Allan Stratton: How to criticize Israel without sounding like a bigot
Is it possible to criticize Israel without being antisemitic? In the view of this liberal non-Jew, the answer is an obvious yes.
By: Allan Stratton
The left was tearing itself apart well before the terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7, which set off another hyper-polarized cultural battle. Many in the Jewish community have felt isolated after watching progressive thought leaders justify atrocities as legitimate resistance. Calls have gone out for us non-Jews to speak up, and in that spirit, I am doing so.
In Canada, it is easy to condemn the obvious antisemitism behind the firebombing of a synagogue, shots fired at Jewish schools, the targeting of Jewish businesses, and the statements of union leaders, lawyers, academics, and elected politicians. “Woke” progressives, exquisitely tuned to the violence of microaggressions, would never “contextualize” similar abuse against any other community.
But in speaking up, is it possible to also criticize Israel without being antisemitic? In the view of this liberal non-Jew, the answer is an obvious yes, providing one is criticizing Israeli government policies as opposed to Israel as a legitimate nation state. Also, we must use incendiary terms only as properly defined, and be consistent in our critiques.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is clearly fair game: His strategy has been to destroy the possibility of a two-state solution. So are the anti-Palestinian racists in his government, notably his ministers of finance and national security; the illegal settlements in the West Bank with their recurring vigilante settler crimes; and the disparate treatment afforded Palestinians under occupation. By all means, shout these condemnations from the rooftops — most Israelis do.
But those critiques don’t fundamentally undermine the right of Israel to exist. Those fights are long past. The existence of Israel was certainly open to debate between 1918 and 1948. The region, shared for millennia by Jews and Palestinians, had been part of numerous empires through history. With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Britain assumed control and planned, over Arab objections, to create a haven for the long-pogromed, cleansed, and persecuted Jews within it.
Palestinians have never had any greater historic claim to the entire area than Jews, and it is therefore antisemitic to claim that Israel exists on stolen land. After 75 years, Israel is no more or less legitimate than more recent nations like Croatia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Eritrea and North Macedonia, which were created from a larger shared territory when co-existence with its cohabitants proved impossible. The only difference is that Israel protects Jews, the most persecuted minority since 538 B.C.
Accurate language is also necessary.
In recent weeks, antisemitic media and protesters have carpet bombed their copy, speeches and chants with loaded words like “genocide,” “apartheid” and “Zionist.” As applied to Israel, they are blood libels.
We are all horrified by the death toll in Gaza. The loss of civilian life, especially children, is heartbreaking, and it is hard to witness the bombing of hospitals, refugee camps and residential areas. But genocide isn’t a massive death of civilians, which occurs in almost every war. Genocide is the attempt to eliminate an entire people. To accuse Israel of genocide in Gaza is a monstrous antisemitic calumny.
It’s also an obvious lie. The Palestinian population has grown tenfold since 1948. This hardly squares with genocide.
Further, it misrepresents Israel’s military campaign against Hamas as a collective punishment against Palestinian civilians. While Hamas is a genocidal death cult explicitly dedicated to eliminating Jews, Israel is its victim, waging an existential fight for its survival. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Israelis aren't systematically beheading Palestinian babies, mutilating Palestinian families, and raping young Palestinian women on the corpses of their friends, as Hamas has done, justified, and promised to do again.
Palestinian deaths are the inevitable consequences of Hamas’s decisions. It deliberately chose to plant its military targets in civilian areas to turn its own civilians into hostages and corpse propaganda. These are war crimes. Refusing Israel the right of self-defence legitimizes those criminal tactics and, as promised by Hamas itself, sets up Israel for never-ending genocidal attack.
“Apartheid” is another misapplied word when used in the Israeli context.
Apartheid is “legalized racial segregation in which one racial group is deprived of political and civil rights.” For example, the oppression of Blacks by the Afrikaner regime in South Africa, of Tibetans and Uyghurs within China, and of Rohingya within Myanmar.
It is not antisemitic to note the similar effects of the pass system for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. But security passes weren’t created to punish Palestinians, but rather to defend Israel from the suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Israeli markets, restaurants and buses.
Note, too, that Israel has two million Arab citizens who have full civil rights and their own political parties. Over 100 Arab Israelis have been elected to the Knesset and the United Arab List headed by Mansoor Abbas was part of Israel’s previous coalition government. A curious apartheid.
In fact, allegations of apartheid are more properly applied to Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen — countries which violently expelled 900,000 Jews from homesteads four times the size of Israel, and which were home to the Muslim Brotherhood, an ally of the Nazis.
“Zionist” is a third abused word.
Left-wing antisemites demonize it as support for “racist, white, settler colonialism.” But only 30 per cent of Israelis are white and Jews are indigenous to the Holy Land. Further, most Zionists support a two-state solution, though undoubtedly fewer than before October 7. They also support Israel’s pluralism, liberalism, and devotion to democracy and human rights, none of which exist in its neighbours
In short, while hard-liners should not be allowed to deflect legitimate criticism of Israeli state action, many aboard Team Palestine are objective allies of Team Hamas, and therefore useful idiots for its ongoing genocidal campaign. Wittingly or otherwise, their hatred of Jews is apparent and unacceptable in decent society.
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