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Leftist Anti-Semitism

Racism and other forms of xenophobia have become more open in this country. Former president Trump made it acceptable for his followers to openly express, and even act upon prejudices against those considered as not really a part of the political community. Trump in particular has focused his attacks on Latinos (“rapists, killers”) and Asian Americans (“the Chinese virus”). This was one reason the the decent majority in this country voted him out of office.

But lately, we have also seen a significant rise in both rhetoric and physical attacks that are clearly antisemitic. Prejudice against Jews is probably the oldest of xenophobias in Western civilization, with roots going all the way back to Roman times. While never absent here, antisemitism was historically less prominent in the United States than in Europe. So it is remarkable that we see more Americans who feel free to hurl insults or physical assaults at Jews. These are rightly condemned by the vast majority of Americans of all political stripes.

It is not antisemitic to criticize Israeli policies that condemn a subject population to permanent exclusion from Israeli citizenship while also denying them self determination. 

Much of this is coming from some of Trump’s far-right supporters: people who are consciously Neo-Nazis, or at least tending to glorify Hitler. But some conservative observers (like New York Times columnist Brett Stephens) also worry about antisemitism on the left.

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The main data point for this concern is the widespread loathing that people on the left display for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and more broadly for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and in Israel itself. A century of conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, a century of Arab and Palestinian folly and of Israeli military prowess, has left Israel completely dominant in what was the League of Nations Palestine Mandate.

Though the Palestinians have been repeatedly beaten, they have never surrendered: while the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, Hamas, rulers of Gaza, have never admitted it. Beginning with the United Nations plan proposed in 1948, the Arabs and Palestinians have rejected any proposal that would leave Israel in place, only to suffer further setbacks with each successive war and proposed peace.

Israel has won successive battles but it has not been able to impose a solution. A viable and independent Palestinian state would pose a security risk, but absorbing the Palestinians into Israel would threaten its character as a Jewish state. So Israel has established a version of the old South African system of apartheid, permanently excluding Palestinians from Israeli citizenship while tolerating a weak and subservient Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and engaging in chronic military skirmishes and economic warfare with the hostile Hamas leadership in Gaza.

It is this manifest violation of the human rights of Palestinians that is commonly condemned by people on the left (including most liberal Jewish Americans). It is not antisemitic to criticize Israeli policies that condemn a subject population to permanent exclusion from Israeli citizenship while also denying them self determination. Indeed, the subject Palestinians are themselves a Semitic people.

impeachment unavoidable

Early Zionism presumed that Jews and Arabs would coexist in Palestine. That hope has thus far been unrealistic. But for the victorious Israeli occupation to devolve into permanent apartheid is a betrayal of Israel’s humanitarian soul.

John Peeler