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Getting Antisemitism Wrong

This is a crosspost by Ben Cohen from Z Word

From David Newman in the Jerusalem Post, two kinds of arguments concerning contemporary antisemitism: the first is a straw man, while the second is just irrelevant.

Here’s the straw man: “A major problem in coming to grips with contemporary anti-Semitism is the inability, or perhaps unwillingness, of many community leaders to distinguish between critique of Israel and the policies of its government with that of anti-Semitic behavior. For many, the two have become synonymous.”

It’s a strange, ambiguous phrase, “critique of Israel.” Are we referring to critiquing specific Israeli policies or critiquing Israel’s very existence? If the former, I’m not aware of any serious observer who would say – whether the issue is the country’s paralyzing electoral system or the expansion of settlements or anything else which is decided by elected politicians – that measured criticism on such matters, even if harshly expressed, amounts to antisemitism.

But if by “critique” we mean advocacy of Israel’s elimination, then that is most definitely antisemitic. It denies fundamental rights to Jews which others take for granted. And it is an outcome that could only be achieved by killing or expelling millions of people, the majority of them Jews.

There are a number of manifestations of this eliminationist discourse which can, as a consequence, be classified as antisemitic, and which do not constitute legitimate criticism. They include, for example, the labelling of Israel as an “apartheid” state, as opposed to regarding it as just one more democratic state in which discrimination is a problem. Included, too, is the BDS campaign. All these bombastic descriptors and tactics are reserved for Israel alone. In a nutshell, that is why I regard post-1948 anti-Zionism – where the focus is not upon whether a state for the Jews is a good idea, but on strategies to eliminate that state now that it does exist – as indistinguishable from antisemitism. If Jewish leaders were to abandon that understanding, then that, I would say to David Newman, would really be a disservice to those whom they represent.

Here is Newman’s irrelevant  argument: “I often encounter members of local communities standing outside synagogues and other communal events checking people as they enter, but who would never dream of setting foot inside the building to listen to the lecture, or take part in the prayer service, once their security duty was over. If and when the threat were to disappear, would these people have any form of positive cultural or religious means of identifying with their people? Would they be able to attain the same positions of leadership and prominence in promoting education and ethics, rather than fighting racism and threat?”

I don’t know how Newman can be certain that all those people on the door are semi-literate philistines more concerned with flexing biceps than with spiritual or intellectual enrichment. Did he ask them? More to the point, given what’s being discussed here, does it matter?

See David Hirsh here as well.