T. A. Ridout has recently written a piece for the Huffington Post called ‘Emotion, Reason and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’. His main contention is that people who criticise Israel are accused of being either antisemitic or self-hating:
Kerry’s efforts will undoubtedly unleash a vitriolic debate in the United States and abroad. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for some who are vehemently pro-Israel to brand as anti-Semites anyone who may question the policies of the Israeli state. Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, and President Jimmy Carter are a few notable recent victims of such attacks.
As the Huffington Post Monitor observes, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer certainly don’t attract accusations of antisemitism for simply ‘question[ing] the policies of the Israeli state’. I’d also note that you don’t have to be ‘vehemently pro-Israel’ to find their views troubling. Mearsheimer, for example, has endorsed the work of Gilad Atzmon, someone who has been accused of antisemitism by Ali Abunimah, hardly a zealous Zionist.
Ridout goes on to assert that that:
Many also label Jewish people who criticize Israeli policies as “self-hating Jews”.
This seems an exaggerated and potentially quite misleading claim. Yes, I’m sure sometimes the term is flung around inappropriately (and it could reasonably argued that it’s never a particularly helpful expression), but it is usually triggered by something rather more than simply criticising Netanyahu. He goes on:
Dr. Michael Austin argues that “One of the difficult things about anger is that it can cloud our judgment. Our reason can be overcome by anger, such that we think we’re motivated by justice when in fact something less noble is our true motive.”With these pitfalls in mind, it is important to distinguish between Israel and Jewish people. It is also important to distinguish between the policies of the Israeli state and the existence of the state itself. Careless talk can elicit the kind of anger and fear that lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. Likewise, those who would accuse others of anti-Semitism must be careful, lest they engage in slander and libel.
There’s an odd disjuncture in the logic here I think. Austin’s quote could be taken to imply, in this context, that some critics of Israel are motivated by antisemitism. That seems borne out by Ridout’s next sentence, on the importance of distinguishing between Israel and the Jewish people. But then we get that rather weak phrase ‘careless talk’, which may in turn cause ‘anger and fear’, eventually leading to accusations of antisemitism. The implication here, I think, is that those identifying antisemitism are irrational, driven by emotion to make (dubious?) ‘accusations’. That anger which can cloud our judgement, referred to by Austin, seems to be a problem which anti-racists, rather than racists, need to deal with. The final sentence is odd because the word ‘likewise’ implies we are going to get some turn to a new topic or line of argument. Yet it’s really just a continuation of the original scenario, except with an added reinforcement of the point that accusations of antisemitism may be false, even dishonest.
Ridout’s injunction that we must indeed condemn genuine instances of antisemitism is immediately followed by a return to the problems with Israel:
Jews have endured persecution for centuries. The Holocaust was a heinous crime against humanity. We must always keep these things in mind and acknowledge Jewish suffering. We must also be vigilant against genuine anti-Semitism and efforts to persecute Jews. But Jewish people are not the only ones who suffer persecution, and the Israeli government — like any government — is capable of perpetrating injustices.
By seeming to gloss or explain anti-Semitism as ‘efforts to persecute Jews’ Ridout makes me think his threshold for ‘genuine antisemitism’ may be a little high.
It’s interesting to contrast this piece with his recent post on Islamophobia in the wake of the Boston attacks. It’s an eloquent and engaging article. I agree with his argument that anxieties about extremists should not be used to stop us tackling Islamophobia, or employed as some kind of counterweight to soften or even undermine our concerns about bigotry. But I wish he could have demonstrated the same clarity about racism and prejudice in his post on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.