Criticizing Israel is Not an Act of Bigotry

by JASON KUNIN

A grassroots revolt is underway in Jewish communities throughout the world, a revolt that has panicked the elite organizations that have long functioned as official mouthpieces for the community. The latest sign of this panic is the recent publication by the American Jewish Committee of an essay by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, entitled Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, which accuses progressive Jews of abetting a resurgent wave of anti-Semitism by publicly criticizing Israel.

This is the latest attempt to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism in order to silence or marginalize criticism of Israel. This approach is widely used in Canada. Upon becoming CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber declared that one of his goals was to "educate Canadians about the links between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism."

It is misleading for groups like the Canadian Jewish Congress to pretend that the Jewish community is united in support of Israel. A growing number of Jews around the world are joining the chorus of concern about the deteriorating condition of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as well as the inferior social and economic status of Israel’s own Palestinian population.

In a world where uncritical support for Israel is becoming less and less tenable due to the expanding human rights disaster in the West Bank and Gaza, leaders of Jewish communities outside Israel have circled their wagons, heightened their pro-Israel rhetoric, and demonized Israel’s critics. These leaders imply that increased concerns about Israel do not result from that state’s actions, but from an increase in anti-Semitism.

Despite this effort to absolve Israel of responsibility for its treatment of Palestinians, Jewish opposition is growing and becoming more organized. On Feb. 5, a group in Britain calling itself Jewish Independent Voices published an open letter in The Guardian newspaper in which they distanced themselves from "Those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries (and who) consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of the occupied people." Among the signatories of the letter were Nobel-prize winning playwright Harold Pinter, filmmaker Mike Leigh, writer John Berger, and many others.

This development follows the emergence of similar groups in Sweden (Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace), France (Union Juive Francaise pour la paix, Rencontre Progressiste Juive), Italy (Ebrei contro l’occupazione), Germany (Jüdische Stimme für gerechten Frieden in Nahost), Belgium (Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique), the United States (Jewish Voice for Peace, Brit Tzedek, Tikkun, the Bronfman-Soros initiative), South Africa, and others, including the umbrella organization European Jews for a Just Peace and the numerous groups within Israel itself. In Canada, the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (ACJC) has been founded as an umbrella organization bringing together Jewish individuals and groups from across the country who oppose Israel’s continued domination of the West Bank and Gaza.

Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, nor does it "bleed into anti-Semitism," a formulation that says essentially the same thing. Some genuine anti-Semites do use Israel as a cover for maligning the Jewish people as a whole, but it is fallacious to argue that anyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic because anti-Semites attack Israel. There are some anti-Semites who support Israel because they are Christian fundamentalists who see the return of Jews to Jerusalem as a precondition for the return of Christ and the conversion of Jews to Christianity, or because they are xenophobes who want to get rid of Jews in their midst. Anti-Semites take positions in support of and in opposition to Israel.

It is wrong to criticize all Jews for Israel’s wrongdoings, yet Israel’s leadership and its supporters in the Diaspora consistently encourage this view by insisting that Israel acts on behalf of the entire Jewish people.

This shifts blame for Israel’s crimes onto the shoulders of all Jews. But Jewish critics of Israel demonstrate through their words and deeds that the Jewish community is not monolithic in its support of Israel.

Defenders of Israel often argue that Israel is forced to do what it does — to destroy people’s homes, to keep them under the boot of occupation, to seal them into walled ghettos, to brutalize them daily with military incursions and random checkpoints — to protect its citizens from Palestinian violence. Palestinian violence, however, is rooted in the theft of their land, the diversion of their water, the violence of the occupation, and the indignity of having one’s own very existence posed as a "demographic threat."

To justify Israel’s continued occupation and theft of Palestinian land, the state and its defenders attempt to deny Palestinian suffering, arguing instead that Palestinian resentment is rooted not in Israeli violence, but rather in Islam, or the "Arab mentality," or a mystical anti-Semitism inherent in Arab or Muslim culture. Consequently, pro-Israel advocacy depends upon on the active dissemination of Islamophobia. Not surprisingly, engendering hatred in this manner inflames anti-Jewish sentiment among Arabs and Muslims. None of this is a recipe for making Jews safe.

Jewish people can help avert the catastrophic effects of Israeli behaviour, but only by taking a stand in opposition to it.

JASON KUNIN of Toronto is a member of the administration council of the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians.

This article, which originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, was written with help from other council members, including Cy Gonick and Dr. Mark Etkin, both of Winnipeg, Andy Lehrer of Toronto, Sid Shniad of Vancouver and Abraham Weizfeld of Montreal.



 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire