Do Jews muzzle critics with false charges of antisemitism? A reply to the Irish Times

Free-Palestine-Anti-Semitic-Carlos-LatuffIn the past several months the Irish Times published three op-eds by a socialist named Eamonn McCann – diatribes which included a pejorative use of the term “chosen people” to suggest that Israeli attacks against non-Jews are arguably inspired by a belief in their own superiority, a prediction of the Jewish State’s ultimate demise and the claim that racism lies at the core of Israel’s official ideology.

Yet, evidently, the progressive voices who gather in Dublin don’t feel they are completely free to tell us what they really think.

An official (unsigned) Irish Times editorial (The right to be wrong, Feb. 6) about the injurious effects of activists who attempt to suppress free speech begins with the following passage:

When an Israeli minister over the weekend accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of serving as a mouthpiece for anti-Semitic views he was only doing what countless other defenders of Israel have done in associating even mild criticism of the state’s policies with anti-Semitism. It is a bullying rhetorical device, often deeply unfair, that in practice successfully muzzles many critics, and not least, by playing on national guilt, German critics. And it is particularly effective in the US where the Israel lobby finds such a strong echo.

First, the row they’re addressing began when US Secretary of State John Kerry said the following last week in Munich, commenting on the likely harm to Israel if a two-state agreement isn’t reached:

“You see, for Israel there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There is talk of boycotts and other kinds of things…Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”

As we noted in a recent post, the Israeli minister in question, Naftali Bennett, didn’t accuse Kerry of being antisemitic, only that such boycott efforts are antisemitic.  Indeed, the belief that boycott campaigns which single out Israel – and only Israel – are indeed antisemitic, per a recent survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, is shared by 72% of European Jews.

So, unpacking the Irish Times argument:

What first stands out in the editorial is their evidently sincere belief that, due to smears by pro-Israel Jews, Israel’s opponents are “muzzled” and the state is spared its fair share of criticism, representing a simply astonishing inversion in light of the disproportionate (often obsessive) negative focus on the state by the mainstream media, NGOs and international bodies such as the UN.

Moreover, by giving voice to what’s known as the Livingstone Formulation (named after the former London mayor), in suggesting that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism “in response to even mild criticism of the state’s policies” in order to “muzzle” debate, they’re in effect engaging in an ad hominem attack on Jewish communities.  That is, they’re not just simply rationally refuting accusations of antisemitism, but imputing bad faith and dishonesty to those who do – an increasingly popular meme on the anti-Zionist left.

However, while reasonable people can of course disagree on what constitutes anti-Jewish racism, the overwhelming majority of Jews who talk seriously about antisemitism are merely asking those who fancy themselves anti-racists to avoid tropes, narratives, graphic depictions and policies based on – or which evoke – anti-Jewish prejudices, and which have historically been employed by reactionary movements which initiated assaults on Jews and Jewish communities.

Boycotts which single out the Jewish state evoke, for most Jews, racist boycotts targeting Jews and Jewish businesses of previous eras, and so necessarily poison the political environment that Jews inhabit.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the proposition that anti-Israel boycotts are motivated by antisemitism (or have an antisemitic effect), Jews who passionately believe so should (at the very least) not have their motives and sincerity questioned, or their integrity maligned.

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