Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism

The Age | Sarah Schwartz & Max Elliott Kaiser | 6 February 2024

Those with the loudest voices do not speak for all Jews.

I have many Jewish friends and contacts who believe that Israel has been engaged with genocide on the Palestinians for 75 years plus and that the latest action is merely an extension of this – they are brave because they also receive the targeted hatred by those who support this evil Government – God bless them. Mark

Today, talk about antisemitism is everywhere – in newspapers, conversations between friends, and especially on social media. Many Jews feel scared. They are told to see antisemitism in the scarves worn in solidarity with Palestine, in the words ‘‘Free Palestine’’ voiced at protests, and in the stickers calling for the boycott of Israeli products.

But while reports of antisemitism have increased in Australia since Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel – as have those of anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia – none of these are examples of it. They are instead legitimate expressions of support for Palestinians who are facing overwhelming levels of violence and displacement.

When Australia’s pro-Israel lobby groups mischaracterise these expressions as antisemitic, they produce fear and demonise Palestinians and their supporters. These accusations rely on a conflation of Jews and Israel – that any criticism of the state of Israel is seen as an attack on all Jews. This conflation reflects the view, promoted by Israel, that Jewish identity and safety worldwide is inextricable from Israel and its ‘‘security’’. Any criticism of Israel’s use of brute force against Palestinians in the name of this security is by default deemed antisemitic.

As proud Jews who are committed to combating real racism, we know these are not the same thing. Jewish people have identities separate from the state of Israel and our cultures and practices are far older than Zionism. The truth is that the Jewish community is not a monolith. We might better speak of multiple Jewish communities with unique histories, diverse expressions of Jewishness, and – in our view increasingly – conflicting views on Israel. Jews here and around the world, particularly those with personal connections to Israel, are still reeling from the killing of more than 1100 people in Israel, the majority civilians, on October 7. Many Jews also abhor the violence Israel has since meted out to Palestinians in Gaza. More than 27,000 people have been killed, according to Gaza’s health ministry, many of them children and most of them civilians, and 2 million have been displaced from their homes.

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