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Playing the "Anti-Semite" Card: How Victimhood Is Used For Bullying

Submitted by Robin Messing on Wed, 02/19/2014 - 5:05am

There is a very special form of bullying used to attack those who question Israel's right to exist as a "Jewish State", or its policies in the West Bank, or AIPAC's role in getting U.S. legislators to unquestioningly support  Israel, even if doing so jeopardizes American security interests These bullies roll all these criticisms into one category and accuse Israel's critics of being Anti-Semitic.  They paint the critics with the same broad brush they would use to paint a Nazi with two objectives in mind: 

  1. They want to intimidate Israel's critics into silence to avoid being ostracized as bigots.
  2. They hope their ad hominem attack will confuse those who might listen to the critics and cause them to discount anything they say.

Let's look at some examples of this technique of attack. Former Knesset member Einat Wilf, practically said,


only Jews are allowed to speak of the effect lobbying and political donations have on U.S. policy in the Middle East. If a foreign politician (even one with a Jewish great-grand-parent like Jack Straw) mentions it, he is dabbling in anti-Semitism.


Well, she didn't use those exact words, but it is an accurate paraphrase  by Haaretz reporter Anshell Pfeffer of what Wilf did say.  She seems to think only Jews have the right to talk about AIPAC and its role in influencing the U.S. government.  Every American should repudiate this stance, especially since AIPAC was the driving force behind  a Wag-the-Dog bill that, if passed, would have almost guaranteed the U.S. would fight a war with Iran.

Einat Wilf may seem like an extremist to any First Amendment loving American.  But she's not extreme enough for  Benjamin Kerstein.  Kerstein doesn't just want to see discussions about the effect of Israeli influenced lobbying on U.S. government made off limits.  No, that isn't enough for him.  Kerstein argues that all criticism of Israel is Anti-Semitic "because of specific historical circumstances."  I could devote an entire blog post dissecting Kerstein's piece of illogical claptrap, but I don't have to.  Noam Sheizaf does most of the heavy lifting.  However, I can't resist adding two things.  If you read Einstein on Israel and Zionism you can't help but believe that he would be a critic of the militant nationalism that is alive and well in Israel today.  For example, in a June 19, 1930 letter to Hugo Bergmann, Einstein wrote


. . . It is necessary to find some way to guarantee our minority its existence and cultural self management. . . Only direct cooperation with the Arabs can create a dignified and safe life.  If the Jews don't comprehend this, the whole Jewish position in the complex of Arab countries will become step by step untenable.  What saddens me is less the fact that the Jews are not smart enough to understand this, but rather, that they are not just enough to want it. [emphasis in original]


Fred Jerome, author of Einstein On Israel and Zionism writes on page 1:

Those who have heard or read anything at all about Einstein's politics probably know that Einstein was asked to become president of Israel in 1952 after the death of Chaim Weizmann, the country's first president.  Israel's offer was widely publicized then--and since.  But very few people know that when Einstein turned down the presidency, he said, "I would have to say to the Israeli people things they would not like to hear."


If Einstein were alive today and if he criticized Israel's illegal occupation, then Kerstein and others of his ilk would be trying to intimidate him into silence by calling him Anti-Semitic.

Of course, this is all hypothetical.  Though Einstein would probably be a critic of Israel if he were alive today, we can't be 100 percent certain.   However, we do know with 100% certainty that Avraham Shalom, leader of Shin Bet from 1980 - 1986, said the following in the Oscar Nominated movie The Gatekeepers.


The future is bleak.  It's dark, the future.  Where does it lead?  To a change in the people's character because if you put most of our young people in the army, they'll see a paradox.  They'll see it strives to be a people's army, like the Nahal unit, involved in building up the country.  On the other hand, it's a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II.  Similar, not identical.  And I'm not talking about their behavior toward the Jews.  That was exceptional, with its own particular characteristics.  I mean how they acted to the Poles, the Belgians, the Dutch. . . To all of them... The Czechs.  It's a very negative trait that we acquired, to be... I'm afraid to say it, so I won't.  We've become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of the war against terror.


Kerstein apparently would have us believe that Shalom and other former Shin Bet leaders who have criticized Israel are Anti-Semitic.

And finally, I must note that Kerstein's definition of anti-Semitism gives Israel an automatic free pass to do ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING it wants to do and escape criticism, because to criticize Israel would be Anti-Semitic, and we can't have any of that.  Thus, if Israel decided the only way to claim the West Bank once and for all was to toss all the Palestinians into ovens, we must not criticize Israel for its decision, at least according to Kerstein's logic.

But Wilf and Kerstein are small potatoes when it comes to using the word "Anti-Semite" as a tool to try to silence or discredit their opponents.  The King of this technique is Bibi Netanyahu who tries to paint everyone who supports BDS as an Anti-Semite.  Here's what the Times of Israel reported about Netanyahu's speech at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations:


Addressing increasing boycott calls, he called for Israel to “fight back” and “delegitimize the delegitimizers.”


“I think that it is important that the boycotters be exposed for what they are, they are classical Anti-Semites in modern garb,” Netanyahu said.

