Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When Protests Against Israeli Policies Are Anti-Semitic-And When They Are Not

When Protests Against Israeli Policies Are Anti-Semitic- And When They Are Not
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

One of the most difficult tasks for all people concerned with peace and justice in the Middle East is determining when protesters against Israel's policies are anti-Semitic, and when they are not, and taking steps to eliminate anti-Semitism from the movements we are participating in

Though most, but not all protesters, in the United States, have been careful to distinguish passionate criticism of Israel's policies from verbal and physical assaults on Jews, such a distinction has evaporated in some parts of Europe, where synagogues have been firebombed and defaced, and Jews have been threatened and harassed in schools and on public conveyances.

Many of Israel's fiercest enemies in the Middle East, especially Iran, have contributed to this atmosphere by openly promoting Anti-Semitism in its most destructive historic forms, whether by distributing copies of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," by giving a warm welcome to Holocaust Revisionists, including the former Klansman David Duke, or by using sweeping rhetoric about "driving Jews into the sea."

Given this history, and given the incidents that have occurred in recent weeks, it is understandable that many Jews fear that the outrage over Israel's actions in Gaza make Jews around the world feel vulnerable in whatever countries the live in.

However, to equate outrage at the brutal consequences of Israel's assault on Gaza with anti-Semitism, or to see those protesting the invasion as primarily motivated by hostility to Jews, is as wrong as it is unfair.

The images coming out of Gaza, of neighborhoods under siege, of schools and mosques reduced to rubble, of bodies of dead and wounded children in hospital wards and in streets,of communities without food and electricity and water, coupled with the extraordinary disproportion in Israeli and Palestinian casualties,have sparked a cry of conscience among people the world over, including among many progressive Jews.

Rather than being a sign of anti-Semitism, this outpouring of moral identification with the powerless is the one force in the world that can protect Jews, as well as all other vulnerable peoples, against ethnic and religious violence

The argument that Israel, as a state, has a right to respond to rocket attacks from a movement dedicated to its destruction does not mean that any and all responses that Israel makes are morally and politicallyacceptable.

Whenever the armed forces of a state produce large civilian casualties through aerial bombardment and invasion of another nation whether it is the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan, Iraq invading Kuwait, or the United States invading Iraq, it is thoroughly appropriate that people of conscience mobilize in protest This is especially so when there is a vast difference in economic and military power between the nation doing the invading and the nation being invaded

.The fact that in this instance, the invading nation does so in the name of a historically oppressed and persecuted people complicates the moral calculus, but does not ultimately change it

If Israel's response to Hamas rocket attacks is wildly disproportionate to the injury those attacks inflict,and impose enormous suffering on hundreds of thousands of people who bear no responsibility for thoseattacks, then it is thoroughly appropriate that people around the world insist that the invasion end.

If they do so in a way that rigorously avoids anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions, and which welcomes Jews who embrace a common vision of universal justice, their efforts should be applauded,not condemned

Mark Naison
January 14,2009

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