Tuesday, October 26

When Called "Anti-Semitic"

How might you respond if, when criticizing the right-wing leadership of Israel, you are called "anti-Semitic"? First, you might clarify, for the benefit of your slanderer, the precise meaning and the political history of the term "Semitic."
As the retired lawyer Robert Thompson explains:

I write "anti-semitic" because [...] many more Semites speak Arabic than Hebrew, and the word "semitic" relates to a group of languages spoken by people of all colors of skin. The idea of a "semitic race" arises from the racist theories of Theodor Herzl who invented the "Jewish race" as a basis for his political aim of Zionism. If anyone looks at a dark-skinned Jew from Harlem (New York) or from Ethiopia, he or she does not in my view have any close resemblance to a white-skinned Jew from Europe. I still think of a Jew as being a person who tries to live his or her life in accordance with the tenets of Judaism, a religion for which I, as a Christian, have the deepest respect.

In contrast with this attitude, the Nazis used Herzl's theories as a convenient excuse for persecuting the Jews, and decreed that anyone with a Jewish grandparent was thereby of "Jewish race". Rather than following Rabbinic rules as to who is a Jew, the founders of the Zionist state followed Herzl and used exactly the same formula as the Nazis when deciding who should have the absolute "right" to settle in Palestine under their auspices. This same racist principle is currently used to limit the number of indigenous Arabs living within the borders of the "State of Israel" and, furthermore, to give them a lower status as second-class citizens of their state.
Next, you might discuss the Biblical (and, already, political) origin of the notion of anti-Semitism. Consider, for example, that, when he is called "anti-Semitic" for being critical of the Israeli government, Noam Chomsky says that his response depends on:

...who [the accusers] are. If they're people [...] with a nice Jewish education like I had, I tell them to read the Bible, where the concept is invented. It was used by King Ahab, the epitome of evil in the Bible that calls the prophet Elijah — Elijah was what we would nowadays call a dissident intellectual, like most of the prophets were, giving geo-political analysis, calling for moral behavior — he calls for Elijah, he said why you are a hater of Israel? [And Elijah asks,] What does that mean? [And Ahab replies,] You are criticizing me. I'm the king. I'm Israel. And therefore you're a hater of Israel. And that's what the concept means. If you identify the country, the people, the culture with the rulers, accept the totalitarian doctrine, then yeah, it's anti-Semitic to criticize the Israeli policy, and anti-American to criticize the American policy, and it was anti-Soviet when the dissidents criticized Russian policy. You have to accept deeply totalitarian assumptions not to laugh at this. If an Italian criticized Berlusconi and he was called anti-Italian, the people would crack up with laughter, because there’s some kind of democratic culture [in Italy]. The fact we don't crack up with ridicule, [when we hear] that [such and such a] notion is anti-American or anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, it tells us something about ourselves.
Incidentally, Ralph Nader has penned a letter to Abraham Foxman of Weekend Edition that addresses this same question. The letter is published at CounterPunch (Oct 16 - 17) and is titled "Criticizing Israel is Not Anti-Semitism." This letter also puts to rest any suspicion one might have whether Nader is the most educated and compelling presidential candidate when it comes to the Middle East conflict in particular. One cannot even imagine the major-party candidates taking time out of their campaigns of attacks and counter-attacks to write such a letter as this. The prospects for the peaceful coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis, as well as for a noticeable diminution of the conditions that favor terrorism, would be greatly enhanced by the intelligent and dedicated leadership of President Nader (and will surely remain, for many years, as slim as the prospects are now of Nader becoming President).