Monday, 22 February 2010

Yuli Edelstein - trivialising antisemitism

Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli Minister of Information and Diaspora, spoke at a dinner hosted by the Zionist Federation on Sunday. According to the report on Haaretz, he told the audience that the Goldstone report represented a new 'kind' of anti-semitism.

Reading this reminded me of something the former head of Jewish Policy Research, Antony Lerman, had written:

Some Israel critics are no doubt classic anti-semites using anti-zionism as cover. But the anti-zionism equals antisemitism argument says something else. [Jonathan] Sacks summed it up when he told the Parliamentary Committee against Antisemitism that 'accusing Israel of racism, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide, crimes against humanity,' is itself antisemitic. Yet to exempt Israel from such allegations is to set the threshold of where legitimate criticism of Israel tips over into antisemitism impossibly low. If we say a British institution is racist, does this imply an ideological anti-Britishness... The anti-Zionism equals antisemitism argument drains the word antisemitism of any useful meaning.
To accuse the Goldstone Report of being antisemitic is to trivialise antisemitism.

Nothing in the Goldstone report corresponds with historical - 'old' - definitions of antisemitism, which focus on 'hatred of Jews per se, belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, belief that Jews are racially inferior' and so on. Watching this interview with Goldstone, and having read much of the report myself I found no evidence of any antisemitism in the report - at least understood in the normal way described above.

Some critics of Israel claim that the allegation of antisemitism is used to silence criticism of Israel. My impression is that this claim is more often asserted than it is demonstrated. (Indeed, sometimes people make it to try to excuse their own, actual antisemitism, and to silence those who draw attention to it). But the sad fact is, by calling the Goldstone report 'a new antisemitism,' Yuli Edelstein seems to have done just that: using the charge of anti-semitism to undermine Goldstone, so as to deflect or silence criticism of Israel.

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