Today’s Israel/Gaza Discourse: Anti-Semitism or Effective Protest?

The Gaza situation has been weighing on my mind and I have taken a step back before discussing it in order to gain better perspective within myself–in order to think beyond the headlines, the tit-for-tat, and the accusations which I find often terribly fruitless.

Initially I will refrain from giving my blatant judgment on the situation and injecting myself amongst the hundreds of bloggers, columnists, and pundits who have weighed in on the issue. Before I do that what I would like to address is the discourse. The public space is quite vast these days, especially with online communication, but do we actually have restrictions that harm the debate? I’m seeing these restrictions on discourse amongst some of the most popular blogs, right and left, and even from public officials. I speak of the charge of anti-Semitism on critics of Israeli policy in Gaza.

These sometimes blatent, sometimes inadvertent restrictions made me wonder: Is a critique of violent Israeli policy really anti-Semitic? If so, what are the implications? Immediately one should think about what anti-Semitism actually is. To most who think deeply about it, it should conjure up dark images of systematic Nazi death camps or other violent denouncers of the Jewish tradition and Jewish religio-ethnicity. One who is anti-Semitic harbors a perseverance to destroy the right to Jewish sanctity of life and self-determination.

So, currently, if anyone within the public sphere critiques Israel’s campaign, his speech act is an action of hatred towards Jews. Therefore the initial statement protesting the violence is not taken at face value, but understood as implying a ‘hidden’ meaning, one that expresses hatred towards Jews, or a willingness to fuel the hatred of those who do. Essentially, intention is determined belatedly, not by the speaker, but by the listener.

If this is the case, then we are binding Israel with Jewish identity in total, which has extra innuendos I will discuss more below. But particularly this creates a public sphere where one must decide between speaking out against what he perceives as injustice (policies put forth by the Israeli state) and being branded anti-Semitic, or censoring oneself in order to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism, therefore discouraging any vigorous challenge to Israeli state policies. Shouldn’t debate within the public sphere, a characteristic of democracy so necessary in the modern liberal state, be exuberant? Polities that shield criticism thrive as democracies with accountability. Shutting an argument against Israeli policy down with charges of anti-Semitism cannot be the trump card in a debate of such importance.

Moreover, when “so and so” makes a statement that a critic of Israeli policy is an anti-Semite because of his protests against Israel, then “so and so” is equating Israeli policy with Jewish religious tradition. Israeli state behavior becomes part of the narrative of the tradition begun by Abraham. Therefore all Jews must be lumped in with the administration of the Israeli state. Moreover, this elides the reality of criticism of Israel by Israelis, and by Jews around the world. It therefore makes Jewish criticism of Israel illegitimate. Somehow Jews then can become anti-Semities too, forcing horrible images of Jewish Nazi collaborators.

Could it not be that some, perhaps many diaspora Jews, Israeli Jews, as well general non-Jewish critics, only see another path for the state of Israel, and that their politics emerge from other sources of political vision, sometimes Jewish, than those that have been arranged as Zionist? Can critics only desire and demand more democratic principles from Israel and not be simultaneously supportive of Jewish (and even Israeli) sanctity of life? If one is cast as anti-Semitic through his criticism of the state, whether he is Jewish or not, he therefore must be Zionist in order to avoid this accusation?

In setting this norm for legitimate interpretation, one who defends Israel’s behavior with the charge of anti-Semitism is actually diluting the real charge. This charge loses its power and becomes weak if put up against those who actually wish the destruction of Jewish sanctity of life and self-determination. This dilution will only kill the charge and the ability to use it as a legitimate tool against real, violent anti-Semitism.

I guess the state of the discourse baffles me. I don’t like the idea that Israel should get a free pass for fear of charges of anti-Semitism, just as much as I don’t believe Hamas should be off the hook for its terror attacks on Israeli citizens. I do not believe that Israel should be able to blame Hamas for not extending the cease fire agreement, therefore prompting this war, when Israel did not uphold their end of the original agreement to lift the blockade and their total control over Gaza and also produced an offensive in early November during the agreement. Additionally I believe that Hamas shares blame since as soon as the cease fire agreement collapsed they provoked Israeli response with deadly rocket fire. Israel has a legitimate right to respond, but does it have the right to respond however it wants to, with whatever level of force it deems necessary? Surely there is a line.

Unfortunately Israel is still stuck on this idea of deterrence through force, but it doesn’t work anymore in this situation. The deadlier the Israeli reaction, the more deadly and determined Hamas and its supporters become and more and more recruits for Hamas are created. Every generation already has distinct memory of Israeli force, and here another generation will be made with a new shared memory of victimhood. I believe this will be a strategic defeat for Israel, with significant strategic gain for Hamas.


~ by The Common Man on January 13, 2009.

One Response to “Today’s Israel/Gaza Discourse: Anti-Semitism or Effective Protest?”

  1. Criticizing Israel is not inherently anti-semetic. The anti-semetic part is when it (the Gaza War for example) becomes an absolute obsession within parts of the media and blogosphere. You know, when people get really motivated to paint Israel with a one-sided brush. You gotta ask yourself, why? IMHO, no other conflict e.g. Darfur, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Kashmir et al get this much attention. And it just so happens that the one thing which is unique about this situation is that Israel is a country made up of Jews.

    So criticize Israel all you want – that doesn’t make you anti-semetic. However, if you don’t give a darn about any other conflict* in the world (or history in general) but you really obsess about what Israel does – then just ask yourself, why?

    * which obviously does not reflect the author of this blog.

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