The progressives’ Palestine dilemma

Reports of anti-Semitism may be exaggerated, but it is a problem

CU Boulder students organize a May 1 demonstration against Israeli military action in Gaza, at CU Boulder. Credit: Will Matuska

By Tom Shelley

As I write this, I am having trouble staying on top of what is happening at this or that university campus. It’s wonderful that so much protesting is going on. But I am concerned about the likely fact that there is at least some anti-Semitism among American progressives supporting the Palestinians.

I recently decided it is probably a smaller problem than what I thought most of the last seven months. What prompts me to say that? An April 23 video from CNN about how the Columbia encampment included a Passover meal.

I believe there is a substantial amount of anti-Semitism in the sense that these activists are probably not condemning Oct. 7. Many American progressives supporting the Palestinians don’t understand that intentionally killing civilians in war is wrong. They also don’t understand that Hamas is not a progressive organization. 

On the other hand, so many Americans don’t understand what the Palestinians have gone through. As horrible and unjustified as it was, Oct. 7 did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinians did experience, to various degrees depending on what part of Israel/Palestine they live in, some serious injustice for decades.

The problem of anti-Semitism among progressives might be greatly exaggerated by allies of Israel, but it is a problem. The events of Oct. 7 were anti-Semitic. Hamas targeted only Jews and mostly Jewish civilians. 

Progressive supporters of the Palestinians need to seriously consider that Hamas doesn’t deserve their support, and they need to take the threat of anti-Semitism more seriously. They need to understand that it will be easier to refute accusations of anti-Semitism if they condemn Oct. 7. 

American supporters of Israel need to think more critically about Israel and consider that it is impossible for a state to be based on religion and ethnicity and to simultaneously be democratic. 

I conclude with a quote from the hard-working opponents of organized hate, right-wing politics and economic injustice at the Southern Poverty Law Center, taken from their fall 2008 publication:

“College campuses are particularly susceptible to anti-Semitism that originates in certain sectors of the far left. This source of anti-Jewish sentiment often begins with condemnation of Israeli policies and devolves into derogatory statements about all Jewish people. Although criticism of Israel does not typically amount to anti-Semitism — and many critics of the Jewish state are unfairly accused of bigotry — in some cases those who denounce Israel also cross the line into denigration of Jews as a group.”

The most important part is the last sentence. Both opponents and supporters of Israel need to think about that seriously.

Tom Shelley lives in Boulder.

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.


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