The Boundaries of Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism nowadays is more subtle than spray-painting swastikas and other acts of vandalism. Hundreds of European scholars are circulating a petition calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions; other academics want the EU to deny grants to Israeli universities and scientific institutions. One British academic fired an Israeli colleague because she loathes the state of Israel. So, what is new about today's anti-Semitism, asks George Fletcher?

Civilized people are loath to admit that they are racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic. But they disagree about when these taboos are violated. If they think that blacks make better athletes or that women make better caretakers, they deny that this is bias. But what about those who believe that "rich Jews" control, say, the media? Are they merely mistaken, or is that "mistake" a moral vice?

Today, drawing the boundaries of anti-Semitism is difficult, because much of the world disapproves of Israel's military crackdown in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip. Whether criticism of Israeli policies is right or wrong, pundits and politicians who speak out on the issue should not be lumped together with those who say that Hitler should have finished the job.

Yet many Americans think that much of Europe's critique of Israeli policies expresses a zeal that cannot be explained simply by Europeans' renunciation of their own colonial past and thus their sensitivity to an Israeli occupation that looks like annexation. As one commentator put it, Europeans feel a collective guilt about the Holocaust that makes them eager to have Israel stamped as an aggressor contemptuous of Palestinian humanity. The Germans, as one quip puts it, will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.