Don't Fall for the Israel Apologists' Bad-Faith Accusations of Antisemitism

There’s no bigotry in defending Palestinian rights. Any claims to the contrary are part of a cynical ploy to deflect from the crimes of an apartheid state.

Jesse Mechanic

Supporters of Israel and Palestine confront one another in Times Square on May 20. Pacific Press / Getty Images

In the wake of the latest ceasefire, Zionists, hawks and supporters of Israel (as well as several liberal celebrities) have made a concerted effort to shift any discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict away from Palestinian liberation and back onto the oppression of Jews. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s World Values Network (whose stated mission is making the Jewish people a light unto the nations”) took out a full-page ad in the New York Times on May 22 in an attempt to tie the celebrity activism of Bella Hadid, Gigi Hadid and Dua Lipa to Hamas. Music journalist and Zionist Twitter personality Eve Barlow wrote a piece for Tablet Magazine that likened her being called Eve Fartlow” on social media to a pogrom. (Really). And in recent weeks, Israel’s backers have flooded Instagram with posts of blue squares just as the Black Lives Matter movement posted black squares on #BlackoutTuesdays during the demonstrations of 2020.

I am Jewish. I have experienced antisemitism many times, in many forms, and I am in no way refuting its existence, its severity or the immense amount of oppression that Jews have faced throughout history. While some of the data is in dispute, it is clear that antisemitic attacks are on the rise worldwide. Yet I cannot help but notice that some supporters of Israel are exploiting these attacks in bad faith to cover for the Israeli state’s military occupation and aggression — an aggression that has resulted in the deaths of at least 67 Palestinian children in May alone. 

Israel is deep into a decades-long campaign to stitch itself entirely to Judaism and become a fundamentally Jewish state. In 2018, Israel even passed a controversial nation-state law,” officially declaring that the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” The law also made Hebrew the country’s official language and downgraded Arabic to special status.” But long before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu codified Israel’s ethnonationalist project, Israel’s supporters, lawmakers and lobbyists were intentionally conflating criticism of the Israeli government with criticism of Judaism and the Jewish people. 

This campaign has been as successful as it has been damaging. For proof, one need look no further than Emily Wilder, who was fired from her job as a junior staffer at the Associated Press last month after the Stanford College Republicans publicized her prior activism on behalf of Palestine. (The Associated Press maintains that Wilder violated the company’s social media policy; Wilder has challenged that claim.)

After continually claiming that Jews are the state of Israel, and after that state imposes a brutal blockade and military occupation (with all of its attendant human rights abuses), there’s inevitably going to be an increase in hatred towards Jews. And far from combatting the forces of antisemitism, Israel’s aggression has only served to fuel them — by design.

Israel believes it can exploit the very real oppression of Jews as justification for the continued occupation of Palestine, and that by painting Palestinian liberation as antisemitic, it can weaken the movement and scare people away from supporting it. It’s a profoundly cynical effort to weaponize antisemitism, and to escape any form of criticism or accountability.

For decades now, the Israeli government has been running an apartheid state. Both Human Rights Watch as well as B’Tselem, one of the leading civil rights organizations in Israel, have defined it as such based on its decades-long, illegal military occupation of Palestine. Palestinians do not have the same rights and freedoms as Israelis in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Israel’s blockade of Gaza has reduced the strip to an open-air prison with poisoned water, limited electricity, a crumbling healthcare system, in some instances, and piles upon piles of rubble.

In the West Bank, there are 593 checkpoints and barriers that restrict movement. The Israeli military not only controls the ability of Palestinians to travel about freely, but also their access to water, their freedom of speech and assembly, and virtually every other aspect of their lives. 

Israel built its first settlements in Palestinian territory following the Six-Day War of 1967, and the United Nations has declared the settlements to be in flagrant violation of international law many times in the decades since. Despite this, Israel continues to expand its occupation, most recently into the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. There are now at least 250 Israeli settlements with more than 600,000 people living on land legally designated as Palestinian. But this expansion has only been made possible by the United States’ willingness to veto key U.N. resolutions, provide glowing statements of support and shower Israel with billions of dollars in aid each year. 

On May 30, less than two weeks after Israel and Palestine agreed to a ceasefire, The Guardian reported that Israeli opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett had reached a power-sharing pact that would end Netanyahu’s 12-year rule. In a vacuum, this might appear to be a welcome development, as Netanyahu has repeatedly resorted to militarism to preserve his grip on power. But Bennett leads the ultranationalist Yamina Party. He is also the former head of the settler movement, Yesha, aims to annex the West Bank and has openly bragged about killing Palestinians. 

That a far-right ideologue could so easily become Israel’s next prime minister underscores that the country’s contempt for human rights is systemic.

Fighting to dismantle this system of oppression is not in any way antisemitic, nor is criticizing the actions of the Israeli state. We cannot let these spurious accusations dissuade us from urging the United States to rethink its role in sustaining an apartheid government. 

Both the Israeli occupation and antisemitism are wrong and evil, but we will never find justice by willfully ignoring human suffering. For far too long, Israel and its apologists have used the oppression of the Jewish people as a tool to persecute Palestinians. If we are to end the occupation once and for all, we must first consign this discourse to the dustbin of history.

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Jesse Mechanic is a freelance writer and commentator. He runs the Logical Radical newsletter, and has contributed to Mother Jones, In These Times, HuffPost, Truthout and others. Follow him on Twitter: @jmechanic and Instagram: @jessemechanic

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