A few weeks I wrote a post in which I claimed that using terms like “Israel-Firster” or “Israeli Apartheid” does not make you anti-Semitic. Those who think otherwise are trivializing anti-Semitism and/or trying to delegitimize the views of their opponents.
The discussion has now shifted from the question of the attitudes of the person using the terms to the terms themselves. Granted that you can use the term “Israel-Firster” without being an anti-Semite – but is it appropriate to use a term that has been used by anti-Semites, or which is reminiscent of anti-Semites, etc., or which was popularized by anti-Semites – I am told?
Let’s look at this carefully. There may be tactical reasons to avoid using certain terms. You may think that what Israel is doing on the West Bank is sufficiently close to apartheid to call it just that. But you may not wish to use the term in a debate, because that is an invitation to a theoretical exploration of how similar or dissimilar it is. Or not. I am just saying that you may not find it a helpful term, and “Israel-firster” may be one of those.
People should also be careful about using terms that have a history of bigotry associated with them, even if they don’t intend to use them in a bigoted manner. That’s my viewpoint, anyway. I don’t mean to be issue a blanket prohibition, just an admonition to be careful. “Israel-firster” is a pejorative term. That’s no reason not to use it, but it clearly assumes that this is not something good. And so, again, it may not be helpful to use it.
Yet there may be good reasons to use a term despite its being considered offensive by some. Many Americans, mostly Christian, are squeamish about using the word “Jew” or “Jews”; they prefer to say “Jewish” or “Jewish people”. In the famous “anti-Dentite” Seinfeld episode, the priest asks Jerry, “And that offends you as a Jewish person?” and not “And that offends you as a Jew.” This preference of “Jewish person” for “Jew” is due, ultimately, to pejorative associations of the word in the English language (“to jew down a price”), and excessive (and barely conscious) sensitivity of the negative associations.
I use this example because “Jew”, unlike the N-word, is not commonly felt today to be offensive. Likewise, most people who hear “Israel-firster” are entirely ignorant of its pedigree (if indeed that pedigree is not cherry-picked from websites.)
It seems to me that those people who believe that certain Americans, Jews and non-Jews, who see everything through the prism of, “Is it good for Israel” can be legitimately called ‘Israel-firsters.” It doesn’t matter to me that these people view as a given the convergence of Israeli and American interests. So, like my colleague and friend, Phil Weiss, I have no problem.
Again, I may eschew the term for tactical reasons, but I am more interested in the phenomenon than in the label for it. Many Jews argued against the founding of a Jewish state precisely because of the problem of dual loyalty. It is not as if this was invented by anti-Semites.
To imply that somebody is an anti-Semite today is a far greater sin than calling somebody an “Israel-firster,” even if you find the latter offensive. Why? Because bigotry against Jews is considered a greater vice than excessive loyalty to your tribe. So I would expect somebody who decries “Israel-firster” on the grounds of its insensitivity and offensiveness would be sensitive towards throwing the anti-Semite accusation around.
Enter Spencer Ackerman, who, after castigating his fellow leftwing Jews for using “Israel firster,” writes.
By all means, get into it with people who interpret every disagreement Washington has with Tel Aviv as hostility to the Jewish state. But if you can’t do it without sounding like Pat Buchanan, who has nothing but antipathy and contempt for Jews, then you’ve lost the debate.
That last sentence implies, quite clearly, that Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite. Ackerman, who peppers his post with links, doesn’t even seem to be bothered by the fact that he doesn’t provide a source for the accusation.
Sorry, my own hyper-sensitivity here reads Ackerman as saying, “Leftwing Jews shouldn’t use terms that notorious anti-Semites like Buchanan would use.” And I find that patronizing and offensive: first, because of the implicit ingroup/outgroup distinction on a relatively benign term like “Israel-Firster” (we are not talking about “Zionist scum”); and second, because I have no reason to believe that Pat Buchanan is anti-Semitic. Surely nothing that the ADL cherry-picks here would lead inexorably to that conclusion. I am open to being convinced otherwise, but I have it on very good authority that the accusation is baseless – unless you adopt the ADL’s Zionist interpretation of anti-Semitism
Here is another definition. An "anti-Semite" is somebody who protested the Israel Lobby before it became fashionable to do so.
I am being ironic.