There is a dangerous confluence between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, though the two concepts are not always identical. Anti-Zionism is often used as a euphemism to conceal hatred of Jews. Today, writer Howard Jacobson observed,
Israel has become the pretext [for anti-Semitism]...All the unsayable things, all the things they know they can't say about Jews in a post-Holocaust liberal society, they can say again now. Israel has desacralized the subject. It's a space in which everything is allowed again.
Criticizing Israel does not necessarily make someone anti-Semitic; the determining factor is the intent and language of the speaker:
- Is the speaker someone with a history of anti-Jewish attitudes? If so, the criticism is probably anti-Semitic.
- Critics who habitually single out Israel for condemnation while ignoring far worse actions by other countries (especially other Middle Eastern countries) are anti-Semitic.
- Likening Israel to Nazi Germany, or to traditional anti-Jewish stereotypical behavior is another sure sign of Jew-baiting.
- Attacks on the merits of Israel's existence rather than individual government policies are anti-Semitic.
Here are several additional ways to distinguish between people who are expressing legitimate crticism and anti-Semites who seek to delegimize Israel:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way when he was approached by a student who attacked Zionism,
When people criticize Zionists, King said,
they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism.
Ben Judah and Josh Glancy,
The Jewish Jane Austen, or England’s Jeremiah? Tablet, (February 25, 2015).
Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Socialism of Fools—The Left, the Jews and Israel,” Encounter, (December 1969), p. 24.