THE BLOG

The Gaza War and Anti-Semitism

07/29/2014 10:42 am ET | Updated Sep 28, 2014

I keep reading outraged comments from Jewish organizations and media condemning those (like me) who believe and say that the Gaza war is resulting in a spike in anti-Semitism. (They agree that incidents of anti-Semitism are increasing but reject the idea that it has anything to do with Israeli actions.)

Their argument makes no sense.

It goes like this. Anti-Semitism is not caused by anything. It is innate, a poison that lives in the hearts and minds of evil people, needing only a pretext for it to explode. Israel's actions can't cause anti-Semitism. They can only be a pretext for it.

That may be true although there is no way of proving it.

A subset of that same argument is that extreme animosity to the State of Israel is itself anti-Semitism, which is, no doubt, often true. Any perusal of anti-Israel websites will provide more examples than a sane person can stomach.

The fact that many anti-Semites substitute the terms "Zionist" or "Israelis" for Jews does not change a thing. Although criticism (including powerful criticism) of Israel's behavior, and especially the occupation and the Gaza war, is not only permissible but right, attacking the existence of the Jewish state is often a cover for anti-Semitism.

But so what?

Let's assume that a certain percentage of the population is always going to be anti-Semitic. In good times and bad, a small percentage of people will hate Jews.

But what about the rest, who start thinking ill of Jews because of actions taken by Israel, the actions that the Jewish organizations call pretexts.

This manner of thinking is not right and it is threatening. But at the same time it is not surprising when diaspora Jewish communities are always expressing their "solidarity" with Israel.

In my own community of Washington, D.C., almost every synagogue is adorned with a big permanent sign that features an Israeli flag and the words: "We Stand With Israel In Its Struggle For Peace and Security." Over and over again Jewish organizations insist that those of Jewish faith "stand as one" with the State of Israel. In fact, those who question that bond are themselves criticized as "anti-Israel," "self-hating Jews," or worse.

Is it then any wonder that those who don't quite grasp the nuances of Jewish identity react negatively when Israel behaves terribly, as it is doing right now? This does not excuse repulsive and violent instances of anti-Semitism which, like hate crimes against any group, must be condemned and, where possible, prosecuted.

But it's a lie to say that Israel's behavior does not affect attitudes toward both Israelis and Jews.

Today Binyamin Netanyahu is perhaps the most reviled leader of any country in the world and Israel, as a country, isn't doing much better. Jews in diaspora are themselves feeling the ugliness growing.

If, however, none of this had anything to do with Israel's behavior, the level of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel feelings would be constant, unaffected by the horrors in Gaza. To accept the logic of the various Jewish organizations (like the ADL) requires believing that the hate is always out there, unattached to anything except the anti-Semite's psychosis.

If that was true, then why was it that apparently both anti-Semitism and anti-Israel fervor dropped dramatically during the period that Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister of Israel and was pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

The "world" may hate Netanyahu but it revered Rabin. Poll after poll showed that he was admired throughout the world, approaching levels achieved by Nelson Mandela. When he was murdered more foreign leaders (including Muslim and Arab leaders) gathered in Israel for his funeral than had gathered for any such event since President Kennedy's funeral in 1963. And Jews benefited from the high regard in which Rabin was held.

Perhaps Rabin's pursuit of peace should not have affected attitudes toward Jews at large, but they did. By the same logic (the imperfect logic of human beings), Netanyahu's war on Gaza affects attitudes toward Jews at large. You can't keep saying "we are one" and expect anything else.

Rabin made us feel proud and more secure. Netanyahu produces the opposite effect.

It's sad. But not as sad as you may think.

When the next Rabin comes forward, attitudes toward both Israel and Jews will change as quickly as they changed when Rabin came to the White House and addressed the Palestinian people with these words, "We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears, enough!"

I can hear him saying those words today about Netanyahu's actions in Gaza and all those beautiful children. Enough, enough.