January 21, 2019

So What If They Are Not Anti-Semitic?

Democratic U.S. congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib canvasses a neighborhood before Election Day in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

Is anti-Zionism akin to anti-Semitism? The debate is tired, but continues full force nonetheless. “Certainly, some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but it’s entirely possible to oppose Jewish ethno-nationalism without being a bigot,” wrote Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. She then mastered all available arguments in support of her position, but neglected to mention the most powerful argument against it: Even if such a possibility exists — even if, theoretically speaking, there is indeed a way to “oppose Jewish ethno-nationalism without being a bigot” — in reality, such a posture is very rare. In reality, opposition to “Jewish ethno-nationalism” is just another manifestation of irrational bigotry against Jews.

The discussion about the proper boundaries of criticizing Israel has become a periodic practice for American Jews. It recently re-emerged because of the election of several pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) politicians to Congress, and because of an anti-BDS bill initiative, and because of the comments made by Marc Lamont Hill on CNN in support of “a free Palestine from the river to the sea.”

What Hill said is more idiotic than enraging. He should have been fired for being uneducated about an issue on which he opined as if he is an expert (and also for calling for our collective elimination). CNN later said it severed ties with the commentator. 

“If someone is after my country, he or she will not get a pass just because they can prove that they are not also anti-Semitic. “

What does Hill’s plan for a “free Palestine” even mean? Does he mean as free as the Palestinians in Gaza, where Hamas keeps them as hostages? Or maybe his model is the Palestinian Authority, where the last free election took place a very long time ago (in 2005, if you insist to have a date)? Or maybe free from Jews? No — not “Jews” Jews, just Israeli Jews. The Jews against whom it is permissible to rant.

Goldberg, in her defense of Rashida Tlaib, a congresswoman-elect from Michigan who is supportive of  BDS, is using her considerable wit in defense of her supposedly not anti-Semitic, anti-Israel-activism. Like her, many pundits, activists and politicians are putting a lot of effort into proving that one can dislike Israel without disliking Jews. Or that one can be in favor of dismantling Israel without this being an instance of anti-Jewish sentiment. Of course, the case of these people is dubious to begin with — as Natan Sharansky’s 3-D test of anti-Semitism established a long time ago (Google it). But even those willing to accept it must ask: What are these people up to? What is the ultimate aim of their intellectual investment?

The answer is simple: helping people be against Israel without feeling bad about it (or pay a political price for it). 

The premise underlying this trend of argumentation is not hard to follow: Disliking Jews is bad. If disliking Israel is parallel to disliking Jews, then disliking Israel is also bad. However, if disliking Israel isn’t parallel to disliking Jews, then disliking Israel isn’t necessarily bad. We can dislike Israel without feeling guilty. 

Let’s call this bluff. Let’s forget about anti-Semitism. 

Disliking Israel is bigotry in and of itself. 

Forget the Jews and their sensitivities. Israelis — yes, most of whom are Jews — have their own sensitivities. They want respect, consideration and understanding. They deserve fair treatment. They deserve not to be singled out for criticism that other, much worse communities in much worse countries don’t have to deal with. They deserve to get a hearing when they insist that what distant pundits and congresswomen propose as a policy for their country is unworkable and dangerous. Israelis have a right to be safe, and have a right to protect their culture. They have all the reasons in the world to say without apology: If someone is after my country, he or she will not get a pass just because they can prove that they are not also anti-Semitic.