How are pop-singer Michael Jackson and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad similar? Besides residence in the Middle East (Jackson left America in favor of living in Bahrain), both have been on the record lately making anti-Semitic comments.
In a privately-taped voice message, which aired mid-November on ABC's Good Morning America, Jackson labeled Jews as ‘leeches' and made accusations that they conspire against successful entertainers in order to take their money. Although Jackson's comments are congruent with the classic brand of vicious, demeaning anti-Semitic comments and conspiracy theories, they are also laughably comical. While any social or political commentary made by the "King of Pop" should be taken with a grain of salt, attention must be given to anti-Semitic comments made in the same vein by Ahmadinejad.
About a month ago, in an address to 4,000 students at a program titled, "The World Without Zionism," Ahmadinejad said that Israel must be "wiped off the map." The hard-line president said a new wave of Palestinian attacks will destroy the Jewish state and that any establishment of a Zionist regime is a direct move against the Islamic World.
The Iranian president's words are dangerous. His remarks are part of a new, systematically enforced form of anti-Semitic rhetoric that pervades itself in anti-Israel sentiments. It is trite to accuse the Jews of wanting to take over the world and drinking babies' blood; the new cool is to blame Israel for the world's problems.
So how do we distinguish benign criticisms of Israel from pernicious anti-Semitism of the Ahmadinejad variety? There are simple ways to discern the legitimate criticism against Israel from outright anti-Semitism that uses politics as a smoke-screen. Natan Sharansky – former Soviet dissident and Israeli parliament member – created a three-part litmus test to identify when legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line to anti-Semitism. In what he calls the "3D Test," Sharansky offers three types of questions to ask in order to classify those attempting to denigrate Jews. The first questions that should be asked are, "Is the Jewish state being demonized for its action?" and "Are the problems of the world or the Middle East being blamed on Israel?" Secondly, "Is there a double standard when criticizing Israel in reaction to other countries?" and "Are Israeli faults exaggerated and far worse human right violations in other places ignored?" Finally, "Is there an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state?" and "Are the Jewish people alone in not having the right of sovereignty?"
Another method of deciphering anti-Semitism from criticism of Israel is through the interpretation made by the US government's 2005 report of Global Anti-Semitism: "An important issue is the distinction between legitimate criticism of policies and practices of the State of Israel, and commentary that assumes an anti-Semitic character. The demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue."
The comments made by the Iranian president are a clear attempt to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. Claiming that Israel is part of a world oppressor against the Islamic world and that Israel, alone, should be wiped off the map makes his statement blatantly anti-Semitic.
It should be noted that Iran is not the only country in the Middle East that exudes this new form of anti-Semitism. Many Middle East countries, although not as evidently seen by the western world as Iran, pervade their anti-Semitic rhetoric in their media. Since 2002, countries such as Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have all exhibited flagrantly anti-Semitic political cartoons within Arab media publications. The most evident offender is Egypt, who inculcates the comparison between Israel and Nazi-Germany. Two cartoons stand out: the first depicts a Jewish Hitler with Palestinian blood on his hands and the other grossly shows Ariel Sharon locking lips and engaging in some deep tounge action with Hitler. The Palestinian Authority provides more incidents of blatant anti-Semitism directed towards Israel, including hateful remarks and political cartoons in the Palestinian Authorities official daily newspaper "Al-Hayat al-Jadida." Translated references to the classic anti-Semitic piece of literature "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" have been published in Palestinian school textbooks and on the nation's official website. Remarks made by the anti-defamation league led to the removal of the Internet references, but the intention to defame Israel is undeniable.
The rise of anti-Semitism masked as geopolitics is not limited to extreme, militant Islamic factions. It has also permeated college campuses across the United States. The prime example is at Columbia University, where students recently coalesced to present allegations of in-class bias and academic intimidation, singling out pro-Israel students for their personal political beliefs. They collaborated their stories into a documentary: Columbia Unbecoming,
The most notorious incidents concern the Professor Joseph Massad who reportedly screamed at a student "I will not have you deny Israel atrocities in my class!" and asked another student, an Israeli, "How many Palestinians have you killed?" Since 2004, there have been other instances of anti-Israel campus activism that classify as anti-Semitism at Stanford University, Duke University, University of California at Irvine, and UCLA.
Establishing some sort of political speech code would certainly go against the quintessentially libertarian principle of free-speech. Nevertheless, we should be aware of anti-Semitic rhetoric disguised as political discourse.
Perhaps the best antidote is to expose all anti-Semitic and other racist statements made by academic and political leaders. Campus watchdog organizations – such as Students for Academic Freedom and the Middle East Forum's Campus Watch - are already available to field and make public complaints of intimidation and harassment in the classroom. Armed with the knowledge of what classifies true anti-Semitism, students can pull anti-Semitism out from under its smoke-shield of geopolitical rhetoric.
Josh is a sophomore in the College and a member of Penn's Middle East Forum club. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.