American leaders, from President Joe Biden and ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield to members of Congress, are speaking out against the rising tide of reported incidents of antisemitic rhetoric, especially on social media. Lawmakers in several American states, such as in Georgia just this week, have passed or are considering laws that define antisemitism, making it easier for prosecutors to target individuals engaged in anti-Jewish hate. However, they can also be used to silence legitimate criticism of the Israeli government’s policies.
A good example is in Congress, where members like Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider are leading the charge, fueled by pro-Israel campaign donations. Schneider has defended Muslims, such as by co-sponsoring a bill aimed at tackling Islamophobia, but he has also spoken out against criticism of Israel by pro-Palestinian groups and activists. Last month, Schneider introduced House Resolution 92, which declares that Israel is “America’s legitimate and democratic ally,” while condemning antisemitism, “including antisemitism masquerading as anti-Israel sentiment.” Such moves might be legitimate in confronting genuine antisemitism, which is a hate-driven sickness, if in fact Schneider and many pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian groups did not include legitimate criticisms of Israel in their condemnations of antisemitism.
Schneider last month demanded, for example – in a congressional letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that he co-signed along with 17 other members of Congress – the firing of Francesca Albanese as the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. What did Albanese do to deserve this censure? She “repeatedly refused to condemn terrorist attacks against Israelis while continuing her condemnations of Israel.” The letter accused Albanese of “strong bias against Israel” and stated that there is “deep-seated” antisemitism at the UN. The recent surge in denunciations of alleged antisemitism parallels the rise in pro-Israel political action committee money being donated to elected American officials. The pro-Israel lobby has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of members of Congress, who then go on to suppress any voices that call out Israel’s atrocities. Schneider, for example, received $19,460 from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in the last campaign cycle, making it his fourth-largest donor.
Their efforts to stamp out antisemitism might be genuine if only they spoke out as ferociously against the rising hatred espoused by Israeli leaders, such as Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. He recently urged Israel to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara after it was attacked by Jewish settlers. When word got out that the Biden administration was considering barring Smotrich from entering the US, where he is scheduled to address a rabid anti-Arab audience, he issued a clarification that his remarks were “an emotional slip of the tongue.” But it was far from a simple slip of the tongue.
However, Rep. Schneider and his colleagues did not release a statement or introduce a resolution denouncing Smotrich’s hateful, racist rhetoric. Smotrich constantly defends Israeli violence against Palestinians, but Schneider is silent when Palestinians and their supporters are falsely accused of antisemitism because they denounce Israeli violence. By conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish hate – and by tying it into a political blindness toward Israel’s atrocities against non-Jewish Palestinian civilians – Schneider and his ilk are inadvertently diluting the significance of the term “antisemitism.”
Antisemitism is about pernicious hatred directed against people who are of the Jewish religion. But it has been devalued and weaponized by people like Schneider as a means to defend Israel, while they also remain silent in the face of true incidents of hatred against others. Many pro-Israel politicians in America show that they tolerate hatred by not addressing it when it is directed against Palestinians. They only vocalize their concerns when Israeli government policies evoke criticism of that country.
Hate is hate. Everyone should speak out against all hatred, regardless of the victim’s nationality, religion or culture. Clearly, however, some of those who campaign to raise awareness of antisemitism have a sinister motive and aim to undermine efforts to stop hatred against Palestinians or anyone who criticizes Israel. Instead of curtailing antisemitism, the politicization of this term blurs its meaning and creates an environment in which actual antisemites can find cover for their hate.