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Bruce Lohof

Bruce Lohof

I wonder whether folks know the difference between antisemitism and calling out the state of Israel’s bad behavior.

If confusion reigns, it comes as no surprise: Governments, interest groups, individuals ordinary and otherwise blur the distinctions, always to their advantage and seldom to our benefit. We should be alert to the blur because we’re about to see more of it.

To be clear:

Antisemitism is evil. Its manifestations are always hurtful, never true, and in the lifetimes of our parents led to the Holocaust, the most evil display of antisemitism imaginable.

Call-outs on Israel’s bad behavior are healthy. Countries, like groups and individuals, make mistakes — often disastrous ones. What is obtained — and by whom — when bad behavior is ignored? Or, worse, when it is willfully misinterpreted or even applauded?

The blur is pretending that the callout is antisemitic and, therefore, taboo. So when Israel installs an apartheid regime in Palestine, we’re expected to clear our throats and avert our eyes. When Israeli forces invade Lebanon all the way into Beirut’s northern suburbs, the American Secretary of State calls the assault the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” When the academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt publish a scholarly analysis of “The Israel Lobby and its Foreign Policy,” Bret Stephens of the New York Times calls it a “tendentious and bigoted screed.” When, six decades after its founding the State of Israel ranks among the world’s wealthiest states but still receives more U.S. aid than any other nation on earth, developed or developing, we’re supposed to shrug our shoulders and play nothing-to-see-here.

Conflating antisemitism with call-outs is standard operating procedure among those who would influence your opinion of Israel. They know — those aforementioned governments, interest groups, individuals ordinary and otherwise — they know that you know that antisemitism is evil. And, they hope, if they can conflate antisemitism with call-outs, the call-outs will go away. Because no one but an antisemite wants risk being called one. Hence the aforementioned cleared throats and averted eyes, the “birth pangs” similes, the “tendentious and bigoted screed” nonsense, and the shrugged shoulders. Read the papers, look around, talk to your friends. Hey, it’s working.

The distinctions between antisemitism and callout are worth keeping in mind right now because we’re in for more obfuscation, for another wave of conflation.

President Donald J. Trump has moved the American Embassy to disputed international territory, Jerusalem — thereby rewarding Israel for, uh, nothing — and his capacity for more mischief in the Middle-East is vast. Meanwhile, Republican Senators are enthusiastically supporting a so-called “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act.” The legislation would affirm the right of state and local governments to discriminate against companies that participate in boycotts, divestments or sanctions against Israel. Unsurprisingly, support for the bill is bipartisan. Meanwhile, new Democratic Congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, are expected to be noisy advocates of Palestinian rights.

Given all this, playing the conflation card again is the default move. You’ll soon read about here. Indeed, the National Republican Congressional Committee has already played it, labeling Ilhan Omar “an anti-semite.” Expect more.

Israel is a good-news story. It’s also a significant ally whose existential rights are undeniable. On occasion, though, Israel displays bad behavior. Calling it out should be normal. It should be helpful — to America, to Israel, to the region. Instead it’s shamed and shunned. It’s called antisemitism. Call-outs and antisemitism are two different things. When we pretend that they are the same, we diminish our chances of understanding either.

Bruce A. Lohof is a Billings native. A former professor and a retired diplomat, he lives in Vienna and in Red Lodge.

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