The Tactic of Calling People Anti-Semitic

by Amy Hendrickson




[A reply to Mitchell Cohen's Anti-Semitism and the Left that Doesn't Learn, and to Michael Pugliese, who sent a link to Cohen's article to various list-serves]




Michael and Mitchell--The tactic of calling people "anti-semitic" who oppose Israel's actions is getting quite tired.

Is it your contention that we in the left should look the other way as Palestinians are oppressed, tortured and murdered, with the help of US tax dollars and US diplomatic cover? Are Palestinians not people? Don't they deserve equal rights? How is it acceptable that Palestinians cannot return to their native land, but have been living in refugee camps for nearly 60 years? Why do their lives not count?

Are we supposed to look the other way while Israel brutalizes the Lebanese, and leaves millions of cluster bombs on their land, left to kill and maim Lebanese children?

Let's just consider the facts on the ground, which lead people to oppose Israel, instead of trying to deconstruct the supposed reason for people objecting to Israel, and ascribing racist motivation for their opposition.

1. The State of Israel was built on land that had been populated by Palestinians as well as a small minority of Jews. This land was given to Zionists by Britain and the UN. No on asked the Palestinians what they thought of sharing their land, or what they would think of being ethnic cleansed and murdered in the process of building the new ethnic state. Of course there would be resistance by the indigenous people, and the response to the resistance would involve the usual methods of oppression, with the greater the response to the resistance, the more accumulated grievances, and the more persistant the resistance would become.

2. There is a logical problem that can't be overcome, in trying to have both a Jewish state and a democracy. To have a democracy that allows all citizens to vote, while still maintaining a "Jewish State" means that non-Jewish citizens must be kept in the minority. Thus, ethnic cleansing is built into the project of maintaining a "Jewish State”

3. No one can deny that ethnic cleansing and worse have been a continuous feature of this project. No one can deny that there has been no compensation to Palestinians for the land and houses that have been taken from them.

4. A state that discriminates against some of its citizens as part of its legal structure, is an apartheid state. Apartheid is illegal under international law. The Zionist law allowing Jewish right of return while not allowing the Palestinian right of return is one of the most basic principles of Israel-- it is also obviously an apartheid law. There are many more Israeli laws that are discriminatory.

5. Israel has no Bill of Rights nor a Constitution, because it is too difficult to accommodate the idea of a democracy, whose basic tenet is equal rights before the law, with a "Jewish State."

6. Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians in what they call the Palestinian territories, has been consistently dreadful, disgracing Jews world wide, since Israel claims to be acting for all Jews.

7. Israel has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, and has tortured many of these prisoners.

8. Gaza is suffering from ongoing Israeli attacks and closure. It is known as the largest open air prison in the world. People there are not only victimized, they cannot even leave if they want to -- a spectacle of cruelty continuing for years.

These are only facts, and the logic of the situation that can't be avoided. This is why people oppose Israel. Avigail Abarbanel, a native-born Israeli Jew who lived there 27 years before emigrating, writes: "Palestinian citizens of Israel live under an arbitrary and brutal police state. Their dealings with Israeli bureaucracy are not just frustrating but can be outright dangerous.

"The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live under a Pinochet-like regime. They can and do disappear in the middle of the night. They are blindfolded, cuffed, beaten, humiliated, taken to unknown locations with no information given to them or their families, tortured physically and psychologically and incarcerated indefinitely, often without charges and regardless of whether they are guilty of anything.

"Israel is not a nice country. It is a powerful police state founded on pathological paranoia with only a veneer of civility, carefully crafted and maintained for the consumption of those who still believe in the myth of Israeli democracy." []

Look, it is easy to understand how people whose relatives were murdered by the Germans for no reason other than their ethnicity would support the idea of a "Jewish State" in response. But it is time now to evaluate the results of this idea, and consider how it can be changed to match the real ideals of "democratic humanism and social egalitarianism." [Terms from Mitchell Cohen's article]

One possibility is the solution Tony Judt offered--to work through and drop our tribal loyalties and instead embrace the ideals of the enlightenment and support real equality for the Palestinians-- or as Azmi Bishara calls it: "A State for All Its People" -- A state that respects international law and allows Palestinian refugees to return, or compensates them for the houses and land that have been taken from them. Not a bi-national state, but a post-national state, where one person/one vote is the understanding and where there is no place for discrimination on ethnic or religious terms.

Of course, it will be difficult for many to drop the deeply emotional pull of the "Jewish State" and to exchange, instead, the concept of a state whose basis is instead cultural diversity and fellowship of all its citizens. The advantages are great, however. Foremost would be the acknowledgment of our fellow humanity, and good conscience for the Israelis as well as their supporters world wide. Then the end to the decades long conflict, no more need for a national culture of militarism, friendship instead of enmity with the neighboring states, and funding available for better healthcare, education and social services.

In response to Mitchell's thoughts on anti-semitism in the left: Rather than intentional anti-semitism in the left, there has been, in my opinion, a bending over backwards to avoid even the appearance of discrimination against Jews-- who we either are ourselves, or who are our spouses, friends, neighbors, and co-political workers, after all. With all good intentions, this has had the disastrous consequence of allowing the oppression of the Palestinians to continue, and the disgraceful acts of the Israeli government to tar the reputation of Jews world wide.

As to why we should be concerned about this particular instance of gross injustice in the world-- it is the injustice that we are supporting with our tax dollars, it is a state that is so integrated into our own governmental process that many people in the Bush regime, for example, have previously worked for the Israeli government. The Israeli lobby is deforming the US political system, to the extent that foreign policy decisions are made that are not to the advantage of the people in the US (see Mearsheimer and Walt). Even without a value judgment on that lobby, it is certainly a reason for people in this country to be concerned about the basis of that state and its actions.

People have gone so far to call Israel the 51st state-- Are we not right to be concerned about such an alliance and its repercussions on the way our country is seen by others the world over? How can we, in the US, give unconditional support to a racist state, when equal rights for all and embracing diversity are core values for our own country?

This isn't anti-Semitism-- To use that ugly term for people that have legitimate concerns only serves to silence a public conversation on the subject of Israel, while leaving great discomfort in people's minds unexpressed.  This isn't healthy for a democracy and it isn't healthy for Jews here and world wide who are endangered by being associated with the acts and policies of Israel. Instead of calling people who criticize Israel and US policy towards it anti-Semitic, a morally committed response would be to face up to the reality of the situation in Israel/Palestine and do our best to remedy it.

In the struggle,


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