Is Criticizing Israel Anti-Semitic? A Debate

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Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the Washington Capitol yesterday to urge the White House to support Israel’s siege in the Occupied Territories and to refuse negotiations with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Organizers say it was the largest pro-Israel rally ever held in this country. Speakers included Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, New York’s former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, and others less often associated with Jewish causes, like the Texas Republican Dick Armey.

Representing the administration at the rally was Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. He condemned suicide bombers as “murderers” and vowed the Administration’s allegiance to Israel. But it was his comments about Palestinian suffering that caught the crowd’s attention. Chanting “no more Arafat,” they booed him repeatedly for saying that Palestinians as well as Israelis have been victims of Mideast violence.

Wolfowitz is considered one of Israel’s staunchest White House allies and a hawkish advocate of bombing Iraq. But yesterday, Paul Wolfowitz found himself on the defensive. So did a number of rabbis several weeks earlier when they signed their names to an advertisement supporting the hundreds of Israeli reserve officers who have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. The ad was sponsored by Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Tikkun Community, and it sparked a rash of hate mail to the signatories, accusing them of being anti-Semitic. Several ultimately withdrew their names in response to the personal attacks.

Well, today on Democracy Now!, we are going to look at this taboo in the Jewish establishment against criticizing Israeli policy. Is it anti-Semitic to question the state? We’ll have a debate. But let’s turn first to Mort Zuckerman, chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, editor-in-chief of the U.S. News and World Report, publisher of the New York Daily News, and a columnist for the Jewish World Review, speaking at yesterday’s pro-Israel rally.


  • Mort Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, speaking at Monday’s “We Stand with Israel Solidarity Rally” in DC. It was recorded by Free Speech Radio News reporter Josh Chaffin.
  • Sarah Shields, Professor, University of North Carolina. She wrote an open letter to her father titled “Please, Dad, Tell Me: How Do I Stop Being Complicit?”


  • Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish language and comparative literature at Harvard. She is the author of ??The Shlemiel as Modern Hero and, most recently, ??If I am Not for Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews.
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow, head of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia. The Shalom Center is a network of North American Jews that draws on Jewish tradition and spirituality to seek justice, pursue peace, heal the earth, and build community. He is a founder of the Institute for Policy Studies.
  • Norman Finkelstein, author of four books including ??The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso, 2000). The son of two Holocaust survivors, he currently teaches at DuPaul University in Chicago.
  • Esther Lederman, project director of the “Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice” campaign of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, one of the groups sponsoring Monday’s “We Stand with Israel Solidarity Rally” in DC. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations is the central body of the Reform Movement in North America with more than 900 congregations. Lederman was previously Assistant Director of the Washington Policy Center of Israel Policy Forum. From 1996-98, Esther served as the National Director of Habonim Dror North America, a Jewish-Zionist youth movement.

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