Criticism to Israel and antisemitism

The accusation of antisemitism rained down on me instantly, as expected. With my first posts I called down the rain, which will become a storm. I open the umbrella and… I defend myself.

Anyone who criticizes Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians must defend themselves against this accusation. To people who are used to analyzing problems, this may seem strange, if not absurd. But this issue enflames the soul, the heart takes sides, and the mind is clouded.

Even though I am an Israeli born Jew, I will try to approach the issue from a point of view as neutral as possible.

Antisemitism is a racist ideology that considers Jews to be an inferior people, on whom all the evils in the world can be blamed. Over the last two centuries, antisemitism has been encouraged by various European governments to divert the attention of their subjects from their own miseries, using the Jews as an easy and appetizing scapegoat. A defenseless target on which to vent the anger and desire for redemption of one’s subjects. Nazi-fascism represented the culmination of this hideous ideology.

Zionism and the birth of the State of Israel are the legitimate fruit of antisemitic persecutions. It is still the cause of the tragedy of another people, to which a reasonable solution should be found.

Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is contested by many around the world, and even in Israel itself. The well-known Israeli writer David Grossman, in a 2016 interview with Euronews1, denounces the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israeli prime minister, as follows: “I would say he’s a criminal of peace because for so many years he avoids every chance for peace and he refuses constantly to generate an option of negotiation and of peace between us and the Palestinians and this is dangerous. In doing that, he puts Israel in danger…”. The writer said that he was “ashamed of what my country’s government is doing”.

The late Amos Oz, another great Israeli writer, interviewed in the same year by the BBC2, expressed similar views. The writer argued that it was legitimate to accuse of antisemitism only those who desire the destruction of the State of Israel and certainly not those who criticize its policy.

I fully agree with the observations of the Swiss sociologist Monique Eckmann3, of whom I quote some passages: “To criticize discriminatory or undemocratic legislation and to ask for its change […]. Criticizing the annexation projects of the occupied territories certainly does not mean antisemitism”[…]. Self-determination, sovereignty and the right to safe and recognized borders, constitute rights affecting all peoples, including Jews and Palestinian Arabs. To contest the existence of Israel… is to deny these rights to Jews. It is this position that is comparable to a form of antisemitism”.

Eckmann also notes that “Accusing of antisemitism all those who defend the Palestinian right to a state, means pointing the finger at the Israeli opposition and peace movements, which also include many Jews.” The sociologist also observes that: “… the criticism of the Israeli government’s policy must be grounded and rational, as in any self-respecting democratic debate. The threshold of hatred is exceeded when emotions that express a visceral or underground aversion burst into the discussion. It happens, for example, when the arguments used evoke associations, symbols or feelings borrowed from the antisemitic arsenal”.

In fact, the accusation of antisemitism against those who criticize Israel has become a widespread slogan. In the US, any objection to Israeli politics is silenced, precisely, with the accusation of antisemitism.

This distortion was conceived and exported to the world by the Israeli right wing. By equating Judaism and Israel, the Israeli government wants to create a comfortable screen, a shield that easily grips many, against any opposition to its oppressive laws towards the Palestinians. Significant in this regard is the affirmation of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations to “represent the State of Israel, its citizens and the Jewish people in the world”.

To my reader it may seem absurd, but equating the criticism to Israel and antisemitism, has become a problem that goes beyond the individual, since it affects the legislation of many Western countries. For example, Australian Jewish journalist Michael Visontay4 notes how the law in his country interferes with the freedom to discuss Israeli politics. He denounces the lack of clarity in legislation to avoid accusing anyone who criticizes Israel in public for the crime of antisemitism.

On the contrary, in accordance with the opinion of many, I believe that antisemitism is fueled by the very politics of my native country.

When I was in the primary school in Israel, the country’s enthusiasm for its birth, despite the poverty and a thousand difficulties, included the dream of peace. This hope remained alive as long as the country was ruled by Ben Gurion’s Labor Party. Even after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, this hope persisted, because the Labor governments still considered these territories as a trading card in view of a definitive peace with the Arab countries and some satisfactory solution to the Palestinian problem. Later, with the governments of the nationalist and religious right, peace became, and remains, more and more a chimera.

Since then, antisemitic sentiment around the world has grown strongly. Many observers agree that this is due to the intolerable situation of the Palestinians, discriminated against as Israeli citizens and oppressed in the occupied territories. An example for all: It is well documented that, in the United States, episodes of antisemitism increased dramatically in 2019, in the aftermath of yet another Israeli bloody attack in Gaza.

I sympathize with the concern of Abraham Gutman5, Jewish editor-in-chief of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who wrote: “As someone who was born and raised in Israel, I don’t take accusations that I’m ‘feeding antisemitism’ lightly. But I do refuse to believe that my safety, and the safety of my family, is dependent on oppressing anyone else”.

Allow me a personal reflection: Is it possible that I, a Jew, am antisemitic because I criticize the policy of my beloved native country? Can I really be anti-myself?

In conclusion, I find no better words than those expressed by Gutman himself: “Far from offensive, criticizing the Israeli government should be viewed as an act of love that could help make everyone more safe and more free. The freedom and safety of Jewish Israelis and the freedom and safety of Christian and Muslim Palestinians are not mutually exclusive — in fact, they are secured through co-existence”.

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  1. David Grossman: Israelis ‘more prone to fanaticism and fundamentalis’ – By Euronews, 17/3/2016
  2. Amos Oz: Saying Israel should not exist is anti-Semitic – BBC Euronews, 14 September 2016
  3. Monique Eckmann: Critiquer Israël, est-ce de l’antisémitisme? Histoire des juifs, Shoah, ressentiments : un passé qui ne passe pas.
  4. Michael Visontay: Is it inherently antisemitic to criticise Israel? It may depend on who you ask. The Guardian, 22/10/2021
  5. Abraham Gutman: Supporting Palestinian rights is antisemitic because Israel wants it to be – The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27/5/2021

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