Netanyahu Endangers Jews Everywhere with Anti-Semitic Trope

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Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Targeting and blaming Jews living in the United States or Europe for the actions of Israel is blatant anti-Semitism. For as a political state, albeit a ‘Jewish’ one, Israel clearly does not represent all Jews, nor does it embody Judaism.
However, many anti-Semites choose to conflate the two — Israel and global Jewry — so that they can use Israel’s actions as an occasion to target, sometimes violently, Jews around the world. This conflation is not just faulty, given the diversity of Jewish opinions on Israel, but dangerous as well.
One would expect both Jewish and Israeli leaders to refrain from championing such conflations, given their roots in anti-Semitic discourse. However, Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has done just that in a message directed to me, my family and world Jewry this Rosh Hashanah: he has conflated Jews and Israel in exactly the same way anti-Semites often do.
Now, Netanyahu’s intention is to promote Jewish unity and diaspora support for Israel. Unfortunately, what he has done is endanger Jews around the world by treading on familiar anti-Semitic ground to accomplish this. Here is how Netanyahu begins his holiday message:

Dear friends, as Jews celebrate the New Year around the world, we should take pride in all that unites us. The Jewish people indeed always unite when faced with great challenges, and the past year was no exception.
These past few months, three of our teenagers were kidnapped and brutally murdered, thousands of rockets fired at our country and too many of our bravest young men and their families made the most painful of sacrifices in Operation Protective Edge.

Of course, Israel has gone through a difficult time in the past three months, as have Palestinians, it must be noted, to an exponentially greater degree. Despite this omission, Netanyahu is absolutely right: many Jews across the globe invested in Israel, myself included, have been pained by the horrors which have occurred in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. However, many Jews across the globe, from post-Zionists to the wholly indifferent, would rightly take issue with Netanyahu conflating Israel and all Jews. Indeed, as one invested in Israel’s future, I take issue with such a conflation — with Netanyahu’s repeated use of “our” to suggest my family and Israel are not just inextricably linked, but are one and the same.
They are not.
Netanyahu knows this, and even admits as much when, remarkably, he next addresses some of the anti-Semitism outside of Israel which has surfaced as a result of Israel’s assault on Gaza:

We in Israel know it has been a difficult period for many of your Jewish communities. You face increasingly virulent, even violent anti-Semitism.
So on behalf of the people of Israel, I thank you for supporting our just campaign to defend ourselves; to provide the sustained peace and security that all Israelis deserve. I assure you that we in Israel will continue to stand by your side as you confront hatred and intolerance. Jews everywhere must be able to live proudly and without fear.

There have no doubt been a smattering of anti-Semitic incidents in recent months, particularly during Israel’s Gaza operation. However, Netanyahu and many Jewish leaders have, for political purposes, exaggerated the level of anti-Semitism which exists globally by claiming that anti-Israel critiques are anti-Semitic. This is something Netanyahu has done repeatedly, even claiming that boycott measures against Israel are by definition anti-Semitic, even though they target a political state, not Jews.
In truth, the opposite is the case regarding anti-Semitism: misrepresenting legitimate criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic is, well, anti-Semitic. For it takes the exact same conflation — claiming that Israel and all Jews are one and the same — to pretend anti-Israel critiques are definitionally expressions of hatred against Jews.
Netanyahu’s conflation of Israel with world Jewry is nothing new. Since the 1970s, organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have tried to re-define anti-Semitism as anything that is anti-Israel. This “New Anti-Semitism” has been used for decades to shield Israel from critique by arguing that it is the global representation of the Jewish people, and to target Israel is to target Jews.
In 1984, the ADL’s Nathan and Ruth Ann Perlmutter, in their book which furthered the idea that classical anti-Semitism should be replaced by “New Anti-Semitism,” went so far as to blatantly admit that those they would now call anti-Semites (those who critiqued Israel policy) were in no way actually anti-Semitic:

“Today the interests of Jews are not so much threatened by their familiar nemesis, crude anti-Semitism, as by a-Semitic governmental policies, the proponents of which may be free of anti-Semitism and indeed may well — literally — count Jews among some of their best friends.”

What all of this has done — conflating Israel and Jews with critiques of Israel becoming anti-Semitic — is to both dilute a real and persistent bigotry, ‘classical’ anti-Semitism, and provide actual anti-Semites the cover they need to target Jews for the actions of Israel in societies where blatant anti-Semitism is not tolerated.
Netanyahu’s reliance upon an anti-Semitic trope, conflating Jews and Israel, to engender unity is in reality a danger to Jews living around the globe. It is also dishonest.
Perhaps more importantly for Netanyahu, it also runs counter to Israel’s interests. For when I critique Israel, I do so out of an investment in the democratic promise of Israel, not out of any anti-Semitic tendencies. And when, as a Jew, I’m targeted for Israel’s actions — which happens — it forces me to look upon Israel’s government and ask a hard question: “Why are you using anti-Semitic conflations to defend Israel, when doing so endangers Jews everywhere?”
It’s not a unifying question.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.