Apologists for Israel’s mass murder in Gaza fall back on ‘antisemitism’ claims

The gist of the trick is to equate Israel with the Jewish religion—and then to equate opposition to Israel with antisemitism.

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Image Credit; Paul Hennesy/Anadolu/Getty

If we condemn Hamas for its October 7 attacks in Israel, we’re not accused of anti-Arab bigotry. Nor should we be. Nothing could possibly justify the atrocities that Hamas committed against hundreds of civilians, who were the majority of the 1,200 people killed as a result of the attacks by Hamas forces. And nothing can justify the taking of civilian hostages.

But if we condemn Israel for its actions since then, we might be accused of antisemitism. Meanwhile, nothing could possibly justify the atrocities by Israel in Gaza, where the death toll is now estimated at 32,000, while uncounted thousands of other Palestinian people are buried under rubble. Seventy percent of the victims have been children and women.

The U.S. government continues to make the atrocities possible. As retired Israeli Major General Yitzhak Brick said midway through the second month of the war: “All of our missiles, the ammunition, the precision-guided bombs, all the airplanes and bombs, it’s all from the U.S.” He added: “Everyone understands that we can’t fight this war without the United States. Period.”

Because of federal laws and minimal decency, the U.S. should have cut off all military aid to Israel long ago. A single standard of human rights should apply. But adhering to that simple, basic precept can provoke the virulent epithet of “antisemitism.”

The gist of the trick is to equate Israel with the Jewish religion—and then to equate opposition to Israel with antisemitism.

And so, writing in the New York Daily News last November, an official at the American Jewish Committee declared that a “virus of antisemitism has spread to the U.S., where college campuses and city streets have been taken over by anti-Israel protesters raging, ‘From the river to the sea!’—a call for the mass murder of Israelis, and ‘Globalize the Intifada!’—an appeal to kill Jews worldwide.”

As Peter Beinart pointed out in a 2022 essay, “Under the definition of antisemitism promoted by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the State Department, Palestinians become antisemites if they call for replacing a state that favors Jews with one that does not discriminate based on ethnicity or religion.”

While Israel continues to slaughter children, women and men—no more guilty of anything than a crowd you might see at a local supermarket—the extreme misuse of the “antisemitism” charge often boils down to: Be quiet. Don’t protest. Don’t even speak up.

Of course antisemitism does exist in the United States and the rest of the world, and it should be condemned. At the same time, to cry wolf—to misuse the term to try to intimidate people into silence while Israel’s atrocities continue in Gaza—is an abuse of the word antisemitism and a disservice to everyone who wants a single standard of human rights.

Last week, 17 rabbis and rabbinical students went to Capitol Hill urging a ceasefire and an end to the unconditional U.S. military aid to Israel. Rabbi May Ye said: “We are rabbis representing hundreds of thousands of Jews affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace Action imploring our leaders to end their complicity in the Israeli military’s genocidal campaign in the name of tzedek (justice) and real safety for all people.”

Are we supposed to believe that those rabbis are antisemitic?

The Jewish American author Anna Baltzer grew up learning about the evils of antisemitism. “Much of my family was killed in the Holocaust,” she wrote. “My grandparents arrived at Ellis Island traumatized by the unfathomable murder of their families in the gas chambers of Auschwitz while the world let it happen.” And she added: “We must get clear that Israel’s wiping out of entire families in Gaza is not simply revenge for October 7; Israel is continuing its long-existing practice of forcing Palestinians out of Palestine and closing the door behind them.”

Do Baltzer’s words make her antisemitic?

In mid-October, 43 Jewish American writers, academics and artists—including Michael Chabon, Francisco Goldman, Masha Gessen, Judith Butler, Tony Kushner, and V (formerly known as Eve Ensler)—released an open letter to President Biden saying: “We condemn attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians. We believe it is possible and in fact necessary to condemn Hamas’ actions and acknowledge the historical and ongoing oppression of the Palestinians. We believe it is possible and necessary to condemn Hamas’ attack and take a stand against the collective punishment of Gazans that is unfolding and accelerating as we write.”

Along with denouncing Israel’s “war crimes and indefensible actions,” the statement added: “We write to publicly declare our opposition to what the Israeli government is doing with American assistance.”

Do those words mean that the signers of the statement are antisemitic?

Or how about the more than 100 Jewish Americans who signed the statement released this week denouncing AIPAC, the Israel-is-never-wrong lobby?

Ten years ago, 40 Holocaust survivors issued a statement condemning Israel for its “wholesale effort to destroy Gaza.” The statement, also signed by 287 people who were descendants of Holocaust survivors or victims, called for “an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people” and decried “the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever pitch.”

Were the 327 Jewish signers of the statement antisemitic?

For that matter, when I write here that the Israeli government has been committing mass murder and genocide in Gaza, does that mean I’m antisemitic?

There’s a word for seeing—and saying—that Israel is engaged in large-scale crimes against humanity. And that word isn’t “antisemitism.” It’s realism.

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