I HAVE swithered for a couple of weeks over whether I should write this letter because of the intense reactions which views on the Palestine-Israel situation invoke. These reactions are too often hostile and divisive, making sweeping and unsubstantiated assumptions about the motivations and beliefs of the person expressing these views – even when that person is unknown to the accuser.

In particular there has been a weaponisation of antisemitism to attack and smear individuals, even those who have been staunch opponents of antisemitism all their lives.

This has been deployed increasingly against people holding left-wing views, as in the relentless and dishonest character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn – and please be aware that I have never been a Jeremy Corbyn supporter, nor have I voted for the Labour Party since 1987. Antisemitism has become a term like paedophilia, which is regarded as being the kiss of death for anyone accused of it.

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The UK Government’s official definition of antisemitism published in 2016 (based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) is wide-ranging and actually pretty good … except for claiming it is antisemitism to “draw comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” How would you describe the actions of those violent land-grabbing settlers in the West Bank as anything other than a quest for living space – or Lebensraum in German? The invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union had as a major purpose the acquisition/stealing of land on which to settle German farmers.

That of course does not make the state of Israel a Nazi state, but its current far-right government is enabling a policy of land-seizure similar to German aims during World War Two. Arbitrary arrests, collective punishments and reprisal killings unfortunately bolster the comparison, but I still don’t contend that the state of Israel is neo-Nazi, but rather its present government acts in similar ways.

Then again, perhaps an analogy with the harshness of Islamist movements might be more apt. Each has little regard for the civilian populations of those they regard as enemies. It has been said that Islamic fundamentalism with its misogyny and intolerant moral certainties is medieval, but Israel’s current actions are resonant of an even older intolerance – of Bronze-Age societies with a thirst for vengeance. In a recent speech reaffirming his intention to pursue a war to destroy Hamas, Benjamin Netanyahu invoked the biblical story of the Amalekites, whom God told the Israelites to wipe out – “to put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (I Samuel 15). Divine-sanctioned genocide is still genocide.

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Alternatively, comparison with Russia’s disregard for civilian life and its attempt to annex Ukrainian land might be appropriate. Netanyahu comes out looking worse than Putin because it has taken Russia 21 months to kill 9000 civilians, while Israel has done the same in just four weeks.

I make these comparisons because, as a historian of 30 years’ standing, that is part of the tools of my craft to aid understanding. My PhD thesis was on the rise of the Nazis so I know a fair bit about them, and I am appalled by the cruel antisemitism that has stained Europe for 1000 years. However, although Israel has a right to exist and Jewish people have a right to a homeland, persecutions across a millennium do not give Israel’s right-wing elements a special dispensation to visit similar inhumanity upon anyone else.

Dr David White