A Matter of Definition
To the Editors of The Crimson:
Allen S. Weiner's piece "Behind the Mask" (Nov.8) attempts, in a dispassionate way, to remind readers that anti-Semitism may motivate some of the criticism of the Israeli government in the wake of this past summer's events.
Weiner, like the rest of the great herd of American media commentators behind which he straggles, jumbles identities and affiliations, governments and peoples with little regard for precision. Among the distinctions he fails to keep before him as he writes are those between Jews and Zionists, Jews and Israelis, Israelis and their government, and finally, enemies of Israel and anti-Semites.
Take this sentence: "The Mideast political turmoil has led some critics of Israel to express their views by vandalizing sukkashs." It is a classic of faculty logic that works something like this: some anti-Semites in America have recently desecrated sukkahs: other Americans have recently criticized Israel; therefore, the sukkah-desecrators must be "critics of Israel" and the critics of Israel must sympathize with the sukkah-desecrators.
"We cannot forget that criticism of Israel itself frequently stems from prejudice against Jews in general," Weiner writes. His moderate tone helps obscure the McCarthyist tactic of his article--if you can't refute an opponent, identify the critic with some obnoxious symbol. McCarthy used red paint against anyone he went after; in today's debate, the shadow of the swastika is cast on those who speak out against Israel.
Anti-Semitism is and always has been a force nourished by ignorance and based on lies. Much of the criticism of Israel today is based on knowledge of the sad truths the Begin government's uncompromising policies have created in the Middle East. To call that criticism anti-Semitic is to inject venom into a vital public debate, one that ought to be as free as possible of extremist rhetoric. Equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is certainly as wrong-headed as equating Zionism with racism. Neither illogical leap covers any distance towards the paramount goal--a just and permanent peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Finally, Weiner should ration self-pity out a bit more strictly. Though it may be true, as he says, that "it hasn't been easy being Jewish during the past few months"--and I think, as an American Jew, I know what he means--it's been a good deal more difficult being Palestinian, being Lebanese, or for that matter, being Israeli. Scott A. Rosengberg '81