Exploiting anti-Semitism for the occupation’s sake

History teaches us that the world can be a very dangerous place for Jews.

Anti-Jewish protest in London (photo credit: JACK TAYLOR / AFP)
Anti-Jewish protest in London
(photo credit: JACK TAYLOR / AFP)
Anti-Semitism is a real danger, as constant recent reminders in Western Europe and other parts of the world show. The fact that 70 years after the Holocaust this specific form of racism is not only still prevalent but actually on the rise is shocking – and an issue that must be addressed proactively, by educators, politicians and public leaders.
A world that tolerates anti-Semitism is morally unacceptable; a world with growing anti-Semitism is dangerous – and not only for Jews.
Anti-occupation is not anti-Semitism. This may seem like an obvious, self-evident, statement. But as the efforts to obscure and identify the two grow, it is important to clearly make this distinction, and to explain the immorality and danger of such cynical endeavors.
Around the world, more and more individuals – and, gradually, governments – reject Israel’s decades-long occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The prolonged denial of basic human rights to millions of Palestinians, all under the guise of a “temporary” measure, is perceived as both unjust and illegal. Hence, the resulting criticism of Israeli policies that deny Palestinian rights and entrench the occupation; restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement and right to a family life; take over their land to expand settlements; maintain two separate and discriminatory legal systems; justify the disproportionate use of lethal force and the failure to hold perpetrators accountable; and apply an endless bureaucracy that controls most aspects of Palestinian life.
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The vast majority of people who reject this injustice do so out of moral conviction. They are not anti-Israeli; they oppose certain Israeli policies.
They are not anti-Semitic but rather anti-occupation.
In recent years, people and groups committed to the project of continuing and deepening the occupation have upped their cynicism. From “anti-Israeli” they have progressed to “anti-Semitic.” The recent portrayal of Israeli human rights organizations as long-nosed Jews that crave European money was, sadly, merely an extreme example of this unacceptable trend. Unable, or unwilling, to address the factual criticism, the public relations strategy deployed to further propagate the occupation is to cry “anti-Semitism” and hope that people and organizations are silenced, discredited, or both.
This strategy will fail, because facts matter – and no public relations strategy can hide the facts of the occupation. But there is an additional issue here that should be cause for concern: how dangerous this strategy is for the fight against anti-Semitism.
If we are genuinely interested in combating anti-Semitism, then it is in our best interest to clearly distinguish between what anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. This approach will be much more effective in galvanizing civil society and politicians against anti-Semitism.
Above all, it is simply counter-productive to cynically package alongside anti-Semitism additional, politically motivated targets – that obscure the authentic issue at hand. Because if the legitimate criticism of policies that deny basic human rights is anti-Semitism, then how can people of conscience effectively fight its real expressions? Jewish ethics teach us that we must fight injustice.
Hence, a commitment – indeed, a responsibility – to end the occupation. History teaches us that the world can be a very dangerous place for Jews.
Hence, a commitment – indeed, a responsibility – to end anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is too real a danger to let the struggle against it be cynically manipulated by those who wish to prolong the injustice of the occupation. The injustices of the occupation are too unacceptable to let this cynical manipulation derail us.
Back to facts, back to values, onwards: we have much work ahead of us – on both fronts.
The author is executive director of B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.