Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue

A guest post by Rebecca of City of Ladies

Peace and hello. The Feministe crew have generously invited me to guest-post here about the Israel-Gaza conflict. I’ll spare you the biography and just say as background that I’m a blue-state Reform Jew with an Israeli-born mother who’s about ready to disown me (not literally) because I support peace in Gaza. (How about that ceasefire, eh.)

This post is in three parts: Israel-Republicanism, One State, Two State, Multiethnic State, Jew State, and Shalom/Salaam.

Israel-Republicanism

While I discuss below issues that are more specifically related to the current war, I’d like to first counter, somewhat obliquely, David Schraub’s earlier posts on anti-Semitism.1 I agree when David says that, as with other forms of bigotry, it’s the victims of that bigotry that should get to define what is and what is not anti-Semitism.

However. Criticism of Israel’s actions is not, in and of itself, anti-Semitic. Period.

Most American Jews I know are, if not always liberal, at least consistent Democrats. (Except for my uncle. Does everyone have a Republican uncle?) Which is why it confuses and saddens me when so many of them adopt what I call a Republican position with respect to Israel.2 Meaning they take as their motto the saying “My country, right or wrong” without adding the coda that liberals do: “if right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right.” Rather than seeing the conflict as the complex and nuanced situation it is, they see it in black and white – “you’re either with us or against us.” In short, large numbers of American Jews that are progressive about American politics are total right-wing nutjobs when it comes to Israel.

Why is this? Why this willful blindness, this Israel-Republicanism? Does it stem from religious conviction? Anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia? A belief that Jews have just been persecuted enough? Simply a facet of American privilege? I suspect it’s all of these.

In the Bible, the land of Israel is promised to the Hebrews, etc. etc. etc. This has no actual relevance, of course. But even people who aren’t that religious sometimes buy into the belief that Jews have a right to that patch of desert that supersedes others’ right to it, because their ancestors lived and worshiped there, or that the haven for Jews all over the world has to be right there. (Somewhat unsurprisingly, the same people are distinctly unwilling to give their houses to descendants of Native Americans.) I can speak to this; I used to be a fanatical Israel-Republican, until I got on the internet and grew up and realized that I was being an idiot. It can be difficult to get rid of ideas that have been ingrained in you since childhood. Even people who don’t care so much about God promising the land to the Jews internalize the bit about Jews being the chosen, the special; they believe this conflict is special, different, not subject to the same rules we would apply to other conflicts such as China-Tibet.

Without going into the dysfunctional family drama, I’ll tell you that I’ve seen a great deal of outright anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia and a lot of borderline examples of the same from my relatives. I feel it’s hugely important. Obviously there is hate on both sides. But I haven’t seen from Arabs or Muslims the same level of “they hate us anyway, so it’s not worth negotiating with them” that I have from Jews. (One example that I’ve seen in comments here is the remark that because Palestinians voted Hamas into power, they agree with every part of its charter, including the desire to wipe out Israel and the Jews. But when you have no home or health care or food or schools or running water, you don’t have the luxury of voting for the more moderate party over the party that will provide you with your basic needs. See this piece by little light for more on that, and an explanation of why people who absolutely condemn terror tactics should still be able to see where Palestinian terrorists are coming from. Note also that if it were Israel providing basic social services to the Palestinians, instead of Israel blocking them and Hamas providing them, fewer Palestinians would vote for Hamas. Funny how that works.) This attitude is clearly racist/Islamophobic. Even if you don’t believe that Arabs and Muslims “contribute nothing to the world” (words are my mother’s), by assuming that all members of a group share a particular bigotry, you’re attributing to them a bad quality based on their race or religion. That’s racism. Not to mention that believing that Palestinians are inherently irrational and hateful makes successful negotiation downright impossible.

I don’t think that people who think “the Jews have been persecuted enough” ever consciously add “and now it’s their turn to do some persecuting.” But in practice it comes out that way. In particular, with the Holocaust. Yes, it is true that many Jews fled to Israel because of the Holocaust. It is true that the Holocaust confirmed for many that Jews needed a state where they were the majority because they felt that in such a state they would not be oppressed as they were in places where they were a minority. But that doesn’t excuse anything. In too many cases, there’s an implied “nothing can equal the Holocaust, so anything we do is somehow OK.” And exploiting the deaths of six million Jews (the community often forgets the millions of other people murdered) killed out of others’ hate, in order to hate and victimize others, is a poor way of memorializing them. (Piece by Tema Okun: criticism of the way support for Israel has replaced actual commitment to social justice as what makes a person a good Jew, and the way a community which is known for argumentativeness – you have two Jews at a table, you get three opinions – just has to be unanimous on this.)

