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On pro-Jewish anti-Zionism:

I posted a comment to Jonathan's post below that I thought I'd promote to an actual post (with some slight changes). It's about the recurring question whether there's anything anti-Semitic about singling out Israel for criticism when, for anything bad that Israel arguably does, a ton of other countries (China, Sudan, etc.) do it worse.

I claim that singling out Israel in this way not necessarily anti-Semitic. In fact, there are some extremely pro-Jewish (perhaps even too pro-Jewish) reasons for doing so. (Note that, in what follows, I'm making no claim about how many pro-Jewish types there are in the anti-Israel crowd relative to the anti-Semitic types. I'm only arguing that this position is coherent, by way of rebutting the claim that anti-Israel policies are necessarily anti-Semitic.)

First, let's take as given that someone opposes Israel for some reason — for instance because of its policies with respect to the Palestinians, or because of certain preferential policies for Jews (or for certain Jews), or because of its tactics in the war against Lebanon, or what have you. (I'm not interested, for the purposes of this post, in arguing the merits of that position.) And I'll stipulate that this reason applies in spades against many other countries (China, Sudan, whatever).

Note, though, that there are several ways of setting one's priorities. One way is to concentrate one's efforts on the worst cases; on that view, singling out a relatively mild offender would be wrong. But another way — perhaps more in line with economists' thinking — is to concentrate on the most fixable cases. For example, on this blog, we tend to criticize the American government more than other countries — though surely Sudan does worse things than the Libby commutation??? One reason might be that we have no special knowledge of Sudan; another reason might be that we have no special interest in Sudan; and another reason, which is the one I want to focus on, might be that we think we can make a greater difference in America.

On this view, it's actually correct to single out America or Israel for criticism rather than other countries. For instance, one might think that only Israelis are sane, basically rights-respecting, and receptive to basic Western values — so that one can appeal to Israelis' basic principles in arguing that they're acting wrongly. Or one could believe that only Israel — and not Sudan or China — has a healthy enough democratic culture that this sort of treatment will change its policies. In other words, far from being an anti-Semitic policy, the boycott could be an act of deep respect for Israel, essentially saying: "Only you guys aren't savages; we think you might actually listen."

Relatedly, one might hold Israel to a higher standard because they're basically "like us" and "should know better." Unlike the previous rationale, this one may well be dishonorable, because it treats non-Israelis (Sudanese and Chinese) as not being capable of understanding the right thing to do. But if it's dishonorable, again it's dishonorable by virtue of considering Israelis superior. So it's hardly anti-Semitism.

So there are anti-Semitic reasons one might support a boycott. But there are various pro-Semitic reasons, some honorable and some not, along the lines of "you guys aren't savages; we think you guys might listen; and you guys should know better."

UPDATE: Good times in the comments, in which, among other things, I defend looking at people's motives, and also argue that even comparisons of Israel to Nazis, while severely lacking in perspective, aren't necessarily anti-Semitic.

DavidBernstein (mail):
As I've pointed out before, there are some Jews who are intrinsically hostile to Israel because their Jewish identity is bound up in victimhood, and they think it's preferable to always be the victim (or the ally of the victim) then to ever be a perpetrator (which is inevitable once you have both an army and enemies). I certainly wouldn't call this anti-Semitic.
7.9.2007 10:30am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Right. Similarly, there are some honest Communists who identify Israel with western capitalist imperialist colonialism; under this view, the same behavior, when engaged in by Third World countries, isn't as reprehensible because it doesn't strengthen the forces of western capitalist imperialist colonialism. (See, e.g., the debate among Trotskyists about whether to support Italy or Ethiopia in 1935.) This, too, is not anti-Semitic.
7.9.2007 10:32am
MDJD2B (mail):
And what do we say about all the people who equate Israeli behavior with Nazism or apartheid? Or who publish cartoons in the mainstream European press showing evil Israelis killing Baby Jesus?

There is no question but that anti-Israeli sentiment need not be anti-Jewish. Indeed, there are highly observant Jews who believe that it is sacreligious to create a secular Jewish state.

The practical questions, however, are these: How much of the criticism of Israel is anti-Jewish? And (to place this discussion in context), what motivates the English boycotters?
7.9.2007 10:41am
Steven Lubet (mail):
Many in the West -- including too many American liberals and most European leftists -- definitely harbor a hostile obsession with Israel. I don't think it is helpful to analyze their various motives, and it is generally counterproductive to raise the issue of anti-Semitism (though it obviously plays a significant role).

Charging critics with anti-Semitism invariably shifts the discussion away from the merits and onto the motives of Israel's opponents. It is an argument that cannot be won, because the worst offenders are quick to trot out a parade of other justifications for their condemnation. It is much more effective, imo, to base arguments on facts and realities, rather than the imputed motives of one's adversaries: Are so, are not, are so, are not . . . .

Nonetheless, I have a question for Sasha: will you agree that those who compare Israelis to Nazis (as is common in Europe) can never claim "pro-Jewish" reasons?
7.9.2007 10:47am
paul lukasiak (mail):
As soon as people agree that criticism of Iran is symptomatic of Anti-Persian bias, I'll buy until the assumption that criticism of Israel is based on anti-semitism.
7.9.2007 10:49am
Justin (mail):
I completely agree with Sasha's post. I have little else to say on the matter.
7.9.2007 10:56am
johnmilk (mail):
While I think academic boycotts are just plain dumb, criticism of Israel by Americans has other practical advantages to criticism of China or Sudan. The Chinese and Sudanese armies are not funded directly by American taxpayers, unlike the IDF.

While the Chinese military probably benefits from US dollars more than the IDF, those dollars get to the People's Army via the less direct route of Americans buying cheap plastic crap. The IDF funding could be ended much more simply by Congress not appropriating the money. Getting Americans to stop shopping at Wal-Mart or anywhere else that sells goods made in China is much more difficult.
7.9.2007 11:01am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Steve Lubet: I don't think I would agree with that. I say this as someone who, around 2000, was fairly anti-Israel on libertarian grounds; and I'm not only Jewish but also, I believe, non-anti-Semitic.

