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When Does Criticism Of Israel Become Anti-Semitic?


Anti-Semitism is defined as a prejudice, antipathy or discrimination against Jews — not only as a religious group, but also as a nationality and ethnicity. I’m not sure who decides when the threshold for prejudice is met, but it seems to me that too often critics of Israel are censured for being anti-Semitic when there’s little evidence to back up the charge.

For example, Katie Pavlich recently accused Barack Obama of failing to fire our bungling Secretary of State John Kerry because he was “anti-Semitic.” Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin called Kerry an anti-Semite. And Ben Shapiro has an post laying out purported acts of anti-Semitism by the entire administration. Though, admittedly, this administration has exhibited the kind of disdain for Israel’s government that it typically reserves for Republicans, the accusation of anti-Semitism should not be thrown around lightly — the way, say, Joan Walsh and others regularly cheapen the charge of racism – because it devalues the impact of genuine acts of hatred.

With that said, it is equally ridiculous to suggest that all critics of Israel are merely dispassionate observers. Take, for instance, the opening paragraph of Andrew Sullivan’s latest post advocating that the United States disassociate itself from Israel:

The state of Israel controls a large amount of neighboring territory, seized in war, in which the inhabitants are divided by ethnicity, with one group, the original inhabitants of the land or refugees from ethnic cleansing, are systematically disadvantaged compared with the other. They are penned into eight distinct areas from which they have to get through checkpoints to move around. They have no right to vote for the government that controls their lives. This arrangement has now lasted a year longer than the apartheid regime in South Africa – and, unlike that regime, looks set to continue indefinitely. It also comprises a massive project of ethnic and social engineering in which the dominant ethnic group continues to settle the occupied territory in an attempt – forbidden by the Geneva Conventions – to change its demographic nature.

This litany of anti-Zionistic tropes isn’t what makes the piece interesting. It’s the very next sentence that does:

None of this is in dispute.

Actually, all of this is in dispute. All of this is the dispute. Nearly every single contention Sullivan offers above is debatable and many of them, it can be argued, are patently false and dishonest. And the ones that are in the strictest sense accurate are offered without any historical context, making them no better than distortions. Treating the central questions of the debate as mere formality before engaging in a round of pious accusations about the evils of Israel is a neat trick if you can get away with it.

But let’s for a moment grant that Andrew Sullivan believes all this is true. Sullivan, who was famously accused of anti-Semitism a few years back, preempts any similar charge by dismissing it as an obvious consequence of speaking truth to power. He claims that he still believes “in the dream of a free and Jewish state in the ancestral homeland, democratic and prosperous, and have nothing but profound admiration for its achievements and tenacity and acts of benevolence and entrepreneurship around the world.”

There is no need to dream about a democratic and prosperous Israel. It already exists. But according to Sullivan’s writings of the past few years, the very existence of this Jewish homeland is built upon ethnic cleansing and is preserved by irrational hatred from secular Jews and the fanaticism of religious ones.  Sullivan has no problem with the idea of cleansing the disputed areas of the West Bank of all Jews, but Palestinians – the “original inhabitants” of the area, who somewhat curiously gave their cities Hebrew names like Hebron and Bethlehem – will forever be “refugees” and victims of Jewish aggression. History, you see, began in 1967. The untold number of Palestinian atrocities and Arab aggression that created this situation deserves scant mention.

The security of Jews is equally irrelevant. Sullivan argues, in fact, that Israel is on a self-destructive downward spiral because it refuses to enter into “peace” agreements with the fanatics of Hamas or the intractable leadership of Fatah. Thus, the United States should wash its hands of Israel. Not Fatah. Not Egypt. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Iran. Not Turkey. Nor Pakistan. But Israel.

On top of that, of course, Sullivan (and others) regularly argue that a nefarious Fifth Column of Jews gives its marching orders to thousands of politicians (including presidents) every year for decades. This Jewish lobby, in cahoots with Israelis, works to dupe the public into supporting the subjugation an entire people, just like the racist South African governments. According to Sullivan, Israel plans to subjugate  in “perpetuity.”  For kicks, I guess.  It is inconceivable, evidently, for anti-Zionists to imagine that politicians take positions that reflect the bond most Americans feel with with Israel. It has to be something darker.

Denying the legitimacy of a Jewish homeland is, I’d argue, a mild form of anti-Semitism. And, call me paranoid, but when someone singles out Israel’s government — the only one with genuine liberal institution in those parts — as a uniquely immoral and racist entity, it makes me wonder. Now, Andrew Sullivan doesn’t seem like the type of person who walks around with any genuine antipathy for Jewish people, but his public animosity towards Israel, his exaggerated accusations about Jewish influence in America and his constant distortion of Jewish goals sure does make him sound like it sometimes. And he’s not alone.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.