“You should not be allowed to write here,” an irate respondent posted, reacting to an article I wrote during the Gaza conflict on a leftwing blog dedicated to fostering Middle East dialogue. “Go find some fascist paper to write for you despicable liar. You are so scandalous and nasty I can''t even breathe right now.” And then the kicker: “You racist pig.”
There you have it. The signs that this writer identifies on the Left and with the Palestinians are clear. It includes exiling me from centers of enlightenment to “fascist” hell. In addition, we see the sloppy use of the ultimate epithet, “racist” -- with “pig” added for color.
My crime, which prompted this outrage, was describing my children’s experiences as the sirens blared in Jerusalem during the Gaza War, shattering our assumption that we did not need the Iron Dome because the Golden Dome of the Rock would stop Hamas from firing at us – or our Arab neighbors. I then dared to say the attack reminded me of all the good in Israel and of our thwarted desire for peace because there is no Palestinian peace partner.
But last week, when I heard that alleged peace partner, Mahmoud Abbas, again accuse Israel in the UN of being racist, I reconsidered. I realized my explanation of why a radical leftist called me a “racist pig” was too linear. I am not a “racist pig” because of anything I said or did. I am a racist pig because I am.
To Abbas, the hostile blogger, and many others in the unlikely Red-Green alliance uniting totalitarian leftists with Palestinian extremists and Islamists, I am a racist because I am a Zionist, I am a racist because I am an American, I am a racist because I am a Jew. The clever ones will claim only the first category is the unacceptable one. They will make themselves feel better – as Abbas did – by detailing “the Zionist’s” supposed “crimes.”
But their indictment fails on at least two counts. First, whatever injustices they point to have nothing to do with race – the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is national not racial. By blackening the Palestinians and whitening the Jews, by labeling Zionists racist, the race-mongers dilute the meaning of the word “racism” while escalating the rhetorical assault against Israel. It insults blacks and Jews, trying to rob the blacks of the kind of racist oppression they endured and the Jews of their nationhood. And second, Zionism, like many nationalist movements, is not monolithic. Talk of “Zionist crimes” treats anyone who understands that Jews are a people, anyone who supports a Jewish state, as all acting as one. Bigots generalize like that—and look especially foolish when you have the broad, divisive, and disputatious Zionist spectrum we have.
And yes, I know enough history to know that in the modern world, among most radical leftists, Palestinian extremists, and Islamists, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism are intertwined. The insertion of “racism” into the national clash between Palestinians and Jews was an attempt to globalize that local conflict, and link it back in the 1970s to trendy fights against alleged American racism in Vietnam and elsewhere. Today, as we saw during the buildup to the US-Iraq war, as we see among shrill radicals on college campuses, the common hatred against the United States and Israel is the glue that holds that unlikely Red-Green, radical-Islamist alliance together. In fact, the leading French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy argues that this loathing of Israel and the United States provides the radical Left with its new center of gravity now that the gods of socialism and communism have failed.
And yes, I am not being hypersensitive when I smell the anti-Semitism in the Zionism-Racism rants of Abbas, Hamas, and their gullible enablers. The Zionism-racism charge emerges from the same cesspool that fed Medieval Christian anti-Semitism for centuries. The toxins suggesting that Jews are the ultimate villains, have a particularly vengeful Old Testament wrath, slay the innocent, are clannish and arrogant, merit special scrutiny, will always be the outsiders, and, are of course, to blame for being hated so much, are now being used to poison discourse about Zionism. Israel, the collective Jew, is the new Jewish victim of so much irrational, unreasonable hatred, except that Israel, the modern collective Jew, does not cower or back down and Israel, as a modern functioning nation, is bound to make some mistakes, which the haters then use to justify all their hatred.
So, yes, I am called a racist pig because I am a proud Zionist, American and Jew. I wear all those labels proudly -- and when attacked I wear them defiantly. I echo Franklin Roosevelt who said “judge me by the enemies I make.” But I will not echo Jean Paul Sartre who said “the anti-Semite makes the Jew.” The racist-mongers do not shape my identity, they do not define me.
Instead, I follow the feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin, who when, along with Betty Friedan and other American and Jewish feminists, endured the anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism of the old style Red-Green alliance, the Soviets and Third Worlders at the 1975 International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City, had her own consciousness raising moment. “I knew the arrow was meant for me,” Pogrebin said. She realized “to feminists who hate Israel, I was not a woman, I was a Jewish woman.” Launching a deeper Jewish journey, Pogrebin wondered, “Why be a Jew for them, if I am not a Jew for myself.”
That is the kind of Herzlian "Jew-Jitsu" we need. We should be turning our enemies’ hatred into a positive, by affirming a modern, constructive, pride-generating Zionist identity that we define, not them.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His latest book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism” was just published.