As Americans, we have the privilege of never having to think about other countries’ politics. Everyone follows our presidential race, every news source reports on our government as if it were their own, and when we travel abroad people talk to us about our own politics. And that blinds us to the realization that other countries’ politics aren’t monolithic. How many Americans know the difference between Likud and Kadima? How many actually know what they’re supporting when they call themselves unreservedly “pro-Israel”?

Because “pro-Israel” is nearly as bullshit a phrase as “pro-America.” Does being “pro-Israel” mean you support Israel’s right to exist? Sure, why not. Does it mean you support its right to exist if it has to ban non-Jewish political parties and discriminate against non-Jewish immigrants in order to do so? Less black-and-white. Does it mean you support its right to exist if it has to bomb Gaza into the Stone Age? That is the question. (See this piece by Ezra Klein in Ha’aretz, which incidentally came out as I was starting to write this post. We’re sharing a brain! Thrilling.)

It is entirely possible to oppose discrimination without being bigoted against those committing it. It is entirely possible to oppose disproportionate force without being bigoted against those using it. It is entirely possible to oppose ghettoization without being bigoted against those enforcing it.

One State, Two State, Multiethnic State, Jew State

Even in “enlightened”3 discussion of the Israel-Palestine situation, there’s disagreement over whether “anti-Zionism” is anti-Semitic. My thoughts: if you believe in the validity of ethnic/religious states to begin with, it’s anti-Semitic to oppose, in theory, the right of Jews to have a little state of their very own. In theory.

But not in practice. In David’s first post here, commenter Ben used the example of the American Civil War, when “we decided by war that Southerners weren’t entitled to their own state.” Putting aside the idea of maintaining the Union for its own sake and focusing on why we, modern progressives, would not have supported a Confederate States of America – it wasn’t some group, some intrinsic “Southernness” that we decided did not deserve a country, independent of all other factors. To maintain a “Southern” nation with a “Southern” way of life, as it was defined at the time, black people would have had to be enslaved, and it’s not “anti-Southern” to oppose that.

Likewise, a “Jewish state.” I can understand, intellectually if not emotionally, the desire for one – where Jew is the default, where a Jew might be less likely to be oppressed. But however you define “Jewish state” – 1. Jewish-majority state, 2. one where Jews hold all or most of the political, economic, and social power, or 3. one where Jews are welcomed without question4 – the fact remains that such a state is untenable, or at least that it is impossible for Israel to remain both a “Jewish state” and a democracy.

Let’s examine these three definitions in a one-state model:

Palestinians and Israeli Arabs outnumber Israeli Jews. If they were to be made full citizens with equal rights and all permitted to live in Israel, it would no longer have a Jewish majority. Thus it would not be a Jewish state by definition #1. If not, it would not be a democracy.

While problems of poverty and prejudice would not go away immediately on Palestinians’ being given equal rights, much as people of color in the United States technically being full citizens doesn’t mean that they are economically equal or that racism doesn’t exist, one can probably assume that the political, social, and economic power of Jews would indeed decline significantly as Palestinians voted for representatives that would act in their best interests (not the current Knesset, that’s for sure) and became integrated into Israeli society. Thus it would not be a Jewish state by definition #2. If they were prevented from doing so, whether by de jure or de facto disenfranchisement, segregation, or other discrimination, it would not be a democracy.

It would theoretically be possible for Israel to remain a haven for Jews even were it secular and with a non-Jewish majority – ie. I, a Jew, could still hop on a plane, fly into Ben-Gurion Airport, and become a citizen. (I’m simplifying, but not by much.) However, in order for such immigration and citizenship law not to be discriminatory, the same opportunity would have to be open to non-Jews. I don’t think any government of the region would keep completely open immigration and citizenship around for long, even if they went so far as to try it. So there would have to be limits on immigration. If these limits did not discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity – if they ended up keeping Jews out of the country – Israel would not be a Jewish state by definition #3. If they did, it would not be a democracy.

This is why I don’t think a one-state solution is possible, at least for people to whom a “Jewish state” that is also a democracy – and Israel prides itself on being a democracy, just as American Jews boast of it as the only democracy in the Middle East, whatever the veracity of those statements – matters. Jill posted a little while ago about Israel banning two of the three major Arab parties from running in the February 10 general election. One reason cited was that their political platforms undermine Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. (Well, it looks like Israel’s already having some problems being a democratic state. Since the solution to a supposed threat to Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state seems to be to reduce democracy, we conclude that it’s more important for Israel to be Jewish than to be democratic.) That undermining of Israel’s right to exist? A desire for a two-state plan where Israel gives equal rights to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. The horror.

