Recently I went to an interfaith lecture and discussion, nothing out of the ordinary in my role at American Jewish Committee. But I left shaken, angry and disturbed.
We were instructed to sit at a table with people we didn’t know. We read a scenario and discussed it within our group, then shared our findings with the audience. During the audience discussion, I stood up to introduce myself and said a few words about AJC, which works to ensure the well-being of Jews around the world and to defend democratic values and human rights for all.
After the discussion, one of the table members asked to speak to me. I sat down and smiled at her, and she began by saying: “I’m really upset that I feel so much hatred towards the Jewish people.”
I stared at her. Did this woman just admit to being anti-Semitic?
She continued: “I’m really upset that I hate the Jewish people because of what Israel is doing. All of their human rights violations and all of that.”
I let her finish talking, then spoke up. “Ma’am, every story has two sides. Israel isn’t perfect, but they are absolutely entitled to defend themselves, especially against terrorism.”
She interjected: “With what they’re doing to the Palestinians, isn’t it justified?”
I looked at her incredulously. “Let me ask you a question,” I said. “ISIS thinks that the United States has wronged them in many ways. So is it justified when their affiliates carry out a terrorist attack here?”
She responded, “Of course not.”
“Then how could you even consider that terrorism is justified in Israel?”
She didn’t have a response. Of course she didn’t.
I challenge her to look at this picture of an Israeli child’s blood-soaked bedroom after a terrorist stabbed her to death and tell me that it was justified.
I circled back to the first part of the conversation. “I also want to caution you against saying that you hate the Jewish people because of Israel. Although many of us strongly support Israel, the Jewish people and Israel are two different things.”
She protested. “I didn’t mean to say that I hated the Jewish people. I meant to say that I hated the Jewish state.”
This last statement is crucial. She didn’t say Israel; she said “the Jewish state.”
Let’s stop pretending that anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism. You can criticize Israel and its actions just as much as you can criticize the United States and its actions, or China and its actions, or Mexico and its actions.
But you wouldn’t say you hate the Chinese state or the Mexican state because that would be racist. Just like hating “the Jewish state” is glaringly anti-Semitic.
Perhaps the most alarming part of this situation is that this woman considers herself a champion of social justice. She’s quick to label one side the oppressor and the other side the oppressed. Would she still say that Palestinian terrorism was justified if she knew that in the past two years it has claimed five non-Jewish lives?
AJC CEO David Harris encourages us to look at anti-Semitism through a trifocal lens: the far right, the far left and the jihadists. This woman epitomizes the threat from the far left.
The far left labels Israel an oppressor for defending itself against those who publicly profess their goal of destroying it and supports the Palestinian right to self-determination while denying it to the Jews. Not only is this illogical, it’s point-blank anti-Semitism.
Earlier at the same interfaith event, one of the scenarios posed was whether a synagogue hosting a group of Muslim students should take down its “We Support Israel” sign. One woman raised her hand and said that if the sign said, “We Support a Fair and Just Israel,” it would be OK to keep it up.
Think about this for a moment. First, of course we support a fair and just Israel. To imply any differently is deeply insulting. Many of us don’t agree with all of Israel’s policies and are vocal about our opposition to them.
Second, the double standard is astounding. No country in the world is perfect, and the United States is certainly no exception. But we still love our country and believe in its inherent values. How outrageous would it be if someone claimed that you should only fly an American flag if you add a sign on top saying, “I support a fair and just America”?
Unfortunately, instances like these are becoming increasingly common. That’s why it’s vital to ensure that we’re educated on the issues, so we can respond accordingly. Most important, we need to call out the anti-Israel bias for what it is: blatant, undisguised anti-Semitism.