When Criticizing Israel Wasn’t Anti-Semitic

Just two decades ago the difference between anti-semitism and criticism of Israel was clear enough for even a U.S. secretary of state to say so, writes Joe Lauria.

Sept. 20, 2001: President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in the White House. (U.S. National Archives)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

At a conference in Berlin about anti-semitism in 2004, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the following: “It is not antisemitic to criticize the policies of the state of Israel.” 

Nearly 20 years later, on Dec. 5, 2023 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution by 311 to 14 votes equating criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. 

The resolution says: “Resolved, That the House of Representatives … clearly and firmly states that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”

The Republican-sponsored measure was backed by every Republican in the House except one, as well as by 95 Democrats. But 92 Democrats voted “Present.” 

They were urged to do so in a floor speech by Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, who represents a Brooklyn district with many anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews.  The New York Times reported:

“Democrats questioning the resolution called such displays of anti-Jewish sentiment unacceptable, but said equating all anti-Zionism to antisemitism went too far.

‘Let me be unequivocally clear: most anti-Zionism, particularly in this moment, has a real antisemitism problem,’ Mr. Nadler said. ‘But we cannot fairly say that one equals the other.’”

The charge of “anti-semitism”, long liberally thrown around to shield Israel from criticism, has reached new depths of absurdity. Since Oct. 7, virtually anyone daring to criticize Israel now is called a Hamas supporter and a terrorist, as the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. dared call the secretary general. 

Former Israeli government minister Shulamit Aloni was asked by Amy Goodman in a 2002 interview: “Often when there is dissent expressed in the United States against policies of the Israeli government, people here are called antisemitic. What is your response to that as an Israeli Jew?”

She replied “Well, it’s a trick, we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticizing Israel, then we bring up the Holocaust. When in this country [the US] people are criticizing Israel, then they are antisemitic.” 

There is an “Israel, my country right or wrong” attitude and “they’re not ready to hear criticism,” she said. Antisemitism, the Holocaust and “the suffering of the Jewish people” are exploited to “justify everything we do to the Palestinians,” Aloni said.

It had remained clear, even to an establishment figure like Powell in 2004, that it mattered whether Israel was right or wrong and that anti-zionism should not be conflated with anti-semitism.   

That now seems like aeons ago. 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette, the London Daily Mail and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He is the author of two books, A Political Odyssey, with Sen. Mike Gravel, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg; and How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, foreword by Julian Assange. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe

11 comments for “When Criticizing Israel Wasn’t Anti-Semitic

  1. Em
    March 24, 2024 at 08:01

    Issue: Post 1948, following the European holocaust of its Jewish populace, Israel had never been seriously challenged nor, more especially criticized, for its now glaring, putting it mildly, back then emerging bigotry against the non Jewish Arab populations of Palestine!

    After Oct. 7th 2023, and ongoing since, without cease, the global ‘Spell’ against doing so, has finally been broken!
    In fact, there never was any substantial criticism of the substance of Israel itself.

    If truth be told, Criticizing Israel was NEVER regarded as Anti-Semitic, for not too many countries were ever truly sovereignly independent to do so, if they had wished to do so.
    Besides, the term anti-Semite is a misnomer, long ago co-opted and weaponized as cudgel to be used against any and all criticisms!

    The parallels are striking: How many countries of the so-called civilized West ever criticized the white European colonists for institutionalizing Apartheid in South Africa in 1948.
    Was there ever even a peep about them being anti Europeans?
    Of course not!
    Just as with Israel today, the issue, as seen by the vast majority of the global populace, is NOT hatred of those who profess the Jewish religious faith, but of those ultra zealous hypocrite Zionist bigots running, and carrying through the barbarities of its government against the Palestinian Nation-(long overdue)-in-waiting!

    Hope the intent in this lay comment is cogent and lucid enough to be readable.

