Hasn’t the Anti-Semitism Charge Been Trivialized Enough?

By at The Magnes Zionist.

Is calling somebody an “Israel Firster” anti-Semitic? Is accusing somebody of “dual loyalty” anti-Semitic? Does it smack of anti-Semitism.to refer to Israeli “apartheid”?  

Of course not, unless you want to trivialize anti-Semitism beyond belief, or unless you want to put very reasonable and widely held beliefs beyond the pale of discussion. Heck, I know personally  a lot of supporters of Israel who are “Israel first”-ers. I know them; I pray with them;  I have them in my classes. In fact, I know a lot of “Israel only”-ers,” I certainly have had students who are US citizens, who would never consider volunteering for the US army, but who have served in the Israel army, even without being an Israeli citizen. (Full disclosure: I have dual loyalty to the US and to Israel because I have dual-citizenship.) I have prayed  in modern orthodox synagogues where the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel has been said, but not the prayer for the welfare of the United States;  or where congregants stand for the former and sit for (or mumble) the latter. I don’t agree with this practice, and I criticize such synagogues, but pointing that out doesn’t make you an anti-Semite. And by the way, if you ask people why they are more concerned with Israel than with America, they often answer that Israel is more threatened than America. Or that they love Israel more because they are Jewish. Is it anti-Semitic to point that out?

If you think that using these terms make somebody an anti-Semite or a bigot – a charge that  Zionist-leaning organizations like the ADL or the AJC or members of the Zionist rightwing blogosphere (for links, see here) have recently leveled against some bloggers at the Center for American Progress, then perhaps you yourself are an anti-Semite – or at least a bigot. 

You see, when somebody says what a Jew can or cannot say, when somebody says that certain discourse is considered to be hateful or insensitive and, as a result, censors or chills that speech – and when that speech is not conceptually connected with anti-Semitism — then the person who is making that discrimination is anti-Semitic, if a Jew is involved, and bigoted if a non-Jew is involved. Because the same terms said with the same intent cannot be considered anti-Semitic only when a non-Jew says them. I don’t deny that certain terms are more inappropriately said by outsider groups – the N-word comes to mind. But “inappropriately said” is a far cry from anti-Semitic.

Who decides what speech is anti-Semitic? Is there a Pope of anti-Semitism? Who are the experts? According to Commentary’s Alana Goodman, the Anti-Defamation League is “considered by many media outlets to be the final word in all things anti-Semitism” – which, by the way, is the sort of grandiose and unsubstantiated assertion that readers ofCommentary may be used to, but I certainly am not. Who appointed the ADL? And do they consider Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, and a host of Israeli commentators anti-Semitic, when they refer to Israeli apartheid? Perhaps Israeli politicians are allowed to be bigoted? And even if the term is inaccurate, what does that have to do with anti-Semitism? 

Nobody can beat Prof. Robert Wistrich’s credentials, both as a rightwing student of the so-called “new anti-Semitism,”  and as a Zionist historian of anti-Semitism.I mean, I can adduce other scholars of anti-Semitism who are not as rightwing as he is, such as the  most careful writer  on anti-Semitism and its various shades of meaning today, the philosopher Brian Klug of Oxford. Klug runs rings around not only the ADL but most of the rightwing historians of anti-Semitism because, as an analytically-trained philosopher, he zeroes in on the nuances of conceptual distinctions much better than most historians. But let’s leave Klug aside – even Wistrich admits that anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, although he goes on argue for  “continuity” or “convergence” between radical anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (using arguments that I believe Klug and others have answered quite well.) According to Wistrich,

…[A]nti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two distinct ideologies that over time (especially since 1948) have tended to converge, generally without undergoing a full merger. There have always been Bundists, Jewish communists, Reform Jews, and ultra-Orthodox Jews who strongly opposed Zionism without being Judeophobes. So, too, there are conservatives, liberals, and leftists in the West today who are pro-Palestinian, antagonistic toward Israel, and deeply distrustful of Zionism without crossing the line into anti- Semitism. There are also Israeli “post-Zionists” who object to the definition of Israel as an exclusively or even a predominantly “Jewish” state without feeling hostile toward Jews as such. There are others, too, who question whether Jews are really a nation; or who reject Zionism because they believe its accomplishment inevitably resulted in uprooting many Palestinians. None of these positions is intrinsically anti-Semitic in the sense of expressing opposition or hatred toward Jews as Jews.

(By the way, there were many Jewish opponents of Zionism who did not fit the categories above, not to mention the majority of Jews outside of Eastern Europe who were neither anti-Zionists nor Zionists.) 

But of course, the CAP bloggers did not write anti-Zionist tracts. Let’s face it. The anti-Semitism charge is the first refuge of rightwing Zionists today – many of whom are themselves “Israel firsters” — who want to squelch debate over Israel’s policies by demonizing and delegitimizing their opponents’s discourse. It is nauseating, and it is past time to call them on it. 

Goodman, who criticizes the Truman Project for cutting ties with the lobbyist Josh Block who first raised the “anti-Semitic” canard against the CAP bloggers, ends her article by asking, what would President Truman think? The question is a good one. May  I frame it slightly differently: what would the the author of the quote below say of  somebody who plays the “anti-Semitic” card when criticizing a critic of Israel?

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I’ve found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.

I don’t know whether Goodman considers the author of the quote, President Harry Truman, to be an anti-Semite or not. I do know that Abe Foxman did:

    While President Truman’s personal thoughts about Jews are in some sense a reflection of those times, it is shocking to learn that this great American leader and statesman was afflicted with the same disease of anti-Semitism that was mirrored by larger society

But what I find more shocking is Foxman’s next paragraph:

    Nothing in his statements, however, changes Truman’s steadfast resolve to aid in the resettlement of Jews and other refugees in the aftermath of the war and the Holocaust. Regardless of his personal beliefs, President Truman will be remembered for his support and recognition of the homeland of the Jews, the State of Israel.

For Abe Foxman, one can forgive or overlook – or not remember – Truman’s anti-Semitism because of what he did for the State of Israel. So an anti-Semite who helps the State of Israel is better than a decent person who is a critic of the State of Israel and calls its policies on the West Bank apartheid.

Should we add another sin to the Israel-right-or-wrongers the trivialization of anti-Semitism?

Thank goodness that Nahum Barnea, Israel’s most popular commentator, has criticized Elliot Abrams on his reckless and pernicious use of the “A-word” against Joe Klein and Tom Friedman.


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