Elliott Abrams: Anti-Zionism is the Anti-semitism of Our Time

Mohamed Merah, who shot dead three paratroopers, three children and a rabbi in Toulouse, France, in 2012. Elliott Abrams quotes Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, who told the European Parliament: "It was Jews, not Israelis, who were murdered in terrorist attacks in Toulouse, Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen." France 2 Television/reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Affairs site.

Given that Israel is the freest nation in the Middle East and the only stable democracy there, the steady assault on Israel by human rights groups and by enemies of Israel using human rights language has always been particularly reprehensible.

But it has also been hard to understand: Why attack Israel precisely where its record is in fact exemplary by any international standard?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has explained it, concisely. Speaking to the European Parliament in September, in a presentation titled "The Mutating Virus: Understanding Anti-Semitism," Sacks said this:

Throughout history, when people have sought to justify anti-Semitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. So we had religious anti-Judaism.

In post-Enlightenment Europe, it was science. So we had the twin foundations of Nazi ideology, Social Darwinism and the so-called Scientific Study of Race.

Today, the highest source of authority worldwide is human rights. That is why Israel—the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East, with a free press and independent judiciary—is regularly accused of the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.

Sacks's explanation is in fact doubly powerful. Not only does he explain why Israel's enemies choose the language of human rights, but he also reminds us that the central motivation of those critics is, quite simply, anti-Semitism. As he explained:

Anti-Semitism means denying the right of Jews to exist collectively as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. It takes different forms in different ages. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the 19th and early 20th century, they were hated because of their race.

Today, they are hated because of their nation-state, the state of Israel. It takes different forms, but it remains the same thing: the view that Jews have no right to exist as free and equal human beings.

His conclusion is stark:

It was Jews, not Israelis, who were murdered in terrorist attacks in Toulouse, Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen. Anti-Zionism is the anti-Semitism of our time.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.