The Buzz

Commentary and Critics of Israel

The July/August edition of Commentary features an emotionally charged piece by Ben Cohen entitled “Attacking Israel Online.” In it, he takes aim at “full-time antagonists of Israel” practicing a strain of anti-Zionism he finds particularly repugnant—namely, that which comes from a “tiny minority of left-wing Jews” who criticize Israeli policy and politics.

For all its passion, Cohen’s piece is riddled with logical inconsistencies. Take, for example, his discussion of M. J. Rosenberg’s use of the term “Israel-firster.” Used to describe those “U.S. citizens whose primary loyalty is to Israel,” Cohen notes that the term was a “favored epithet” of neo-Nazi groups. He therefore concludes Rosenberg is anti-Semitic and “making common cause with Hitler-lovers.” But Cohen’s logic is overly simplistic; using the same words once used by neo-Nazi groups does not mean Rosenberg necessarily shares their world views. 

Cohen finds the distinction between Jewish insiders and outsiders particularly problematic. He considers the notion that “Jewish officials are more loyal to their own kind than to the state or institutions they serve” blatantly anti-Semitic. Yet his piece rests on the premise that certain critics of Israel are especially abhorrent precisely because of their “membership in the tribe.” Thus, he is outraged not only at their criticism but also at their disloyalty.

The author first conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Zionism, then anti-Zionism with hatred of the Jewish state and finally hatred of the Jewish state with anti-Semitism. His mentality is “if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” a stark distinction that effectively closes the space for open debate and precludes one from being both supportive and critical of Israel.

Admittedly, the line between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic is thin and amorphous. One must be prepared to approach it with care and tread carefully. But flawed offerings such as this merely prevent discussion and breed hostility.