  2. incontinent reader
    March 23, 2024 at 12:53

    You must disseminate this article to everyone in Congress- and keep repeating it here and elsewhere, to encourage people to stop self-censoring and instead shed light by openly discussing those Zionist policies in violation of international law that have resulted in the oppression, apartheid, ethnic cleansing- and now genocide, of the Palestinian people (a genocide openly advocated, not only by members of the Israeli cabinet and Knesset, but by senior Israeli religious leaders- and indeed by the great majority of the Israeli public).
    It is the shedding of light that can neutralize the “Zionism Right or Wrong” pretense at legitimacy.

    By the way, these methods of censorship have also led in some instances to the criminalization of speech by the justice system itself- as applied to ‘the dissemination of disinformation’.

    For some time we have been aware of the various ways the Administration has pressured the social media companies to censor or block dissent- e.g., as documented by Matt Taibbi. Yet we have heard little or nothing of the current Administration’s abuse of the justice system itself by the DOJ and FBI- for example, in efforts to destroy the Uhuru movement and imprison its leaders- and for merely stating the same narrative about Russia and Ukraine which Scott Ritter, Ray McGovern, Alistair Crooke, Larry Johnson, Judge Napolitano, and many others have been using to educate the public.

    However, the Government’s intention is much more insidious. It is to destroy a Black movement that has in positive ways empowered some of its poor neighborhoods- e.g., by creating or establishing job training and entrepreneurship programs, local Black businesses, community centers, day care programs, recreational opportunities, etc. – a movement meaningful in the way ‘Black Lives Matters’ with its empty and manipulative rhetoric is not.

    While Black and indigenous communities like the ones the Uhuru movement represents, have been treated differently than migrant communities- i.e. through forced dependence – yet what the Uhuru movement has been subjected to could also be experienced by any group or program empowering the poor and dispossessed whose prosperity, success and independence might threaten those in power.

    I urge your readers to see the recent interview by Tucker Carlson, Episode 83 on X.

    It is astounding (or maybe not) that this Administration’s criminalization policy is being administered by a former Federal Appeals Court judge who was nominated by Barack Obama for the Supreme Court – namely, the corrupt and feckless AG Merrick Garland.

    So much for the ‘rules based order’ and what our country has become. Yet the Uhuru movement and their fight is also an example to all of us to fight for our individual and collective rights, and to get in the trenches and design and implement positive programs to empower all of us for a more just and prosperous economic, social and political life.

    • Em
      March 23, 2024 at 14:43

      Unable to control myself in posing the following question:
      Is Kenyan Jurist, Pan African Speaker, Professor PLO Lumumba considered to be a Pan African Socialist?

    • Rafael
      March 24, 2024 at 12:42

      Hear, hear!

  3. Frank Lambert
    March 23, 2024 at 11:28

    I agree with Drew and Jonny and add to the list of honest and courageous Jews listed above, Phyllis Bennis, a knowledgeable, scholarly Jewish woman and intellectual, of what has been happening is Israel/Palestine for decades who has eloquently spoken out against the massacre of Palestinian children, women, men, and babies, in the planned extermination or what should be called, the Palestinian Holocaust, with a capital “H,” instead of the word genocide, which is now being used.

    Zionism is a pathological illness, just as Nazism was during the Third Reich. Both groups were and are racists and thought they were better than everyone else.Think of members of the White Rose of college students, convicted in a kangaroo Nazi court for publishing and distributing pamphlets about atrocities carried out by the Waffen S S in Eastern Europe which they witnessed, while being deployed there during summer break. Would they be called “self-hating Germans” for telling the truth?

    But, when you control a nation’s money supply, a portion of the major media outlets and will spend money lavishly on the Repulsive and DemoRAT party politicians to pass laws and forever give at least 3.4 billion dollars of my tax dollars and yours, to the Israeli military each year, they can control the narrative and terminology, as they’ve mastered the art of propaganda.

    • Em
      March 24, 2024 at 09:15

      To stay abreast of the times, one has to continually update one’s vocabulary!
      “Death, and dying” no longer suffice.
      Being human, inquisitiveness rules.
      The devil is always in the details.
      Being that we claim to be critically thinking, rational human beings, yet we are controlled by a binary brain, one more conscious than the other.
      Sometimes we act deviously, sometimes we are straightforward.
      The details provide nuance; spice on other occasions.
      Homicide, premeditated or thoughtless.
      There is always a progression. It’s just in man’s nature.
      Genocide is not sufficient for comprehension.
      Now we’re on Holocaust!
      Human extinction? No worries there will no longer be inquisitive minds!

