There are a couple of words that I’ve been thinking about:

  • Anti-Americanisn
  • Anti-semitism

Anti-Americanism is something of an unusual word because it stands alone. Whilst negative feelings toward the French, Germans, British, Japanese, and every other nationality—maybe even the Canadians—exist, you don’t hear words like ‘anti-Germanism’. My question, and I ask it slightly naïvely, is this: why not? Why am I encountering this particular expression with increasing frequency?

I suspect that it is due to the fact that it elides the distinction between opposition to American policies and opposition to America itself and its people. It seems to be being used to deflect legitimate complaint against the US government by making it appear to be directed against Americans, and therefore somehow in bad faith.

So let’s make this clear. I’m only speaking for myself here, but I suspect that many others feel the same way. Like most British people, I have an ambivalent view of American culture. It’s hard to hate something that is such a big influence, and although there are plenty of aspects that I don’t like, there are also many that I do.

However, I can’t stand Bush and his administration. I think that they are the worst thing to happen to world politics since 1945. I’m not anti-American. I’m anti-Bush.

Damn... After writing that, I’ll definitely be in line for the full cavity search if I ever do try to visit the US.

The second word I want to address is anti-semitism. This is a very loaded expression, for obvious reasons (although not linguistic ones, as the Arabs are also by definition a semitic people).

A recent poll of Europeans found that they listed Israel as the biggest threat to world peace. I’m not going to deal with the undoubtedly flawed methodology of the poll, because polls are by their nature a very unreliable indicator of anything, other than the phrasing of the questions asked. In this case, Israel rated top out of fifteen countries. Not a big list, but it still beat North Korea, Iran and the US, all three of which tied for second place.

However, some of the reaction to the poll invoked that powerful phrase:

‘...antisemitism is deeply embedded within European society, more then any other period since the end of WWII’—Rabbi Marvin Hier, Wiesenthal Center

‘[It] is further proof that behind Europe’s “political” criticism of Israel lies pure anti-Semitism’—Natan Sharansky, Israeli Minister without Portfolio for Diaspora Affairs

I dispute this. It is perfectly legitimate to criticise the Israeli government’s policies, many of which seem to people in western Europe to be ill-conceived and counter-productive. It is also entirely possible to do so without bringing Jewishness into the discussion. Even though Israel is the Jewish state, it does not follow that criticism of the Israeli government’s actions is criticism either of the Jewish people or even of Israeli citizens.

Some of the Israeli army’s recent actions have come across very badly over here. I will freely concede that I don’t know the truth of the story, although I’m sure that neither Israeli nor Palestinian sources are telling it objectively. Strategically, current Israeli policy may or may not work, and there seems to be dispute over this even in the higher levels of the Israeli army. Publicity-wise, though, it’s a disaster. Having seen some of the scenes on TV over recent weeks, it is hardly surprising that some people would feel that the Israeli government’s actions are a threat to peace. Accusing them of anti-semitism is easy, but it’s not an intellectually sound riposte.

On the other hand, those of us who do oppose the behaviour of foreign governments have to be careful. We have to distinguish between the government, the people, and the individuals of that country. Obvious, I know, but easily forgotten in the heat of argument.