Israel Doesn't Get a Free Pass, but Anti-Semitism Doesn't Either

08/10/2014 08:22 pm ET | Updated Oct 10, 2014
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For some, criticizing Israel is equated with being an anti-Semite. Just the other day, someone on my social media called the world "anti-Semitic" and claimed that rather than paying attention to what Israel is doing, people should focus on Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and the Islamic State in Iraq. This rhetoric is not uncommon.

What's going on in Iraq and Syria is not only deplorable, but shouldn't be ignored either. Nonetheless, just because horrific things are taking place in other parts of the Middle East as well doesn't give Israel carte blanche to do as it pleases.

The reason much of the world is captivated by Gaza is because one of the most advanced armies in the world is engaged with guerilla forces and not an actual army, a discrepancy that is resulting in humanitarian devastation on the Palestinian side.

But that's not all.

Much of the condemnation of Israel is rooted in the fact its government prides itself on being the "only democracy in the Middle East" (I will leave that debate up to the reader). It is that very premise people across the globe find themselves transfixed by the crisis that unfolded in Gaza, resulting in 70-80% civilian causalities, according to the United Nations. On top of that, with the United States giving $3 billion in annual aid to Israel and providing the ammunition that caused those deaths, it leaves room to critique where American taxpayers dollars go.

Regardless of where you are from, there is a higher standard held for countries within our reach and particularly if they are perceived as a beacon of freedom. As Haaretz's senior columnist Peter Beinart notes, "We all intuitively understand the rationale for focusing on those offenses over which we have more control, even if they are not the most egregious. If that weren't the case, how could an American justify focusing her attention on the misdeeds of the government of the United States?"

People across the spectrum expect more from these so-called democracies and have every right to criticize, regardless of the religiosity of one's government.

The Right To Criticize

The irony of being labeled an "anti-Semite" for criticizing Israel is that it calls itself a democracy and one of the most fundamental ideals of having that title is freedom of expression. If anything, it is imperative to be critical of a state's action. By doing so, you point out its flaws with the hope it will improve its standing in the world and the conditions of its people.

When the Israeli left in the Knesset criticizes their own country, does that make them an anti-Semite? When Israelis protest the war on Gaza, does that make them anti-Semites? When soldiers refuse to serve in the Israeli army because of what's happening, does that make them an anti-Semites?

Journalist Laurie Penny says it best,

"It is not anti-Semitic to suggest that Israel doesn't get a free pass to kill whoever it likes in order to feel 'safe'. It is not anti-Semitic to point out that if what Israel needs to feel 'safe' is to pen the Palestinian people in an open prison under military occupation, the state's definition of safety might warrant some unpacking. And it is not anti-Semitic to say that this so-called war is one in which only one side actually has an army."

Penny takes it a step further:

It is not hate speech to reiterate the wild disparity in casualties... To speak of proportionality is not to call, as at least one silverback columnist has claimed, for 'more dead Jews'.

Having that been said, even the Anti-Defamation League points out the following:

Certainly the sovereign State of Israel and its government can be legitimately criticized just like any other country or government in the world. Criticism of particular Israeli actions or policies -- even harsh and strident criticism and advocacy -- in and of itself does not constitute anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism, A Fine Line

While criticizing Israel certainly isn't anti-Semitic, it is important to note there is a fine line to cross when some begin equating Zionism -- a nationalistic movement -- with Judaism -- an Abrahamic religion -- in an effort to show support for Palestine and specifically Gaza during this politically charged time.

As we speak, there are solidarity with Gaza protests taking place in various parts of the world. However, there is an aspect of these protests that needs to be carefully assessed. If you're out protesting the Gaza war and chanting "Jews to the gas chambers" or "death to the Jews" and resorting to violence towards any Jewish person -- essentially unable to differentiate between Zionism and Judaism -- I hate to break it, but you're an anti-Semite and horrible human being.

By targeting members of the Jewish community -- regardless of their stance on Israel -- demonstrates one's ignorance of history and current events. You're not only resorting to anti-Semitism, whether you are verbally or physically hurting the Jewish people, but you're taking it a step further by dragging those who are against the war on Gaza with you. This is one of the most destructive things to the Palestinian struggle than anything else. By being hateful and ignorant, you're hurting the Palestinians and their supporters. It is these very actions the public points to obstruct support for the Palestinian people.

Criticize Israel all you want, but don't resort to anti-Semitism to express your frustration at Israel's wrongdoings.