How to Criticize Israel

by guest blogger Daniel M. Kimmel

People have been debating the tragic situation in Gaza for a few weeks now and I know some of my friends have gotten very upset when their arguments have been met with accusations of antisemitism. isra-MMAP-mdThey reply that criticism of Israel isn’t antisemitic, and they have a point. Often it isn’t. Israelis, after all, criticize their country all the time. However often it is, and that’s because the person is making an argument that – whether they intended it or not – marks them as someone with a specific problem with Jews or the Jewish State. Here’s a guide on how to avoid looking like a bigot.  

“I can’t be antisemitic. The Palestinians are Semites.” – Learn how to use Google. “Antisemitism” does not mean “being against Semites.” It was coined in 19th century Germany specifically to denote the hatred of Jews. The coinage is often attributed to Jew hater Wilhelm Marr, so he ought to know what he meant.

“Israel is a colonial power. A bunch of European Jews stole the land from the Palestinians.” – Learn some history. Jews have lived there for more than two thousand years, including under Muslim, Turkish, and British rule. At no time was there ever a country called “Palestine” whose people were the local Arabs. Indeed, prior to Yassir Arafat’s creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, no one referred to the local Arabs as anything but the local Arabs. As for the British mandate in Palestine, 77% of the land was given to the Arabs (much for the newly minted “Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan”), with the remainder for the State of Israel. The Jews happily accepted this sliver. The Arabs responded with the 1948 war.

“Israel must end its occupation of Gaza.” – They did so, unilaterally, in 2005 abandoning 21 settlements. IDF troops physically removed Israeli settlers who refused to leave.

“Israel hasn’t really ended the occupation, because they’ve got a blockade in place.” – It’s a very curious blockade. Food, medicine, and other humanitarian needs are not only allowed in, but shipments continued during the fight. For a while cement and other construction material were permitted, but they were used by Hamas not to build schools, repair homes, etc., but to construct rockets and establish between thirty and forty attack tunnels. If you knew someone was trying to break into your home to kill you, would you insist they must be provided the tools to do so?

“Those tunnels aren’t for terrorism. They’re escape hatches.” – If you’ve made this argument, you are an idiot and need to stop posting. Hamas boasts about their use for attacking Israel and engaging in terror and kidnapping.

“The rockets Hamas has fired aren’t a big deal. Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ defense system has provided a shield against them.” – So if my constant shooting at you causes you to don a kevlar vest then it’s okay for me to keep shooting? Hamas has fired more than a thousand rockets at Israel, aiming at civilian targets. Would you like to live under a constant threat where sirens go off and you have to run to a bomb shelter?

“Israel has been firing at Palestinian civilians.” – No, Israel has been firing at Hamas. Hamas has been using the Gazans as shields. Rockets have been found at three UNWRA schools. (The UN helpfully turned the rockets over to “local authorities” – which is to say, Hamas.) The Hamas command bunker is beneath a hospital, from which rockets have been fired. In addition, unlike almost any other nation at war, Israel has preceded attacks with warnings by cell phone, flyer, and “knocking” (non-explosive missiles).

“Israel’s warnings are a sham. They give people only fifteen minutes to evacuate.” – As opposed to Hamas, which gives no warning for their attacks at all… and urges Gazans to stay put, so as to maximize civilian casualties.

“The real problem is the Israeli settlements.” – If one were to argue that the settlement policy has been a tragic mistake, you’d get no argument from me. If one were to argue that the settler movement represents some of the most extreme elements in Israeli society, likewise. But the notion that if only Israel would stop the settlements everything would be fine fails on two counts. First, Israel agreed to a ten month freeze on settlements in 2009-2010. This was to create space for peace talks. The Palestinian Authority did nothing until the last month, and then demanded the freeze be extended. Second, some 20% of the population of Israel are Arabs (with full civil rights and participation in government) and the Palestinian position is that they want a “right of return” for some or all of their “refugees” who, voluntarily or not, left Israel in 1948. However a newly formed Palestinian nation is apparently to be Jew-free. Why is it that Arabs “must” be allowed to “return” to Israel, but Jews must entirely vacate a newly minted Palestine?

“The Israelis are engaging in ‘ethnic cleansing.’” – When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza they left being operating greenhouses and opened the way for outside investment there, providing the means for the Palestinians to take the first steps to establish a viable Palestinian state. The greenhouses were, instead, looted and destroyed and the investments and supplies were diverted to Hamas’s military program. Time and again Israel has taken steps for peace: returning the Sinai to Egypt (which pointedly DIDN’T want Gaza back), negotiating the Oslo Accords, and withdrawing from Gaza. They were repaid with the Intifada and rocket attacks. Providing humanitarian aid and attempting to help them establish their own economy are not things one associates with “ethnic cleansing.”

“Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto.” – Because the Nazis were known to let food and medicine into the Ghetto and set up a field hospital to take care of the sick and injured Jews? No, those who rely on Nazi analogies (of which this is the most polite) are crossing over into overt antisemitism. The Holocaust is still within living memory, and to accuse Jews of doing anything even remotely approaching Nazi genocide is not only wrong, it is demonstrates that the accuser knows nothing about either subject. It also strongly suggests that you are, indeed, an antisemite. (Or, if you are Jewish, someone who had a severely traumatic Hebrew school experience.)

So if you want to criticize Israel, go ahead. Avoid the bogus arguments above and try to be constructive. Israel should “make peace with Hamas?” Explain how you make peace with a group whose avowed purpose – in their charter, in their public statements, in their actions – is your destruction and the murder of all Jews. Israel’s response should be “proportionate?” How many Israelis have to die before you would let them defend themselves? Israel should “stop violating human rights?” Great, and what do you have to say about Syria, ISIS, North Korea, and other entities engaging in mass murder and oppression? Why are you silent about them but are all bent out of shape over a democratic regime defending itself from actual attacks? See, you can criticize Israel, but it involves two things you’re probably not willing to do: learn the actual facts and then actually think about what you’re saying. If you’re really concerned about the poor people of Gaza, call for the disarming of Hamas, and insist that Israel and the Palestinian Authority resume negotiations. Israel has taken the big step of acknowledging that a two state solution is the only viable answer. The PA can’t even bring itself to accept the Jewish State of Israel, only grudgingly saying Israel has a “right to exist” but unable to admit what Israel is (yet insisting that their own Palestinian aspirations must be fully recognized).

Someday, perhaps, a Sadat or a Mandela will arise among the Palestinians and boldly lead his or her people to a peaceful resolution. That’s something that people of good will on both sides ought to be desiring.

Daniel M. Kimmel is past president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and founding co-chair of the Boston Online Film Critics Association. He writes on Jewish film for the Jewish Advocate and on science fiction films for the SciFiMoviePage.com and Space and Time magazine and has appeared in Cinefantastique, Clarkesworld, the Internet Review of Science Fiction and Strange Horizons. He was nominated for a Hugo Award for Jar Jar Binks Must Die… and other observations about science fiction movies. His latest book is his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide. He has taught film and media courses at Suffolk University, Emerson College and Boston University.

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2 thoughts on “How to Criticize Israel

  1. If your protest rally devolves into people shouting “kill the Jews” or “burn the Jews” or your protest march decides to take a detour to loot Jewish businesses or attempt to set fire to a synagogue, you really shouldn’t be surprised when you are accused of being anti-semitic.

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