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Criticism of Israel and the Inescapability of Antisemitism

Power is everywhere, therefore antisemitism is everywhere.

by
Benjamin Kerstein

Bio

April 21, 2012 - 12:38 am

The erstwhile Peter Beinart responded with a simple “someone actually says it,” which is odd, because he has been accusing everyone but himself and a few of his friends of saying it for almost three years. One of his admirers was more to the point, offering the mellifluous critique “You’re a f—king idiot.” It appears, then, that saying that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic infuriates many and terrifies others. Nonetheless, it is exactly what I am saying in regard to Israel and its critics.

Unfortunately, it appears that a great many did not pay much attention to what I said; for I did not speak specifically of intentional or conscious antisemitism (though it is a major factor), nor of inadvertent or ignorant antisemitism (though this also plays a mighty role). All criticism of Israel is antisemitism not ultimately because of hate, or prejudice, or malice, or stupidity, or indeed any of those very human vices so often regarded as the devil’s work by upper-middle-class liberals.

All criticism of Israel is antisemitic because antisemitism is form of power and a means to power. And as Foucault (a notable admirer of Israel) might have put it: Power is everywhere, therefore antisemitism is everywhere. It is inescapable. And it is so because of a specific set of historical circumstances that Israel’s opponents have themselves created.

To hold that this is not the case requires acting — and demanding others act — as if these circumstances do not exist, even as they sit as patiently as a pachyderm in the parlor waiting for us to notice them and, sometimes, when our self-willed ignorance grows too infuriating, murder our children and set off bombs in our streets.

Nonetheless, these circumstances are not complex, nor are they numerous. They are simply these:

  • A large portion of the world, West and East, has come to believe that Arabs and Muslims have earned the right to murder Jews.
  • Derived from this right, they have also come to believe that the destruction, dismantling, and erasure of the State of Israel, and the slaughter, expulsion, and/or perpetual subjugation of its Jewish population is entirely legitimate and indeed desirable.
  • Derived from the preceding rights is the belief that the Jewish people in general, in Israel or the Diaspora, either do not exist as a people deserving the same rights as other peoples, or are an evil and debased people who must be slaughtered, expelled, and/or perpetually subjugated in order to prevent them from committing further debased evils.

More after the page break.

Under such circumstances as we just discussed, it is clear that:

  • The existence, rights, and dignity of Israel and the Jews are considered to be intertwined to the point that no differentiation between them is possible.
  • The existence, rights, and dignity of Israel and the Jews are considered uniquely contingent upon their conduct and whether or not that conduct meets with the approval of the non-Jewish world.
  • Because of the beliefs outlined in the previous section, Israeli and Jewish conduct will never meet with the aforementioned approval.

Israel and the Jews are, in essence, held indistinguishable by a court whose proceedings are perpetual and whose verdict is known beforehand.

Under such circumstances, there is no criticism, no evidence for the prosecution, which does not aid in the process of an unjust trial before a monstrous court: Which is not, put simply, antisemitic.

Yes, all criticism of Israel is antisemitic. Yes, it is so because of specific historical circumstances. Yes, it is inescapable. Yes, it holds true however well-intentioned such criticism may be. Yes, it holds as true for Jewish as for non-Jewish critics of Israel.

Because it is inescapable, however, there is an ironic solution to it, or at least a possible solution, should critics of Israel be willing to entertain it. It is, as I have already said, a modest imperative: Work toward less antisemitism. This imperative does not demand silence, but it does require a measure of self-reflection that is (and I in no way exempt myself) a task of the most supreme difficulty for us all.

Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor who lives in Tel Aviv.
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