An open letter from 35 prominent Israelis, including Jewish-history scholars and Israel Prize laureates, was published Tuesday in the Austrian media calling for a distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel, "harsh as it may be," and anti-Semitism.
The letter was released before an international gathering in Vienna on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe.
The event this week, “Europe beyond anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism: Securing Jewish life in Europe,” is being held under the auspices of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. His Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, had been due to take part but stayed in Israel to deal with the crisis in his coalition government.
"We fully embrace and support the [European Union's] uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism. The rise of anti-Semitism worries us. As we know from history, it has often signaled future disasters to all mankind," the letter states.
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"However, the EU also stands for human rights and has to protect them as forcefully as it fights anti-Semitism. This fight against anti-Semitism should not be instrumentalized to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel’s occupation and severe violations of Palestinian human rights."
The signatories accuse Netanyahu of suggesting an equivalence between anti-Israel criticism and anti-Semitism. The official declaration by the conference also notes that anti-Semitism is often expressed through disproportionate criticism of Israel, but the letter warns that such an approach could "afford Israel immunity against criticism for grave and widespread violations of human rights and international law."
The signatories object to the declaration's alleged "identifying" of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. "Zionism, like all other modern Jewish movements in the 20th century, was harshly opposed by many Jews, as well as by non-Jews who were not anti-Semitic," they write. "Many victims of the Holocaust opposed Zionism. On the other hand, many anti-Semites supported Zionism. It is nonsensical and inappropriate to identify anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism."
The signatories are:
Moshe Zimmerman, an emeritus professor at Hebrew University and a former director of the university's Koebner Center for German History; Moshe Zukermann, emeritus professor of history and philosophy of science at Tel Aviv University; Zeev Sternhell, a Hebrew University emeritus professor in political science and a current Haaretz columnist; Israel Prize laureate, sculptor Dani Karavan; Israel Prize laureate, photographer Alex Levac; Israel Prize laureate, artist Michal Naaman; Gadi Algazi, a history professor at Tel Aviv University; Eva Illouz, a professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and former President of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design; Gideon Freudenthal, a professor in the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University; Rachel Elior, an Israeli professor of Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Anat Matar, philosophy professor at Tel Aviv University; Yael Barda, a professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Miki Kratsman, a former chairman of the photography department at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; Jose Brunner, an emeritus professor at Tel Aviv University and a former director of the Minerva Institute for German History; Alon Confino, a professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Israel Prize laureate, graphic designer David Tartakover; Arie M. Dubnov, Chair of Israel Studies at George Washington University; David Enoch, history, philosophy and Judaic Studies professor at Israel's Open University; Amos Goldberg, Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Israel Prize laureate and vice-president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities David Harel; Hannan Hever, comparative literature and Judaic Studies professor at Yale University; Hannah Kasher, professor emerita in Jewish Thought at Bar-Ilan University; Michael Keren, emeritus professor of economics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Israel Prize laureate, Yehoshua Kolodny, professor emeritus in the Institute of Earth Sciences at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Nitzan Lebovic, professor of Holocaust studies at Lehigh University; Idith Zertal, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Dmitry Shumsky, professor of Jewish History at Hebrew University; Israel Prize laureate David Shulman, professor emeritus of Asian studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Jewish philosophy professor at Tel Aviv University; Dalia Ofer, professor emerita in Jewry and Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Paul Mendes-Flohr, professor emeritus for Jewish thoughts at the Hebrew University; Jacob Metzer, former president of Israel's Open University; and Israel Prize laureate Yehuda Judd Ne’eman, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University arts faculty.