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March 30, 2015 8:01 am

The Progressive View of Distinguishing Between Antisemitism and Anti-Israelness

avatar by Abraham H. Miller

Miller explains that criticism of Israel is sometimes antisemitic. Photo: Berthold Werner via Wikimedia Commons.

When civil rights attorney Gil McGuire took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to respond to actor Michael Douglas’ widely distributed article about his son’s own vile encounter with antisemitism, McGuire disparaged Douglas for conflating anti-Israel criticism with antisemitism. In so doing, McGuire inadvertently betrayed the myopia of the progressive view of both antisemitism and anti-Israel criticism. This limited vision comes from focusing on the Israeli occupation devoid of any historical context.

Israel is not above criticism, and as McGuire and most progressives undoubtedly know, Israelis themselves roundly and freely criticize their government. Arab Minister of the Knesset stand in the legislative body to launch vitriolic attacks that would be found abhorrent in most Western democracies. In Middle East tyrannies, any legislator who engaged in such attacks would find himself facing a quick appointment with the executioner.

So, at the risk of stating both the obvious and the unnecessary, criticism of Israel’s policies are not antisemitism. Certain types of criticism are, as both the Department of State and the European Union have stated. Among these are references to Israelis as Nazis, talk of a Palestinian Holocaust, denying the right of Israel to defend itself in the face of aggression, actively discussing whether Israel has a right to exist, or holding  Israel to a standard to which no other nation is held.

To those I would add “knowingly” citing such worn and discredited canards as Israel has 50 laws on its books that discriminates against its Arab citizens. The commonly cited number is 35, and it comes from a New York Times editorial page essay of May 25, 2012. As the spurious allegation got through the NYT fact checkers, I can only conclude that it so comports to the progressive vision of Israel that the falsehood possessed the ring of truth.

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McGuire cites this as real, but I would attribute this not to antisemitism but to his intellectual immersion in a progressive community where such thinking is congruent with what filters through its ideological prism.

But the main objection to McGuire and progressives like him is their ahistorical, non-contextual discussion of the occupation.

Would any thinking person characterize the ethnic ghettos of Los Angeles as dens of crime, violence, and social ills without bothering to talk about racism, poverty, and societal deprivation? So, why talk about the occupation absent any form of context?

In June of 1967, the Unity Government of Israel voted to return land seized in the 1967 War in exchange for peace. The eastern boundary with Jordan, the West Bank, was to be negotiated. There were no settlements.

In September of 1967, the Arabs managed once again to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They met in Khartoum and issued the infamous three no’s—no negotiations, no recognition, and no peace. Had the Arabs responded affirmatively in any measure, there would never have been an occupation and the entire problem would have been solved through negotiations.

Israel found itself in the same position that the Kaiser’s General Staff found itself at Brest-Litovsk when the new Soviet government sent Leon Trotsky to negotiate with them. Instead, Trotsky issued his famous no war no peace proclamation. At first, the Germans were shocked. Subsequently, they concluded that it was typical political theater. The Soviets would ultimately negotiate. But after several days, they realized that Trotsky had actually articulated Soviet policy.

The Germans did what any army confronted with no war no peace would do. They kept marching eastward until the Soviet government saw an increasing portion of their land mass under German control.

Faced with no negotiations, no recognition, and no peace, the Israelis did essentially the same thing. Politics like nature abhors a vacuum.

It is Khartoum that built the occupation. It is the Arab refusal to accept a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state that ensures its persistence. Going back to the British Peel Commission of the late 1930s, the Arabs have always said, no.

Israel left Gaza without negotiations, testing the policy of land for peace. Instead of peace it got death falling from the skies in the form of Palestinian rockets and Iranian missiles.

The end of an occupation needs to be negotiated. This means the Palestinians have to desire to create their own state more than they want to destroy Israel. The only rational outcome to the Arab/ Israeli conflict is two states living in peace and economic cooperation.

In the meantime, the progressive narrative needs to take into consideration the historical realities of the occupation the same way it takes into consideration social and historical background of America’s ghettos.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center.

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