Just who are you calling an antisemite in all this?


(re: “Why can’t we all just be nicer to each other?” July 20)

I swore I would not write about antisemitism in these pages again, but when my elected representative, Jeffrey Dinowitz — whom I voted for — essentially calls me “tantamount” to being an antisemite, I need to break my vow. 

Dinowitz essentially makes two claims: Strong criticism of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians verges on antisemitism, and this is a problem on the left as well as the right. 

Now boys and girls, repeat after me: criticizing/attacking Israel’s way of dealing with the Palestinians is not antisemitism. If a person attacks Israeli actions against Palestinians — however vehemently — that is not antisemitism unless there are other comments that indicate hostility toward Jews having nothing to do with Israel.  Antisemitism is essentially being anti-Jewish.

That includes code words like “globalists” and attacks on irrelevant individuals like George Soros and the Rothschilds. 

If I criticize, however angrily, Russia for its attack on Ukraine, that is not ethnic hostility, unless I also attack innocent people of Russian decent — like myself — who have nothing to do with it. Same goes for calling out China’s genocidal actions against the Uyghurs. What China is doing is despicable, but that has nothing to do with hating your average Chinese-American.

Antisemitism is hostility to Jewish people for just being Jewish. Unless you find evidence of hostility toward Jews per se, it is not antisemitism.

There are many Jews critical, at times enraged, over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. In a poll two years ago of Jewish voters by the Jewish Electorate Institute, 25 percent of American Jews — 38 percent of those under 40 — described Israel as an apartheid state, and 22 percent think Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.  Are we all antisemites? 

Amnesty International headlined a February 2022 article, “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: A Cruel System of Domination and a Crime against Humanity.” Human Rights Watch says essentially the same thing. Are such views “tantamount to attacks on Jews,” as Dinowitz claims? These organizations are equally critical of other regimes where the dominant ethnic group oppresses other ethnicities, but many defenders of Israeli actions don’t see those other reports, because its “not my problem.”

As for the left, there is an underlying reason why it is not antisemitic. The foundational value on the left is a basic humanism — the equal worth of all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, etc.  Reducing inequality and suffering, especially among those suffering the most.   

Thus, we are critical Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and discrimination within Israel proper. It follows from that that there is angry criticism of Israel on the left — including many Jews who feel that Israel has betrayed them, not the other way around. 

The right is essentially tribal today — concerns about free markets, etc. has been swallowed up by so-called cultural issues of “us” against “them.” With tribalism, reason, objectivity and compassion are replaced by fear and hatred — of Jews, Blacks, immigrants, gays, etc.  That includes many Christian evangelicals who love Israel — because they want all Jews to go there to then turn to Jesus to save them — but are hostile to Jews.

There is antisemitism in this country, but it is almost exclusively on the right. The murderers of Jews are almost exclusively right-wing white supremacists.

When was the last time a left-wing person killed a Jew for being Jewish? (Spoiler alert, it was about 50 years ago). 

Two final comment on Dinowitz’s piece:  I Googled the speech at the CUNY Law School and found it linked at a site from Reason Magazine, which calls itself libertarian, in favor of free speech and free markets. It was angry and somewhat over the top for a graduation, but the anger was directed at the Israeli occupation, nothing about Jews per se. 

Anger and militancy is not the same as bigotry. For example, while the Black Panthers, back in the day, were angry and militant — and, in hindsight, may have helped give us a Nixon presidency — it was not anti-white. On the other hand, Farrakhan and the Black Muslims are anti-white and antisemitic — and, ultimately, silly.

Secondly, I find it hard to label a country a democracy that allows one group in the West Bank, the Jewish settlers, to vote, while the Palestinian who have lived there much longer are unable to do so, keeping them under military rule. Was Apartheid South Africa a democracy because all the whites could vote? 

A poll of Israeli Jews back in 2012 found that 47 percent wanted Palestinians within Israel proper stripped of their citizenship rights. With what’s gone on in Israel since then — including demographic changes — I am sure that number is well over 50 percent by now. 

For humanistic, left-wing Jews, condemning such views is “tantamount” to standing up for our Jewish values — at least the ones I grew up with. And standing up for democracy. 

I have no crystal ball. But recent events seem to indicate that the future of Israel is more religious, autocratic nationalism, further ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and continuing hatred and oppression of Arabs, with secular Jews leaving for actual democracies. It should feel at home with its Middle Eastern neighbors in terms of ethnic hatred and lack of democracy. 

All these countries deserve criticism — by Jews and all other Americans.

Peter Wolf, Jeffrey Dinowitz, antisemite, Jews, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Palestine