By Wayne G. JohnsonChair, Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice
Recent criticisms of Israel’s attack on a Gaza-bound flotilla has prompted suggestions that such criticisms are an expression of anti-Semitism. Since the Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice has also openly criticized Israel’s actions, members of the Racine community may be inclined to ask if RCPJ is anti-Semitic. The question is both significant and imprecise. It is significant because of the wretched history of anti-Semitism. It is imprecise because important distinctions can be overlooked. Anti-Semitism is defined as hostility toward or prejudice against Jews simply because they are Jews. But is criticism of the policies of the State of Israel an expression of anti-Semitism?
Are criticisms of the policies of the State of Israel a form of anti-Semitism? Since those policies have been and still are criticized by Jews both within and outside of the State of Israel, it would seem odd to accuse these Jews of being anti-Semitic. (Though some rabid defenders of Israel’s policies have written off those Jewish critics as “self-hating Jews”-- as if being Jewish requires approving all the policies of the State of Israel.) If Jews can be critical of the policies of Israel without being charged with anti-Semitism, it would seem that non-Jews who criticize those policies could also be clear of the charge. Critics of Israel may, of course, also be anti-Semitic, but such criticism alone cannot establish that charge.
Another issue is whether opposition to the establishment of the State of Israel itself is an expression of anti-Semitism. Such opposition was expressed by Richard Cohen in a Washington Post commentary on July 18, 2006. “The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake... The idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism...”
Similar doubts about the establishment of a Jewish state were expressed by many Jews, including Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt and Albert Einstein. Orthodox Jews held that Jews should not try to force God’s hand, but must wait for the coming of the Messiah. Even the influential American Jewish Committee opposed the founding of a Jewish state up to 1946. None of those listed above could reasonably be charged with anti-Semitism. It would follow that opposition to the founding of the State of Israel was not, in itself, an indication of anti-Semitism.
Finally, perhaps the denial of the right of the State of Israel to continue to exist as a Jewish state is a form of anti-Semitism. Some militant Muslim groups who speak of pushing Israel into the sea hold that the founding of Israel constituted not a mistake but a crime against the Muslim community. This view seems to be clearly anti-Semitic. However, as some have pointed out, the anger of such militant Muslims may not be an expression of anti-Semitism but, instead, is the result of the theft of Palestinian land and homes by Jewish forces and the cruel repression of the Palestinian peoples by Israeli military.
Anti-Semitism has an ugly history. Yet not all criticism of the policies of the State of Israel can be written off as anti-Semitism. Genuine issues of peace and justice are at stake.
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