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During my recent lecture tour in the States, my rabbinic hosts asked me to meet with some liberal Protestant clergy. They reasoned that someone who is an Israeli human rights activist would have the necessary credibility and authority to alter some of the negative attitudes toward Israel that many of these liberal-minded Christians hold - more so than someone who represents the Jewish/Israeli establishment.
A recurring theme raised by virtually every one of the audiences I addressed was that American Jews try to silence criticism of Israel by claiming that being anti-Israel is the same as being anti-Semitic.
The fact is that the two are equal. One should surely be able to criticize Israeli policies without being labeled an anti-Semite. However, one cannot avoid such a label if one tries to convince someone that he is only anti-Israel or, for that matter, only anti-Zionist.
There are four definitions of anti-Semitism as they directly relate to Israel: If you erase Israel's modern historical narrative, thereby denying Israel's right to exist; if you hold Israel responsible for the unrest in the entire Middle East; if you accuse Israel of fostering dual loyalties among American Jews to the extent that their support for Israel is perceived as undermining the security and well-being of the United States; and, if you do not judge Israel by universal standards of moral behavior and political conduct.
Some liberal Christians forget that Jewish history began prior to 1967. Many believe that Israel was arbitrarily created. It is as if they are unaware that Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Yemen and Egypt were carved out as countries by international fiat. By obfuscating the undisputable fact that Israel was legally established as a sovereign state by the United Nations, they justify a fast-growing trend within liberal-left circles - the call for the establishment of one secular democratic state for Israelis and Palestinians, which would herald the ultimate destruction of Israel - and, that is anti-Semitic.
TO SUBSCRIBE to the thesis of Jimmy Carter's book, Palestine - Peace, Not Apartheid: "There will be no substantive and permanent peace for any peoples in this troubled region as long as Israel is violating key UN resolutions, official American policy, and the international road map for peace by occupying Arab lands and oppressing the Palestinians," thereby blaming "the Jews" for the ills of the world, is classic anti-Semitism.
Israel's detractors delight quoting the Mearsheimer-Walt book, The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy. Does anyone truly believe the book's thesis that America is a puppet of the Jews, that the Jewish lobby pushed America to invade Iraq, as if the Arab oil lobby is a weak sister to the Israel lobby? And, as if lobbying for Israel is somehow contrary to the American democratic system or an indication of misplaced loyalties? To believe that US foreign policy is dictated by Jews is anti-Semitic.
If someone wants to criticize Israel's occupation, why not address the American occupation in Iraq, where administrative detention, carpet bombing and torture are commonplace? If one protests Israel's security barrier, why not rail against the numerous walls being built in Baghdad. It is as if liberal Christians are saying: If the Jews, the chosen people, falter morally, then morally aberrant behavior on their part is both excusable and justifiable. Double standards? You bet that's anti-Semitism; as is the type of facile moral equivalency presented in the CNN documentary, God's Warriors, which equated Israel's Orthodox settlers with Islamic terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center.
THERE WAS another issue I faced: Christians are understandably concerned about their fellow Christians under occupation. There are no benign occupations, but the situation for Palestinian Christians is far more complicated than their being merely victims of an occupation.
Palestinian Christians are caught between a rock and a hard place. They must reconcile their theology with their nationalism, and thus are looking over their shoulders at their Muslim neighbors, sometimes assuming radical political stances vis-a-vis Israel.
As believers in the Judeo-Christian tradition, they accept the divine promise of the Holy Land to the ancient Israelites. This belief does not sit well with Arab nationalists who call for the elimination of a Jewish presence in the heart of the Muslim world.
American Christians ask: Why don't our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters tell us this? Simple, if their Christian counterparts in the territories made such comments, who knows what type of revenge would be exacted upon them?
Are progressive Christians in America unaware of the everyday arrests, kidnappings, torture and murder by Palestinian Muslims that take place not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank?
Is the Christian world so uninformed that it does not know how decimated the Christian communities in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon have become? Israeli Christian Arabs comprise the only Christian community in the Middle East that has remained relatively stable.
But, if there is a double standard applied to Israel, it is also applied to Arab nations, as many liberal Christians claim that it is unfair to judge Arab culture by Western standards. People should be judged by human standards. Indeed, such a statement is racist at its core, spreading the net of anti-Semitism to include not only Jews but all Semitic peoples.
And yet, despite this growing hostility toward Israel, we must engage the liberal Christian community in the hope of steering it toward an objective understanding of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians - all the while not discounting some of its justified criticism of Israel and the occupation.
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