Why Israel’s ‘Critics’ Can’t Help Being Antisemitic, and How They Can Stop
The line “some of my best friends are Jews” used to be the signal that one was dealing with an antisemite. Today, the tell has changed, replaced by “surely, you can criticize Israel without being antisemitic.”
I have written in the past that this is not the case, because critics of Israel have made it so. During a time of escalating violence against Jews incited by anti-Israel hate, to criticize Israel inevitably fuels antisemitism. Should Israel’s critics choose to work toward less, rather than more antisemitism — though they currently appear to be intent on doing the opposite — then the situation would be quite different.
The real question at hand, however, is why Israel’s critics appear incapable of working toward less antisemitism.
A possible answer may be suggested by their opposition to the widely-adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which includes examples of anti-Israel antisemitism, such as “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
Opposition to the IHRA definition is currently so intense that left-wing groups are attempting to replace it with their own definition. Under the somewhat bizarrely named The Nexus Document, the alternative definition is interesting in that it does not, in fact, differ very much from that of the IHRA. But it is precisely the tiny adjustments it makes that reveal the intentions behind it: It removes any specific examples of antisemitic attacks on Israel, thus rendering it, as my colleague Ben Cohen put it, “ridiculously vague.”
Indeed, the purpose of the Nexus Document appears to be solely to protect people who claim Israel is a racist, Nazi state. One might posit that those who cannot criticize Israel without saying such things have no business doing so in the first place. Nonetheless, the attempt to protect precisely those critics is important, because it reveals that Israel’s critics need to say such things. They cannot do without them.
There is a reason for this: However much they may claim to be liberal or progressive universalists, concerned solely with human rights and justice, almost all anti-Israel leftists are, in fact, Palestinian nationalists of one kind or another. At the very least, they adopt the most essential ideas of Palestinian nationalism: the imperialist, colonial nature of Zionism; the essential illegitimacy of Jewish self-determination; the alleged racism of contemporary Israeli society; Palestinian terrorism as a praiseworthy act of resistance; the imperative of replacing Israel with an Arab-majority state; and the founding of Israel as a world-historical catastrophe.
The problem that all anti-Israel liberals and progressives must face, however, is that Palestinian nationalism is not and has never been liberal or progressive. It has always been a racist movement that fundamentally dehumanizes the Jews. From the 1920s on, it has employed the pogrom and the slaughter of men, women, and children by knife, gun, and suicide bomber in order to achieve its aims. It glorifies war crimes and atrocities. It openly and enthusiastically collaborated with Nazism, to the point of encouraging and approving of the Holocaust. It spawned the PLO and Hamas, two of the most effective terror groups in history, both of which advocate ethnic cleansing. And it regularly engages in a crude antisemitism that is difficult if not impossible to distinguish from the right-wing antisemitism the left supposedly despises.
The Palestinian national movement, in other words, violates and has always violated liberal and progressive values, something that many leftists, however much they may advocate an end to the occupation and a Palestinian state, have always noted and thus opposed — which is much to their credit.
It presents the anti-Israel left, however, with a terrible dilemma: how can they support a movement that is contrary to all their professed principles?
The answer is a simple one: by embracing antisemitism. They have no other choice. They need to declare that Israel, Zionism, and the Jews are so evil that nothing is off limits. It is not so much that anti-Israel leftists are antisemitic, but that there is no way they cannot be antisemitic. There is simply no other way they can rationalize their adoption of Palestinian nationalism. Without antisemitism, they would be instantly revealed as hypocrites, racists, and genocidaires.
If anti-Israel antisemitism is to be overcome, then, anti-Israel leftists must at long last confront it within themselves. They must admit that it is perfectly possible to advocate a two-state solution or Palestinian self-determination without embracing a specific reactionary nationalism that rejects their most passionately held convictions.
Ironically, the best way for them to do so is by adopting the IHRA definition, which might prompt a moral struggle that could purge the left of the moral bankruptcy that has made criticism of Israel a racist endeavor.