Antisemitism, Israel, and the Double Standard

Originally published on Open Salon on June 4, 2010

If I were to say that people around the world are out to get me, would you say that I was paranoid?

If you answered "yes" to that, you aren't thinking enough. The correct answer is:

Only if I'm wrong.

We Jews are notorious for seeing antisemites under every rock and behind every tree. But are they really?

In the United States, no. Here we have scattered antisemitism with some concentrations at the occasional Aryan Nation outpost somewhere in Idaho and at a couple of universities in California but, considering how many amazingly insane political views are widely held in this country, it's surprising how little antisemitism there is here. Every once in a while we have to stop our incessant self-criticism (which is mainly for the purpose of making our country better and stronger) to remember that this really is the greatest country in the world and that we're intensely lucky and grateful to live here.

In Europe, most rocks and trees qualify. In the Middle East, pretty much all of them do. What leads me to this conclusion?

Reaction to Israel.

I want to make one thing clear from the outset: I do NOT think there is anything either antisemitic or antizionistic about disagreeing with Israeli policy. I think that expanding West Bank settlements is a terrible idea yet, I assure you, I am neither.

For most of my life, I drew a sharp distinction between antisemitism and antizionism. Over time, however, my opinion has changed as a result of a litmus test I now use. It's really a very simple one:

If your standards for how Israel should behave are substantially different from your standards for how other nations should behave, chances are that you're antisemitic. In other words, antisemitism is determined by a double standard.

Why? Because there's only one factor that really differentiates the Israelis from everyone else and we all know what it is.

That Israel receives an outsized amount of vilification is obvious. Follow any human rights conference and you'll see that. Israel's human rights record is far from perfect but it's still the best in the Middle East while being treated like it's the worst, and it is precisely this kind of double standard that I'm talking about.

Israel has Muslim citizens and some of them are in the Knesset (Israel's parliament) but Muslims aren't treated with complete equality inside Israel. However, judging Israel in a vacuum makes no sense. How are the surrounding countries doing? I recently read a blog comment suggesting that Jews who wanted to live in the West Bank should go live under the Palestinian Authority. Great suggestion, except for one thing: The Palestinian Authority doesn't accept Jews. How exactly do they get away with that kind of bigotry without anyone so much as noticing? And the Palestinians are certainly not alone. If you're Jewish, try emigrating to Saudi Arabia. Hell, if you're Jewish and the Saudis are aware of that, try visiting Saudi Arabia. Good luck getting that visa.

Israel can be faulted in absolute terms from the standpoint of religious tolerance but it can't be faulted in comparative terms, and it is comparative terms that matter here. Is the problem that people object to a nominally religious state? One look at the number of Islamic Republics should put that notion to rest in a hurry, starting with Iran.

Maybe the problem really has to do with a displaced population; that seems to be what most of the fuss is about. Is there anything unique about Israel in this respect? Well, there were more Muslims displaced during the process of Indian and Pakistani independence, which didn't get the world's attention like Israel does. Of course, there's the more obvious point that when it comes to displacing indigenous populations, Israel has a better record than every nation in the Entire Western Hemisphere. After all, Jews have been part of the indigenous population of what is now Israel for thousands of years while Europeans in America were strictly invaders, in addition to the fact that when Jews started returning to what was then Palestine in the first half of the last century, they gained land by purchasing it, not conquering it (Manhattan Island notwithstanding). However, those Western Hemisphere invasions happened a long time ago, so maybe we should focus on more recent events.

No problem. When judging Israel on displacing Palestinians (or the population now known as Palestinians - if you used the term "Palestinians" in, say, 1947, it was assumed you meant Jews), there are four points to keep in mind:

 1. Jews are and have been an indigenous Palestinian population continuously and, like other Palestinian populations, they have been forced out of places (in Palestine) that they'd lived in for an awfully long time, like some Jerusalem neighborhoods prior to the formation of Israel.

2. Not all Palestinians (current use of the term) are indigenous, not by a long shot. Palestine during the nineteenth century had hardly any population of any kind. A large proportion of the people now known as Palestinians are descended from Syrian labor imported by the British and Syrians who migrated to Palestine looking for jobs created by the influx of Jews.

3. Most of the Palestinians who left Israel in 1948 left voluntarily on the advice of surrounding Arab governments who expected to push the Jews into the Mediterranean and wanted their fellow Arabs out of the way while they did so. That effort obviously failed. Of the Arabs who didn't leave voluntarily, some were forced out by the Jews and some remained and are now Israeli citizens (or their descendants are), complete with parliamentary representation. It might make sense here to wonder why those surrounding Arab governments didn't take their brethren in under the circumstances - after all, that's always been how the Israelis have treated their Jewish brethren under anything like similar circumstances.

4. The number of Muslims who left Israel, voluntarily and involuntarily combined, is smaller than the number of Jews who were driven out of Arab countries since the formation of Israel and taken in by Israel. This is not a small population: When I visited Israel in about 1980, before the final waves of Soviet Jewish immigration, this population comprised the majority in Israel. A lot of people worldwide are under the impression that Israel is primarily made up of the descendants of Jewish Holocaust survivors but that's not true; a large part of Israel's population is made up of Jews driven out of the very countries in the Middle East who complain most vociferously about Israel's human rights.

