This past week I heard a young UCLA alumna say on a radio talk-show (KPFK FM) that it is not anti-Semitism to say that the State of Israel has no right to exist.
The program was addressing the run-up to the upcoming decision of the UC Board of Regents related to the debate on campuses across the country concerning the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement (BDS) against Israel. Following the talk-show program, the Regents adopted a statement condemning anti-Semitism on UC campuses.
I am increasingly concerned about what I believe is a growing attitude by many young people, including Jews, that is similar to this misguided and ignorant UCLA alumna. To her and to others, I make the following points:
 For you to suggest a separation between Zionism, the state of Israel and Judaism is a misreading of contemporary Jewish identity.
 Judaism is far more than a religion and to presume that it is only a religion is reductionist and inaccurate. The Jewish people is part of the longest surviving civilization anywhere on the planet (3600 years since the time of Abraham and Sarah) and embraces all the elements necessary to characterize a people as a civilization: history, land, language, law, custom, ethics, faith, religion, literature, art, music, and folk ways.
 The modern state of Israel (per Israel’s Declaration of Independence) was “based upon freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel” …[and] “…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
 Though the principles of the Declaration of Independence are part of the fabric of the nation itself, the Jewish people today acknowledges that Israel is an imperfect democracy, just as the United States is imperfect. Tragically, Israel has ruled for almost 50 years over an unwilling Palestinian population in the West Bank on land that Israel conquered in a war of self-defense in 1967.
 It remains the hope of the majority of Israelis and the American Jewish community that a two-states for two peoples end-of-conflict agreement will one day be reached and implemented by Israel and the Palestinians, and that this agreement will settle all claims and usher in an extended period of peace and security for both peoples. Tragically, this goal has been thwarted time and again by extremists of different kinds on both sides of this conflict, including proponents of BDS who are overwhelmingly anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and proclaim, like you, that Israel should not exist.
 This is not only an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist position, it is the newest brand of anti-Semitism because it denies the right of the Jewish people to define themselves. It is not your definition that counts. It is ours. Every people has the right of self-definition, and the Jewish people is no different. That is the fatal flaw in your proclamation and the very basis of your modern anti-Semitism.
It is one thing to protest policies of the Israeli government. It is quite another to demand of no other nation except Israel that it live according to democratic and prophetic standards, and then to de-legitimize the Jewish state when it inevitably fails. This isn’t just anti-Zionism. It is anti-Semitism.
I wonder about those who focus obsessively upon Israel’s behavior and no one else.
Where were they while 250,000 Syrians were butchered and 3 million became refugees?
Where have they been as equal numbers of Iraqis were slaughtered in America’s wrong-headed escapade?
Where were their indignant voices when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was destroying Egyptian Christian communities?
And where are they as Syria’s Kurdish community is threatened with slaughter by the Islamic State?
What about North Korea, Ukraine, the Congo, Darfur, Somalia, and Eritrea?
Why is it that only Israel provokes their/your moral outrage and condemnation?
We haven’t heard a word from these people about any of these countries whose human rights violations are the most serious in the world, and a far cry from anything Israel has done – no protests in Paris and London, no BDS campaign against those countries, no calls for condemnation in the United Nations.
I am not one who equates every criticism of Israeli policy as anti-Semitism. Criticism from love represents the highest form of patriotism, and so it’s legitimate to criticize policies that are unjust. I do so as an American Jew that loves Israel. Israelis, however, are the ones who must decide how they are going to live because it is they who must live with the consequences of their decisions. Israel exists in a very bad and dangerous neighborhood that has little to do with what Israel says or does. So, those of us living here in comfort and security must necessarily defer to those living on the front lines. But we also have the duty to express our views because Israel’s security affects us here. Our identity is affected by her destiny. In very important ways, Israel’s and our destiny are linked.
Know this – We Jews are neither perfect nor guiltless when it comes to moral failure, cruelty and racism. But, we are self-critical, and that’s the beginning of improving our moral character and behavior.
Israeli racism is, thankfully, being addressed seriously by Israel’s Ministry of Education in programs to educate children in elementary, junior high and high school about tolerance and human rights. There are many Israeli NGOs and programs supported by American Jews and others that emphasize Israel’s “shared society.” Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin has condemned all expressions of intolerance and racism including that coming from extremist members of the sitting Israeli governing coalition.
The recent UC Regents statement condemning anti-Semitism on its campuses is a good statement, even though I believe it did not go nearly far enough. It should have included a clear condemnation of anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism.
To this young woman who denounced Israel and claimed not to be anti-Semitic, I suggest that your ignorance of Jewish history, modern Jewish identity and the nature of the state of Israel, along with your arrogance in denying the Jewish people the right of self-definition, are all quite remarkable for an American college graduate who chose to go on the record (on radio) to speak about something you obviously know so little about.
Wally Knox said:
Very well done John.
Paul Kipnes said:
Rabbi Evan Goodman said:
Beautifully written John. I will be sharing widely with our UCSB campus community. Thank you.
Seth Front said:
Beautifully written and well said.
Dennis Cambly said:
Dear Rabbi: I was writing against the wars my entire life including Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen to mention a few. The price paid was six years of lost freedoms. Yes, I am critical of the policies of the Israeli government, regarding a two or one state solution. I defy anyone to say I have ever written or said Israel has no right to exist. We, your non-Jewish allies and Jews, have been handed the burden of peace with the Palestinian people. It appears to me, it is up to the people, not the governments to find the solution. Respectfully yours.
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