Thursday, May 02, 2002

Apparently, it's "don't call me a Jew-hater" week over at Slate. On Tuesday, James Fallows complained that while "[t]wenty years ago it would have seemed insultingly obvious to say that disagreement with Israeli military policy did not make you an America, a combination of conservative Christians and Likudnik Jews has started waving the anti-Semitism flag" against critics of Israel. On Wednesday, Robert Wright admitted that "most people who truly are anti-Israel probably are anti-Semitic", but pleaded that "many of Sharon's critics, such as [Israeli ultra-dove] Yossi Beilin, are quite pro-Israel. In fact, they oppose Sharon's policies precisely because they think the policies are bad for Israel." Both men obviously have a point, but their manner of complaint also seriously undermines their own arguments. In essence, they both protest too much, while explaining too little.

Certainly, mere criticism of Israeli policy implies neither anti-Semitism nor even an anti-Israel bias. But it's hardly surprising that the connection is being made more frequently these days, given the explosion of overtly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment around the world, and the growing solidarity among Jews and Israel's defenders in support of the Israeli government's recent actions. As a simple statistical matter, opposition to Israel has become (as Wright admits) more closely correlated with anti-Semitism than ever, and vigorous opposition to the current Israeli government's policy correspondingly closely associated with an anti-Israel stance.

Not that any of this demonstrates that either Wright or Fallows is anti-Israel, let alone anti-Semitic. But it sets up a mild statistical presumption that requires addressing, not mere dismissal. If I were to advocate, for example, that James Fallows and Robert Wright be pushed off a cliff, I might not hate them (perhaps I believe death to be a route to their greater spiritual elevation) or even wish them physical harm (perhaps I believe they both can fly). But because most people who want to push these two men off a cliff do in fact hate them, it is my responsibility to make some argument as to why the statistical presumption is wrong in this case.

And if I did so, I wouldn't need to gripe about people assuming I hate them; my argument would speak clearly for itself in refuting that assumption. Yossi Beilin, Robert Wright's favorite pro-Israel opponent of the current Israeli government, is no doubt occasionally accused by his less tactful opponents of being anti-Israel. But he doesn't spend much time explaining how it's possible to be both pro-Israel and anti-Sharon; he's too busy, as a pro-Israel dove, arguing with his fellow pro-Israel Israelis that his own political approach is better for his country than Sharon's. Likewise, there are a fair number of fervently anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox rabbis who accuse the largely secular Israeli state of blasphemy, but they never wring their hands over critics who call them "self-hating Jews". Like anti-Sharon Israeli doves, they let their arguments demonstrate that, however unpopular their opinions may be, their intentions towards the Jewish people are in fact wholly benign.

At the other extreme, there are people like Wilhelm Marr, the 19th-century German originator of the term "anti-Semitism". Now there was a fellow who really cared about distinguishing gradations of opposition to Jews. Marr believed that it was very important to separate his scientifically based disdain for Jews from mere religious bigotry; recognizing Jewish moral and intellectual inferiority, he insisted, was not tantamount to "Judenhass"--Jew-hatred. Jean-Marie Le Pen and other far-right figures with a record of anti-Semitic remarks are similarly finicky about distancing themselves from hatred of Jews; they may, say, decry the excessive power of Jewish commercial interests in America, they argue, but that doesn't make them anti-Semitic. Somehow, though, concrete indications of their non-hostility to Jews--indications that normal politicians eager for votes ought to be happy to display--just never seem to arise.

And that's the point--political positions that are explicitly not anti-Israel, and even anti-Israel positions that are explicitly not anti-Semitic, are their own best defense, and need no supplementary whining about false accusations to bolster them. Both Fallows and Wright conspicuously declined to express any such positions, though, confining themselves instead to snide protests that one can't oppose the Israeli government these days without being accused of anti-Israel bias or worse. Perhaps they both have genuinely nuanced beliefs that lead them to loathe the current Israeli government out of love for Israel and the Jews. But if they did, then why weren't they ready to come out and present them, instead of hiding behind what amounts to an "I didn't do it, nobody saw me, you can't prove anything" defense?

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