pallas_athena: (tarot)
[personal profile] pallas_athena
Over the past few weeks, I have seen several online acquaintances-- witty, intelligent, talented, funny people-- voice opinions on the current Gaza conflict which, coming from them, have startled me. Among these, the biggest fallacy is the one which characterises any criticism of the Israeli military action as anti-Semitism.

To speak clearly, I condemn anti-Semitism; I believe all reasonable people should condemn examples of religious and ethnic hatred wherever they find it. I believe that among these forms of hatred, anti-Semitism deserves special consideration due to the atrocities of the Holocaust, committed within living memory. I believe the State of Israel has a right to exist and to keep its own peace. However, I disagree with many of the policies of the current coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and I don't believe that it is anti-Semitic to voice this disagreement.


It would be anti-Semitic to make blanket statements about Israel, Israelis or Jewish people; it is not anti-Semitic to criticise the specific actions of the Netanyahu government and, at a lower level, some of the decisions taken at the command level of the IDF.

Bear with me here: I'm going to start an analogy going. Like all analogies, it is flawed, but here goes.

As an American who survived the Bush years, one of the lessons I learned is never to conflate a people with their government. When people made blanket statements about the misdeeds of "America" or "Americans" in those years, I would (firstly) agree that the deeds were bad and (secondly) remind the speaker that a majority of Americans, including myself, had voted against Bush. There are plenty of Israelis who feel the same about Netanyahu, and who speak out eloquently against the actions currently being carried out in their name. By the same token, I also object to the fallacy that all Palestinians, or even all Gazans, are complicit in the crimes of Hamas.

I remember September 11th, 2001, and the moment the Bush administration started making political hay out of the deaths of 2,977 people. "You are either with us or you are with the terrorists," he said. In the year that followed, Bush's allies took up the cry, and the term "anti-American" came into more intensive use than it had seen since the McCarthy era. Any criticism of Bush, his presidency or policies was denounced as "anti-American." There had to be unity, we were earnestly told, and dissenting voices were "bad for America".

Once the US went into Afghanistan, the American public started being hit with the War Stick in earnest. The exhortation to "support the troops" was everywhere. Those of us who suggested, verbally or in print, that one could be supportive towards the men and women on the ground while disagreeing with the policymakers at the top were shouted down amid a waving of flags and and a volley of empty justifications.

And it worked: Congress, the Senate and the media became afraid to criticise Bush. There had to be unity, editors were sternly told; any lack of unity would be bad for America in this time of war. As a result, there was no meaningful criticism of Bush's amassing of a pile of outdated, biased, faulty and (in some cases) downright fabricated information to justify his planned invasion of Iraq. Dissent was relegated to the fringes, where it could be handwaved away as the shrill posturing of hippies and bleeding-hearts. (The right wing loved using that word, "shrill," in those days. They've more or less dropped it now that it's come to best describe them.)

Do you remember when Colin Powell took the aforementioned shitheap of information to the UN and the French representative, declining to support the resolution, said "I'm not convinced"? Do you remember the gleeful anti-French backlash that ensued in America? Do you remember the idiocy of the Capitol's café rebranding its french fries as "freedom fries"? It was all just another way of hitting us with the War Stick; of showing us what happens when you step out of line.

We were told to lie down and roll over when the PATRIOT act was passed. With that acronym, how could anyone be so anti-American as to vote against it? By this point there was considerable protest at the popular level, but it didn't matter: Congress and the Senate were whipped, and so was the press. And so it passed, compromising our privacy and civil liberties as never before and laying the direct foundation for the current culture of unfettered NSA surveillance, for which the justification-- "It keeps us safe"-- is merely another iteration of the War Stick.

In 2014, as I typed, there is now a consensus that it was a mistake for the US to go into Iraq; that there never were any weapons of mass destruction there; that the unquestioning support of the US for Nouri al-Maliki's subsequent government led directly to the current crisis. And now Obama, who was against the Iraq war in the first place, is having to take the US back in-- who knows for how long?

It was not then, and is not now, anti-American to say that Bush was a terrible President; that the decisions and policies made by him and his allies were bad for America and the world; that his war in Iraq was wrong, unnecessary and led to thousands of needless deaths.

It was not then, and is not now, anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli to say that Netanyahu and the Likud-led coalition are not governing well; that their decisions and policies are bad for Israel and the world; and that both the blockade and the current action in Gaza are wrong, unjust and leading to thousands of needless deaths.
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