  4. Bosstonian
    March 22, 2024 at 14:33

    It might be useful to remember the teaching of St. Augustine, who spoke this simple truth: you can love the sinner but hate the sin. Slandering honest Americans as racist haters for refusing to approve the criminal actions of a foreign power is intolerable. So is shamelessly invoking the terrible sufferings of European Jews eighty years ago, in order to excuse unforgivable acts of state terrorism in the present.

  5. Drew Hunkins
    March 22, 2024 at 13:29

    ‘Let me be unequivocally clear: most anti-Zionism, particularly in this moment, has a real antisemitism problem,’ Mr. Nadler said.

    Give it a rest. Yeah, this is what we should all be so worried and concerned about: a supposed rising anti-Semitism. What a joke. This at a time when these arrogant and creepy Zio supremacists have killed over 30,000 Palestinians over the past 5 mos. (Nader thinks the number of Palestinians murdered by God’s Chosen People is close to 200,000.)

    But let’s just worry our little heads about a phantom anti-Semitism.

  6. JonnyJames
    March 22, 2024 at 13:20

    Exactly, it’s a cynical trick that works very well, at least until now. If the critic of Israel is Jewish, they are called “self-hating Jews” (or worse). Norm Finkelstein, Max Blumenthal, Medea Benjamin, Dennis Bernstein, and many other anti-Zionist Jews have been viciously smeared with name-calling and insults.

    In this way, we can all be dismissed as “self-hating” Americans because we don’t agree with US policy. Of course this is an anti-intellectual and childish smear to distract and hijack the conversation.

    It is pathetic that the Zionist crowd have only name-callling to rely on, they have no real argument and they know it. In a formal debate, one is immediately disqualified if insults and ad hominem attacks are used.

    The reality is that the government of Israel is highly anti-Semitic: they equate murder, genocide, torture etc. with ALL Jews. This claim is ridiculous on its face and should be refuted at every opportunity. Why does Israel equate genocide with Judaism?

    The state of Israel uses ethno-religious identity as a pathetic excuse to commit atrocities. The policies of Israel have understandably created millions of enemies of Israel. Some mistakenly blame all Jews for the atrocities committed by Israel. Israel (and the Lobby) is clearly the biggest anti-Jewish organization in the world. Even the millions of Chritso-facsicts who support Israel think that the Jews will follow Jesus and the rest will die when the end times come. (or some such nonsense). Supporters of Israel are anti-Jewish.

    • Eddie S
      March 22, 2024 at 23:21

      “… we can all be dismissed as “self-hating” Americans because we don’t agree with US policy. Of course this is an anti-intellectual and childish smear to distract and hijack the conversation…” Exactly right! I may disagree strongly with some of the US policies, but that doesn’t mean I love nor hate the USA (it’s tough to define what ‘country’ means in this context anyway. Does it mean all 300+ million citizens? All the vast land acreage? Certain groups or certain policies? It gets hazy pretty quickly..).

    • DW Bartoo
      March 24, 2024 at 12:28

      In the U$, Jonny James, when the elites wish to end discussion or debate, usually when they want to start a war, the following statement is made, “You are either with us or against us.”

      This is the classic expression of (Argumentum) ad baculum, resorting to threat to end discussion or debate. It is a two-fold threat, first, “shut up!” and second, “if you do not shut up, then you will be treated like the enemy.”

      Perhaps you have noticed that U$ institutions of Higher Learning increasingly shy away from substantive debate as, apparently, any such discussion might cause some people to feel “unsafe”.

      While many may feel sorry for the three university presidents treated roughly by Congress, consider that none of the three appeared capable of saying directly and honestly to Congress, that Congress was fully complicit in supporting genocide, which was factually true then, just as it is true now.

      It is heartening to note how many, in the U$, are willing to risk being called anti-Semitic by calling out Israel for its ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity, yet it remains the U$ which makes those crimes possible.

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