Israel and the Rise of the “New” Anti-Semitism

by Rabbi David Zaslow
June, 2004
Someone recently said to me, “Everyone who criticizes Israel these days gets accused of being anti-Semitic.” I told him, “That’s not true. The most intense criticism of Israel can be found in Israel itself. Israel is a thriving pluralistic democracy founded on Torah values. Self-criticism is not just a right, but a moral obligation.” What’s the difference between legitimate and passionate criticism of Israel and the kind that gets labeled by non-partisan watchdog groups like the Jewish Anti-defamation League as anti-Semitic? It’s simple: if the criticism is offensive due to hyperbole (i.e. Israel is fascist state, Sharon is like Hitler, Zionism is racism, the Israelis are rapists, etc.) then the comments are justifiably called anti-Semitic.

Secondly, if a double standard is being applied to Israel that is not applied to any other nation, then the statement should be subjected to scrutiny. For example, there are dozens of nations that call themselves Christian, and dozens of other nations that call themselves Moslem. There are a handful that call themselves Hindu or Buddhist nations, yet none of these nations are accused of being “racist” because they proudly wave the banner of their particular religious majority. Yet there are those who proclaim that “Zionism is racism” simply because one tiny sliver of a nation proudly proclaimed itself to be a haven for Jews fleeing persecution after the Holocaust.

Many of us grew up at a time when much of the world’s anti-Semitism came from the far right. Ideas about the Jews controlling the media and the banking system, and other conspiratorial fantasies, were plentiful. Much of the current wave of anti-Semitism is coming from the far left, and statements claiming Israeli “racism” and “Nazi-like brutality” are plentiful. Left or right, it really doesn’t matter – extremism, hyperbole, and false accusations are destructive forces. Extremist Arab propaganda would have the world believe that Israel is the root cause of the conflict in the Middle East.

As Haim Harari recently wrote, “The millions who died in the Iran-Iraq war had nothing to do with Israel. The mass murder happening right now in Sudan, where the Arab Moslem regime is massacring its black Christian citizens, has nothing to do with Israel. The frequent reports from Algeria about the murders of hundreds of civilians in one village or another by other Algerians have nothing to do with Israel. Saddam Hussein did not invade Kuwait, endanger Saudi Arabia and butcher his own people because of Israel. Egypt did not use poison gas against Yemen in the 60’s because of Israel. Assad did not kill tens of thousands of his own citizens in one week in El Hamma in Syria because of Israel. The Taliban control of Afghanistan and the civil war there had nothing to do with Israel. The Libyan blowing up of the Pan-Am flight had nothing to do with Israel…”

The bottom line is that Israel, like America, is despised by Middle Eastern extremists for its pluralism and democracy. The last thing Al Qaida wants to see is a thriving union movement in the Middle East, or a thriving ecology movement. Imagine the welcome that feminist ideas or gay rights are receiving right now in Saudi Arabia or Iran. The claim that Israel (code word for “Jews”) is the root of all evil is simply a smokescreen for the fear of the internal transformation that the Arab and greater Islamic world is now going through a transformation not unlike the Reformation and Age of Reason that Europe experienced a few hundred years ago.

May those who are working for change within Islam itself be strengthened, blessed, and protected. May those who are working for peace, pluralism, and democracy in the Middle East prevail.

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