Don’t blame Israel for the surge in antisemitism

The Jew-haters who support the Islamist war against Jewish life are the only ones to blame.

By Johnathan S. Tobin, JNS

For liberal Jewish critics of Israel, the post-Oct. 7 world has been difficult to navigate. The international campaign to smear the defensive war being waged against terrorists bent on both the destruction of the Jewish state and the mass slaughter of its people has put them in a corner.

The wave of Jew-hatred that has spread across the globe, and specifically in the United States in the streets and on college campuses, has targeted them and their children as much as any other sector of Jewish society.

Worst of all, it’s not their traditional political foes on the right or even Donald Trump who is doing this. It is, instead, their longtime allies on the left who are responsible.

They have embraced a virulent form of antisemitism but believe that their hatred is justified by woke ideologies like critical race theory and intersectionality that brand Israel and the Jews as “white” oppressors.

Rather than acknowledge this, some liberals find it easier to point to Israel for their troubles.

Internalizing hatred

That’s the conceit of a recent column in The Forward by Rob Eshman that is noteworthy not so much because of its spurious arguments, but because it is just the latest example of how a considerable number of Jews have always responded to antisemitism.

Instead of acknowledging the truth about those who seek to single out the Jews and their state for discrimination and violence, there are always going to be some who internalize this hatred and seek to blame the victims for being targeted.

Eshman is far from the first to claim that Israel’s allegedly bad behavior is endangering Jews. But in the wake of the Oct. 7 mass murders, rapes and other atrocities by Hamas terrorists who openly call for Jewish genocide, it takes a particularly delusional mindset to think that the open contempt for Jewish rights and safety that has become mainstream discourse in America in recent months can be rolled back by Israelis treating those trying to kill them more gently.

To imagine, as he does, that the mobs on the streets of America’s cities and college campuses chanting for the Jewish state’s destruction (“from the river to the sea”) or for terrorism against Jews wherever they live (“globalize the intifada”) can be made less dangerous if only Israel could act in a manner that would generate more sympathy from its liberal critics is not only wrongheaded.

It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about why Israel is being bashed for its post-Oct. 7 conduct.

Eshman says he doesn’t want to rationalize or excuse antisemitism and wants open acts of anti-Jewish hate to be condemned. He also accepts that there are some people out there who wish Jews ill no matter what they do.

Still, he insists that Jewish actions—and in particular, Israeli military tactics—can impact the amount of antisemitism that nice American Jews who want to be loved by the left, and seen as their fallies, are experiencing. And, as foolish as his argument may be, it probably reflects the way many American Jews are feeling right now.

Accepting the lies about Israel

The first flaw in his reasoning is the way he accepts without much argument the smears of the Israel Defense Forces’ counter-offensive in Gaza.

Once the big lie that Israel is conducting genocide against the Palestinians has been accepted, then all is lost.

If, instead of mimicking corporate media pundits like The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof, he did some actual reporting about how Israel fights, he would know that far from conducting a “brutal approach to civilian casualties” that deserves the world’s condemnation, the IDF takes more care to avoid harm to non-combatants than any other modern army in recent history.

Honest journalists are pushing back against the fake statistics produced by Hamas, not blindly accepting them.

To even go down this road when attempting to cope with antisemitism is a mistake.

Those who demonize Israel and treat its every measure of self-defense as illegitimate are not really interested in the details of the fighting in Gaza any more than they care about those of any other war that has been fought in recent history.

For all of the attempts to hype the carnage in the Gaza Strip as some sort of historic barbarity, what is happening there is nothing when compared to the toll of deaths and displacement caused elsewhere in places like Syria, let alone the Chinese government’s genocidal campaign against Muslim Uyghurs.

The only reason anyone cares about the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza is because the Jews can be blamed for them, even if they are happening in the course of a defensive war started with murder, rape, torture and kidnapping by the people who now claim to be its chief victims.

Jews don’t cause antisemitism

The problem with the attempt to blame Israel for the targeting of American Jews is more fundamental. As in every past outbreak of antisemitism, the cause is never anything the Jews do or don’t do.

