The small but growing movement of university students and faculty across the United States calling for divestment from Israel has prompted several Jewish organizations to label the campaign part of a creeping tide of anti-Semitism on campus. Such statements are disingenuous and only serve to intimidate people who raise legitimate dissent with the actions of the Israeli government.
Criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic. People believe that the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem (and the anti-Arab discrimination within Israel) is wrongthat does not in any way mean that they harbor animosity towards Jews. Similarly, people in the 1980s wanted divestment from South Africa not because they hated the white ruling class but because they recognized the mass injustice of apartheid. Many prominent South Africans, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have compared the second-class status of Palestinians under Israeli occupation to those of blacks under apartheid.
Some have argued that although criticism of Israel may not be anti-Semitic in its intention, it is so in practice. Why should Israel be singled out, they ask, given all the human rights violations committed around the world and by the Palestinians? That argument fails to take into account the unique nature of Israel and of the conflict. As the only Jewish state, Israel is seen as representative of the Jewish people, and thus its actions affect the attitudes of people everywhere towards Jews. The occupation is being done in our name, and it reflects poorly on us. This is why many of the people speaking out against the Israeli government are in fact Jews, both in Israel and in the United States.