Saturday, April 13

Not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, but a lot of it is.

Like any sovereign country, Israel is subject to critique and criticism. And in many instances, there are very harsh criticisms to be fairly made.

To begin with, it’s undeniable that the living conditions in Gaza are disgraceful. The longstanding blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt, has led to a humanitarian disaster. Essential goods are in short supply and economic opportunities are minimal.

Israel’s use of essential services like electricity and water as bargaining chips is particularly troubling. The country is right to seek release of hostages held by Hamas, but shutting off essential services inevitably hurts other innocent people, including children, the elderly, and the sick. Using such necessities of life as leverage crosses a moral boundary.

It also cannot be denied that exists elements within Israel, and its supporters globally, that are dismissive of the legitimate grievances and aspirations of Palestinian Arabs. Those claims, rooted in decades of history and conflict, should not be sidelined. This is also presents a serious barrier to achieving lasting peace in the region.

However, while these points of contention are valid and deserve international attention, it is also quite wrong to ignore the fact that criticism of Israel often extends beyond these genuine concerns.

Israel is frequently held to a unique standard in terms of criticism and attention. The disproportionate attention it receives compared to other nations with concerning human rights records that are much worse is telling. Why does Israel’s actions garner more international condemnation and attention than the horrors of the other lamentable conflicts raging across the world?

While Israel’s actions are met with widespread protest and calls for boycotting, divestment and sanction, other nations just do not excite the same passionate condemnation.

You don’t hear much from the campus left, for example, about Azerbaijan atrocities against Armenians in the South Caucasus. As accounts of villages being surrounded and civilians being brutally murdered and more than 100,000 people were displaced, the chattering classes have either not noticed or not cared.

The recent Tigray War in Ethiopia also noticeably failed to stir concern. Western Tigray bears witness to a harrowing exodus, and once-bustling towns of Tigrayans are now silent following hundreds of thousands of people being the subject of forced resettlement and horrifying mass killings. Few Westerners find the horror holds their attention.

The plight of the Uyghurs in East Turkestan is well known, at leasts. Over a million Uyghurs find themselves confined in internment camps, subjected to forced labour, sterilisation and worse. Nobody thinks Xinjiang is a happy place, but I’m not aware of any significant movement calling for the boycott of the PRC.

The suffering of other diminishes the travails of Palestinians not one iota, especially in light of the current brutal conflict between Israel and Gaza’s terrorist government. Yet, it’s striking how the world’s only Jewish state commands such unwavering attention from Western activists. As the similar and often worse actions of other states barely register a murmur on the left, it is air to ask why it is only Israel that is always on trial.

To this we need to add repurposing and updating of so many anti-Semitic tropes for use in so much of the anti-Zionist activism we see. Editorial cartoons depicting Jewish politicians as hook-nosed goblins are more or less routine. Buildings are defaced with graffiti of the Star of David. Conspiracy theories about sinister influences and control are invoked to “explain” alliances and media coverage.

This can be pretty hard on local Jews supportive of Israel, with the questioning of their identity and loyalty being one of those time-tested tropes that continues to raise its ugly head. The accusation of dual loyalties harkens back to dark times when Jews were ostracised, persecuted and as being fundamentally alien in their nature.

One of the most alarming trends is the questioning of Israel’s right to exist. While one can take issue with specific policies or territorial disputes, the wholesale denial of a nation’s right to sovereignty is a dangerous road. This stance, whether implicit or explicit, is not merely a critique of policy but an assault on the very idea of a Jewish homeland. And yet that too, is on the rise.

Then there is the questioning of Israel’s very right to exist as a state at all. This attitude is not the same as the critique of a countries actions but a challenge to the very idea of a Jewish homeland. Are there any other countries for whom this is just accepted as a question?

The United States comes in for much criticism. However, there is no significant voice on the global stage contends that America should cease to be a country. Nations like Latvia, Turkey or Malaysia exist as ethnic homelands and all of them – to greater or lesser degrees – have a track records of treating minorities badly. And yet they are never faced with global calls for their dissolution.

None of this absolves the State of Israel or the actions of its various governments over the years. Yet the line between bona fide criticism and anti-Semitism is one that we must tread carefully.

We need to criticise Israel policies, to empathise with the suffering of the Palestinian people and to demand a peaceful solution to the region’s ongoing conflict. However, when criticism veers into the territory of age-old prejudices and time-tested stereotypes, it becomes not just a matter of political debate but the perpetuation of an ancient hatred.

And while many of the people engaging in such conduct will vehemently claim that as card carrying leftists they are immune to racial and ethnic hatred, the history of the world simply does not back this up. Whether intentional or not, a lot of people are contributing to some very dangerous sentiments

More caution is needed.

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