‘But surely you don’t believe,” they always ask you, “that all criticism of
Israel is anti-Semitic?” It is a noticeably patronizing question, of course, in
that it is obviously an admonition that all civilized, thinking people must
answer “no” or “of course not.” It is an important question, however, because of
its real answer, which is unequivocally and unquestionably “yes.”
idea that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic horrifies some, offends and
mortifies others, and terrifies still more. The usual reaction to it is
something along the lines of “how can you say that?!” Nonetheless, it is exactly
what I am saying in regard to Israel and its critics.
I do not speak,
however, of intentional or conscious anti-Semitism (though it is a major
factor), nor of inadvertent or ignorant anti-Semitism (though this also plays a
mighty role). All criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic because of hate, or
prejudice, or malice, or stupidity, or indeed any of those very human vices so
often regarded as the devil’s work by upper-middle-class liberals.
criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic because of the specific historical
circumstances under which we currently live. That is to say, the historical
circumstances under which Israel and the Jews exist in the world today render
any non-anti-Semitic criticism of Israel impossible. And, ironically, these are
circumstances that Israel’s opponents have themselves created.
that this is not the case requires acting – and demanding that others act – as
if these circumstances do not exist, even as they sit as patiently as a
pachyderm in the parlor waiting for us to notice them and, sometimes, when our
self-willed ignorance grows too infuriating, murder our children and set off
bombs in our streets.
Nonetheless, these circumstances are not complex,
nor are they numerous. They are simply these: A large portion of the world, West
and East, has come to believe that Arabs and Muslims have earned the right to
Derived from this right, they have also come to believe that
the destruction dismantling, and erasure of the State of Israel, and the
slaughter, expulsion, and/or perpetual subjugation of its Jewish population are
entirely legitimate and indeed desirable.
Derived from the preceding is
the belief that the Jewish people in general, in Israel or the Diaspora, either
do not exist as a people deserving the same rights as other peoples, or are an
evil and debased people who must be slaughtered, expelled, and/or perpetually
subjugated in order to prevent them from committing further debased
UNDER SUCH circumstances, it is clear that: The existence, rights
and dignity of Israel and the Jews are considered to be intertwined to the point
that no differentiation between them is possible.
The existence, rights
and dignity of Israel and the Jews are considered uniquely contingent upon their
conduct and whether or not that conduct meets with the approval of the
Because of the beliefs outlined in the previous
section, Israeli and Jewish conduct will never meet with the aforementioned
As a result, Israel and the Jews are, in essence, held
indistinguishable by a court whose proceedings are perpetual and whose verdict
is known beforehand. Under such circumstances, there is no criticism, no
evidence for the prosecution, which does not aid in the process of an unjust
trial before a monstrous court. Which is not, put simply,
It is either subjectively anti-Semitic, in that it
consciously and intentionally aids in this injustice; or it is objectively
anti-Semitic, in that it unconsciously and unintentionally does the same thing.
The distinction – if there ever was one – between the two is now meaningless.
Either way, the result is the same.
It may be, of course, that some
criticism of Israel will be deemed necessary in spite of the consequences, and
the need for a public hearing will overwhelm the need to prevent a victory of
sorts for anti-Semitism. If so, however, those doing the criticizing ought to be
honest enough to acknowledge the objective consequences of doing so, whatever is
said or left unsaid along the way.
So, it must be said again: Yes, all
criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Yes, it is so because of specific
historical circumstances. Yes, it is inescapable. Yes, it holds true however
well-intentioned such criticism may be. Yes, it holds as true for Jewish as for
non-Jewish critics of Israel.
The Middle East conflict, David Ben-Gurion
said a long time ago – and he was right – is not about the Jews and the Arabs,
it is about the Jews and the world, a world that is overwhelmingly not Jewish,
and thus bears certain responsibilities toward its Jewish minority. If and when
the world finally accepts these responsibilities, criticism of Israel that is
not anti-Semitic will become possible.
Until then, however, there is at
least a possible solution to the problem, should critics of Israel be willing to
entertain it. It is a modest imperative: Work toward less
anti-Semitism. This imperative does not demand silence, but it does
require a measure of self-reflection that is (and I in no way exempt myself) a
task of the most supreme difficulty for us all.
The writer is an author
and editor living in Tel Aviv.