One can easily think that the main sins of Israel are (1) founding a country on ethnic/racial/religious principles (and this is more reprehensible than other existing countries because at least they've existed for a long time, so let's let sleeping dogs lie as long as they're not actually oppressive -- but Israel was founded in the mid-20th century by Western intellectuals!); and (2) its treatment of a different nationality within its borders.

If one thinks that, then of course this combination of preferential policies toward one's own group and oppression of another group (when the groups are defined "nationalistically") are also the main sin of Nazism. Crying "Nazism" at every instance of racial or ethnic preference-and-oppression, like crying "socialism" at every instance of government intervention into the economy, may lack perspective (and sometimes in a major way), but it's not necessarily incorrect. I could say the same of the standard libertarian chants that taxation is theft and regulation is slavery: perhaps lacking perspective, but not necessarily incorrect.

So I wouldn't find this anti-Semitic. Indeed, it can even be pro-Jewish to say something like: "As a people who have suffered under the Nazis, we have an even greater obligation to avoid anything similar to Nazi policies; so we must never do anything ethnically preferential, because that would be too similar to Nazism."
7.9.2007 11:01am
ejo:
well, if persians were singled out as the only nation on earth that was worthy of criticism for human rights violations, you might be on to something. further and unlike Israel, the persians actually do have an oppressive evil government fomenting death across the globe which regularly calls for genocide, all to a chorus of ho hums. if you single out Israel of all the nations of the world for criticism, I don't have any doubt where you are coming from on the hatred of jews o-meter.
7.9.2007 11:01am
Rich B. (mail):
The contrapositive, of course, is the pro-Israeli anti-Semites. These are the people who support getting all the Jews in one place (where they will then be an easy target), or else believe that Jewish control of Israel is a precursor to the end-times in their own religious worldview -- and end-times in which they will be "saved" but the Jews will not.
7.9.2007 11:02am
A.C.:
My criticism of the Iranian GOVERNMENT is based on pro-Persian bias. I think the Iranian people deserve better.

It's trickier when talking about Israel. I suppose the Israeli government has its flaws with respect to its own citizens, as all governments do, but it's not nearly as problematic on this dimension as the Iranian one. Criticism of Israel is all about the Palestinians, so the two cases aren't really comparable.
7.9.2007 11:02am
Steven Lubet (mail):

"This combination of preferential policies toward one's own group and oppression of another group (when the groups are defined "nationalistically") are also the main sin of Nazism."


You have left me speechless, Sasha.
7.9.2007 11:08am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Oh yes, I'll also add that I do think it's appropriate to consider motivations.

Policy X may be "bad for the Jews." But it might be good overall -- say it's just getting rid of an unjustified subsidy, which happens to disproportionately go to Jews because it's aimed at an industry where Jews are very heavily represented -- so suppose I favor it on intellectual grounds.

But if everyone else behind Policy X is an anti-Semite, I might hold back from my support of Policy X, because doing so does more than just implement Policy X -- it might give extra credibility to the organizations behind it, who might be saying other things in some of their other activities, and it might strengthen those organizations, who will next -- using some different argument -- go after me.

So while the motivations of others shouldn't be relevant to the abstract question whether Policy X is right, it should be relevant to whether one should support Policy X. (For instance, one might want to oppose the war, but publicly do so in a way that disassociates oneself from A.N.S.W.E.R.)

I've been talking so far about the motivations of people who are potentially "on your side"; but I'll extent this also to the motivations of people who are potentially "on the other side." If the Bush Administration wants to expand its wiretapping powers to fight terrorism, a key part of the analysis should be how much you trust them to use their power wisely. If you think they're sincerely motivated by a desire to fight terrorists while preserving civil liberties, your answer might be different than if you think they want to fight terrorists with the ultimate agenda of instituting a police state.
7.9.2007 11:08am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Speechless, Steven? Admittedly, the Nazis went after their goal with particular gusto. That's what makes the comparison with Nazis lacking in perspective.
7.9.2007 11:10am
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
But another way -- perhaps more in line with economists' thinking -- is to concentrate on the most fixable cases.
Wait, are you suggesting that the middle-east conflict is more easily solved than China's or Sudan's? Riiiiight....
7.9.2007 11:17am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Constitutional Crisis: Touché!
7.9.2007 11:19am
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
I'm not sure whether Anti-Zionism is inherently Anti-Semitic. But there certainly seems to be a high correlation between the two. And as a pragmatist, that's more important to me than questions of theoretical purity or absolutism.
7.9.2007 11:24am
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
Moreover, when was the last time you heard someone use the policies of a particular country as evidence of the country's existential deficiency or indefensibility?
7.9.2007 11:28am
Ken Arromdee:
It's theoretically possible that someone can compare Israel to Nazis without being anti-semitic.

Heck, it's even theoretically possible someone could deny the Holocaust without being anti-semitic. (I ran into one such person on Usenet long ago. He was a Chinese who knew nothing about Jews and took some posts by Holocaust deniers as truth without realizing what they were; he was corrected soon afterwards and accepted the correction.) It's possible to believe that Jews drink Christian blood without being anti-semitic.

But it's not the way to bet.
7.9.2007 11:36am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Constitutional Crisis: The Soviet Union.

(Usually, policy arguments are mustered in addition to more basic arguments about whether the country should exist; the policy arguments usually aren't used alone to support the argument against existence. But in any event, Israel isn't like, say, France: A new country, unlike a country that has existed for centuries, is always something of an experiment, and it's desirable to think critically about the success of the experiment -- which would include an evaluation of its policies -- with a view to thinking whether to terminate it. It's part of the status quo bias of policy thinking; new projects have a higher burden of justification than what existed for a long time before, and often that's a sensible rule of thumb.)
7.9.2007 11:36am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Actually, if "France" ceased to exist, nothing would happen to the French, if Israel ceased to exist, the Jewish Israelis would be in deep s@@@. So, if anything, I think it's more justifiable to question whether France should continue to exist.
7.9.2007 11:44am
A Guest Of Wind:
The subject of this entry seems misleading, as it is possible to criticize Israel and be Zionist. If it weren't, for starters, Israel's opposition party would be anti-Zionist for daring to oppose the majority's policies.
It's about the recurring question whether there's anything anti-Semitic about singling out Israel for criticism when, for anything bad that Israel arguably does, a ton of other countries (China, Sudan, etc.) do it worse.
I think you're over-analyzing the question. Simply put, it is fair to judge a nation by the standard it applies to itself. Israel would never contend that, at a moral level, it is no better than China, Sudan, Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc. If somebody were to say (and truly mean) "Israel is no better than Sudan", you would have to question their knowledge, sanity, and/or perception of Jews.

