Some people like to argue that Jews are overly sensitive about criticisms of Israel, accusing them of being anti-Semitic when they’re only criticizing Israeli policy not Judaism or the Jewish people.
First, let me point out that Israelis themselves are often critical of government policies. So, the notion that one can’t criticize Israeli policy doesn’t hold water. As a modern, liberal democracy, criticism of Israeli government policy is par for the course.
Second, there’s an easy way to distinguish between criticism that is anti-Semitic and criticism that is not. Natan Sharansky lays it out very clearly in his 2004 book, The Case for Democracy. He calls it his 3D test.
The first test is whether the criticism is a form of demonization. Traditional anti-Semitism included demonization by such claims as Jews killing gentile children and drinking their blood or Jews controlling the world money supply. An example of modern demonization is comparing Israel to Nazi Germany or labeling Palestinian refugee camps as the equivalent of Auschwitz. This criticism displays a lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and about modern Israel. It is pure anti-Semitism.
Double standard is Sharansky’s second test. In the past Jews were judged differently from other people. Laws were passed targeting Jews and behavior that was acceptable to local people was disparaged in Jews. Today, Israel is singled out for supposed violations of human rights by organizations like the UN Human Rights Council or Amnesty International in terms that are not applied to other nations. An example of a double standard that Sharansky cites is the denial of admission to the International Red Cross of Israel’s ambulance service organization Magen David Adom.
The third test to determine whether something is anti-Semitism is delegitimization. Jews and Judaism were singled out in the past, with people denying their legitimacy. Today, people who support the Boycott movement deny Israel’s legitimacy or right to exist. This goes beyond criticism of a specific policy and thus is anti-Semitic pure and simple.
Like all modern, liberal democracies, Israel’s policies are open to debate internally and externally, but when the focus of the criticism veers into one of the 3Ds, then it’s no longer legitimate and should be called what it is––anti-Semitic.