Most Jews are baffled by the reaction of leftist commentators to events in the Middle East. There is relatively little outcry when Syrians butcher Syrians, no outcry when Iraqis murder Iraqis, whereas any Palestinian finger grazed by an Israeli bullet invites immediate outbursts of wholehearted indignation. The cognitive dissonance of leftist elites has reached such proportions, that many Jews have decided that perhaps anti-Semitism plays a role in generalized hostility towards Israel.
Claiming that criticism of Israel is a manifestation of anti-Semitic feelings is a risky business. After all, many Israel-bashers are deeply enamored of Jewish thinkers like Marx, Trotsky and Walter Benjamin and count as allies Jewish figures like Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe. Thus, can we still classify their attitude as anti-Semitic? Or does one do a disservice to the Jewish people by labeling leftist foes of Israel the same way one would genocidal Nazis?
In order to address this issue one must recall that Nazi anti-Semitism was far more than an aesthetic aversion towards stereotypical Jewish facial features. Nazism loathed the values which the Torah and the Jewish tradition embodied, namely – justice, compassion and love for the destitute and the stranger. It is no coincidence that those driven by the belief that the weak should serve the strong, saw in the Jewish ethos an intellectual and ethical threat of the highest order. Thus, one could say that the racial anti-Semitism of the Nazis was merely a pretext for a far more deeply-embedded spiritual and ethical anti-Semitism.
In our day and age the threat posed by rightwing anti-Semitism has been supplanted by the spiritual anti-Semitism of the left. In fact, the social success of Jewish minorities in the Western world, together with the astonishing economic and scientific achievements of the State of Israel is unbearable for leftists. The reason for this is simple: This reality shatters the cultural romanticism and social worldview of the left. If second- and third-generation North Africans of Jewish descent successfully integrate in European society while their Muslim peers populate urban ghettoes, it becomes hard to claim that racism, welfare-spending cuts and capitalist alienation are to blame for some of the most pressing social problems of the Western world.
Showcase selective strengths
Likewise if Israel as a democratic free-market economy vaunts impressive human development figures while its neighbors are mired in poverty and strife, it becomes hard to persuade people that Western political and economic institutions are to blame for the region’s problems. It is thus evident that Jews and Israel pose a life-threatening challenge to the worldview of leftist intellectuals. This threat can only be countered by highlighting with disproportionate diligence every abuse and injustice committed by Jewish Israelis, since doing so is critical to the intellectual credibility of the left.
In order to reduce leftist antipathy to Israel it does not help to flaunt the Jewish state’s economic and technological achievements. Doing so only exacerbates leftists’ conviction that Israel is the spoilt child of the West. Instead, Israel should showcase selective strengths such as the few kibbutzim where communal property has flourished and highlight happy Arab-Jewish gay couples living in Tel Aviv.
In addition, in order to reassure intellectuals that Israel is another excellent example of how free-markets threaten the well-being of society, Israel should publicize domestic problems like pollution, poverty, alcoholism and drug-use. This approach is more likely to win over leftist hearts than boasting about achievements in the fields of high-tech and business.
Unless Jews realize that leftist anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment is a phenomenon with far deeper roots than the presence of checkpoints near Ramallah or Hebron, they will misdiagnose the disease and the therapy needed to treat it.