It’s fine to criticize Israel

August 23, 2019
(so long as you say it’s a vibrant democracy and leave out the oppression of Palestinians)

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson writes in Mondoweiss:

The Forward has run an opinion piece saying that the left must come to terms with its anti-Semitism, citing anti-Zionist cartoons by Carlos Latuff.  There are various leaps of logic here, but I want to jump to this part of Izabella Tabarovsky’s argument:

“One place to start is to learn the boundary of where the criticism of Israel ends and anti-Semitism begins. (Hint: Israel’s ban against Omar and Tlaib unleashed a storm of criticism from U.S. Jewish institutions and individuals. None of it was anti-Semitic.)”

Of course Tabarovsky ignores the fact that much of the criticism she approves of from Jewish institutions and individuals was actually complimentary towards Israel and was bigoted against Palestinians. The idea is that Israel is a “vibrant democracy”, maybe with a few warts, but its overwhelming virtues would be immediately apparent to any fair-minded observer.

At worst Tlaib and Omar might have criticized Israel, and Israel would brush this off because there are Israelis who criticize Israel too, so what’s the big deal? As long as there is some internal debate within Israel the criticisms actually show the healthy nature of Israeli democracy.

And so: The oppression of millions of Palestinians is a golden opportunity for Israelis to show off the vibrancy of their political culture by having lots of differing opinions about it.

It seems almost churlish to point out how much this reeks of narcissism. It’s as if slavery didn’t really matter— what mattered was that 19th century America was a vibrant democracy where Lincoln and Stephen Douglas and Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Calhoun could voice their opinions. Even Frederick Douglass was allowed to get a word in edgewise.

Someone who is consciously or unconsciously bigoted against Palestinians would miss the moral idiocy involved in this type of Israel apologetics. That probably accounts for most of that type of editorial.

Recently someone in the comments asked if there is any criticism of Israel that isn’t antisemitic and it occurred to me that there is. You are allowed to criticize the Israeli government for not having the self confidence to recognize how wonderful Israel is. That is what the New York Times and AIPAC and Tom Friedman criticized them for when Netanyahu kept the congresswomen out.

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