Jonathan Muskat
Jonathan Muskat

Are progressives who are critical of Israel antisemites?

At the Shabbat table a few weeks ago, my family and I were discussing whether all of the politicians who were critical of Israel in the latest conflict with Hamas were merely anti-Zionist or were they anti-Semitic. Naturally, we had different opinions. Recently, someone posted two posts by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one in which she wanted to stop supplying military arms to Israel alleging that Israel has been violating Palestinian human rights by virtue of their occupation of the Palestinians, and one in which she affirmed that we must never tolerate anti-Semitism anywhere and we must condemn anti-Semitic violence. And the question is, can you be anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic, or is anti-Zionism simply a smokescreen for anti-Semitism?

Numerous modern thinkers have spoken about the mutation of anti-Judaism into anti-Zionism. In antiquity, we were hated because we believed in one God. But then the Muslims and, in a sense, the Christians, became monotheists. As such, we couldn’t be hated anymore because we were monotheists so we were hated because of our religion. But then with the dawn of the enlightenment, the belief in the freedom of religion emerged. As such, we couldn’t be hated because of our religion, so we were hated because of our race, and anti-Semitism was born. But then came the Holocaust and the belief in the equality of all races. As such, we couldn’t be hated because of our race, so we were hated because of Zionism. Do we call out this anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism? I think it all depends.

Natan Sharansky formulated what I think is a very reasonable test, called the “3D test” of antisemitism, to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism. The three Ds stand for delegitimization of Israel, the demonization of Israel and subjecting Israel to double standards. Delegitimization of Israel refers to the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Singling the Jews out as being ineligible for self-determination would be considered a type of racism. Additionally, demonizing Israel as being demonic and satanic, and accusing them of being part of a global conspiracy controlling the world media, economy and societal institutions in an effort to harm humanity would be considered a type of racism. Finally, applying a double standard to Israel’s behavior and singling out Israel for criticism and ignoring another country’s similar behavior is also anti-Semitic. According to this standard, does the criticism of Israel by “progressives” constitute anti-Semitism?

Progressive politicians who are critical of Israel assert that Israel commits human rights violations in their treatment of the Palestinians and in their disproportionate use of force to protect themselves. If these progressives single out Israel and no other countries for committing human rights violations, then according to Sharansky’s definition, this criticism would constitute anti-Semitism. Additionally, Israel is unique in that it is a country that controls millions of Palestinians with lesser rights than Israeli citizens. The response to this claim is that the Palestinians brought this misfortune unto themselves and that Muslim countries are more repressive of minorities in their countries than Israel certainly is. However, progressives may not care who is responsible for the situation. They may cite the fact that so few minorities live in Muslim countries and say that they are not singling out Israel because they would make the same argument if millions of Jews were currently treated like second-class citizens under Muslim rule.

Additionally, perhaps some American progressive politicians who want to limit aid to Israel because of its alleged human rights violations may single out Israel for criticism only because America gives them so much financial aid based on the premise that Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only real democracy in the Middle East. As such, these progressive politicians respond, “Well, how can Israel be a real democracy if indeed it engages in human rights violations?”

I think that in our own echo chambers, we can simply say that all politicians who speak out against Israel are all anti-Semites, but if we are trying to convince those people who are outside of our echo chamber both the error and the danger of their position, we need to consider making a different argument. We must educate those politicians and others who align themselves with anti-Israel causes on the correct definition of proportionate force to protect our citizens. We must talk about the causes of the current situation in Israel which has led the Palestinians to remain as second-class citizens, so that we can dispel the notion that the country with the power presumptively bears the burden for the injustices done to those under its control who are suffering.

But then we must make another argument. We must educate those who claim to champion the freedoms of all oppressed people everywhere about the dangers of intersectionality, the perverse idea held by some since every thinking person must be opposed to Zionism and since every Jew is a Zionist, therefore, all thinking people must oppose the Jews. Additionally, we must make it known that anti-Semitism is the oldest and most pervasive hatred in the world. It started with anti-monotheism, then mutated to anti-Judaism, then anti-Semitism, and finally anti-Zionism. If progressive politicians claim that racist thinking against blacks is still pervasive in this country, they need to understand that certainly anti-Semitic thinking is still pervasive in this country. What that means is that even if some of them truly believe that they are not delegitimizing Israel, demonizing Israel or singling them out for a double standard, in practice their words are interpreted as such.

I hope that the recent rise in anti-Semitism in this country will make them understand that the language that they use in defense of certain minorities abroad is not only wrong, but it directly harms certain minorities here in the United States. And if they insist on singling out the black community as victims by saying Black Lives Matter when that community is suffering, they must insist on singling out the Jewish community as victims now by renouncing specifically anti-Semitism as opposed to making general statements that they are against racism of all forms. I hope that those who fight for the oppressed will use their energies to fight the injustice of anti-Semitism in our country and to truly understand its underlying causes.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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