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It’s fine to criticize Israel (so long as you say it’s a vibrant democracy and leave out the oppression of Palestinians)

Media Analysis
on 11 Comments

The Forward has run an opinion piece saying that the left must come to terms with its anti-Semitism, citing anti-Zionist cartoons by Carlos Latuff.  There are various leaps of logic here, but I want to jump to this part of Izabella Tabarovsky’s argument:

“One place to start is to learn the boundary of where the criticism of Israel ends and anti-Semitism begins. (Hint: Israel’s ban against Omar and Tlaib unleashed a storm of criticism from U.S. Jewish institutions and individuals. None of it was anti-Semitic.)”

Of course Tabarovsky ignores the fact that much of the criticism she approves of from Jewish institutions and individuals was actually complimentary towards Israel and was bigoted against Palestinians. The idea is that Israel is a “vibrant democracy”, maybe with a few warts, but its overwhelming virtues would be immediately apparent to any fair-minded observer.

At worst Tlaib and Omar might have criticized Israel, and Israel would brush this off because there are Israelis who criticize Israel too, so what’s the big deal? As long as there is some internal debate within Israel the criticisms actually show the healthy nature of Israeli democracy.

And so: The oppression of millions of Palestinians is a golden opportunity for Israelis to show off the vibrancy of their political culture by having lots of differing opinions about it.

It seems almost churlish to point out how much this reeks of narcissism. It’s as if slavery didn’t really matter— what mattered was that 19th century America was a vibrant democracy where Lincoln and Stephen Douglas and Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Calhoun could voice their opinions. Even Frederick Douglass was allowed to get a word in edgewise.

Someone who is consciously or unconsciously bigoted against Palestinians would miss the moral idiocy involved in this type of Israel apologetics. That probably accounts for most of that type of editorial.

Recently someone in the comments asked if there is any criticism of Israel that isn’t antisemitic and it occurred to me that there is. You are allowed to criticize the Israeli government for not having the self confidence to recognize how wonderful Israel is. That is what the New York Times and AIPAC and Tom Friedman criticized them for when Netanyahu kept the congresswomen out.

Tom Friedman:

Excuse me, but when did powerful Israel — a noisy, boisterous democracy where Israeli Arabs in its Parliament say all kinds of wild and crazy things — get so frightened by what a couple of visiting freshman American congresswomen might see or say? When did Israel get so afraid of saying to them: “Come, visit, go anywhere you want! We’ve got our warts and we’ve got our good stuff. We’d just like you to visit both. But if you don’t, we’ll live with that too. We’re pretty tough.’’

Peter Beinart recognized that what Israel did was rational— Tlaib and Omar would not have stuck to the sort of guided tour that AIPAC would give. But the Times editors stuck to the AIPAC line.

The Times:

It has long been Israel’s mantra that critics of its policies should come see for themselves, and the country is certainly strong enough to handle any criticism from two members of Congress.

AIPAC:

We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.

It was the liberal path of least resistance— they could criticize Trump and they could criticize Netanyahu for his alleged caving in to Trump and they could praise Israel as, yes, a vibrant democracy. These editorials practically write themselves. Maybe there is an app for that.

I called this unconscious bigotry. The term “unconscious” is charitable, but it is probably accurate for most. People just follow the same reasoning that others use. In the US, bigotry on this subject is widely acknowledged in two forms. First and foremost, people are concerned about antisemitism, both real and imagined. (Trump just made an antisemitic statement which is similar in reasoning to those who say JVP members aren’t real Jews. It will be interesting watching people ignore that point.) But more recently, mainly since Trump, mainstream liberals are also concerned about Islamophobia and racism within our borders, so there was genuine outrage over what Trump said about the Squad and where they come from.

But there is no concern about racism against Palestinians. People who criticize Israel are constantly scrutinized or accused of antisemitism. There is no scrutiny going the other way. The New York Times carried four writers’ opinion pieces last year defending the shooting of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and nobody in the political mainstream batted an eye. Imagine if four NYT columnists defended terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.  People most likely would have noticed and maybe even said something.  Of course it would never occur to the NYT editors to allow such views in their paper.

The simple fact is that to defend Israel’s actions towards Palestinians you have to defend terrorism and war crimes, but people who do this are never considered to be racist in mainstream circles. They are congresspeople and Senators and pundits and Presidents. They are part of respectable opinion and these are the people convinced that a nonviolent Palestinian rights movement is Hitler reincarnated. That almost seems bigoted.

