Commentary: There is a difference between criticism and bigotry

The only thing such prejudice can achieve is to erode the bonds of democracy that rely on civility and truth.

U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, right, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin attend the opening ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, Monday, May 14, 2018. Amid deadly clashes along the Israeli-Palestinian border, President Donald Trump's top aides and supporters on Monday celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem as a campaign promised fulfilled. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Honest and civil criticism based on truth is an essential component of any democracy. Bigotry is an expression of visceral hatred against a person or a people. Both are protected free speech, but the first strengthens democracy while the second erodes it.

A controversial opinion column by Michael Robinson in the May 6 Salt Lake Tribune has raised the question of what differentiates the two. The author claims his commentary simply represented criticism of human rights abuses by the Israeli government. Yet its misrepresentation of facts and reality and its inflammatory language convey undisguised bigotry, which is why it was the subject of a critique by CAMERA (Committee for Middle East Reporting in America), of angry comments and outraged letters, and of an editor’s column.

All this was a reaction to the author’s bluntly stated hatred for Israel, which seems rooted in misconceptions and inaccuracies about Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab-Israeli conflict. By lashing out emotionally and inchoately attacking Israel without the facts to back up his accusations, the author precluded any rational discussion that might arise from legitimate criticism.

Many readers were also shocked by the crude invoking of classic, anti-Semitic caricatures used for centuries to demonize the Jewish people as possessing malign attributes — as monsters lacking human compassion. Such demonizing in the past has been the precursor to terrible violence. Referring to “the Jews” interchangeably with “Israel” and conflating the two, the author was not criticizing specific government policies as much he appeared to be attacking “the Jews” as a people. And in dismissing the wholesale slaughter of European Jewry as akin to a child’s “owie,” the author did nothing to dispel that impression.

Moreover, the column demonized not only Israeli Jews, but American Jews as well. They were denigrated with another classic, anti-Jewish stereotype — that of Jewish money buying power, control and perversion of American policy. Given the Christian groups that lobby for Israel and the Jewish groups that lobby against it, the substitution of the term “Jewish” for “pro-Israel” lobby is not only incorrect, but singles out the Jews as a people with dual loyalties.

The misconceptions about Israel and the Palestinians ignore the repeated wars of aggression launched by Arab armies to eliminate the Jewish state and Israel’s continued efforts to come to a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians, as well as the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza 13 years ago. Palestinian leaders have rejected offers of statehood time and time again. Not a single Palestinian leader has been willing to accept a Jewish state in the region, including current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has repeatedly vowed never to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. As for Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror group that governs the Gaza Strip, it vows to annihilate any Jewish state.

That same terrorist group is among the leaders of the current Palestinian riots in the Gaza Strip. They have called on Palestinians to storm the border with Israel and “eat the livers” of Israelis. The marchers confronting the Israelis include those equipped with firearms, explosives and other weapons. Those targeted by Israeli snipers are not the “unarmed protesters sequestered behind the border wall” as claimed by the author, but those sabotaging and attempting to infiltrate the border fence or attacking the soldiers protecting it.

No doubt those who share the author’s expressed view that the Jewish State had no right to be established — to exist — will continue to demonize Jews and Israel with fabricated tales of Jewish/Israeli barbarism. And they will continue to protest that a worldwide Jewish cabal is trying to silence them by wrongly accusing them of anti-Semitism, as evidenced by some of the letters and comments in this newspaper.

But honest people will recognize it for what it seems — age-old bigotry toward the Jewish people. Sadly, the only thing such prejudice can achieve is to erode the bonds of democracy that rely on civility and truth, and to weaken the possibility for peace.

Ricki Hollander | Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America

Ricki Hollander is a senior analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.