While conflicts in the Middle East tend to breed polemics and shallow analysis, reactions to Israel’s deadly boarding of the Mavi Marmara may have set a record for polarization. While some offered balanced analysis and thorough coverage of the incident, it seems that a stark divide emerged swiftly, with some going as far as to suggest that the incident might break NATO, while others went to furious (and spurious) lengths to justify Israel’s conduct.
Amidst the back and forth, it was refreshing this past Wednesday to see a beautifully-written, clear and thoughtful piece from the tirelessly prolific Tony Judt in the New York Times trying to put to rest some of the cliches so often used when talking about Israeli-Palestinian issues. Judt has run into controversy for his views on Israel before, but this article is admirable for its honesty, and is a must-read regardless of political orientation.
While the entire piece is valuable, I find his most compelling thoughts emerge while debunking his final cliche, “Criticism of Israel is/is not linked to anti-Semitism.” Judt writes:
Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews, and Israel is a Jewish state, so of course some criticism of it is malevolently motivated. There have been occasions in the recent past (notably in the Soviet Union and its satellites) when “anti-Zionism” was a convenient surrogate for official anti-Semitism. Understandably, many Jews and Israelis have not forgotten this.
But criticism of Israel, increasingly from non-Israeli Jews, is not predominantly motivated by anti-Semitism. The same is true of contemporary anti-Zionism: Zionism itself has moved a long way from the ideology of its “founding fathers” — today it presses territorial claims, religious exclusivity and political extremism. One can acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist (or “post-Zionist”). Indeed, given the emphasis in Zionism on the need for the Jews to establish a “normal state” for themselves, today’s insistence on Israel’s right to act in “abnormal” ways because it is a Jewish state suggests that Zionism has failed.
We should beware the excessive invocation of “anti-Semitism.” A younger generation in the United States, not to mention worldwide, is growing skeptical. “If criticism of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is potentially ‘anti-Semitic,’ why take seriously other instances of the prejudice?” they ask, and “What if the Holocaust has become just another excuse for Israeli bad behavior?” The risks that Jews run by encouraging this conflation should not be dismissed…The time has come to cut through the clich