Published in the forthcoming November/December issue of
“Because People Matter (BPM)”
“Yet, the identity between the state and the people is itself a myth.”
Are All Critics of Israel’s Policies Anti-Semitic?
It’s difficult in the US today to write or say anything critical of Israel without being accused of being “anti- Semitic” or a “Jew hater,” or if you are Jewish, a “self-hating Jew.” It is a very effective method of stifling discussion. While there are indeed anti-Semites who hate Israel simply because they hate Jews, it is a great disservice to essential debate when the accusation is used improperly. Recently, former President Jimmy Carter was attacked in the pages of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz for being an anti-Semite for his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have also been labeled anti-Semites for their writings on “the Israeli lobby.”
During the 1960s, three Jewish intellectuals influenced how I viewed the world: journalist I. F. Stone, MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, and the utopian philosopher, Herbert Marcuse. Stone and Chomsky criticized Israel for the oppressive treatment of the Palestinians and for building settlements on Palestinian lands. In the Hebrew edition of One Dimensional Man, Marcuse called for a social transformation, a “human liberation,” that included all groups, even the forlorn Palestinians. This Enlightenment dream of a universal human liberation has since faded into a sorry cloud of nationalistic ethno-decrepitude.
I.F. Stone was initially a strong advocate of the establishment of a Jewish state. Yet, he consciously spoke out against the denial of Palestinian rights and the denial of the denial. He viewed Israel’s policies as counterproductive because they fed the cycle of violence. He complained about the repressive atmosphere in the US that suppressed examination and discussion of this critical issue. He was attacked by Israel’s supporters as being “anti-Semitic,” a preposterous claim given Stone’s indisputable strong support for Israel’s existence.
Stone was a critical Zionist-emotionally committed to Israel’s existence, yet critical of its repressive policies. He complained that he was “ostracized” whenever he tried to speak about Israel. He said it was rare for dissidents on the Middle East to enjoy even “a fleeting voice in the American press.” He observed that Israel was creating a dilemma for world Jewry which in the outside world benefited from secular and pluralistic societies. Stone wrote: “In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which the ideal is racist and exclusionist.”
Noam Chomsky, a leading critic of Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights, has also been attacked as an anti-Semite and a “self-hating Jew. He has also been attacked by the likes of Alan Dershowitz, who just recently led an indefensible but successful witch-hunt to deny tenure to another Jewish dissident intellectual, Norman Finkelstein. In books and essays, Chomsky maintains that Israel and the United States have been the leading “rejectionists” of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Organizations like the Anti-Defamanation League (ADL) and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), part of what Professors Walt and Meirsheimer call “the Israeli lobby,” have adopted smear tactics against anybody criticizing the Israeli occupation. It is also forbidden to criticize Israel’s “separation wall,” which confiscates additional Palestinian lands and fragments their villages. If you raise the issue of WMDs (nuclear, biological, and chemical), or mention Israel’s failure to abide by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), again you may be accused of anti-Semitism. You will be told that Israel is a “special case” and doesn’t need to abide by international treaties or the Geneva conventions like other nations. If you argue that Israel needs to be held to the same standards of international law as other countries, you may be attacked as an “anti-Semite.”
Where does this blind and unconditional emotional devotion to Israel stem from? Certainly, European pogroms against Jews and the subsequent Nazi holocaust explain why Western powers and the UN felt a need to give “Palestine” to the Jewish people as a kind of “war reparation.” Nevertheless, Israel was only given about half (53%) of former Palestine. The other side of the UN bargain, promising Palestinians”self-determination in the rest of Palestine has not been upheld. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, Israel’s borders have illegally expanded with every war. To this day, no one knows where the borders of Israel end!
Zionism defines Israel as a state of the Jews, by the Jews, and for the Jews. Israel claims to be the representative of all Jewish people throughout the world. If one declares an absolute identity between any particular Israeli government and its policies, and the universal interests of all Jewish people, it is easy to understand how criticism of Israel could be seen as “anti-Semitic.
Yet, the identity between the state and the people is itself a myth. The notion that because of the horrors of the Holocaust, present and future Israeli governments should be given an unconditional blank check for their behavior through the remainder of history is absurd. Frankly, no government deserves that kind of unconditional devotion!
Fortunately, there is more diversity of opinion among Jews than the apologists of Israel would like to admit. From regular readings of Haaretz, I get the impression that there is a lot more open discussion in Israel than in the United States, which just signed a deal to give Israel 30 billion dollars over the next ten years. For example, the Israeli organization Peace Now argues that the settlements on Palestinian lands are obstacles to peace that must be removed. They emphasize that present US and Israeli policies are unacceptable because they feed the cycle of violence that does damage to both Palestinians and Jews.
Obviously there are dissident Jews beyond Peace Now existing in Israel who recognize the danger of the one-dimensional nationalism that reduces all Jewish people to an immediate identity with Israel’s expansionist state policies. One example is the Israeli “refuseniks,” soldiers who risk imprisonment rather than take part in what they consider an “unjust occupation.”
Throughout history there has been a critical tradition of Jewish dissent and Socratic questioning beyond AIPAC’S suffocating censorial reach. Jewish dissidents, such as Albert Einstein, Martin Buber, and Sigmund Freud, voiced their dissent over what was occurring in Israel. A number of these oppositional voices have been published in an excellent book entitled Prophets Outcast: A Century of Dissident Jewish Writing about Zionism and Israel.
Historically, the Israeli colonization of Palestine displayed patterns similar to the European colonization of America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The indigenous peoples were dehumanized, ethnically cleansed, and forcefully relocated into “reservations,” (“Bantustans, “refugee camps” and “cantons”) to make room for conquering settlers. The expropriation of native lands and the violence done to indigenous peoples was an inevitable consequence of such colonization. A group of new Israeli historians (Benny Morris, Illan Pappe, Avi Schlaim, and Tom Segev) are only now beginning to expose the violent history of the colonization and “ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” Telling the truth is not anti-Semitism.
Richard Nadeau has been a peace and environmental activist since the 1960s. He lives in Sacramento and is a writer and editor of Sacramento’s bi-monthly journal Because People Matter