On Saturday, Representative Pramila Jayapal told anti-Israel protestors at a progressive conference, “I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state.” On Sunday, facing a backlash, she took to Twitter to apologize “to those who I have hurt with my words.” Jayapal further explained, “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” but “Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies,” etc.
Public figures don’t apologize for their anti-Semitism because they’ve had a change of heart in 24 hours. They “apologize” because it gets gullible people to leave them alone until their next anti-Jewish outburst. It’s a kind of carbon-tax system for Jew-hatred. Some people, like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, pay up front for the right to pollute in perpetuity. Jayapal may be working toward a similar arrangement. She said what she said. Deliberately, brazenly, sweepingly. And she said it to people she knows to be animated by the idea that “Israel as a nation is racist.” It’s the equivalent of reassuring neo-Confederate activists that you believe the United States is an illegitimate tyranny.
On Monday, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg tried to explain away Jayapal’s bigotry as a “rhetorical misstep.” All the backlash proves, writes Goldberg, is that “no matter how far Israel veers from liberal democratic norms, when it comes to American politics, it’s still protected by a thick lattice of taboos.”
Oh, that it were so. Israel is defamed in the dominant press, boycotted by politicians, athletes, and celebrities, denounced by global bodies, demonized on campuses, dragged through the social-media mud, and criticized by increasing numbers of Israelis and American Jews, including Zionists. If this is a country protected from criticism, just imagine if critics were free to speak their minds.
President Joe Biden has been criticizing the Netanyahu government for months, declaring that it “cannot go down this road” on judicial reform and that “this is one of the most extreme” Israeli governments in history. Tom Nides, departing U.S. ambassador to Israel, recently warned that the Jewish state was “going off the rails.” The aforementioned Omar and Tlaib, along with lawmakers Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are boycotting Israeli president Isaac Herzog’s upcoming speech to a joint session of Congress. The moderate Herzog, it should be noted, is an outspoken critic of Netanyahu policy. Why boycott him unless you believe that “the idea of Israel as a nation is racist”?
The claim of a taboo against criticizing Israel is itself an anti-Semitic trope, the most obscenely common and casual one there is. But think of what it really means: You’re just calling people anti-Semitic because they’re saying things the Jews don’t want you to hear. No one put it more primitively than Omar, who tweeted “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” (Don’t worry, she “apologized.”) The claim takes as given that Jews have a stranglehold on media, politics, and money, and can therefore control the national discourse. Michelle Goldberg’s own paper trades in it regularly and has for a long time, even as it throws up headline after headline describing Israel as a racist autocracy. In 2011, Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote that then-recent standing ovations for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Congress were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” And Michelle Goldberg’s proposed lattice of taboos is so protective that Friedman wrote a piece just last week, 12 years later, describing how Israel is “engaged in unprecedented radical behavior” that’s threatening the U.S.-Israel alliance.
We’re hearing more and more naked anti-Semitism from public figures because Goldberg is precisely wrong. It’s open season on Israel. A new study by the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Network Contagion Research Institute found that Israel is attacked on social media more than any country in the world. China, Russia, and North Korea can’t compete. And, increasingly, social media is where politicians and the press get their cues.
This is no claim for Israel’s victim status. The Jewish state can take it. Swing away. Give it your best shot. The critics aren’t doing a very good job. Despite all the calumnies and hit jobs, Israel is thriving and building alliances. That’s because it isn’t protected by some invisible mesh of censorship. It’s defended by Iron Dome, the IDF, the faith and innovation of its people, and the workings of its rugged democracy. Joe Biden, having struck out with the scolding approach, has just invited Netanyahu to the United States. Let’s see just how restrained Israel’s critics are about that.