Does Criticizing Israel Make Me an Anti-Semite?

Anyone who has ever read my works knows of my enormous pride for my homeland. israelUSflagsMy i-pod contains over 100 tunes of Cuban music; portraits of José Martí ornate my office walls; I light a candle to my virgencita del cobre every morning; and I have published at least three books focusing on mi patria. Because I consider myself a Cuban patriot I am the first to critique the current political structures of the land that witnessed my birth. I find despotism from the left to be just as repugnant as dictatorships from the right. Only a simpleton would equate my criticisms of Cuba with me being anti-Hispanic, anti-Cuban, or even worse, a coconut.

If whites criticize President Obama, does that make them racist? If men criticize not-yet declared presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, does that make them sexist? And if Gentiles criticize the current hawkish Israeli government, does that make them anti-Semitic? No doubt there are racist who vilify Obama due to deep-rooted bigoted ideologies, or Clinton due to misogamist sentiments, or the State of Israel due to anti-Semitism. This fact cannot be denied. But also such neat categorizations misses the complexity of contributions made by people of good will in criticizing the policies advocated by those from different races, genders, or religious persuasions. Clear dichotomies may work well for apologists hoping to shame critics into submission and silence; but they stifle the importance of engaging constructive criticism.

I raise these questions because a few years ago, when an academic society to which I belong invited Rev. Jeremiah Wright to speak, he mentioned, in passing, the abuses he believed Palestinians were facing. An uproar ensued by many of my Jewish academic colleagues demanding an apology. I confess the difficulty I had in understanding why Reverend White had to apology for critiquing the actions of any government with which he disagreed. Academic discourse should always be one that challenges, especially the principles one holds dear.

Obvious I understand the historical background that lead to the concerns of my Jewish colleagues. Our hermeneutical suspicion requires an honest assessment of the depths of century old Christian based anti-Semitism. “The Jews killed our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and for this, they must be punished.” This understanding of Judaism has been based (and in some circles continue to be based) on a misreading of Matthew 27:25. According to the text, Pilate, a Gentile, was willing to let Jesus go, but the Jewish crowd insisted that he be crucified. When Pilate claimed that he would be innocent of Jesus blood, the crowd responded, “The blood [of Jesus] will be on us and on our children.” The passage has historically been interpreted by the Christian church as the self-imposed curse of Jews for their supposed role in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Yet, the roots of anti-Semitism go deeper than simply a Jewish vs. Christian dichotomy. During the early development of Christianity, specifically during the medieval period, Christians interpreted the biblical passages literally, as, for example Exodus 22:25, concerning the charging of usury. For a Christian to charge interest meant they could be excommunicated or killed by the church. Free to lend money and charge interest, many Jewish businessmen found a niche within Christian society. Jewish families were left to handle banking transactions, an important need for the development of Christian Europe. Ironically, several Jewish families found themselves financing many Christian advances toward domination, specifically the numerous crusades. But what can be thought of a group of people who prospered at a trade that good God-fearing Christians believed contradicted the Bible? As Christians throughout Europe prepared to march in order to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslim infidels, often the would-be crusaders realized the paradox of riding to fight God’s enemies in Palestine when God’s greater enemies, the crucifiers of Jesus, remained in European cities to prosper. Some also saw this as an opportunity to eliminate the moneylenders to whom large sums of funds were owed. “Kill the Jews,” became a Christian battle cry throughout Europe, a cry heard as recently as the 1940s.

The stereotype of Jews as money-mongers gave rise to the anti-Semitic belief that Jews controlled the world’s financial institutions, as well as the media and every conceivable left-leaning organization. The Polemical Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which made their appearance at the turn of the twentieth century, supposedly was documented proof that an international Jewish conspiracy existed. Believers in this international Jewish conspiracy have turned to the Bible to find justification for their views of Jews, whom they believe are unsaved due to their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

Although I recognized this anti-Semitic history, cognizant of how our Jewish sisters and brothers suffered in the hands of Christians for centuries, this does not excuse when the oppressed of history find themselves wielding the power of the oppressors. I stand against Israel mainly due to Prime Minister Netanyahu winning a fourth term. His win, due in part to his recent Congressional photo-op, thanks mainly to Republicans and several Democrats beholden to AIPAC, requires a strong denouncement for the path Israel is taking, a path away from developing a more just and peaceful future. Running in a close election, Netanyahu, in a rare glimpse of honesty to his political base, proclaimed his commitment that a two-state solution will never occur on his watch; thus revealing the duplicity of his so-called peace agenda. His denouncement of the ultimate goal that has for decades undergirded peace negotiations, unmasks the true motives of why he is so keen on developing settlements on Palestinian designated lands. In addition, his attempt during the recent election to suppress the Arab-Israeli votes exposes his Jim Crow tactics to disenfranchise a segment of the citizenship due to their racial characteristics. Both institutional and physical violence against the Palestinians must be voiced and condemned. Israel has voted for an anti-peace and anti-Arab administration and for this it requires denouncement.

But let’s be clear, standing against Israel does not mean I automatically stand with the Palestinians oblivious of how they too have fallen short of the mark. Again, we need to become more sophisticated in our analysis and be able to criticize their actions, denounce the violence of the past and its use in the presence, as well as the blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric that I find in many of their denunciations that only fuels the fires of hatred and distrust. And yet, my preferential option towards the Palestinians is because overall, they are the ones who are suffering economic and political oppression. As a liberation theologian, I must stand with Palestinians while remaining ready to also criticize their policies. And more importantly, I must be clear that the unjustifiable death of one Palestinian or one Israeli is one death too many, a tragic waste of those created in the image of God.

The U.S. unwavering loyalty to a foreign nation (that must be distinguished from a people of faith) is complicit with the continuous injustices occurring in that corner of the world. Specifically, we must hold Evangelicals who misunderstand the Book of Revelations and politicians who do not misunderstand the power of AIPAC accountable.

Among some Evangelical, an unquestionable commitment to Israel, where they can do no wrong, is both unbiblical and injudicious. Motivated by an interpretation that Jesus’ second coming will occur after the Jerusalem Temple is rebuilt, they support Israel in achieving this goal, regardless of that tactics employed. The hypocrisy of such support has little to do with their support of Jews as people. In fact, in the popular Left Behind series, not only does the anti-Christ persecute the Jews during the years of tribulation, but also, upon the victory of the Christ, they end up thrown into the lake of fire for denying the Messiah. Not exactly the type ideology one expects from close allies whose only cares for Israel for the role they play in ushering the Second Coming even if it ends with the Jews annihilation. Besides, there is something barbaric about the mantra “my country, right or wrong” whether that country is Israel, the U.S., or my beloved Cuba.

Lobbying groups continues to be the greatest threat to democracy. Although it is naïve to argue that AIPAC controls politicians (thus falling into the international conspiracy of Jewish global domination), it is not far fetch to argue that U.S. politicians, in their perpetual need for money to gain reelection, are willing to sell themselves to the highest bidder. All PACs perverts justice – and I speak from experience as the former chair of RPAC, a real estate political action committee, where I witnessed, first hand, how money sways the hearts and minds of politicians at all levels of government. The AIPAC lobby, whose allegiance is to a foreign government, corrodes Congress’ commitment in placing the needs of their constituencies first. Clearly, I am not speaking against AIPAC because it is pro-Israel under whatever circumstances arises; I am against all PACs because it perverts to role of legislators from acting objectively and judiciously.

If we are for reducing (dare we dream – eliminating) violence; if we support the two-state solution as the best roadmap toward peace; if we are against the oppression of the least among us; then we must voice our distress at governments, whether Israeli or Palestinian when their actions and pronouncements leads to greater mistrust, greater oppression, and more importantly of all, greater violence. With the reelection of Netanyahu, I have no choice but to stand against his hawkish administration that more than likely will continue in its oppressive tactics.

Miguel A. De La Torre

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