Jon Stewart's Perfect Response to Criticism He is 'Self-Hating' for Israel Critiques

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Jon Stewart The Daily Show

Credit: Creative Commons/U.S. Navy


“Go f-ck yourself,” Jon Stewart said in a moment of perceptible anger.
This wasn’t the usual, lighthearted barb during a satirical segment, nor a playful expression of ire diluted by audience laughter. It was sincere and seemingly raw, uttered during an interview with Canada.com’s Jon Dekel and directed toward those Jews who have called him anti-Semitic, self-hating, or a kapo for critiquing Israel on The Daily Show.
The verbal barb didn’t come out of left field during Dekel’s interview, conducted in advance of the release of Stewart’s movie, Rosewater. It came near the end of a series of focused questions posed to Stewart on the topic of attacks he’s withstood from the American Jewish community. Attacks he’s suffered for treating Israel honestly on his show, for having the temerity to highlight its misdeeds.
They are the same attacks I have felt repeatedly, both for my own critiques of Israel and for my reconciliation with a Palestinian family after an encounter with terrorism. They are the same attacks an increasing number of committed Jews are feeling – Jews invested in Israel who are willing to speak out about Israel’s misdeeds. Of course, anyone who critiques Israel these days is subject to such attacks, from Steven Salaita to Conflict Kitchen.
However, as a Jew, Stewart passionately focused on those attacks which have been made against him by fellow Jews. In doing so, he crafted a rebuttal so on-point that I felt as though he were speaking not just for me, but for the countless other Jews who have critiqued Israel and paid a price for doing so.

Responding to the idea that “pro-Israel” Jewish institutions and hawkish Jews now gauge one’s Jewishness by a political metric – a willingness to fervently back Israel’s government – Stewart first offered a measured insight:

It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are … You can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.

Stewart’s analysis is spot on. As I’ve written in the past, the conflation of Israel with all Jews, itself an anti-Semitic trope, has become a staple for “pro-Israel” discourse. Israel is viewed as the “Jew” amongst the nations by such people, which means that anyone who critiques or condemns Israel’s actions are, by definition, attacking the Jewish people. Within the Jewish community, that means anyone – even someone like myself, a Jewish educator and author – can not only be smeared as anti-Semitic, but castigated as a Jew worthy of being exiled from the community.
On this topic I get pretty emotional sometimes. Stewart eventually did as well when Dekel confronted him with the idea that he’s not only less Jewish because of his critiques of Israel, but an outright enemy of the Jewish people. Witness Stewart’s emotions crescendo as he opens up:

How are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that [other Jews] can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.
I always want to say to people when they come at me like [I’m an enemy]: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?

How dare they, indeed.
Such people who are otherwise often rational individuals, sometimes even deeply liberal or progressive, become deeply hateful and irrational when it comes to Israel. And it’s an irrationality borne out of fear. Fear developed by a history of trauma. Fear borne in the Holocaust’s wake. Fear for the existential survival of Israel – the metaphorical lifeline for some American and diaspora Jews who constantly wait for the rug to be pulled from underneath them.
On this point, Stewart had his most poignant thought:

I think [their irrationality] comes from abuse. The danger of oppression is not just being oppressed, it’s becoming an oppressor.

This is precisely why I challenge Israel’s occupation, its settlement expansions, and those Jewish organizations which stand idly and silently by as the country devolves into a one-state entity.
I refuse to stand silently by as the once-oppressed, my people, become oppressors.

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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.