human rights. Israel’s occupation is seen as denying Palestinians their basic human and political rights, and liberals see this as unacceptable. Period. At the same time, liberals generally tend to be less anti-Semitic than conservatives, because it is part of their value system to decry any form of discrimination on the basis of race, religion or gender.

The ADL’s survey provides powerful empirical support for the position I have held along with my liberal friends. Consider the following: Britain is a hotbed of criticism of Israel’s policies and has some of the most vocal groups supporting Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) of Israel to force it to end the occupation. But lo and behold: The UK has one of the lowest percentages of anti-Semitic attitudes on the planet − only 8% of Brits are bigots when it comes to Jews. The same holds true for Sweden, which has the lowest incidence of anti-Semitism (4%) on the planet except for Laos, and is nevertheless known for its vocal criticism of Israel’s occupation policy.

All Netanyahu, Elkin & Co. achieve when they equate criticism of Israel’s occupation policy with anti-Semitism is that they infuriate many of Israel’s genuine friends. I can attest to this from close personal experience. I know many European and American liberals who care about Israel, follow its fate and genuinely wish it well. At the same time they are profoundly saddened by Israel’s turning away from the lofty values enshrined in its Declaration of Independence, which promised equal rights to all, independent of race, religion or gender. These people do not have a single anti-Semitic bone in their bodies, and will not be beaten into silence by Israel’s right wingers droning on about how anti-Semitic Israel’s critics are.

At the same time Israel’s right wingers consistently make the most horrible of mistakes by associating with European parties and politicians from the extreme right. They believe that they find allies there, because Europe’s extreme right currently sponsors Islamophobia. Israel’s right wingers come to the simplistic conclusion that European rightists must therefore be genuine friends of Israel, because they suffer from a profound learning disorder: They still haven’t realized that bigotry is an illness that, when convenient, will turn against Jews as well. I guess that’s because Israel’s right wingers share the trait of bigotry, and are therefore unwilling to fully face its dangers.

Mr. Lieberman might also do well to spend some quiet time thinking about the implications of the ADL’s survey. He has, time and again, declared Europe to be irrelevant and has tried to find genuine friends for Israel in the East. I do not know whether he has learned anything from his resounding failure to turn autocrats like Mr. Putin and the rulers of Belarus into reliable friends who have Israel’s interest in mind. If he hasn’t, he might do well to note that Belarus has 38% of anti-Semitic attitudes and Russia 30%, and compare this to the vocal critics of Israel in Western Europe he dislikes so much!

Obviously, Netanyahu and Lieberman will have trouble digesting the implications of the ADL’s survey. Like all right wingers, their success is based on evoking humankind’s more primitive emotions like fear, hatred and xenophobia. And they are therefore highly unlikely to genuinely engage with facts that contradict their political tactics and strategy.

For all friends of Israel, whether Gentiles or Jews, who combine their friendship with a genuine moral compass and firm belief in human rights, the ADL’s survey reinforces what we have known for a long time: Bigotry and ignorance are two of the most powerful sources of violence, cruelty and injustice. We will continue to stick to our guns, and the inflammatory rhetoric of Netanyahu, Lieberman, Elkin and Co. won’t intimidate us, because truth is on our side.