Criticizing the ethnonationalist apartheid state of Israel comes with risks. For nearly a decade I’ve received hate mail after calling out Israeli political practices on social media and in newspapers. One retired police officer from the Bronx said he’d be happy to beat me up if I ever came to NYC and another smart-aleck suggested that I have sex with a Palestinian goat.
More unsettling are the justifications for Israeli racism from those in power. Last month a House Resolution proclaiming that Israel isn’t a ‘racist or apartheid state’ passed with a whopping 412-9-1 vote. Only nine Democrats dissented and Rep. Dean Phillips (D) of Minnesota’s Third District weighed in with this: “To call an entire country racist is beyond the pale.” Yet, he mentioned nothing about the ongoing plight of Palestinians who are essentially marooned on segregated land and subjected to laws that favor Jews over non-Jews.
Then again, neither did a local Minneapolis rabbi a while back when I commented on his FB page while he was discussing the ongoing mistreatment of U.S migrants. It was a coincidence that I was also looking for Jewish opinions on how Palestinians are mistreated and didn’t see anything about this on his page so, I raised the question. His partial response from a long quote: “Mr. Wood, I don’t believe we’ve met, but I am quite taken aback by your post It is out of line, unfair, and wrong. This is precisely how “casual” antisemitism works: An American Jew (me) posts about the US President’s policies and inhumane treatment towards immigrants on our US border. Someone I don’t believe I know interjects himself on my feed, attempts to detract from the conversation at hand, and turn it into one about Israeli politics and the American Jewish community.”
Others I’ve been in contact have been open to an interchange of ideas. One was with Mordecai Specktor during a phone conversation just before Passover this year. The Publisher and Editor of The American Jewish World was not shy about expressing sympathy for Palestinians or his disappointment with Jewish political leaders in Minnesota that he said were quick to side with Israelis during incursions. Although he didn’t believe that sanctions on Israel would remedy the situation, he was aware of wretched conditions that Palestinians deal with on a regular basis.
Wyatt Miller of the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis believes that sanctions from the outside are the only realistic hope non-Jews have to achieve parity with Israeli Jews. He also pointed out some of the ways imperialistic sponsors (primarily the U.S.) perpetuate corruption and racism through regular funding and below the radar business deals.
Economic pressure from the outside seems to be the best option available now for Palestinian sympathizers. Especially if one considers how long Palestinians have been discriminated against and the huge fraction of Congress who still remain silent about Palestinian mistreatment along with pro-Israel Jews who make up about a third of President Biden’s cabinet. Not one of those high-level leaders have suggested cutting off Israel’s almost four-billion dollar annual allowance. Don’t count on Biden — he’s still a devout Zionist who once bragged to a Yeshiva Beth Yehuda dinner group in Detroit “I’ve raised more money for AIPAC than some of you have.”
It’s nothing short of hypocritical that the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has officially sanctioned twenty-five countries and Israel isn’t on the list. Jewish exceptionalism (the unwritten rule of U.S. foreign policy) continues to exempt Israelis from war crimes, violations of international humanitarian laws and other atrocities that would put another country on notice. This, of course, gives carte blanche to power splinter-groups like the Israeli settlers who train-wrecked the town of Huwara that one Israeli military commander called a pogrom.
It was not surprising to those who follow Israeli politics that the U.S. State Department and Israeli government made some noise about the incident, but didn’t do much. Perhaps this is what’s to be expected because it’s been my experience (along with others) that calling out Jews for almost anything will usually get you ignored or chastised. For example, while it remains open season on Christians who conflate patriotism with the teachings of Jesus or Muslims who treat women like second-class citizens — those who criticize Jews run the risk of being called anti-Semitic.
Asking a question about why U.S. taxpayers are expected to keep giving billions every year to a Jewish nation-state that has the second most billionaires per capita in the world, can get you tagged as a Jew-hater for linking Jews and money. Mention that pro-Israel Jews have an enormous presence in media, be prepared to be smeared as an anti-Semite for connecting Jews with a power that can shape public opinion in western countries.
And it doesn’t matter if what you said is true. What matters, unfortunately, is that someone can retro-fit your words into an old trope (which is essentially a figure of speech according to Merriam-Webster) and get away with calling you anti-Semitic for telling the truth.
So the question remains — do we confront this reality or avoid it?