Crossing the Line Between Legitimate Criticism and Anti-Semitism

By Duane Shank 1-08-2009

It is appropriate and necessary to criticize Israel's excessive military attacks in Gaza. We have and will continue to do that, much as we criticize our own government for its excesses in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military means are not the solution to political problems.

It is not appropriate, and is in fact unacceptable and deplorable, to condemn Israel 's existence or that of the Jewish people. But, as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes, those manifestations of anti-Semitism are seen in the chants and placards at some demonstrations:

Demonstrators chanted "Nuke, nuke Israel!" and carried placards accusing Israel of "ethnic cleansing" and bearing such messages as: "Did Israel take notes during the Holocaust? Happy Hanukkah." To the dozen or so supporters of Israel gathered across the street, one demonstrator shouted: "Murderers! Go back to the ovens! You need a big oven."

He went on to say that

The Arab-Israeli conflict induces strong passions, and the line that separates legitimate disapproval of Israel from anti-Semitism may not always be obvious. But it's safe to assume the line has been crossed when you hear someone urging Jews "back to the ovens."

Indeed. Not only has "the line been crossed," but such behavior is outrageous. In a society that correctly condemns racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression, anti-Semitism must also be condemned wherever and whenever it arises.

Jacoby concluded by noting a column written some years ago by Rep. John Lewis:

Once again, the words of King ran through my memory, "I solemnly pledge to do my utmost to uphold the fair name of the Jews -- because bigotry in any form is an affront to us all."

During an appearance at Harvard University shortly before his death, a student stood up and asked King to address himself to the issue of Zionism. The question was clearly hostile. King responded, "When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism."

Dr. King was right then, and the sentiment he expressed is right today.

Duane Shank is senior policy advisor for Sojourners.

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