When does criticism of Israel turn into antisemitism? It’s a good question and the actions of an environmental organization this week provides us with the clearest example yet of when this line is crossed.
But first, we are not saying you can’t criticize Israel. Israel is a nation state, a democracy, and saying that you can’t criticize Israel is the equivalent of saying that you can’t debate American politics. That makes no sense. However, there are times when Israel’s criticism is antisemitism and what happened this week proves just that.
On Tuesday, SunriseDC (in a now protected tweet) said they would no longer take part in a voting rights rally due to “Zionist organizations” taking part.
The so-called “Zionist organizations” taking part were the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. These are all Jewish organizations based in the United States representing American Jews. These organizations do not represent the Israeli government or even the people of Israel— that’s what makes this antisemitic plain and simple.
I am not going to get into all the accusations made in the statement. That’s only going to detract from my main point which is SunriseDC only targeted the Jewish organizations attending the rally and chose not to apply the same “litmus test” to the dozens of other organizations attending. At least two other participating organizations have statements on Israel in line with the mentioned Jewish organizations but were not targeted by SunriseDC as a “problem.”
But that’s not even the main point, SunriseDC only singled out Jewish Americans and blamed them for the actions of another country, Israel. The move targeted Jews and only Jews.
Taking it a step further, SunriseDC is also calling for the Declaration for American Democracy Coalition, a sponsor of the event, to revoke the membership of the Jewish groups they mentioned. This is textbook antisemitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Definition (IHRA):
Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
– Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.holocaustremembrance.com
– Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
The IHRA definition, which was produced in 2016, has been adopted by dozens of countries. It has also been endorsed by the United Nations Secretary General, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. In the United States, the IHRA definition has received bipartisan support: The Biden administration stated that it “enthusiastically embraces” the definition, and former President Donald Trump issued an executive order instructing all U.S. executive agencies to consider the IHRA when determining antisemitism. The administrations of former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush also used the definition as guidance.
In other words, this definition isn’t controversial and has mainstream bi-partisan support.
This double standard applied to American Jews and Israel is the problem.
I’m American and Jewish; and yes, my spiritual home is in the land of Israel. It’s no different than my Muslim brothers and sisters and their attachment to Mecca and blind support and endorsement of Saudi Arabia’s government.
We don’t actually think that way because that is Islamophobic. The same goes with Judaism.
That’s the double standard the IHRA definition is trying to point out. Was SunriseDC critiquing Israel or did they have a Jewish problem? They applied their litmus test only to Jews. SunriseDC demanded the removal of three liberal American Jewish organizations with no affiliation with the Israeli government or the people of Israel over their perceived blind support of another country’s actions, and that’s where their statement became antisemitic.
Editor’s note: “What to think about. What to talk about. What to listen to right now.” I’m starting a new weekly column that focuses on journalism and Judaism. Some weeks the topic will be particularly Jewish, other weeks it’ll take something in the news cycle and break it down through a Jewish angle. The goal is to inform, not pontificate, and use Journalism (yes capital “J”) as a vehicle to navigate the noise that is out there on these topics. Hopefully you’ll be able to use these facts during the heated debates of Shabbos meals to form your own opinions and to challenge others.
Originally Published Oct 24 2021 02:11PM EDT