VIEWPOINT: Subtle Anti-Semitism

This is a republication of an original article written by Tanner Larkin, a freshman at the Georgetown University, in the Hoya on Friday, March 24, 2017.

Last October, a swastika was scratched into the wall of a Georgetown University Medical Center bathroom. Laudably, administrators and others quickly condemned this blatant expression of bigotry.

However, a less explicit form of anti-Semitism has established a toehold on our campus. It manifests itself in the actions of two student groups: Students for Justice in Palestine and GU Forming a Radically Ethical Endowment.

Citing Israeli “state violence,” SJP and GU FREE advocate for an anti-Israel tactic called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. They insist they are not anti-Semitic, and that such an allegation is merely a mechanism to stifle free speech. However, GU FREE and SJP’s anti-Israel campaign is marred by genuine, blatant anti-Semitism.

Israeli policies, like those of all countries, deserve scrutiny. However, there is a tendency for excoriations of Israel to verge into anti-Semitism. To distinguish between legitimate and anti-Semitic criticism of Israel, we can apply a test developed by human rights activist Natan Sharansky.

Sharansky’s “3D Test,” which has been adopted by the U.S. State Department, states that criticism is anti-Semitic when it targets Israel with delegitimization, demonization or double standards. The test’s validity is grounded in the idea that when Israel’s right to exist is denied, when its actions are vilified or when its behavior is subjected to unique and impossibly high standards, Israel is being ostracized not for what it does, but for what it is: a Jewish state.

Delegitimization of Israel is the beating heart of anti-Israel activity at Georgetown. Israel is not simply flawed, the thinking goes, but inherently illegitimate. This can be seen in some of the claims promoted on SJP’s “Apartheid Wall” — that Zionism, the ideology that there should be a Jewish state in the Jewish homeland, is “racism,” that Israel exists on “stolen Palestinian land” and that the Israeli Defense Forces should be “abolished.” This form of delegitimization even extends to students; both the SJP and GU FREE have a policy that bars contact with the Georgetown Israel Alliance, comparing dialogue with Israel to dialogue with slaveowners.

Even more alarmingly, a trope at SJP events is to delegitimize Israel by delegitimizing Jewish peoplehood itself. This was made painfully clear at a March 13 SJP event titled “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.” The speaker, Osama Abu Irshaid, insisted that Jews are “an invented people” without ancestral connection to the Biblical ancient Israelites. More than just flying in the face of genetic, linguistic and historical evidence, this anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, which was reiterated by three speakers at an SJP event March 15, serves to undermine Israel’s right to exist. Indeed, Abu Irshaid said that pro-Palestinian activists must help dismantle “this enterprise called Israel.”

Demonization of Israel is also integral to GU FREE and SJP. Both routinely defame and misrepresent Israeli actions, but they sink to new lows when members accuse Israel of “genocide.” There are ulterior motives to this easily falsifiable claim.

First, this smear seeks to undermine the Israeli narrative by falsely associating Israel and Nazi Germany. Israel was founded largely as a Jewish refuge, and spurious accusations of genocide or ethnic cleansing cheapen both the genocide of European Jews in the 1940s and the flight of Middle Eastern Jews in the ’50s and ’60s.

Second, this claim attempts to justify GU FREE’s flagrant double standard. For example, GU FREE advocates divesting from Israel, but not from Qatar, which is home to both a Georgetown campus and hundreds of thousands of severely and systematically abused and exploited migrant laborers.

GU FREE’s campaign is anti-Semitic in effect, but not necessarily in intent: These groups’ messages are frequently hateful, but I am confident that most members are not. Yet racism ought to be unacceptable on our campus whatever the motivation.

Moreover, anti-Semitism related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more than just a continuation of traditional prejudices against Jews. It also indicates a broader failure to understand the Israeli perspective of a nuanced, complicated issue. If progress toward peace is to be made, both sides must learn to acknowledge each other’s point of view.

About the Author

Tanner Larkin is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.