An open letter from 35 prominent Israelis, “including Jewish-history scholars and Israel Prize laureates”, was published on Tuesday in the Austrian media calling for a distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, reported Haaretz.
The letter was released in the context of an international gathering in Vienna on anti-Semitism this week, called “Europe beyond anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism: Securing Jewish life in Europe”.
The event is being held under the auspices of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose coalition government includes the far-right Freedom Party.
“We fully embrace and support the [European Union’s] uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism. The rise of anti-Semitism worries us. As we know from history, it has often signalled future disasters to all mankind,” the letter states.
“However, the EU also stands for human rights and has to protect them as forcefully as it fights anti-Semitism. This fight against anti-Semitism should not be instrumentalised to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel’s occupation and severe violations of Palestinian human rights.”
The letter warns that conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism could “afford Israel immunity against criticism for grave and widespread violations of human rights and international law”.
“Zionism, like all other modern Jewish movements in the 20th century, was harshly opposed by many Jews, as well as by non-Jews who were not anti-Semitic,” the letter states.
“Many victims of the Holocaust opposed Zionism. On the other hand, many anti-Semites supported Zionism. It is nonsensical and inappropriate to identify anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.”
Signatories include Moshe Zimmerman, an emeritus professor at Hebrew University and a former director of the university’s Koebner Centre for German History; Zeev Sternhell, a Hebrew University emeritus professor in political science; and Alon Confino, a professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Massachusetts.