Does Anti-Israel Mean Anti-Semitic? An Answer From Liberal Logic

With the current violence in Israel continuing without a clear end in sight, Israel is once again receiving support and criticism for its policies. One common refrain found among Israel’s supporters is that the inordinate amount of criticism levied against Israel is actually a form of anti-Semitism. When “anti-Israel” protesters reportedly shout “Kill the Jews” while looting Jewish businesses, it is easy to reach this conclusion. But aside from these violent outbreaks, is there any validity to the argument that the more civil rhetorical attacks against Israel are rooted in anti-Semitism? In her Remarks Before 2010 Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal offers criteria for distinction:

Our State Department uses Natan Sharansky’s framework for identifying when someone or a government crosses the line – when Israel is demonized, when Israel is held to different standards than the rest of the countries, and when Israel is delegitimized. These cases are not disagreements with a policy of Israel, this is anti-Semitism.[Emphasis added]

Writing for the New York Times in 2002, Thomas Friedman offered a similar contrast:

Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.

There are no doubt other opinions and qualifications which answer this question, but I believe that for the Liberal Left – whose members tend to be some of Israel’s most vocal and vitriolic critics – the definitions cited above are justifiable based on how it views discrimination in other contexts, particularly regarding the US criminal justice system.

Although there may be more whites incarcerated in US prisons than minorities, a 2010 report compiled by the Center for Health and Justice (PDF), found that compared to their relative populations, the incarceration rates for minorities is significantly disproportionate.

Minority populations in the United States are incarcerated at rates much higher than their white counterparts. In 2009, the incarceration rate (number per 100,000 population) among African-American males was almost 7 times higher than that among white males (4,749 African-American v. 708 white), and the rate among Hispanic males was more than 2.5 times higher (1,822 Hispanic) than that among white males. The rate among African-American females was more than 3.5 times the rate of white females (333 African-American v. 91 white), and the rate for Hispanic females was 1.5 times higher (142 Hispanic) than that among white females.

The superficial explanation for these statistics is that minorities simply commit more crimes, or at least crimes which warrant longer sentences. 1 However, several studies have shown that independent of guilt, minorities are treated more harshly than whites. In 1991, New York Chief Judge Sol Wachtler convened a panel to examine racism in the New York court system.

In general, the panel reasoned that since the court system is a crowded, rough and sometimes humiliating place for those caught up in it, and since a disproportionate number of those accused of crimes are black and Hispanic, the system must be regarded as racist.

Five years later, not much had changed:

A study by the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services has arrived at provisional but nonetheless alarming conclusions about discrimination in the courts. The study finds that members of minority groups are substantially more likely than whites to be jailed — even when they commit the same crimes and have similar criminal histories. The study warrants close examination by criminal justice officials and, ideally, a more detailed sequel.

A 2008 report published by Human Rights Watch reached similar conclusions, leading Professor Bill Quigly to explicitly call this phenomenon “racist”:

The US has seen a surge in arrests and putting people in jail over the last four decades. Most of the reason is the war on drugs. Yet whites and blacks engage in drug offenses, possession and sales, at roughly comparable rates – according to a report on race and drug enforcement published by Human Rights Watch in May 2008. While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses – according to 2009 Congressional testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project.

My point in citing these examples is less about the US criminal justice system than how the the social data is interpreted. The claim is not necessarily that innocent minorities are wrongly imprisoned (though this undoubtedly happens), or that police or judges exceed their legal authority (which also happens and would then be subject to appeal). Rather, when the rules of justice are applied differently to different people such that the outcomes are consistently biased against minorities, some may be inclined to view the US criminal justice system as being racist.

For those who accept this characterization, I suggest that the same logic may be applied to critics of Israel. Even assuming that all allegations against Israel are factually true, are the same rules of ethics and justice being applied equally across the board? If one believes that disproportionate sentencing for minorities – or indeed, any policy which adversely affects a specific race or ethnicity – is indicative of racism, then the disproportionate criticism of the singular Jewish state, no matter how valid the critique, would be no less indicative of anti-Semitism.


  1. In February 2013, Texas judge Judith Jones reportedly said, “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime.” Misconduct complaints were subsequently filed challenging her ability to rule without bias.
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