Keep ‘Em Separated: Anti-Semitism vs. Anti-Israel

Anyone remember the song, “Come Out and Play,” also known as, “Keep ‘Em Separated,” by the 90’s alternative band, Offspring. The story goes that inspiration for the “keep ’em separated” lyric actually came from frontman, Dexter Holland’s, experience in a laboratory cooling flasks full of hot liquids. He placed them too close together, realizing after he messed up the experiment that he needed to, “keep ‘em separated.”

If there is one thing you should know about this week’s portion, the entire book of Leviticus, and really the whole mindset of the ancient Israelite priests, the authors of Leviticus, it is, “keep ‘em separated.”

The ancient priests, the kohanim, were obsessed with separation and categorization. Leviticus is filled with descriptions of what is clean or unclean, holy or profane. Next week we read about the kosher laws – what is permissible to eat and what isn’t. Animals are categorized by their digestive tracts, their hooves, their scales and fins. We are taught they mixing fabrics or sowing two crops in the same field is an abomination.

While this practice of placing everything in boxes, marking them black or white, may seem antiquated to our postmodern sensibilities, I believe there are times when it is helpful to clearly delineate what is permissible and what is not.

We are at a time such as this in regards to our national conversation about Israel. The line between anti-Israel comments and antisemitism has become blurred to much of society and we must clearly mark what is acceptable criticism and what is not.

Let me begin by stating as clearly as possible, criticism of Israel is not automatically anti-Semitic. If it were, I would be one of the biggest anti-Semites in this room. I routinely criticize the policies of the Netanyahu government – I just spoke a few weeks ago about the dangers of inviting the far-right Otzmah Yehudit party into the government.

We have invited Anat Hoffman here on many occasions – she is one of Israel’s fiercest critics, shining a light on the human rights abuses committed by the state against Arab-Israelis, women, and progressive Jews. I am part of the J-Street rabbinic cabinet and have advocated to our own US government to condemn the continued settlement building in the West Bank. No of this is antisemitism.

However, there are sadly many instances when criticism of Israel crosses the line and clearly becomes antisemitism. What is that line? And what are our criteria for determining if criticism of Israel is kosher or traif?

While it may never be as cut and dry as our ancient priests would have liked, I believe there are some clear criteria for determining whether something is antisemitic as opposed to just anti-Israel. One framework is the “3D” test conceived by Natan Sharansky and adopted as part of the US State Department’s definition of antisemitism.

According to Sharansky, the three D’s are:

Delegitimization.

Double Standards.

And Demonization.

As Rabbi Angela Buchdahl puts it:

When people deny only the Jewish people’s right to self determination — when they characterize a return to our homeland of 3000 years as a racist, white-colonialist endeavor and call into question Israel’s very right to exist — this Delegitimization is antisemitism.

When the UN human rights council calls out Israel for half of all their human rights condemnations — more than the resolutions against the horrific regimes of Syria, Iran and North Korea combined, this Double Standard is antisemitism.

And when the Israeli Defense Force is characterized as terrorists, or Nazis, wantonly killing Palestinians in a “genocide,” this Demonization is antisemitism.

Delegitimization: the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Double Standards: a different moral standard for Jews and Israel compared to the rest of the world.

And Demonization: the portrayal of Israel and Jews as evil, demonic, or other sinister stereotypes.

While I wholehearted agree with Natan Sharansky on these 3D’s of antisemitism, I would proposed adding one more D to Sharansky’s list. I know, 4D’s doesn’t have the same clever ring but there is one more clear indicator that a message is not merely anti-Israel but antisemitic – Dual Loyalty.

Although by no means a new phenomenon, the accusation of diaspora Jews having a dual allegiance, where Israel takes priority over their own nation, has ramped up in recent years.

In some ways, this type of antisemitism, could fall under Sharansky’s categories of double standard or demonization. It is a double standard because rarely in our current age do we hear about US citizens of other faiths or backgrounds having dual loyalties. Yes there was a time in our history when catholics were accused of having a dual loyalty to the Pope and Japanese Americans were placed in Internment Camps during WWII but the charge of dual loyalty seems mostly reserved for Jews today.

The charge of dual loyalty is also a demonization of Jews as it often contains stereotypical allegations about the power of Jews as a collective such as, the myth about the world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

The dual loyalty charge is inherently contained in two of Sharansky’s 3D’s, however I believe  it deserves a “D” of its own, in light of its prevalence in society today.

Some of you may remember a case at UCLA, a few years ago, where a student was accused of dual loyalty when running for student government. The student council was confirming the nomination of Rachel Beyda to the council’s Judicial Board. It seemed routine until it came time for questions.

One student asked Ms. Beyda, “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”

For the next 40 minutes, the council debated about whether her faith and affiliation with Jewish organizations meant she would be biased in dealing with sensitive governance questions that come before the board.

The discussion, recorded in written minutes and captured on video, seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes — particularly about divided loyalties — that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries, students and Jewish leaders said.

The council voted first to reject Ms. Beyda’s nomination, with four members against her. Then, at the prodding of a faculty adviser there who pointed out that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest, the students revisited the question and unanimously put her on the board.

More recently this issue of antisemitic dual loyalty charges arose again with Representative Ilhan Omar. During a discussion at a Washington bookstore a few weeks ago, she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Rep Omar questioned why it was acceptable for her to speak critically about the political influence of the National Rifle Association, fossil fuel industries and “big pharma,” but not AIPAC.

Many have responded to Rep Omar as to why her comments crossed the line – perhaps one of the best responses came from Rahm Emanuel. Citing his own experience of being forced to produce his birth certificate to prove he was an American citizen and not Israeli during his first run for congress in 2002, he goes on to write:

No one is questioning the right of members of Congress and others to criticize Israeli policies. But Omar is crossing a line that should not be crossed in political discourse. Her remarks are not anti-Israel; they are anti-Semitic.

Whether consciously or not, Representative Omar is repeating some of the ugliest stereotypes about Jews—tropes that have been unleashed by anti-Semites throughout history. She is casting Jewish Americans as the other, suggesting a dual loyalty that calls our devotion to America into question.

Rahm Emanuel is correct. This is not new. And it was not ok back then and it is not ok today.

Open up your prayer books to page 110 and look at the first footnote below the line. The founders of Reform Judaism in America removed prayers about Israel from their liturgy out of fear of being accused of dual loyalty. For this very reason, we never had an Israeli flag on the bimah until fairly recently.

A congregant recently gave me a book to read – Loyalty Betrayed: Jewish Chaplains in the German Army During the First World War, by Peter Appelbaum. In a sadly ironic history, many German Jews saw “the Great War” as an opportunity to prove their commitment to the German homeland. The book writes about the the Judenzählung (German for “Jewish census”), a measure designed to confirm accusations of the lack of patriotism among German Jews. The census disproved the charges, but its results were not made public. In many ways, this helped lay the foundation for Hitler’s rise to power.

Antisemitic charges of dual loyalty have been hurled at Jews for centuries and it does not appear that they are stopping anytime soon. We have an obligation to call out this and any form of antisemitism in order to educate our leaders and our neighbors on the fine line between honest criticism of Israel and antisemitism.

The ancient Israelite priests created clear separations in order to protect their people. We are taught that transgressing the priestly boundaries could result in death, as it does with Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Abihu next week. While it may not lead to death, transgressing the boundary between criticism of Israel and antisemitism can have disastrous consequences on the Jewish communities safety and acceptance in American and on our ability to be critical of the Israeli government.

May we all continue to work to, “keep ‘em separated.”

 

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