There is a very special form of bullying used to attack those who question Israel's right to exist as a "Jewish State", or its policies in the West Bank, or AIPAC's role in getting U.S. legislators to unquestioningly support Israel, even if doing so jeopardizes American security interests. These bullies roll all these criticisms into one category and accuse Israel's critics of being Anti-Semitic. They paint the critics with the same broad brush they would use to paint a Nazi with two objectives in mind:
[Netanyahu's abuse of the term "Anti-Semites"] is fundamentally a betrayal of those who actually suffered and died at the hands of “classical Anti-Semites” on “the soil of Europe.” The actual bodies of actual Jews tumbled naked into mass unmarked graves after being riddled with bullets; the actual bodies of actual Jews were burned alive in their homes and holy places; the actual bodies of actual Jews were raped and tortured and gassed and lost forever to their families and our people. When we liken that history to political actions taken in protest of Israel’s occupation policies, we’re making a mockery of those lives.
Let's think logically about the difference between true Anti-Semitism and criticism, or even delegitimzation--of the state of Israel as we know it today. There are five different ways one can criticize Israel, and only one is truly "anti-Semitic" .
- One can criticize specific Israeli politicians without criticizing official Israeli policy. For example, three mainstream Jewish groups criticized Israeli economics minister Naftali Bennett last summer for claiming that the two-state solution is dead.
- One can criticize Israel's policies, especially new settlement construction in, or even the entire occupation of, the West Bank, without criticizing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State. Though certainly a minority position, there are a number of Jews within and outside of Israel who are criticizing the occupation in the West Bank. Even more are criticizing the construction of new settlements which could kill a two-state solution. J Street has taken a firm stance against settlement expansion.
- One can criticize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State but not criticize its right to exist as a state.
- One can criticize Israel's right to exist as a state without criticizing Jews as a people or the Jewish religion.
- One can be a true bigotted Anti-Semite who hates Jews because they are Jews,
Categories three and four overlap somewhat, and maybe they shouldn't even be separate categories. I certainly fall within the third category if by "Jewish State" we mean that Israel must forever maintain a majority Jewish population. I believe that Israel should be a state "designed for the protection of Jews" and not a Jewish state. There is a slight but significant difference between these formulations. One is racist, the other is not. I explain the difference in more detail here. Egypt has good relations with Israel without recognizing it as a Jewish State. The PLO has recognized Israel's right to exist as a state without recognizing it as a Jewish State. The claim that failure to recognize Israel as a Jewish State is Anti-Semitic is both relatively recent and absurd.
Most of those who criticize Israel's right to exist as a state are really criticizing its right to exist as a state in its current form. Many would like to see Israel truly transformed into a state for all its people--where everyone is treated equally and Jews don't get special rights. This may come in the form of Israel (or whatever the new version of the state will be called) being a separate entity from the West Bank and Gaza, or it could come in the form of Israel being combined with one or both of them. Maysoon Zayid wrote a wonderful piece about what a one-state solution could look like. If I had a magic wand that could make her vision a reality I would be thrilled wave it. I challenge you to read the following excerpt and not laugh in the face of anyone who calls her Anti-Semitic.
When I call for one state, I’m told it is impossible because there would no longer be a Jewish state. I don’t know how many times I can explain that being a secular state with equal rights does not deny the Jewish people their identity or a safe haven. It is time to live in the present. Neither Israel nor Palestine has a constitution. As one state they could create one that allows any Jewish person worldwide to come live there as they do now. There is more than enough room for the refugees that want return and the Jews worldwide who want to make aliyah. The fear that allowing the refugees to return will ensure the persecution of the Jewish population and the return of the Caliphate is absurd. Palestinians are Christian, Muslims, atheist, Buddhist—you name it. And the majority I know have nothing against Judaism and everything against Israeli oppression. Under democratic law, extremists of any stripe will have to live in a country where you do not discriminate against your neighbors or, if you do, you do so hiding behind a sock puppet on social media.
Palestinians and their supporters are not the only ones who believe the Jews had no right to establish a state in Israel. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the early 1900s, most Jews thought it would be inappropriate for them to migrate en mass back to their ancient Homeland. They thought that God wanted them to wait patiently in the Diaspora for His signal that the end days were near before returning to Judea and Samaria to reform a Jewish State. As Mark Tessler explains in A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (p. 19 - 20)
...most Jews nonetheless did not believe it was appropriate to initiate steps toward the reconstruction of their national home in Palestine. On the contrary, such action would indicate a loss of faith and the absence of a willingness to wait for the Creator's plan to unfold in its own Divinely ordained fashion, and this, as a consequence, would rupture the covenant between God and the Jewish people and make illogical and illegitimate any proclamations of Jewish nationhood or any assertion of a continuing tie beween Daspora Jewry and the Land of Israel.
