How to Criticize Israel Without Being Anti-Semitic


If you’ve spent any time discussing or reading about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I guarantee you’ve heard some variation of this statement:

OMG, Jews think any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic!

In the interests of this post, I’m going to assume that the people who express such sentiments are acting in good faith and really don’t mean to cause pain to or problems for Diaspora Jewry.  For those good-faith people, I present some guidelines for staying on the good side of that admittedly murky line, along with the reasoning why the actions I list are problematic.  (And bad-faith people, you can no longer plead ignorance if you engage in any of these no-nos.  Consider yourselves warned.)  In no particular order:

  1. Don’t use the terms “bloodthirsty,” “lust for Palestinian blood,” or similar.  Historically, Jews have been massacred in the belief that we use the blood of non-Jews (particularly of children) in our religious rituals.  This belief still persists in large portions of the Arab world (largely because white Europeans deliberately spread the belief among Arabs) and even in parts of the Western world.  Murderous, inhumane, cruel, vicious—fine.  But blood…just don’t go there.  Depicting Israel/Israelis/Israeli leaders eating children is also a no-no, for the same reason.
  2. Don’t use crucifixion imagery. Another huge, driving motivation behind anti-Semitism historically has been the belief that the Jews, rather than the Romans, crucified Jesus.  As in #1, this belief still persists.  There are plenty of other ways to depict suffering that don’t call back to ancient libels.
  3. Don’t demand that Jews publicly repudiate the actions of settlers and extremists.  People who make this demand are assuming that Jews are terrible people or undeserving of being heard out unless they “prove” themselves acceptable by non-Jews’ standards.  (It’s not okay to demand Palestinians publicly repudiate the actions of Hamas in order to be accepted/trusted, either.)
  4. Don’t say “the Jews” when you mean Israel.  I think this should be pretty clear.  The people in power in Israel are Jews, but not all Jews are Israelis (let alone Israeli leaders).
  5. Don’t say “Zionists” when you mean Israel. Zionism is no more a dirty word than feminism.  It is simply the belief that the Jews should have a country in part of their ancestral homeland where they can take refuge from the anti-Semitism and persecution they face everywhere else.  It does not mean a belief that Jews have a right to grab land from others, a belief that Jews are superior to non-Jews, or any other such tripe, any more than feminism means hating men.  Unless you believe that Israel should entirely cease to exist, you are yourself Zionist.  Furthermore, using “Zionists” in place of “Israelis” is inaccurate and harmful.  The word “Zionists” includes Diasporan Jews as well (most of whom support a two-state solution and pretty much none of whom have any influence on Israel’s policies) and is used to justify anti-Semitic attacks outside Israel (i.e., they brought it on themselves by being Zionists).  And many of the Jews IN Israel who are most violent against Palestinians are actually anti-Zionist—they believe that the modern state of Israel is an offense against God because it isn’t governed by halakha (traditional Jewish religious law).  Be careful with the labels you use.
  6. Don’t call Jews you agree with “the good Jews.  Imposing your values on another group is not okay.  Tokenizing is not okay.  Appointing yourself the judge of what other groups can or should believe is not okay.
  7. Don’t use your Jewish friends or Jews who agree with you as shields.  (AKA, “I can’t be anti-Semitic, I have Jewish friends!” or “Well, Jew X agrees with me, so you’re wrong.”)  Again, this behavior is tokenizing and essentially amounts to you as a non-Jew appointing yourself arbiter over what Jews can/should feel or believe.  You don’t get to do that.
  8. Don’t claim that Jews are ethnically European.  Jews come in many colors—white is only one.  Besides, the fact that many of us have some genetic mixing with the peoples who tried to force us to assimilate (be they German, Indian, Ethiopian, Italian…) doesn’t change the fact that all our common ancestral roots go back to Israel.
  9. Don’t claim that Jews “aren’t the TRUE/REAL Jews.”  Enough said.
  10. Don’t claim that Jews have no real historical connection to Israel/the Temple Mount.  Archaeology and the historical record both establish that this is false.
