Critics of Israel like to claim that Zionists can’t tolerate criticism of Israel. Supporters of the Jewish state, the argument goes, dismiss any condemnation of Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. In truth, a dark inversion of this charge is becoming the norm: Critics of Israel can’t denounce anti-Semites.
The most recent example comes from the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg, who wrote a column on Friday headlined “Anti-Zionism Isn’t the Same as Anti-Semitism.” She defends the pro-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) positions of incoming Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. The BDS movement, of course, singles out Israel for total economic isolation in the hopes of bringing the Jewish State to its knees. “Conservatives in the United States—though not only conservatives—have denounced Tlaib and Omar’s stance as anti-Semitic,” Goldberg writes. “It is not.”
Tlaib, a Palestinian American and the first Muslim woman elected to Congress, has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.
Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic. Go figure.
You’ll find none of this in Goldberg’s column. To her, “the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that depends on treating Israel as the embodiment of the Jewish people everywhere.” Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel.
To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. These are chiefly the country’s relationships with far-right European movements (that support Israel), the impasse on the two-state solution (which Palestinian leaders have rejected again and again), and Israel’s warming relationship with Saudi Arabia. This last bit is telling. The left used to blame Israel for the hostility it garnered among Arabs in the region; now it blames Israel for the concord and mutual respect it enjoys with the most important Arab country in the world.
She quotes in sorrow Eliyahu Stern, a professor of Jewish history at Yale, who told her “that Jewish identity can be reduced to Israelism.” But once again, a dark inversion is upon us. Goldberg’s whole column is an attempt to reduce Jewish identity to anti-Israelism.
She will fail in this attempt because her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to speak out. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism either.
Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multiethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.”
Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?