Is criticism of Zionism and Israel equivalent to anti-Semitism?
Until recently, the Israel Lobby propaganda groups such as the ADL, AJC, the Wiesenthal Center, AIPAC, ZOA and others had our country (and most of the world) convinced that any legitimate criticism of Israeli actions or policies is a clear form of anti-Semitism that must be demonized and stopped. Similarly, they have equated any criticism of Zionism - the political ideology on which Israel justified its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the theft of their land - with anti-Semitism. The objective was to equate Israel and Zionism with the sanctity of Judaism and vice versa; therefore, rendering it disgraceful or at least controversial to debate Israeli policies or Zionism.
The intellectual (and sometimes physical, by groups such as JDL) terrorism exerted by Israel lobby groups and their well-funded attack dogs (Pipes, Emerson, Horowitz, “JDL-fan” Kaufman, Gaffney and others) contributed to a climate of fear and intimidation for many activists, academics, religious leaders, politicians and media professionals who have contemplated addressing what they clearly concluded to be repressive, racist, illegal, and dangerous behavior by a state that is considered to be closely allied and strongly supported – financially, politically and militarily – by our country. Many have come to the conclusion that the perception of our country as an accomplice in Israel’s war crimes and brutal occupation is creating a major public relations and political nightmare for us.
The hypocrisy this climate of fear allows is astounding. How can our government demand that Iran abandon its nuclear ambitions when Israel, as the only nuclear country in the Middle East, has a reported arsenal of 240 nuclear warheads?
How can we reasonably pressure Egypt, Syria and other Arab countries to respect the human rights of their citizens (and rightly so) when our closest “ally” every day violates the rights of the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories?
How can the world believe our claims about promoting freedom and democracy when our spoiled “friend,” Israel, has been controlling the lives (and certainly the deaths) of Palestinians and denying them the right to have their own country on their own ancestors’ land?
How can we convince the Muslim world to isolate and reject extremism when we support, fund, and approve of the worst brand of religious and political extremism in the government of Israel?
Our country stands for some of the greatest values and most noble of hopes. It is not fair for us to be tainted by (and often hated because of) the behavior of the State of Israel.
The election of President Obama represents a fresh opportunity to push a new agenda that can genuinely bring a just and lasting peace to the people of that region, promote human rights and democracy, and rebuild America’s credibility and stature among all people of the world.
For this to happen, it must become acceptable for us in America to discuss, analyze and criticize the policies and actions of Israel as is commonly done in Israel by Israelis themselves.
It is not acceptable for the Israel lobby propaganda machine to label President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Professor Norman Finkelstein (who is Jewish himself) and many others as anti-Semites in order to silence their criticisms. An open debate on all legitimate political issues, including Israel, is the first step toward building support among all peace-seeking people for policies and attitudes that advance justice, peace, and mutual understanding among all people.
At the same time, we must all be vigilant to challenge and reject anyone who espouses racism, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia and tries to claim those twisted views in the name of legitimate political discourse. I truly believe that we are intelligent enough to be able to sort out the difference between people.
Therefore, the answer to the question, “Is criticism of Zionism and Israel equivalent to anti-Semitism?” is a clear “No.”
Here are a few previous blog posts that I published in relation to this topic:
Message to Muslims and Jews: Political Debate, Yes. Bigotry, No
Dissenting at your own risk
Ayloush comments on ADL's smear tactics
Denying the Holocaust is immoral and un-Islamic
Rosa Brooks: Criticize Israel? You're an Anti-Semite!