  11. Don’t accuse Diasporan Jews of dual loyalties or treason.  This is another charge that historically has been used to justify persecution and murder of Jews.  Having a connection to our ancestral homeland is natural.  Having a connection to our co-religionists who live there is natural.  It is no more treasonous for a Jew to consider the well-being of Israel when casting a vote than for a Muslim to consider the well-being of Islamic countries when voting.  (Tangent: fuck drone strikes.  End tangent.)
  12. Don’t claim that the Jews control the media/banks/country that isn’t Israel.  Yet another historical anti-Semitic claim is that Jews as a group intend to control the world and try to achieve this aim through shadowy, sinister channels.  There are many prominent Jews in the media and in the banking industry, yes, but they aren’t engaged in any kind of organized conspiracy to take over those industries, they simply work in those industries.  The phrase “the Jews control” should never be heard in a debate/discussion of Israel.
  13. Don’t depict the Magen David (Star of David) as an equivalent to the Nazi swastika.  The Magen David represents all Jews—not just Israelis, not just people who are violent against Palestinians, ALL JEWS.  When you do this, you are painting all Jews as violent, genocidal racists.  DON’T.
  14. Don’t use the Holocaust/Nazism/Hitler as a rhetorical prop.  The Jews who were murdered didn’t set foot in what was then Palestine, let alone take part in Israeli politics or policies.  It is wrong and appropriative to try to use their deaths to score political points.  Genocide, racism, occupation, murder, extermination—go ahead and use those terms, but leave the Holocaust out of it.
  15. In visual depictions (i.e., political cartoons and such), don’t depict Israel/Israelis as Jewish stereotypes.  Don’t show them in Chassidic, black-hat garb.  Don’t show them with exaggerated noses or frizzled red hair or payus (earlocks).  Don’t show them with horns or depict them as the Devil.  Don’t show them cackling over/hoarding money.  Don’t show them drinking blood or eating children (see #1).  Don’t show them raping non-Jewish women.  The Nazis didn’t invent the tropes they used in their propaganda—all of these have been anti-Semitic tropes going back centuries.  (The red hair trope, for instance, goes back to early depictions of Judas Iscariot as a redhead, and the horns trope stems from the belief that Jews are the Devil’s children, sent to destroy the world as best we can for our “father.”)
  16. Don’t use the phrase “the chosen people” to deride or as proof of Jewish racism When Jews say we are the chosen people, we don’t mean that we are biologically superior to others or that God loves us more than other groups.  Judaism in fact teaches that everyone is capable of being a righteous, Godly person, that Jews have obligations to be ethical and decent to “the stranger in our midst,” and that non-Jews don’t get sent to some kind of damnation for believing in another faith.  When we say we’re the chosen people, we mean that, according to our faith, God gave us extra responsibilities and codes of behavior that other groups aren’t burdened with, in the form of the Torah.  That’s all it means.
  17. Don’t claim that anti-Semitism is eradicated or negligible.  It isn’t.  In fact, according to international watchdog groups, it’s sharply on the rise.  (Which sadly isn’t surprising—anti-Semitism historically surges during economic downturns, thanks to the belief that Jews control the banks.)  This sort of statement is extremely dismissive and accuses us of lying about our own experiences.
  18. Don’t say that since Palestinians are Semites, Jews/Israelis are anti-Semitic, too.  You do not get to redefine the oppressions of others, nor do you get to police how they refer to that oppression.  This also often ties into #8.  Don’t do it.  Anti-Semitism has exclusively meant anti-Jewish bigotry for a good century plus now.  Coin your own word for anti-Palestinian oppression, or just call it what it is: racism mixed with Islamophobia.
  19. Don’t blow off Jews telling you that what you’re saying is anti-Semitic with some variant of the statement at the top of this post.  Not all anti-Israel speech is anti-Semitic (a lot of it is valid, much-deserved criticism), but some certainly is.  Actually give the accusation your consideration and hear the accuser out.  If they fail to convince you, that’s fine.  But at least hear them out (without talking over them) before you decide that.

I’m sure this isn’t a comprehensive list, but it covers all the hard-and-fast rules I can think of.  (I welcome input for improving it.)

But wait!  Why should I care about any of this?  I’m standing up for people who are suffering!

