Monday, September 03, 2007
Criticism of Israel Isn't Antisemitic, Antisemitic Criticism of Israel is Antisemitic
As the situation in Israel has worsened, accusations of Antisemitism and accusations that criticism of Israel is being muzzled with claims of Antisemitism have been thrown around like a football. Critics hostile to Israel claim that they are being muzzled. Pro-Israel activists reply that the claim of being muzzled is itself intended to silence the debate by treating retorts from the Pro-Israel side as illegitimate acts of persecution.
Out of all that tangled mess, let's get back to basics. No one is of course perfect. No country is perfect. There isn't any person or any government or any country that is immune to criticism or doesn't deserve to be criticized. I've criticized the Israeli government extensively myself.
So where do we draw the line between legitimate criticism and bigotry? For one thing fairness is a dead giveaway. Someone who leads a crusade against crime is an activist. Someone who constantly reports and focuses only on crimes by a particular race, is a racist. Apply that same formula to Israel in the context of a world where numerous occupations and ethnic wars and even genocides are underway and it's not too hard to figure out why people who single out Israel are suspected of prejudice.
After all if you had a newspaper columnist, who dedicated all his attention to only crimes committed by Jews while mostly ignoring the rest, it wouldn't be too hard to guess his agenda. It's not too hard to guess the agenda of a U.N. where countries that engage in actual apartheid and are responsible for mass murder sit on the human rights committee and shut down discussion of Sudan while passing more resolutions against Israel. Is that Antisemitism? That's a matter of interpretation. Is it fair? It's impossible to argue that it is.
When British academics push a boycott of Israel but not a boycott of China or India or Turkey or Sri Lanka or Sudan or Saudi Arabia, what any unreasonable person sees is blatant unfairness. It then becomes a matter of determining the motive for that unfairness. Is it bigotry or some other agenda. Considering how prevalent Antisemitism has been throughout history and considering the upsurge in Antisemitism in Europe that has now been testified to even by governing bodies, viewing Antisemitism as at least a contributing factor to such unfairness is entirely reasonable.
Of course we can't know what is in someone else's heart but we can pay attention to the consistency of their own standards to reveal their agendas. Genuine human rights campaigners are supposed to care about oppression around the world. Someone who has no idea what has been going on in Sri Lanka or East Timor but is perpetually outraged about Israel isn't interested in human rights so much as in Israel. And that raises the question why.
Critics of Israel typically try to explain away such single mindedness by claiming that Israel is a unique case because Israel receives foreign aid, because Western countries helped bring Israel into existence or because Israel is more Western and should be held to higher standards. On closer examination though, all these arguments quickly fall apart. Israel receives foreign aid but so do Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and many countries that are genuinely repressive. Much of the Middle East consists of countries that America and Europe created by drawing lines on a map. If America and Europe are somehow responsible for Israel, why are they not responsible for Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria? And finally is Lebanon held to a higher standard because it is more Western and Democratic? In the face of reason such positions quickly fall apart.
Neither foreign aid, nor 'responsibility for the creation of Israel', nor democracy or any other excuse is at the heart of the reason why Israel is targeted in such a way. Among the world Israel is only unique in one way. Not in occupation of territory or its war with terrorism but in being the only Jewish state in the world. And it is its Jewishness that is at the heart of the concern of many of its critics, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
It is difficult to argue that were Israel populated by Arabs or Malay or Africans or Turks or Persians that it would receive a fraction of the attention that it does. There are too many examples that prove otherwise. For hundreds of millions around the world Israel plays a unique role, for good or bad, precisely because it is Jewish and how people approach Israel has most to do with their own religious beliefs or lack thereof and how that causes them to approach Jews as a people.
Muslim opposition to Israel is not rooted in love for the Palestinian Arabs, a phantom people who are routinely abused and despised in Arab countries. It is rooted in the Islamic inability to tolerate a non-Muslim regime, particularly a Jewish one, in their midst. Christian denominations break down their approach to Israel along theological lines, none of them truly accepting Israel over the long run as a enduring Jewish state populated by Jews who believe and practice Judaism.
The progressive left which has rejected a separate ethnic identity for Jews while welcoming and celebrating it among bona fide minorities views Israel as illegitimate because they view a separate Jewish identity as illegitimate, as testified to from the days of the French Revolution to the Soviet Union and to the modern assimilationist streams of Liberal Judaism. In this fundamentally Antisemitic or rather Judeopathic worldview, Arab identity is more authentic than Jewish identity and the artificial European imposed borders of Syria or Jordan are somehow more authentic than those of Israel.
It is not what Israel does that outrages the bulk of its critics and enemies. It is what Israel is. From that inescapable fact emerges both the problem and the solution. We cannot appease our critics. We can only do our best to survive them.