Excusing antisemitism

The columnist Michelle Goldberg laments the conflation of Jews and Israel.

A woman wearing a T-shirt which reads, "Boycott Israel", takes part in a demonstration in favour of the occupied Palestinian people of Gaza in Brussels December 27, 2011. (photo credit: REUTERS/SEBASTIAN SCHEINER/POOL)
A woman wearing a T-shirt which reads, "Boycott Israel", takes part in a demonstration in favour of the occupied Palestinian people of Gaza in Brussels December 27, 2011.
The New York Times is viewed as the gold standard of journalism, and space on their opinion pages is highly coveted. Yet it has repeatedly chosen to give its implicit approval to antisemitism by including defenses of the world’s oldest hatred as a part of “all the news that’s fit to print,” as the motto goes.
The latest is an op-ed by progressive columnist Michelle Goldberg. Titled “Anti-Zionism is not the same as Antisemitism,” the article is full of distortion and tendentious framings of facts and events.
The columnist laments the conflation of Jews and Israel and, in a way, she is right about that – Jews living in the US, UK, France or anywhere else should not be targeted because of Israel’s perceived ills, yet they have been many times.
But Goldberg only plays lip service to the confluence between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, ignoring how much those two overlap. On the Right and the Left, being anti-Zionist is the way to be antisemitic in polite society, by treating Israel like the Jew among the nations, and then punting that hatred onto local Jews.
The conspiracy theories about the international Jews have been replaced with Israel – and their emissaries – secretly whispering into world leaders’ ears convincing them to make decisions not serving their own interests.
One glaring example was the recent protest held outside the home of Tunisia’s tourism minister, who happens to be Jewish. They chanted “Zionists out,” apropos of nothing but his Judaism.
Rashida Tlaib, soon to be the first Palestinian member of Congress and someone who Goldberg specifically defends, recently wrote – in response to a tweet about her standing up to supposed pressure from AIPAC – about how she has experience resisting “billionaires... who trampled on working people.” In a later tweet, she wrote that the pro-Israel lobby targeted her for her “mere existence,” implying bigotry on their part.
What was AIPAC’s crime? They invited freshmen congressmen on a tour of Israel. She rejected it, and AIPAC didn’t say a thing: Tlaib is the one who made it public, and turned it into a story of those Israelis and their sneaky money – except that AIPAC is led by American Jews.
Much of Goldberg’s column conflates anti-Zionism with criticism of Israel. She seems to forget that in order to criticize something, it has to exist, which anti-Zionists do not want for Israel. She falls into the trap of accusing Jews of using antisemitism as an excuse to silence criticism of Israel when many people manage to be both Zionists and critics of Israel. A poll by strategist Mark Mellman shows that nine out of ten American Jews are pro-Israel – but six out of ten are critical of at least some Israeli policies.
Goldberg reserves special opprobrium for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cozying up to authoritarian-leaning governments in Eastern Europe. The irony of this criticism is that many Israelis have said exactly the same, including lawmakers from the Zionist Union Party. They are liberal Jews and critical of Netanyahu – but are at the same time, self-declared Zionists. It seems Goldberg is guilty of conflating the prime minister and all Israelis. Imagine how she would react if someone did the same for Americans like herself and Donald Trump.
The Times columnists says that: “It’s entirely possible to oppose Jewish ethnonationalism without being a bigot.” Leaving aside the idea that all Jews are the same ethnicity, she seems to have a problem specifically with Jewish nationalism, but not others.
She presents opposing a Palestinian state as a view which ought to be beyond the pale, repeatedly excoriating the current Israeli government for holding that position – despite the fact that Netanyahu often and repeatedly says the opposite. But, she doesn’t explain why opposing Palestinian ethnonationalism is necessarily bigoted, when it means a state that Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’s leadership claim will need to be free of Jews.
Anti-Zionism is an inherently antisemitic concept because it seeks to single the Jewish people out among the nations of the world as undeserving of self-determination. It doesn’t matter if Diaspora Jews like or support Israel – although polls show that the vast majority in the US and the UK do – for seeking Israel’s elimination to be antisemitic. Publishing Goldberg’s screed provides cover for antisemitism. The New York Times can do better.