But you can't have it both ways. You can't say, "We're nothing like Sudan," then complain when somebody criticizes your nation's conduct, "But you didn't criticize stuff that's as bad or worse in Sudan." You've set a much higher bar for yourself.

If you want it both ways - "It's anti-Semitic to compare Israel to Sudan. But it's also anti-Semitic to not criticize Sudan when judging Israel's conduct" - you're a hypocrite, and your tactics are designed to obstruct discussion of the underlying issues. Doesn't this also open a door for genuine anti-Semites to reply, "You suggest that Israel is no better than Sudan, and you're right"?

In short, it is perfectly fair to judge a nation - any nation - by the standard it holds out for itself.
7.9.2007 11:44am
ejo:
well, the israel/nazi comparison finds an intellectual roost in the academy. Here I thought the defining characteristic of the nazi ideology was its willingness to commit genocide, something I am sure not even the academics are willing to theorize the State of Israel is attempting (then again, I am willing to lay money on someone disagreeing). unfortunately, for all the intellectual mumbo jumbo, the jew hater and the israel hater are usually one and the same.
7.9.2007 11:47am
DD:
I'm not convinced. This seems to me a just variation of the "drunk looking for his car keys under the lamp post" justification. (Somebody asks the drunk why he chooses to look under the lamp post when he lost his keys over in the parking lot. "Well, the light is a lot better here".)

British ethics philosopher Eve Garrard asks:

Can we make special demands on another country just because it's a democracy?

Her well-argued answer suggests that, in fact, we might just as well conclude that the democracy deserves increased support.

7.9.2007 11:48am
Gideon Kanner (mail):
Constitutional Crisis:

You are right, of course, but it's a lot more than a high correlation. The point that defenders of the invidiously disparate treatment of Israel skate over is just that -- not the criticism of Israel but the invidiously disparate nature of it. The fact that Israel receives US aid is irrelevant to this point. So does Egypt, but you don't see never-ending tear-stained op-eds lamenting the cruel treatment of the Copts or political dissidents by the Mubarak regime.

The ati-Zionist shtick (subject to the question I raise below) gets you only so far and it is getting pretty shopworn. It's like the Soviet propagandists' favorite ploy. They weren't anti-Semitic, they said -- Heaven forfend! Oh no, they were only opposed to "rootless cosmopoiltans." There is more than one way to skin the semantic cat.

And even on the anti-Zionist premise, why is it that Zionism is the only national liberation movement that the folks who profess to love such movements, find abhorrent?
7.9.2007 11:49am
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
I think you're over-analyzing the question. Simply put, it is fair to judge a nation by the standard it applies to itself. Israel would never contend that, at a moral level, it is no better than China, Sudan, Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc. If somebody were to say (and truly mean) "Israel is no better than Sudan", you would have to question their knowledge, sanity, and/or perception of Jews.
Accepting its weaknesses, which I'm happy to discuss, Israel is nonetheless nothing like Sudan or China, on its own terms. Pace, United States.
7.9.2007 11:51am
DD:
Oops... can't seem to get the link to Eve Garrard right. I'll try again:

Uses of Democracy
7.9.2007 11:54am
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
You are right, of course, but it's a lot more than a high correlation. The point that defenders of the invidiously disparate treatment of Israel skate over is just that -- not the criticism of Israel but the invidiously disparate nature of it.
I'm really not interested in the metaphysical debate about whether a person is an Anti-Semite simply because he criticizes Israel. I am intested in the criticisms of Israeli policy, whether those criticisms are founded, and whether the person can offer a solution. That said, Anti-Semitism is certainly still a problem (albeit one that I can differentiate from the political policies of Israel, which may or may not be sustainable or valid on their own terms), and mindless criticism of Zionism certainly raises my suspicion of that disease when I hear it.

Similarly, I don't regard someone as Anti-American or less of a patriot for voicing dissent about the policies of the United States. Of course, the analogy can't be extended to "Anti-Americanism," per se, in the same sense as "Anti-Semitism," because of the multi-ethnic/cultural composition of this country.
7.9.2007 11:57am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
For the record, I think the criticisms of "rootless cosmopolitanism" are also not necessarily anti-Semitic.
7.9.2007 12:08pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
Constitutional Crisis:

Life being what it is, one becomes accustomed to running across people who can't think. But it is still ditressing to me to find myself exchangig views with someone who evidently can't read. I DID NOT criticise anyone "simply because he criticizes Israel." On the contrary, I said explicitly that that's OK. What I criticized was the invidiously disparate treatment of Israel as opposed to other nations, often including the critic's own. There ain't nothing "metaphysical" about that.
7.9.2007 12:10pm
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
Mr. Kanner spaketh:
Life being what it is, one becomes accustomed to running across people who can't think.
I think you should change the circles you travel in. It's unfortunate to think of you mired among the brain dead. Very, very unfortunate.
7.9.2007 12:15pm
Adrian (mail):
To add a few more hypotheses:

* Because the Israel/Palestine is in the news a *lot*, and has been for ages, more so than Egypt/Copts or China/Tibet. The news tends to drive both awareness and conversational context. Of course it's a further interesting question why the news is like that, but (pace David Olesker) one live possibility is that a lot of people *support* Israel, care about it, and want to read about its struggles.

* (This one applies to people criticising Israel in private conversations, such as blogs or internet fora, more than to direct actors:) Because there are usually Israel supporters to argue with. If I say China shouldn't be resettling masses of Han into Tibet, that's probably the last the thread will hear about either the fact or the attitude. West Bank settlements, not so much.

