When the Right Is Right About the Left

Critics of Israel Should Be Open About Beliefs

Against War, or More? And once the occupation is ended, is there a next target for a protest?
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Against War, or More? And once the occupation is ended, is there a next target for a protest?

By Jay Michaelson

Published July 30, 2012, issue of August 03, 2012.
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In addition to betraying liberal allies, the radical-left shell game also causes conservatives to be rightly suspicious of anything the left says. J Street, for example, consistently and regularly repeats that it supports the existence and security of the State of Israel. Yet because its further-left allies do not make the same assurances, the whole progressive enterprise is viewed with suspicion by the right (which includes most funders of American Jewish institutions).

Second, there’s the one-state policy itself. Café-radicals who support this view need to look it squarely in the eye and call it what it is: selective cultural genocide. There is no way that a binational state will be a safe haven for the Jewish people or that it will preserve Jewish culture. It also creates a curious anomaly: the one-state solution means that every people on the planet, from Peruvians to Pakistanis, deserves self-determination — except one. This is where anti-Zionism slides into anti-Semitism. Why are Jews to be treated differently from every other nation on the planet? Is Jewish nationhood more dubious than others? Other states, too, have minorities within them, and have boundaries that include those minorities’ historical lands — including Peru and Pakistan (the latter, of course, the result of the partition of British Colonial India). So why call for one state in Palestine but not elsewhere?

Now, a good radical can argue that all states and all forms of nationalism are illegitimate, that the United States should return Native American lands to the Native Americans and so on. But that same radical must explain why that change should begin with Israel, a small state surrounded by enemies, rather than with, say, France. Critiquing nationalism strikes me as a good idea — but using Israel as the test case is so bizarre as to invite accusations of bias. At the very least, radicals should “come out” if their real target is nationalism of all kinds. Of course, doing so places one beyond the pale of mainstream political discourse — but at least it’s honest.

Third, and relatedly, it is true, as the Jewish right alleges, that the left is oddly focused on the State of Israel, as opposed to human rights abusers who are demonstrably and quantitatively worse — including Chinese policies in Tibet, America’s unrecompensed genocide of Native Americans, the suppression of the Roma in Europe, the destruction of indigenous cultures in the Amazon and countless other examples. China’s occupation of Tibet has killed more Tibetans than there are Palestinians in Gaza. If we’re interested in solidarity with the oppressed, let’s focus on those who are most oppressed.

Of course, Israel, unlike China, is the beneficiary of massive aid from the United States, so Americans may be right to focus on it. But the rhetoric one hears is not so subtle. As reflected in the recent public opinion poll that ranked Israel roughly equivalent to North Korea (a totalitarian regime with a network of concentration camps, widespread starvation and nuclear belligerence toward its neighbor), Israel is often depicted as the most oppressive country on Earth. Which is objectively absurd.

It’s not hard to see why many Jews perceive this as anti-Semitism. And for leftists to simply wave away these deeply felt concerns is, itself, offensive. No, the Holocaust does not justify every policy of the State of Israel. But it does justify a heightened level of scrutiny when criticizing Jews. Just as I try to remind myself of my white privilege, my economic privilege and my male privilege in my anti-oppression work, so, too, anti-oppression activists should be aware of the reality of anti-Semitism and the way it informs political discourse. If you single out the Jewish state for criticism among all countries in the world, the onus is on you to demonstrate that your discourse is free from conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Even if you’re Jewish.


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