How to Criticize Israel Without Being Antisemitic – in 140 Characters or Less

Steven Salaita, was offered a professorship last year in Native American Studies at the University of Illinois.  He had his job offer cancelled because some contended that his Twitter comments promoted hate, violence, and antisemitism.

Bias depends both on context, and on the history of irrational discrimination.  If one saw a picture of several blond Swedish children eating bananas and playing in a sprinkler, if one said “Look at those cute kids playing like a bunch of happy chimps”  nobody would probably even notice.

If you made the same comment about a group of inner city, black kids, the comment would be seen as horribly racist.  That is because the accusation of blacks being inferior to whites is an established racist trope.

To those who believe they are falsely accused of
antisemitism, try to understand the meaning of the word. It is not
necessarily antisemitic to criticise Israel. I am a Zionist, as
pro-Israel as any. I have no problem pointing out that when a
Palestinian sniper kills an IDF soldier in uniform, it is not terrorism – it is war. But antisemitism exists, and there is plenty of it. Examples include:

  • Making allegations of Jews controlling the media, economy,
    government or other societal institutions.
  • Claiming Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, invented or exaggerate the Holocaust.
  • Alleging Jewish citizens are more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

This is not my definition, this is the definition recognized by the U.S. Department of State:
and the European Forum on Antisemitism.

For this essay, I borrow heavily from an excellent blog post:

how to criticize israel without being anti-semitic

I will give several examples of Salaita’s tweets that could be seen as evoking anti-semitic tropes, and show how they could be reworded to be just as critical, and maybe more persuasive, without promoting irrational discrimination.

1.  Leave out the blood.

Jews have been massacred in the belief that we use the blood of non-Jews in our rituals.  This belief still persists in large portions of the Arab world and even in some parts of the Western world.  Call us cruel or vicious, but not blood-thirsty.

Too much of Israeli society is cheering the bloodletting in #Gaza for me to make a firm distinction between the government and the people.”


“Too much of Israeli society is cheering the horrible violence in #Gaza for me to make a firm distinction between the government and the people.”

Another example:

It’ll be interesting to see if Netanyahu and his nitwit advisers do the wise thing re #48kmarch or if they once again opt for bloodlust.


It’ll be interesting to see if Netanyahu and his nitwit advisers do the wise thing re #48kmarch or if they once again opt for violence.

2.  Killing children for their blood.

A corollary to the Blood Libel is that Jews would kidnap children and kill them to take their blood.  This was actually the cause of thousands of deaths in pogroms.  The main definition of “slaughter” is to kill an animal for food.  Better to use terms like death, or killing, or even murder.

It’s simple: either condemn #Israel’s actions or embrace your identity as someone who’s okay with the wholesale slaughter of children. #Gaza


It’s simple: condemn #Israel’s actions or admit that your idea of self-defense is more important to you than the real killing of children. #Gaza

The other problem here is Salaita purports that an opinion, i.e. support for Israel, necessarily corresponds with an evil identity, someone who is okay with slaughtering children.  Opinions do not establish identity, since they are formed by personal experience and knowledge and can change quickly..

Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, all forms of irrational discrimination are endemic in our culture and our language. We can never free ourselves from them. The best we can do is stay vigilant, and avoid even sub-consciously supporting these views, since they undermine compassionate discourse. I know that Steven Salaita understands this. That is why he wants to avoid saying Jewish donors are “holding the purse strings”. I admire him for that. At the same time we have to see that discourse on supporters of Israel (many of whom are Jewish) including “bloodletting” and “slaughter of children” evokes classic antisemitic tropes. Decrying “violence” and “deaths of civilians, adults and children” is just as descriptive. I feel the same way and have made the same arguments on other forums when people refer to Muslim terrorists as “barbaric” or emotional women as “irrational”. The reason people use the offensive terms is because they sound more powerful, not realizing that their power comes from the underlying irrational prejudice.

About the Author
Libertarian candidate for President of the United States. I am a practicing physician at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. I participate in Daf Yomi talmud study in blessed memory of our son Alec. I have a sister and cousins who live in Israel. I have been a contributing columnist for the Cleveland Jewish News.