Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism

Monday 14th May, the US moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Protests commence in Gaza resulting to disproportionate violence from Israel. Both those killed and those injured enter the double digits.

Tuesday 15th May, Palestinians commemorate Nakba. An emergency UN meeting is held condemning Israel.

Much of what needs to be said on this topic – such as Israel’s continuous contravention of international law – has already been told, so I want to discuss something new. At least new to me.

I noticed on social media a couple of people clinging onto a thinly veiled claim that criticising Israel for its behaviour essentially equates to anti-Semitism and racism.

Some criticism of Israel is motivated by anti-Semitic sentiment. However, the majority of people I know do not view Judaism and Zionism as completely synonymous terms.

I know enough Jews who acknowledge international law and criticise Israel for its recklessly disproportionate behaviour to know this to be the case.

Equally, some of the most prominent “Zionists” across history have been Christians and not Jews, such as both Bushes and Donald Trump.

***

Unfortunately, Benjamin Netanyahu continuously attempts to link Israel’s identity with total Jewish identity. It is true that a lot of questions surrounding Jewry fall into the Zionist discourse, however Israel, in its strictest sense, is supposed to be a secular nation with political aspirations broader than Zionism itself.

Netanyahu’s assertions are therefore irresponsible and can serve as fuel for racist bigots who assume that Israel’s behaviour is motivated by a grand Jewish conspiracy fresh out of The Protocols of Zion. “It’s not me!” they often say, “just listen to Netanyahu’s speeches!”

Isn’t it ironic, then, that Netanyahu and Khamenei – both totalitarian by nature and attitude – probably agree that Israel’s hostile militarisation is “very Jewish” and “in line with the Jewish vision”?

***

Netanyahu wants to secure Israel world’s only Jewish nation, led by the Jewish people, for the Jewish people. Strictly speaking, he is not alone in this ideology. There are many Muslim nations across the Middle East that fall into a similar category (at worse, in a de facto sense) such as Saudi Arabia and the “Islamic Republic” of Iran. However, we do not generally tend to equate criticism of Saudi and Iran with Islamophobia and anti-Arab/Persian bigotry.

Indeed, the identity of Saudi Arabic, or historic Hejaz, is not only often linked with Islam, but also ancient Arab identity.

***

Many hardline supporters of Israel therefore knowingly or unknowingly create “bait” which leads people into the accusation that they are being anti-Semitic. It is either completely incidental or a very intelligent way of undermining any criticism towards Israel’s human rights abuses.

One may not see Israeli identity and Jewish identity as totally synonymous, but just because Likud party affiliate may do so, that can lead him or her to rashly point out supposed anti-Semitism.

But stop for a minute.

  1. Do you conceptualise and identify Israel the same way I do?
  2. Is your conceptualisation of Israeli identity anthropologically accurate?

In fact, many of those who both support and oppose Israel aim to distance Jewry as far as possible from Zionism. Very often this is from fear from “liberal Zionists” (assuming for now that such a term is not oxymoronic) that hardline Zionism is undermining Israel’s sustainability as a “legitimate” nation.

It is therefore not myself totally conflating hardline Zionism with Semitic identity, but it is those supporters of less tolerant parties like Likud.

How tolerant is it, then, to create this conflation and imply that all “Jews” support breaking international law and targeting innocent civilians for ideological motives? My conscience is clean, but is Netanyahu’s?

***

The conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism therefore overlooks the fact that Semitic identity is very deep and dynamic. Is a Jewish migrant from Russia with distant ties to the Levant (Sham, or Sem) more Semitic than an indigenous Palestinian Arab whose ancestors have lived their whole lives in the surrounding area?

If we’re going to go down that route: aren’t we all, genetically, from the same species anyway? I’m sure any suggestion of invading Africa and establishing a homeland there would seem ridiculous.

Of course, nobody’s blood is 100% of anything, including Palestinians who have been invaded by Romans, Ottomans, and so forth. Both Arabs and Jews are way too diverse in appearance to assert – in a manner that resembles ridiculous Nazi attitudes towards genetics – that either blood is “pure”.

It also seems totally obnoxious disregard a Palestinian’s Semitic identity whilst asserting the Semitism of a European migrant who may not even talk a Semitic language. Arabic being one of them.

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