Steven Lubet: I don't think an attribution of a "hostile obsession" is any more helpful than impugnment of motives, partly due to its being one.
7.9.2007 12:15pm
byomtov (mail):
The economic approach has limited value here, at least with respect to resolutions and the like.

The underlying assumption is that the UCU, say, has limited resources to apply to human rights problems and much choose carefully where best to direct its efforts. This is the case with a philanthropist or a medical researcher, for example, interested in a particular problem. Funds and time are limited, so must be allocated carefully.

But resolution passers do not face meaningful resource constraints. They can pile resolutions to the moon if they like. Criticizing Israel does not preclude criticizing China or anyone else. In fact, I think it is possible to argue that if such organizations demonstrated a broader concern for these matters their opinions would have more, rather than less, legitimacy, and they would end up being more convincing.
7.9.2007 1:04pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
I claim that singling out Israel in this way not necessarily anti-Semitic.

That's undoubtedly true. It's not necessarily a symptom of paranoid schizophrenia, either. But both of these "negative defenses" are rather beside the point--if singling out Israel in this way is morally wrong, then what difference does it make whether or not it's also anti-Semitic?

In fact, harping unduly on this particular accusation is morally wrong in exactly the same way that harping exclusively on Israel's real or alleged misdeeds is morally wrong. By focusing overwhelmingly on a particular, relatively minor criticism of one side (Israel or its supporters), while neglecting the far greater criticisms that can be leveled at the other side (Israel's enemies or critics), one exhibits the kind of patent unfairness that practically begs to have its motives questioned.

The defenses that Sasha offers for this kind of imbalance are transparently lame. In effect, they concede the point that Israel is morally superior to its enemies, and then leap to the conclusion that criticizing Israel disproportionately is therefore reasonable. As a libertarian, Sasha should appreciate the absurd and dangerous incentive structure created by such a moral framework.

I agree with some of the other commenters who have argued that there's no point in speculating about the unknowable motives of those who harp obsessively and unfairly on Israel's relatively minor flaws. But when people advance flagrantly unfair positions, speculating about their motives, while unnecessary and counterproductive, is a very natural human reaction. Singling out that reaction among Israel's supporters for criticism, while defending far more dubious rhetorical moves by Israel's obsessive detractors, is exactly the same kind of unfairness that the latter exhibit--and invites the same speculation as to motives.
7.9.2007 1:16pm
Adam J:
Gideon -

You're attempt to claim that there is "invidiously disparate treatment" and therefore anti-semitic is unconvincing. To illustrate why I think so, an example;
Suppose a person percieves an injustice in Israel's treatment of Palestinians (I hope we can agree this is not anti-semitism). This person then decides on a method of protesting (or criticizing). Should he then think, "oh wait, maybe this would be 'invidiously disparate', because there other greater injustices occuring that I am not protesting (or criticising)." I doubt it, however, under your analysis, he is anti-semitic because he is participating in a protest that is "invidiously disparate" to other protests.
No protester strives for "even-handedness" in his protest, so why would what you percieve a lack of "even-handness" (or invidiously disparate treatment as you put it) in protest to be proof of their anti-semitism.
7.9.2007 1:47pm
Hattio (mail):
I have to agree with various previous posters that there are three main reasons Americans (and typically American leftists) criticize Israel more than other countries. The first is that because America supports Israel so much financially, a lot of people believe Israel would not exist w/out our help. They believe that Israel should be willing to alter its policies to be in line with American morals if it is accepting American money.
The second is that with the repetition of "Judeo-Christian" values, tradition, etc., many people come away with the notion that Israelis are just like us, and therefore, arguments about the injustice of settlements will be more persuasive than, for example, arguments about China's treatment of Tibet.
The last reason is that Israel and the middle-east are a hot button topic that gets a lot more play in the media. People know more about it, and are more familiar with the aide the US gives.
7.9.2007 1:49pm
DG:
One thing to consider when pondering European anti-zionism: World War II. Yes, we can't escape discussion of the Holocaust here. Why? Well, there's a sharp line of demarcation in Western Europe: after the Holocaust came to light, it suddenly became very politically incorrect to be an "outed" anti-semite, even though the European anti-semitism meme had been cooking for a thousand years. So, what seemingly popped up, after about a generation? Anti-zionism and very strong anti-zionism at that. Some of those anti-zionists are really closeted anti-Semites. Others have a strange complex of guilt transference, where evil acts by jews absolve europeans of their evil towards jews. They don't love Israel's enemies, but they love perceived by acts by Israel because its a salve on their collective honor.

And, of course, some of the worst leftist anti-zionist are self-hating jews. Being anti-zionist is about the best self-loathing strategy you could have - being an atheist is no longer transgressive enough. If you want to really distance yourself from other jews, hating Israel is a great way to do it. I have often wondered why a certain segment of jews have the self-loathing mindset - is it a function of oppression, or of dysfunctional families, or just untreated depression? Not caring, I get. Loathing, I don't.
7.9.2007 1:51pm
byomtov (mail):
If one thinks that, then of course this combination of preferential policies toward one's own group and oppression of another group (when the groups are defined "nationalistically") are also the main sin of Nazism. Crying "Nazism" at every instance of racial or ethnic preference-and-oppression, like crying "socialism" at every instance of government intervention into the economy, may lack perspective (and sometimes in a major way), but it's not necessarily incorrect.

This is much worse than simply a "lack of perspective." It is an effort to define the sins of Nazism in an overly broad way so that the sins of many others can be categorized as Nazi-like, and thereby categorized as genocidal.

The main sin of Nazism was not racial or ethnic discrimination. It was genocide. The comparison you defend lumps one with the other. Absent any historical context this would simply be dishonest. Given the acrual context it is malicious.
7.9.2007 1:52pm
Hattio (mail):
byomtov,
You are forgetting about the fact that the more resolutions a group passes, the less play they get. Man bites dog is still the bigger story....
7.9.2007 1:53pm
Adrian (mail):
Dan Simon: "But when people advance flagrantly unfair positions, speculating about their motives, while unnecessary and counterproductive, is a very natural human reaction."

