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Criticize Israel? You're an Anti-Semite!

by Rosa Brooks Sunday, Sep. 03, 2006 at 6:00 PM

How can we have a real discussion about Mideast peace if speaking honestly about Israel is out of bounds? Publish something sharply critical of Israeli government policies and you'll find out. If you're lucky, you'll merely discover that you've been uninvited to some dinner parties. If you're less lucky, you'll be the subject of an all-out attack by neoconservative pundits and accused of rabid anti-Semitism.

Rosa Brooks: Criticize Israel? You're an Anti-Semite!

How can we have a real discussion about Mideast peace if speaking honestly about Israel is out of bounds?

September 1, 2006

EVER WONDER what it's like to be a pariah?

Publish something sharply critical of Israeli government policies and you'll find out. If you're lucky, you'll merely discover that you've been uninvited to some dinner parties. If you're less lucky, you'll be the subject of an all-out attack by neoconservative pundits and accused of rabid anti-Semitism.



This, at least, is what happened to Ken Roth. Roth — whose father fled Nazi Germany — is executive director of Human Rights Watch, America's largest and most respected human rights organization. (Disclosure: I have worked in the past as a paid consultant for the group.) In July, after the Israeli offensive in Lebanon began, Human Rights Watch did the same thing it has done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Congo, Uganda and countless other conflict zones around the globe: It sent researchers to monitor the conflict and report on any abuses committed by either side.

It found plenty. On July 18, Human Rights Watch condemned Hezbollah rocket strikes on civilian areas within Israel, calling the strikes "serious violations of international humanitarian law and probable war crimes." So far, so good. You can't lose when you criticize a terrorist organization.

But Roth and Human Rights Watch didn't stop there. As the conflict's death toll spiraled — with most of the casualties Lebanese civilians — Human Rights Watch also criticized Israel for indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Roth noted that the Israeli military appeared to be "treating southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone," and he observed that the failure to take appropriate measures to distinguish between civilians and combatants constitutes a war crime.

The backlash was prompt. Roth and Human Rights Watch soon found themselves accused of unethical behavior, giving aid and comfort to terrorists and anti-Semitism. The conservative New York Sun attacked Roth (who is Jewish) for having a "clear pro-Hezbollah and anti-Israel bias" and accused him of engaging in "the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much anti-Semitism." Neocon commentator David Horowitz called Roth a "reflexive Israel-basher … who, in his zest to pillory Israel at every turn, is little more than an ally of the barbarians." The New Republic piled on, as did Alan Dershowitz, who claimed Human Rights Watch "cooks the books" to make Israel look bad. And writing in the Jewish Exponent, Jonathan Rosenblum accused Roth of resorting to a "slur about primitive Jewish bloodlust."

Anyone familiar with Human Rights Watch — or with Roth — knows this to be lunacy. Human Rights Watch is nonpartisan — it doesn't "take sides" in conflicts. And the notion that Roth is anti-Semitic verges on the insane.

But what's most troubling about the vitriol directed at Roth and his organization isn't that it's savage, unfounded and fantastical. What's most troubling is that it's typical. Typical, that is, of what anyone rash enough to criticize Israel can expect to encounter. In the United States today, it just isn't possible to have a civil debate about Israel, because any serious criticism of its policies is instantly countered with charges of anti-Semitism. Think Israel's tactics against Hezbollah were too heavy-handed, or that Israel hasn't always been wholly fair to the Palestinians, or that the United States should reconsider its unquestioning financial and military support for Israel? Shhh: Don't voice those sentiments unless you want to be called an anti-Semite — and probably a terrorist sympathizer to boot.

How did adopting a reflexively pro-Israel stance come to be a mandatory aspect of American Jewish identity? Skepticism — a willingness to ask tough questions, a refusal to embrace dogma — has always been central to the Jewish intellectual tradition. Ironically, this tradition remains alive in Israel, where respected public figures routinely criticize the government in far harsher terms than those used by Human Rights Watch.

In a climate in which good-faith criticism of Israel is automatically denounced as anti-Semitic, everyone loses. Israeli policies are a major source of discord in the Islamic world, and anger at Israel usually spills over into anger at the U.S., Israel's biggest backer.

With resentment of Israeli policies fueling terrorism and instability both in the Middle East and around the globe, it's past time for Americans to have a serious national debate about how to bring a just peace to the Middle East. But if criticism of Israel is out of bounds, that debate can't occur — and we'll all pay the price.