This is what I see as the ideal (or at least the best) solution: two sovereign states, Israel and Palestine. If there is to be a “Jewish state,” the Jews are going to have to give the non-Jews a place to go. Not the Gaza Strip. Not the Negev. A decent amount of land worth living in. (It’s possible, even probable, that entire Israeli cities would become part of Palestine. I feel that eviction of Israelis could nonetheless be avoided – it would seem to be a self-correcting problem, as I can see that most would not want to live in a state that was not Israel or a “Jewish state” and would leave of their own free will. Those who stayed would naturally enjoy rights equal to the rights of Palestinian citizens or resident aliens, depending on which they choose to become.) With a proper state for Palestinians to inhabit, I think there could be a bit more wiggle room about giving preference to Jews in Israeli immigration law, though not citizenship law or other law – all people would have to have equal rights, Jew or non-Jew, in both states.

In this model, a state could exist that would be majority-Jewish (#1), Jew-dominated (#2), and a haven for Jews (#3). Yet it would also be a democracy and not oppress Palestinians. (See this Time article, first two paragraphs of the third page.)

Don’t let anyone tell you that a compromise is a solution where both parties end up happy. This compromise would make people unhappy. It would disappoint Hamas, who want to kick the Jews into the sea. It would disappoint Likud, who want to kick the Palestinians into the sea. But the workable solution is one that would make both sides a little sad, and both sides being a little sad is better than both sides blowing shit up all the time.

Shalom/Salaam

How ironic and strange it must be for friends or acquaintances or passers-by in the streets of Israel or Palestine to greet each other with “Peace.” That’s got to be the last thing that people associate with the region.

This part won’t be long; I don’t think it’s necessary to explain why I oppose unnecessary killing. The common accusation I’d like to address is “you don’t support Israel’s right to defend itself?”

The short answer: yes, I do. The slightly longer and necessary answer: yes, but not in this way.

Israel is not presently under any grave existential threat from Hamas. Hamas’s attacks are reprehensible, but they are not going to cause the destruction of Israel. Israel is collectively punishing Gazans for the deaths of Israelis – and collective punishment is a war crime. (Before anyone jumps down my throat: conducting military operations from among civilians is also a war crime. It is possible to condemn the actions of Israel without excusing the actions of Hamas, and vice versa. It’s not a zero-sum game.) Israel has bombed schools, mosques, hospitals, shelters, UN buildings. The justification: militants had been firing missiles into Israel from those locations. And, you know what, in some cases that was probably true. Did it justify destroying those facilities and killing those civilians? Was there no more precise way of silencing the rockets in a region packed so densely that any bombing will cause collateral damage? Was there any justification for using white phosphorus in a crowded residential area?

What’s more: I truly do not believe that it will work. Even if Israel had succeeded in eradicating Hamas – what exactly is supposed to happen next? Gaza looks like an earthquake zone, at least five hundred Palestinian civilians are dead, three thousand wounded,5 fifty thousand displaced from their homes. What does Israel expect the Gazans to do? Fall on their knees and kiss the ground the IDF soldiers walk on? Yes, one reads accounts of Palestinians who acknowledge that the military operation was in response to attacks by Hamas and who now hate Hamas. But how many more now hate Israel for destroying their homes and killing their families? And really, can you blame them? The only question that remains is whether or not this disproportionate response was enough of a deterrent. I’m going to go with a no.

This is why there must be peace. Because war doesn’t accomplish anything in this situation. Operation Cast Lead hasn’t stomped out Hamas, and even if it had, another group would have risen that was committed to destroying Israel, because when you make people hate you, they fight back. Hamas’s missile attacks haven’t wiped Israel off the map, and the retaliation they’ve provoked has decimated their own people, because when you make people hate you, they fight back. (See Nicholas Kristof’s NYT piece here.)

War is not a zero-sum game, either. Equal numbers of Israelis and Palestinians killed do not cancel out; they add up. Every person killed on either side is a strike against any hope of ever achieving stability in the Middle East. On Israel’s part, a solution might mean not bombing the shit out of Gaza when rockets fall on Sderot. Hamas might lead by a few “points” for a while. But in the long run, peace means fewer Israelis killed, too.

Shalom. Salaam. It’s the only way.