Which I think slaps the nail on its cheek. The positions here are so far apart that *both* seem outrageous to the other side. One side asks why anyone would criticise an open, modern democratic state rather than dictators and terrorists? The other can't see why anyone would call a decades-long policy of occupation and oppression a "relatively minor flaw".

And so both sides are tempted to think that the explanation must be bad faith. And of course both anti-semitism and anti-arab racism exist. But more generally all that's going on is a real and sincere disagreement about the issue, and both sides need to make the effort to understand that.
7.9.2007 1:55pm
VFBVFB (mail):
The real injustice is not when people dispropionately criticize Israel, in comparison to Sudan and China, but when they dispropionately criticize Israel in comparison to the Palestinians.

The rightness or wrongness of Israeli actions is in no way impacted by the actions of Sudan or China. But since said actions are intended to deal with actions of the Palestinians, you cannot evaluate Israeli actions without regard to the Palestinians actions.
7.9.2007 2:32pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
Adam J:

You still miss the point. I'm not asking for any finely tuned evenhanded balance. What we are cofronted with is a widespread, gross, persistent, totally one-sided chorus of denunciations of Israel, but not a peep of criticism of other regimes that are far worse? To take an obvious example, how many resolutions has the UN passed over a period of decades condemning violent, aggressive and discriminatory practices in any Arab country? I'll save you the trouble of counting: none. On the other hand such resolutions condemning Israel can be counted by the score even though Israel is far less violent and far more benign by comparison. Putting all else aside, if you don't see any significance in that, there is little point in exchanging views with you because you and I evidently operate on different moral frequencies, so to speak.
7.9.2007 2:39pm
Ken Arromdee:
Simply put, it is fair to judge a nation by the standard it applies to itself. Israel would never contend that, at a moral level, it is no better than China, Sudan, Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc

Cool, Hitler believed genocide was right, who are we to criticize him?

And by this reasoning, once Israel accepts something as part of its standard, we should stop criticizing it. If all of Israel were to demand genocide of the Arabs tomorrow, we could not criticize Israel for it, since the standard it applies to itself would no longer condemn such things.

Of course, this isn't what you mean. What you mean is not that we should criticize Israel by its own standard, but that we should criticize Israel by *our interpretation of* its own standard.

Needless to say, by choosing which parts of the standard to use and how to interpret them, we could justify any lopsided criticism this way. I could even justify the reverse lopsidedness of criticising Sudan and not Israel, by pointing out that Sudan voted for the UN Human Rights Council, thus implicitly accepting the idea of human rights as its own standard, while Israel opposed it.
7.9.2007 2:50pm
MDJD2B (mail):

But in any event, Israel isn't like, say, France: A new country, unlike a country that has existed for centuries, is always something of an experiment, and it's desirable to think critically about the success of the experiment — which would include an evaluation of its policies — with a view to thinking whether to terminate it. It's part of the status quo bias of policy thinking; new projects have a higher burden of justification than what existed for a long time before, and often that's a sensible rule of thumb.)


Israel was founded in 1948, before the majority of countries in the UN were founded, including the Sudan. It was founded about the same time as Syria and Lebanon, and before Zimbabwe.

In fact, the majority of Israelis were born there, as Israelis. (Many, if not most, of those who were not were forced to leave Islamic countries after Israel won independence; a majority of Israeli Jews are Sephardic.)

So, when does Israel stop being a new country worthyu of destruction? A nation was formed by refugees from oppression and genocide. It is now comprised, in essence, of the descendents of its founders. Must these native Israelis, who have never known any other national identity, continue to grovel to you ad infinitum in order to justify their right to exist?
7.9.2007 2:53pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
If this is transparent lameness, then let me be transparently lame!

I criticize America much, much more than I criticize any other place, and my criticisms are not prefaced with any disclaimer like "WARNING: I believe America is far, far better than just about any other place, so you should take my criticisms as really just arguments for tinkering around the edges."

Do I believe this? Yes. Would I ever say it? No. I criticize America more because I think I can have more influence on American policy; and focusing on how much better America is than any other place might lull my listeners into complacency. If anything, I'd rather they not think about how great America is; when I'm focusing on America's faults, I'd rather they get outraged.

Because my goal, when making arguments, isn't to give a complete, contextual account of everything I believe; rather, it's to persuade or achieve change of some kind. And I tailor my rhetoric, including my choices of what not to talk about, to that goal.

Therefore, if I think Jews are so great they should know better, and Jews are so rights-loving that they could be convinced by my arguments, then it's totally justified to dwell on their faults more than on others', and criticize them for doing things that I'm not criticizing others for -- or even punish them, if I think this treatment will be more successful with them than with others.
7.9.2007 2:55pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
Constitutional Crisis:

You are right. I do move in unforunate circles. For the past couple of decades, give or take, I have been a tenured facly member at a well known law school. And let me tell you, friend, nobody knows the drivel I have seen.
7.9.2007 2:55pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
Sasha Volokh:

Could you define "rootless cosmopolitan" for us. How do we tell one when he doesn't happen to be wearing a yarmulke?
7.9.2007 2:58pm
MDJD2B (mail):
An example of the double standard: Syria just sent troops 3 km into Lebanon and dug in. This was ignored by the world media. See:

http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/001483.html

As Michael Totten says in this post:


If Israel sent the IDF three kilometers into Lebanon and started digging trenches and building bunkers it would make news all over the world. But Syria does it and everyone shrugs. Hardly anyone even knows it happened at all.


So-- why the disparity? Syria is as new a country as Israel. The democratic society in Lebanon deserves freedom from Syrian incursion as much as from Israeli incursion.
7.9.2007 3:03pm
Adam J:
DG-
1. You might want to stay a bit more on topic
2. To conclude that all anti-zionist jews are "self-loathing" is pretty anti-semitic as well- many were anti-zionist for religious reasons.
7.9.2007 3:37pm
liberty (mail) (www):

The real injustice is not when people dispropionately criticize Israel, in comparison to Sudan and China, but when they dispropionately criticize Israel in comparison to the Palestinians.


