It seems that no one can criticize the government of Israel without being labelled anti-Semetic or anti Israel. Absurd as it may seem, a Phillip Roth of a reputable organization like Human Rights Watch is not immune to these attacks.
Phillip Roth is a Jew whose father fled Nazi Germany. According to Rosa Brooks, upon criticizing Israel for war crimes against Lebanon,
The backlash was prompt. Roth and Human Rights Watch soon found themselves accused of unethical behavior, giving aid and comfort to terrorists and anti-Semitism. The conservative New York Sun attacked Roth (who is Jewish) for having a "clear pro-Hezbollah and anti-Israel bias" and accused him of engaging in "the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much anti-Semitism." Neocon commentator David Horowitz called Roth a "reflexive Israel-basher … who, in his zest to pillory Israel at every turn, is little more than an ally of the barbarians." The New Republic piled on, as did Alan Dershowitz, who claimed Human Rights Watch "cooks the books" to make Israel look bad. And writing in the Jewish Exponent, Jonathan Rosenblum accused Roth of resorting to a "slur about primitive Jewish bloodlust.
Anyone familiar with Human Rights Watch — or with Roth — knows this to be lunacy. Human Rights Watch is nonpartisan — it doesn't "take sides" in conflicts. And the notion that Roth is anti-Semitic verges on the insane.
But what's most troubling about the vitriol directed at Roth and his organization isn't that it's savage, unfounded and fantastical. What's most troubling is that it's typical. Typical, that is, of what anyone rash enough to criticize Israel can expect to encounter. In the United States today, it just isn't possible to have a civil debate about Israel, because any serious criticism of its policies is instantly countered with charges of anti-Semitism. Think Israel's tactics against Hezbollah were too heavy-handed, or that Israel hasn't always been wholly fair to the Palestinians, or that the United States should reconsider its unquestioning financial and military support for Israel? Shhh: Don't voice those sentiments unless you want to be called an anti-Semite — and probably a terrorist sympathizer to boot.
How did adopting a reflexively pro-Israel stance come to be a mandatory aspect of American Jewish identity? Skepticism — a willingness to ask tough questions, a refusal to embrace dogma — has always been central to the Jewish intellectual tradition. Ironically, this tradition remains alive in Israel, where respected public figures routinely criticize the government in far harsher terms than those used by Human Rights Watch.