The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go

The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go.

  • A statement by Jewish Voice for Peace is recirculated by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, protesting Israel’s refusal to vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.  The New Zealand Jewish Council calls Ghahraman an antisemite. 
  • The International Criminal Court will investigate potential war crimes by Israeli and Palestinian armed forces.  Israeli PM Netanyahu calls that ‘the essence of antisemitism,’ and the Israel Institute calls it “a kangaroo court only against Israel.” 
  • The NZ Superfund declines to invest in five Israeli banks which fund illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.  Nicola Willis, National List MP says this is “potentially aligning New Zealand with an antisemitic movement.”  The Israel Institute circulates the report and tweets, “NZ embraces BDS.”

What else must you believe, if you consider these acts antisemitic?

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP’s) position signifies the profound disagreement within the Jewish community.  There is no single Jewish stance on Israel or its occupation.  JVP staunchly opposes Israel’s policy, but disagreement is not hatred. To find JVP antisemitic, you need to believe that they act out of hatred for Jewishness because that is what antisemitism means.  You would need to believe that JVP’s 200,000+ supporters, members of their 70+ chapters, their rabbinic, academic and artists’ councils; and New Zealand Jews like ourselves all want Palestinians to be vaccinated because we hate Jews.  

In fact, JVP’s (and our) position is anchored in the human right to health and the occupier’s obligation to proactively intervene when an occupied community is threatened by an epidemic. The Geneva Conventions and International Human Rights Law codify those rights and obligations.  The UN Special Rapporteurs have detailed why Israel’s vaccination policy is “discriminatory and unlawful.”

To find all this antisemtic, you must believe that we are all motivated by hatred rather than by the universal principles of equity and protection.  All of us.

The International Criminal Court will investigate potential war crimes committed by armed forces in Palestine / Israel, particularly in the Gaza Strip since 2014.  All armed forces will be held to the universal standard of the laws of war.  Those laws represent nations’ aspiration to minimize the harm that war inflicts upon civilians and combatants.  The laws refer to people, to flesh and blood human beings – not to religions.  The laws make armed force accountable.  They don’t mention Jewishness or treat Israel differently from anyone else.

To find that antisemitic, you need to find a hatred of Jews concealed within the universal laws and principles of civilian protection.

NZ Superfund has excluded five Israeli banks which fund Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.  Their decision document explains:

“The UN General Assembly has consistently reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) … In resolution 2334 (co-sponsored by New Zealand), the UN Security Council reaffirmed that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the OPT had no legal validity and constituted a flagrant violation under international law.”

The Superfund’s decision was governed by its Responsible Investment Framework, which is in turn “guided by the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment, domestic and international law and policy positions of the New Zealand Government.” (links to both documents are here

The UN Special Rapporteur has explained the obligations of states to uphold the law.

To find the Superfund’s act of compliance antisemitic, you must believe that the Geneva Conventions, every NZ and other government that has voted for UN resolutions for half a century, have been motivated by a hatred of Jews rather than by a legal objection to taking other people’s land by military force.

Much of the world is thus implicated in these three acts. Do you believe that we all act out of hatred for Jewishness – really, all of us?  None of us acts because we consider Palestinian rights, health, dignity, aspirations to be equal to our own?

This politics by name-calling has dug itself into one deep rabbit hole. 

Two things happen when criticism of Israel is instantly condemned as antisemitism.  They happen so fast that we need to stop and take note.

First, name-calling distracts us from the real issues of occupation and injustice.  Suddenly, we’re talking only about Israel.  Palestinian voices have been pre-emptively silenced. Of course Palestinians protest, because they experience the violence of occupation.  However, when protest is rendered necessarily antisemitic, Palestinian protest can be ignored.  We reject that.  Palestinians have their own stories, and Palestinian rights are not about Israel.

