Israel and 'Anti-Semitism'

By Cockburn, Alexander | The Nation, June 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Israel and 'Anti-Semitism'


Cockburn, Alexander, The Nation


Right in the wake of House majority leader Dick Armey's explicit call for several million Palestinians to be booted out of the West Bank, and East Jerusalem and Gaza as well, came yet one more of those earnest articles accusing a vague entity called "the left" of anti-Semitism.

This one was in Salon, by a man called Dennis Fox, identified as an associate professor of legal studies and psychology at the University of Illinois. Leaving nothing to chance, Salon titled Fox's contribution "The shame of the pro-Palestinian left: Ignorance and anti-Semitism are undercutting the moral legitimacy of Israel's critics."

Over the past twenty years I've learned there's a quick way of figuring just how badly Israel is behaving. There's a brisk uptick in the number of articles accusing "the left" of anti-Semitism. These articles adopt varying strategies. Particularly intricate, though I think well-intentioned, was a recent column by Naomi Klein, who wrote that "it is precisely because anti-Semitism is used by the likes of Mr. Sharon that the fight against it must be reclaimed." Is Klein saying the global justice movement has forgotten how to be anti-anti-Semitic? I don't think it has. Are all denunciations of the government of Israel to be prefaced by strident assertions of pro-Semitism?

If this is the case, can we not ask that those concerned about the supposed silence of the left about anti-Semitism demonstrate their own good faith by denouncing Israel's behavior toward Palestinians? Klein did, but most don't. In a recent column in the New York Times Frank Rich managed to write an entire column purportedly about Jewish overreaction here to news reporting from Israel without even fleeting reference to the fact that there might be some factual basis to reports presenting Israel and its leaders in a bad light, even though he found time for abuse of the "inexcusable" Arafat. Isn't Sharon "inexcusable" in Rich's book?

So the left gets the rotten eggs, and those tossing the eggs mostly don't feel it necessary to concede that Israel is a racist state whose obvious and provable intent is to continue to steal Palestinian land, oppress Palestinians, herd them into smaller and smaller enclaves, and in all likelihood ultimately drive them into the sea or Lebanon or Jordan or Dearborn or the space in Dallas-Fort Worth airport between the third and fourth runways (the bold Armey plan).

Here's how Fox begins his article for Salon: "'Let's move back,' my wife insisted when she saw the nearby banner: 'Israel Is a Terrorist State!' We were at the April 20 Boston march opposing Israel's incursion into the West Bank. So drop back we did, dragging our friends with us to wait for an empty space we could put between us and the anti-Israel sign." Inference by Fox: The banner is grotesque, presumptively anti-Semitic. But there are plenty of sound arguments that from the Palestinian point of view Israel is indeed a terrorist state, and anyway, even if it wasn't, the description would not per se be evidence of anti-Semitism. Only if the banner had read "All Jews Are Terrorists" would Fox have a point. …

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