The Common Good
January-February 2003

Not in My Name

by Josh Healey | January-February 2003

Is it anti-Semitic to criticize Israel?

The small but growing movement of university students and faculty across the United States calling for divestment from Israel has prompted several Jewish organizations to label the campaign part of a creeping tide of anti-Semitism on campus. Such statements are disingenuous and only serve to intimidate people who raise legitimate dissent with the actions of the Israeli government.

Criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic. People believe that the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem (and the anti-Arab discrimination within Israel) is wrong—that does not in any way mean that they harbor animosity towards Jews. Similarly, people in the 1980s wanted divestment from South Africa not because they hated the white ruling class but because they recognized the mass injustice of apartheid. Many prominent South Africans, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have compared the second-class status of Palestinians under Israeli occupation to those of blacks under apartheid.

Some have argued that although criticism of Israel may not be anti-Semitic in its intention, it is so in practice. Why should Israel be singled out, they ask, given all the human rights violations committed around the world and by the Palestinians? That argument fails to take into account the unique nature of Israel and of the conflict. As the only Jewish state, Israel is seen as representative of the Jewish people, and thus its actions affect the attitudes of people everywhere towards Jews. The occupation is being done in our name, and it reflects poorly on us. This is why many of the people speaking out against the Israeli government are in fact Jews, both in Israel and in the United States.

JEWS HAVE A HISTORY of standing up for justice. Having been oppressed for so many centuries ourselves, Jews have played large roles in freedom struggles such as the American civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid campaign. Now that our own people are the ones who are oppressing others, we have even more of an obligation to speak up. The many Jews speaking up do so not because we hate Jews but because we love them. We are proud of our heritage and only want Israel to live up to the ideals of justice and equality of the Jewish tradition.

Finally, we must recognize that Israel is already singled out—by the U.S. government. The United States gives more than $3 billion per year in direct military and economic aid to Israel, more than to any other country; blocks U.N. resolutions condemning Israeli actions; and puts the blame for the conflict almost entirely on Palestinian shoulders.

Israel surely is not the only party to blame for the conflict. The Palestinian leadership has missed many chances to move towards a peaceful resolution, and the suicide bombings are totally unjustifiable. But as a Jew and a moral person, I must first recognize that the root of the conflict—the occupation—is being perpetrated by the Israeli government.

Some people do mix in anti-Jewish rhetoric with legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. Signs at recent demonstrations against the occupation have equated the Star of David with the Nazi swastika, and there have been incidents of hateful graffiti scrawled on synagogues. Such racism must be totally condemned. But reports of anti-Jewish acts must not be exaggerated. When Jewish groups decry the "rising anti-Semitism" at colleges, their ulterior motive is to squash dissent against Israel and America's favoritism towards it.

Nobody striving for peace—Jews, Muslims, or Christians—should be afraid to criticize Israel. The only way for there to be a meaningful peace in the Middle East is for Israel to face repercussions for its human rights violations. —Josh Healey

Josh Healey is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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