Anti-semitism is, of course, something that never truly goes away. As one of the oldest forms of hatred out there it will probably be with us until all racial hatred is extinguished or, more likely, until all Jews are. Still the rise of the anti-semite left is a cause for concern in that it both leaves American Jewry without its most natural ally in case of true religious persecution (the right-wing's current embrace of all things Jewish is opportunistic and shallow) and it is pushing an important element of American liberalism to the right. Jews have been important contributors to many liberal crusades throughout the last century, and the left's attacks on Judaism are already creating a rift exploitable by the right wing.
Of course most of the anti-semitic left claims that it is not, in fact, anti-semitic. This is true even of those, like Jesse "Hymie Town" Jackson who have been caught, on record, saying things with no other interpretation. The rest like to claim they are merely anti-Israel or anti specific aspects of Judaism. Some of these people are sincere, but the cores of their arguments are rife with anti-semitism, even if they are not.
The rhetoric of this new movement does indeed rely on Israel. Israel has a checkered history, as do all other nations, and has been embroiled in a disastrous occupation for decades. There is no doubt that this occupation has resulted in horrendous acts and errors of judgment on both sides. The Israelis have used unwarranted violence and bulldozed the homes of innocent people. Religious fanatics have gone into occupied territories and tried to annex land there, sometimes with official support. Israel has been a spotty negotiator, with ups and downs. For their part the Palestinians have engaged in acts of violence against innocent people, and have been subject to a manifestly corrupt and ineffective leader. There is a lengthy article in this month's Atlantic Monthly explaining what a horrendous leader Arafat was, and how the money he stole could potentially have lead to a functional Palestinian state. The Palestinians have also negotiated in bad faith and failed to control violent factions during so-called ceasefires. One of the major semi-governmental organizations is Hamas, guilty of the murder of hundreds of innocents.
The situation is bad. Both sides are to blame, with degrees varying depending on your viewpoint. None of this is disputable or anti-semitic. It's just descriptive. The thing is that a large contingent of people are no longer content to discuss the situation as such. Instead they go overboard with hyperbole. Hyperbole that has its origins with anti-semitic groups.
The first form this hyperbole takes is greatly overestimating the comparative level of Israel's misbehavior. Israel is routinely sanctioned by the U.N, far more than any other country, even though its actions are clearly not comparable to those of a great number of other countries. The Janjaweed in Sudan receive material support in that country for the rape and slaughter of black Africans. North Korea kills thousands of its citizens every year, and has a population facing mass starvation. In Zimbabwe Whites were pushed from their land which was then redistributed not to peasants but to cronies of the government. This led to a food shortage and a remarkable turnaround from the country being known as the breadbasket of Africa to one where people face a real threat of starvation.
By any reasonable measure these countries, and various others from recent history including those of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, have committed more and worse atrocities than Israel. Yet to many liberal people Ariel Sharon is a worse man than the leaders of any of these nations. Is there any reasonable way to support this viewpoint? No. Israel faces strong diplomatic pressure from an Arab world that in many cases doesn't want to see it reformed but rather wants to see it gone. Its enemies attack it relentlessly in the U.N. and in the court of public opinion, enemies that are frequently guilty of great offenses themselves. Libya is not a country with much moral authority and yet it has in recent years been head of the U.N. human rights council. Saudi Arabia treats its women as chattel yet sees requirements that Palestinians subject themselves to checkpoint searches as extreme violations. These nations don't dislike Israel because of how it acts, they dislike Israel because it is run by Jews in a region where they would prefer complete dominance. Those who buy into their, and Palestinian, propaganda and hyperbole buy into anti-semitism.
Then there are the Europeans. Europe has a vested interest in Israel-bashing because it has not yet gotten over the holocaust. While Germany was the perpetrator of its crimes, much of Europe was complicit in the murder of 6,000,000 Jews and as many Gypsies and homosexuals. The French might think of themselves as cosmopolitan, but in the 1940s the majority of Frenchmen were happy enough to ship their Jewish neighbors off for extermination in the German gas chambers. That is not a moral stain that Tide can erase. Instead France seeks to degrade Israel, and through it the Jewish people, in an attempt to make itself feel better. This happens throughout Europe, with Germany being a predictable perpetrator. Many young Germans openly state that they see Israel's treatment of Palistinians as similar to the Holocaust, something that's both patently absurd and revoltingly ignorant. The Palestinian population has risen during Israeli occupation, and while there have been unjustified deaths and rumors of atrocities equivalent to those committed by American soldiers during Vietnam, there is a large difference between internment and genocide. This eager attempt to retroactively imply that the Jews were deserving of the Holocaust because LOOK HOW EVIL ISRAEL IS is responsible for much of the focus on Israel, and it is as ugly as ugly can be.
The final common form anti-semitism takes in anti-Israeli arguments is the myth of Jewish exceptionalism. This argument states that Israel's actions are worse because the Jews should have learned tolerance of others from the holocaust. This is perhaps the most insulting argument of them all. In America we accept that many of the problems in the African American community are caused by slavery and segregation. If blacks beat their children at higher rates than Whites it's because of the history of violence passed down from the plantation. The fact that black on white crime is much more common than the reverse is due to resentment for sins of the racist past. A people abused and repressed will lash out. This argument is also used to excuse Arab suicide bombers. They are oppressed so they attack.
Somehow Jews are supposed to be different. Instead of a people who had just faced unimaginable suffering and were thus left angry and militaristic as a result they are seen as people who should somehow have been transformed by violence into pacifists. Violence begets violence, not peace. Much of the abuse the Palestinians have suffered is a result of the legacy of the holocaust. Many Jews were traumatized and wanted both to assert their power in the face of powerlessness by attacking others AND to assure themselves of a racially pure homeland where they would be protected from potential repression in the future. Does this excuse their behavior? Of course not. On the other hand it is a predictable result of the atrocities they suffered, and makes a hell of a lot more sense than the claims that Jews should know better because of how they were treated.
The argument of Jewish exceptionalism also belies claims that criticisms of Israel are just criticisms of a country. Like it or not Israel represents Judaism for many people, and it's an easy outlet for anti-semitism. Now not everyone who uses hyperbole about Israel is an anti-semite, but they are repeating claims and arguments laid out by anti-semites. Those who accused Israel of a massacre in Jenin also accuse Jews of making their Matzo with the blood of Arab children. The two are inextricably linked.
The truth is that Israel has done a lot of bad things and deserves criticism and censure for them. The truth also is that Israel is better than a lot of other countries and should be recognized for the accomplishments it has. It is one of the only countries in the area where Arabs can actually vote in democratic elections. It is a religiously based state that has basically secular rule. The majority of its people want peace and co-existence with the people it occupies. Israel is not North Korea. It's not even close. Those who fail to recognize that...well...let's just say it doesn't shock me that Mein Kampf is so popular in Turkey and it won't shock me if it migrates west again.
Anti-semitism is one of the oldest forms of racial hatred. It will be with us until racial hatred is exterminated, or, more likely, the Jews are.