Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism

With the number of liberal Jews showing concern about The Lobby's influence over US policy in the mid-east, and the Iraq/Iran war in particular, the gun has been moved, ever so slowly, towards them. That is, the gun of anti-Semitism:

In an introduction to the essay, David A. Harris, the executive director of the committee, writes, “Perhaps the most surprising — and distressing — feature of this new trend is the very public participation of some Jews in the verbal onslaught against Zionism and the Jewish State.” Those who oppose Israel’s basic right to exist, he continues, “whether Jew or gentile, must be confronted.”

This really is an interesting position. I don't oppose Israel's right to exist - I oppose the use of the US as the insurance policy for that right. I frankly didn't care about Israel very much until I saw its supporters drag the US into an ill considered war.

But, even those who do think Israel should not exist cannot be labeled as anti-semitic. The idea of of "religious state" or an "ethnic state" is no longer a mainstream western idea. Sure there are vestiges of state religions in various western states, but policies like those pursued by Israel would be considered out of bounds by today’s western standards. These policies including immigration based on religion, or demands that countries take steps to preserve their "religious" identity. (Interestingly, such resolutions are often opposed by Jewish groups).

Such hostility to a truly sectarian state may not always be mainstream, but for now it is. Thus, someone could easily be oppossed to Israel's existence as a Jewish state without being anti-Semitic. In fact many Jews hold such an opinion.

The anti-Semitic slur is, again, just to short-cut debate.

From Tony Judt:

A historian at New York University, Mr. Judt said in a telephone interview that he believed the real purpose of outspoken denunciations of him and others was to stifle harsh criticism of Israel. “The link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is newly created,” he said, adding that he fears “the two will have become so conflated in the minds of the world” that references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust will come to be seen as “just a political defense of Israeli policy.”

And here is the money shot from the other side:

Others have praised Mr. Rosenfeld’s indictment and joined the fray. Shulamit Reinharz, a sociologist who is also the wife of Jehuda Reinharz, the president of Brandeis University, wrote in a column for The Jewish Advocate in Boston: “Most would say that they are simply anti-Zionists, not anti-Semites. But I disagree, because in a world where there is only one Jewish state, to oppose it vehemently is to endanger Jews.”

You can say it is anti-Semitism, but that does not make it so. You are trying to redefine the term, and in particular broaden it to something that fundamentally changes its meaning. Using it in this way is misleading, which is exactly what the accusers want.



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