When the charge of antisemitism is used to censor or quell open debate and the public exchange of critical views on the State of Israel, then it is not exactly communicating a truth, but seeking to rule out certain perspectives from being heard. So whether or not the accusation is true becomes less important than whether or not it is effective. It works in part through stigmatizing and discrediting the speaker, but also through a tactical deployment of slander. After all, the charge can be enormously painful. It does not roll easily off the back; it does not get quickly shaken off, even when one knows it is not true.
~Judith Butler, Jewish American Philosopher
Sometimes referred to as the “new” antisemitism, Proponents seek to label any criticism of the policies of the state of Israel as antisemitic. Accusations of antisemitism are directed at supporters of Palestinian human rights by defenders of Israel as a common tactic to shut down debate. They have even been used in legislative bodies in many countries, such as the May 2019 ruling by the German Parliament labeling BDS as antisemitic. The BDS movement responded forcefully, saying the tactic is “not only anti-Palestinian McCarthyism, it is a betrayal of international law, German democracy and the fight against real anti-Jewish racism.”
As with any accusation of racism, if a person or organization is accused of it, the conversation stops because such an attack cannot go unanswered. When it comes to being accused of antisemitism, and rightly so, no one is given the benefit of the doubt. For this reason, even the person or group being wrongly accused of antisemitism must immediately address the accusation and its intent. When intention belies truth, the conversation is derailed; in short, accusations can become diversion tactics by successfully avoiding conversation on the matter at hand: Israel’s ongoing record of human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Palestine solidarity is clear on its stand against any form of racism and bigotry, especially antisemitism. The movement for Palestinian rights is a movement for justice; it does not condone any form of racism. Whenever and wherever possible, this must be reiterated and reinforced. Presenting an official statement against all racism serves as a bulwark against detractors who can use defamation as a way to subvert and obstruct any advances in rights for Palestine.
A good example of such a safeguard is the statement from the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (USA). They begin by condemning all forms of hate and bigotry and in regards specifically to antisemitism, they make a clear distinction between Judaism and Zionism by quoting Jewish Voice for Peace: "Zionism is a political ideology; Judaism and Jewish identity encompass a diversity of religious and secular expressions and a robust, varied set of traditions, cultures, and lived experiences. ... Definitions of antisemitism that treat criticism of Israel or of Zionism as inherently antisemitic are inaccurate and harmful.”
The statement continues:
The BDS Movement rejects antisemitism explicitly. Yet, strident critics of the movement defer to Natan Sharansky’s so-called “3 D Test” to distinguish fair criticism of Israel from unfounded: Does the criticism delegitimize Israel, apply a double standard or demonize it? The New York Times presents both sides:
The “double standard” charge has often been called “What aboutism” by BDS supporters who declare that criticism of Israel cannot be met with questions like “What about Iran?” or “What about China?”, which refer to human rights abuses in other countries. No, human rights abuses in other places are not ok, but Palestinians cannot be put on hold in perpetuity with justice delayed through “what aboutism.” Actually, most of the world neither condones nor stands in silence when it comes to calling out injustice in other countries. With regard to Israel, many governments raise objections to Israeli abuses yet withhold real consequences. Other countries go further; the US for example, actually provides significant financial aid to Israel. This exceptionalizes Israel by putting it in a different class from other human rights abusers, since tax monies are spent to enable that abuse. So one could say there actually is a double-standard, but it’s in Israel’s favor.
As for “delegitimizing” or “demonizing” Israel, supporters of Palestine and BDS argue that Israeli policies do that on their own and don’t need any help. Nathan Thrall, Director of the Arab-Israeli Project at the International Crisis Group, has written about “de-legitimization,” showing how it is a tactic:
It is important to be clear on this: Palestinians want to stay in and return to their historic homeland. They belong to that land and have a right to stay there. They are not de-legitimizing anything or anyone. Not being a Zionist is not a statement of de-legitimizing Israel. It is a commitment to equality, justice and freedom for all people.
On the accusations of “demonization,” Israel is having to defend itself against calls for boycotts by international artists and sports figures and prove itself worthy against calls for sanctions against Israeli sports teams and universities. Just as with apartheid South Africa, Israel is battling a growing negative image in world opinion, even one that draws comparisons of Israeli right wing policies with fascists in Europe, especially Germany in the 1930s and 40s. Drawing such parallels, even when justified, have been classified as “demonization.” In other words, it is not okay to call out Israeli policies that veer towards far-right fascist laws like those that Europe embraced in the 1930s. To do so is to “demonize” Israel.
In these and numerous other ways, legitimate criticism of Israel as a nation state whose laws blatantly discriminate against Palestinians and create an apartheid state, is shut down. Jewish Voice for Peace puts it clearly and succinctly:
Defamation of supporters of Palestinian rights is a tactic for changing the subject. In the interest of justice and equal rights for all, it is critical that we recognize the fraudulent accusations of antisemitism as distractions rather than allowing them to become the main narrative. We must bring the focus back to justice.
Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism:
A group of 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals express their concerns through 7 key points.
from JVP, Jewish Voice for Peace:
Getting it right
Antisemitism is a serious racist problem that must be addressed, but weaponizing the charge of antisemitism against supporters of Palestinian rights both diminishes the charge itself and discriminates based on identity. i.e. Palestinians. This charge is a distraction to change the subject from the question at hand: Is it a Jewish value to deny human rights to millions of people?
See article by Aaron Freedman.