Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update

Calling balls and strikes for the pro-Israel community since 2006

June 13, 2021

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

  • We cannot effectively fight antisemitism if we mislabel criticism of Israel as antisemitic.
  • Advocating for Israel and fighting antisemitism are not the same. We weaken our efforts to do both if we conflate them.
  • Holding Israel to a double standard, accusing Israel of apartheid, and opposing Zionism can be antisemitic depending on how those views are expressed, but are not necessarily antisemitic.
  • Unity, like bipartisanship, is nice when it happens, but not a good unto itself.
  • We should focus on the most significant antisemitic threats and resist calls to only call out our own side, which are veiled attempts at false equivalency.
  • The AP building in Gaza that Israel bombed housed Hamas operatives attempting to jam Iron Dome. It was a legitimate military target.
  • Read to the end for upcoming events and fun stuff.

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In their letter urging all Americans to stand against antisemitism, tech leaders chose these examples: "A violent mob macing and punching a man in New York wearing a yarmulke. Shattered synagogue windows and attacks on Jewish community centers. A group of people throwing bottles and yelling 'die dirty Jew' at a dinner in LA."

They didn't mention opposition to Zionism, accusing Israel of engaging in apartheid, or holding Israel to a double standard. The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism defines antisemitism as "discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish)." It provides illustrations of antisemitism generally, antisemitism regarding Israel, and what is not antisemitism regarding Israel, concluding that "in general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech." (The JDA website was acting up, so if you have trouble accessing it, here is a text version.)

We sometimes forget these distinctions and mistake harsh, unfair or offensive comments about Israel for antisemitism. It is vital that we call out antisemitism from all sources in all forms. Doing that effectively means avoiding false accusations of antisemitism. It also means distinguishing between fighting antisemitism and advocating for Israel. We don't need to make the "case for Israel" to fight antisemitism, nor should we. If the conduct called out by the tech leaders was motivated by animus toward Israel, it doesn't matter if Israel was right or wrong. The attacks were antisemitic either way. Conversely, while we should be conscious of antisemitism when we advocate for Israel, we should do our best to defend Israel on the merits rather than shut down the debate by leveling false charges of antisemitism.

I am a Zionist. If someone excludes me from an event or harasses me because I am Jewish or because I am a Zionist or because I support Israel, that's antisemitic. But if someone opposes Zionism, that person is (in my view) wrong, but not necessarily antisemitic. Imagine if you are a Palestinian whose family was displaced (or worse) in Israel's War of Independence. Are you antisemitic if you view the creation of Israel as a catastrophe? For your family, and perhaps for your people, it was a catastrophe, and your opposition to Zionism is based not on rejection of Jewish right to self-determination or hatred of Jews, but on opposition to a movement that thwarted your national aspirations and led to your family or your people losing their homes. That's not antisemitism, and neither is opposition to Zionism based on identification with Palestinians. It can be--it depends on how it is expressed--but not necessarily.

One does not have to agree with everything in Joshua Shanes's fascinating reflection on Zionism to at least agree that we should distinguish political action against the State of Israel from attacks on Jewish individuals because they support Israel and that we should "denounce those who would ascribe to Israel clear antisemitic mythology, such as conspiracies of control over global media, other countries leadership, the world economy, etc."

Accusing Israel of apartheid is not necessarily antisemitic. Three Israeli prime ministers have used the term "apartheid" to describe their concerns about the occupation: Ehud Olmert, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ehud Barak, who wrote in his memoir that as long as the occupation is an interim arrangement with the ultimate goal of a political resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, treating Jewish settlers differently from Palestinians in the West Bank, legally and politically, is defensible. "But under a one-state vision, it will become harder and harder to rebut comparisons made with the old South Africa."

Last week, two former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa wrote that Israel's actions in the occupied territories constitute apartheid (they did not say that Israel was an apartheid state), in part because they believe that "the occupation is not temporary, and there is not the political will in the Israeli government to bring about its end."

We can disagree with them, but it's hard to call them antisemitic. Israel is not an apartheid state because in Israel, Jews and Arabs have substantially equal rights. But that's not true in the West Bank, and the longer the occupation continues, the stronger the analogy becomes. For those of us who bristle when Israel is accused of apartheid, the answer is not to accuse the accusers of antisemitism, but to reaffirm our support for a two-state solution and to prove--or help ensure--that the occupation remains temporary.

A two-state solution will prevent Israel from becoming an apartheid state, but a two-state solution requires two partners. Israel cannot do it alone because this is a struggle between two nations claiming the same land, not one racial minority fighting for equal rights within a country whose government can unilaterally create needed change.

Nuance is a lost art, whether 280 characters on Twitter or 1,000 words in a newsletter. To be clear: Even where opposition to Zionism is not rooted in antisemitism, must defend Zionism and be proud to be Zionists. While analogies to apartheid might, in some instances, be intellectually defensible, it is a loaded term that means different things to different people and needlessly inflames the debate. Israel is not an apartheid state. My point is that we should discuss these questions on the merits rather than improperly conflate criticism of the State of Israel with antisemitism. Doing so will help us better defend Israel and better fight antisemitism.

Not everyone agrees with me. That's fine. We don't have to smother our disagreements in the name of unity. The better approach is to disagree respectfully and not doubt each other's sincerity or good intentions.

Unity is like bipartisanship. It's nice when it happens, but it's not a value unto itself. Lemmings following each other off a cliff are unified. Bipartisanship might be unity, but ask the families who lost children, siblings, or parents in Vietnam if they think the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, was a good idea. Ask your friends with pre-existing conditions who are now eligible for health insurance whether they think Obamacare was a bad idea because only one Republican voted for it.
Conversely, opposing antisemitism in all forms from all sources does not mean that Democrats should only call out Democrats and Republicans should only call out Republicans, because that would create a false equivalency between relatively low-ranking Democrats and Republican leadership. Playing the "both sides" game creates the veneer of self-congratulatory nonpartisan above the frayness, but at the cost of recognizing the true threats. Nothing is more partisan than helping one party by making believe that both parties have problems of the same magnitude.

Only about 30% of Jews vote Republican, and many Jewish Republicans supported Donald Trump, who regularly trafficked in antisemitism and who was far more powerful than any Democrat. If Republicans will not call out antisemitism in the Republican Party, it is even more important that Democrats do so. Better yet, we all should.

Remember the AP building in Gaza that Israel bombed? Turns out that Hamas was operating within the building to jam Iron Dome. As Avi Mayer notes, "the very definition of a military target."


Tweet of the Week. Daniel Seidemann. The replies to the underlying tweet are worth reading too.

Twitter Thread of the Week. Tom Jones (Warning--you can lose yourself for hours watching these videos.)

Secretary of State of the Week. Tony Blinken, because he was in the audience when the Rolling Stones recorded Love You Live.

Video Clip of the Week. Cruz & Hawley (Love & Marriage Parody).

Upcoming Events. Confused about what's going on in Israel? Dana Goldsmith Gordon and I are hoping to resume our event series in person at some point over the summer, but until then, I'd love for you to join me and Martin Jay Raffel on Zoom at an event moderated by Jill Zipin and Dana, sponsored by Politics with Dana and Steve and Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania on Wednesday, June 23, at 6:30pm CT. It's free, but RSVP is required to get the Zoom link.

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