As A Nation-State Israel Can Be Criticized

During the beginning of the war in Iraq, I was asked to give a lecture in Paris on some of … Continued

During the beginning of the war in Iraq, I was asked to give a lecture in Paris on some of my very public statements against the war and especially my rejection of the concept of preemptive war, that is, the idea that it is okay for the United States to attack a country that has not attacked us or one of our allies.

I accepted the invitation and in preparation for this lecture, for several months before I left for France, I began reading LeMonde,a leading French newspaper, online.

I was simply staggered by the blatant anti-Semitism in the writings of many of the French critics of the war that I read in that newspaper. This is what many call the “new anti-Semitism” of the left, but it is also found on the far right and in radical Islam. It might be better termed “anti-Zionism” as it is a rejection of the very idea of a Jewish state.

But this “new anti-Semitism” draws on the old stereotypes of “Jewish conspiracies” and the crudest kind of racial stereotyping you can imagine. I confess I was naïve enough to have found this simply amazing in France, a country that has such a terrible 20th-century legacy of complicity with the Holocaust. So, of course, I said so when I got to Paris and this did not exactly endear me to the French who attended my lecture.

Yes, you can criticize the state of Israel for a particular action it has or has not undertaken. It is a nation-state among nation-states. As the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr has taught me and taught many in his book Moral Man and Immoral Society, a nation-state is not an altruistic entity; the motives of a nation-state are guided by what is perceived by its leaders to be the protection of that state and its preservation from harm. This may cause conflict with other nations or parties when their interests do not coincide. So, the U.S. or Israel or France or any nation-state is not required to be innocent, nor should it be get a free pass on criticism of its actions by the world community.

The problem is, as I saw in the Paris newspaper, that the ugly history of anti-Semitism as a form of unreasoning, racist/ethnic prejudice lurks below the cultural surface. This is the case not only in Europe, of course, but also in many places around the world, including the United States. It is very easy for those who are prejudiced against Jews in general to use the criticism of Israel as a vehicle to give expression to hatred, plain and simple.

I try to name anti-Semitism when I see it, either the new kind or the old, because it is still a wound in the world consciousness. But I do not for that reason refrain from critique of Israel the nation-state when I disagree with its policies. I just try not to engage in such critique in an historical vacuum.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    This topic is unbelievably stupid and shallow. The answer to both questions is YES, and any intelligent person would know that in ten seconds. There won’t be many posts because there’s nothing to be said on this topic.

  • Brambleton

    For the first and probably only time, I’m in agreement with Norrie (although I still don’t understand Norrie’s inability to make a statement without demeaning someone). Unless I’m missing something obvious, these questions seem like no-brainers to me.

  • Mad Love

    Agreed.

  • Greg

    Brambleton, what I am waiting for is B’Gone to work his site into the conversation. 😀 Actually this is going to make for interesting conversation just with the meanderings that are going to occurr especially anytime you mention Isreal or the Middle East in general… PS B’Gone I’m just poking a bit fun…

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Brambleton,I didn’t realize that I was posting with a consistently demeaning tone, until I read your post above suggesting that. I’ll take your comment under advisement, consult with my family, and see if I agree with what you said. Thanks for your comment.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Brambleton,Haven’t had a chance to check with my sons, but here’s what my wife said:”I don’t think you write to demean people – mostly you try to act as a teacher – but sometimes you may get carried away and come across as too forceful.”In most of my posts, I think I do try to act as a teacher, by pointing out facts that have been overlooked or misstated.I never set out to demean people. I may make ironic or sarcastic statements in response to statements that seem to me to be beyond the pale, spawned by bad motives, or utterly and irredeemably ignorant.I count any over-forceful comments simply as evidence of my enthusiasm for my point of view. And when someone promotes or defends institutions that have unleashed cruelty on the world, as for instance, certain authoritarian religions, I really sound off, and I make no apology for that.As Franklin Roosevelt said: “The sins of the warm-hearted and the sins of the cold-blooded are not to be weighed on the same scale.”My best to you.

