By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
As oped editor you see it all. As an oped editor dealing with Israel, you sometimes get submissions that say things like “rising anti-semitism is understandable given Israel’s actions.” Or “Jewish people need to understand that antisemitism is closely tied to Israel’s behavior and if they want to avoid it they should oppose Israel’s policies.” Recently an oped at a different newspaper argued “if Israel’s occupation doesn’t end, anti-semitism worldwide will rise to sinister heights.” The author claimed that “50 years of occupation have reawakened latent prejudices and old stereotypes…but many still deny Israel’s increasingly oppressive control is a crucial factor.”
In another article an author writes “The Jewish reality has changed dramatically since the end of World War II, with the establishment of a Jewish state and the entrenchment of equal citizenship rights in most if not all countries that Jews inhabit…To the extent that the Jewish world remains in denial, it is dislocating itself from the rest of the world. And, whether we like it or not, and whatever our personal views may be, as Jews we are all implicated in Israel’s actions, good or bad.”
Another author writes: “Support for Israel’s ‘neverending’ occupation is changing the very nature of what it means to be Jewish. We used to be people devoted to justice: we played a prominent role in the civil rights movement. Now our reputation is becoming one of ‘infamy,’ as the enablers of Israeli injustices.” Others have made the same argument.
The theory that anti-semitism is acceptable or can be excused because of Israel’s policies is closely tied to voices on the “left” and many of them are also Jewish commentators or intellectuals. Why do they make this argument? A few thoughts to ponder.
In NO other case in the world is hatred of an entire people or religious group considered acceptable because of one country’s policies
If you were to simply change around the quotes of these individuals who excuse anti-semitism due to Israel and replace the groups and country mentioned, you would find surprising statements. “If Turkey’s occupation doesn’t end, anti-Turkish racism worldwide will rise to sinister heights.” Or “50 years of Pakistani occupation of Kashmir have reawakened latent anti-Pakistani racial prejudices and old stereotypes…but many still deny Pakistan’s oppressive control is a crucial factor in anti-Pakistan racism in the UK.”
Try substituting “Muslim” or “Islam” for Jewish in the quotes above. “The Islamic reality has changed dramatically since the end of World War II, with the establishment of Saudi Arabia and the entrenchment of equal citizenship rights in most if not all countries that Muslims inhabit…To the extent that the Muslim world remains in denial, it is dislocating itself from the rest of the world. And, whether we like it or not, and whatever our personal views may be, as Muslims we are all implicated in Saudi Arabia’s actions, good or bad.”
Whether it is the actions of China or Ireland or Armenia or Russia or any other country, no one ever says that racism against members of that country or the religion of that country is acceptable. No one says that racism against black people or specifically against Kenyans would be acceptable because of the actions of Kenya. No one would argue that somehow all Muslims are responsible for the actions of Iran or Saudi Arabia, and people don’t even argue that people who left Iran are somehow responsible for Iran’s policies.
It is NOT because Israel is a democracy
The fact that Israel happens to be a democracy doesn’t mean anti-semitism is excusable and that all Jews have a “responsibility” to change Israel’s policies of face “repercussions.” Tunisia is a democracy, Turkey is a democracy, Singapore and Japan are democracies and so is India, and no one pretends that it is acceptable for people in Boston or London to have racist views of Japanese people or Indians because of the actions of a country where many of them happen to live.
The concept that being a democracy means everyone in the democracy or abroad has to bare responsibility for its actions is not borne out in other explanations. Thailand is largely Buddhist, right? Does that mean one can blame some random Buddhist in Paris because of something Thailand does. The very notion of that is ridiculous. Only with Jews is there an excuse that people can attack a synagogue, as they did in Turkey recently, because of Israel’s actions. There is only one religious group targeted because of the actions of a country where members of the group live and that is Jewish synagogues. The same western voices who excuse attacks on Jews or who target Jews because of Israel, are the same ones who when ISIS carries out an attack will rush to note that “ISIS is not Islamic.” Yet, when Israel does something, voices rush to make all Jewish people responsible. As one quote above says “We used to be people devoted to justice: we played a prominent role in the civil rights movement. Now our reputation is becoming one of ‘infamy,’ as the enablers of Israeli injustices.”
