Talking about Israel
In British Columbia, this summer has been among the finest in living memory. Yet, for Jewish British Columbians and for all those watching events around the world right now, the summer has brought a very dark cloud.
It has not only been the terrible violence between Israel and Gaza, but violence elsewhere in the Middle East that is claiming exponentially more lives and causing horrific hardship and inhumanity.
The advance of the so-called Islamic caliphate from Iraq into parts of Syria opens the potential for additional Western military involvement in the region. The horrors that are taking place under the extremist ISIS dictatorship are almost beyond human imagination. In Syria, meanwhile, the death toll from the now two-year-old civil war has reached 190,000.
Despite all this, global attention remains focused on Israel. At the United Nations, Israel is singled out for condemnation, while Hamas is given a pass. Marches in the streets around the world declare Israel a pariah. Violence against Jews and attacks on Jewish institutions worldwide are legitimately striking fear that a generation or more of Diaspora Jews have never experienced.
There really is no silver lining. But, if there were, perhaps it would be that several fictions have been debunked.
Time was, even Zionists accepted the position that “anti-Zionism does not equal antisemitism.” This has been almost a required disclaimer at the beginning of any conversation on the subject for at least the last 15 years. This needs to be revised, however, to recognize that anti-Zionism at least sometimes equals antisemitism. As we have seen in recent weeks, there are those in the anti-Zionist movement who are motivated by anti-Jewish animus, and then there are those who refuse to condemn them. When it comes down to it, the moral difference between the two groups is minimal.
There is also the position that, by definition, anti-Zionism should legitimately be considered a form of antisemitism. After all, Zionism is simply the national representation of the Jewish people. If one is opposed to that, especially while supporting self-determination for every other national identity in the world, it must stem from some intellectual or emotional process that views Jews differently from other people.
There are certainly reasons why a conflict in a place that is holy to several religions should draw an outsized interest from people around the world. Yet, when the global reaction is so extraordinarily imbalanced, something is clearly beyond reason.
We know what motivates at least a significant part of the anti-Israel movement. More words have been spilled on this subject in the past two months than perhaps ever in human history, given the ability of everybody to broadcast their positions via social media. We have been able to see in greater detail the narrative subscribed to by many of Israel’s critics, from well-known commentators to elected officials to ordinary Facebook friends. Overwhelmingly, it is a simple one: Israel is just plain evil and, because its legitimacy and right to exist are explicitly or implicitly denied, its right to defend itself is likewise repudiated.
These are not words that generally come out of the mouths of anti-Israel activists, because they are not palatable to those who would otherwise consider themselves progressive, well-intentioned people. But push has come to shove and, all over the internet and in face-to-face conversations – yes, those still take place sometimes – we have been able to learn more about what a lot of “ordinary” people think about Israel. It has been painful. The conversations have been difficult. Many of us have lost friends.
But it is always better to know than to proceed in ignorance. We have a new understanding of what we are up against. We also have discovered many new friends, and new ways of engaging with those who don’t share our views.
Others in our community have no doubt had similar experiences. Many of us have felt challenged to present our positions with clear heads and hearts, and we invite all readers to contribute to the discussion by sharing their suggestions for continuing this dialogue constructively.