Against The Grain: '"Zionist" has now become an insult, an epithet for evil'

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The Independent Online

David Hirsh is lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He argues that anti-Semitic ways of thinking are becoming acceptable in Academe and public life, and that this encourages rising levels of violence on the street

"There are many spheres in Britain in which it has become common sense that Israel is a unique and radical evil in the world. 'Zionist' has now become an insult, an epithet for evil.

These shared assumptions about Israel are fertile ground for the emergence of an anti-Semitic movement. Much of the far right is now adopting the language of the anti-Zionist left. And you have people being accepted in the Palestine solidarity movement, such as Gilad Atzmon, who denies being anti-Semitic but says he is "an anti-Zionist".

"Contemporary anti-Zionism emerged after the 1967 war, but there's now a clear, accelerated process of mainstreaming going on. It's even big in the Liberal Democrats. What does Baroness Tonge mean when she says that the 'pro-Israel lobby has got its grips on the Western world, its financial grips'?

"The Association of University Teachers boycott showed how such discourse can lead to exclusion of Israelis from campuses and conferences. They say, 'Israelis not Jews', but we have to look at how that operates in reality. Some who campaign for a boycott of Israeli thinkers, artists, scientists argue for a McCarthy-esque test, by which Israelis may be allowed to be part of the global community if they denounce 'Zionism' or its 'apartheid policies'. Boycotts of Israelis wouldn't help the peace process in the Middle East, and would provide the basis for anti-Semitism here.

"There's an overenthusiasm about anti-Zionism. British and American operations in Falluja cared less about civilian casualties than Israeli operations in Gaza. Israel is far from the most serious human-rights abuser on the planet, but how to explain this focus on the uniqueness of Israeli evil? People rightly get upset about Palestinian children dying in the conflict, but it's an easy slippage from outrage at particular incidents to a notion that 'Israel is a child-killing state'; from politics and protest to blood libel and demonisation. And then Israel gets compared to the Nazis: it makes no sense, but there have been placards of the Star of David and swastikas at demos.

"You can see it in the way people think about Hizbollah and Hamas. Both have openly genocidal policies towards the Jews, and yet, in the summer, placards reading, 'We are all Hizbollah now', were accepted on peace demonstrations."