Footnotes:
1. By “anti-Semitism” I would like to specify that I mean, here and in the rest of the post, the hatred of Jews. It is true that Arabs are also a Semitic people, but getting bogged down in this kind of quibble when the word has been used for centuries to mean hatred of Jews isn’t conducive to anything. For hatred of Arabs or Muslims I will use “anti-Arab racism” and “Islamophobia” respectively.
2. The term “Likudnik” is also used in a similar way, but I feel it implies an awareness of the situation that those I call “Israel-Republicans” do not have.
3. By “enlightened” I mean discussion where the word “Zionist” is used to actually mean “Zionist” rather than as a dogwhistle for “Jew.”
4. I ignore any question of a state with laws based on halacha; I think we here (as well as a large number of “pro-Israel” Jews) can all agree that laws should not be based on the tenets of a religion.
5. I use the figures provided by the IDF, because even the low estimate is a ridiculous number of civilians hurt.

Other notes:
–Parts of this post are adapted or taken directly from my post “Tzedek?
–Apology for the American and Jewish focus – I’m speaking from my own experience and I may be way off in some respects. If I’ve said anything ignorant or insensitive, please do call me out on it – I want to be as educated and correct as I can.
–I recommend reading “Semitic Semantics,” by my co-blogger Brian – it’s a concise summary of the pros and cons of the different terms used to describe the sides in this war.


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36 Responses to Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue

  1. Updike's ghost says:

    “I agree when David says that, as with other forms of bigotry, it’s the victims of that bigotry that should get to define what is and what is not anti-Semitism.”

    I’ve seen this claim repeated over the years, and, with all due respect, it’s bullshit. Whether the issue is sexism, racism, anti-semitism, etc., the proper definition should be debated based on its merits, not automatically ceded to any particular group.

  2. Morningstar says:

    this was one of the best posts i have read on this subject.

    i feel like a zeitgest has sprung out of this gaza situation, where many americans are looking for new solutions to this mess.

    thanks for this

  3. Lauren O says:

    Thank you for this. It’s one of the most balanced and nuanced accounts of the issue that I’ve read. I especially like your points about it not being a zero-sum game.

  4. Ben says:

    moderators, if there’s a way to uncontribute both of my previous comments, I’d like to do that.

    Thanks,
    Ben

  5. Ariane says:

    Wow, what a post. Thanks for helping to give words to my feelings when I talk to Jewish people about this.

    There is no “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” there is only 2 eyes and 2 teeth. And what went before will never justify what we do today.

    Now if only we could create an online community to talk directly with Hamas…

  6. catsden says:

    excellent, well-thought out, and thoughtfully presented post. Thank you.

  7. Maria P. says:

    Great post. You’ve nailed it with the ‘Israel Republicanism’. Wish we saw more commentary like this in the mainstream.

  8. Morningstar says:

    don’t apologize for your posts, ben.

  9. Ruchama says:

    Thanks for this post.

    An update of the banning of the Arab political parties — as expected, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the Election Committee’s decision, and they will be in the election.

  10. Sivan says:

    An intelligent, knowledgeable, well thought out post.
    Your reasoning is sound and logical. I enjoyed reading this very much.

    Sadly, as an Israeli, what I see around me is the Hamas’ actions moving more an Israelis towards the Likud, and even further right. At the same time Israel’s actions is making more Palestinians extremists too.

    I particularly liked your mention of compromises, for it seems that both the Israelis and the Palenstinians are each holding on to a certain fantasy that can never exist. We all need to realize that no ideal exists for either of our peoples. There are only compromises. Neither of us will ever get all that we wish to have.

    There is a saying in hebrew, loosely translated to: “There is the desired, and there is what exists”, refering to the vast difference between what we want and what we can get.

    I think this whole region needs a dose of reality. Is peace not worth giving up on fantasies that could never exist anyway?

    Yes, there is only shalom. It’s the only way.

  11. a lawyer says:

    So there would have to be limits on immigration. If these limits did not discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity – if they ended up keeping Jews out of the country – Israel would not be a Jewish state by definition #3. If they did, it would not be a democracy.

    Would such policies, without more, really make Israel a non-democracy? That’s an awfully cabined definition of “democracy.”

    Some democracies have jus sanguinis laws that go quite a ways back. Of course the policy in question is different, since it’s not “auto-citizenship for people with Israeli citizen ancestors n generations back,” but “auto-citizenship for Jews (as defined by Israeli law).”

  12. Maureen says:

    @ a lawyer: The democracies with jus sanguinis laws tend to have a supermajority of the national/ethnic group in question. I can’t see Arab Muslims and Christians supporting the “right of return”.

  13. Maureen says:

    So do you think free U2 concerts would help?

    (Hey, U2 made a difference in another situation where two closely-related populations with religious differences and strangely convergent cuisine kept killing one another for a bit of land.)

  14. Rebecca says:

    @Updike: I get what you’re saying – I think it’s more that people who don’t experience a particular manifestation of bigotry often have difficulty seeing why it is bigotry – for example, why a man might be less likely to realize that praising women’s “natural skill at caring and nurturing” is sexist because it’s part of a tradition of confining women to the home. Perhaps it’s not so much that the victims get to “define” it as that their opinion has more weight.