“But Israel has to be held to a higher standard”: Supremacism and antisemitism intersect
At the heart of the “Israel’s actions are responsible for antisemitism” and “Jews must take responsibility for this” is a theory that Israel must be “held to a higher standard.” This is not because Israel is a democracy, lots of democracies engage in human rights violations. The US still has a prison in Cuba and is fighting a never-ending war in Afghanistan. France routinely sends its forces to former colonies in Africa.
The “higher standard” concept is closely tied to ideas around “light unto the nations” or “tikkun olam” and ‘fixing the world. Consider a piece in The Guardian by Alexander Goldberg that notes “it is our mission to promote justice in the world (‘justice, justice, you should pursue’) and that promoting justice for all does bring about security, peace and prosperity for all.” Non-Jewish authors also tend to reference “Jewish morality” when condemning Israeli actions. For instance an article at Forbes about Israel deceptively providing birth control to Ethiopian Jews notes “The involuntary sterilization of African immigrants suggests that the Jewish moral code (inextricably connected with Israel’s domestic legal codes) can be selectively applied to those with ‘desirable’ backgrounds.”
The article goes on to provide a discussion about Torah and Bible, in what was supposed to be a “news” story about Israeli policy.
“this incident shows the strain between Israel’s religious heritage and its modern political agenda. ‘Behold, the heritage of the Lord is sons, the reward is the fruit of the innards. Like arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of one’s youth. Praiseworthy is the man who has filled his quiver with them,’ the Torah proclaims.”
Do news articles about Russia quote the Bible, do articles about Iran’s nuclear policy often delve into Quran? Do articles on China look at ancient Buddhist texts? Only when it comes to Israel do commentators talk about Jewish “values.” No one talks about Muslim “values” when explaining Morocco’s role in Western Sahara.
There is a preconceived assumption that Jews have a “mission” and historically are supporting “social justice” so when Israel doesn’t do that, then it isn’t fulfilling the “mission.” In this narrative Israel has to be held to a near perfect narrative as a state that exists solely to be a “light unto the nations” and any time Israel doesn’t fulfill that, such as not taking in refugees or denying freedoms, then not only is Israel stained by its abuses, but “Jewish” people are said to be involved in “infamy” and Israel’s Jewish character is frequently brought up. When Iran commits abuses, it doesn’t reflect badly on Shia Islam, but when Israel does, then it reflects on all Jews, commentators claim.
Some of the critical voices that argue this are Jewish are want to hold what they see as “their” country to a higher standard. They write “We used to be people devoted to justice: we played a prominent role in the civil rights movement.” In this narrative the “we” is writ large, even though most Jews were not involved in the US civil rights movement (because many don’t live in America). Their notion almost posits that because “we” are superior then we must be held to a higher standard and anytime we don’t meet that standard we all deserve to be punished. This is an almost Biblical narrative, where prophets warned the “entire people” would be punished for the actions of the country.
Sadly in this quest for perfection, these voices excuse anti-semitism by non-Jews. So anti-semitism against an elderly a Jewish couple living in rural Iowa is excused due to Israel’s actions. It’s one thing for Jews to hold Israel to a higher standard, but why would anyone then suggest that attacks and harm to Jews abroad are acceptable. The logic employed here is that Israel is “acting in our name,” therefore when Israel does wrong, then “attacks on us are understandable.”
What’s really going on? Excusing anti-semitism to encourage Jews to pressure Israel
The real story here is that some voices think excusing and even supporting anti-semitism will encourage Jews to pressure Israel to change their policy. The idea is to fearmonger Jewish communities in the diaspora and say “Israel will erode your status” and to get them to act politically. Before the creation of Israel voices often claimed that the creation of a Jewish state would provide government’s the excuse to expel Jews or treat them badly because “now you have a country.” This was used to fearmonger to encourage anti-Zionism. Once again, these same voices never said the existence of China as a country gives other countries an excuse to discriminate against Chinese people.
So what is actually happening, sadly, is that some extreme voices want Jews in the diaspora to oppose Israel’s policies. To prod them to oppose Israel the fear of anti-semitism is raised and they are warned that they will receive anti-semitism if they don’t speak up against Israel. No other group is told to do this. No other group is made to suffer fear because of the actions of a country.