Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Is this anti-Semitism?

Tony Judt's says:
Those of us who take seriously the problem of anti-Semitism--but who utterly reject the suggestion that we ourselves are in danger of sympathizing with anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism--must begin by constructing and defending a firewall between the two. Israel does not speak for Jews; but Israel's claim to speak for Jews everywhere is the chief reason that anti-Israel sentiments are transposed into Judeophobia. Jews and others must learn to shed inhibitions and criticize Israel's policies and actions just as they would those of any other established state.
Steven Menashi responds:
But in its ethnic-national identity, Israel is like other nation-states. Jacques Chirac, for example, speaks routinely "on behalf of the French people."
But does anyone think that attacks on ethnic Chinese or Mexicans living in America or Europe would be a sensible response to political controversies in their home countries? Of course not.
I think they are both missing the point. All attacks on innocent civillians are "wrong", nobody is arguing they are a "sensible response". But human nature is such that in a given population there will be some extremists who respond to disagreements with hate and attack. Americans presently look differently at a bearded muslim next to them on the bus. A French waiter may be extra rude to an American tourist post Iraq. And some misguided people in Europe and elsewhere will express their discontent with Israeli killings of Palestinian children by saying and perhaps committing hateful acts against Jews (although the fact that many such hate crimes in Europe are committed by Muslim immigrants is often conveniently omitted by American media).

There are only two ways out of this mess: 1) Encourage Israel to pursue "wiser" policies that involve less killing of Palestinians, 2) continue to challenge and engage (as Tony does) Jews at home and abroad who are still (understandably) afraid that WW2 anti-Semitism is still alive and well in Europe. Responding to Jewish complaints of anti-Semitism with deference and sympathetic agreement doesn't do anybody any favors -- least of all the Jews themselves. Honest disagreement and discussion is a far better mark of respect.

Just to illustrate my point, look at this cartoon from Sweden:

Man with the dog: "I don't think one should build walls between people."
The Jew: "Damn anti-Semite!!"

So here's my point: If you think this cartoon is anti-Semitic (Andrew Sullivan did) then I would argue that you are letting past wrongs (Holocaust) cloud your vision of current events. Conversely, the Swedes don't, evidenced by the fact that this cartoon appeared in a mainstream Swedish newspaper. I say that as a Scandinavian living in America who is pretty well attuned to Swedish attitudes towards Jews.

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