"Criticism of Israel isn't necessarily anti-Semitism," the British left-liberal commentariat never tire of pointing out. But what about when it is? Donald Macintyre, commenting in the Independent on the case of the British academic (Mona Baker) who fired two Israelis from a scholarly journal's board in support of an anti-Israel boycott, formulates a new corollary which goes something like this: anti-Semitism, even when well-intentioned, is not necessarily the most effective criticism of Israel. Indeed, Macintyre cautions, anti-Semitism of this type is best avoided, not only because it is inherently wrong, but also because it runs the risk of undermining the the shared goal of helping to bring down the Sharon government. "It is possible," he writes, "as these people fail to realise, to criticise the Israeli government without condemning an entire country or its people." Well, it certainly ought to be possible, even easy. How remarkable that so many seem utterly unable to manage it.
There's no indication that Macintyre himself shares Mona Baker's objectionable views. Yet his framing of the issue as primarily a matter of inadvisable tactics in service of an unquestionably worthy cause has a distinctly odd flavor. "Above all," he writes, "the academic boycotters give lethal sustenance to the lie that such criticism [of the Israeli government]... amounts to saying that the state of Israel should not exist." Since this, in fact, appears to be Mona Baker's view, it is at best an exaggeration to call this characterization a "lie" in this context. The point is that for Baker, whose opposition to the Israeli government's policies seamlessly elides into an opposition to the mere presence of Israeli individuals, "criticism of Israel" really does seem to have meant "condemning an entire country and its people." How many of the 700 other signers of the academic boycott petition share her beliefs? Macintyre claims that those who frankly admit to believing that Israel has no right to exist would "find themselves alienated from the large majority of people in this country." I'm not so sure about this: it's a common enough view in Britain, sad to say. Intentionally or not, Macintyre's column amounts to an oblique call for people with such views to disguise their true motives more effectively. It's too late for that, though: everybody else has already noticed.Posted by Dr. Frank at July 9, 2002 03:08 PM | TrackBack