singer231_Michael M. SantiagoGetty Images_college protests Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

When Is Criticism of Israel Anti-Semitic?

Undoubtedly, some anti-Semites have used today’s student protests across the United States as cover for stirring up hatred of anyone Jewish, irrespective of their views on what is happening in Gaza. But to characterize the protests as comparable to Nazi anti-Semitism, as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done, is grotesque.

MELBOURNE – Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned the protests on US campuses against his country’s attacks on Gaza, saying that they were “reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s.” He was, apparently, comparing the protesters to the Nazi student groups that beat up Jewish students and faculty.

That comparison dilutes the horror of Nazism by overlooking both the extent of the violence that Nazi students inflicted on anyone who was Jewish and their avowedly racist goal of purging the universities of all Jewish students and professors. They achieved that goal after the Nazis came to power, and we can now see that it was a step toward their ultimate objective: a world without Jews.

I know what Nazi anti-Semitism in the 1930s was like. My parents, Viennese Jews, became refugees. My grandparents did not leave in time, and three of them were murdered in the Holocaust. When I was a child, my father would rise early on Sunday mornings and take out photos of his extended family, weeping over the loss, not only of his parents, but of aunts, uncles, and cousins.