I think this is a key point. Its one thing to hold Israel to a higher standard than most, because you hold them in high esteem; its another to ignore the attacks on them or support their enemy and justify it by this kind of double standard.

So, one must distinguish between at least two types of critics: those that hold Israel to a higher standard but are intellectually honest about what kind of enemy they face; and those critics that give a pass to everything that is done against Israel and only are critical of Israel's actions, so that Israel is held to an impossible standard and any consequences of the choices Israel makes (such as an escalation of violence against Israel following the choice of not responding with force against an attack) are ignored.
7.9.2007 3:49pm
Hoosier:
I've been to Israel, and rode a sharut (sp?--I'm Irish) from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The sharut drove over a multi-lane highway. Clearly, the Israelis have built highways.

Now, Hitler build up the Autobahnen during the 1930s. So it's pretty clear that Israel and the Nazis have something in common!

Now I admit that this may be slightly lacking in perspective. But let's see any of you Zionists try to deny it!
7.9.2007 3:54pm
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
Sasha Volokh:
Therefore, if I think Jews are so great they should know better, and Jews are so rights-loving that they could be convinced by my arguments, then it's totally justified to dwell on their faults more than on others', and criticize them for doing things that I'm not criticizing others for -- or even punish them, if I think this treatment will be more successful with them than with others.
Let me just mention, as someone who expressed, upthread, little interest in the "is criticizing Israel inherently Anti-Semitic" argument, that one of the rhetorical flourishes that makes me question the author's motivations is when they interchange "Israelis" with "Jews." Your criticisms are criticisms of the policy of a major international state, with citizens who run the gamut from moral to immoral, peaceloving to warmongering, and rational to mystical. My antennae go up when someone wants to praise Jews for Israel's successes, indict Jews for Israel's failures, or appeal to the presumptively better nature of Jews in the process...
7.9.2007 3:59pm
Hoosier:
I remember my late-imperial Russian history.

"Cosmopolitain"= Educated Jew

("Cosmopolitain"=Vodka, Triple-Sec, Lime, Cranberry)
7.9.2007 4:01pm
byomtov (mail):
You are forgetting about the fact that the more resolutions a group passes, the less play they get. Man bites dog is still the bigger story....

But you are forgetting that a group that follows consistent policies in passing these sorts of resolutions has vastly more credibility than one that just decides to pass one at random.
7.9.2007 4:18pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
One side asks why anyone would criticise an open, modern democratic state rather than dictators and terrorists? The other can't see why anyone would call a decades-long policy of occupation and oppression a "relatively minor flaw".

Note that as described here, one side is viewing Israel in relative terms, in context, while the other is viewing Israel in absolute terms, in complete isolation, without regard to any comparisons.

In the latter case, it's easy to select one's targets (say, Israel alone) arbitrarily, and arrive at any conclusions one wishes by defining the standards (say, what constitutes "oppression") as needed. On the other hand, by doing so, one runs the risk of being quite understandably suspected of ulterior motives in making one's arbitrary choices.

In the former case, one is more constrained: one cannot blithely accuse Israel of "oppression", for example, without inventing a whole new word to describe how neighboring countries treat their own citizens, let alone populations considered hostile or alien (viz., Palestinians born in Lebanon). Hence, one's conclusions, while harder to tailor to one's prejudices, have the advantage of being more credible to others.
7.9.2007 4:24pm
liberty (mail) (www):

"Cosmopolitain"= Educated Jew

("Cosmopolitain"=Vodka, Triple-Sec, Lime, Cranberry)

If I remember my logic correctly, that means:

Educated Jew = Vodka, Triple-Sec, Lime, Cranberry

mmmm... gotta find me some smart Jew.
7.9.2007 4:25pm
Hoosier:
Liberty--
There hard to find, being rootless.
7.9.2007 4:41pm
Hoosier:
"They're"
7.9.2007 4:41pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
I criticize America more because I think I can have more influence on American policy; and focusing on how much better America is than any other place might lull my listeners into complacency.

Sorry, Sasha--I don't buy this claim at all. Do you really criticize California that much more than America as a whole, let alone any other state? The city of Los Angeles that much more than California or America as a whole, let alone other cities? Your neighborhood that much more than LA, California or America, let alone other neighborhoods? And (here's the clincher) yourself that much more than any of the above, or anyone else?

A related, somewhat more credible argument for Americans' choosing to criticize America more than foreign countries is that the US government affects Americans far more than any other governement on earth does, and is therefore a reasonably far greater focus of Americans' attention than any other country's government. But that observation does nothing to justify the wildly disproportionate opprobrium, both American and global, directed at Israel compared with other countries (such as, say, China) whose impact on the rest of the world, including America, is far greater.
7.9.2007 4:42pm
John425:
"...and also argue that even comparisons of Israel to Nazis, while severely lacking in perspective, aren't necessarily anti-Semitic."

That, good sir- is bull$hit!
7.9.2007 4:45pm
Michael B (mail):
While I agree with the original post, it essentially points out some issues and terms that are more or less obvious and unproblematic in and of themselves. (They tend to become problematic due to the uses such insights and facts are put to, not via any intrinsic quality per se. For example the problemematic of individual and group motive becomes an issue.)

Otoh comparing the Sudan situation with Libby's case is strikingly odd, even perverse. To make the point being made it would be more understandable to compare the Libby situation with, say, a charge of corruption against some Israeli principal - but to compare it to Sudan? Enormities are too conveniently elided and obscured under such a comparison, a comparison that positively invites, even welcomes, moral confusion of great consequence.

