The Need for a Moral High Ground

At UC Davis, the student body voted to divest from Israel, and that night swastikas showed up on Jewish fraternity’s house. Across America, protestors against the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri sought to connect that injustice to Israeli military action this summer in Gaza. This ostensible connection was solidified by events such as “Race, Violence, Resistance: From Gaza to Ferguson,” held at Columbia University, with opening remarks from the President of Barnard College, Debora Spar.

In Germany this summer, protestors against the Gaza War, shouted slogans such as “Jews to the Gas,” while equating Jews to pigs. In France, anti-Semitic acts are on the rise: from attacks on synagogues to the ransacking and looting of Jewish owned stores. In December, a woman was raped in Paris in front of her tied up boyfriend. The reason her attackers gave to her? She was Jewish. Not to mention the attack at the Kosher grocery store in January that left four dead, or the popularity of the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, known for his anti-Semitic shows and for coining the quenelle salute, a sort of modern spin on the more familiar Nazi one.

The anti-Defamation League conducted a study on global anti-Semitism that found that one in every four people in the world harbor anti-Semitic views. In France that number is 37%, in Greece 69%, in the Middle East 74%, and in the West Bank and Gaza 93%. The most horrifying statistic? Less than half of those surveyed had never even heard of the holocaust, let alone believed in it.

And the list goes on.

What is clear is that anti-Semitism is significant in many parts of the world. More concerning however, anti-Semitism seems to be inextricably linked to anti-Zionism. More often the two are conflated and so-called legitimate criticism of Israel takes the form of the rhetoric and ultimately the actions of anti-Semites.

This is a tired trope – the deteriorating situation for Jews around the world is abundantly clear. Or is it? It seems that for many of Israel’s detractors violence against Jews is a “natural” outpouring of anger over Israeli’s policies. Even for those who do not support that sentiment often subscribe, perhaps unwittingly, to a double standard for violence against Jews versus violence against others, and a double standard for the actions of Israel compared contextually to the states around them.

Examples are prolific. In the attack in Paris, many mourners held signs that read “Je Suis Juif” – I am Jewish – to express solidarity with the Jewish victims. Yet, only this week President Barack Obama called the shooting “random” and the victims “a bunch of folks.” This revisionist description was not simply a ill-spoken turn of phrase; in fact, it was repeated by Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary who stated that there were “people other than just Jews who were in that deli,” and by Jen Psaki, the spokeswoman for the US State Department, who said that only the French government could comment on whether the attack was anti-Semitic in nature.

In Tel Aviv, when a Palestinian man from the West Bank stabbed 13 people on a bus during morning rush hour – an obvious terrorist attack aimed only at innocent civilians – there was no response on the magnitude to that in Paris. In fact, Mahmoud Abbas, who had marched just weeks earlier in Paris against terrorism, did not even condemn the attack. Double standards.

The weak response worldwide is coupled with a frankly shameful response by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; instead of defending diaspora Jews who, are forced to face the brunt of anti-Zionism regardless of their support for Zionism, his only message to them is that Jews are safe nowhere but in the State of Israel.

This response is at best, inadequate, and at worst, continues to propagate the anti-Semitic theory that Jews are the eternal other who are not welcome, or at home, in the countries they are in.

Ari Shavit, the author and columnist for the liberal Israeli daily, Haaretz, spoke at Columbia University last week and offered a different, and I believe more effective approach.

Mr. Shavit argued that Israel and Jews everywhere must recapture the moral high ground in the guise of the Zionism of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. In other words, it is not enough for Jews, in Israel and in the diaspora, to state, as most do, that they want peace. They must act like it, they must march for it, clamor for it, fight for it.

It is not enough for Jews to label the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, Students for Justice in Palestine as counterproductive, and Hamas as a terrorist organization. They must prove it to others by showing that not an ounce of what those organizations stand for is true and revealing their actions and double standards for the farces that they are.

If governments and fellow citizens refuse to stand up for the rights of Jews, we must stand up for ourselves. If Israel is given a double standard so be it, but we must not play into their hands, we must resist this double standard fervently. And we cannot allow Netanyahu to represent us – his policies are disastrous. Settlements alienate our supporters and are counterproductive to peace; meetings in Congress alienate Americans and risk making Israel into a partisan issue. Netanyahu represents the moral low ground, and gives those who seek to delegitimize Israel a target to point at. With Netanyahu we are ruined.

Israel must recapture the moral high ground and reveal their detractors for what they are, misguided critics who do not realize the double standards they are indulging in, and often, anti-Semites in anti-Zionist clothing. This is the only way to protect Jews in the diaspora, who will then be able to once more point to a country they are truly proud of.

About the Author
Benjamin Davidoff is a graduate of Columbia University. He currently resides in New York.
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