How to criticize Israel without being antisemitic
In recent years, Jews have increasingly found themselves at the center of political debates in America and Britain, often in relation to Israel and Jews’ connections to Israel.
While criticism of Israel and advocacy for Israel is not inherently antisemitic, much of it departs from the realm of fair comment and crosses the boundary into antisemitism. But, when this is pointed out, Jews are often accused of ‘playing the antisemitism card’. This makes light of bigotry, and undermines the ability to separate between legitimate criticism and illegitimate smears. In the absence of a single universally accepted definition of antisemitism, perhaps this list of things to remember will help people who want to fairly criticize Israel without falling into antisemitic canards or tropes.
- Israel, and Israelis, exist
Israel is not a theoretical model; there are real people involved. Many of us desperately want peace and security. Whatever we say or believe, our human rights are not conditional. We aren’t an abstract idea, don’t suggest putting thousands or millions of real lives at risk.
- Jews are not the same as Israel
Jews have a wide range of opinions, and many Jews around the world aren’t really aware of what’s going on in Israel. If individual or Catholics in general shouldn’t be attacked for the actions or positions of the Vatican, and if most people agree that Muslims should not held responsible for terrorism, then Jews should not be conflated with Israel. Don’t blame “Jews” for Israeli policies you don’t like.
- Criticize specific policies
Vague assertions of Israeli control or evildoing echo centuries of vague assertions of Jewish control and mendaciousness. Both are smears, putting Jews and Israelis on the defensive against pernicious claims that are hard to pin down. If you want to honestly criticize Israel, do so by addressing specific issues and acts.
- Make a fair attempt to understand Israeli policies
If you have an issue with Israeli policy, take the time to understand it and why it was implemented. For example, Israel’s security barrier. Where is it? Why was it placed there? What legal processes did it go through? What were the results on both sides?
- Speak from a place of knowledge, accuracy and context
Whether Israel or another topic, you should never debate when unfamiliar with the basics. Take a moment to look up what’s going on, read a wide variety of sources, understand different perspectives, and make sure you get your facts right. Check out the history – it’s rarely one-sided. When you speak from ignorance you make grave errors and things seem overly simple.
- Work toward towards solutions, not Israel’s destruction
If you seek to avoid claims of being antisemitic, avoid advocating for the destruction of the state home to the world’s largest population of Jews. (Refer to tip #1.) Determine whether your words feed into the incessant blaming of Israel or unreasonable demands that Israelis put themselves at risk, or whether they help advance the cause of peace by suggesting just solutions and realistic changes.
- Recognize the conflict is not one-sided
Nothing is black and white. Imagining one party to be uniformly evil and the other as helpless victims is simplistic and unhelpful. Both Israelis and Palestinians have experienced pain. Both desire self determination. Wanting peace and security for Palestinians shouldn’t negate wanting it for Israelis Even if you truly believe that Israel is responsible for the situation, acting as if Israelis have no legitimate concerns and fears denies reality and characterizes Israelis as unreasonable, uniformly warmongering, and feeds into concerted attempts to destroy Israel.
- Avoid known racist tropes when speaking of Israel or Jews
Words such as hypnotized, cabal, Jewish money, globalists, and many more have long been used to discredit Jews. Avoid them. If, for example, you wish to talk about Jewish influence on politics through organisations like AIPAC, carefully appraise your use of language and consider how much influence AIPAC really has compared to other organisations. (Hint: AIPAC’s “Jewish money” is only the second-biggest pro-Israel lobby in America. The biggest is actually CUFI, a Christian organization.)
- Don’t blame Israel for the world’s ills
If you’re tempted to blame the world’s ills on Israel, you’re exhibiting not only a lack of knowledge of world affairs, but demonstrable antisemitism. Portraying Israel as the cause of all that’s wrong in the world doesn’t lend itself to open, constructive debate.
In conclusion, it’s easy to criticize Israel without being antisemitic. Focus on policy. Commit to accuracy. Include context. Eschew superficial chants. If you find that too hard, well, you may just be an antisemite.