There's the additional problem - obviously - associated with responsibly defining anti-Semitism in a manner that does not reduce it merely to Hitler/Himmler and Amin al-Husseini and similar blatant forms, in a manner that takes latterday conditions, dynamics, ambiguities, etc. into account w/o painting with too broad a brush as well.
7.9.2007 4:56pm
Michael B (mail):
Iow, it would be far more interesting, far more problematic and far more challenging, not to mention controversial, to take up the task of defining anti-Semitism - within all the contemporary dynamics and moral ambiguities - in a positive sense, rather than in the less controversial terms of what it is not. Doing the latter is fine, it's even important to do so; but doing the latter without the former is to positively invite those who would leverage more sensible rationales into less sensible and more dubious rationalizations.
7.9.2007 5:08pm
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
Michael B: Great point. There is a lot of debate about how broadly to define Anti-Semitism; whether it should be defined broadly, to include all manifestions of accumulated bias that have resulted from prejudice against Jews, or whether it should be defined narrowly, and confined to the personal mal-intent of an individual. Those more aligned with the former probably see criticism of Israel (or a belief in "Jewish Exceptionalism") as Anti-Semitic. Those who are aligned with the latter would probably disagree.

I suspect the debate would play out along the lines of those who view racism against African Americans in this country as the accumulated institutional and social structures that resulted from the practice of slavery, by contrast to those who favor a narrative of personal accountability.
7.9.2007 5:26pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Constitutional Crisis: Agreed, "Jewish" isn't "Israeli." The point of this post is to point out a pro-Jewish, anti-Israeli position. So in other words, the hypothetical person making these arguments makes anti-Israeli arguments because of how pro-Jewish he is. The point isn't to show that the Jewish/Israeli identification is right or justified; it's just to show that one can believe all this and yet be very pro-Jewish.
7.9.2007 5:30pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Dan Simon: In fact, I live in Washington, D.C., not Los Angeles. Or, more properly, I work in Washington, D.C., and live in Arlington, Virginia. But at any rate: There are many factors that go into how much I criticize someone or something. One of them is how much influence I think I can have. Other factors include how much I know about the issues, how much I care, how much I'm affected, etc.

So Jews (or pro-Jews) can criticize Israel disproportionately for several reasons: (1) they think they can have more effect on Israeli policy because Jews or Israelis are saner or more in line with their values, (2) they care more about Israel because Israel's a "Jewish issue" and therefore more interesting to them, (3) they're concerned that in practice misbehavior of Israelis will reflect badly on them as Jews, (4) they think Jews have extra moral duties as God's chosen people, etc., etc., etc.

All I'm saying is that many of these possible justifications are non-anti-Semitic, and in fact are pro-Jewish, maybe even unjustifiably so.
7.9.2007 5:36pm
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
Sasha:

In other words, far from being an anti-Semitic policy, the boycott could be an act of deep respect for Israel, essentially saying: "Only you [Jews] aren't savages; we think you might actually listen."
Implicit to this line of thought is the contrapositive: You Jews are savages if you do not listen. In that statement, one could find the latent Anti-Semitism that offends those who do not readily impute the Israeli state with the value of Judaic teachings.
7.9.2007 5:42pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Constitutional Crisis: Surely this is going a bit too far! I haven't met you (I think), but I do think you're not a savage (and, more specifically, are a reasonable person who can listen to logic). If you don't listen to me, it's not that you become a savage -- you're still not a savage, capable of listening to logic, etc., just you're mistaken now. I still deal with you as someone basically reasonable who makes mistakes sometimes; and that's why I take the trouble to debate with you rather than just writing you off.

Saying "you guys aren't savages, you might actually listen" isn't even latently anti-Semitic; rather, it conveys a deep respect for the person. The problem with this, if anything, is with its characterization of non-Jews -- there's nothing wrong, latently or otherwise, with the characterization of Jews, which is ideally how we should deal with all rational people.
7.9.2007 5:53pm
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
Sasha: I illustrate the latent prejudice through the logical deconstruction simply to make the point that your assumption operates on an irrational attribution to a nation of individuals based on your own understanding of the religious principles to which those individuals may or may not subscribe, and in varying degrees. Some Jews are sensitive that they are being singled out and held to a higher, or different, standard simply because they're Jews; and whether that comes from a place of "respect" is really beside the point. The sensitivity has developed as a result of repeated historical episodes in which Jews have received social approval, only to then fall out of favor and invariably face persecution. There is a very real (if often irrational) dialog in some circles that the Golden Age in America is just another Golden Age for Jews, to be followed by renewed hostility. Thus, some Jews are vigilent in opposing the irrationalities you've demonstrated. When you strike at Israel's behavior with those underlying irrationalities, it raises an eyebrow.

If you said "I believe that Israel is, fundamentally, a democracy. And I believe that democratic countries tend to, eventually, make rational and sound policy decisions. Hence I think that my voice may make more of a difference," I think most would not challenge your underlying assumptions. It's when you import the religious identity that you'll start to get hackles up, I think.
7.9.2007 6:16pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
There are many factors that go into how much I criticize someone or something. One of them is how much influence I think I can have. Other factors include how much I know about the issues, how much I care, how much I'm affected, etc.

This is precisely why it's so pointless to argue about motives in these situations. Perhaps, Sasha, you really do think (probably mistakenly), "I can influence Israel more than, say, the Palestinian Authority or any of Israel's neighbors, and therefore should focus my criticism overwhelmingly on it." And perhaps when deciding how much to criticize yourself, or your neighborhood, or your city, or other countries, or any other entity--other than America, of course--the issue of your degree of influence simply doesn't enter your mind. If so, it seems obvious to me that something else is going on--that is, that your choice of criteria is more, shall we say, directed than you're willing to admit. But is there really any point in my trying to psychoanalyze why you might think this way, when you can simply assert pretty much whatever you want about your mental state?

Instead, I'd much rather point out what should be obvious to everyone: judging countries more harshly because (a) one's own country has more influence over them than over others, or (b) one actually considers them morally superior--and hence more willing to be swayed by moral criticism, in fact contributes to an incentive structure for countries that encourages them (a) to rid themselves of your country's influence and (b) to lower their moral conduct, so as to escape opprobrium. Hence, it's foolish and morally objectionable--regardless of one's motive for doing so.
7.9.2007 6:19pm
Michael B (mail):
Constitutional Crisis,

I'd agree with the analogy with blacks in America, but only if there is an conscious acknowledgement of an orders of magnitude difference.

