When Legit Criticism Crosses the Anti-Semitism Line

It's interesting how quickly the bigots -- Jews and non-Jews alike -- crawl out from under their rocks as soon as Israel is mentioned. (See the comments to my previous post on Norman Finkelstein.) The newest form of bigotry is to claim that I and others who generally support Israel argue that "anyone who criticizes Israel is an anti-Semite." This is a bald-faced lie. I always criticize specific Israeli policies, Israeli leaders, and Israeli actions. Most Israelis criticize specific policies. Israel is among the most self-critical countries in the world. Several years ago, I offered a large monetary award (payable to the PLO) for anyone who could actually come up with a quote by a prominent pro-Israeli writer who equated mere criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. No one came to collect the reward, because no respectable person has ever made this absurd claim. As Thomas Friedman of The New York Times accurately put it, "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction -- out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East -- is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest"

In my forthcoming book, The Case for Peace (which devastates Norman Finkelstein's arguments), I have set out a list of criteria that distinguish anti-Semitism from legitimate criticism. Here are my criteria:


1. Employing stereotypes against Israel that have traditionally been directed against "the Jews." For example, portraying Israel as devouring the blood of children or characterizing Israeli leaders with long hook noses or rapacious looks.

2. Comparing Israel to the Nazis or its leaders to Hitler, the German army, or the Gestapo.

3. Characterizing Israel as “the worst,” when it is clear that this is not an accurate comparative assessment.

4. Invoking anti-Jewish religious symbols or caricaturing Jewish religious symbols.

5. Singling out only Israel for sanctions for policies that are widespread among other nations, or demanding that Jews be better or more moral than others because of their history as victims.

6. Discriminating against individuals only because they are Jewish Israelis, without regard to their individual views or actions.

7. Emphasizing and stereotyping certain characteristics among supporters of Israel that have traditionally been used in anti-Semitic attacks, for example, “pushy” American Jews, Jews “who control the media,” and Jews “who control financial markets.”

8. Blaming all Jews or “the Jews” for Israel’s policies or imperfections.

9. Physically or verbally attacking Jewish institutions, such as synagogues or cemeteries, as a means of protesting against Israel.

10. Stereotyping all Jews as fitting into a particular political configuration (such as “neo-conservatives,” Zionists, or supporters of Sharon).

11. Accusing Jews and only Jews of having dual loyalty.

12. Blaming Israel for the problems of the world and exaggerating the influence of the Jewish state on world affairs.

13. Denying, minimizing, or trivializing the Holocaust as part of a campaign against Israel.

14. Discriminating against only Israel in its qualification for certain positions or statuses, such as on the Security Council, the International Court of Justice, and the International Red Cross.

15. Blaming the Jews or Israel, rather than the anti-Semites, for anti-Semitism or for increases in anti-Jewish attitudes.

16. Taking extreme pleasure from Israeli failures, imperfections, or troubles.

17. Falsely claiming that all legitimate criticism of Israeli policies is immediately and widely condemned by Jewish leaders as anti-Semitic, despite any evidence to support this accusation.

18. Denying that even core anti-Semitism—racial stereotypes, Nazi comparisons, desecration of synagogues, Holocaust denial—qualifies as anti-Semitic.

19. Seeking to delegitimate Israel precisely as it moves toward peace.

20. Circulating wild charges against Israel and Jews, such as that they were responsible for the September 11 attacks, the anthrax attacks, and the 2005 tsunami.


1. The criticism is directed at specific policies of Israel, rather than at the very legitimacy of the state.

2. The degree and level of criticism vary with changes in Israel’s policies.

3. The criticism is comparative and contextual.

4. The criticism is political, military, economic, and so forth, rather than ethnic or religious.

5. The criticism is similar to criticism being raised by mainstream Israeli dissidents.

6. The criticism is leveled by people who have a history of leveling comparable criticisms at other nations with comparable or worse records.

7. The criticism is designed to bring about positive changes in Israeli policies.

8. The criticism is part of a more general and comparative criticism of all other nations.

9. The criticism is based on objective facts rather than name calling or polemics.

10. The critic subjects his favorite nation to comparable criticism for comparable faults.

One of the anonymous commenters has asked me why I have not responded to Finkelstein's book. The answer is simple: the University of California Press has refused to send me a galley, though they have distributed it widely to reviewers and publicists.

Finally, there is the old canard that I support torture. I do not, as anyone actually reading my writing would know. For a full discussion of my views on how to prevent torture, see my article in Sanford Levinson's book, Torture: A Collection, published by Oxford University Press.