He said Israeli is fighting BDS both by exposing the boycotters and with its booming high-tech sector.

“The most eerie and disgraceful thing is that people on the soil of Europe are talking about the boycott of Jews. That is outrageous,” he said. “The boycotters make their goal clear: to end the Jewish state.”



This is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin.  First, boycotters are NOT boycotting Jews per se. They are either boycotting the state of Israel or they are boycotting just the occupied West Bank.  They are boycotting Israel not because its citizens are Jewish, but because they view Israel's policies to be unjust.  Proof that they are not targeting Israel because its citizens are mainly Jews is obvious.  Most Jews live outside of Israel and they are not being targeted by the boycott.  Calling the boycott an attack on Jews is like calling the Montgomery bus boycott an attack on Whites, both characterizations deliberately misstate the scope and the purpose of the boycotts in order to stigmatize the boycotts and earn undeserved sympathy for their targets. Hanan Ashrawi,  a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and head of the PLO Department of Culture Information, could not have made it more clear:


 Contrary to what.  . . the quoted B.D.S. critics suggest, the movement does not target Jews, individually or collectively, and rejects all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including anti-Semitism. B.D.S. is, in fact, a legal, moral and inclusive movement struggling against the discriminatory policies of a country that defines itself in religiously exclusive terms, and that seeks to deny Palestinians the most basic rights simply because we are not Jewish.


And if Ashrawi's comment doesn't convince you that the BDS movement isn't founded on Anti-Semitism, then read this column by Emily L. Hauser.  Hauser writes:
[Netanyahu's abuse of the term "Anti-Semites"] is fundamentally a betrayal of those who actually suffered and died at the hands of “classical Anti-Semites” on “the soil of Europe.” The actual bodies of actual Jews tumbled naked into mass unmarked graves after being riddled with bullets; the actual bodies of actual Jews were burned alive in their homes and holy places; the actual bodies of actual Jews were raped and tortured and gassed and lost forever to their families and our people. When we liken that history to political actions taken in protest of Israel’s occupation policies, we’re making a mockery of those lives.


Let's think logically about the difference between true Anti-Semitism and criticism, or even delegitimzation--of the state of Israel as we know it today.  There are five different ways one can criticize Israel, and only one is truly "anti-Semitic" .

  1. One can criticize specific Israeli politicians without criticizing official Israeli policy.  For example, three mainstream Jewish groups criticized Israeli economics minister Naftali Bennett last summer for claiming that the two-state solution is dead.
  2. One can criticize Israel's policies, especially new settlement construction in, or even the entire occupation of, the West Bank, without criticizing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State.  Though certainly a minority position, there are a number of Jews within and outside of Israel who are criticizing the occupation in the West Bank.  Even more are criticizing the construction of new settlements which could kill a two-state solution.  J Street has taken a firm stance against settlement expansion.
  3. One can criticize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State but not criticize its right to exist as a state.
  4. One can criticize Israel's right to exist as a state without criticizing Jews as a people or the Jewish religion.
  5. One can be a true bigotted Anti-Semite who hates Jews because they are Jews,

Categories three and four overlap somewhat, and maybe they shouldn't even be separate categories.  I certainly fall within the third category if by "Jewish State" we mean that Israel must forever maintain a majority Jewish population. I believe that Israel should be a state "designed for the protection of Jews" and not a Jewish state.  There is a slight but significant difference between these formulations.  One is racist, the other is not.  I explain the difference in more detail here.  Egypt has good relations with Israel without recognizing it as a Jewish State.  The PLO has recognized Israel's right to exist as a state without recognizing it as a Jewish State.  The claim that failure to recognize Israel as a Jewish State is Anti-Semitic is both relatively recent and absurd.

Most of those who criticize Israel's right to exist as a state are really criticizing its right to exist as a state in its current form.  Many would like to see Israel truly transformed into a state for all its people--where everyone is treated equally and Jews don't get special rights.  This may come in the form of Israel (or whatever the new version of the state will be called) being a separate entity from the West Bank and Gaza, or it could come in the form of Israel being combined with one or both of them.  Maysoon Zayid wrote a wonderful piece about what a one-state solution could look like.  If I had a magic wand that could make her vision a reality I would be thrilled wave it.  I challenge you to read the following excerpt and not laugh in the face of anyone who calls her Anti-Semitic. 


When I call for one state, I’m told it is impossible because there would no longer be a Jewish state. I don’t know how many times I can explain that being a secular state with equal rights does not deny the Jewish people their identity or a safe haven. It is time to live in the present. Neither Israel nor Palestine has a constitution. As one state they could create one that allows any Jewish person worldwide to come live there as they do now. There is more than enough room for the refugees that want return and the Jews worldwide who want to make aliyah. The fear that allowing the refugees to return will ensure the persecution of the Jewish population and the return of the Caliphate is absurd. Palestinians are Christian, Muslims, atheist, Buddhist—you name it. And the majority I know have nothing against Judaism and everything against Israeli oppression. Under democratic law, extremists of any stripe will have to live in a country where you do not discriminate against your neighbors or, if you do, you do so hiding behind a sock puppet on social media.


