If you are highly critical of Israel, does that make you antisemitic?
Debates rage in the US and UK as to whether various approaches to Israel can be described as antisemitic. The allegations of antisemitism have notably been raised against Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar and British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Sometimes, the criticism of antisemitism is turned on its head and used the other way around, as follows: Surely no country is above criticism, and thus it can’t automatically be antisemitic to criticize Israel. The inference is implicitly made that therefore, no critic of Israel can be labeled an antisemite. This further implies that those who do issue charges of antisemitism are trying to cover up Israel’s crimes.
A further challenge with describing hostility to Israel as antisemitic is that many people accused of this have a strong antipathy to such clearly antisemitic events as the San Diego synagogue shooting. The argument goes that if they are strongly opposed to antisemitism in America, surely it doesn’t make sense to say that they are antisemitic about Israel. And some of their best friends are Jewish! Heck, some people who are highly negative about Israel are even Jewish themselves – so does it make sense, they say, to describe them as antisemitic?
Because of the confusion and distraction raised by the question of antisemitism, I firmly believe that it is time to coin a new term to describe certain attitudes about Israel. A perfect word would be “Israelopathy.”
Israelopathy refers to a pathological disorder. It is a pathological and irrational obsession with, and hatred of, Israel. Israelopathy is characterized in several ways.
One is its irrationality and obsessiveness. There are almost 200 countries in the world, the majority of which are not even free societies, and many of which are guilty of truly appalling human rights violations – by any measure and without any security justification. And yet some people, and some institutions (such as the UN and many media outlets) are obsessed with the alleged crimes of Israel – which faces existential threats – far more than with any other country, even more than with every other country put together. Such obsession calls the credibility of their criticism into question.
An example of this can be seen in Rep. Ilhan Omar’s March 17 Washington Post op-ed: “We must apply our universal values to all nations.” She speaks nobly about the importance of applying universal values regarding human rights to all nations – but her primary focus is solely on Israel. And she speaks about “holding everyone involved accountable for actions that undermine the path to peace,” but proceeds in her article to only hold Israel accountable!
THE SECOND trademark of Israelopathy, reflecting its fundamental immorality, is its discriminatory nature. That is to say, Israel is held to a certain standard that is never expected of any other country. Every other country, when faced with threats to its civilian population, is allowed to engage in military action. And every significant military action necessarily involves unwanted casualties. This is accepted as the price of engagement by armed forces from every country, including the campaigns of the US and UK in Afghanistan. But only Israel is slammed for causing any civilian casualties – even though Israel takes greater pains to avoid them (such as giving warnings to evacuate military targets) than any other country has ever done.
The corollary of this discrimination is that Israel’s attackers are given a pass for their actions, one that is not given to anyone else. Launching rockets that are targeted against civilians is a war crime. Using religious institutions, schools and hospitals as cover for military action is a war crime. Yet Hamas commits both of these crimes and is rarely condemned for it in the media.
Former ambassador Nikki Haley couldn’t get the United Nations to condemn such blatant war crimes. The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief David Halbfinger recently downplayed Hamas for the occasional “stray rocket that kills too many innocents.” Yet such rockets are not “stray” – they are all specifically and explicitly fired for this purpose! And an editorial in Britain’s Guardian newspaper once described these rockets – which have killed dozens, injured thousands, and would have killed countless more were it not for bomb shelters and the Iron Dome – as “useless fireworks” that “have killed hardly anybody” and do not justify a military response. There is a tremendous eagerness to downplay the crimes of Palestinians.
The third characteristic of Israelopathy is its demonization, in which Israel is described with the most extreme terminology, and rated as a malevolent entity of almost supernatural power. For example, whatever one thinks about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the fact remains that both their population and average lifespan have dramatically increased under Israeli rule – and yet Israel is routinely described as committing genocide.
IDF soldiers, who – whatever their crimes – are acting due to a genuine security need, and who follow professional rules of engagement that are enforced by an independent (and left-leaning) Supreme Court to minimize unnecessary casualties, are routinely compared to Nazis. In the UK, Corbyn has spoken about “the hand of Israel” being behind jihadist attacks on Egyptian forces, and the “unbelievably high levels of influence” that Israel has over the BBC. The rhetoric employed by Omar, who described Israel as “hypnotizing the world” to ignore its “evil,” also betrays this demonic view of Israel, notwithstanding her subsequent apology.
Is Israelopathy related to antisemitism? Maybe yes, maybe no. The very question is irrelevant and distracting. The key is to focus upon and criticize Israelopathy for what it is, not for what it might be related to.
It’s much more difficult for accused Israelopaths to deny being Israelopathic than it is for them to deny being antisemitic. It doesn’t help for them to point to their opposition to synagogue shootings. It doesn’t help for them to claim that they are Semites (or even Jewish) themselves. Nor can they respond that it’s surely not Israelopathic to criticize Israel.
This is because Israelopathy does not refer to criticism of Israel – it refers instead to a pathological obsession with Israel, a discriminatory attitude to the conflict and a demonization of Israel. All of which are, sadly, all too easy to demonstrate.
The writer is the founder and director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh.