Goldberg: Judge Not Israel Alone

It is not anti-Semitic to be critical of Israel, but it can be anti-Semitic to be critical only of Israel. … Continued

It is not anti-Semitic to be critical of Israel, but it can be anti-Semitic to be critical only of Israel.

This is something that many Presbyterian leaders — and leaders of other Protestant denominations who have made clobbering Israel a professional preoccupation — fail to understand.

The Presbyterian church, of course, has been preternaturally concerned with Israel’s moral failings, proposing, from time to time, that the church divest its stock portfolio of companies doing business there. (Recently, the church has pulled back a bit, but only a bit). Naturally, Christians can think whatever they wish about Israel (though I tend to find the idea of Christians sitting in moral judgment of Jews somewhat chutzpah-like, given the fact that Israel only exists because Christianity showed itself chronically unwilling to accept Jews as equals).

But here’s the core of the issue: A while back, when I asked Presbyterian spokesmen to name other countries that were the subject of similar campaigns of excoriation by their church, they came back with … nothing. Not China, for its behavior in Tibet, not Russia for its treatment of Chechens, not Egypt or Sudan for their treatment of Christians, which I thought might at least qualify as a parochial concern, and certainly not Palestinians, and their leading clerics, for countenancing the murder of Jews. It was only Israel’s behavior that sent them to the barricades. This is nothing more than scapegoating, and scapegoating is a form of prejudice.

I write this not as a flaming supporter of Israeli government policy. I have been called an anti-Semite by Israel’s partisans on the American Jewish right, for my writing on the crimes of the settlement movement (

(And, by the way, Tony Judt, who self-righteously asserts that no one dare speak in America about the failings of settlers, needs to employ Google’s search engine more effectively.)

I think Jews should be critical of Jewish behavior that does not conform to the standards set by our Prophets. I also think we should not behave in the manner of Tony Judt, and of Israel’s critics on the Christian left, who seem to see only evil in the evolving Jewish experiment in nationhood.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a staff writer at the New Yorker, is the author of “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide.

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  • candide

    Certainly you are right about the hypocrisy of Christians who criticize Jews. It is called Pharisaism — again a word invented by Christians with which to criticize Jews but never themselves.The valid kind of criticism of Israel stems from support for Israel and a desire to have it avoid suicidal behavior which, however understandable in the light of a tragic history, could destroy Israel itself.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Jeffrey Goldberg,You are quite right.I always disliked the fact that some of my ancestors were Presbyterians, but couldn’t articulate a reason. Now I have a reason, even though those Presbyterian forebears lived before Israel was established.Perhaps I saw where they were headed.Best wishes.

  • victoria

    Mr Goldberg- I am currently watching Joseph Lieberman pleading his case for going to war before the securities commission right now- I would say that the criticism needs to be evaluated – are we not considering going to war to protect israel in particular? is there any other reason? answers anyone?

  • Cat Travis

    Can anyone criticize the Jews? Apparently not. They are after all the chosen people. It was certainly tragic when they ran up against people who thought they were the master race. I’ve heard many times from jews that “everyone hates the jews”. Has this been God’s will? Will we ever be able to make sense of it? Many view Israel as the west’s attempt to colonize the middle east. The west first thinks in terms of power rarely in terms of fairness. Burning petroleum is bad for the earth. When we finally give it up we will be a lot closer to peace.

  • Curtiss

    Ok. Fine, point taken. Don’t critizise Israel alone. Will do. But then, please, let’s start to criticize Israel, because honestly, there isn’t much of it in the U.S. Most Americans blithely approve and support Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Whatever noise gets made from the “left” is drowned out by the silent approval from elsewhere.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Victoria,You ask why are we at war with terrorism. It is simple, the militaristic passages of the Koran which you and most Muslims refuse to renounce and condemn.

  • Michaelm

    Good point. I think that Israel supporters get so defensive when criticized is due to the fact that Israel is held up to an impossible standard and its enemies are held to no standards. Usually by people safe in their suburban homes. 99%+ of the middle east is under the boot of Arab dictators. 99% of the problems in the middle east are due to the actions of those dictators. Israel receives 99% of the blame. I don’t think that it is wrong to criticize Israel, however some perspective is in order. Finally, I saw one post blaming Israel for Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. Neither, Bush, nor Cheney, nor Rumsfeld (nor Chalabi, nor the royal family of Kuwait) are Jewish. Should we blame the Protestants? The Muslims? How about we blame…Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Again, some perspective is in order.

  • Ralph

    Why is it fair to blame America for the crimes of Europeans? It was America and the Allied Forces that ended the Holocaust, and it was America and the United Nations that created Israel. Yet somehow Israel’s greatest benefactors and Judaism’s best friends on earth are told to mind their own business or to mind someone else’s business other than Israel’s.

  • Miriam Jakubowitz

    When I visited Sweden and met my Aunt for the first time in 1990,who was a Holocaust Survivor, she told me something I will never forget. “When you are a Jew, you are hated all over the world”. At first, her comment shocked me, but as time has gone by and anti-semitism has risen it’s ugly deplorable head all over again, I realize my Aunt made a significant point.Truly, the only for peace to ever exist in the world, not only must Israel have the right to exist, but the Jewish people as well!!!!!!!Afterall, we are the Lord’s chosen people……….

  • Karl

    “Christian” left?Western Left-wing obsession with Israel has little to do with Christianity. It has all to do with the Soviet Unions policies and anxieties.The left wing discourse was concocted in the USSR post-1967, and absorbed by the Western left to the point of being a badge of identity.All the phrases, arguments, buzz words, come from the Soviet anti-Zionist campaigns. These are ghosts in Eastern Europe now, but they still rattle around in corners fo the Western left.You will never win arguing with them, it’s like arguing with a religious fanatic. The best response is historical contextualization of their beliefs – they greatly fear having to face their ideas are not their own.

  • Tonio

    Goldberg is absolutely right about judging all nations and cultures by the same moral standards. Why does Israel appear to be under the microscope from both supporters and critics? I think there are several reasons. First and foremost, the Holy Land has immense importance to the Abrahamic religions, and the region was a source of tension between Christianity and Islam for centuries. Second, many well-meaning people outside Judaism have been concerned about the welfare of Jews worldwide since the Holocaust. Third, any conflict in the Middle East can impact the world’s oil supply. It’s worth noting that the Christian right ranks among Israel’s most fervent supporters, but for mostly eschatological reasons.

  • Anonymous

    Mr.Goldberg,Second:so “it’s theeir behavior that sent them behind barricades”??? This absloutely appaling,outrageous and immoral. So your plaestinian slaves are not behaving???they should just accept your Israeli occupation and Apartheid and shut up.The source of all evil is the Israeli occupation,simple. Israel was illegitimately created by the West to (1) atone for the atrocities of the holocaust which is truly regrettable but not more regrettable than the Serbian Genocide of 250,000 Bosnian Muslims in the back yard of Europe or the Chechens who were forced marched by Stalin in the middle of the winter where 50 percent of perished, as well as the on going holocaust of the Palestinians, and (2) to get rid of the Jews. The West failed at both.The West created Israel and destroyed Palestine in 1947; so who should complain about the dire need for the right to exist: the Destroyed/the vanquished/the victim-The Palestinians-or the Useper, the Aggressor and the Tormentor and the party that has been occupying Palestine for 60 years-Israel the Apartheid state who is starving the Palestinian People and driving them to despair;The party that has a state with Nuclear weapons and occupying a whole people is the one who should recognize the exisistence of the shattered, dispersed, tormented and occupied Palestinians.Instead of recycling the holcaust/anti-semitism, why don’t the Jews learn a lesson from the holocaustic if they really know what suffering is, the Jews should stop tormenting the Palestinians and should not inflict the same agony they went thru-otherwise to please shut up.In a nut shell: the only viable solution to this conflict, is one secular democratic state to accommodate all people now living in historic Palestine, Arabs-both Christians and Muslims-and Jews if they wish to stay and live in peace and equality. The present racist militaristic Apartheid Jewish state is simply not sustainable as it’s unacceptable-the only state in the world without a constitution and without borders-creeping borders that stretch as far as the range of the American freely supplied tanks can reach.The two state solution will never work: Israel devoured Palestinian land, water, resources and even their tax revenues-any Palestinian state will be born dead.

  • Tonio

    “Fact is, the standards people judge countries and peoples are by what they see as basic decency in treating other people, in perceived fairness, justice and rights.”I agree. That is my idea of “moral standards” for geopolitical situations like this. Now, one could reasonably argue that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is much gentler than, say, Afghanistan’s treatment of Abdur Rahman. But both situations go against basic decency, justice, and rights. So does the terrorist war waged against Israel by groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Jihadist (aka Crusader),Ghandi’s peaceful methods of protest are much preferred as is democratic voting. By the way, your “religion” continues to promote terrorism via the militaristic and demeaning (terror imposed on women) passages of the Koran. I suggest you clean up the Koran since much of the terrorist activity you mention is carried out in the name of some god by religious fanatics to include Islamic fanatics yelling Allah is Great with a copy of the Koran in one hand and a bomb in the other.

