A reader shares some very typical sentiments in a criticism of my piece yesterday on the “why do you single Israel out?” narrative:
I’m a Jewish American who is not at all afraid to criticize Israel, particularly with respect to its settlements in the West Bank. As I mention to friends whenever Israel is being discussed, there are plenty of Israelis who completely disagree with the Netanyahu administration and many current policies of the Israeli government, so no reason we in the U.S. can’t do the same.
That said, deBoer’s argument is wanting on several fronts, two of which I will address here because they are the most egregious, and interrelated in many ways. First, deBoer makes no mention whatsoever of anything that Hamas may have done to provoke the recent violence, as if the entire situation is 100% the fault of Israel. I sometimes disagree with Andrew about Israel, but I respect his opinion and am open to be persuaded by his arguments because he always makes clear that he condemns what Hamas (or others) have done, and explains that he understands the larger historical context that Israel (and Jews) operate under, even if he disagrees with their conclusions. I see no similar effort by deBoer, and if the effort is to persuade someone with his writing, it causes me to completely tune him out, because he gives the impression that he only sees this conflict from one perspective, i.e., Israel=bad/evil, Hamas=oppressed/innocent.
This is a very common rhetorical ploy: why do you not mention Hamas’s problems when you mention Israel’s? Well, first, that’s the very argument of my post: that we bear responsibility for Israel’s actions because we enable them to a degree that is completely unprecedented in American history, and so we are responsible for them. That simply is not true of Hamas. Not remotely. Second, the idea that we should always take pains to achieve balance in our criticism of Israel– a kind of “one for you, and one for me,” reciprocal approach”– is fundamentally misguided, because it misrepresents the reality of official support for Israel and for Hamas. Support for Israel is as close to unanimous in national American politics as you can get, despite the fact that public polling shows a great deal of criticism from America’s people. Essentially all of our legislature and our executive will support Israel’s actions literally without exception. In this recent conflict, the vast majority of those killed have been civilians, by absolutely anyone’s reckoning, including within the Israel media. Hundreds of children have been killed. That has not changed the elite political consensus one iota. Meanwhile, the number of American politicians who support Hamas is exactly zero. Such a person does not exist in our Congress. So who exactly am I supposed to be scolding for supporting Hamas? Why would I bother to criticize the side that has no establishment political support whatsoever, when the other side has slaughtered hundreds of children and lost no face with America’s political class? This emailer is operating under a broken understanding of political responsibility:
Second, I understand deBoer’s point about people here in the U.S. being able to single out Israel for criticism because of how much moral and financial support the U.S. provides to Israel, but his complete dismissal of any possibility of anti-Semitism is simply naive and, again, makes me question his entire perspective. Does he not see the news about supposed anti-Israel rallies in Europe turning into pogroms against synagogues and Jews there? Modern Orthodox friends of mine traveling to Europe this summer, even the UK, wear hats in public so they don’t invoke the ire of residents there. Is there no anti-Semitism in this lashing out at Jews who have no direct connection to Israel? deBoer completely dismisses the notion that there could possibly be anti-Semitism behind at least some of the criticism lobbed at Israel. Again, this is in contrast with Andrew, because he always acknowledges the reality of anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe where it should be particularly concerning for anyone with a modicum of knowledge of history, both recent and ancient, to see graffiti and violence condemning Jews.
The reasoning is again the same: the political establishment of my country, which is my responsibility, is entirely opposed to anti-Semitism. I don’t doubt that there is hatred of Jews lurking around out there, but there is no one– literally no public figure of any importance whatsoever, whether politician or celebrity– who would ever publicly express anti-Semitic remarks, unless they’re interested in committing reputation suicide. If they did, they would be rightfully cast out and reviled. Meanwhile, hatred of Muslims and Arabs generally, and Palestinians specifically, is an absolutely mainstream phenomenon. Republicans in Congress spew hatred and venom for Muslims and Palestinians daily. Can you imagine if a celebrity said “Jews deserve to die,” the way Joan Rivers said Palestinians deserve to die? Can you imagine a celebrity saying that Israelis are like a crazy woman who needs to be slapped, as Bill Maher said about Hamas? No. No, you can’t imagine it, because it would never happen. Because it’s OK in public life to hate Palestinians. It’s not OK in public life to hate Jews. I don’t “balance” condemnation of Palestinian oppression with condemnation of anti-Semitism because the whole world defends the former and only a lunatic fringe defends the latter.
Nobody of importance defends Hamas’s rockets. Almost everyone of national prominence defends Israel’s right to murder children. That is the condition under which I argue, and for that reason, I will not take part in the facile exercise of mentioning Hamas’s bad deeds every time I mention Israel’s. They are not comparable phenomena:
deBoer actually makes me much more sympathetic to Israel, because unmitigated condemnations like these, without any scintilla of sympathy or perspective on what it must be like to be an Israeli, whose homeland (and fellow Jews around the world) has been the consistent target of mass genocide by your neighbors, give Israelis the distinct feeling that they are on their own and must do whatever is necessary to protect their citizens and preserve their state.
If your take on collective punishment and illegal occupation can change because I didn’t do enough to assure you that I don’t condone anti-Semitism, I would suggest you think it over a bit more.