Otherwise, and not at all to quibble over semantics or minor differences, I'd be resistant to the comparison and instead would suggest it represents more of a contrast than a very compelling parallel or analogy. The manner in which the MSM helps to shape and mold world opinion in the two contrasting situations is but one reflection of that difference. For example I have never seen or heard of the MSM in America, or anywhere in the west (though surely it has occurred somewhere, at sometime) thoughtfully explore the historical, real-world continuities reflected in Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, his profoundly intimate relationship with Hitler/Himmler during WWII, his tutelage of Yasir Arafat, the direct implications for autocratic forms of governance in Gaza and the West Bank, etc. That is merely one particularly striking historical, socio-political and ideological example, but it is particularly telling.

By contrast I cannot imagine the MSM in the west obscuring or failing to point out any direct historical lineage a latterday segregationist or racist, a la David Duke or some theoretical person, might have with the KKK or with Nazism, etc. It's simply (and literally) incomprehensible that such would occur, both for substantive reasons and for simple politically correct and conformist reasons as well. And yet, in the case of the conflict in the M.E. and the Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini, such blatant and critical occlusions are carried out systematically and over a protracted period of time, up to and including the present day.
7.9.2007 7:24pm
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
My comparison was not intended to go to the dynamics at work in anti-semitism and racism in America, but merely to how people would react to a broad or narrow definition of Anti-Semitism. I would think that those who oppose a definition of racism that includes institutional characteristics, as opposed to merely individual intent, would similarly resist a definition of Anti-Semitism that takes into account the legacy of the kind of relationships you describe.
7.9.2007 7:30pm
LM (mail):

So, if anything, I think it's more justifiable to question whether France should continue to exist.

It takes no courage to assert something upon which every right mind already agrees.
7.9.2007 8:13pm
Michael B (mail):
Constitutional Crisis, yes, pardon the unintended confusion, I entirely agree with you in that sense.

Previously I wasn't really disagreeing, was rather adding to the general context. We are presently in the immediate wake of a rather striking, historic situation in Gaza - with all the internecine conflicts, autocratic deteriorations, summary executions, other reprisals, etc. - so perhaps I'm overly anxious to call attention to some facts that serve to underscore the historical antecedents leading up to this present situation, especially so as some apologetics have been forwarded, in favor of Hamas, in the MSM and from other quarters as well, not the least of which are some trans-nationalist orgs such as the U.N. and some NGOs. At any rate, I do agree with what you've suggested.
7.9.2007 8:32pm
Steve H (mail):
I'm not sure how this fits into your four categories, Sasha, but I personally feel more interested in criticizing Israel than Syria because, as a Westerner, I identify with Israel more (though I am not Jewish).

Just as I am more likely to discipline my own son than another kid, even if the other kid's actions were worse than my son's, I am more interested in seeing that Israel (like South Africa during apartheid) act in a way consistent with Western values, including especially respecting the rights of individuals.

Also, given the West's role in creating, defending, and supporting Israel as a State, I feel that "we" are more responsible for Israel's behavior (again, like South Africa during apartheid).

In fact, I would say that the approach of this post and the initial responses is sort of backwards. Instead of saying "Is it possible that critics of Israel are not anti-Semitic," I would start from the opposite presumption -- Is there any reason to believe that critics of Israel are anti-Semitic?

I would imagine that most critics of Israel in the mainstream press were also critics of South Africa during apartheid. Yet I don't recall people starting from the presumption that apartheid critics were motivated by Anti-Boerism. Similarly, I don't think it's fair to presume that critics of Israel are motivated by anti-Semitism.
7.9.2007 8:33pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
Yet I don't recall people starting from the presumption that apartheid critics were motivated by Anti-Boerism.

That's true. As I've explained in a comment to an earlier post, though, anti-Western political animus has been the primary motive behind both the anti-Apartheid and anti-Israel movements.
7.10.2007 12:50am
Adrian (mail):
Dan, you seem to be making "your motives will be questioned" do a lot of work here. Yes, it's natural and in fact reasonable to inquire about motives where there's a focus on one issue. But when you stop darkly mentioning the question and actually ask it, it turns out there's a whole bunch of possible answers.

(Also, objecting to a description of Israel's flaws as "relatively minor" isn't an absolutist claim but an explicitly, you know, relative one.)
7.10.2007 4:37am
Adrian (mail):
A couple general points:

* Criticising more often != criticising more harshly. If someone really does think Israel is worse than Sudan, that's something to discuss all right; but the thread's about focus, not error.

* It's question-begging, as well as counterproductive, to invoke your substantive views about the relative demerits of Israel and its enemies or other countries as evidence that your opponents' criticisms are biased. Criticising more harshly than *you* think appropriate != criticising unfairly, it's just ordinary disagreement.
7.10.2007 5:02am
Adrian (mail):
(Sorry, that should have read "contested substantive views". Views that are held in common can of course be invoked.)
7.10.2007 5:08am
Gideon Kanner (mail):
All this reminds me of a great old joke. It seems that a few years ago a British lunatic penetrated the security perimeter of Buckingham Palace, made his way to the royal apartments, entered the Queen's bedchamber and remained there for several minutes conversing with her until the security people got their shit together, stormed the royal bedchamber and removed him. This much is true.

But that left a mystery. What did the lunatic and the Queen talk about for almost 10 minutes? Nobody knows. Ah, but I know. Here's what. The lunatic said, "Your Royal Highness, the hour is late; it's three o'clock in the morning and you are still up. What is it that disturbs the royal slumber?" To which she replied, "Oh, my good man, how very kind of you to inquire. I stay up nights worrying about the Palestinians."

Yes indeed. Everybody stays up nights worrying about the Palestinians.
7.10.2007 6:53pm
Michael B (mail):
Far fewer would need to "worry" about those Arab refugees, aka Palestinians, if that same group, together with their Arab and Persian Muslim sponsors, would "worry" (in a different sense of the term) about themselves.

They don't, hence "we" do; thus exemplifying another striking sense in which Muslims cannot be considered social/political grownups. Not that most people are, but here we're reflecting upon a huge segment of humanity that either actively or passively refuses to take on that task.
7.11.2007 8:08pm