Palestinians and their supporters are not the only ones who believe the Jews had no right to establish a state in Israel.  Throughout the Middle Ages and into the early 1900s, most Jews thought it would be inappropriate for them to migrate en mass back to their ancient Homeland.  They thought that God wanted them to wait patiently in the Diaspora for His signal that the end days were near before returning to Judea and Samaria to reform a Jewish State.  As Mark Tessler explains in A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (p. 19 - 20)

...most Jews nonetheless did not believe it was appropriate to initiate steps toward the reconstruction of their national home in Palestine.  On the contrary, such action would indicate a loss of faith and the absence of a willingness to wait for the Creator's plan to unfold in its own Divinely ordained fashion, and this, as a consequence, would rupture the covenant between God and the Jewish people and make illogical and illegitimate any proclamations of Jewish nationhood or any assertion of a continuing tie beween Daspora Jewry and the Land of Israel.


This attitude started to change in the early 1900's thanks largely to the efforts of Rabbi Abraham Kook.  Today almost all religious rabbis support the Jewish State of Israel.  Almost.  But though Bibi Netanyahu might not like it, there are still a small number of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who cling to the belief that it is going against God's will to form a Jewish State before He gives His signal.  One such group, The True Torah Jews Against Zionism spells out why they are against a Zionist state of Israel:

The relatively new concept of Zionism began only about one hundred years ago and since that time Torah-true Jewry has steadfastly opposed the Zionist ideology. This struggle is rooted in two convictions:

1. Zionism, by advocating a political and military end to the Jewish exile, denies the very essence of our Diaspora existence. We are in exile by Divine Decree and may emerge from exile solely via Divine Redemption. All human efforts to alter a metaphysical reality are doomed to end in failure and bloodshed. History has clearly borne out this teaching.

2. Zionism has not only denied our fundamental belief in Heavenly Redemption it has also created a pseudo-Judaism which views the essence of our identity to be a secular nationalism. Accordingly, Zionism and the Israeli state have consistently endeavored, via persuasion and coercion, to replace a Divine and Torah-centered understanding of our peoplehood with an armed materialism.

True Torah Jews is dedicated to informing the world and in particular the American public and politicians that not all Jews support the ideology of the Zionist state called "Israel". In fact, a great number of Orthodox Jews view the ideology of that state as diametrically opposed to the teachings of traditional Judaism.


Now, watch this rabbi explain why he and his fellow ultra-Orthodox are opposing the draft into the Israeli Defense Force.  Note he questions the very legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel.  His view of what Judaism means is very different from that of most Jews.  But does this make him an Anti-Semite?




Finally, Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote a great manual to help you tell the difference between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism.  Please read it.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

In George Orwell's 1984, Big Brother's party used three slogans to control the population: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”  If Orwell were alive today--if he could see how Bibi Netanyahu and others of his ilk abused the term "Anti-Semite" to try to stifle those who fight against an illegal and often brutal occupation, then he might have added one more slogan: "Victimhood is Power".

Update 4/26/14: The Students for Justice in Palestine distributed mock eviction notices under the doors of 2000 students living in dorms at New York University.  The notices were very obviously not real eviction notices and were intended to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians who are evicted from their homes by the Israeli government.  Laura Adkins, the vice president of NYU's Israeli advocacy group, TorchPac, alerted the media claiming that Jews on campus were being targeted in an anti-Semitic attack by SJP.   Phan Nguyen  wrote a brilliant, must read article that shreds Adkins's claim to bits.  The following passage from his article sums up the abuse of the term "Anti-Semitism" perfectly.


There’s another bait-and-switch in the story, more commonly deployed by defenders of Israel. In her answers to my questions, Adkins felt the need to define anti-Semitism, because she was applying such an unconventional definition of anti-Semitism, namely Natan Sharansky’s “Three D’s of anti-Semitism”—demonization, delegitimization, and double-standards—a definition of anti-Semitism so arbitrary that it only works in English and perhaps a few other languages where the same concepts can be expressed with words that begin with the letter D.

Moreover it defines all of anti-Semitism, “new anti-Semitism,” as relating to Israel, and says nothing about Jew hatred, which Sharansky sets aside as “classic anti-Semitism.” In other words, it is a redefinition of anti-Semitism.

This is where the bait-and-switch comes in: The expectation is that one can employ a new definition of anti-Semitism but still maintain the connotations of the earlier definition of anti-Semitism. In other words, it’s changing the rules mid-game and hoping no one notices that it’s a different game. . . .


Update 4/28/14:  Dionna Nevel wrote an impassioned op-ed for the Jerusalem Post imploring people to stop trying to silence Israel's critics by playing the Anti-Semite card.  It is well worth reading.

Update 5/5/14: This article by Cantor Michael Davis is well worth a read.

Update 9/5/14: MJ Rosenberg wrote an extraordinarily good piece proving the recent upswing in Anti-Semitism can be traced directly to Israel's behavior, especially its war in Gaza.