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Criticizing Israel is not an anti-Semitic act

COMMENTARY | January 05, 2009

Why is finding fault with Israel seemingly off-limits in so much of the mainstream American media?

By Haviland Smith

Objective articles about Palestine and Israel in the Israeli press are pretty commonplace. Israeli readers have ready access to all points of view. Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper and one of its most influential, is a leader in presenting balanced commentary on and criticism of Israeli policy. It does so without censorship and with a clarity and passion that is rarely seen in mainstream American media.

Unfortunately, writing objectively about Palestine in the United States, which inevitably involves criticism of both Israel and Palestine, is akin to standing in the sights of a bazooka aimed by those Americans who have passionately pro-Israeli views on the subject.

Passionate and uncritical American supporters of Israel have long painted all criticism of Israel in the most negative light. Part of that campaign has involved labeling anyone who speaks out against Israeli policies or activities as “anti-Semitic.” While it is true that negative comments on Semites (Jews, Arabs and others) are anti-Semitic, negative comments on the country of Israel are not.

The power of the term makes its use highly inflammatory in our culture. We have reached the point where many in the media are reluctant to criticize any Israeli policy or activity, anticipating that they will be labeled as “anti-Semitic,” with all its ugly connotations. This produces a de facto censorship of criticism of Israel, even when such criticism is justified. Israel, like America or any other country in the history of the world, has done things that need to be examined and openly discussed.

When such discussion does appear in the American media, as in the recent case of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two American scholars who severely criticized the “Israeli lobby” (passionate, doctrinaire and uncritical supporters of Israel) in the U.S. press, it is typically labeled as “anti-Semitic” and when it’s applied to a Jew, as “self-hating” by that same “Israeli lobby”.

So, America has a free press, but it’s not really free when it comes to open discussions of Israeli policies and activities. Sadly, the important ongoing battle against real, continuing anti-Semitism is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as anti-Semitic.

Given the importance to America of Israel and the Middle East, the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip serves simply to remind all of us of the wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs in Palestine. Without a solution to the Palestine problem, America will be hard put to find favorable solutions to its problems with radical Muslim terrorism or with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria or Pakistan. Arabs and Israelis will simply continue to kill each other indiscriminately, guaranteeing perpetual unrest in the entire Middle East.

At this moment, it would appear that those in power in Palestine and Israel are not prepared to respond to any of their own internal constituencies other than their most radical elements. Despite the existence of Fatah as a “moderating” voice in Palestine, Hamas remains openly dedicated to the ultimate destruction of Israel and is essentially at war with that country.

According to recent polls, 60 percent of Israelis would trade land for peace. Yet, the West Bank settlers and their Israeli and American supporters in and out of government, are totally unwilling to even discuss the issue of those settlements as part of any solution for the Palestine problem.

Those settlements, like the radical Arab policy of “pushing Israel into the sea,” will always be the key obstacles in any peace process. The Arab intent to annihilate Israel is totally unacceptable. The West Bank settlements have been declared illegal under international law. Neither policy is morally superior to the other: Each is wrong.

So, the shelling of Israel from Gaza and the retention and expansion of Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements continue simply to mollify the extremist elements on both sides who feel they will somehow “lose” if an agreement is reached.

What Americans need to understand is that a Palestine/Israel peace will come only when the West Bank settlements are gone and when Israel is accepted in the region and guaranteed peace and security by the extremists who would now annihilate her. There will be no peace without such accommodations, only endless conflict.

The original goals for Palestine and Israel included a land-for-peace deal and a two-state solution. They still represent the only fair answers for all sides. God knows, we condemn the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. If we cannot even rationally discuss the West Bank settlements in our “free” press without being labeled “anti-Semitic,” what hope is there for America to sponsor or even help with an equitable solution that is in the interest of all concerned parties, ourselves included?

Not much!

Peace in the Middle East
Posted by Syed Shuja Haider
02/24/2009, 10:32 AM

I think lots of blood has been shed on both isdes. The solution is simple. Let both sides work seriously. Israel has given more rights to Palestinians who are Israeli citizens with representation in the Parliment. Can Palestinian leaders do the same for their own people. Look at the record of Yaser Arafat, dead with a wealth of US $ 4.0 billions while his wife and daughter who lives in Paris gets more than US 29 million per year and for doing what??. Who is giving Palestinian the Justice???

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