I was out for drinks with friends and Israel came up in the conversation. A friend of mine said that she’d heard somewhere – Fox maybe? – that if you likened Gaza to a Nazi concentration camp you were an anti-Semite, and isn’t that ridiculous? Can’t we criticize the Israeli government’s policy without being anti-Semitic?
To which, of course, the answer is unequivocally yes. Of course we can (and should) criticize the bad policies of any government, and especially those governments which have close ties to our own. But what jumped out at me at this point was not the persistent frustration of being poorly labeled by the pro-Israel right (and left) – it was the bad analogy. It’s simply a bad analogy to compare Israelis (or Zionists) to Nazis. And along with being a bad analogy, it’s just in poor taste to call Gaza a concentration camp.
Now, I say this for a number of reasons. First, it gets us nowhere. In fact, calling the Jewish people Nazi’s is kind of like calling all critics of Israel anti-Semites. It doesn’t further the debate, it shuts the debate down. Comparing Gaza to a concentration camp is similarly ineffectual. Gaza is in bad shape. The blockade has been really, really bad for the Palestinians there – but they’re not in death camps. They’re not being gassed or placed into forced labor. They’re not being exterminated like the Jews were in Auschwitz or Treblinka. So call it like it is, don’t embellish the bad truth with worse lies. Then you end up arguing about the lies instead of the truth – and that gets us nowhere.
Second, the bad analogy plays right into the “other side’s” hands. For instance, if you call everyone who criticizes Israel antisemitic, then the power of that term is diluted. There are anti-Semites out there. Plenty of them. A lot of them are hyper-critical of Israel. But most critics of Israel are critical because of Israeli policies such as settlements and apartheid control of the occupied territories which they see as unjust. It isn’t because the Israelis are Jewish. So when you start calling everyone an anti-Semite, then the real bigots can just blend in and disappear.
Similarly, when you call Gaza a concentration camp, you not only open up a rather horrifying wound in Jewish (and European) history, you also open the door with this exaggeration to people claiming that you must be anti-Semitic, and yes, it becomes sort of cyclical and obfuscating. This doesn’t mean you are anti-Semitic – but the line of argument you’ve adopted isn’t very bright either, and smart people who want to have a smart conversation on this issue should find better analogies. Using bad analogies opens the door to legitimate and illegitimate responses, and after a while all this rhetoric just muddies the waters too much.
So, enough with the Nazi comparisons and enough with the wild-eyed calls of antisemitism. A real debate over Israel has to shuffle on beyond the talking points. Obama’s on his way to Cairo. Any day now we might have a sensible dialogue on this issue. Any day now….
(I just realized this is the second post today I started off with some mention of drinking….must be my subconscious)