Jews are just about the only people with the peculiar blessing of having an entire category of bigotry named for them.
When you have that kind of “honor,” it should be unsurprising that you would be exquisitely sensitive to it.
It is often affirmed by Jews, publicly and privately, that one can criticize Israel without being antisemitic. The truth of that statement is often applied broadly by critics of Israel and narrowly by Israel’s supporters.
Where is the line drawn? I have an answer, but a little context is necessary first.
More attention is focused on that little sliver of the eastern Mediterranean than any other piece of real estate in the world. Any attempt to list all the reasons for that attention is futile, but two are primary among them.
The first is religious/ethnic. Three world religions emerged from the soil of the Holy Land.
Even those who do not believe in the literalness of Scripture can still be fascinated by how Judaism, Christianity and Islam are continuously connected to that corner of the world. Those who acknowledge a connection based in faith and, particularly, prophecy can find even day-to-day intrigues compelling, let alone major events.
The second is the media. News about the Middle East draws eyes.
Whatever triumphs or conflicts occur in the vastness of Africa or across northern Europe and Asia, the saga of Israelis and Palestinians in that crescent of land seems to feed the unquenchable appetite of viewers, listeners and readers.
The first is a personal bias and the second is a societal bias. No matter what I write next, those biases are always present. They will likely affect your reaction to my next words.
I have previously described Zionism as the belief in the right of the Jews to be a free people in their own land.
For the overwhelming majority of Jews, whether inside or outside Israel, whether religious or secular, whether conservative or liberal, that understanding of Zionism is foundational.
A critique of Israel that denies the validity of that belief says to the world’s Jews, “You do not have the right to choose your own beliefs.” And that is antisemitic.
Here is where that assertion gets dicey. What Protestantism has become to Christianity, contemporary political realities have become to Zionism.
Even before there was a State of Israel, different Jews interpreted the mandate of Jewish autonomy differently. In appropriating the mantle of “authentic Zionism,” modern scholars, thinkers and (especially!) politicians have placed secondary considerations above the prime principle.
And just as most Jews cannot tell the differences among Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists, and cannot distinguish among Shia, Sunni and even Ahmadiyya, confusing the ruling political party in Israel with Zionism itself assigns a generalization from a particular.
Critics have the responsibility to be informed about the nature of their critique, and if they are not careful to be precise, then they should not be surprised to be taken at what they say.
Adding to the challenge is the wealth of hateful tropes that have been leveled at Jews and are often called “dog whistles.”
I once appeared on a panel with a prominent cleric from Palestine at a landmark church in Washington, D.C. four decades after the 1967 war. In lamenting the ongoing plight of Palestinian Christians, he declared, “Jesus hung on the cross only three days. Palestinians have been hanging for 40 years!”
I can’t know if he specifically chose to deploy the accusation that Jews killed Jesus or if he just chose a familiar referent for his audience. To me – sensitive as I am to such things – it sounded pretty antisemitic. (And he did not back down when asked by an audience member.)
I don’t pay taxes in Israel; I don’t vote in their elections; I did not serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. I have no privileges or standing that allow me to stand in judgment of the government’s policies.
But, like a good American and active Jew, I am generous with my opinions.
I like to think they are motivated by loving concern. And I do not tolerate the notion that being critical of policy is equivalent to being anti-Israel, or even that acting as an ally and partner with Palestinians for their civil and human rights is a betrayal in any sense.
Just as Americans will be critical of our country’s legacy and policy but not question its legitimacy, I expect those with an attachment to justice and heritage to show such respect for all parties in Israel/Palestine.
One more question ought to be answered. Can being pro-Israel be antisemitic? The answer is yes.
Some dispensationalist Christians believe that the ingathering of the Jews is necessary to their theology of the world’s redemption. Of course, part and parcel of that vision is the catastrophic destruction to follow.
No matter how politically supportive such believers are of any Israeli government, they want the same thing as the world’s most dangerous antisemites. No more Jews.
A Conservative rabbi, he is currently serving on Good Faith Media’s strategic advisory board. This article only represents Moline’s personal views and not those of any organizations with which he is affiliated.