You should care because nonsense like the above makes Jews sympathetic to the Palestinian plight wary and afraid of joining your cause.  You should care because, unfortunately, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has correlated to an uptick in anti-Semitic attacks around the world, attacks on Jews who have no say in Israeli politics, and this kind of behavior merely aggravates that, whether you intend it to or not.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a real minefield in that it’s a clash between oppressed people of color and an ethnoreligious group that is dominant in Israel but marginalized and brutalized elsewhere (often nowadays on the exact grounds that they share ethnoreligious ties with the people of Israel), so it’s damned hard to toe the line of being socially aware and sensitive to both groups.  I get that.  But I think it is possible to toe that line, and I hope this post helps with that.  (And if a Palestinian makes a similar list of problematic arguments they hear targeted at them, I’d be happy to reblog it, too.)

So, TL;DR version:

  1. Do go ahead and criticize Israel.
  2. Don’t use anti-Semitic stereotypes or tropes.
  3. Don’t use overly expansive language that covers Jews as a whole and not just Israel.
  4. Don’t use lies to boost your claims.
  5. Do engage Jews in conversation on the issues of Israel and of anti-Semitism, rather than simply shutting them down for disagreeing.
  6. Do try to be sensitive to the fact that, fair or not, many people take verbal or violent revenge for the actions of Israelis on Diasporan Jews, and Diasporan Jews are understandably frightened and upset by this.


Source :


How to Support Israel Without Being Racist

Please note up front that I am not Palestinian, or Arab, or Muslim.  I am an American Jew.  So any list I draw up with this title is doomed to be incomplete, because there are a lot of facets of the Palestinian experience that I just don’t see.


I’ve seen a shocking amount of orientalist racism come up in discussions of Israel in the past few days, and it bothers me.  A lot.  I really want to believe that most of the people who express such sentiments are acting in misguided good faith, so this post will present some guidelines for what to absolutely never do, along with the reasoning why the actions I list are problematic.  (And bad-faith racist assholes, you can no longer plead ignorance if you engage in any of these no-nos.  Consider yourselves warned.)  In no particular order:

