In the video above, the Prime Minister of Israel claims that allowing the International Criminal Court to examine allegations of war crimes committed by Israel would be an act of “pure anti-Semitism”.
This statement raises several issues, and at least three questions, when expressed by a man of Netanyahu’s knowledge, intelligence and grasp of language.
- Are all Semites Jewish and are all Jews Semitic?
I have always preferred to use the expression Judeophobia when referring to what many call anti-Semitism. As I understand it, the origin of the word Semitic is from the name of Shem, one of the sons of Noah whose descendants are said to have populated Asia or, at least from the Arabian Peninsula to the Caspian Sea and further east. It is clearly nonsense to pretend that all the descendants of Shem are or were Jewish. The Semitic languages include Arabic (300 million), Amharic (~22 million), Tigrinya (7 million), Hebrew (~5 million native/L1 speakers), Tigre (~1.05 million), Aramaic (575,000 to 1 million largely Assyrian speakers) and Maltese (483,000 speakers). It is equally clear that not all these people are Jewish – even those who live in Israel.
Without wishing to get into a theological debate, it seems also clear to me that not all the Semitic people who have lived in Palestine or Israel or Judea or Canaan – or whatever one wishes to call that part of the world – were Jewish. Indeed, even in the Old Testament we can read that Judaism started amongst the Semitic people and there was no unanimity of belief. Some say that Judaism started with Job and prior to that there was the Ancient Israelite Religion with its burnt offerings, graven images and borrowings from various local religions. Now I can hear people rushing to protest that I know what anti-Semitism means and that I am merely trying to obscure some form of accepted truth. But if I know that, then so does Netanyahu, and he must also know the danger of using such a word.
My conclusions is that not all Semites are Jews. I consider myself Jewish though I have no religious beliefs. My mother was Jewish of mixed Polish/Portuguese descent (as far as I can make out) and my father had a Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother, but always considered himself Jewish and was indeed buried in the Jewish part of a cemetery where my mother was later buried beside him. So,. I am not only Jewish according to the rules of the game, but I feel culturally Jewish in that I was made aware of being Jewish from the moment that I was aware of my being. But I do not feel Semitic. All Jews are not Semitic…even if they live in Israel, and regardless of whether or not they consider themselves religious.
- How can a perceived threat to the State of Israel be equated with an act of anti-Semitism?
So, let us move on to the conflation of the Jewish people with the State of Israel. It is true that a law was passed recently effectively making Israel a theocratic state. But all Israelis are not Jewish. Some are Muslims some are Christians of various sorts, many are atheists and most, in my experience, are not particularly religious. And, of course, all Jews are not Israelis, and, above all, not all are supporters of this Israeli Government nor its policies. Moreover, there is no homogeneity in terms of political belief amongst Jews in my experience. They go from extreme right to extreme left and from extremely socially liberal to extremely socially conservative. My feeling is that to equate the State of Israel with Jewish people is to fall into the Judeophobic trap set by bigots worldwide. How many Jews in the “diaspora” support the annexation of territory in the West Bank? Many certainly do, but not all. There are Judeophobic people around the world who love to equate Jews with the worst actions of the Israeli State, just as they have, in a hysteria of generalisation, decried Jews in the past, for being stateless (paradoxically), revolutionary, disloyal, dirty, mean, generous powerful and weak. With what authority does Netanyahu speak for the Jews?
- How could any proposal to investigate the truth be an act against a specific group of people, prior to the investigation taking place?
Finally, there is a very logical legal problem posed by Netanyahu’s accusation. To accuse an investigating body of being “anti-Semitic” before that body has started its investigation and before it has come to any conclusion, is to undermine a fundamental principle of the rule of law. It is an attempt to establish the notion that certain people, individually or collectively, should not be investigated, let alone judged or found guilty. The fact that Israel and others do not subscribe to the ICC is immaterial, in my view. Indeed, why does Israel not simply ignore the whole process rather than, in effect, give stature to the organisation and bring attention to it. I guess, at the end of the day, it is all about Israeli politics and Netanyahu’s desire to keep himself in power and out of prison.
I am happy, as always, to be proven wrong.