    @lawyer: what Maureen said, basically. That, and the fact that the conflation of Judaism as a religion or race with nationality, whether Israeli or just “foreign,” is exactly the cause of a great deal of anti-Semitism. (See: “When he speaks French, he thinks Jewish, and while he turns out German verses, in his life he only expresses the nature of his nationality” – “nationality” in context meaning “Jewishness.” That’s from Mein Kampf.)

    (Thanks to everyone else for the kind comments.)

  15. misstickle says:

    “That is why there must be peace. Because war doesn’t accomplish anything”.
    Yeah just look what peace has done for the Tibetans.

  16. misstickle says:

    by the way I didn’t mean that last comment as snark

  17. Airina says:

    I’d like to join the chorus. Thank you for putting into words why I am so reluctant as a Jew to take part in conversations regarding Israel. Please post more on the subject.

  18. FreddyBak says:

    “Obviously there is hate on both sides. But I haven’t seen from Arabs or Muslims the same level of “they hate us anyway, so it’s not worth negotiating with them” that I have from Jews.”

    Um, ok. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean. At all. Maybe it’s your experience specifically with personal interactions. I don’t know. But if you are somehow telling me that Jewish bigotry towards Arabs/Muslims is somehow worse than the inverse, I have a hard time discribing your view as something other than willfull blindness.

  19. chingona says:

    I liked this post and agreed with most of what you said, particularly the my country right-or-wrong aspect.

    I’m not entirely comfortable with this, though:

    You wrote:

    The fact that the conflation of Judaism as a religion or race with nationality, whether Israeli or just “foreign,” is exactly the cause of a great deal of anti-Semitism.

    This makes it sound as if antisemitism is caused by Jews, by their beliefs or their actions or their identification with other Jews. I don’t think that’s the case.

    Nationality here becomes a difficult word. I tend to think of nationality as citizenship. My nationality is American. My race is white. My ethnicity is Jewish. I understand not everyone breaks down the categories the same way, but let me just stick with these definitions for a paragraph or two.

    Bringing this back to Law of Return, I really don’t see it as problematic in the sense of conflating Jewishness with nationality. It may be problematic politically in some future version of Israel and there are other grounds to argue against it, but I just don’t buy this argument that it conflates things that must be separate or that its existence causes antisemitism. I’m not intimately familiar with the jus sanguinis laws in other countries. I don’t know how the Irish or German governments establish whether a person is Irish or German for immigration purposes. I’m under the impression that the German law applies to people of German ethnicity, regardless of whether their ancestors ever had citzenship in a German state (that may be incorrect, but that’s always been my impression). And I know people from Latin American countries who have obtained Spanish passports by having one Spanish grandparent. So if someone is a Venezuelan citizen, that’s their “nationality” – Venezuelan – but they may have, through their family, a Spanish “ethnicity” that would give them certain rights under Spanish law. So unless jus sanguinis laws are limited to people who have an actual parent of the actual citizenship of the country in question, if jus sanguinis laws are generally based on a broader sense of ethnic identity, I don’t see Israel’s Law of Return as more problematic on that level than any other ethnically based immigration preference.

    I do think there’s an argument to be made that having a Law of Return for Jews while Palestinian right of return remains unsettled is unjust or problematic. I tend to think that if there is a negotiated peace solution, it will be a two-state solution and Israel will remain majority Jewish. If there is a one-state settlement, Law of Return probably would go away, but I could also see it being preserved as a concession in exchange for resolving Palestinian land rights/restitution/whatever. The demographic implications are a lot less than they were because most Jews live either in the United States or Israel, and I don’t expect to see massive emigration of American Jews.

    In the United States, we don’t generally have corporate rights or rights as members of a group. We only have rights as individuals, and I think that’s appropriate in an American context. But I think in some situations, in some iterations, in countries with a different political history than the United States, there can be a role for corporate rights in a democratic context. Corporate rights probably deserve a much higher level of scrutiny because there’s a lot of dangers therein, but I don’t think they are always and in every situation inherently undemocratic.

  20. chingona says:

    1. By “anti-Semitism” I would like to specify that I mean, here and in the rest of the post, the hatred of Jews. It is true that Arabs are also a Semitic people, but getting bogged down in this kind of quibble when the word has been used for centuries to mean hatred of Jews isn’t conducive to anything.

