I am not an anti-Semite

Observations - Lindsey Hilsum reporting the Middle East

My father tells blood-curdling stories of escaping Oswald Mosley's fascist thugs in the East End when he was a child. He was a clever, wiry kid with curly black hair and a cockney accent, instantly recognisable as a Jew.

Which is why I do not know if I should be amused or angered that so many viewers of Channel 4 News, for which I am diplomatic correspondent, appear to think I am an anti-Semite.

I have a pretty thick skin but I draw the line at being called a racist. I was telling my father the other evening that the Israeli government now routinely accuses its critics of anti-Semitism, and he replied: "Well, I must be anti-Semitic, too, because I think what they're doing is wrong."

The argument that criticism of Israel is a form of racism is absurd - and dangerous. Received wisdom says there is a rise in anti-Semitism across Europe. No doubt some European Jews fear such a resurgence, but I do not hear an echo of the 1930s in what is happening today. Rather, the tentacles of the Arab/Israeli conflict have reached into Europe, and Arab youths here are reacting to Israeli policy by attacking Jewish targets. Meanwhile, the Israeli government and its supporters are trying to deflect analysis of their actions in the West Bank, and to remind Europe's successful and increasingly assimilated Jewish people that they had better remain loyal to the Jewish state.

Take France, home to 600,000 Jews. In April, the French Ministry of the Interior registered 360 crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions, compared with 320 attacks in all of the previous year. Two issues are clear: the attacks were inexcusable, and they coincided with the Israeli incursion into the West Bank. The majority of suspects arrested were young men of Mahgreb origin, alienated youth from the deprived banlieues of French cities, angry about what they saw happening to the Palestinians and excluded from mainstream French society. They may use Nazi-style graffiti, but they are not the heirs to Vichy. Those traditional anti-Semites may be found among the 18 per cent of French citizens who voted for Jean-Marie Le Pen, but even that is not clear. Le Pen's supporters are much more worried about the Mahgreb youths than about the Jews.

The Jewish state was founded to be a bolt-hole for Jews who may be threatened anywhere in the world. Anyone who can prove some Jewish heritage has the "right of return". The moment Europe's Jews say the threat has diminished or disappeared, Israelis fear the reason for their state is undermined. They need anti-Semitism.

Israeli politicians want that collective guilt to define European attitudes to the Middle East today, but pretending Europe has not changed in 60 years does not give Israel licence to do what it likes in the Palestinian territories it occupies.

So the anti-Semitism accusation is casually thrown around. During the debate over the doomed UN investigation into the battle in Jenin refugee camp, Israeli newspapers reported that one of the proposed team, Cornelio Sommaruga, former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was anti-Semitic because he "had equated the Star of David with the swastika". The truth was that some years ago the Red Cross engaged in an internal discussion over the internationally recognised symbols used by the medical organisation in conflict zones. The two agreed signs are the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The Israeli branch of the organisation wanted the Star of David as well, but Sommaruga argued that if the Jewish star was recognised there would be pressure to add the Hindu symbol, too. The Hindu symbol is a reversed swastika.

In America, the Anti-Defamation League has placed advertisements in magazines that say, "Anti-Zionism is showing its true colours as deep-rooted anti-Semitism." This line of reasoning not only maligns liberal and non-Jews who disagree with Zionism but also means my neighbours in Stamford Hill, with their wide, fur hats and ringlets, must be anti-Semites: the Ultra-Orthodox are anti-Zionist, believing the state of Israel should not be founded until the Messiah comes.

Soon I will go back to the Middle East, which will not please the viewer who rang Channel 4 to say, "I am sick and tired of seeing Palestinian victims." I am sick and tired, too. I don't want to see any more dead Palestinians, or any more Israeli victims. But as long as this violence goes on, I have to report it as fairly and honestly as I can. You may not like what I say, but calling me a racist will not make me stop.