Why criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic - English

The vocabulary of a conflict

By Juliane Mendelsohn27.08.2014Global Policy

Is it too harsh to call Israel an apartheid state? If we are willing to describe Hamas as a backward terrorist organization, then we should probably apply harsher rhetoric to the actions of Israel as well.


Adam Berry/Getty Images

I don’t know if you are experiencing them too? These little episodes. They come ever more frequently and with ever-greater intensity. These moments of outrage, disbelief, sadness and utter disgust regarding the actions of the State of Israel.

I repeat, the State of Israel. Not of the people of Israel, be they orthodox or atheist, and certainly not of Jews across the world. But the State of Israel as a distinct entity with its very own moral agency. I can’t say which of the emotions named above is most frequent or which of them has led to a steady formulation of a genuine critique in the media across the globe and a creeping abstention from the idea that this beautiful state, once created to safeguard the Jewish people from genocide and displacement, is always in possession of the moral high ground.

Which language is acceptable?

The distinction between the State of Israel and the Jewish people is one that is easily made – but just as easily neglected. Just outside my little bubble, on the streets of every major European city, this _“genuine critique”_ has long given way to parades of outright hatred and anti-Semitism. An ideology we thought we had banished for all of eternity. Suddenly it doesn’t feel entirely safe to be carrying a tiny golden Star of David around one’s neck or even a Jewish name anymore. This is, in and of itself, a tragedy. A tragedy for humanity and for the European legacy, but most of all, a tragedy for and a grotesque threat to the Jewish people.

Luckily, the EU – the political entity specialized in making the world feel tolerable – has risen to the occasion and “proposed outright condemnation of such rhetoric and the enactment of some hard core hate-speech legislation()”:http://www.euractiv.com/sections/social-europe-jobs/antisemitism-strikes-heart-european-union-307934. On its face, hate speech legislation is barely practically or morally defensible, but due to my disproportionate regard for “this dignity thing” (a.k.a. human dignity) I have always been “a great supporter of the idea in general()”:http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com/dessislava-kirova/8360-why-mein-kampf-must-be-banned. In this case, however, passing hate speech legislation as a response to occupation, slaughter, and its backlash is little more than a symbol of the rampant denial of the causes of such rhetoric as well as the current and historical responsibility of the EU, and the West in general, to act as a mediator in the Middle East conflict.

It does, however, raise the valid question as to what kind of language it is acceptable to use in order to discredit Israel (and the West) in public. Here it is important to notice that the condemnation of Hamas as a terrorist organization has meant that it is by and large seen as an actor without political legitimacy and one that cannot be negotiated with.

Bold words and harsh accusations

This may be a biased point of view, stemming from a citizen of a country whose political elite has actually grown out a former terrorist organization (albeit not one that had genocide enshrined in its constitution), but in South Africa we have a term for the actions of the state of Israel: we call it apartheid. Israel is an apartheid state insofar as it is both blind and self-righteous in the presence of the Palestinian strife and the desert of death and destruction it has caused in order to defend its legacy.

In other parts of the world, different words may come to mind, words such as colonialism and imperialism. These are bold words and harsh accusations. But colonialism best describes the rationale behind the actions of a state that has no intentions of lifting its blockade or ending its ever-expanding settlement policy on land that it cannot naturally call its own. Its imperialism is not born out of itself, but rather out of the legacies and support of the West. While there are undeniably good reasons for the creation and sustainment of the State of Israel, it is also a subsidiary of Western imperialism and of the idea that the world can – without consequence – be divided up and re-shuffled, in the manner that best suits our understanding of it and our visions for it.

If we are willing to describe Hamas as a backward terrorist organization, then we should apply a harsher rhetoric to the actions of Israel as well – a rhetoric that illuminates the Zionist-colonialist tendencies of Israel and the imperialism we still have written on our flags. It was not only the zeitgeist and dreams of reconciliation that brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa, but also pressure from an international community finally willing to engage with people it had previously ignored and disregarded as terrorists. If Egypt can negotiate a ceasefire, then is it really true that there is nothing more meaningful the EU could do?

If Europe wants to stand on the right side of history or on no side of history, it must attempt to enforce some kind of power balance in the Middle East: first with words and then with actions.



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