Back to Human Rights Watch's critics. Why waste time denouncing imaginary anti-Semitism when there's no shortage of the real thing? From politically motivated arrests of Jews in Iran to assaults on Jewish children in Ukraine, there's plenty of genuine anti-Semitism out there — and Human Rights Watch is usually taking the lead in condemning it. So if you're bothered by anti-Semitism — if you're bothered by ideologies that insist that some human lives have less value than others — you could do a whole lot worse than send a check to Human Rights Watch.

rbrooks (at) latimescolumnists.com

www.latimes.com/news/opinion/sunday/la-oe-brooks1sep01,0,4657959.column?

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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 171 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
TITLE AUTHOR DATE
Another enlightening article, keep up the good work Brad Sellars Sunday, Sep. 03, 2006 at 6:04 PM
Role reversal Role reversal Tuesday, Sep. 05, 2006 at 9:02 PM
Great article! Speaks volumes Tamir Thursday, Sep. 07, 2006 at 8:27 PM
"Anti-Zionism, however tends to argue . . ." anti-Zionism Thursday, Sep. 07, 2006 at 9:35 PM
What israel-the terror state really stands for What Israel stands for Thursday, Sep. 07, 2006 at 9:45 PM
-basis of their political beliefs - Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:09 AM
"fired . . . for HAVING a pro-Israel viewpoint" remember capt. boycott Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:34 AM
1984/1948 Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:49 AM
another Zionist lie what Israel is all about Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:54 AM
Me too Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:59 AM
just one question was it the Palestinians? Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 3:24 AM
Its parallel and pertinent Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 3:29 AM
where Is the beef? Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 3:35 AM
well theres always Wikipedia Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 3:48 AM
theres always good ole wikipedia Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 3:48 AM
what? Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 11:43 AM
that's what I wrote Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 1:49 PM
"Why aren't people clamoring about the right of the Jewish refugees to return" begging the question Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:11 PM
there is only the same point Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:12 PM
yeah Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:21 PM
mirror of response Unbelievable Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 2:29 PM
"Hezbollah . . .invaded Israel, kidnapped and killed soldiers" more Zionist lies Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 3:04 PM
a pinhole view Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 4:15 PM
shucks Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 4:46 PM
'Israel is always right' Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 4:55 PM
More of Becky's drama queen lies TW Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 4:57 PM
if Hamas had a modren military Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 5:15 PM
Appalling insensitivity from a family man, yet Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 5:25 PM
SchtarkerYid fired over thought and opinions Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 5:25 PM
yes Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 6:22 PM
\Speaking of Child molestors how do you feel about Nessie Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 6:43 PM
sure, Smashy well, we now know who SY is Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 6:50 PM
hfhreututy Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 7:06 PM
Zionists dancing the Deflect-Deny-Distract Boogaloo again TW Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 7:10 PM
direct hit the other Sheepdog Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 7:11 PM
"covered under the guise of free speech?" "guise"!?! Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 9:46 PM
guise of legality charismatic megafauna Friday, Sep. 08, 2006 at 9:55 PM
The silent victims of 9-11 Shime on Ben Kosiba Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2006 at 7:12 PM
Anti-Judaism William Kristol Wednesday, Sep. 13, 2006 at 5:02 PM
Whats a little lying and manipulation between friends? Einstein and anti-Semitism Saturday, Sep. 23, 2006 at 11:16 AM
huge post, fresca Well Worth the Read Sunday, Sep. 24, 2006 at 1:15 PM
Why thank you, Hun-neeeee TW Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 5:30 PM
'Why thank you, Hun-neeeee' yepster Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 5:51 PM
Won't take the bait sweetheart.... Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 8:39 PM
heh heh... 'tisk Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 8:48 PM
a burst of keystrokes Thanks for theconfirm, Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 9:12 PM
on lunch tossing you brought it up first Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 9:23 PM
And furthermore Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 9:29 PM
a little obvious even for a zionist answer Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 10:49 PM
no doesn't make sense Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 10:57 PM
doesn't make sense. what? Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2006 at 11:03 PM
I got a better idea, Punk TW Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2006 at 6:19 AM
you like those porn sites huh? Whizz is ill, poor bastard Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2006 at 12:31 PM
Except we hear that point of view all the time Thanks for the pro-israel spam Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2006 at 9:00 PM
Smarter Yid That's hilarious, Yid the basket case strikes Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2006 at 11:32 PM
