Friday, September 23, 2022

A "Grand Bargain" on Israel and Antisemitism Discourse

Apropos of the controversy over Rep. Rashida Tlaib's (D-MI) declaration that those who back "Israel's apartheid government" cannot be progressives, I saw quite a few folks pointing to polling data which suggests most American Jews don't find "Israel is an apartheid state" to be an antisemitic statement. That's not to say that most Jews agree with that assessment, but only 28% disagree and find it to be antisemitic (25% agree with the statement, and 24% disagree but don't deem it antisemitic -- the remainder are unsure). The fact that many American Jewish organizations seem potentially out-of-step with median Jewish opinion was certainly a powerful rejoinder to their quick allegations that Tlaib's apartheid allegation was per se antisemitic.

The poll in question is one I've long found fascinating, and not the least because it offers a rare deep dive into what, exactly, American Jews think is and isn't antisemitic with respect to Israel. And the payoff is that Jews actually don't tend to think even most harsh critiques of Israel are antisemitic ... with one exception.


The huge outlier here is "Israel doesn't have a right to exist."  That statement simply blows all of its competitors out of the water -- a full two-thirds of American Jews find it antisemitic when no other statement (even some highly inflammatory ones about "genocide" are "apartheid") pushes much higher than 30%. It also has far fewer Jews agreeing with it, suggesting that "Israel has no right to exist" is viewed differently even by the nation's harshest critics. It's not, in other words, just a shuffling among Israel's supporters -- the other statements are disagreed with but aren't viewed as antisemitic; this one is disagreed with and is viewed as antisemitic. There appears to be a substantial portion of the American Jewish community that agrees with statements like "Israel is committing genocide" who nonetheless draw the line at "Israel doesn't have the right to exist."

A large part of me is just curious who that last group of Jews are and what their story is. But for the time being, this divergence suggests a potential "grand bargain" in how we talk about antisemitism and Israel: anti-Israel folks agree that opposing Israel's right to exist is antisemitic, and pro-Israel folks concede that all the other charges -- whether agreed to or not -- are fair play.

Now, as is the case of all "grand bargains", I fully expect this one to go nowhere because neither side has any particular need or desire to accept it. As much as this poll made for a nice "gotcha" moment in the context of the Tlaib controversy, anti-Israel commentators do not actually think the legitimacy of antisemitism allegations hinges much on what Jews think, and have been stubbornly insistent on going whole-hog on denying Israel's very validity as a state despite the fact that this seems to be a distinctive redline for the Jewish community over and beyond views that might be fairly categorized as (extreme) policy disagreement. But in fairness, pro-Israel organizations have not been especially interested in hitching their wagon to median Jewish opinion either, and -- for all the talk about "criticism is fine, but opposing Israel's existence isn't", they have been far from reliable in actually adhering to that line, viewing certain vitriolic criticisms as tantamount to "opposing Israel's right to exist" even as most Jews apparently draw a distinction between the two.

So my grand bargain proposal is not predictive: I don't think we actually will reach a détente along these lines. But in concept, it sure does present an interesting one, doesn't it?

1 comment:

Ari Allyn-Feuer said...

It doesn't seem that interesting to me in concept.

If the accusation is false, undertaken with disregard for its falsity, and habitual, and there's a strong pattern of leveling it at Israel specifically as versus other states...then...isn't it antisemitic? To habitually slander people and institutions of a particular ethnic group, and feel none of the epistemic and decorum obligations you ordinarily feel about statements of this sort? Yeah, that's racist. If most Jews don't think so, they're mistaken.

It bears noting that conduct like this is, to the extent one may attribute coherence to it, designated antisemitic by the JDA definition, which speaks of "portraying Israel as the ultimate evil or grossly exaggerating its actual influence."