Let’s get this straight. There’s criticism of the policies of the government of Israel. Then there’s anti-Zionism, directed at the ideology behind the foundation of the State of Israel and its expansion. Thirdly, there’s anti-Judaism, critical of the Jewish religion. And fourthly, there’s anti-Semitism, or hostility to the Jews on grounds of their ‘Semitic’ race. These may possibly overlap, with anti-Zionism’s being a supposedly more respectable cover for anti-Semitism, for example, or anti-Semitic feeling in reality infusing all these positions; but this certainly doesn’t follow, and isn’t always true.
Likewise statements of historical fact, such as that Hitler supported the removal of Germany’s Jews to Palestine as an early solution to his ‘Jewish problem’ before he hit on the ‘Final’ one, or that Israel’s foundation was an essentially imperialist project at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs (whatever the extenuating circumstances), should not be taken to indicate ‘anti-Semitism’ on the part of those expressing them, although they may do. (‘Holocaust denial’, however, almost invariably does; although I suppose you could say that the deniers have simply made an honest mistake.)
I’d even go so far as to say that proposals to evacuate the Jews from Israel to the United States, or anywhere else, are similarly not intrinsically and essentially anti-Semitic, although of course they are anti-Zionist. You might believe that removal would be in these good people’s best interests. Other religious communities have flourished, as communities, even ‘nations’ in effect, in the USA.
In 2012 a film appeared, called And Europe will Be Stunned, featuring a fictional (I think) ‘Jewish Renaissance Movement’, whose aim is to return the Jews to their ‘home’: but not a home in Palestine. ‘It is,’ claims the supposed ‘Manifesto’ of the movement, ‘Poland that we long for, the land of our fathers and forefathers. In real life and in our dreams we continue to have Poland on our minds.’ Fictional this may be; but could not Eastern Europe be regarded as the most convincing ‘homeland’ of at any rate the Jews who originally came from there, rather than the land that was pledged to them by ‘God’ thousands of years before? (God has a lot to answer for in this context. Which is a good reason for disliking the Jewish religion; in my case in common with most other organised religions.) It was there that their modern culture was formed; there and thereabouts that they made their greatest contributions to world civilization; and there that a more enlightened and liberal surrounding population might allow them to live again. Unlikely, I grant; but Poland’s remaining Jewish population is actually recovering today. They could even be happier there, so long as they were no longer persecuted. The Middle East would undoubtedly be a happier place. So would every country threatened these days with violent Islamism (which isn’t an excuse for the latter). And – to return to the main question posed in this post – how could it be regarded as ‘anti-Semitism’ to want the Jews to come back and live with us?
That’s a logical – you might say ‘academic’ – take on this question. But of course it’s not a practical one. We might wish that the influence of Zionism within Judaism were less important, that the Israel colony had never been established, that it had behaved better when it was established – I’m thinking of the West Bank settlements here – despite the undoubted enmity and provocation of the Arab world, which of course have taken far more diabolical forms; that Hitler (and before him the Russian anti-Semites) had been stopped; that the Poles really would take the Jews back: and so on. But these developments are now a given. All we – the world – can do is to make the best of a bad job: defend Israel’s right to exist but try to dissuade her from what you might call ‘defensive excesses’; help her counter the Islamicist menace, but perhaps less provocatively: and see where that gets us. Personally I’d rather like the Israeli government to acknowledge the colonialist crime their forced occupation of Palestine originally constituted: in other words, to show some humility. That is, after all, what we Brits are expected to do with respect to our imperialism. Luckily there is a large minority in Israel and among its supporters abroad who are also thinking and feeling along these lines. Which is why it’s wrong to condemn Israelis, let alone ‘Jews’, indiscriminately.
This isn’t an anti-Semitic point of view. It’s largely shared, as I say, by liberal Jews. The trouble is that elements of it can be taken that way, by certain pro-Israelis and by – here in Britain – right-wing politicians who find it convenient to use the term ‘anti-Semitism’, which since the Holocaust has been just about the most serious charge you could lay against anyone, to smear their political rivals and enemies with. (Personally, I think this is pretty rich coming from Conservatives, in view of their own history! Surely it will rebound on them when someone unearths some of their tweets.) It’s for this reason that Labour leaders do need to be careful of what they say in public; even if what they’re saying may seem to be perfectly OK rationally and academically, and if a rational academic like me feels upset that one can no longer, in this climate, say reasonable things. I probably shouldn’t have said them here. So it’s lucky for me that the readership of this blog is so small.