Mae Elise Cannon: Anti-Semitism Versus Legitimate Criticism of the State of Israel

In this Feb. 5, 2019, photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., left, joined at right by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listens to President Trump’s State of the Union speech at the Capitol in Washington. A tweet by Omar sparked a bipartisan backlash, with some accusing her of being anti-Semitic. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The question of what constitutes legitimate critique of Israel as opposed to anti-Semitism is front and center in the conversation about Israel in the U.S. following the outcry regarding Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweets about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the impending anti-Semitism resolution in the House.

In light of debates on Capitol Hill about what defines anti-Semitism and recent increased incidents of hatred toward Jews, it is particularly paramount to weed out and eradicate anti-Semitism, while also distinguishing it from legitimate criticism of Israel.

How does one criticize Israel’s policies without being anti-Semitic?

We need to listen to what the Jewish community says about anti-Semitism. While there are differences of opinion and multiple perspectives, particularly across conservative and liberal divides, commonalities also exist.

Beliefs that are detrimental and could lead to physical harm against Jews constitute anti-Semitism. Not every problematic belief manifests anti-Semitism. One can be inaccurate and wrong, and not be anti-Semitic. Nonetheless, we must be informed and attentive to when anti-Semitic sentiment, rhetoric or actions exist.

In our criticism of Israeli policies, may we not compromise in also calling out violations of human rights and acts of violence by other individuals, groups and nation-states. Activists and advocates must not muddy the waters between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.

People walk past a banner showing Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against the Israel
Jewish nation bill in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 30, 2018.
Opponents and rights groups have criticized the
legislation, warning that it will sideline minorities such
as the country’s Arabs. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

At the same time, calling Israel to higher ideals because of its self-identification as a “vibrant democracy” and calling for the fair treatment of the approximately 20 percent of its citizens who are Palestinian does not constitute anti-Semitism.

Addressing the impact of Israeli policies on Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territories is not inherently anti-Semitic. We must acknowledge that Jews, just as Palestinians, have a right to self-determination just as every other people group. We must acknowledge the historic ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the land of Israel and historic Palestine. This does not negate the legitimate ties of Palestinian Arabs who have also been present in the land for thousands of years. Christians might need to be reminded that Arabs also lived in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost (Acts 2:11).

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Source: Religion News Service