Fuck Antisemitism. But let’s be clear, criticism of Israel is not Antisemitic.

Frank Zappa

Over the past week, I watched the anti-racist and environmentalist activist Dimitri Lascaris attacked by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), as well as several Canadian party leaders. This was because Lascaris criticized Israel and some supporters who wished to “bring in the death penalty”, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “the first one to go … and [Minister Maryam] Monsef and [MP] Iqra Khalid and [Minister] Ahmed Hussen and [MP] Omar Alghabra … and [NDP Leader Jagmeet] Singh, Singh, let’s make him sing, you know, as he walks toward the guillotine!”

The accusations of antisemitism are disingenuous and were easily debunked by journalist Yves Engler in a piece on Mondoweiss. I have watched Lascaris’ work for years and know him personally. Dimitri is not an antisemite. Period.

However, the rush to label Lascaris as antisemitic and the complicity of several prominent politicians is a troubling example of a common tactic in which any criticism of Israel is labeled as antisemitism. In a 2012 Op/Ed, Israeli writer Benjamin Kerstein summed it up in his headline: “Yes, all criticism of Israel is antisemitic!” This playbook has been run predictably for years, including against me when I was shot while delivering medical aid to peaceful protesters who were themselves being shot in the hundreds.

Many of us who are involved in social justice are confused by antisemitism and intimidated by threats of being labeled as antisemites. There are many problems with this, but as antiracists, one of the most notable is that real antisemitism is harder to identify and confront when many have become desensitized to the label. As committed human rights proponents, we must work hard to understand antisemitism from a human rights lens. Much has been written on this topic, but I would like to quote at length from the excellent document Understanding Antisemitism: An offering to our movement by Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) (Skhoyakh to Treyf Podcast for this):

Jewish history is complex and the contemporary relationship of many Jews to power and whiteness can be confusing, but the premise of this paper is simple: Antisemitism is real. It is antithetical to collective liberation; it hurts Jews and it also undermines, weakens and derails all of our movements for social justice.

In recent decades, the political Jewish right and its Christian allies (particularly Christian Zionists) have consistently spoken loudly against what they describe as antisemitism … [T]hey have distended the meaning of the term to include any critique of Israel or Israeli government policy (in some cases labeling such criticism “the new antisemitism”).
While this is intended to suppress and delegitimize calls for justice in Palestine, it also spills over into other areas of social justice work. Individual activists, whole organizations and even entire movements have been tarred as antisemitic for the entirely legitimate act of criticizing Israeli government policy or the political ideology of Zionism.

Sound familiar? This is exactly what is being done to Lascaris, as well as entire groups that promote human rights, such as Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) and others. To again quote Understanding Antisemitism:

The political right in the United States and Israel often trades on this fear and uses false or inflated charges of antisemitism to delegitimize pro-Palestinian activism and undermine attempts to hold Israel accountable for its actions.

The problem with the careless politicized accusations of antisemitism like CIJA’s is that they undermine what we all know: Antisemitism is real and it hurts us all.

I want to close with a challenge to CIJA: Debate me publicly on the question “Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?” I will donate $10,000 to a charity we both agree on. I suggest the Canadian Cancer Society in tribute to a dear friend.