A soldier lays tefillin near the Gaza border in southern Israel on Dec. 6, 2023

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Do You Actually Hate Jews?

A simple test to check ‘criticism of Israel’ for antisemitism

Cynical Publius
May 22, 2024
A soldier lays tefillin near the Gaza border in southern Israel on Dec. 6, 2023

Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

I have spent much of my adult life in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean regions of the Middle East. I am not Jewish, which will somehow matter to certain readers. I am, instead, a Roman Catholic American who has been in the area during war and peace, with multiple military assignments in the region.

I made many Arab friends in my service. I’ve sat in a tent in the middle of the desert at night during Ramadan, playing cards and drinking chai (and painfully sticking clothespins on my ears as a penalty when I lost at those card games, which happened a lot.) I was a regular for diwaniya at friends’ homes in Kuwait. I sat cross-legged with Egyptian heavy equipment transport drivers drinking scalding hot cardamom coffee while we watched the sun come up over the desert. I am not an Arab, and I do not claim to be, but I have come to admire the richness of much of Arab culture.

And yet, I would be lying by omission if I did not note what was appalling about what I saw: women treated as property; third-country nationals cleaning toilets in orange jumpsuits and living as literal slaves; gay and lesbian people as criminals; utter religious intolerance; fascist restrictions on free speech; monarchies ruling by fiat, and more.

Amid all of this, Israel stood apart to me, a shining light in a region full of dark despotism—a true democracy with guaranteed liberties, a technological wonderland carved out of a stark desert devoid of resources, and a place where 21% of the citizenry of this ostensibly Jewish state consists of non-Jewish Arabs. In Israel, gays are not criminalized and women are not property. Is it without problems? Of course not. It is a country born in violence, and every day it deals with that reality. It has the same internal political strife that we see in all Western democracies. Crime happens. Extremists capture the national dialogue. It is exceedingly easy to point out Israel’s flaws, just as it is for any nation.

The question, especially these days, is: Given the sharp contrasts with its neighbors, why is Israel so repeatedly singled out as if it is the only (and worst) bad actor in that region, whether in the media, on X, in the United Nations, and everywhere else for that matter? And why lately do these attacks seem to be coming from people, including former military people, who should—no, who definitely—know better?

The IDF’s efforts are as measured as those of any Western military. They are simply being singled out. Why do these attacks seem to be coming from people, including former military people, who should—no, who definitely—know better?

These days, if you spend enough time with strangers online discussing anything related to Israel, you will inevitably come into contact with that person who claims, “I have nothing against Jews, it’s ZIONISM I hate.” In the past, this was usually followed by something about the Rothschilds, or bankers controlling the world, or how Dachau was actually an aromatherapy spa, but these days it might just as easily be heard from someone who seems, on the surface, to share a bunch of your own views.

These people inevitably become angry and puzzled when they are labeled “antisemitic,” and their response is usually along the lines of “What? Criticizing Israel doesn’t make me a Jew-hating antisemite! How could you think that?”

If you have found yourself on either side of an exchange like this one, let me give you a scenario that might help.

There are five dry cleaners in your town. You’ve tried them all and are unhappy with all of them. Four of them are owned by Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, and all four are horrible—they overcharge you, they lose your clothes, they never have your clothes ready on time, they rarely get stains out and never offer a refund. The fifth dry cleaner is owned by Orthodox Jews. That dry cleaner’s prices are lower than the other four, they never lose your clothes and always have them ready on time.

Last week, that Orthodox Jew-owned dry cleaner failed to get a mustard stain out of your favorite shirt and would not give you a refund. So you wrote a scathing Yelp review of the Orthodox Jew-owned dry cleaner, something you have never, ever done for the other four dry cleaners over your many dissatisfied years of going to them with your clothing. If that is not enough, in addition to leaving the bad Yelp review, you also attend massive demonstrations in your town in support of the four Muslim dry cleaners, blaming their incompetence and failures on the Orthodox Jew-owned dry cleaner. Also, you chant “From the dry cleaning fluid to the fur storage area” over and over outside the Orthodox Jew-owned dry cleaner.

Which brings us to the war in Gaza.

Let me say some things about that war. First, in my experience, the IDF is one of the most professional militaries the world has ever seen. Its historic track record of stunning victories over better-funded, numerically superior foes is not the only reason I say this. The IDF’s officer corps attends the same sorts of command and staff colleges that have made the U.S. military so great. The IDF’s enlisted forces are drawn from across the entire society, giving it the natural diversity that U.S. military leaders crave. Most importantly for this conversation, it trains and practices civilian harm mitigation with the same zeal as all professional Western militaries. I could go into great detail here, but suffice it say that at the top of the mitigation list is constant warnings to civilians to evacuate tightly targeted areas before engagement with minimally destructive munitions. This is genuine risk mitigation, and is practiced only by the world’s most professional militaries. (See this piece by the chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point, for example.) Bottom line: As a matter of training and doctrine, the IDF does all it can to minimize civilian casualties—and in this it is as good as, and I’d argue maybe even better, than U.S. forces.

