The American Jewish Committee has endorsed an article by Indiana University professor Alvin Rosenfeld linking “progressive” Jewish thought to a rise in anti-Semitism. The article pointedly castigates Jewish critics of Israel ‘s policies, and argues that such criticism questions the very right of Israel statehood. All this, Rosenfeld – and the AJC – insist, fuels anti-Semitism. It is a false proposition.
Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that to be or not to be is not the question, but how to be and how not to be is the essential one. The AJC’s view is that criticism of Israel is tantamount to denying Israel’s right to exist, and that makes you an anti-Semite.
Anti-Semitism has many sources, but the spring of critical “progressive Jewish thought” is a mere trickle. Indeed, there are lonely voices on the left and right who question Israel’s existence – and yes, some are Jewish. A voice here, an article there, by an American Jew criticizing Israel, and the AJC trembles.
The AJC’s real targets are “progressives” – which is their shorthand for Democrats and opponents of George W. Bush’s dubious adventure into Iraq. Along with its favorite stable of commentary writers, the AJC has been an ardent advocate for the Iraq war, fixed with a vision that it would bring forth a new Middle Eastern order. But the war and the vision have failed, and, ironically, at some cost to Israel’s interests.
Israel’s right to exist is not a serious question dividing Jews. But if Jewish criticism of the Jewish state made such Jews anti-Semites, then the world of anti-Semitism would be significantly enlarged. Criticism of the Israeli occupation puts you in the company of a significant portion of the Israel population. Those folks – many of whom are descendants of Israel’s “pioneers” – at best are amused by such an equation. American newspapers have been critical of the occupation, with some significant ones being Jewish-owned. And this has stoked the fires of anti-Semitism?