The University of California has produced some of the most blatant cases of campus antisemitism in recent months, with Jewish students singled out for their faith–often by anti-Israel activists. That prompted 57 rabbis and 107 members of the UC faculty to write to the administration Monday, the Los Angeles Times reports, to ask that it adopt the State Department definition of antisemitism, which includes demonizing Israel, delegitimizing Israel, or holding double standards for Israel.
Critics of Israel–led by radical left-wing Jews–have struck back, publishing an open letter signed by 250 academic activists that calls upon the State Department to revise its definition of antisemitism, alleging that it is used to quash criticism of Israel. Anti-Israel activists have lodged similar complaints through the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support organization, complaining that students active in Palestinian causes are being wrongly tarnished by accusations of antisemitism.
Historically, the term “antisemitism” was invented in Germany as a pseudo-scientific euphemism for “Judenhass,” hatred of Jews in the traditional religious sense. (It was not intended to include Arabs, who, like Jews, share a Semitic language.) There have also been some Jews opposed to the creation of Israel–usually radical leftists who oppose nationhood in general, or far-right religious groups who believe that only the coming of the Messiah can restore the true Jewish state.
Criticism of Israel is not necessarily antisemitic; after all, Israelis are their own country’s worse critics. But criticism of Israel alone suggests bias, and certain kinds of criticism–comparing Jews to Nazis, for instance–carry connotations of hatred. The problem at the University of California, and other local campuses, is not semantic, but actual discrimination against Jews. However, the question remains whether broad hostility to Israel has facilitated that more blatant prejudice.