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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11 Responses

  1. eljay on August 21, 2019, 3:07 pm

    “One place to start is to learn the boundary of where the criticism of Israel ends and anti-Semitism begins. … “

    There’s nothing wrong or anti-Semitic with criticizing oppression, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, military occupation, colonialism, sundry (war) criminal behaviour and overt supremacism. Not even when Israel does these things.

    It’s hypocritical – and even “singling out” anti-Semitic – to condemn criticism of oppression, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, military occupation, colonialism, sundry (war) criminal behaviour and overt supremacism just because Israel is the offender.

    It is anti-Semitic to conflate Zionists and Israel – and the evil that it and they continue to do deliberately and with impunity – with all Jews. This is something Zionists do all the time. I can’t understand why Zionists insist on hating Jews so much.

    • CigarGod on August 21, 2019, 7:22 pm

      Can we add “inequality” to your first sentence?

      • eljay on August 21, 2019, 8:28 pm

        || CigarGod: Can we add “inequality” to your first sentence? ||

        Sure, although I think “overt supremacism” kinda covers inequality.

  2. edwardm on August 21, 2019, 5:42 pm

    Lol. Wow that doesn’t leave much. Maybe we can just make fun of their lame pop music….
    No, come to think of it I’ll stick to criticizing –
    arbitrary detention, theft of land water and other assets, the racism, excuse making, victim blaming, oppression, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, slander of Palestinians, and corrupting our elected officials…
    etc. etc.

  3. Keith on August 21, 2019, 7:08 pm

    DONALD- “The Forward has run an opinion piece saying that the left must come to terms with its anti-Semitism….”

    It would be nice if the Forward and other Jewish Zionists media came to terms with Jewish Zionist sectarianism. Nice, but not likely.

  4. JWalters on August 21, 2019, 10:23 pm

    “the left must come to terms with its anti-Semitism”

    This latest Israeli talking point, another GLARING lie, is lucidly dissected in a conversation between Norman Finkelstein and George Galloway. It’s part of a campaign to drive people from politics with maliciously false accusations of “anti-Semitism”.
    “What’s happening to Corbyn is a trial run for Bernie Sanders”

    The brazenly absurd claim that concern for justice is somehow “anti-Semitism” is nothing but a cover story for criminals.

    • CigarGod on August 22, 2019, 10:24 am

      Great interview.
      Thanks for the link.

      • JWalters on August 22, 2019, 7:20 pm

        I really appreciated Dr. Finkelstein’s diagnosis of Israel.

  5. Vera Gottlieb on August 22, 2019, 10:25 am

    As I see it, members of US government traveling to israel only support israel apartheid. Why the need to go to israel?

  6. Jasonius Maximus on August 22, 2019, 1:04 pm

    It’s the same ol’ double standard defense in a different disguise.

    When you criticize Israel you are an anti-Semite. Why? Because Israel is the Jewish State! Ergo you are criticizing ALL Jews.

    Yet when you say that American Jews have a responsibility to pressure Israel to change its policies, you are again labeled an anti-Semite. Why? Because you are suggesting an anti-Semitic dual loyalty trope that equates ALL Jews with support of Israel.

    See? It’s a genius circular defense that can’t be penetrated without sounding… well… anti-Semitic.

    And if you happen to be Jewish and critical of Israel? Well, we have the ol’ “Self hating Jew” or even better “Disloyal Jew” tropes to roll out, which are even more ridiculous considering the initial arguments above.

    The hypocrisy is completely out of control. In Omar’s and Tlaib’s case it’s blatantly absurd.

    For example, the new defense and logic for barring them coming out of the Pro-Israel propaganda machine in the US is that “… if they REALLY wanted to visit Israel/Palestine, why didn’t they simply join the rest of their Congressional colleagues on the AIPAC sponsored trip two weeks earlier?” Makes sense right?

    Yet strangely, not a single media outlet or host with even half a brain or ounce of integrity has asked the two criminally logical questions that should follow such an absurd proposition.

    ie. “Why the hell should they be forced to go on a trip organized by a lobby group that doesn’t support them or share their values, and not a lobby group of their own choosing?” Followed by the even more blindingly obvious question, “How would that have even changed the official reason for denying them entry based on Israel’s Anti-BDS law?”

    Sadly, and just as with 99.9% of the coverage concerning Palestinian rights, it’s apparently easier for the media to go along with the deflection and shameless victim blaming and victim shaming, and collective blame, than to ask the hard questions and risk accusations of “anti-Israel bias” and “anti-Semitism” against themselves.

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