So, where did these Middle Eastern Jews, these Sephardim, come from? From Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, eventually Iran (post Shah, and I know that Iran isn't Arab), to name some. They came from communities that, in some cases, were both large and ancient. The Iraqi Jewish population dated from the Babylonian invasion, about 2600 years ago. Jews were given the opportunity to go back to Israel after the Persians conquered the Babylonians (see Ezra and Nehemiah) but many elected to stay. Prophets came and preached there; some are buried there, such as Jonah, who preached in what is now Mosul but used to be known as Nineveh. The more important of the two Talmuds was written there. As recently as a century ago, the population of Baghdad was between a third and half Jewish. Now this ancient population, which predated Mohammed's birth by over a thousand years, has been driven out. Has anyone asked about resettlement? Has anyone asked about reparations?

Why are Arab refugees in the Middle East treated so differently by the international community than Jewish refugees in (and from) the Middle East are? Why are only the Israelis culpable for this? How can anyone look at this region and conclude that Israel should, under the circumstances, be singled out as the ONLY nation in the United Nations that is never permitted to serve on the Security Council? Not just the only nation in the Middle East, the only nation in the entire UN membership. How many explanations can there be for this?

Israel's reaction to those who threaten her safety is once again in the news. Thousands of missiles from Gaza (from which Israel withdrew voluntarily) have been aimed at Israeli civilian populations courtesy of Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel.  ("Dedicated to the destruction of Israel" is based on what Hamas says, not what I accuse them of.) When the Israelis reacted, most of the world accused them of overreacting. Interesting. I'd like to know what the world would expect of the United States if missiles from Mexico were hitting Texas border cities, or of France if missiles from the Basque region were hitting Carcassonne, or of Great Britain if missiles from the Republic of Ireland were hitting Belfast, or of China if missiles from Nepal were hitting Tibet, or of Russia if missiles from Chechnya or Georgia or Ukraine were hitting Russian civilians? Restraint? Please.

Now Israel is engaged in keeping more missiles out of Gaza. They allow humanitarian aid into Gaza (and actually provide tons of it themselves), but there's a blockade to make sure shipments are inspected. A group of ships, partially manned by a Turkish group that is on film at a rally shouting antisemitic (as opposed to antizionist) slogans just before they departed, wanted to break the blockade and were, predictably, boarded before they arrived. Their reaction? Again, clearly on YouTube, extreme violence: Beating the Israelis with metal bars, throwing stun grenades at them, stabbing them, and the Israelis are of course being faulted by most of the international community for not doing the socially acceptable thing and allowing themselves to be beaten to death on that ship. After all, that's what the international community would expect of any other country trying to defend itself, right?

What are a lot of these critics calling the Israelis? Nazis. When I visited Israel, I don't recall seeing any gas chambers, labor camps, huge ovens, or cattle cars stuffed with Palestinians, or hearing about medical experiments or IsraeliSonderkommandos yanking gold teeth out of the mouths of dead Palestinians with plyers. That's what Nazi means. If that's not what you mean when you say Nazi you're in need of a history lesson, so knock it off, you're trivializing the memory of too many dead.

If the Israelis really did behave as Nazis, they would no longer have a Palestinian problem. They've already been vilified so much that engaging in mass murder wouldn't be all that costly from a public relations standpoint. How much louder could the screaming get? Are we to assume that other nations would be eager to help the Palestinians? If they were, the Palestinians would have been resettled by now but, instead, some have been left in refugee camps for over sixty years. As a Jew, I'm trying to imagine our leaving our own in refugee camps voluntarily for sixty years; as a Jew, I can't imagine our leaving our own in refugee camps voluntarily for sixty months.

You don't have to worry: The Israelis aren't about to engage in mass murder of Palestinians, though the reason has nothing to do with public relations (for which, frankly, the Israelis have a notoriously tin ear). Mass murder is against their (our) religion. The Palestinian population is safe from genocide because the Israelis have consciences for which the rest of the world doesn't give them credit. There will probably be a two-state solution some day, assuming that the Palestinians allow it.

 [Note: Today I am talking about the double standard as an indicator of antisemitism, not about Palestinian solutions. Regardless of whose case looks like what, the reality is that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are going anywhere - in fact, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will have anywhere to go for the forseeable future.  A peaceful solution will be possible when all concerned accept this reality. So far, they haven't.]

So, if you hate the Israelis (assuming you aren't Palestinian - regardless of what kind of case your people have, your personal experience has to affect how you feel about Israel), if you think they have a lot of nerve defending themselves from an organization dedicated to their destruction, please don't bother with the charade of saying you're strictly an antizionist. Just call yourself a Jew-hater and be done with it. If you're not in the United States, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how few will object to your being one.

And, by the way, be sure and find yourself a nice rock.

A postscript from early morning on July 1, 2015:

The prophet Jonah is no longer buried in Mosul, originally Nineveh. ISIS blew up his tomb. I am not kidding.

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