    The other day I was reading about that concentration camp “doctor” who had been thought to be still alive in Latin America somewhere but who now is known to have been living in Egypt until his death in 1992. In addition to a few other pursuits, he spent his retirement working on a book whose aim was to prove the Nazi regime was not anti-Semitic because the Jews aren’t actually Semites. Um, okay.

  21. Rebecca says:

    @Freddy: Not at all. Both are equally bad. But I’m referring to a particular specimen of bigotry, one which I have seen from Jews more often than from Arabs or Muslims: that of attributing bigotry to the other side and using it to dismiss them. The example I used in the post was of Jews speculating on why Palestinians elected Hamas – we know that many voted for Hamas because they provide basic social services and Fatah is thoroughly corrupt, but it’s so much simpler to think that they did so because they hate Jews.

  22. Julie says:

    However. Criticism of Israel’s actions is not, in and of itself, anti-Semitic. Period.

    I could be misreading you, but I’m confused by this point. Was David saying otherwise? And what sensible reader of Feministe doesn’t already know this?

    Also, I’ll admit that the sarcasm throughout the post (for example, “the right of Jews to have a little state of their very own”) makes me very uncomfortable. I know how frustrating it is to deal with fellow Jews who support Israel’s actions unconditionally, but I also know how frustrating it is to deal with non-Jews who view Jewish people as dim, privileged hypocrites when support for Israel may be coming from a history of violence, and I think we need to make it a priority to open up a space between those two extremes.

  23. Rebecca says:

    @Julie: You’re right, I probably should have been more clear. David talked in his post about how “We have the right to name our own reality, and when Jews claim anti-Semitism, that can’t be brushed aside so easily.” Many Jews (please understand that when I say “many Jews” I am referring to my mother, my family, and my childhood friends) believe that any criticism of Israel is indeed anti-Semitic. That’s what I’m addressing/analyzing.

    Your point about opening a space between the two extremes is one of the things I hope to accomplish with a post like this – to show how it’s possible to actively support a Jewish state without wanting to oppress Palestinians. I think that shaking up that Israel-Republican cohesiveness would greatly benefit Jews, since the partly-consequent automatic association of Jews with unconditional support for Israel causes problems for Jews regardless of whether they do support Israel’s action unconditionally (see: the Venezuela story you recently covered). I apologize for my dismissive treatment of a reason Jews might want a Jewish state.

  24. GallingGalla says:

    I could be misreading you, but I’m confused by this point. Was David saying otherwise? And what sensible reader of Feministe doesn’t already know this?

    Yes, David was saying otherwise. When he states that those of us who critique israel’s policies wrt the Palestinians are stating views that are supposedly inimical to the survival of israel and calls us “fatally misguided”, he is quite clearly stating that criticism of israel, in and of itself, is antisemitism.

  25. Rebecca says:

    @chingona: The problem I’m talking about there is when people think that because someone is a Jew, “Jewish” rather than “German” is their nationality as well as their ethnicity or religion, because a “real German” is Nordic and Christian. Rather than Jews associating with each other being the cause, it’s an unwillingness to believe that a Jew can be a German. Which is one of the reasons that ethnic/religious nation-states are sketchy.

    The conflation of religion and nationality is problematic because one can convert to Judaism yet have no particular allegiance to Israel, but it would be silly to suggest that anyone becomes a naturalized Israeli citizen and has no allegiance at all to Israel. (And it is religion, not ethnicity – I believe the High Court ruled that converts could not avail themselves of the Law of Return.) Too, there’s the issue of Palestinian right of return – a Palestinian refugee surely has much more of a claim than any given Jew of my acquaintance whose family lived in Europe for the past thousand years, yet the latter can come to Israel and the former cannot.

  26. Julie says:

    Rebecca and GallingGalla – thanks for the clarification wrt David’s point. I don’t think it was his intention to accuse people of anti-Semitism (maybe this isn’t under dispute), but I can see how he ended up doing it.

  27. Sailorman says:

    # Rebecca says:
    February 8th, 2009 at 2:05 pm – Edit

    @Freddy: Not at all. Both are equally bad. But I’m referring to a particular specimen of bigotry, one which I have seen from Jews more often than from Arabs or Muslims: that of attributing bigotry to the other side and using it to dismiss them. The example I used in the post was of Jews speculating on why Palestinians elected Hamas – we know that many voted for Hamas because they provide basic social services and Fatah is thoroughly corrupt, but it’s so much simpler to think that they did so because they hate Jews.

    this is an excellent post. But both of those explanations are overly simplistic.

    It is certainly the case that people can and do vote for a person or party without therefore endorsing all of their platform. (my recent Democratic vote is a great example.) But generally speaking you have to endorse or at least be OK with the MAJOR aspects of their platform, and/or include them in your balancing act.

