Eisenbud's Odyssey: Anti-Semitic vs anti-Israel

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October 7, 2011 12:10

An integral element of winning the ‘intellectual war’ comes down to determining who can be reasoned with, and who cannot.




Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza

Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)

Perhaps the most important distinction in the “intellectual war” over Israel’s legitimacy is between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment.

Indeed, its importance cannot be overstated, as enemies of the Jewish people frequently manipulate the two concepts’ sometimes transmutable definitions to their advantage.

That said, the distinction must be clearly understood among defenders of Israel’s right to exist, as the consequence of misinterpretation invariably leads to a circular contagion effect that further divides and exacerbates attitudes between opponents in this seemingly never-ending debate.

However, first and foremost, I believe firmly that it must be clearly stated that there are those who take issue with Israel geopolitically, who are not remotely anti-Semitic.

INDEED, I have met a number of good men and women who don’t have an iota of hatred for Jews in their being, who occasionally (and even frequently) take issue with Israel’s political practices, and in return have been assailed by overzealous defenders of Israel as being “anti-Semitic.”

This, of course, is unfair, as these critics are clearly expressing a valid disagreement over policy – not denouncing an entire people.

To be sure, such a knee-jerk generalization is the equivalent of an Obama loyalist telling me that because I take serious issue with his administration’s handling of Middle Eastern policy, I really hate Obama himself...and black people, as well.

It’s simply irrational and false.

While I do think that Obama is a remarkable man in many ways, I find his limitations regarding foreign policy just as notable, and they must be pointed out considering our obvious existential struggle that necessitates his pronounced ongoing support toward the US’s only ally in this region of the world.

LOOK, I, myself, have taken serious issue with Israel’s frequent bumbling with respect to diplomacy and media relations. In fact, I have been downright horrified and angered by the sloppy timing and handling of sensitive state announcements in terms of the diplomatic fallout they invariably invite.

Just this week, after averting a near perfect storm on the heels of doomsday scenarios predicting Israel’s unprecedented and imminent isolation following the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral application for recognition of statehood and full member status in the UN, this government decided to announce plans to advance the building of 1,100 housing units in the contested Jewish Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.

The timing of this announcement – shortly before accepting a proposal by the Quartet to re-launch talks within 30 days, with the stated goal of reaching a final-status solution by December 2012 – clearly left an exacerbated US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who happens to support Israel, rightfully pissed off.

To her credit, Clinton diplomatically stated that Israel’s announcement and timing regarding the highly charged construction project was “counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”

But this was actually just code for: “Really, Bibi?! You want to announce another surgical procedure while you’re still on the gurney, with guns pointed at your head, a doctor who’s burned out and ready to quit – while you’re still awaiting a life-or-death prognosis?”

This example, of course, doesn’t take into account the March 2010 Ramat Shlomo debacle that coincided with Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel to jump-start direct talks, leaving our most important ally with egg on its face – on an international stage, no less.

I could practically hear from my apartment in Jerusalem the US administration shouting (in an agitated Desi Arnaz voice to Lucy): “You gotta lot of explaining to do!”

THAT SAID, I’m an ardent Zionist, and support this country with all my heart. Indeed, its very existence and security is central to me on more levels than I could possibly articulate, for many reasons.

However, few things are more troubling than watching a loved one shoot himself in the foot. And, in terms of diplomacy, Israel’s feet looks like a picture of Mitt Romney being used for target practice at Rick Perry’s Texas ranch’s shooting gallery.

Therefore, it’s entirely reasonable to expect – and hear – dissenting voices that civilly challenge dubious decisions made by the Israeli government, without being deemed anti-Semitic or enemies of the state.

By dismissing fair, logical arguments from otherwise decent people, we are only alienating ourselves and potential allies by further blurring the already amorphous anti-Semitism/anti-Israel equation.

HOWEVER, THERE are indeed those whose anti-Israel rhetoric is a direct extension of their anti-Semitism – who very much want Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth.

And they must be called out and dealt with accordingly.

For example, on college campuses, it is an all-too-common practice to falsely condemn Israel as a practitioner of apartheid and genocide, surreptitiously raise funds for terrorist organizations, and harass and even assault Jewish students.

Indeed, last month hundreds of US college and university presidents were set to receive warning letters from the Israel Law Center instructing them of their legal obligations to prevent anti-Semitism on campus – and their legal duty to prevent university funds from being diverted to terrorist activities directed against Israel.

The civil rights group carried out the legal campaign in response to “an alarming number of incidents of harassment and hate crimes against Jewish and Israeli students on US college campuses.”

To quote the Israel Law Center’s lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner: “Anti-Israel rallies and events frequently exceed legitimate criticism of Israel and cross the line into blatant anti-Semitism, resulting in hateful attacks against Jews.”

Furthermore, according to the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Semitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK set a new high in 2009 – the most since records began. Many of these attacks are framed as anti-Israel rhetoric, when it is clearly beyond the realm of politics.

Meanwhile, Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire Central, which organizes the French Jewish communities’ religious affairs, recently stated that while anti-Semitic attacks in France were nothing new, he was alarmed at how “normal” they were becoming.

“It is a situation that is becoming banal,” he grimly said.

Sadly, the rest of Western Europe is not far behind.

Such instances of flagrant anti-Semitism – based on patent lies – must be readily identified for the hate speech that it is, and calmly corrected to reflect facts.

AN INTEGRAL part of fighting the intellectual war requires clearly distinguishing who is driven by rational argument, and thus can be reasoned with, and who is driven by hate.

We simply don’t have the luxury of making mistakes in this department.

Winning this war will be a Herculean feat that requires rational, discriminating minds in the face of profoundly daunting odds.

Therefore, legitimate challenges against Israeli doctrine must be accepted, respected, and civilly debated as a means of changing hearts and minds.

However, blatant anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated under any circumstance. Indeed, it is essential that those who propagate such vitriol are clearly identified and brought to task – and to finally recognize that terrorist entities such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida have no intention of being reasoned with, let alone recognizing Israel’s right to exist.

IN THE end, understanding and acknowledging the distinction between anti-Semites and critics of Israel is crucial in defining and framing a potentially constructive debate and dialogue.

Meanwhile, textbook hate-mongers who engage in violence and slanderous, dangerous diatribes have, and deserve, no place in civilized discourse.

Simply put: A key element of winning the intellectual war comes down to determining who can be reasoned with, and who cannot.

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