September 1, 2010

Op-Ed: RCPJ chair on criticizing Israel and anti-Semitism

By Wayne G. Johnson
Chair, 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?

At least three distinct questions are involved. 1) Is any criticism of the State of Israel anti-Semitic? 2) Is opposition to the founding of the State of Israel anti-Semitic? 3) Is opposition to the continued existence of the State of Israel anti-Semitic? These distinctions are important since various voices, including Jewish scholars, claim that the “anti-Semitic card” is often played to immunize Israel against all criticism.

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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  1. Tim the Shrubber9/02/2010 9:11 AM

    "Is any criticism of the State of Israel anti-Semitic?"

    Certainly not, but criticism of Israel that does not turn an equally critical eye towards Palestinian actions is anti-Semetic.

    The leaders on both sides of this conflict are pretty bad, and the supporters of 'peace and justice' are as apt to forget this as the strong supporters of Israel.


    "Is opposition to the founding of the State of Israel anti-Semitic?"

    Depends on motivation, but this is really a moot point now. Israel exists and its founding cannot be simply reversed.


    "...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."

    Perhaps? Is there really a non-anti-Semetic argument for the disolution of Israel at this point?

    "However, as some have pointed out, the anger of such militant Muslims may not be an expression of anti-Semitism..."

    ...seems I have heard that justification for the Germans in the past. You know, BS like "Really the Germans were just mad at the banking and business elites, and since Jews were over represented in these classes..yada yada yada."

  2. Let me address the following questions, and then tell me if there is a parallel?

    1. Is criticizing President Obama racist?

    2. Is opposing President Obama's policies racist?

    3. Is supporting others against President Obamam racist?

    According to many liberals, the answer is, of course you are a racist. Just ask Jenine (sp?)Garaffalo.

    To blame Israel for trying to exist, is the same as blaming the black man for wanting to be free.

  3. Abraham is the father of both Ishmael and the long awaited Isaac. But how often do step-brothers get along? Israel is not inhabited by European Jews. Israelites are merely returning home to the place from which they were driven by Roman and other armies. If we are to use history; then we need to go back to the beginning and see that Abraham was called out of Iraq, Ur, and brought to Canaan by divine providence. Israel is a democratic nation surrounded by many dictatorships so it is a miracle that Israel has survived since 1948. Perhaps God does have a vested interest in Israel and their destiny is completely out of our hands afterall.

  4. Israel has only survived since 1948 because they have been given and still are given millions of dollars every year, (every day actually). They are allowed by us to have nuclear weapons and most of their military equipment, tanks etc., are from here in the US. Is it ok to be anti-muslim or anti-black or anti-pick a color different than your own then? Why can't we all be pro-human and care for and protect each other instead of pushing people around, ie., out of their homes because we want their land. This whole argument is so stupid and quoting bible non facts is not a way to solve this problem it is just a distraction. We try to make our pitiful selves better,in our own minds, so we don't feel guilty when we push the others around and abuse them in every way possible. It is all so sad.