But Norm Geras believes that we may be seeing a subtle shift. For a substantial segment of the public commenteriat, he argues,
It doesn't matter if criticism of and attitudes to Israel are anti-Semitic, so long as they are also anti-Zionist.
And he cites to several reactions to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Geneva speech which effectively concede that it was anti-Semitic while simultaneously arguing that it was wrong to protest or walk out on them because it distracts from the "real issue", namely Ahmadinejad's purportedly accurate view of Zionism and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
This is a subtle distinction, but a significant step in the wrong direction (albeit also a significant step in the direction of honesty). The old debate tried to hermetically seal off "anti-Semitism" from "anti-Zionism", as if it were impossible for the two to overlap. The new claim concedes that anti-Zionism can take an anti-Semitic form, but argues that this doesn't matter -- the anti-Zionism takes precedence over and effectively washes clean the anti-Semitism.
The upshot of this view is the adoption of the Michael Neumann (Prof. of Philosophy at Trent University) view of anti-Semitism, namely, that it is "inexcusable", but only to the degree that failing to answer your Aunt's last letter is -- Neumann says the goal "is not to excuse genuine antisemitism; it is to trivialize it." Or to quote more extensively from Prof. Neumann:
In short, the real scandal today is not antisemitism but the importance it is given. Israel has committed war crimes. It has implicated Jews generally in these crimes, and Jews generally have hastened to implicate themselves. This has provoked hatred against Jews. Why not? Some of this hatred is racist, some isn't, but who cares? Why should we pay any attention to this issue at all? Is the fact that Israel's race war has provoked bitter anger of any importance besides the war itself? Is the remote possibility that somewhere, sometime, somehow, this hatred may in theory, possibly kill some Jews of any importance besides the brutal, actual, physical persecution of Palestinians, and the hundreds of thousands of votes for Arabs to be herded into transit camps?
The persons Geras is quoting are making this precise same argument -- one based on precedence. Opposing Zionism is more of a moral imperative than opposing anti-Semitism is, hence, it is a greater affront to progressivism when the admittedly anti-Semitic anti-Zionist is shunned than when he is welcomed.
Prof. Neumann says that everyone has the responsibility to determine their own moral priorities. I agree. However, it is not unreasonable for me to view someone who explicitly considers my social and political equality to be of subordinate (indeed trivial) value as my enemy. The honesty of Ahmadinejad's defenders is that they have chosen a side: They are in favor of the Palestinians and, insofar as that commitment pits them against a social sphere which provides fairness and security to the Jews, they are avowedly anti-Jew. If they want to take that position fine. But
True progressives understand that desiring liberation for any group only makes sense as part of a broader commitment to liberation for all. Otherwise, it is mere partisanship and self-interest, and that is no basis for making normative claims. Commitment to human equality means breaking the dichotomy between "struggle" and "surrender", and pursuing a third way: listening, cooperation, respect, and co-existence. Jews and Palestinians alike (and their allies) have an obligation to pursue their liberation in a way that is respectful of and makes room for the equal humanity, dignity, independence, and self-determination of the other. Anything else is dressed-up chauvinism.
Again, this is all their prerogative. I merely ask that it not be considered left.