Since I was a child, my family marked Holocaust Remembrance Day with reverence for the memory of the victims, vivid awareness of anti-Semitism and bigotry, and celebration of resistance and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. I also had etched into my consciousness from an early age that in remembering the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism, we are obliged to re-affirm our commitment to fighting injustice in any form.
With this in mind, as Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, I can’t help but be appalled by the reckless charge of anti-Semitism directed at those who seek justice and who call out Israel for its human rights violations.
When people criticize Israel (or any nation-state, for that matter), it is fair to challenge them – on the merits of the argument. However, Israeli government apologists instead shamelessly exploit the charge of anti-Semitism as a means of discrediting and obstructing those opposing its practices and behavior.
These attacks, sometimes drawing upon classic anti-Semitic images as in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to AIPAC, have most recently focused on trying to thwart political organizing on college campuses, by both students and professors, in support of policies and time-honored strategies – like Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) – intended to hold Israel accountable to international law and basic principles of human rights.
Although this is certainly not a new phenomenon, these charges of anti-Semitism have become epidemic.
There is a pattern: Israeli government behavior has gotten worse and worse, the movement to hold Israel accountable is getting stronger and stronger, and it appears the only way the Israeli government and its supporters think they can stop the momentum is to destroy the messengers, particularly since the facts of Israeli violations of human rights and the extent of its ongoing oppressive behavior against the Palestinian people are well-documented and pervasive.
And these pro-Israeli government advocates know that there is no better way to shut people down and discredit them than by accusing them of anti-Semitism.
These false calls of anti-Jewish hatred are an attempt to derail the movement for justice in Palestine/Israel and to destroy those supporting that movement. And, further, these trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism are particularly pernicious when directed at Palestinians or Muslims or others who already face extreme discrimination and racism.
Calling criticism of the Israeli state anti-Semitic also makes a mockery of the term anti-Semitism and trivializes the memory of the Holocaust. Conflating anti-Semitism against the Jewish people with critiques of Israel as a state diminishes the seriousness of anti-Semitism when it occurs.
As Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, let us do justice to the memory of the Holocaust by recommitting ourselves to challenging injustice and to honoring, rather than demonizing and defaming, those who speak out and take action for peace and for justice in Palestine and Israel and anywhere across the globe.
The author a community psychologist and educator, is a long-time organizer for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel.
She was a co-coordinator of the 1989 landmark Road to Peace Conference that brought PLO officials and Knesset members together to the US for the first time. More recently, she was a founding member of Jews Say No!, is a member of the board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and is on the coordinating committee of the Nakba Education Project, US.
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