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Seth Labovitz: Anti-semitism hardly a ‘canard’

I am writing in response to a letter which appeared recently in this section that spoke of the plight of the Palestinian people and took exception to a recently published op-ed by Leon Wieseltier that criticized U.S. inaction with regard to the war in Syria and the atrocities in Aleppo.

The author, Richard Creel, seems to want to make two points. The first of these is that the world community has been largely silent about what Mr. Creel clearly sees as Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians in that any dissent from the pro-Israeli position is reflexively seen as an expression of antisemitism. The second of these is to accuse Wieseltier, in failing to note the suffering of the Palestinians, of hypocrisy, at best, and politicizing tragedy at worst. Along with this second objective is to criticize the late Elie Wiesel as morally inconsistent in his apparent indifference to the suffering of the Palestinians.

With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular Israel’s policy of the continued building of settlements in the West Bank, it should be noted that many, though not the majority, of Israelis, and many American Jews are deeply and actively opposed to this policy.

I would also like to respond by saying that, whereas a charge of antisemitism should not be made carelessly or casually and whereas perhaps it has been used, disingenuously, to stifle dissent, antisemitism is hardly a “canard” (the callousness of that characterization is astonishing) and that much of the criticism/condemnation directed at Israel is indeed a guise, at least in part, for underlying anti-Jewish feelings and beliefs.

However, my main reason in writing is to correct the insinuation that Mr. Wieseltier cares not about the rights and lives of Palestinians. About the 2014 Israeli military action, Operation Protective Edge, in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed, Mr. Wieseltier wrote: “It is not sickening that Israel is defending itself — it is, by the standards of Jewish historical significance, exhilarating; but some of what Israel is doing to defend itself is sickening (The New Republic, Aug. 6, 2014). In the same editorial he stated: “After all, even Satan has not yet devised the proper vengeance for the death of a child.” Here, Mr. Creel, Wieseltier is speaking of Palestinian children.

Furthermore, the logic of Mr. Creel’s letter seems to be that if one is to be critical of injustice or killing anywhere, one must take account of injustice and killing everywhere. I suppose, then, that no American of European ancestry should speak out against, say, the victims of Islamic extremism, without duly noting the historical and ongoing oppression of American Indians. Or does such a standard apply only to (Hypocritical? Uppity?) Jews such as Mr. Wieseltier?

Lastly, I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Creel’s comment about Elie Wiesel. Do you really mean to upbraid this man, a holocaust survivor who devoted his life to the cause of human dignity and justice, for his perceived indifference toward Palestinians? Having been seared with the knowledge of the perils of Jewish powerlessness and passivity, can one not fully understand his belief that Israel must be protected at all costs? Has there been a great moral leader who has not displayed on occasion inconsistent and contradictory impulses? Finally, in case you presume that Israel shares the same “blind spot” as Wiesel, consider this headline from earlier this year in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “Remembering Elie Wiesel Means Recognizing Palestinian Suffering Even if He Never Could” (July 5, 2016).

Seth Labovitz lives in Salisbury.

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