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Jews have been hated for being rich and for being poor; for assimilating and for standing apart. But the attempt to look within for the reason why Jews are hated is always a fool’s errand.

Antisemitism is always about the antisemites.

The notion that Eshman and liberals like him grasp at—that a kinder, gentler Israeli would be less hated—is as tragically blind as those who thought previous foes who sought the end of Jewry could be appeased.

After all, the so-called progressives didn’t even wait until Israel began its push into Gaza to begin flipping the narrative from one about a Hamas war launched against Israel to one about Palestinian victimhood.

Nor do those who spread falsehoods about Israelis conducting a “genocide” bother much with the actual facts about what the IDF is doing on the ground.

Going soft on Hamas won’t silence the antisemites. It will just encourage them to believe that their fantasies about erasing Israel are that much closer to coming true.

Some on the Jewish left want to carve out a position where they can retain their liberal bona fides while not crossing over to the camp of Jewish antisemites and anti-Zionists, such as those who are part of the Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow groups that have trafficked in blood libels against Jews for the last decade.

Like Eshman, they say that support for a ceasefire now and an end to the war followed by pressure on Israel to accept a Palestinian state is the proper response to Oct. 7, as well as a way to tamp down the storm of antisemitism.

Eshman thinks that a push for a “just compromise” with the Palestinians that would empower the very forces that are responsible for the Oct. 7 pogroms is the answer. That is something that the overwhelming majority of Israelis think is not just unwise but sheer madness.

The problem with this line of thought isn’t just its lack of realism or a desire to wish away an intractable conflict that is rooted in pure hatred of Jews.

He quotes the left-wing Israel author Yuval Harari with approval when he says that the real struggle is not the obvious existential one against those who seek the death and displacement of Jews.

Instead, he seeks to revive the divisive arguments about judicial reform that tore Israel apart last year as the Jewish left tried to spin its own desire to hold onto unaccountable power as one of enlightened Jews resisting the benighted right-wing and religious Israelis, who win elections but should still be ruled by their left-wing betters.

Eshman and Harari both seem to think the problem is not Hamas but right-wing Jews who see a “contradiction” between Jewish and Palestinian rights.

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Like previous generations of Jews who tried to bargain their way out of being targeted, they see the issue as one in which “bad Jews” are doing things for which the “good Jews” are being unfairly blamed.

Nevertheless, the problem is that the Palestinians—both the “moderates” and Hamas—all define their rights in a way that denies those of the Jews.

For them, it is a zero-sum game and always has been. It is only liberal Jews who have tried—and failed—to wish this reality away.

That was the conceit behind the colossal failure of the Oslo Accords and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005 that ultimately made the slaughter of Oct. 7 possible.

Yet rather than confront that reality, Eshman prefers to pretend that more trading of land for terror, as Israel did in the past, would somehow do the trick this time, even if doing so now is not just immoral but an invitation to more mass slaughter.

He sees Israel’s determination to eliminate Hamas and those American Jews who support that rational goal as the reason why antisemitism has become such a problem.

This is as shameful as it is illogical.

Israel and its supporters are in no way responsible for the antisemitism we are witnessing in the United States. The Jew-haters who support the Islamist war against Jewish life are the only ones to blame.

Liberal Zionists cannot have it both ways. They can’t claim to be for peace while calling for a ceasefire that will leave the greatest enemies of peace—Hamas—still standing and ready to make good on their pledges to repeat the devastation of Oct. 7.

They can either stand with Israel against leftists who are ideologically opposed to Jewish rights or they can join the anti-Zionists who seek to legitimize left-wing antisemitism.

What’s more, they need to understand that their efforts to undermine Jewish self-defense by blaming Israel are only encouraging Hamas and its apologists. It is liberal Jews who, even after the calamity that took place in southern Israel seek to judge the Jewish state, that are in the wrong.

It is they who, whether intentionally or not, are aiding the efforts of the terrorists to win this war and making it even less likely that Palestinians will ever undergo the sea change in their political culture, which might eventually make a compromise solution possible.

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