  • TDAY

    Perhaps someone can add to this subject with, say, a conversation on ancient Israel as a whole (that is ALL 12 tribes) ..past, present and future. Todays anti-semitism is usually pointed at those who have descended thru the centuries from the Pharisees, Saducees, etc. These groups are not fully representative of, not only tribes close to them (Judah, Benjamin, Levi) but also not fully representative of the other tribes of Israel. It is a fascinating study to see where the other tribes (Gad, Asher, Dan, Napthali, Reuben, etc) have ended up thru the centuries. We literally sit among one another to this day.

  • Ba’al

    I agree with Norrie (as usual) and Brambleton (!!). I also agree with the essay.I think this means we need a different topic.

  • Anonymous

    It is soooo amazing that Israel remains the focus, the hot bottom, the awe of the World!!! Why! Jesus said it would and that’s where He will return soon…On the Mt of Olives He will step. He promised Israel would endure, yet suffer because He choose this nation to represent to the World…Himself… So wow! Israel is the apple of God’s eye!! If you’ve noticed in any world Nation those who have not supported or made threats or not defended Israel, they have undergone severe chastiments. Why…Because God said they would. Look at the last 10 years in America. Whenever we succumbed to Middle East “peace talks” or endangered Israel…see the record, look at the facts, we do not go unharmed. If we are wise, loving and God-fearing we will always support Zion, Israel, His chosen..because they are a people, a force NOT to be reckoned with…Just see history..All of it!!! Connect the dots and you wil be blessed! The nation of Israel is holy not because of people, but because of God…And that’s why we can’t judge them by their acts, but what God will do!!! And He is just!

  • Tonio

    “I confess I was naïve enough to have found this simply amazing in France, a country that has such a terrible 20th-century legacy of complicity with the Holocaust.”That country’s recent history also includes the Dreyfus Affair, which led to the formation of the Zionist movement. The Zionists believed that Jews in Europe would always face persecution, and this still seems to be the case.

  • EOG

    On re-reading the Reverend Thistlethwaite’s piece, I’m reminded that, yet again, there is another epidemic of virulent anti-Semitism spreading across Europe and the Middle East. It has infected America, too, but has not yet reached such dangerous levels. True anti-Americanism (a la bin Laden and his ilk, and NOT legitimate criticism of this administration) is also on the rise.Our challenge is to fight true anti-Semitism, while not silently standing by (or, worse yet, actively supporing them) when the state of Israel behaves in ways that are, arguably, profoundly counter productive to its own long term interests. So, too, those on the right have for too long sought to silence critics of the current administration, by accusing those with whom they disagree of being anti-American, disloyal, or unpatriotic.It seems to me that knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, reflexively tossed out to silence critics, might be like the reaction to the little boy who cried wolf. When the real thing bears its fangs, those who might come to your aid have stopped listening.Listen to critics of Israel’s policies, like the settlements, and to critics of Bush’s policies, like his assaults on the Constitution, and address them honestly and openly before it is too late.

  • Jihadist

    Reverend, you said:”But this “new anti-Semitism” draws on the old stereotypes of “Jewish conspiracies” and the crudest kind of racial stereotyping you can imagine.”The “Jewish conspiracies” now circulating also has its basis from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Still a widely available and read text in spite of being a forgery. And some do believe the Jews controlled everything in the world from banking to the media. Reverend, good piece, but I must admit that I don’t feel the wound or guilt as I should as a Southeast Asian Muslim. Very few Jews then, very few Jews now in the region. There were no fights over lands with them, and no historical baggage of living with the guilt of what my ancestors wrought against them. Same for other Asian countries and in Africa too. We are more absorbed with our own specific historical wounds, be it racial and/or religious. This is not being callous. This is a reality.Of course I do get riled up over some Israeli policies and or independent actions by some Isrealis that seems to worsen the situation – including illegal settlements in Palestinian areas. Is that being anti-Semitic/Jewish?

