BENJAMIN KERSTEIN: YES! CRITICISM OF ISRAEL IS ANTI-SEMITIC
That is to say, the historical circumstances under which Israel and the Jews exist in the world today render any non anti-Semitic criticism of Israel impossible.
‘But surely you don’t believe,” they always ask you, “that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic?” It is a noticeably patronizing question, of course, in that it is obviously an admonition that all civilized, thinking people must answer “no” or “of course not.” It is an important question, however, because of its real answer, which is unequivocally and unquestionably “yes.”
The idea that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic horrifies some, offends and mortifies others, and terrifies still more. The usual reaction to it is something along the lines of “how can you say that?!” Nonetheless, it is exactly what I am saying in regard to Israel and its critics.
I do not speak, however, of intentional or conscious anti-Semitism (though it is a major factor), nor of inadvertent or ignorant anti-Semitism (though this also plays a mighty role). All criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic because of hate, or prejudice, or malice, or stupidity, or indeed any of those very human vices so often regarded as the devil’s work by upper-middle-class liberals.
All criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic because of the specific historical circumstances under which we currently live. That is to say, the historical circumstances under which Israel and the Jews exist in the world today render any non-anti-Semitic criticism of Israel impossible. And, ironically, these are circumstances that Israel’s opponents have themselves created.
To hold that this is not the case requires acting – and demanding that others act – as if these circumstances do not exist, even as they sit as patiently as a pachyderm in the parlor waiting for us to notice them and, sometimes, when our self-willed ignorance grows too infuriating, murder our children and set off bombs in our streets.
Nonetheless, these circumstances are not complex, nor are they numerous. They are simply these: A large portion of the world, West and East, has come to believe that Arabs and Muslims have earned the right to murder Jews.
Derived from this right, they have also come to believe that the destruction dismantling, and erasure of the State of Israel, and the slaughter, expulsion, and/or perpetual subjugation of its Jewish population are entirely legitimate and indeed desirable.
Derived from the preceding is the belief that the Jewish people in general, in Israel or the Diaspora, either do not exist as a people deserving the same rights as other peoples, or are an evil and debased people who must be slaughtered, expelled, and/or perpetually subjugated in order to prevent them from committing further debased evils.
UNDER SUCH circumstances, it is clear that: The existence, rights and dignity of Israel and the Jews are considered to be intertwined to the point that no differentiation between them is possible.
The existence, rights and dignity of Israel and the Jews are considered uniquely contingent upon their conduct and whether or not that conduct meets with the approval of the non-Jewish world.
Because of the beliefs outlined in the previous section, Israeli and Jewish conduct will never meet with the aforementioned approval.
As a result, Israel and the Jews are, in essence, held indistinguishable by a court whose proceedings are perpetual and whose verdict is known beforehand. Under such circumstances, there is no criticism, no evidence for the prosecution, which does not aid in the process of an unjust trial before a monstrous court. Which is not, put simply, anti-Semitic.
It is either subjectively anti-Semitic, in that it consciously and intentionally aids in this injustice; or it is objectively anti-Semitic, in that it unconsciously and unintentionally does the same thing. The distinction – if there ever was one – between the two is now meaningless. Either way, the result is the same.
It may be, of course, that some criticism of Israel will be deemed necessary in spite of the consequences, and the need for a public hearing will overwhelm the need to prevent a victory of sorts for anti-Semitism. If so, however, those doing the criticizing ought to be honest enough to acknowledge the objective consequences of doing so, whatever is said or left unsaid along the way.
So, it must be said again: Yes, all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Yes, it is so because of specific historical circumstances. Yes, it is inescapable. Yes, it holds true however well-intentioned such criticism may be. Yes, it holds as true for Jewish as for non-Jewish critics of Israel.
The Middle East conflict, David Ben-Gurion said a long time ago – and he was right – is not about the Jews and the Arabs, it is about the Jews and the world, a world that is overwhelmingly not Jewish, and thus bears certain responsibilities toward its Jewish minority. If and when the world finally accepts these responsibilities, criticism of Israel that is not anti-Semitic will become possible.
Until then, however, there is at least a possible solution to the problem, should critics of Israel be willing to entertain it. It is a modest imperative: Work toward less anti-Semitism. This imperative does not demand silence, but it does require a measure of self-reflection that is (and I in no way exempt myself) a task of the most supreme difficulty for us all.
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