    The unfortunate reality of palestinian politics is that there are not so many aspects of the platform, because so many major problems exist. Understandably “food” and “electricity” were big issues. So was, presumably, “war,” cprruption, etc. (the fact that we actually get to care about our candidate’s stance on the Kyoto accords is a luxury.

    At the time of the hamas/fatah vote, Fatah was corrupt. Still is. That would be part of any balancing act. But Hamas’ existing and predicted future relationship with Israel was widely known. That would–should–be part of a balancing act as well.

    So why only look at one? It may not be that folks who voted for Hamas did so with the destruction of israel as a priority. But every intelligent person who voted for hamas declined to veto hamas as an option, because at some level they declined to prioritize selecting a party without that in their charter. Generally speaking, you can probably conclude something from that, don’t you think?

    It’s the exact same logic which applies to Democrats, Republicans, Likud members, and Labor members. It’s the same logic which gets applied here–correctly–to note that if people vote without giving much “negative weight” to anti-women views held by politicians, they can be presumed to have some sort of anti-women views. It’s the same logic that gets used to suggest that electing a really “green” KKK member to politics might not be a good idea.

    As applied to israeli jews, for example, you could suggest that anyone who supports the parties that have announced a predisposition to return to war are in some way supportive of a war. Right? I don’t know why on earth you would classify that conclusion as bigotry so long as it is generally applied.

  28. chingona says:

    Rather than Jews associating with each other being the cause, it’s an unwillingness to believe that a Jew can be a German. Which is one of the reasons that ethnic/religious nation-states are sketchy.

    Okay. I agree with all of that. But I do get frustrated when, in discussion of the law of return, someone makes a comparison to another country with similar laws, and they are met with “But Jewish isn’t a nationality!” I think that response, while technically true if you define nationality as citizenship as opposed to ethnicity or race, is very dismissive of the sense that many Jewish people have of themselves as part of “a people.” It’s a weird thing for me because my own identity is very American. One, I think I’m very aware of being American from living in other countries for many years – it made my culture visible to me in a way I don’t think it always is to people who have never left the United States – and two, I think even my Jewish identity is a very American type of Jewish identity. But at the same time, I’m really hesitant to tell someone else who prioritizes their various identities in a different way than I do that they’re just wrong, that they shouldn’t put their Jewishness first.

    Too, there’s the issue of Palestinian right of return – a Palestinian refugee surely has much more of a claim than any given Jew of my acquaintance whose family lived in Europe for the past thousand years, yet the latter can come to Israel and the former cannot.

    Personally, I find this a much more persuasive argument against the law of return than arguments based on what Jewishness is and isn’t.

    As for David, I think I saw his argument more the way Julie did, but I also understand why some people reacted very strongly against what he was saying.

  29. chingona says:

    Folks might find this post from Jewschool interesting. It’s about a recent talk given by an American-born Israeli historian and journalist on “What we talk about when we talk about Israel.” It covers a lot of psychological issues for American Jews that I could really relate to, as well as some interesting points more directly related to the political situation in Israel.

  30. chingona says:

    As for the Arab parties, my understanding is that the law that was used to ban them – before the Supreme Court overturned that decision – was originally pushed through by leftists to ban the Kahanist parties. I think the question there has as much to do with limits on offensive speech/beliefs/actions in a democratic society as it does with the connection between an ethnically/religiously based state and democracy.

  31. Ruchama says:

    As for the Arab parties, my understanding is that the law that was used to ban them – before the Supreme Court overturned that decision – was originally pushed through by leftists to ban the Kahanist parties. I think the question there has as much to do with limits on offensive speech/beliefs/actions in a democratic society as it does with the connection between an ethnically/religiously based state and democracy.

    Yeah. IIRC, the Kahanist party is the only one that’s ever been successfully banned under that law. They’ve tried banning Arab parties and maybe a few others before, and the Supreme Court has always over turned it, except in the case of Kahan’s party.

  32. Matt says:

    Chingona, if you’re talking about Gershom Gorenberg, I saw him here in NY, and I’m really glad I did. I’d also recommend his blog, SouthJerusalem.com.

    Aslo, I read David’s comment the same way chingona and Julie did. I think it’s important to say that “Israel shouldn’t exist” is not a critique of Israeli policy. I think David was responding to something more (though maybe not intended to be more) than just a criticism of policy.

  33. Rebecca says:

    @Sailorman: I would classify it as bigotry for several reasons, but mainly because other factors (including, again, basic daily needs) are never, ever considered. And you are absolutely right about the very ability to consider things like environmentalism being a luxury.