Second, in war it is impossible to prevent all damage to civilians. It cannot be done. Don’t believe me? Ask the remaining family of Zemari Ahmadi, killed in Kabul by mistake along with his seven children by a U.S. drone strike. Ask the families of the five U.S. troops and one Afghan interpreter killed by a U.S. B-1B laser-guided bomb in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province in 2014. Ask fans of the Arizona Cardinals what they know about Corporal Pat Tillman. Go back to the Normandy campaign in World War II and wonder why U.S. B-17 bombers killed U.S. Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair. Heck, ask me about the time outside Habbaniyah, Iraq, where I personally was seconds away from giving the order to shoot and kill an Iraqi civilian who was trying to sell my troops some whiskey after momentarily thinking the bottles were Molotov cocktails; we eventually let him go in peace, but it could have just as easily gone the other way.

War is ugly. The “fog of war” is a real thing. Innocents die. Most importantly, there is a huge difference between killing innocents by accident, and killing them on purpose (you know, like Hamas does with its random rockets aimed at Israeli civilians). Things like the missile strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy happen in war—that is just a brutal, undeniable truth. Should responsible IDF officers suffer if negligence is proven? Absolutely. But here is the real question: If the unintentional death of innocents is inevitable in all wars, why does Israel get special disapprobation when it happens with the IDF? More importantly, why would anyone instantly (and without full knowledge) assume that the IDF intentionally targeted legitimately innocent aid workers?

The IDF’s efforts are as measured and tempered as those of any Western military at war. They are simply being singled out, amid a world of equally brutal war.

I can already hear the hue and cry—from the BDS crowd on the left and the Protocols crowd on the right—screaming: “They are leveling Gaza! Have you seen the pictures? It’s GENOCIDE!”

Listen to me, people: If you want to commit genocide, you do not warn civilians to seek safe shelter before you engage the combatants in their midst. You’re upset about the pictures of a leveled Gaza? Have you seen any of what the U.S. military did to Fallujah? Remember the “Highway of Death” in 1991? How do you think Iran treats Kurdish villages? Darfur would like a word too. War is ugly in the best cases; it is even uglier when facing a demented foe like Hamas. People who would perpetrate Oct. 7 and hide behind human shields from their own population will not go easy.

To quote that Seinfeld episode where Elaine’s communist boyfriend got banned from a Chinese restaurant: I don’t want to “name names,” but I will say there is a certain X account where the author claims to be a combat veteran, and he regularly posts about how the IDF is recklessly targeting civilians as a tactic. This person does, in fact, demonstrate a deep understanding of military history, which actually makes this behavior of his worse, because he knows better. He understands the fog of war. He understands the mitigation measures the IDF takes. He understands that in all war, certain levels of civilian death and destruction are inevitable. So why does he say what he says?

The hate of the well-informed is purposeful. Any so-called influencer or self-styled intellectual who spreads the mind virus of antisemitism to fellow Americans, under the guise of informing them, is a predator.

In 2024, antisemitism generally evidences itself in two forms. The first is your classic Protocols of the Elders of Zion, “Hitler was right” sort of neo-fascist fabulism. The second is the kind who buys every lie coming out of Al Jazeera and the rabidly antisemitic Arab press. The thing about both of these kinds of hate is that they have been watered down to a level of acceptability in many circles. The watered-down Protocols crowd accurately points to the number of Jewish influencers in Hollywood and the media, as if that somehow validates an unspoken blood libel. These people are the Joe Rogans of the world—avowedly “fair” while actually speaking from highly bigoted assumptions.

The second crowd—the watered-down Al Jazeera crowd—hides behind “anti-colonialism” as an excuse for quaint chants in favor of exterminating Israel’s Jewish population. Unfortunately, that second kind of watered-down antisemitism is mirrored in the great majority of the mass media in the U.S. and globally. CNN, MSNBC, NPR, BBC, Reuters and the like will buy every line coming out of the Gaza Health Ministry and every staged Pallywood video without question, and will flood the zone endlessly with stories supporting the myth of Israeli fascism and “genocide.” When you see Jewish students on college campuses across America being terrorized by their Hamas-sympathizing peers, that phenomenon is fueled almost completely by that second sort of antisemitism—let’s call it the “media narrative of Israel.”

When someone starts demonstrating outside the Jewish dry cleaner because of that mustard stain—whether they’re politically on the right or the left—there are only two possible explanations:

  1. They bought the media narrative of Israel.
  2. Consciously or subconsciously, they hate Jews.

I can almost forgive people who fall prey to No. 1, especially if they are young and/or stupid. College students who don’t know any better are immersed in a nonstop barrage of the media narrative of Israel, and as college students their brains are mush anyway, so I sort of get how they could be so easily misled. Your average, working, adult American who does not pay much attention to politics or international relations can also be driven into this belief set—their media bombards them with unbalanced, anti-Israel propaganda, and if all those kids are protesting on campus, there must be something to it, right?

But it’s people like my fellow soldier on X who trouble me more. When you know that Israel is the freest, most liberal state in the region; when you know that war is hell and civilians die in all wars; when you know that the IDF engages in state-of-the-art mitigation measures to protect innocent civilians; when you know all of these things and still engage in the blood libelish lies of “Israel is committing genocide,” No. 2 is the only logical conclusion. The only stain is the one on that person’s soul—a black stain of Jew hatred that goes back millennia.

The hate of the well-informed stands out because it’s purposeful. Ultimately, antisemitism is a mind virus. Any so-called influencer or self-styled intellectual who spreads it to fellow Americans, under the guise of informing them, is a predator.

Cynical Publius is the pseudonym of a retired United States Army officer who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. Find him on X @CynicalPublius.