This attitude started to change in the early 1900's thanks largely to the efforts of Rabbi Abraham Kook. Today almost all religious rabbis support the Jewish State of Israel. Almost. But though Bibi Netanyahu might not like it, there are still a small number of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who cling to the belief that it is going against God's will to form a Jewish State before He gives His signal. One such group, The True Torah Jews Against Zionism spells out why they are against a Zionist state of Israel:
The relatively new concept of Zionism began only about one hundred years ago and since that time Torah-true Jewry has steadfastly opposed the Zionist ideology. This struggle is rooted in two convictions:
1. Zionism, by advocating a political and military end to the Jewish exile, denies the very essence of our Diaspora existence. We are in exile by Divine Decree and may emerge from exile solely via Divine Redemption. All human efforts to alter a metaphysical reality are doomed to end in failure and bloodshed. History has clearly borne out this teaching.
2. Zionism has not only denied our fundamental belief in Heavenly Redemption it has also created a pseudo-Judaism which views the essence of our identity to be a secular nationalism. Accordingly, Zionism and the Israeli state have consistently endeavored, via persuasion and coercion, to replace a Divine and Torah-centered understanding of our peoplehood with an armed materialism.
True Torah Jews is dedicated to informing the world and in particular the American public and politicians that not all Jews support the ideology of the Zionist state called "Israel". In fact, a great number of Orthodox Jews view the ideology of that state as diametrically opposed to the teachings of traditional Judaism.
Now, watch this rabbi explain why he and his fellow ultra-Orthodox are opposing the draft into the Israeli Defense Force. Note he questions the very legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel. His view of what Judaism means is very different from that of most Jews. But does this make him an Anti-Semite?
Finally, Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote a great manual to help you tell the difference between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. Please read it. I can't recommend it highly enough.
In George Orwell's 1984, Big Brother's party used three slogans to control the population: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” If Orwell were alive today--if he could see how Bibi Netanyahu and others of his ilk abused the term "Anti-Semite" to try to stifle those who fight against an illegal and often brutal occupation, then he might have added one more slogan: "Victimhood is Power".
Update 4/26/14: The Students for Justice in Palestine distributed mock eviction notices under the doors of 2000 students living in dorms at New York University. The notices were very obviously not real eviction notices and were intended to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians who are evicted from their homes by the Israeli government. Laura Adkins, the vice president of NYU's Israeli advocacy group, TorchPac, alerted the media claiming that Jews on campus were being targeted in an anti-Semitic attack by SJP. Phan Nguyen wrote a brilliant, must read article that shred Adkins's claim to bits. The following passage from his article sums up the abuse of the term "Anti-Semitism" perfectly.
There’s another bait-and-switch in the story, more commonly deployed by defenders of Israel. In her answers to my questions, Adkins felt the need to define anti-Semitism, because she was applying such an unconventional definition of anti-Semitism, namely Natan Sharansky’s “Three D’s of anti-Semitism”—demonization, delegitimization, and double-standards—a definition of anti-Semitism so arbitrary that it only works in English and perhaps a few other languages where the same concepts can be expressed with words that begin with the letter D.
Moreover it defines all of anti-Semitism, “new anti-Semitism,” as relating to Israel, and says nothing about Jew hatred, which Sharansky sets aside as “classic anti-Semitism.” In other words, it is a redefinition of anti-Semitism.
This is where the bait-and-switch comes in: The expectation is that one can employ a new definition of anti-Semitism but still maintain the connotations of the earlier definition of anti-Semitism. In other words, it’s changing the rules mid-game and hoping no one notices that it’s a different game. . . .
Update 4/28/14: Dionna Nevel wrote an impassioned op-ed for the Jerusalem Post imploring people to stop trying to silence Israel's critics by playing the Anti-Semite card. It is well worth reading.
Update 5/5/14: This article by Cantor Michael Davis is well worth a read.
Update 9/5/14: MJ Rosenberg wrote an extraordinarily good piece proving the recent upswing in Anti-Semitism can be traced directly to Israel's behavior, especially its war in Gaza.