As a vibrant democracy, Israel strives to achieve both peace and justice while upholding the principles of freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly as well protecting the rights of women, gays and other minorities. Israel alone among the countries in the Middle East enshrines these values in its legal system and culture and has a vigorous press, vigilant public and independent judiciary to monitor them.
Like every other society, however, Israel is imperfect. Israelis, themselves, are the harshest critics of their country’s shortcomings and Americans may also have qualms about certain Israeli policies. It is important to be able to distinguish between people who are expressing legitimate concerns about those policies and those whose views cross the line to delegitimization or anti-Semitism.
Legitimate critics of Israel expose Israel’s flaws in the hope of resolving them and improving the society.
Detractors of Israel, however, highlight Israel’s imperfections for the purpose of embarrassing, isolating and demeaning the nation.
Legitimate critics seek to change Israel through its democratic processes, which include going to the polls to change the government, using their right to free speech to protest and challenging policies in court – all options unavailable to people in Arab countries.
Detractors attempt to use nondemocratic means to impose changes on Israel, many of which are opposed by the citizens of Israel.
Legitimate critics want to see Israel adopt policies that will help it grow and prosper and coexist with an equally prosperous Palestinian state.
Detractors want to see Israel weakened or destroyed.
Legitimate critics believe the free flow of ideas, culture and trade between peoples is the best way to promote peace and understanding.
Detractors advocate blacklists, censorship and demonization of Israelis.
The 3-D Test
Natan Sharansky has suggested a “3-D” test for differentiating legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism.
- The first “D” is the test of whether Israel or its leaders are being demonized or their actions blown out of proportion. Equating Israel with Nazi Germany is one example of demonization.
- The second “D” is the test of double standards. An example is when Israel is singled out for condemnation at the United Nations for perceived human rights abuses while nations that violate human rights on a massive scale, such as Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, are not even mentioned.
- The third “D” is the test of delegitimization. Questioning Israel’s legitimacy, that is, its right to exist is always anti-Semitic.