Rattling the Cage: Anti-Semite and Jew

Any antagonistic, morally outraged criticism of Israel is automatically deemed unfair and anti-Semitic.

October 18, 2006 22:11
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )


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I'm against the campaign to boycott, sanction or divest in Israel. I think such tactics should be used only against countries, such as apartheid South Africa, that are wholly, 100% guilty of oppressing wholly, 100% innocent people, which, as bad as the occupation has been, is definitely not the case with Israel. I disagree with Harvard professors Walt and Mearsheimer about the Israel lobby in the US. I think they exaggerated the lobby's power, which, although fearsome, isn't nearly fearsome enough to force any US government to do anything it really doesn't want to do in the Middle East - certainly not fight a war in Iraq, which the Bush administration would have fought if there was no Israel lobby or even no Israel. I disagree with anti-Zionists who say the Jews have no right to a state, and with anti-Zionists like historian Tony Judt who say the Jewish state is bad for the Jews. I believe the history of anti-Semitism gives Jews the right to a state, and while I realize that the Jewish state definitely has inherent problems, I think changing it into a binational or Western-style secular state would create incomparably worse problems, mainly for the Jews living here. Having said that, I do not believe that the people who favor boycotts and sanctions against Israel, or the anti-Zionists, or the Israel-lobby-bashers, are necessarily anti-Semites. They may or may not be. I'm sure that some of them are. But I'm afraid that in recent years, as one brand of anti-Semitism - Muslim anti-Semitism - has genuinely grown by leaps and bounds, the organized Jewish world has begun flinging the charge of anti-Semitism too far, too wide, and too fast - almost automatically. Not only is this an illegitimate way to fight Israel's critics - it's basically character assassination - but by waving the red flag of anti-Semitism, the Jewish establishment in Israel and the Diaspora is also playing on gentile guilt and Jewish solidarity to intimidate a lot of gentiles and Jews into silence. The rage for anti-Semite-baiting has also stoked the paranoia and xenophobia of all the Jewish paranoids and xenophobes. Meanwhile, the bar for anti-Semitism seems to keep getting lower and lower. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called Amnesty International's report on Israel's wartime killing of Lebanese civilians "bigoted, biased and borderline anti-Semitic." Amnesty International slams every killer of civilians on earth, including Hizbullah, but when it slams Israel, it's suddenly bigoted and anti-Semitic. Human Rights Watch likewise goes after every abuser of innocents on every continent, but when it blames Israel for too often showing "indifference" to civilian deaths in Lebanon - a fair charge, I believe - Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor doesn't call the accusation merely unfair, he calls it a "modern blood libel." Alan Dershowitz writes that Walt's and Mearsheimer's claims against the Israel lobby "are contemporary variations on old themes such as those promulgated in the notorious czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in the Nazi and America First literature of the 1930s and early '40s, and in the propaganda pamphlets of the Soviet Union." THIS IS overkill, to put it mildly. But then the only sort of criticism of Israel that is safe from being branded as anti-Semitism is the toothless kind, the sad-eyed, hand-wringing sort. Any antagonistic, morally outraged criticism of Israel is automatically deemed unfair, and any unfair criticism of Israel is automatically deemed anti-Semitic. This is the problem. All reasonable Jews would allow - whether they really meant it or not - that criticism of Israel isn't necessarily anti-Semitic. But how many of them would also allow that unfair criticism of Israel isn't necessarily anti-Semitic? No, Jews on the whole can't imagine that anybody who compares Israel to apartheid South Africa, or thinks Zionism is terminally undemocratic, or signs petitions against Israel but not against the Palestinian Authority, can have any other motivation except anti-Semitism - hatred of Jews and anything Jewish. The truth, though, is that people can have all sorts of motivations for criticizing Israel unfairly. Anti-Semitism is one. Sympathy for the weak, such as the Palestinians, is another. Resentment of the strong, especially when they portray themselves as the victim, such as Israelis do, is another. Lack of historical or international perspective is another. And in some cases, this unfair criticism actually stems from the critic's higher expectations of the Jews. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a supporter of divestment in Israel, which, in the eyes of most staunch Jews, I imagine, casts him as an anti-Semite. I think Tutu is mistaken on this issue. But an anti-Semite? "To criticize the occupation is not to overlook Israel's unique strengths," he wrote in 2003. "In a region where repressive governments and unjust politicians are the norm, Israel is certainly more democratic than its neighbors. [But] divestment from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified because there was repression elsewhere on the African continent... "Almost instinctively, the Jewish people have always been on the side of the voiceless," Tutu continued. "In their history, there is painful memory of the massive roundups, house demolitions and collective punishment. In their scripture, there is acute empathy for the disenfranchised. The occupation represents a dangerous and selective amnesia of the persecution from which these traditions were born." Even though Tutu supports a policy I find excessively, unfairly punitive toward Israel, not only wouldn't I call him an anti-Semite, I'd call him a friend, albeit a misguided one, of Israel and the Jewish people. I'm not saying Desmond Tutu is representative of divestment supporters; in fact, I doubt that many of them have any sympathy for Israel at all, and some probably aren't too fond of Jews, either. The same generalization can be made, I imagine, about anti-Zionists and angry denouncers of the Israel lobby. But an anti-Semite, in the true, pre-inflationary meaning of the term, is someone who hates Jews, plain and simple. Such a person is in a whole different category than someone who is merely anti-Zionist, or anti-Israel, or anti-Israel-lobby. An anti-Semite is a twisted, evil person. An anti-Semite is someone who should be shunned. Anti-Semitism is an awfully grave charge to level against anyone, certainly against large groups of people. In the case of the left-wing anti-Israeli critics and movements tarred as anti-Semitic by many in the Jewish establishment, I don't think the term correctly applies to more than a marginal few. Which makes it a libel. Not a "blood libel," but a libel. A defamation based on a "reckless disregard for the truth." I don't know how much damage all this anti-Semite-baiting has done to its targets; I hope not much. But it's had one hell of a chilling effect on the Jews and gentiles caught in the middle.

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