Thursday, December 8, 2011

Who's To Blame for Anti-Semitism?

Israel being blamed for things is the meat and potatoes of the Huffington Posts' World section, and they couldn't get enough of the recent remarks made toward Israel by high ranking officials in the Obama administration. This led to a flurry of news articles and blog posts that could potentially take us days to sort through. But in the interests of keeping things manageable, I'm going to talk about one topic in particular, the old canard that "Israel's policies" cause anti-Semitism in places other than the Middle East.

This claim was made by Ambassador Gutman, though according to some he was misquoted. But as I mentioned, he told the Huffington Post blogosphere what they wanted to hear so off they went to the races. First we'll be hearing from Lara Friedman (whose article didn't allow comments):
"Then try reading the annual report on "Antisemitism Worldwide" from Tel Aviv University's Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, whose 2009 report stated "The year in the wake of Operation Cast Lead was the worst since monitoring of antisemitic manifestations began two decades ago...." The 2010 report states unequivocally: "... 2009 was an extraordinary year in terms of numbers of antisemitic incidents, primarily due to Operation Cast Lead, Israel's war in Gaza, which especially in the first months of the year provoked unprecedented anti-Jewish activity worldwide..." And as the founder and former head of that institute, Dr. Dina Porat, noted in aninterview earlier this year, "When there are military operations like Cast Lead against Hamas, or the second Lebanon war, we definitely see an increase in hate crimes against Jews.""
One of the oldest rules of clinical psychology is that correlation does not imply causation. It's a very common and very comforting bit of mistaken logic that because two things occur at the same time one must have caused the other. Friedman's evidence looks damning but she is really saying the same thing over and over again: That documented anti-Semitic incidents occur at the same time as unpopular Israeli actions.

To the simple minded it sounds pretty open and shut: Israel fights in Gaza, so other Arabs in some other country go find some other Jews and beat them up. Therefore, the reason why the Arabs beat up the Jews is because of Israel, so if you don't want Jews beaten up you should stop Israel from fighting. The only problem with this argument is that there is no actual proof that it was Israel which caused the violence, only a correlation in time. It is very possible that the desire to beat up Jews was always there among certain segments of an Arab population, but it was only when an excuse appears on the five o'clock news do they act on it. That way, when someone later asks them why they did it, they can blame the Jews and not be held responsible for their own actions. Sound familiar?

Furthermore, let's not forget that incidents of anti-Semitism happen when Israel isn't doing anything particularly noteworthy. Last week there was a series of anti-Semitic incidents here in America while Israel was doing...what? Lara Friedman doesn't know, nor does she care because it doesn't fit the thesis. But in the real world anti-Semitism is a prejudice that fosters and exists regardless of what Jews do and do not do. You don't hold up a sign like this:

Because you are upset that Palestinians have to pass through checkpoints every day. Such a conclusion is antithetical to common sense. What makes more sense is that people have their prejudices but know that their views are not acceptable to mainstream society. But when people are upset about the actions of Jews somewhere else, they see an opportunity to express themselves with a handy excuse. All they need is to change the words on their signs from "Jews" to "Zionists" and off we go.

What bothers me the most about this point of view is not the blaming of Israel. We can discuss and argue to what extend Israeli actions really impact Jews elsewhere. What bothers me is the religious bigotry implied in the statement, which in turn is backed up by her fellow Huffington Post blogger MJ Rosenberg:
"Muslim-baiting in this country stems from the misconception that Muslims, as a people, were responsible for 9/11. Anti-Japanese hysteria in the United States reached fever pitch because of Pearl Harbor. And Muslim antipathy toward Jews is, as everyone knows, directly connected to the history of Palestine since the Zionist movement began....We may not like it. We may wish it wasn't so. But all it takes is talking to a Muslim (whether from Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, or anywhere else) to discover that yes, the displacement of the Palestinians is at the root of any antipathy that exists. (Much like Israeli antipathy toward Palestinians has something to do with terrorism.)"
At face value all of this sounds fine: anti-Semitism is no different from anti-Japanese prejudice or Muslim-baiting. Both are connected to bad behavior by the group in question. But unfortunately for MJ Rosenberg, this reader at least pays attention and I see that the prejudices in question are treated differently.

Muslim-baiting is the clearest indicator. Sure, maybe Muslim baiting in America has its origins in 9/11. Maybe not. But one thing is clear: if you beat up a Muslim and say it's because of 9/11 the Huffington Post will not defend you! Just look at the "Ground Zero Mosque" for one tiny example. MJ Rosenberg himself practically blew a gasket accusing the ADL of bigotry when they came out against it.  Every few months we get an article about how terrible Americans are for our fear of Muslims. Even the thought of blaming Al Qaeda for it never appears. And why should it? Punishing or hating innocent Muslims for the actions of their coreligionists is wrong. Very wrong. It always has been. I for one simply do not understand why this doesn't extend to Jews as well.

With every other prejudice that we face here in America, we would never dream of blaming the victims for it. Can you imagine the reaction if a mainstream journalist wrote an article about how racism is bad but really black people should get their act together if they want to stop it? What happened to holding people responsible for their own actions? Does that simply get tossed out of the window when Jews and Arabs are involved? Excuse me: It doesn't get tossed, it is simply a one way street. Not much better.

So in summary, the discussion of Israeli actions vs anti-Semitism is bigger than the left-wing Peace Now crowd wants to admit. Not everything fits into little left vs right boxes from which one can hand down the same talking points he or she has been using for years. As I have been saying for a good while now: you can criticize Israel all you like. And you can discuss anti-Semitism all you like too. But let's approach the issue from a platform of truth first. That doesn't seem like too much to ask.


  1. Zach,

    I really like this post but there is a point that I think is worth making that does not appear in it (at least explicitly). Even if there were never antisemitic attacks except when Israel was actively fighting Arabs, the antisemitic attacks on Jews all over the world that do occur when Israel is fighting would *still* be caused by antisemitism, not by Israel's behavior. The reason is simple -- in order for the attacker to believe that he should attack local Jews because of Israeli actions to which he objects, he must believe, at least implicitly, that all Jews, everywhere, are to be held responsible when Israel does something bad (in his opinion). This is, of course, an antisemitic assumption and it is an essential element in the causative chain -- if it were not for the attacker's antisemitic assumption, he would not attack. (Of course, the same holds, mutatis mutandis, for attacks motivated by other kinds of bigotry.)


  2. Cheese, David, could you not come up with a more convoluted stream of consciousness?

    What you are saying is that anything that Israel does, and which is criticised, has that criticism based in anti-Semitism.

    So the entire world, and individuals, cannot offer any criticism of Israel's actions and not be anti-Semitic.

    Can you not see how reductionist, and simplistic, and mistaken, your view is?

  3. Anonymous' reply to my comment is positively delusional. Neither Zach's post nor my comment were talking about "criticism of Israel" at all -- they were talking about antisemitic *attacks* on Jews *outside* of Israel. Anonymous' bizarre jump to "criticism of Israel" is a perfect example of one of the kinds of antisemitism that this blog illustrates every day -- when someone points out antisemitism, *any* antisemitism no matter how violent or rabid or distant from the middle east, the antisemites immediately claim that this is an attempt to suppress "criticism of Israel". Sheesh.



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