Another Bogus Antisemitism Scare

I’ve been watching and thinking about the nationwide campus antiwar demonstrations in support of the suffering Palestinians of Gaza, and the appalling reaction to and “coverage” of those events. Something important needs to be addressed.

I won’t be concerned here with the violence committed by anyone, including the police, or by lesser misconduct, such as occupying and damaging buildings and other violations of university rules. It’s also irrelevant whether the demonstrations stand any chance of ending Israel’s onslaught or ending U.S. and university complicity in it, or whether most of the pro-peace demonstrators share a libertarian orientation. (Not likely.) All that is for another time.

I want to examine the overwhelming depiction of the demonstrations as nothing more than rank antisemitism – the blind hatred of all Jewish people because and only because they are – by birth, blood, belief, or practice – Jewish.

Are the demonstrations antisemitic and hence pro-Hamas, as Spiked magazine and many other observers claim? Are the protestors tapping into what CNN’s Dana Bash called “a deep undercurrent of antisemitism”? (The smears know no bounds.)

To sort this out, I thought I might employ one of my areas of expertise. I spend a lot of time watching excellent British television police dramas. I consider myself a student of British detective techniques. (The Brits take their police dramas very seriously.)

Among other things, I’ve learned that if a crime is alleged to have been committed by a particular person, but you have no damning CCTV or credible witnesses, you begin your investigation by asking if the “person of interest” has a plausible motive for the offense. If not, the chances are good that the person is innocent. People act, which means they have motives.

That’s what I want to do here regarding the campus demonstrations, which are on their face objections to Israel’s bloody (not just in the British figurative sense) seven-month campaign against the Gaza Palestinians. That campaign has taken at least 34,000 lives, injured and starved countless other people, and destroyed so many homes, hospitals, universities, and other facilities vital to life.

So here’s the detective’s challenge: why would non-Jewish pro-peace demonstrators on college campuses across the country knowingly, intentionally alienate their clearly Jewish pro-peace co-demonstrators with whom they encamp all day every day, sharing meals, having teach-ins together, and participating in ecumenical outdoor religious events, like Passover seders? Why would antisemites want to do it?

Does that sound remotely plausible? Are the Jewish students idiots who don’t recognize antisemitism when they’re supposedly drowning in a sea of it? Are the antisemites able to threaten Jewish non-demonstrators and pro-Israel demonstrators while keeping it a secret from Jewish demonstrators standing next to them? That seems unlikely.

What do they take us for – those pro-Israel alarmists, who see an existential threat to all Jewish people every day around every corner? They assume (or pretend to believe) that anti-Zionism – that is, opposition to a Jewish supremacist state – is the same as antisemitism. But a moment’s reflection reveals that this is bunk – no matter how many times Israel’s partisans say so. On a variety of grounds, many Jewish people fundamentally oppose Israel as a Jewish state. They have since the time of Theodor Herzl, the reputed founder of Zionism.

As an aside, this is not the first time that America has been subjected to a false antisemitism scare. The boy has cried wolf falsely many times before. Whenever Israel lays waste to Gaza, a sudden spike in antisemitism is reported by the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, and their congressional spokesmen. Isn’t that interesting? Or is it? Could it be that the Israel lobby weaponizes antisemitism to shut up anyone who would object to Israel’s crimes against humanity?  (For a close look at this weaponization, see Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.)

Israel’s partisans tell us that America’s campuses today are indistinguishable from 1930s Nazi Berlin. Jewish students, they say, are routinely harassed, threatened, and assaulted. They can’t walk safely to class. The Hitler Youth rule. Really? I can’t recall newsreels from the Nazi years showing Jews and non-Jews peacefully celebrating the sabbath and Passover with open-air religious services and meals. Have you ever seen films from Nazi Germany in which Jewish Germans enthusiastically sported tee-shirts emblazoned with sayings like: “Jewish Voice for Peace,” “Not in Our Name,” “Jews for a Ceasefire Now,” and “Jews for Freedom in Palestine.” Maybe the memory is suppressed, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t.

My policy is to assume good faith in my opponents, but it’s tough in this case. I am confident that the alarmists do not believe their own words when they say that terrorists and Nazis control the universities.

So why do they say it? Because it distracts attention from Israel’s unending massacre. The apologists’ agenda is to support Israel no matter what and to explain away the palpable atrocities. It’s also an attempt to continue America’s shameful complicity.

If Israel and its supporters were truly concerned about antisemitism (rather than needing it to prevent assimilation and abandonment of Israel), they’d do some soul-searching. Israel identifies itself as the Jewish state and claims to represent “the Jewish people” – not only Jewish Israelis but Jews everywhere whether they want it or not. Thus Israel’s long mistreatment of the Palestinians encourages, at least tacitly, the relatively few antisemites, who are eager to point to anything they can use to describe “the Jewish people” as bad actors. “The Jewish state equals the Jewish people” – that’s what they’ve been told by the pro-Israel side. It’s not true, but they’re happy to believe it.

In other words, Israel’s definition of itself and its abuse of the Palestinians ratify the antisemites’ crazy ideas about the international conspiratorial malevolence and collective guilt of “the Jewish people.” Antisemites are encouraged to ignore the over-representation of Jewish Americans in the ranks of Israel’s opponents.

Israel and its supporters then aggravate matters by strategically equating odious antisemitism with honorable anti-Zionism. That in turn gives cover to the antisemites, who can hide in plain sight among the anti-Zionists.

That amounts to Israel’s protection of antisemitism!

You’d think that would be a bad thing. And it is. So why do Israel’s leaders and supporters do it? Because all that matters is the tribal sanctuary, Israel.

Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and a contributing editor at He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies; former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education; and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest books are Coming to Palestine and What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.