Much of the conversation relating to Israel today (on Newsvine and beyond) features some very polarized view points. Many commenters (myself included) are strong supporters of Israel, her policies and actions. Many other commenters have the exact opposite view: they are against Israel's policies and think that Israel's actions are wrong (or racist, genocidal, criminal, etc). Some people in the anti-Israel group admit that they think the world would be better off without Israel. Others claim that as long as the racist, ultra-national Zionists are out of the picture, everything would be fine.
In nearly all of these discussions, at one point or another, someone will bring in an accusation of anti-Semitism. The exchange will go something like this (PI = Pro-Israel, AI = Anti-Israel):
AI: (Says one or some of the following) Israel is wrong, their leaders are criminals, they respond out of proportion, Hizballah is not a terrorist group, suicide bombings are ethical, etc, etc
PI: Your comments are so anti-Semitic. It is really disgusting. Now everyone knows how you really feel.
AI: I am not anti-Semitic. How dare you call me that. Just because I am anti-Israel doesn't mean that I am anti-Semitic
I have seen this exchange take place countless times, in some form or another. Personally, I do not think that every anti-Israel statement belies an anti-Semitic viewpoint. I make statements that are anti-Israel (if you consider a statement critical of the Israeli government to be anti-Israel) and I do not consider myself to be anti-Semitic. There are others on Newsvine who are more consistently anti-Israel, whom I am pretty sure are not anti-Semitic. However, there are others from whom the anti-Israel statements are made with such venom and conviction, and with such consistency that I really do think: "this person hates Jews".
Of course, up until now these thoughts have been mere speculation, and the exchanges usually end up reverting to the "am not"..."are too"..."am not" pattern. Unless someone says something that is obviously anti-Semitic, it has been very hard to say whether or not a connection exists, whether the accusation of anti-Semitism is coupled with anti-Israel too often and whether this is really a fair accusation to make in a serious discussion.
Up until now anyway.
On July 5, two professors from Yale University, Edward H. Kaplan and Charles A. Small, who are involved in a seminar on anti-Semitism, released a paper titled "Anti-Israel Sentiment Predicts Anti-Semitism in Europe: A Statistical Study" (PDF link). The abstract of this paper reads as follows:
In the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, extreme criticisms of Israel (e.g. Israel is an apartheid state, the Israel Defense Forces deliberately target Palestinian civilians) coupled with extreme policy proposals (e.g. boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, divest from companies doing business with Israel) have sparked counter-claims that such criticisms are anti-Semitic (for only Israel is singled out). Our research shines a different, statistical light on this question: based on a survey of 500 citizens in each of 10 European countries (for a total sample of 5,000), we ask whether those with extreme anti-Israel views are more likely to be anti-Semitic. Even after controlling for numerous potentially confounding factors, we find that anti-Israel sentiment consistently predicts the probability that an individual is anti-Semitic, with the likelihood of measured anti-Semitism increasing with the extent of anti-Israel sentiment observed.
In other words, there is a very direct relation between the prevalence and intensity of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel opinions (check the end of their report for all of the raw data, charts, calculations, etc for the statistically-inclined).
What significance does this have for our discussions here and elsewhere regarding Israel? For me personally it will definitely give me pause when I am considering whether or not to enter a discussion where the commenters display an over-zealous tendency to blame, criticize and lambaste Israel without considering the possibility that some of Israel's actions may be legitimate and that some of Israel's opponents may be in the wrong. I am willing to participate in a discussion relating to Israel where the other people participating are there to contribute what they know to best present their opinions and are open to the possibility that they might be mistaken in some points. However, if the person with whom I am "conversing" is using his anti-Israel opinions as a mask for his anti-Semitic views I really have better (and more productive) things to do with my time.
It also strikes me as being an interesting new addition to the common exchange mentioned above. We read (and I myself have written) responses quite often that are along the lines of "don't just accuse someone of anti-Semitism because they are anti-Israel. The two are not the same!". Does this study make the equation of the two a more valid statement?
(Hat tip: Cross-Currents)