Saturday, November 21, 2009

When criticizing Israel is anti-semitism

A friend of mine linked to a story in the tyee that I responded to on facebook. I've decided to copy that response here.

While it is certainly true that not all criticisms of Israel are acts of anti-semitism, there are those who call themselves critics of Israel who really are spouting hate and anti-semitism. To understand this you have to appreciate just how our people, our land, our history, our customs and our spirituality are interwoven in Judaism. Somewhere just under half of all Jews are Israelis; and a high majority of Jews in the Diaspora self identify as supporters of Israel.

Absolutely you can find examples of Jews who reject Israel - even groups of them. You can also find Jews for Jesus. I don't think anyone would say that because of this the Jewish people are ambivalent on whether Jesus has a role in Judaism. It is simply noted that there are exceptions.

Of course it is reasonable to question and criticize actions of the government and the state. Ex-prime ministers of Israel do this. The current Israeli president has done this in the past. And of course Israelies don't vote as a monolithic block. In fact in a first past the post like system Netyahu would probably not be Prime Minister right now; and Lieberman would certainly not be a serious player.* (This is not to say I think that this government is illegitimate in anyway.)

What crosses the line into anti-semitism is when people say (and I've met these people in university) "I don't have a problem with Jews; it's just Israelis I hate" (and they felt comfortable saying this to my face). And it is easy to find examples of people crying "Zionist thieves" at rallies. To be clear, when you express hate for Israel you are expressing hate for Jews. When you call Zionists thieves you are calling me and my family criminals.

So yes, not all criticisms of Israel are anti-semitism. But why let the anti-semites hide amongst you? Why be an apologist?

*This is one of my personal complaints of the Israeli government; in attempt to be more in line with academic theories of "democracy" Israel has a proportional representation system. Because of this voters aren't required to seek out a compromise with their vote in order to influence the government. This has resulted in Knessets made up of bizarre and unstable coalitions with those on the edge getting to hold the balance of power. First past the post would solve this. STV would not.


steven said...

Thanks for the comment Nathan. While there is certainly value and meaning in realizing that the two concepts aren't interchangable, it is also worth recognizing that there is no way to build a firewall between the two. In particular hate is just too powerful of a concept to try to narrowly apply it with out it passing through any artificial barriers. Hatred and violence is received as an attack on the whole.

Nathan H. Bird said...

Maybe it'll inspire you to blog more if I let you know that I'm still not sure I agree with you on this one, Steve.
It seems to me that Zionism is a political philosophy, and as such absolutely must be just as vulnerable to criticism as any other.
And so we have a choice: build a "firewall" between Semitism and Zionism; or build one between criticism and discrimination - and I am of the opinion that the latter firewall is even more difficult to construct than the former.
I recognize the somewhat unique connection between Jewish peoples and Zionism, and I realize that if I were Jewish it would be hard for me not to take criticism of Zionism personally. But I really do think that it is in everyone's best interest that we try hard to make a clear distinction.