A Non-Zionist Reflects on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A Non-Zionist Reflects on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In his essay “ ‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism” (first released by the American Jewish Committee in 2006 and reported to a wide readership in the New York Times in 2007), Alvin H. Rosenfeld takes to task liberal Jewish intellectuals whose anti-Zionist hostility to the very existence of the State of Israel amounts, in his view, to a new kind of anti-Semitism. He has no quarrel with criticism of Israel’s policies and actions. Anti-Semitism enters the picture with “the singling out of the Jewish state, and the Jewish state alone, as a political entity unworthy of a secure and sovereign existence.” And he provides numerous examples of vehement hostility to the State of Israel, for example, by Jacqueline Rose of the University of London: “Her lexicon of descriptive terms for Zionism and its errant ways is overwhelmingly negative: ‘agony,’ ‘anguished,’ ‘belligerent,’ ‘bloody,’ ‘brutal,’ ‘cataclysmic,’ ‘corrupt,’ ‘cruel,’ ‘dangerous,’ deadly,’ etc. etc.” Rosenfeld does not provide context, so we cannot judge from his account precisely what Rose is saying about Zionism when she uses these words. It is clear, however, not only from Rosenfeld’s report, but also from an independent reading of her words, that Rose finds Israel and its Zionist rationale anathema to her view of a just society. Does this constitute anti-Semitism? Descending, as she does, from a Holocaust survivor, Rose sees herself “reviv[ing] the story of internal Jewish dissent.” Rosenfeld doesn’t directly charge her with anti-Semitism, but he implies it because she would seem to fit the definition he has provided.

She is not alone in “questioning” (her word, though the more accurate word would be “denying”) the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Rosenfeld provides chapter and verse of other, even more vehement, challengers to Israel’s right to exist. Michael Newman, a professor of philosophy at Trent University in the United Kingdom, of German Jewish extraction, accuses not only Israelis for their crimes against the Palestinians but Jews in general, “most of whom support a state that supports war crimes.” And he takes on the charge of anti-Semitism: “if saying these things is anti-Semitic, then it can be reasonable to be anti-Semitic.” He is untroubled by anti-Semitic violence: “Who cares? To regard any shedding of Jewish blood as a world-shattering calamity . . . is racism, pure and simple, the valuing of one’s race over all others.” He refuses to take anti-Semitism seriously, urging his readers to have fun with it. Newman is simply a fool. Particularly offensive in the critiques written by radical opponents of Israel is the identification between Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians and Nazi behavior toward the Jews. Rosenfeld has performed a service in documenting egregious instances of anti-Israeli hostility. He has not deserved the vitriol that greeted t...


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