Thursday, February 01, 2007

Turnabout (Part II)

Following up on yesterday's post, two things worthy of note. First, Dina Porat writes in Ha'aretz on "What makes an anti-Semite"?
"Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."

In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collective.

Anti-Semitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for "why things go wrong." It is expressed in speech, writing, in visual forms. and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Porat gives some concrete examples of anti-Semitism as related to Israel:
* Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor

* Applying double standards by requiring Israel to behave in a manner not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation

* Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis

* Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis

* Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

I actually think Porat's definition is too narrow, and don't really encompass all of the examples that she gives (examples which I think should be included under any real definition of anti-Semitism).

Meanwhile, David Bernstein offers some historical perspective on Jews "turning against themselves," noting that being particularly aggressive towards Jewish symbols and institutions can be a way for Jews wishing to incorporate themselves into organizations hostile to Judaism to prove their bona fides and disclaim any lingering loyalty to their community. The examples he gives are Jewish conversos in the Inquisition and ethnically Jewish party officials in the USSR. Today, leftist Jews may feel that attacking Israel is a "rite of passage," showing that they are truly part of the left-wing community (and--implicitly by extension--no longer wedded to the Jewish community).

Again, it's important to make a distinction here (and Bernstein does at the top) between "love it so change it" Jews, and Jews who seem appalled at the very existence of Israel, the latter being the topic of discussion.

5 comments:

The probligo said...

* Applying double standards by requiring Israel to behave in a manner not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
... fascinates me.

It is by trying to have Israel behave in the same manner as most other democratic nations that I have (many times) been described as "anti-semitic".

Holly in Cincinnati said...

Of course, Israel behaves far better than most other democratic nations.

As far as some Jews trying to prove 'bona fides' with the Left, I can tell you from decades of experience that we Jews are never accepted no matter how much we disavow Jews, Judaism and the State of Israel.

Andrew said...

"Applying double standards by requiring Israel to behave in a manner not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation" also piqued my interest. For example, I've been called anti-semitic for charging that the Israeli law forbidding Palestinians from marrying is racist, but I would expect a rejection of racism from any democracy.

Unrelated to that more egregious example of an (I think) easily condemnable Israeli policy, as someone who thinks actual anti-semitism is real, despicable and often brutally violent, I think this particular criteria for anti-semitic criticism of Israel is troubling insofar as the standards for good behavior of a democracy oftentimes seem up for debate (particularly when one's ideology colors how one feels about armed conflicts and appropriate military responses to security threats).

David Schraub said...

"the Israeli law forbidding Palestinians from marrying is racist...."

Que?

Israel doesn't prevent Palestinians from marrying. There is a law preventing interreligious marriages. More specifically, it devolves marriage law to religious bodies, which for both Jews and Muslims in Israel forbid intermarriage. And that law (which is a holdover from the Ottoman days) stays on the books in part because Arab parties in the Knesset support it (they aren't the only ones of course--ultra-orthodox Jewish religious parties also back it strongly).

That being said, I think that law is very discriminatory and absolutely should be abandoned, and I too have criticized Israel for keeping a law that long ago should have been repealed.

Andrew said...

Sorry I should have been clearer - I'm referring to a relatively recent law that forbids "family unification" between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (i.e. no citizenship/residency for Palestinians married to Israelis), which inexplicably (read:racism) targets just Palestinians and no other foreign nationality married to Israeli Arabs. I was then called anti-semitic by the (non-Jewish conservative) person I was discussing this with because I used the word "racist" to characterize the law.

This was a more obvious example of charges of anti-semitism leveled to stifle criticism (and something I don't think you would defend), but given how divisive debates about appropriate conduct to preseve a democracy's national security are I still think the "double-standard" criterion leaves a lot of room for charges of anti-semitism when the critic actually consistently holds all democracies to higher standards of good behavior.