  1. Don’t use any kind of slur.  This should be an absolute no-brainer.  If you ever feel the need to call anyone a slur, shut the fuck up immediately and go jump in the nearest lake.
  2. Don’t call Palestinians “animals” or “savages.” This is a dehumanizing tactic, used to justify or diminish attacks against Palestinians on grounds that they aren’t really human and don’t require the same consideration as people like us.  This is racist.  Always.  In every context.
  3. Don’t claim Palestinians don’t really love their children or don’t really value human life. Another dehumanizing tactic is to point to “unnatural” behavior on the part of the targeted group as proof that they are less human.Don’t do it.  The fact that anyone can repeat this claim even after the front page pictures of Jihad Masharawi carrying his son Omar just boggles my mind.
  4. Don’t claim Palestinian children are “taught to hate” or somehow less innocent than other children.  Another dehumanizing tactic, and a particularly disgusting one, as it’s typically used to downplay the deaths of Palestinian children.  If you feel the need to say that the deaths of certain children aren’t really as sad as others, ever, you need to walk away from the discussion at hand.
  5. Don’t say “Muslim” when you mean Palestinian.  I see this a lot.  Palestinians are mostly Muslim, but there are plenty of Palestinian Christians, too, as well as other groups.  (There were even Palestinian Jews, whose communities predated British control of the area, although needless to say they are now Israelis rather than Palestinians in the current sense.) Not all Palestinians are Muslim, and not all Muslims are Palestinian.  They aren’t interchangeable terms.
  6. Don’t say “Arab” when you mean Palestinian. Arab is a wider term, encompassing an entire ethnic group and bloc of countries.  Palestinians are a distinct group within the Pan-Arab world, with their own unique culture, customs, and Arabic dialect.  Use the appropriate term in the appropriate context, rather than making blanket statements about wider groups than you intend.
  7. Don’t claim Islam is inherently violent and evil. People who believe this are comparing Islam as practiced in poverty-stricken areas to Christianity or Judaism as practiced in affluent areas.  See the problem there?  People who are poor and oppressed, on the whole, engage in more violence and subscribe to more extremist forms of religions—regardless of what religions they practice, because the real problem isn’t the religion, it’s the poverty and oppression.Attacking an entire religion in this way is not only based on apples-to-oranges nonsense, but tinged with racism as well.  (Before you protest that last assertion, look up just how many of the Islamic practices people freak out about are also practiced by Jews, then see if you can still come up with a reason for attacking only Islam that doesn’t rest on the fact that the stereotypical Jew is white-passing but the stereotypical Muslim is not.)
  8. Don’t say or imply that all Palestinians are terrorists or support terrorists.  It’s not true, and it smacks of dehumanizing (“we don’t need to treat them with the same consideration we give people like us because they’re inherently evil and violent”).  I’m betting many of you would rather not be judged by some of the actions of your current government, so don’t do the same thing to others.
  9. Don’t use any variant of the “we made the desert bloom” trope. This is basically the same racist argument European settlers in the Americas used—claiming they deserved the land because they made better use of it than the people whose land it originally was.  In fact, Palestinians were farming, tending orchards, and raising livestock on the land well before Israel existed.  Even if they weren’t, “I took it because I could make better use of it” wouldn’t get you off a theft charge in court, so why is it relevant here?
  10. Don’t use any variant of the “a land without a people for a people without a land” trope. See the previous point.  There were most definitely people on the land before Israel.  To deny that is to erase the existence of Palestinians and their history.  Erasure of a culture is never okay.
  11. Don’t claim there is “no such thing” as Palestine or Palestinians.  This also applies to people who put Palestine and Palestinian in quotation marks.  Quibbling with the terms people choose to describe themselves and their culture is another form of erasure.  Palestinians obviously exist.  You don’t have the right to decide what they can and can’t call themselves.
  12. Don’t say Palestinians have no historical connection to the land or should go back to “their real countries.”  Again, Palestinians lived in the land that is now Israel and the Palestinian territories well before Israel existed.  That IS their country.  Once again, the words Palestinian and Arab are not interchangeable.  Just because Palestinians are Arab doesn’t mean they have the same culture and history as Arabs in other countries, any more than being a white American gives someone the same culture and history as white Europeans.
  13. Don’tcall Palestinians “Amalek” or cite Torah/Bible verses calling for the extermination of non-Jewish groups in Canaan.  Calling for genocide isn’t remotely fucking acceptable, ever, and couching it in religion doesn’t make it any more so.  I can’t believe I even have to say this.  STOP.
  14. Don’t visually depict Palestinians using Arab racial stereotypes.  Don’t sexualize or exoticize Palestinian women. Don’t portray Palestinian men as leering, claw-fingered, keffiyah-and-robe-wearing, hook-nosed villains with bombs strapped to their chests.  Avoid using camels, tents, or polygamy imagery.
  15. Don’t demand that Palestinians or their allies take public note of Israeli casualties, affirm Israel’s right to exist, or publicly repudiate Hamas.People who make this demand are assuming that Palestinians are terrible people or undeserving of being heard out unless they “prove” themselves acceptable by Zionists’ standards.
  16. Don’t blow off Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims if they tell you what you are saying is racist or Islamophobic. Not all pro-Israel speech is racist, but some undeniably is.  Actually give the accusation your consideration and hear the accuser out.  If they fail to convince you, that’s fine.  But at least hear them out (without talking over them) before you decide that.

I’m sure this isn’t a comprehensive list, but it covers all the hard-and-fast rules I can think of.  (I welcome input for improving it, particularly from Palestinians, Muslims, or Arabs.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any culture but my own, and I definitely don’t intend to talk over you!)

But wait!  Why should I care about any of this?  Israel is defending itself against rockets!

You should care because this kind of behavior tarnishes your cause and makes people ashamed to be Zionist.  You should care because even though Israel has every right to exist within its legal boundaries, Israel’s handling of the territories and the Palestinians has been brutal, oppressive, violent, and unjust, and behavior like the above just heaps insult on a deeply injured people.  You should care because if you expect Palestinians and their allies not to be anti-Semitic, you’d better extend the same courtesy and not be racist.  You should care because extreme rhetoric on either side makes the possibility of peace more remote and unlikely, and that hurts EVERYONE.

So, TL;DR version:

  1. Do go ahead and criticize Hamas.
  2. Don’t use racist or Islamophobic stereotypes or tropes.
  3. Don’t conflate Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims as if they were interchangeable terms or groups.
  4. Don’t dehumanize Palestinians.
  5. Don’t erase their existence, history, or culture.
  6. Do engage Palestinians and their allies in conversation on the issues of Israel and of racism, rather than simply shutting them down for disagreeing.
  7. Do try to be sensitive to the fact that Palestinians are largely powerless, poverty-stricken, and violently oppressed, and that any “war” or negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians can in no possible way be construed as a meeting of equals.

Source :