In today’s New York Times, I presume Roger Cohen is attempting a balanced and fair assessment of why positions on the current Gaza war vary between Europe and the United States, however I think he reveals the subtle taboo that confounds rational debate about Israel. It’s anti-Semitism.
He writes criticism in Europe is “moving beyond anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism (often a flimsy distinction).” While it is certainly true that many critics of Israel are motivated by anti-Semitic beliefs and certainly that will include a great deal of people who are anti-Zionists as well, it’s important to remember that the two do not need coincide. In fact, you can be upset with what is happening in Israel and Palestine and still be Zionist. You can also be Jewish and anti-Zionist. And you might also not know what any of this is all about and still hate Jews, support Israel, and be as awful as you care to be. Ignorance often accompanies hate.
In the end, anti-Semitism is another issue, another problem — not unrelated to Israel for some people — but should be unrelated to those people who seek real solutions to a very real problem.
Interestingly, too, Cohen doesn’t suggest any anti-Palestinian bias in the United States. Clearly it exists. Tune in to talk radio. Many callers — and the hosts — supporting Israel possess a shocking bias against the Palestinians, or anyone they presume to be “Muslims” or “Arabs” and therefore “terrorists.” That, I’m afraid, is becoming as much a problem and obstacle to peace as anti-Semitism.
I appreciate Roger Cohen’s essay — I think I understand the intent — but issues of race, religion, and history are almost becoming symptoms, not causes, of a much more tangible problem of justice in the Middle East. People are pissed at Israel, not necessarily Jews, because of what Israel is doing — and has been doing for decades — to the Palestinian people.