Monday, July 16, 2007

Crossing the Line

It's often difficult to be certain whether a specific criticism of Israel is honest criticism or a manifestation of anti-semitism. Although there is an extremely high correlation between anti-semitism and criticism of Israel, supporters of Israel generally avoid charging individual critics with anti-semitism even when the circumstantial evidence points strongly in that direction.

Israel-bashers like to claim otherwise, making absurd claims about the alleged stifling of criticism of Israel. In my hometown newspaper, one letter writer charged the writer of an op-ed column with accusing former President Jimmy Carter of including anti-semitic statements in one of his error-filled, anti-Israel books despite the total absence of any such accusation in the column referred to.

Such patently false charges sometimes seem to outnumber the relatively few instances where the possibility of anti-semitism has been raised. Only when the evidence is overwhelming are the words "anti-semitism" even suggested by supporters of Israel.

One example reared its head today in The Day of New London.

Back on January 17, 2004, a letter from one John William Paggioli had a letter published in which he lambasted The Day for publishing columns written by William Safire. Paggioli criticized Safire's opinions regarding the war in Iraq, including the curious observation "I'm certain it wasn't Mr. Safire's sons or relatives or Henry Kissinger's or Paul Wolfowicz's who paid with their lives for a demagogue's policy."

The way Paggioli mentioned, in a derogatory manner, three individuals who are all Jewish is the sort of circumstantial evidence that alerts my antenna. However, since there is a small possibility that someone could do that unintentionally, it's not conclusive proof of anti-semitism.

Paggioli added the criticism "Mr. Safire is a right-wing zealot and
Zionist." The former criticism has nothing to do with anti-semitism, but the latter does unless it's in the context of a post-nationalistic ideology that opposes all national liberation movements.

The evidence was clear, but still there were no accusations made of anti-semitism.

Paggioli had another letter published in The Day September 4, 2006. The letter was an anti-Israel rant loaded with factual errors, e.g. "the destruction of Lebanon" by Israel, and even contained the sort of loaded language anti-semites use to try to equate Zionism with Nazism, in this case lamenting "the Holocaust that Israel visits on its Arab neighbors." Even without being aware of his previous letter, knowledgeable readers could not avoid thinking about anti-semitism, but the issue was still not raised.

The Day published another letter by Paggioli today, July 16, 2007. In this letter, among other charges, he accused Senator Joseph Lieberman of wanting a war with Iran "because of his Jewish heritage."

Ignoring his faulty logic and his ignorance of the fact that Israelis are probably more leery of a war with Iran than anyone else since it would almost certainly result in an attack on Israeli civilians, Paggioli crossed a line even clearer than those he crossed earlier. The accusation of dual loyalty is a classic anti-semitic canard; in this instance, Paggioli accused a United States Senator, sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, with dual loyalty.

Nobody really knows how much anti-Israel activism is a manifestation of anti-semitism and it is still difficult to be certain in individual instances, but the reality is not that supporters of Israel rush in with the charge of anti-semitism; the reality is the reverse.

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