“It Really Doesn’t Matter Whether Or Not You Agree With The Israeli Government’s Policies”

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Naava Mashiah finds that as some European Jews, fearing anti-Semitism, move to Israel, some Israeli Jews are moving in the opposite direction.

So I see two sectors of the Jewish population, one in the diaspora, one in Israel, which believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. You wonder whom is deceiving themselves and whom will actually follow through and make the move. Will the exodus from Israel be larger than the inflow of immigrants from Europe? Will the immigration from North America still continue to make up the gap? Even as I write this, after the beginning of the cease-fire, a plane has landed with a planeload of new immigrants.

The Israelis whom move to Europe, as I did four years ago, will find out that the policy of the Israeli government will inevitably affect their life in Europe, even a small remote village. For the local population will remind you that you are Jewish and therefore connected to this homeland. It really doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with the Israeli government’s policies. … Many in Europe say that it reminds them of Europe in 1936, and are reminded of those whom were proactive and departed, ending up as survivors. Some do not think we have reached such a drastic situation. While in Israel, it is no longer considered ‘against the stream’ to emigrate as it was in the 70’s when the immigrants were considered traitors to the country.

Here in the States, though, surely things are different, right? Perhaps for the most part – and anyone who thinks anti-Semitism is this country’s principal bigotry has been living under one of those proverbial rocks – but then there are moments like this, in response to a NYT story about rising European anti-Semitism:

To the Editor:

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.

The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.

As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

Groton, Conn., Aug. 21, 2014

The writer is the Episcopal chaplain at Yale.

Permit me to spell out what makes a letter like this jump out. (And jump out it did, but there’s no way to link to personal Facebook pages here.) Shipman is not merely stating that there’s some relationship between tensions in the Middle East and anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe, but that poor behavior on the part of Israel excuses anti-Jewish acts in places other than Israel. He’s saying that Jews (sorry, “Israel’s patrons abroad” – nice little loophole of a possibility that he mostly means Evangelicals) are responsible for anti-Semitism, and have brought it upon themselves, as if the typical European (or, for that matter, American) Jew has some kind of influence on Netanyahu. Shipman, as David Bernstein points out in his posts on the letter, blames the victim. Shipman’s saying that if you’re in any sense a “patron” of Israel – a vague enough term that could, depending how one understands it, include nearly all Jews – you can expect continued bigotry until a permanent peace arrives in the Middle East, which is, dare I venture a guess, not imminent.

The reason a letter like this gets published in the NYT, and isn’t jumping out at everyone, is… basically what I was getting at earlier, namely that the commonplace definition of anti-Semitism excludes cases where a pretext is given. As in, there’s been this odd rounding-up, or rounding-down, or something, whereby it’s not just that we must recognize that criticism of Israel exists as a thing separate from anti-Semitism, as is sensible. It’s also that anti-Semitism somehow doesn’t count as such if it’s expressed by someone who also expresses legitimate criticisms. Which is, oh, maybe not so sensible if one stops and thinks about it.