  • Tonio

    Good reply, Jihadist. I agree with your general point about the root cause of terrorism, the “failure of states to address longstanding grievances.” But in my view, that failure does not in any way justify the bloodshed, particularly that of innocents. Children should not be condemned to death because the failings of their nations’ rulers. What would the Israeli/Palestinian conflict look like if Arafat had followed the examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King?I understand the reluctance by Third Worlders to trust Western nations’ intentions when it comes to advice and impartiality. Thanks for bringing up my point about “family matters.” What I’m suggesting is that in any conflict like this, the players could maintain some emotional distance from their historical grievances for the sake of stopping bloodshed. Maybe resolving the conflict might mean not just finding a truly impartial mediator, but also the players being willing to grant that trust. Harlan Ellison’s story “Untouchable Adolescents” is an allegorical example of the situation, where a culture has been so emotionally wounded by its contacts with outsiders that it would rather perish than ever trust outsiders again.

  • Patrick

    Israel demsnd respect because they are the chosen people. Maybe the source of the disrespect Israel possess lies in this understanding of inequality. Israel first everyone else second. Declaring by respecting Israel, you gain respect is not commion sense. Israel should act respectable and they will be seen as respectable.In Nichiren Buddhism, the understanding of the Law is respectful and therfore the person propogating the Law is respectful as well. Oneness of the Person and the Law. Israel might try being respectful first and not last!

  • Asim

    Correct version-as inadvertantly posted above earlier.

  • Anonymous

    “Concerned the Christian”

  • Asim

    Sorry, the last Anonymous at 11:13 AM is mine.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Asim,Wrong, the Koran teaches/preaches death to non-believers as shown 24/7 by Sunnis who believe Shiites are non-believers and vice versa.

  • victoria

    Tonio- you raise a good point- what if the palestinians had been pacific in their occupation- what if they had been bulldozed and railroaded into ocompliance? can we assume that the world would stand up for the rights of the palestinians? did it? which came first- annexation and refugees or arafat? pacifism as a force to start the engines of social change has worked twice- to effect that change- but it became obsolete after the change was effected- its not really a reasonable structure to build a government upon- when ones homes are bulldozed and children are shot by soldiers is it really fair to tell the victims theyre not pacific enough? pacific rocks against ICBMs- who has been the winner? the rocks have been on the losing side for a long time- and the voices silenced by the world from cries of ant-semitism- which is the observation of the moderators in the framing of the question itself isnt it? almost a defensive apologetic request to ask for the right to criticize israel-

  • Tonio

    Jihadist and Victoria, my point about Gandhi and MLK was not about the strategic effectiveness of pacifism. My point was that both sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are deliberately targeting civilians, especially children. Now, that does not lessen the validity of Israel’s right to exist or the Palestinians’ right to rule themselves. But it does mean that neither side can claim any moral high ground. It means that there are no “white hats” and “black hats” in this conflict.

  • victoria

    no white hats or black hats? ok- when a soldier takes up arms- they make a contract to defend or attack for their country- there are inherent dangers that are entered upon willingly- 2 soldiers were detained in lebanon- how many people and property and villages and infrastructure were destroyed in the retaliation? just listen to the language sometimes tonio- wenever israel attacks- it is always a retaliation- implying that its justified- do you think maybe israels hat turnd a bit dark after the lebanon debacle?what about the troops storming nablus this week?

  • Tonio

    Victoria, I’m saying that there have been atrocities committed on both sides. So neither side deserves any moral sympathy, regardless of the validity of the cause. If the Palestinians want moral sympathy, then they should attack only Israeli soldiers, not civilians. And if the Israelis want moral sympathy, they should attack only those individual Palestinians who are attacking them, instead of treating all Palestinians as terrorists.

  • victoria

    here is an interesting article that i found today- it states clearly in pure math the actions of israels and palestinians last year- from the bbc- and israeli human rights watch the conclusions are obvious- palestinian agression decreasing by half- you see palestinian children deaths are 6 times the TOTAL of israeli deaths last year- 660-23 i think this says it all-

  • Anonymous

    The West did not create Israel and destroy Palestine; it helped Israel get back part of what was rightfully theirs from the Palestinians who forcefully took it from them. For hundreds of years different people have been forcing the Jews out of their land, the Palestinians being the latest (if you don’t count Jordan and Lebanon, who want to annihilate them…)

  • victoria

    No not people- god pretty much was the architect of the diaspora – jordan wants to annihilate israel? have you no concept of jordans policies? heres a hint- google csapn and the speech king abdullah of jordan gave on saturday sheesh

  • Anonymous

    I meant to say Syria, not Jordan. I had been reading something else about Jordan at the time, and I guess I typed it without realizing – my mistake.Oh, so if you think it is God’s plan, then no one is to blame? Maybe it’s God’s plan for Israel to now have that land for themselves. Your response makes no sense.

  • Anonymous

    Victoria,The coming of the Messiah will begin the gathering of all Israelites who have “strayed” and are spread throughout the world to their homeland. It is not said that until then Israel should not be a Jewish state.

  • victoria

    that is not the interpertation of most rabbis and commentators throughout history- it is specifically stated that jews should NOT return until this happens- there are countless warnings and prophecies against this. are you serious?