Sloppy charges of anti-Semitism

I could never present myself as a fitting representative of the Jewish religion or the Jewish people. I very rarely blog about Israel because I don’t have a lot to add that more knowledgeable people can’t express with greater authority. I do take great pride in the Jewish community and my heritage, and I feel a deep affection for Israel. I worry deeply about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon. I worry about whether Egypt will abrogate its peace treaty with Israel. I worry more generally about some frightening trends in the Middle East. I’m offended by some fundamental attacks on Zionism and Israel, including those pursued by my University of Chicago colleague John Mearsheimer, who recently endorsed a disgraceful book on these matters. 

I also hold other views. Many of Israel’s present policies towards the Palestinians are morally and strategically disastrous. The Netanyahu government needs to be a better ally with the United States. Over time, Israel is fostering great resentment across the American military and diplomatic establishment with its occupation policies and, at times, its heavy-handed meddling in American domestic politics. Millions of American and Israeli Jews agree with me about these basic points.

President Obama is now trying to lead a coalition to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. It’s a tough challenge, made tougher by eight years of disastrous Bush-era diplomacy, by eroding American influence in the region, and by the simple lesson imparted by our nation’s toppling of two non-nuclear regimes in Libya and Iraq, even as we have been forced to nervously coexist with North Korea. If an Iranian bomb is indeed the existential threat many Israelis fear it to be, friends such as Thomas Friedman note that this would be an especially good time for Israel to pursue actual diplomacy that would be helpful to the coalition of countries trying to prevent Iran from taking that step. Israel could help by mending fences with Turkey, by curbing settlement activities, by working more effectively with former and potential allies in the region.

There is no contradiction between feeling a deep concern and connection with Israel, and feeling deep dismay over current Israeli government policies in several areas. Many Israelis certainly share these sentiments. To take one example among many, Gershom Gorenberg’s most recent book expresses similar views with particular erudition and eloquence.

I thought of this as I read a pretty sloppy Politico article this morning, in which the Progressive Policy Institute’s Josh Block, is quoted to slam Eric Alterman’s journalism as “borderline anti-Semitic stuff.” That’s weird, since my main journalistic exposure to Alterman came through his columns in Moment, a magazine that focuses on Jewish concerns. This shouldn’t matter. But the simple fact is that Alterman is a knowledgeable and practicing Jew and self-proclaimed supporter of Zionism, too.

The idea that one might want what is best for Israel and believe some of its current policies set it on a morally and strategically disastrous course seemed beyond Mr. Block’s comprehension. Alterman deserves better. Many non-Jews deserve better, too. There’s enough real anti-Semitism in the world these days, borderline and otherwise. We shouldn’t throw charges around unless they’re warranted.