With Israel and Hamas again engaging each other violently, the debate about what is legitimate criticism of the state of Israel and what is anti-Semitism again has reared its head. For several years, critics have couched their harsh opinions of Israeli policy as legitimate evaluation of a geo-political state. These individuals argue that their criticisms do not target Jews nor do they de-legitimize Jews as a people.
To be clear, no geo-political entity should exist beyond reproach. Critiques, as well as debate, are the hallmarks of a healthy democracy and republican mindset. Careful reflection should always be used as a way to examine contemplated and undertaken actions.
However, all too often, criticism targeted towards Israel begins with ignoring Israel’s status as the Jewish state. When the Presbyterian Church elected to divest from Israel, it did so by endorsing a theory that labeled Zionism a “false theology”. Critiques of Israel from political and academic elements routinely fail to acknowledge Israel as the Jewish national home, as can be exemplified whenever a protest against Israel occurs on a college campus. Such ignorance denies that the creation and maintenance of a Jewish national entity has played an integral role for the Jewish people throughout history, beginning in Biblical times up to and including the modern era.
The critiques will then often devolve into comparisons of Israeli policies to those of the Jews’ darkest enemies, the Nazis. Israeli politicians will be compared to Adolf Hitler and the Swastika will be superimposed over the Star of David on the Israeli flag as a method of demonstrating the Jewish similarity to the Nazis. These spurious associations do not account for fundamental differences between Judaic pluralism and Nazi tyranny.
Critics often will further express bewilderment regarding Israeli actions, given the history of the Jews. As Jews have experienced violence throughout their history, critics wonder why the Jewish people could ever react in such a violent way towards another people. Such criticism ignores that throughout history violence directed towards the Jews usually was a product of hatred that led to atrocious acts, including genocide. It is thus natural for the Jewish people to defend themselves, particularly from elements that chant for their destruction.
Together, these criticisms pave the way as a vanguard for anti-Semitism. By de-legitimizing Zionism, critics deny the Jewish people’s historic right to live in and maintain a homeland. By comparing Jews to Nazis, the Jews are dehumanized into monsters whose evil knows no bounds. By demanding that Jews only act with nonviolence a double standard is created which prevents the Jewish people from acting in their best interest; whereas it is understood and expected that all other peoples will defend themselves from aggression.
An anti-Zionist refrain claims to respect Jews while only questioning the Jewish state. The rhetoric some anti-Zionists use reveals a dark and ugly creature that does not respect Judaism as a way of life or Jews as a people. Anti-Zionism questions the rationale for the existence of the Jewish state. In so doing, it questions the legitimacy of Judaism as a faith tradition and by extension the Jews as a people. Thus, such questioning, at its very core, is anti-Semitic. If anti-Zionism is allowed to continue as a reasonable avenue for criticism, then it institutionalizes anti-Semitism. At the start of the 21st century such hatred should have no place in our discourse.