This is Why We Can’t Criticize Israel

I’ve been sitting on this post for a long time (since January, I think, when I first saw the political cartoon in question on Why Evolution is True). The main reason I’ve been sitting on it is time and putting what I wanted to say in a coherent, non-ragey manner. Please note that I do think Israel should be criticized. This post is not about that.

You know, one thing I hate with a passion is when people call Israel’s critics “antisemites”. It makes it very hard to talk critically about Israel, because many people automatically assume that you’re critical of Israel because you hate Jews.

For most of Israel’s critics, nothing could be further from the truth. Most critics don’t have any problems with Jews. Many other critics are Jews! Many more critics are Israelis! But none of this matters, because when you silence criticism of a country’s political policies by saying it’s just an aspect of bigotry, it destroys any chance at an honest, respectful dialogue.

But every now and then, some people decide to launch a criticism that proves the claims of antisemitism right…

Like this:


This makes it almost impossible to criticize Israel. A simple statement like “I’m not really comfortable with the settlement policy that Israel’s government turns a blind eye too despite its illegality by international law” looks like that actually antisemitic picture above, and all because that insanely antisemitic political cartoon exists.

And let’s be clear; that political cartoon is antisemitic. It calls to mind old antisemitic propaganda, specifically blood libel (in this case for mortar instead of cooking). Devoid of that historical context, it would, of course, be like any other political cartoon. But in this case, it’s why a political cartoon comparing Bush to a chimp isn’t as controversial as a political cartoon comparing Obama to a chimp (not my analogy). And, I’m sad to say, it’s not rare.

Here’s some more examples of actually antisemitic “criticism” of Israel:

Tenure Track Bigotry

The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism: News Updates

Sign Held at 2009 Edinburgh Protest

“Go Back to the Ovens!” (YouTube Video)

ADL: Global Anti-Semitism: Selected Incidents Around the World in 2012

This kind of stuff is why it’s impossible to criticize Israel. It really isn’t Israel’s fault. When crap like this proliferates, I can actually understand why people might mistake criticism of Israel for antisemitic bigotry; because it’s so often combined. It’s become quite clear that many people still can’t separate Israel from Judaism, and no, it really isn’t the Jews’ fault. We (and yes, although I’m an atheist, I will always identify as a cultural Jew, and so I include myself) had nothing to do with it. The conflation is, at its heart, antisemitism.

And yes, I do have some criticisms of Israel, especially with the illegal settlements and Gaza and the government treatment of Palestinians. But that doesn’t mean I’m anti-Israel. I love Israel. I visited Israel on Birthright back in December of 2011 and holy WOW was it beautiful! I really do want to go back. I was impressed with the places I saw and the people I met. Israel is a country that has as much a right to exist as every other country on the planet. These people are just trying to live, just like everyone else in the world.

My only issue with Israel is exactly the same issue that I have with my home country, the US: politics. My distaste for US politics doesn’t mean I hate the US and USians. Same goes for Israel and Israelis.

I certainly don’t hate Jews. Hell, I grew up Jewish! My own dad is a Ḥazzan! And while I really don’t like the Bible (that’s another post), I love Jewish culture: Hebrew is such an incredibly beautiful and dynamic language. Jewish food is wonderful. I have a distinct love of Tallit and Shofars. Passover, despite my hang-ups over the story (again, another blog post), is a fun and wonderful holiday, as are Hanukkah, Purim, Tu Besh’vat, Rosh Hashannah, and Simchat Torah. I find, in general, that Jewish music is so much more… everything… than Christian music (and yes, we do have Gospel [warning: music does automatically play when you open that site… but it’s good music, so… yeah…]), and I really don’t like religious music in general. And, of course, Jews know how to eat. It’s an in-joke that many of our holidays are just poorly-disguised excuses to have giant feasts. 😀

So no… I’m not critical of some of Israel’s policies because I hate Jews; nor do I hate Israel or its people. Criticizing Israel’s government is not antisemitism, nor is it criticism of Israel as a whole and its people, who I found to be largely wonderful, friendly, welcoming, and rather intelligent people.

But with crap like the picture and links highlighted above, I also can’t blame Israelis for getting defensive when they read or see criticism, when so much of it is really just actual antisemitism in disguise. In fact, I can sympathize with them when their expectations are there.

Should their expectations be there?

