On KSJP, Dialogue, and Anti-Semitism by Adam Bulmash
*Members of KSJP possess diverse perspectives and opinions. The following views do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the group.*
I wish to thank those who have raised concerns that the fliers KSJP had posted, referencing educational challenges Palestinian children face consequent to Israeli occupation, were inherently biased. It is certainly true that disparaging remarks regarding Israel can conceal anti-Semitic biases. However, to infer anti-Semitism effectively silences dissent and subverts dialogue even when such a charge is unwarranted. As a Jew and as a member of KSJP who helped write the fliers, I can say that our intention, far from being anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, or anti-Zionist, was rather to raise concerns over the violation of Palestinian human rights. Our criticisms are directed neither at Jews nor at Israel’s existence, but at specific discriminatory policies of the Israeli state. It is imperative not to conflate criticisms of Israel’s policies with anti-Semitism. Attempting to ameliorate the woeful conditions of Palestinians under occupation is not equivalent to anti-Semitism. In thiscontext, the intimation of anti-Semitism merely serves as a distraction and a rationale for the perpetuation of hostilities and ignorance on both sides.
To contextualize their viewpoint, those concerned have proffered Charles Krauthammer’s article, “Judging Israel.” Krauthammer argues that in judging Israel by “Western standards” during peacetime, as though Israel were not at war, we hold it to an untenable double standard. Israel is behaving, after all, in exactly the same way that Western nations have behaved during wartime. In Krauthammer’s logic, to expect anything more of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism.
That Western nations have at times acted expediently and immorally during wartime is not in dispute. But is it reasonable to compare Israel’s “vulnerable situation” to a perpetual state of war? Does wartime and a nation’s need for security ipso facto grant exemption from concerns over discriminatory policies and the violation of human rights? Should we not take seriously the lessons of the French-Algerian War to which Krauthammer alludes, and understand Palestinian aspirations without perceiving them as an existential threat to Israel? It is difficult to understand how limiting the educational resources and opportunities of Palestinian children in any way advances Israel’s sense of security. Krauthammer might chafe at calling the occupation by its true name, but consigning yet another generation of children to an oppressive existence and justifying it by referring to a “vulnerable situation” only serves to perpetuate the rhetoric of demonization and the history of violence that has been the legacy of this region for generations of Israelis and Palestinians.
Only by conflating state policy with Jewish identity can Krauthammer equate “judging Israel” itself with judging Jews as a whole. By this logic, the Israeli state speaks and acts for all Jews/Israelis, all of whom vote en bloc on Israeli policies. Far from being a monolithic plebiscite, however, Israel is a nation of stunningly diverse identities and opinions, as well as a place of deep contestation, especially on matters involving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet the implication that attacking the policies of the State of Israel is equivalent to attacking Jews renders any dissent coterminous with anti-Semitism and even ethnic self-hatred. Although Israel is a Jewish state, it is not the hand or voice of the entire Jewish people or Israeli citizenry. Israel is, after all, a democracy, and thus it can be no more said that criticism of its government is anti-Semitic/Israeli/Zionist than it can be said that criticism of Congress is un-American. Ironically to assume that all Jews or Israelis act or vote en bloc is how they are perceived by true anti-Semites.
While I sympathize with those concerned with anti-Semitism, reducing the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to simplistic binaries is inconsistent with the ideals of a liberal arts education and limits the critical understanding which Krauthammer himself calls for. We must dispense with a biased Procrustean framework that vilifies alternative interpretations of the conflict by invoking the specter of anti-Semitism. President Sean Decatur has himself noted that, “We often neglect the value of dissent on our campus—the importance of cultivating an atmosphere in which difficult topics are rigorously engaged, where opinions are openly challenged.” It seems to me that this is a propitious moment to open a critical and rational discourse that is worthy of Kenyon College on something that everyone agrees requires resolution. This is the shared responsibility of tikkun olam, the collective effort to join together the fragmented discourses that perpetuate sorrow for everyone, of healing the wounds of history.