  • Ba’al

    JihadistOne can criticize the illegal settlements and not be anti-Jewish. It’s obvious. Just like it is not anti-American to criticize Dick Cheney and George Bush for, well, pretty much everything they do.

  • John Hubers

    While I would agree that Dr. Brooks Thistlethwaite is correct in her assessment about some who harbor anti Semitic impulses among the European left it doesn’t really do her case much good to make a state ment about something she read without actually quoting the piece in question. We are left to take her word for it that this was a piece of awful anti semitic writing. And thus the problem I have found with the anti – anti-semitic critics (which is usually defined as most anything which is critical of Israel and her policies despite what Dr. Brooks says about it being legitimate to criticize the nation state). They cry “isn’t this awful” without allowing any kind of legitimate discussion of the issues. So, please, let us see this awful literature of which you speak.

  • Siddique

    I like the essay, its clear and objective. I clearly distinguish between Jews or Judaism and state of Israel. However, our right wing religious folks have insisted that Israel is fulfillment of the Judeo-Christian divine prophecy. As a result the criticism of Israel is projected as Anti-Semitism. That’s where everything becomes murky. On the other side as well, the critics of Israeli policies have lumped the Jews and Israel as synanymous. All this is not helpful at all.I found that the Jewish community in the United States somehow sympathizes with Muslims who are being stereotyped as all being intolerent and worst yet as terrorists. Jewish community understands this bigotory better than anyone else. They have been victims of this.Historically, Jews and Muslims have gotten along much better than meets the eyes in today’s context. European anti-semitism is deep rooted and was there before Israel even existed. They even have laws against it.On another subject, the criticism of Jews as a religious group is termed as anti-semitism, what term would we use for Muslim bashing of today?Thank you.

  • EOG

    Norrie writes that this topic is unbelievably stupid and shallow, and goes on to say that any intelligent person would know the answer to both questions is YES. Perhaps Norrie wouldn’t be so disdainfully dismissive if he didn’t take the questions so literally, and looked a little deeper. The underlying reality is that many people by their words and deeds behave as if the answer is NO. Why is it that so many people attack the messengers with such inflammatory rhetoric when they don’t like the message? Others have touched on a variety of instances where this seems to be the case. If you question the wisdom Israel’s policies (the settlements, for example), many reflexively accuse you of being anti-Semitic. If you question the wisdom of the president’s policies, many on the right respond by attacking your patriotism, or even of giving aid and comfort to ‘the enemy’ (a wonderfully dehumanizing term). Is it possible that at least some of those who question the prevailing policies of both Israeli and American governments, are, in fact, speaking truth to power? Could it be that the knee-jerk, slanderous cries of anti-Semitism, or of being anti-American reveal either (or both) the absence of a reasoned response or a visceral fear of what a real, unbiased, and thorough examination of the criticism might expose?

  • victoria

    one doesnt need to be overly shocked at the anti-semitism in le monde- french newspapers and french actions are some of the most racist towards muslims too (anyone remember the suburbs of paris burining last year or the hotels filled with muslims burning down on a regular basis?) yeah- france isnt really known for its tolerance-

  • Ba’al

    There is a thread that I find really scary in certain hard-core American supporters of Israel. They support the state of Israel, but not because they particularly care for Jews — they don’t, Muslims and Jews are all wogs to this crowd. No, they support Israel because it fits into their eschatological world view in which everything we see is predicted in the book of Revelation, and the foundation of the state of Israel is one of the signs of the eventual return of Jesus.

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  • Anonymous

    “Is it possible that at least some of those who question the prevailing policies of both Israeli and American governments, are, in fact, speaking truth to power?”Well, the two are not similar. 1.5 billion and many states is power. 15 million and one state is not.

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    I wrote that.

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