No… of course not. But I think that this is the fault of actual antisemites. If these antisemites would simply come out and admit it, and publically separate their bigotry from legitimate criticisms of Israel’s government, I honestly do not believe that legitimate criticism of Israel’s current politics would be so hastily attacked.

If you’re looking to criticize Israel and not be accused of antisemitism, I found this handy-dandy guide on Tumblr. I’m going to quote the headlines here (go to the post to see the explanations):

1. Don’t use the terms “bloodthirsty,” “lust for Palestinian blood,” or similar.
2. Don’t use crucifixion imagery.
3. Don’t demand that Jews publicly repudiate the actions of settlers and extremists.
4. Don’t say “the Jews” when you mean Israel.
5. Don’t say “Zionists” when you mean Israel.
6. Don’t call Jews you agree with “the good Jews.”
7. Don’t use your Jewish friends or Jews who agree with you as shields.
8. Don’t claim that Jews are ethnically European.
9. Don’t claim that Jews “aren’t the TRUE/REAL Jews.”
10. Don’t claim that Jews have no real historical connection to Israel/the Temple Mount.
11. Don’t accuse Diasporan Jews of dual loyalties or treason.
12. Don’t claim that the Jews control the media/banks/country that isn’t Israel.
13. Don’t depict the Magen David (Star of David) as an equivalent to the Nazi swastika.
14. Don’t use the Holocaust/Nazism/Hitler as a rhetorical prop.
15. In visual depictions (i.e., political cartoons and such), don’t depict Israel/Israelis as Jewish stereotypes.
16. Don’t use the phrase “the chosen people” to deride or as proof of Jewish racism.
(Actually, that Xenophobia within more Orthodox Jewish sects is a legitimate problem worth criticizing, I think.)
17. Don’t claim that anti-Semitism is eradicated or negligible.
18. Don’t say that since Palestinians are Semites, Jews/Israelis are anti-Semitic, too.
19. Don’t blow off Jews telling you that what you’re saying is anti-Semitic with some variant of the statement at the top of this post.
(The quote referred to is this: “OMG, Jews think any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic!”)

Again… please click on the link to read the explanations for each one. Don’t just make assumptions based on these statements. They are, after all, “headlines”, and not the full picture. And seriously think about it. There are things for which Israel should be criticized, just like there are things for which the US should be criticized, and Canada should be criticized, and England should be criticized, and Australia should be criticized…

Hell… no country on the planet is perfect! Every country should be criticized all the time! Because constructive criticism can only lead towards improvement.

But when hide your bigotry behind criticism, your criticism simply is not constructive. You are not helping things. You’re only making things worse.

So stop.


P.S.- By the way… if you’re one of those critics of Israel who manages to be critical of Israel without being antisemitic, congratulations! Please do not post here about how you’re not antisemitic. I’m not talking about you, and so I don’t really care, because I’m not calling you antisemitic. This is a general statement made because of and directed towards actual antisemites who hide their bigotry in “criticism”. If you’re not one of these people, then you have no need to defend yourself. And if you do feel the need to defend yourself, then I’m just going to assume you are one of these people.

About Nathan Hevenstone

I'm an SJW, Socialist, Jewish Agnostic Atheist, Foodie, and Guitarist. Hi!
This entry was posted in Antisemitism, Bigotry, Bullying, Government, Law and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to This is Why We Can’t Criticize Israel

  1. pick says:

    Gee Nathan,
    I just caught this from your post above.

    “If you’re not one of these people, then you have no need to defend yourself. And if you do feel the need to defend yourself, then I’m just going to assume you are one of these people.”

    Well there you have it, nice and neat. Anyone who doesn’t agree with you is one of “these people”, meaning an anti-semite. Nice racial slur. Way to alienate all the goyim around you.

    • I’m sorry pick, but I don’t believe you. You have shown, both at Pharyngula and here, that you have no interest in actually reading what anybody says. You continually accuse me of “defending Israel” and “admiring Netanyahu” when not only have I done no such thing, but have in fact done the opposite. I have outright told you that I hate Netanyahu. That I despise him. I have also said, in numerous places, now, that not only am I becoming more and more pro-Palestinian, but that I’m hating myself for ever being pro-Israel. The more I learn, the more I realize that it is the Palestinians who are defending themselves, not the Israelis.