    @chingona: Oh, I’m not criticizing someone for putting her Jewishness above her nationality if she so chooses (likewise any other religious or political or social belief or whatever). What I am criticizing is others thinking it’s their prerogative to do so because she is a Jew. Whether they’re anti-Semites or pro-Semites, as it were. Richard Jeffrey Newman put it quite well in a comment to another post: “I have to say that I find this highly presumptuous and almost objectionable…It is one thing for me to decide to claim Israel as ‘my’ Jewish homeland (which I don’t); but it is quite something else for Israel…to claim me in [that] way.”

    Thank you very much for the link.

    (I realize I was fatally ambiguous in my last comment to you; it is converts from Judaism who cannot avail themselves of the Law.)

    @Ruchama, chingona: That is correct. Kach was banned under an amendment to the Elections Law which prohibited parties that denied Israel’s character as (1) a Jewish state or (2) a democracy, or (3) incited racism. They fell under #3. Unfortunately it’s increasingly difficult for a Israel to be both Jewish and democratic, and the existing governments seem to be erring on the side of Jewish. (I’d love to see if anyone files to ban Yisrael Beitenu, who are clearly racist. Unfortunately, they’re also looking to do really well in the election tomorrow.)

    @Matt: I found David’s comment problematic just because it gives credence to attitudes like my mother’s, who supported wholeheartedly the invasion of Gaza and considered any other position anti-Semitic. “Israel shouldn’t exist” is another matter – maybe it should not have been founded the way it was founded, but one can’t erase that and start over; one can only build on that foundation and work to be better. (Jamal Zahalka of Balad, one of the parties recently unbanned, has said that he and his party will never recognize Zionism, but that of course they recognize the state of Israel.)

  34. I can’t speak to how it was interpreted, obviously, but my position is not that Israel can’t be criticized without it being anti-Semitic. I don’t think criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic, and I think some criticisms of Israel are, in fact, anti-Semitic (or informed by it). I don’t think anybody here disagrees with those two goalposts — the question is where things fall in between them.

    My point specifically, though, was how any given claim by a Jew that a criticism is anti-Semitic is treated by listeners. Do some folks automatically knee-jerk any critique as anti-Semitic? I suppose — I suspect folks of the Mort Klein persuasion tend to make that move. I, too, have family members whom I think can fall into this camp, at least sometimes.

    But in general, I’m leery of the assumption that when a Jew says that something feels anti-Semitic, that statement is one made without any sort of critical thought or analysis — made completely out of blind ignorance or loyalty. I think our default assumption should be that when a Jew tells us that something in the current discourse makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe as a Jew, that they are not behaving frivolously, but are saying something serious, meaningful, and often difficult, and we should respond accordingly.

    There are lots of reasons why a given critique — even one you might facially agree with — might set off one’s anti-Semitism radar. The rhetoric might seem out of proportion to the alleged offense, or it might evoke tropes that have classically been used to justify violence and discrimination against Jews. The speaker might be linked with groups whose criticisms are more legitimately problematic — or the listener might simply be primed to associate them with that based on other experiences they’ve had. If the speaker doesn’t have a history of engagement with Jews, then there might be suspicion that even reasonable critiques are a facade for more radical attitudes (lack of trust). Or any other number of things in the presentation, rhetoric, framing, or posture of the speaker which causes the listener to question whether — in the course of their analysis — they are actually committed to making the world a safe and just place for Jews.

    None of which is to say that the fact that X Jew has any of these thoughts means that we have to automatically defer to their evaluation. We shouldn’t. But we should take the claim seriously, and be very wary of grouping and dismissing a whole class of complaints as an irrational, instinctive response.* Hence, my language: “brushed aside so easily.” For the most part, I think that Jews are leveling these anti-Semitic charges for a reason — not just as a random discursive power-play.

    * I’m not saying that’s what the poster was doing here. I’m merely expressing my belief that pressing too hard on the “criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic” line risks making it impossible for people who genuinely feel that X criticism is actually anti-Semitic to bring the claim up without being summarily dismissed as “playing the anti-Semitism card”. We have to find a balance.

  35. Rebecca says:

    @David: That’s what I was trying to get at with my comment above to Updike – that a comment might ping a Jew as anti-Semitic when a gentile wouldn’t pick up on it. That’s not really what I’m addressing. Clearly, though, there are a good number of people who feel that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic (again, my mother thinks that to want peace in Gaza is anti-Semitic, so I’m coming from somewhere close to home here), which claim should not be taken seriously. I wouldn’t say that it’s intentionally playing the anti-Semitism card to close discussion; I think many really don’t give it any critical thought. But whatever the intention, that attitude makes it really difficult to discuss any kind of viable solution.

    Thank you for clarifying, though.

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