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Is Anti-Israel Left Antisemitic?

By Ralph Seliger

As explained in my post this past February on NY Times opinion editor Bari Weiss: “I don’t see her adequately confronting the fact that the ongoing injustices inflicted upon Palestinians and the deepening occupation are what’s driving support for the BDS movement and explicit anti-Zionism that sometimes spills into antisemitism from the left.” 

On this publication release date of her book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” she appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Interestingly, most of her discourse was about the resurgence of rightwing neo-Nazi antisemitism inspired by Trump, but then she added her bit about leftwing antisemitism.  Her argument about leftwing antisemitism has to do with the demonization of Israel; clearly, I see the left’s one-sided fixation with Israel as a major concern and much of my writing for years has criticized this phenomenon.  But I see it as conceptually wrong and a strategic error to cast most of this as antisemitism.   

Although she says she opposes Netanyahu, this looks like a throwaway line that doesn’t figure into her analysis.  Her argument would be far stronger if Israel consistently and earnestly pursued a two-state peace agreement, and nevertheless endured loud anti-Zionist attacks from the left.  She’s too young to have experienced the popularity won for Israel during the Labor-led peace process of the 1990s, from almost everyone not an extremist. 

This changed dramatically with the beginning of the Second Intifada and the mounting Palestinian death toll; much of this was unfair toward Israel as it resisted bloody terrorist attacks, but Likud-led governments during this period promoted the expansion of settlements and undermined negotiations — with the exception of the Kadima interregnum from 2005 until 2008, mostly under Prime Minister Olmert.  Yet even Olmert authorized massive military assaults on Lebanon (2006) and Gaza (2009), albeit provoked by Hezbollah and Hamas respectively, resulting in many non-combatant deaths and widespread damage to civil infrastructure.  My point is that rightly and/or wrongly, Israel suffered repeated public relations disasters during the 2000s.  

I found the Slate review, “How Not to Fight Anti-Semitism” by Jordan Weissman, well reasoned and non-ideological in tone.  My only criticism is that the reviewer may discount violence coming from Muslims, but I’m not quite sure.  Here’s the beginning of this article under the subhead, “Bari Weiss’ new book on combating hatred of Jews in the Trump era is more interested in condemning the left than actually confronting the problem.”

Here are a few things that a journalist might want to do if she were attempting to write a good and worthwhile book titled How to Fight Anti-Semitism.

The journalist could carefully explore the online radicalization process that leads men to violent white supremacy, and detail possible ways to curb it. She could talk to students involved in the campus boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement to more clearly understand their motivations, before unpacking whether or when the effort is anti-Semitic. She could go to Crown Heights in New York, where a long history of tension between the black and Hasidic communities has lately erupted into violence against the neighborhood’s Jews, and perhaps interview local leaders trying to bridge those divides. She could explore why American schools are doing a miserable job teaching the Holocaust and how that affects discourse about Jews and Israel.

Bari Weiss does not do any of these things, or any of these sorts of things, in her slim new volume, How to Fight Anti-Semitism. . . .

Click here to read the entire article.  

Postscript: Prior to the Holocaust, the debate on the left over Zionism was lively and legitimate.  After the Holocaust, this controversy waned, as it should have; but sadly, it’s reviving in some circles.  Still, I do not believe that all anti-Zionists are antisemites. 

Many Jews and others mistakenly see Netanyahu’s rightwing brand of Zionism as all there is in the Zionist spectrum, or mischaracterize Jewish identity as only religious and not reflecting a historic ethnic/cultural lineage that included nationhood, or see a sovereign Jewish majority as necessarily antithetical to individual rights for non-Jewish citizens.  There are also leftwing anti-Zionists who profess opposition to all ethnic nationalisms and even the concept of a nation-state. 

But when Bari Weiss denounces hardline anti-Zionists for singling out Israel for its human rights transgressions above all others, or accepting sovereignty for all existing nation-states while rejecting it for Jews, she’s onto something.  One can disagree with her, however, on whether this is an existential threat for Jews, or how it may be remedied.

3 Responses to “Is Anti-Israel Left Antisemitic?”

  1. STAN NADEL
    September 10, 2019 at 11:46 am #

    It isn’t always Antisemitic, maybe not even most of the time, but it often is. When ostensibly anti-Zionist comments replicate classic Antisemitic themes about Jews then they cross a clear line even if the people making them don’t know what they are doing. And that happens all too often when leftists criticize Israel and “Zionists.”

  2. Ken Waltzer
    September 10, 2019 at 5:43 pm #

    I find Alan Johnson’s formulation more satisfying, identifying forms of anti-Zionism that are distinctive and not antisemitic, and at the same time identifying forms of anti-Zionism that are indeed antisemitic and labeling these antisemitic anti-Zionism. What telltale signs help us identiffy antisemitic antiZionism? When claims and arguments and discourse include:
    Myths of extraordinary Jewish power and influence (Protocols)
    Claims of dual loyalty
    Symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism
    Recycling of images of the figural Jew (hooknosed, grasping)
    Renewal of claims of child killing (blood libel)
    Claims of conniving, cheating. Holocaust a myth, reparations a scheme

  3. Bernard Bohbot
    September 12, 2019 at 7:07 pm #

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece Mr. Seliger.

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