Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism.
But some is.
All one has to do is read some of the comments on this blog that were not published, to know that Judenhass (“Jew-hatred”) is alive and well.
It cannot be overestimated how thousands of years of hatred and Nazi genocide weighs with a nightmarish grip on the psyche of Jews around the world.
The narrative that led to the foundation of Israel was built on the reality of the European onslaught against its Jewish population. Many of the early immigrants that fled to Israel were victims who had nowhere else to go.
Without doubt there are forces within Israel and outside of it that use this history to pursue economic and political power. They brandish ‘Judenhass’ as an ideological weapon to suppress opposition. That being said, this fact does not diminish Jews’ anguished memory of suffering from monumental barbarism.
It’s not hard to understand why so many Western Jews feel attached to a place they think of as their mythical home. For Jews that live outside of Israel, as secular as their countries might appear, as assimilated and successful as a Jew gets – the West is still more or less a Christian world and Jews (and Muslims and people of other non-Christian faiths) still feel outsiders. But most Jews know the hatred they were subjected to over the centuries, although dressed in religious or mystical garb, had economic roots.
While one cannot minimize the extent to which the German population either supported or looked away when heinous crimes were committed, any decent history of the period makes clear it was the German elites that helped create Hitler and he made them rich. He expropriated Jewish property and plundered the countries of Europe. Whether it was Jews or Slavs, racist ideology made it “acceptable”. We dehumanize those we want to exploit or kill. We call them animals, vermin, rats, and parasites. We are human and you are, well, less human.
It cannot be denied that there is a tradition of ‘Judenhass’ in the Arab world as well (although never on the scale of Europe). There are horrible racist books in some Arab classrooms and there are television shows that reek of hatred. While there are members of Hamas that see the issue in political terms and are not racists, I met Hamas members that would like to see all Jews leave the region.
Yet during my recent visit to Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and the West Bank, I often heard, “it’s not the Jews, the enemy is the occupation.” Most Palestinians are aware of the Jewish activists who put their bodies and lives on the line in solidarity with their struggle. I heard strong critiques of tactics that target Israeli civilians. There is a growing civil rights movement amongst Palestinians whose objective is to live equally with Jews in one state. Many people see the struggle against elites, including their own.
Of course, in the West Bank, one can find vicious angry words against “the Jews”. But I have never experienced anything like the hatred and profound systemic and mainstream racism that I found in Israel. I can only imagine this must be what it used to be like in the American South or in the early ’30s in Germany. From a foreign minister who can openly talk about expelling citizens of his own country based on their ethnic origin; to the widespread acceptance of civilian deaths in Gaza and Lebanon – far too many Israeli Jews have internalized the language of ‘Palestinian hatred’. I guess decades of occupation and war does that to a people.
When a Jew can pick up the paper and read that Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old Turkish-American on a ship loaded with food was shot at close range by an Israeli commando four times in the head and once in the chest and believe this boy was an al Qaeda terrorist and so it’s all justified (a claim the Israeli army had to withdraw); that it’s ok to turn Gaza into a ghetto where the object is to make the population’s life miserable so to better bring down a political enemy; that illegal settlements and the occupation of another people’s land is justified because ‘they’re terrorists who hate us’ which makes them less human than we are – then the process of dehumanizing ‘the other’ has gone far beyond the pale.