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Israel’s anti-BDS tactics mirror White South Africa’s defence of apartheid

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The Israeli state and its supporters frequently accuse its critics of being motivated by anti-Semitism, and although they usually concede that it is not inherently anti-Semitic to criticise Israel, recent controversies have proven that it is quite difficult to ascertain precisely where genuine criticism ends and racism begins.

One popular method for working this out is the so-called “3D test” — the “Three Ds of anti-Semitism” — developed by Israel’s one-time Minister of Internal Affairs, Natan Sharansky. This framework evaluates criticism of Israel against three “Ds”, namely demonisation, when “Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion”; double standards, when Israel is “singled out” or criticism is “applied selectively”; and delegitimisation, when “Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied”. If a critical statement meets any of these criteria, then it is determined to be anti-Semitic.

This test has been promoted by the likes of the US Anti-Defamation League as a simple way to distinguish “anti-Israel” criticism from anti-Semitism, but it falls short in at least one important way: its standards can easily be applied to the discourse surrounding countries other than Israel. In fact, the “3 Ds” mirror complaints made by supporters of apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 80s, who also believed that their favoured country was subject to unfair criticism.

READ: How can Israelis celebrate Passover while denying Palestinian Christians the right to travel?

A brief overview of pro-South African propaganda reveals comparable accusations of demonisation, double standards, and delegitimisation. Far from providing a reliable tool for analysis, Sharansky’s “3D test” merely codifies the same rhetoric that was used to defend apartheid South Africa, turning the language of pariah states into supposed evidence of anti-Semitism.

Glenn Babb, South African Ambassador to Canada from 1985 to 1987, often criticised the “exaggerated rhetoric” that was used against his country. He felt that South Africa was being “vilified” in the public debate, and that its critics were full of “dismal ignorance”. Babb claimed that the Canadian........

© Middle East Monitor