Second, when anti-Zionism is rendered antisemitic, Zionism is elevated into the protected sphere of our Jewish beliefs.  Suddenly, Jewish nationalism has appropriated our Jewish religion.  We reject that, because occupation is not our religion.  Suddenly it sounds as if hatred is the only basis for anyone’s opposition to Zionism, and we reject that.  We are not Zionists because we value human lives equally, and that principle is a part of the Jewishness that we love.

We need anchors to understand current events, not slogans.  Each of the actions above is anchored in enduring principles: law, human rights and dignity, the accountability of power.  Those ideals secure us all because they respond universally to racism (including antisemitism) and oppression. 

By contrast, politics by name-calling divides us, and seeds suspicion between us. It blurs political disagreement into imagined racial hatred. Social media companies have become obscenely rich by separating us into echo chambers where we don’t need to hear anything that challenges our confirmation bias.

As long as we are conducting politics in this cheap way, we are also giving the real hatred a free pass.  When someone who claims to be liberal expresses antisemitism, of course we need to call them out. They have betrayed their stated principles.  Far more systematically and far more dangerously, none of this name-calling touches the far right, where antisemitism is an organising principle. 

We urge our neighbours and our government not to be enlisted in this politics of name-calling.  It is not antisemitic – it is not anti-anyone – to protest violations of international law and uphold our equal human rights. 

Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,

Marilyn Garson        Prue Hyman

Fred Albert Diego Lewin

Jeremy Rose

Ilan Blumberg

David Weinstein

Sue Berman

6 thoughts on “The politics of name-calling, or, down the rabbit hole we go”

  1. Thank you for highlighting (yet again) the disingenuous use of ‘anti Semitism’ as a catch all for silencing debate over the illegal occupation. This must be challenged. As a non Jew, I feel it is difficult (to challenge) without being accused of further anti Semitism, or ignorance, or whatever. I am aware you are labelled ‘self hating Jews’ and worse when you speak out although your words are powerful when they come from ‘within’. I applaud your courage. Thank you for all that you do.


    1. I’ve never been called that – let ’em try. I appreciate that it is made difficult for others to speak even when they would speak constructively. Don’t be deterred, please join the conversation. Protest should be a joyful noise.


  2. It does seem, though, that the ICC and SuperFund are picking on Israel. Shouldn’t the actual genocide and occupation being carried out in China be dealt with first? Israel is not perfect but it is much better than most countries in the world. It feels like far worse countries get a free pass and every little thing Israel does is magnified. The vaccine story is a good example. The Palestinians refused Israeli help because they are a proud people. That’s no ‘apartheid’. Golriz may not feel hatred but when you repeatedly accuse someone of evil without evidence, the impression is that she does hate. There was a girl at my school who was bullied relentlessly for no good reason. She may not have been hated, as such, but the effect was the same. And the effect of Golriz, ICC, SuperFund bullying Israel is the same. It is also the same as when the far right bully Israel. Or the radical Islamists. We should not have a blind spot for tribal politics.


    1. Hmm, bullying? I can’t agree. It seems to me that if one – anyone of any religion – acts in a way that the preponderance of states on the planet repeatedly have deemed to be illegal, and if someone belatedly agrees not to invest discretionary funds to support that endeavour, then ‘bullying’ is not an appropriate label. I, for example, smoked for thirty years or so. When I belatedly decided to stop giving my money to a tobacco company which was not the largest producer of tobacco, was I bullying them? I don’t think so. I was acting in accordance with overwhelming health information. The Superfund was acting in compliance with international law, UN resolutions and NZ policy.


  3. The girl who was bullied at my school was called all sorts of names that were truthbetold better descriptions of other girls in our year level. She was singled out and bullied. With dubious evidence and others were let off. This is more similar to the situation with Israel. The preponderance of states are not democratic and have their reasons for picking on Israel. Similar to their reasons for defending the genocide of Muslims in China. The international status of the West Bank is not as simple as you might like to believe. Have you read or heard Eugene Kontorovich’s work? This is not a black and white issue despite what you want it to be.


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