We often hear, “Of course it’s not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel. You can criticize Israel just like any other country.” And that seems obviously true. In fact, I cannot remember ever hearing anyone on the Zionist side of the playing field make the claim that criticism of Israel is primarily anti-Semitic. Never. Not once.
Allow me to be the first. Here’s why:
First, consider the fact that the above statement is almost invariably followed by a “Buuut you shouldn’t say…” . Why? Because almost every time, the “legitimate” critique of Israel in question is linked to some anti-Semitic trope (Jews control the world, Jews buy influence, Jews have dual loyalty, Jews behave like Nazis, Jews drink children’s blood—about that last, check out the free.palestine.1948 Instagram account that Rashida Tlaib has been following).
Why almost every time? Did you ever hear anyone say, “Criticism of Great Britain is not anti-British, buuut…?” No? Neither have I. It never has to be said. That should tell us something.
But wait, shouldn’t we treat Israel like every other country? Well, no, actually. Because Israel isn’t like every other country. By that I do not mean that Israel has some divine mandate that puts it above criticism. As Heinlein wrote, “One man’s theology is another man’s bellylaugh.” No, I mean Israel is not like every other country because it, uniquely, is faced with “staticide.” Israel’s enemies do not want it to change policies. They do not want it to have policies. They do not want it to be. In that light, “legitimate” critique of Israel is like rearranging furniture on the Titanic while ignoring the iceberg.
Another point: Why Israel? Why choose to criticize Israel, of all places? On the grand scale of things, Israel and its conflict with the Arab world as a whole (not just the Palestinians) is a minor blip on the world screen. Check out the list of the most destructive conflicts in the past 500 years. This conflict is number 81. According to journalist Tal Heinrich, citing the Uppsala University Conflict Data Program: For every death related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict between the years 2015-2018 there were 523 deaths in other conflicts in the Middle East.
So why Israel?
If you’re Jewish, of course, it makes sense. We have to critique our own behavior. It’s what we do. And if you’re Palestinian, it makes sense, because you obviously have skin in the game. But how about for everybody else—the UN, the Presbyterian Church, Roger Waters, etc. etc. ad nauseam?
Well, as one “anti-Zionist” famously put it, “You have to start somewhere.”
Fair enough. But if you have decided to take the time to “start” with this conflict, why are you starting with the Israeli side of the conflict? Whatever you think of the fate of the Palestinians, at its very worst it would pale in comparison to the all-too-predictable fate of the Israelis at the hands of Hamas and Co. In this #MeToo era especially, compare Israel, warts and all, to ISIS policy on raping infidel women “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty, if she is fit for intercourse.”
And you, who have to start somewhere, want to start with Israeli checkpoints?
The thing that makes Israel critique inherently anti-Semitic is the inability to distinguish between the policies of the moment and the historical meaning of Zionism. It can be compared to the current “debate” about weather vs. climate. The policies of Netanyahu (or any other Israeli government) are the weather. Zionism, as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, is the climate. Only an idiot thinks that because it still snows in Montana, there’s no global warming. Only an idiot thinks that because of some Israeli policy, the Zionist movement is illegitimate.
The difference is that the climate change denier is merely idiotic. The Zionism denier, aka anti-Semite, is immoral and idiotic. To mention one example, look at the way BDS is described by the people who founded it, Omar Barghouti, et al, and compare that to the way BDS is described by “legitimate” Israel critics. The founders will gladly and explicitly tell you `that their goal is to eliminate the Jewish state. But in the New York Times, flagship of “legitimate” Israel critique, BDS is “primarily in protest against [Israel’s] settlement and security practices in the West Bank,” (the words of Richard Pérez-Peñait), The Times acts like it’s about the weather. Barghouti knows it’s about the climate.
In practical terms, if you ever have the urge to say to someone, “I’m not thaaat kind of Zionist,” you are talking to an anti-Semite. We don’t have to submit to anyone’s litmus test about being the “right” kind of Zionist. It is our critics that need to submit to our litmus test. It is they that need to demonstrate that they are not thaaat kind of Israel critic.
And I wish them good luck.