The horrific attacks on Mosque worshippers in New Zealand are more evidence–as if we needed more–of the global eruption of tribalism and bigotry.
That bigotry has been encouraged, and defended, by Donald Trump and his supporters, who traffic in stereotypes and like to shrug off criticisms of slurs based on race, religion and sexual orientation as “political correctness.” They deliberately ignore the very consequential difference between legitimate criticisms of behavior and illegitimate accusations based upon identity that fuel intergroup enmity.
It’s a crucial distinction, and one with which even well-meaning Americans struggle, as we’ve recently seen in the debate triggered by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
I hadn’t posted about the explosive reactions to Congresswoman Omar’s comments, for a couple of reasons: first, there have been plenty of columns, blog posts and Facebook rants without my adding my two cents; and second, because I know very little about the Congresswoman and thus lack a context within which to evaluate whether her use of a couple of old anti-Semitic tropes was inadvertent or purposeful.
That said, I tend to give her the benefit of the doubt. I have a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t have been subject to such blowback had she not been Muslim. (It took years of overt hate speech before Steve King’s vitriol bothered his fellow Republicans. Islamophobia isn’t any prettier than anti-Semitism.)
Inadvertent or not, the reaction to her remarks makes it important to emphasize that criticism of Israel is not in and of itself anti-Semitic. Plenty of American Jews are highly critical of Israeli policies and Netanyahu. I am one of them. Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, is another.
As Marshall recently noted,
the Israeli right and its supporters in the US (who are overwhelmingly evangelical Christians) have reaped the whirlwind by making the Netanyahu government’s meddling in US politics so frequent and expected. It is not only wrong on the merits. It is insanely shortsighted for Israel. It also endangers American Jews.
As he concluded,
There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel. I agree with many of the main criticisms. There’s nothing about criticizing Israel that is anti-Semitic, though the two things can overlap. And the history of anti-Semitism being what it is, it behooves critics to stay their criticism in ways that doesn’t easily play into anti-Semitic stereotypes. But the Israeli right and its American allies have made all of this more difficult for American Jews, who are overwhelmingly identified with the party the current Israeli government considers itself opposed to.
When critics suggest that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, when they are conspicuously silent when far less democratic countries in the region like Saudi Arabia oppress women or kill journalists, or when they signal that their animus toward Israel extends to American Jews–yes, that’s anti-Semitic, and they should be called out on it.
For that matter, no one should be surprised that people who have a five-thousand-year history of hatred and discrimination would be a bit… sensitive… when old tropes play. But criticism of Israeli actions and/or policies is fair game, and it shouldn’t be deflected by unfair charges of anti-Semitism.
On the other hand, sweeping characterizations of Jews–or Muslims, or African-Americans or any other group–is bigotry. Condoning it–let alone tacitly encouraging it, as Trump clearly does– leads to tragedies like the massacre in New Zealand.