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June 20, 2005

A guide for the perplexed

On Friday, the Washington Post carried a description of a "hearing" held by some hard-left Democratic congressmen (e.g., John Conyers, James Moran, Maxine Waters) on the Iraq war effort. It came as no surprise to some of us that a "witness" at the "hearing" was spewing anti-semitic conspiracy theories ("the United States went to war in Iraq for oil, Israel and military bases craved by administration 'neocons' so 'the United States and Israel could dominate that part of the world'") or that supporters at the Democratic National Committee were distributing similar materials in support of the "hearing" ("At Democratic headquarters, where an overflow crowd watched the hearing on television, activists handed out documents repeating two accusations -- that an Israeli company had warning of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that there was an 'insider trading scam' on 9/11 -- that previously has been used to suggest Israel was behind the attacks.").

The venom at this "hearing" was so great that Howard Dean was forced to denounce the anti-semitism. Pardon me if I seem ungenerous to him. I have my reasons. (There's an excellent discussion of the political side of this at The American Thinker. To be fair, there's an anti-semitic hue to the anti-war right, as well, though the Republican party wants nothing to do with these folks and the feeling is mutual.)

When some bloggers praised Dean for taking his stand, others questioned why they assumed that anti-Israel literature was anti-semitic without even looking at it first. If you criticize Israel, they said, that doesn't make you anti-semitic. I hear this line all the time, so I thought I'd produce a little guide to help people understand the difference.

My premise is found in an old Jewish joke, a somewhat bitter one borne of centuries of persecution of Jews: An anti-semite is someone who hates Jews more than he has reason to. I think this will help you understand when criticism of Israel becomes anti-semitism.

You will have to understand that this is a very generous standard. It lets you hate Jews and Israel a little bit without being anti-semitic, so long as your hatred is proportionate to your hatred of others who deserve it more.

Let's try an example:

Suppose you say: "Israel is wrong for extending the security wall through areas of the West Bank that should be part of the negotiations under the road map." That's a reasonable position, even if I think it's wrong, and (without more) it's not anti-semitic. You can criticize Israel without being anti-semitic.

Suppose, instead, you say: "Israel is wrong to build the wall at all. Palestinians have every right to travel into Israel, and the wall treats them as second class." This statement is grossly naive at best, and possibly willful, because it ignores the reason for building the wall in the first place -- Palestinian terrorism within Israel. It assumes the wall is the provocation and not the response to the provocation. This statement may or may not be anti-semitic, but it will put people on guard and make them listen carefully to what else you're about to say so they can decide.

But suppose you say: "We should cut off all foreign aid to Israel because it's built the wall, and it treats the Palestians the way the Nazis treated the Jews." This criticism is so over-the-top that it's anti-semitic. You hate Israel more than you have reason to.

Let's try some other examples. You're also an anti-semite if:

  • You believe that all people in the world have the right to political self-determination, except the Jews, and that Israel is an illegitimate nation.
  • You think Israeli academics should be boycotted and show no interest in boycotting academics from any other country, no matter how atrocious its human-rights record.
  • You support divestment from companies doing business in Israel but in no other country in the world.
  • You say that the Jews are controlling American foreign policy to support the goals of Israel, or you throw around the term "neocon" -- unless you're a political scientist discussing different approaches to foreign policy among American conservatives. This is especially true if you also use the term "likudnik" (or "Straussian," in which case you're just a better educated anti-semite). Sure, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld might be considered "neocons," but let's be honest -- that's not why you use the term. And if you specifically mention Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, or any of the small number of Jews who have been in the foreign-policy apparatus at some point, we understand your point.
  • You invoke the Nazis when speaking about Israel.
  • You claim that Israel wants to dominate the Middle East.
  • You cite the theory that Israel or Israelis knew about the September 11 attacks in advance. (If I were more charitable, I'd say you were just a crackpot, but I don't need to give you the benefit of the doubt.)
  • Your international humanitarian organization uses as its symbol a "plus" sign that is red in color and bars the Israeli equivalent from membership because it uses a red "Star of David" as its symbol, although it allowed the Muslim equivalent to join despite its use of a red crescent as a symbol.
I hope this helps you. If your principles are firm only when the Jews are involved (or except when the Jews are involved), we know what you are. And you should, too.

UPDATE (6/22): Thanks to commenter "someguy," whose blog Mystery Achievement is a "must read," here is a post by Photios quoting Steven Plaut at length (also a "must read").