Jewish Critics Speak
Edward C. Corrigan
Middle East Policy, Vol. XVI, No. 4, Winter 2009
Mr. Corrigan, BA, MA, LL.B., is a lawyer certified as a specialist in Citizenship and Immigration Law and Immigration and Refugee Protection by the Law Society of Upper Canada in London, Ontario. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (519) 439-4015.
When individuals, activists or politicians in the United States and Canada criticize human-rights problems in Israel or question the tenets of the political ideology of Zionism, they are attacked, and accusations of bias and even anti-Semitism are made in an attempt to discredit them.
The allegation that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic is used as an effective political weapon. To quote one anti-Zionist Jewish writer:
Criticizing Israel’s mistakes is acceptable. But questioning whether Israel is a Jewish state with a racist
apartheid system that renders non‑Jews second rate citizens — that is not acceptable. It makes little difference
whether the criticism is based on facts. Few people who cannot claim Jewish descent would dare to criticize publicly. They are afraid of being accused
Joel Beinin in “Silencing Critics Not Way to Middle East Peace,” an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle, discussed the campaign to silence critics
of Israeli policy. Beinin, a professor of history at Stanford University, is active in Jewish Voice for Peace and an editor of Jewish Peace News.3 Here is what he had to say about the campaign to attack critics of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians:
Why discredit, defame and silence those with opposing viewpoints? I believe it is because the Zionist lobby knows it cannot win based on facts. An honest discussion can only lead to one conclusion: The status quo in which Israel declares it alone has rights and intends to impose its will on the weaker Palestinians, stripping them permanently of their land, resources and rights, cannot lead to a lasting peace. We need an open debate and the freedom to discuss uncomfortable facts and explore the full range of policy options.
Only then can we adopt a foreign policy that serves American interests and one that could actually bring a just peace to Palestinians and Israelis.4
In “Why It Is Essential for Jews to Speak Out as Jews, on Israel,” Internet blogger Philip Weiss interviewed long-time Jewish activist Dorothy Zellner. She is now working with “Jews Say No.” As Weiss notes, “A lot of activists would say that this is an American issue; everyone should be engaged. And a lot of left-wingers
would say, religion/ethnicity is a tiresome
traditional category, I don’t want to identify myself in such a manner.” Zellner responds to these arguments and explains why she believes that it is essential to address
the Palestinian issue “as Jews, and speak to other Jews as Jews”:
But the sight of us doing the unthinkable has many benefits: There are a few Jews who are happy and relieved to see us because it opens the door for them. They have felt uneasy about Israeli policies for a long time, and seeing us seems to give them more courage to speak their minds. There are also some gentiles who are happy to see us because they have been afraid for a long time of being called anti‑Semites if they criticize Israel.
Just think what it would mean if a significant number of people in our country started to break through the rigid, unthinking mindset of supporting
Israel right or wrong! And just think what it means if we could have weakened the stranglehold of Israeli policies but chose not to do it!
Because we are Jews, we naturally
have a certain currency in challenging
Israeli policies. We identify with the Jewish people, and we respect Jewish culture. Some of us are former Zionists, and we know that Israel was never an empty land. We’ve been to Israel and Palestine more than once, and we’ve seen the checkpoints and the barbed wire and the guard towers with our own eyes. We’ve been angry and ashamed that this occupation is supposedly being done to protect us. Some of us have relatives in Israel. Some of us are the children of Holo
Speakcaust survivors, and we say that what happened to our murdered relatives in Europe should not be the reason for Palestinian pain.5
Here is what Norman Solomon has to say about anti-Semitism: “As with all forms of bigotry, anti‑Semitism should be condemned. At the same time, these days, America's biggest anti‑Semitism problem has to do with the misuse of the label as a manipulative tactic to short‑circuit debate about Washington's alliance with Israel.”6 He added,
The failure to make a distinction between anti‑Semitism and criticism
of Israel routinely stifles public debate. When convenient, pro‑Israel groups in the United States will concede
that it’s possible to oppose Israeli policies without being anti‑Semitic. Yet many of Israel’s boosters reflexively
pull out the heavy artillery of charging anti‑Semitism when their position is challenged.7
Professor Michael Neumann had the following to say about anti-Semitism:
. . . to inflate the definition by including
critics of Israel is, if not exactly incorrect, self‑defeating and dangerous.
No one can stop you from proclaiming
all criticism of Israel anti‑Semitic.
But that makes anti‑Semites out of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, not to mention tens of thousands of Jews.
For more: See Middle East Policy, Vol. XVI, No. 4, Winter 2009