E.U. Sanctions

09.20.13

Dear Israeli Right: This Is What Anti-Semitism Means

Language is a funny thing. On the one hand it’s malleable by nature, because human culture is endlessly malleable; on the other hand, at any given time, the words in whatever language you’re using have actual definitions. Take “anti-Semitism,” for instance.

“Anti-Semitism” has an actual, working definition—and here’s what that definition is:

Anti-Semitism, n. -  hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.

I bring this up only because the Israeli right appears to be once again confusing anti-Semitism with “being opposed to things that the Israeli right want everyone to think are non-negotiable.”

Case in point: The sanctions that the European Union is poised to institute against West Bank settlements. The Israeli right feels pretty strongly that such sanctions will do damage to the settlement enterprise, and while we can’t really be sure of the outcome of a policy that hasn’t been implemented yet, I feel safe in saying that the Israeli right is, well, right—in fact, that’s the point of the sanctions: To damage the settlement enterprise. It’s a political action intended to produce political ends.

Representatives of the settlements, including Israel’s Ambassador to the E.U. and members of the Knesset, requested and were granted a special parliamentary session in Brussels earlier this week in which to present their opposition to the E.U.’s new policy—and here’s what MK Ayelet Shaked (of Nafatali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party) had to say:

If Europe thinks Jews will return to the days where we were forced to mark our products—you can forget it. Delegitimization of parts of Israel by Europe is the new anti-Semitism. The old anti-Semitism led to the destruction of our people in gas chambers. We will not allow the new anti-Semitism to hurt us.

Now, we could start by noting that whatever you may think of the settlement enterprise, not even Israel thinks that the West Bank is “part of Israel.” Those lands haven’t been annexed, and indeed their future is (putatively, at least) under negotiation by the Israeli government even as we speak. We could start there.

But why start there when we have the specter of gas chambers before us?

This is not the first time that anti-settlement policies have been likened unto racism, anti-Semitism and/or the Holocaust (because, you know, taking the political position that the West Bank does not, in fact, belong to Israel is just like performing torture experiments on Jewish children, sexually enslaving Jewish women, and gunning down 34,000 men, women and children at Babi Yar. Not to mention gas chambers), and it probably won’t be the last.

Indeed, the right’s tendency to label everything vaguely unpleasant as anti-Semitism (and a new Holocaust to boot!) is so strong that Israel’s more non-hyperbolic citizens often mock and satirize it. Perhaps my favorite example of this is an old routine by iconic comedy troupe HaHamishia HaKamarite—you don’t even need a working knowledge of Hebrew to enjoy it.

The mockery comes because many, many Israelis (left, right, and ambidextrous) understand that there’s simply no intellectually honest way to shoe-horn a decision to suspend “grants, prizes, and financial instruments… to Israeli entities or to their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967” into the idea of hating on Jews because they’re Jews. Or into the idea of killing them. It’s ahistorical. It’s nonsensical. It suggests a lack of book learning. And it’s deeply, profoundly offensive.

When Shaked (or Dani Dayan, or Avigdor Lieberman, or Zeev Elkin) say these things, they’re using the screams of babies, numbers burned into flesh, and ashes that once rose into heaven to try to shame the world into accepting right-wing dogma as settled fact. It is, simply put, grotesque.

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with my work knows that I’m anti-settlement. I always have been. But I don’t think that you have to share my political inclinations in order to agree on this particular point.

Some things really are anti-Semitic—as the Jews of 21st century Hungary, baseball disgrace Ryan Braun, the good people of Virginia, and a young girl I know who was once told that “Hitler should have finished the job” can attest. We need to stand against that hate and that bigotry wherever we see it and educate aggressively so that it becomes a thing of the past.

But the European Union doesn’t oppose the West Bank settlements because the people living in them are Jews. The European Union opposes the West Bank settlements because the people living in them (and the government that sent them) are breaking international law:

In conformity with international law on the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967…the EU has made it clear that it will not recognize any changes to pre-1967 border, other than those agreed by the parties to the Middle East Peace Process.

But Israel’s right wing (and the Americans who support it) want the world to simply give up and give in, to adopt its ideological position and red-roofed West Bank homes as a fait accompli and play a supporting role in denying the Palestinian people their civil and human rights into perpetuity.

And they’re not above exploiting the deaths of six million people to do it.