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