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Wednesday, February 16, 2005


anti-semitism and anti-zionism

by way of al-hiwar, a reference on the line between anti-semitism and anti-zionism. i have to admit that i find this insufficient.

i see israel (not judaism, of course, which has a historical and geographic diversity much deeper than western civilization -- indeed, informed the christianity that is so fundamental to the west) as belonging at least in part to the western body of nations -- it was carved of the british hegemony in 1947 under the auspices of the western powers. israel has further maintained close cultural and economic ties to the west, and vice versa. israel, despite its implied religious nature, is a western nation -- part of western civilization.

as such, i feel not at all wrong in holding israel to a standard political higher than i would attempt to hold non-western political entities. if israel is to be civilized, it must meet the standards of western civility -- a standard that many mideastern nations do not attempt to meet. i find it a confusing statement, then, to hear that anti-semitism can consist of just that point:

Critics who habitually single out Israel for condemnation while ignoring far worse actions by other countries (especially other Middle Eastern countries) are anti-Semitic.
the implication is that the government of israel need aspire to behave no better than any third-world despot. this sort of moral relativism i find appalling and insidious; such a lowering of standards as it allows constitutes a retrogression into barbarity. can advocating that be pro-israel?

moreover, i am disturbed to see that questioning the utility of the creation of israel -- even if it should prove to ultimately be horribly damaging to both the jewish and palestinian peoples -- is also "off limits":

Attacks on the merits of Israel's existence rather than individual government policies are anti-Semitic.
again, the presumption seems to be that the creation of israel is an essential good, a noble ideal sparked of virtue. what if in fact this proves not to be so? and what if we discover that some of the principles by which israel was formed and developed now seem unsustainable and incompatible with ethics and civility? such dissent seems vital to me, and finds vigorous voice within judaism itself.

mind you, i am no opponent of jewish empowerment -- i highly respect and enjoy rabbinic judaism for its ethical and talmudic traditions and cultural integrity, aspects which offer a vision of education and society that i wish the broader west would more closely emulate, and deserving of authority by its very nature. but there is, as marc ellis and milton viorst have considered, as much to question about israel and what ellis sees as "constantinian judaism" as there is about america or britain or france.

i pose no question to israel that i would not pose to the united states, my home. i have said repeatedly that the united states' invasion and occupation of iraq was reprehensible on every level; and i can find virtually no aspect of history to stand in defense of regarding the american treatment of native americans. does this make me anti-american? i should certainly think not -- the process of criticism is that by which we can reinforce our identity and assure our civility of continued health. the abandonment of critical examination of israel under such a broad definition of anti-semitism does israel no justice. and, as viorst notes, the stakes are intolerable:

After two thousand years of strenuous survival in exile, it would be a grim irony if homecoming is remembered by history not as the seed of the Jews' redemption but of their self-destruction.
FURTHER READING: "jewish power" by paul eisen.


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