Does that make me an anti-Semite?

In a recent Norouz event, a friend of a friend approached me to divulge that he hates Jews “too”. I was a bit taken back by this since I was not aware that I held such feelings for Jews. Aware of my views about the occupation of Palestine by the Israeli government, this person automatically assumed that I criticize Israel because I dislike Jews. This was just another person unable to distinguish between Judaism and Israel. There are many. I'm sure most of you have run into a few. So therefore, I feel the need to make a clarification.

It is extremely important to separate Judaism from Zionism, the movement behind the creation of Israel. For many years, media outlets and pro-Israel political organizations have used the “anti-Semite” card to attack anyone who has enough courage to criticize Israel. The subject has become the biggest taboo in American politics. Politicians and commentators have been forced step down after presenting views critical of Israel. Anti-Semite labeling has destroyed many lives and careers.

Does the fact that Israel is a predominantly Jewish state exempt it from criticism? Should predominantly Christian or Muslim countries be given the same privilege? What would that do to international law and order? All countries should be held accountable for crimes committed in their name regardless of race and religion.

Israel claims that it has tried very hard to become a part of the international community. It constantly emphasizes the importance of recognition, especially from its Arab neighbors. Then why does Israel not accept the responsibilities that come with statehood? Why does it continue to violate international law? Israel has violated more than three-dozen UN resolutions.

Imagine an Arab, Muslim or any other member of the destitute portion of international community occupying another land. We all remember what happened when Saddam Hussein was stupid enough to invade Kuwait. Israel has illegally occupied the Palestinian territories for over 35 years!

Saddam Hussein used the Israeli example to justify the invasion of Kuwait to his officers. He figured if the international community has done nothing to punish Israel, it would do nothing to punish Iraq. He was dead wrong. The privilege of immunity only extends to Israel and its sponsor, the United States.

It's essential to remember that criticism of the Israeli government, notably that of the Likud and other Israeli right-wing political groups does not and must not signify anti-Semitism. Such criticism should be seen as an attack against the human rights violations of the Israeli government committed in the name of the Israeli people. It is important to note that the people of Israel have also suffered because of their government's policies. They too are living in a state of constant fear.

I have long been critical of the Israeli government. Does that make me an anti-Semite? I know many Jews who criticize the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli government. What does this make them? Self-hating Jews? It is extremely important to distinguish between criticism of a sovereign nation and the hatred of the Jewish people.

Allow me to add that the movement to create a “Jewish” homeland was founded by secular Jews. It was never a religious movement. Therefore the argument of those who attempt to equate the two has no historical religious basis. Please remember that anti-Semitism is sort of a European, Christian thing. As far as I know, there are no Arabs in the KKK. The Spanish inquisition, the Jewish holocaust, skinheads, neo-Nazis and the Ustasha are all Western maladies.

In contrary to what many believe, Muslims and Jews lived in peaceful coexistence for hundreds of years prior to the creation of Israel. But even after, there have been no significant hostile acts against Jewish communities in the Mid-East. But six million of them were exterminated in European death camps. Jews and blacks were lynched in the south in America, not in Syria or Iran, which has the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East.

Many Jews fled Iran immediately after the Islamic Revolution in fear of religious persecution. But those who remained in Iran found that the Islamic Republic does not discriminate against members of other Abrahamic faiths. They also found out that the Islamic Republic's lack of respect extends to all of its citizens, regardless of religion.

I do think that anti-Semitism exists. The same way anti-Islamism, anti-Christianity, and other forms of racism, sexism and xenophobia exist. All are equally horrible and signs of ignorance. But we need to be clear and unafraid. We need to see thing for what they are. The occupation of Palestinian land is unjust.

The fact that most Palestinians in the world have not seen life outside of refugee camps is unjust. Demolition of Palestinian homes is unjust. Building of settlements (let's call them what they are, colonies) is unjust. Killing of civilians including women and children is unjust.

Let me add that the killing of Israeli civilians is also unjust and immoral. But this long, brutal occupation has been so damaging to the Palestinian spirit that the whole concept of morality has been disfigured. Israeli fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and bulldozers have not only destroyed life and infrastructure, but they also have extinguished hope in most Palestinians. It is easy for a man without hope to embrace destructive impulses.

There are people who think I'm an anti-Semite. I have criticized Israel as long as I've followed the Mid-East crisis. And I will continue to do so as long as Israel continues to oppress an entire nation of people because of their race. Does that make me an anti-Semite?

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