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The Definition of Anti-Semitism


Jack Fischel, Jewish Book Council

December 10, 2015
 

Founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law Kenneth Marcus offers an indispensable book about the manner in which anti-Semitism has evolved from the ancient world to the present, from religious anti-Judaism to secular anti-Semitism. The Definition of Anti-Semitism describes many instance of anti-Semitism that have occurred in recent years and examines why they constitute anti-Jewish hatred as the meaning of the term has evolved with the times.

Anti-semitism since the founding of Israel has also been complicated by the question as to whether criticism of the Jewish state constitutes anti-Semitism, and under what circumstances is it acceptable. One example, Marcus discusses in detail, is the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanction movement (BDS). He examines whether its anti-Israel efforts are simply an opposition to Israel’s policy in the West Bank and its treatment of the Palestinians, which would not qualify it as anti-Semitic protest, or whether there is an anti-Semitic agenda which under both the definition used by the European Union and the United States State Department would qualify as something more than an “honest” disagreement with the policies of the Jewish state.

The most instructive sections of Marcus’ book deal with how the international community (including the States) defines anti-Semitism towards Israel. The template for the European Union’s Monitoring Centre (EUMC), as well as the U.S. State Department, owes much to Natan Sharansky’s Influential 2004 article in the Jerusalem Post articulating the “3-D test’ for distinguishing between anti-Semitism and mere criticism of Israel. Sharansky argued that hostility toward Israel may be considered anti-Semitic when it deploys “demonization,” that is attributing to Israel the medieval Christian European belief that the Jews harbor demonic or evil powers , a supernatural canard that emerged in the Arab world following the 1967 war. Sharansky’s second “D” is the “double standards,” whereby Sharansky charged that Israel is criticized by more stringent standards than any other country. For example, Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of notorious abusers such as China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are ignored. The third “D” is “delegitimization.” Sharansky refers to efforts to deny Israel the legitimacy given to other states. As Sharansky wrote, “In the past anti-Semites tried to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish religion, the Jewish people, or both. Today, they are trying to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state presenting it, among other things, as the last vestige of colonialism.”

There is much more to Marcus’ book which a short review does not give it due justice. This is a thoughtful book as well as an exemplary work of research which should be required reading for everyone concerned with the growing anti-Semitic attacks against Israel and Jews throughout the world.

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Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
 
 
 
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Dawinder S. Sidhu
Dawinder "Dave" S. Sidhu is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico and has held positions at Oxford University Faculty of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard University's Pluralism Project, the University of Baltimore School of Law, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
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