SchtarkerYid No Toady, Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006 at 2:10 PM
You are an irrelevant trolling idiot Schtarker-another zionazi fuckwit Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006 at 7:06 PM
SchtarkerYid try to answer this time Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006 at 9:06 PM
and predictable Pot calling kettle black-typical Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006 at 9:14 PM
So predictable denial is not a river in Egypt Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006 at 9:23 PM
I love spinach Matt Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006 at 10:21 PM
off topic but the problem was with locally grown organic spinach Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006 at 10:29 PM
impeccable hex Friday, Sep. 29, 2006 at 8:24 PM
Can we trust anything this guy has to say? Leotard-looks like another right wing sleaze Friday, Sep. 29, 2006 at 8:51 PM
So what? So what? Friday, Sep. 29, 2006 at 8:52 PM
Great link Guide to recovering from right wing lunacy Friday, Sep. 29, 2006 at 9:01 PM
hahaa hex Friday, Sep. 29, 2006 at 9:06 PM
So you don't like Open publishing? Becky Johnson Sunday, Oct. 01, 2006 at 12:11 PM
it's not going to happen hex Sunday, Oct. 01, 2006 at 1:13 PM
Not Becky Not even a reasonable Facsimile Sunday, Oct. 01, 2006 at 1:28 PM
actions speak louder than hex Sunday, Oct. 01, 2006 at 1:55 PM
If you are looking for a zio-free site, try Sf imc or indybay response Sunday, Oct. 01, 2006 at 2:26 PM
that's what I was waiting to hear :) hex Sunday, Oct. 01, 2006 at 3:07 PM
Not just about Zionism Sunday, Oct. 01, 2006 at 3:26 PM
I've never posted rated X pictures hex Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 1:30 AM
Robbins Mitchell -- eeeyyyeeewwwww!!!! TW Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 3:28 AM
The new anti-Semitism Victor davis hanson Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 9:26 AM
The new anti semenism Roger Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 9:54 AM
I know a dangerous weasel when I see one Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 10:04 AM
a point Dwin Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 10:13 AM
The UN doesn't produce "international law" its advisory Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 10:28 AM
christ on a crackerbox whew. Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 10:39 AM
Not a thought in his head Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 10:44 AM
don't like reductionism? try it Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 11:21 AM
Objection assumes facts not in evidence Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 11:29 AM
Genocide denial is bad Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 11:36 AM
This is why "we" love and adore Becky Johnson from a previous Becky post Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 2:20 PM
funny al-CIAduh attacks Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 2:34 PM
locate source Show me Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 2:40 PM
Here is the source Becky Johnson Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 2:55 PM
middleeastfacts is a Zionist propaganda site hex Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 3:20 PM
It's NOT "Palestinian" land Becky Johnson Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 3:35 PM
source ? this is a source? Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 9:16 PM
Check out WRMEA, a REAL Fake Becky Johnson Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 9:45 PM
your source don't Wait Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 9:58 PM
the BEWARE list is a keeper folks :) hex Monday, Oct. 02, 2006 at 10:48 PM
"Fake" sites with REAL information Becky Johnson Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 12:03 AM
uppity the hill we go - into battle hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 12:23 AM
Oh, now ***THIS*** is fascinating!! TW Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 2:01 AM
yepper hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 8:33 AM
Analogy is full of holes Becky Johnson Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 10:53 AM
talking points hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 11:25 AM
And from the Plaestinian Solidarity Conference handbook Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 2:46 PM
well boo hoo too yuoo hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 3:11 PM
why, because of the quotation marks? question Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 4:45 PM
Quit ducking and dodging, Sloppy BJ TW Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 4:49 PM
Do you know why... ? TW Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 5:06 PM
Hey Hex: check out this Israeli PR screed TW Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 5:11 PM
oh look - a cheap imitation hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 5:46 PM
yeah TW I already have that hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 5:50 PM
PR watch hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 6:42 PM
You alleged *in this thread* Israel spends nillion on PR hexi-gone Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 6:55 PM
"nowhere near" screechs the troll hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 7:29 PM
"10 point something million (almost 11 million) cited and linked" hexi-gone Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 7:57 PM
Iran says Israel will 'vanish' hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 7:57 PM
study harder then hex Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 7:58 PM
I won't hexi-gone Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 8:17 PM
The Lobby Matt Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2006 at 8:19 PM
Interesting Wish I saw that debate Friday, Oct. 06, 2006 at 2:40 AM

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