      Yet you have ignored all of this simply to pick on the fact that you’ve been called out for using problematic language. Like at Pharyngula, you have given myself and others every reason to think you are a troll, and a possibly anti-Jewish troll at that.

      How many times must I write that I am NOT pro-Israel before you read that fucking line and take it to heart?

      I’m putting you on moderation. You have a chance to prove that you are not a troll; that you can, in fact, read what I and others have been telling you. If you fail to do so, I will ban you here. Frankly, I hope PZ does the same.

      • pick says:

        “Problematic language” It’s hard to know what kind of chip people like you carry on their shoulders.
        You didn’t address anything I wrote above. I think that you’re just using your anti semitic charge, along with your troll charge to slur those with whom you disagree or are at all critical of your religion or the State of Israel. I think that you use it to express your contempt for and dismissal of those not of your religion. As you said above, since I feel the need to defend myself, I must be one of “these people”. You might add that as item 20 on your list.
        Above you also say that you “I hate straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men.” Gee, I’m slurred again, even hated, by my gender, my sexuality and the accident of my birth.
        Another reverse “hatred” (your word), on your part? Cuts both way you know. Do you not intend such people to read your blog, or you just don’t mind insulting them if they do?

        I think this entire page you have above is just a recipe for how those of your religion can use it dismiss criticism and identify “the other” for attack. Ban me all your want, there are no allies here that are concerned with the ethic cleansing of Gaza. You are far too concerned with the trivial exclusionary details of your brand of political and religious correctness. it’s too bad you have to carry this baggage around with you. David Dvorkin in the post I linked to describes how wonderful he feels to be free of the jewish religious dogma that he was so unfortunate to have been born into.
        Again, I feel dutifully slurred and hated and more alienated than I have ever been from those of your religion. Good job!

      • I’m replying to this, then banning you. You still insist that I’m defending Israel when I’ve told you repeatedly that I’m not. I am very much concerned with the ethnic cleansing in Gaza and the apartheid that Israel is enforcing in that region. But I’m just repeating myself, and it’s clear you don’t give a shit about that. You really are just trolling.

        Another point. Look at that line again: “I hate straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men”. Now look at my picture and read some of my others posts. I AM a straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied man. I have always been and have always identified as such. The statement is an absurdity; I use it for that reason. I don’t hate myself. The statement is absurd on the face of it and that’s the point. It’s meant to make fun of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and transphobia.

        In short, it’s satire.

        Yes, indeed, pick… goodbye.

  2. pick says:

    Hello Nate,
    I followed you here from Pharangula, (clicked on your name), and just read this post. This helped clarify the position you’re taking. I’m hoping that you are receptive because of the even tone of your responses in the thread.
    I’m certainly guilty of violating several of your 19 commandments above especially the last one where only a jew can decide whats anti-semitic bigotry and what’s valid criticism. I like number 16 where you seem to waffle over what’s legitimate in terms of jews being special people. From your statement above I guess you surely consider that I’m just hiding my bigotry behind “criticism”.
    Without a doubt, in this case, you are mistaken and the mistake is using the anti semitic charge as a racial slur of your own that you freely levy against anyone not fully informed and entirely cognizant of your detailed list above. Furthermore, if an outsider wants to avoid the anti semtism charge it’s important every item on the list be very carefully followed, and taken deadly seriously, no matter how silly or odd, or buried in arcane religious dogma that it may appear. I think that it’s easier to just avoid conversations with jewish people about Israel. There’s no way for a normal, secular person to walk your minefield without incurring this sentence. Your list of grievances above is obviously designed to shut down and silence critics.
    I just wanted you to know that I feel dutifully slurred and alienated, the clear intent of your rules above. I am really sorry that religious people have to carry all this cognitive baggage with them and then look for excuses to project their own religious bigotry onto others, as you have done with me. If religions can’t get over their centuries old hatreds of each other and lose the need for retribution then nothing will ever change.

    Did you know that Noam Chomsky has been banned from Israel and labeled an anti-semite as well as a self hating jew? Same with Norman Finklestein, whose parents are holocaust survivors. Both are historical scholars that know more about the subject than either you or I. Max Blumenthal and Miko Peled have also been criticized for anti semitism. All they did was tell the truth about Israel. So I’m in good company anyway. As Mark Twain said, Heaven for the climate, hell for the company.

  3. Pingback: Anti-Semitism – FAU, Hillel, and SJP | Atheism, Music, and More…

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