Critiques of Israel are critical race theory tourism

Distorted coverage of violence in Jerusalem is nothing new, but viewing the conflict through the prism of toxic myths about white supremacy also makes peace impossible.

Arabs wave Palestinian flags at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, April 26, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Arabs wave Palestinian flags at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, April 26, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

If all you know of the violence that happened in Jerusalem in the last couple of weeks comes from the mainstream media, you know who to blame and why. The narrative heard on CNN or published in The New York Times is a familiar one about Israel once again abusing the Palestinians.

According to those sources, the recent unrest was caused by the setting up of a fence near the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City that offended Arabs during Ramadan, topped off by a march by racist Jews chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The narrative also traces these awful actions to the good showing of some right-wing political parties during the most recent Israeli election that supposedly encouraged Jews to abuse Jerusalem’s Arab population.

If Palestinians also threw rocks, attacked Jews and engaged in rioting, that version of the story not only buried those facts; Arab violence was also generally treated as a justified response to Israeli awfulness. Indeed, left-wing Israeli sources looked back to history for the answer as to who started it. An editorial in Haaretz said the real problem was Israel’s unification of the city in 1967, which allowed Jews access to their holy sites for the first time since 1948, and which also tore down the ugly walls and no man’s land free-fire zones that divided Jerusalem during the illegal Jordanian occupation.

The truth about this episode has less to do with the deplorable behavior of radical right-wing Jews or the “original sin” of Zionism that brought the Jews back to their ancient homeland than with the deplorable state of Palestinian political culture.

You’d have to go to less biased sources to learn about how the violence largely began with a social-media challenge in which young Palestinians began to compete with each other in posting videos of them beating up Orthodox Jews with the “Attack a Jew” hashtag on TikTok. That prompted outrage inside Israel and led to the demonstration by an extremist Israeli group, as well as individual acts of violence by Jews that have been widely condemned by almost all Israelis, as well as generating a stern response from the police.

The fact that Hamas chimed in by firing dozens of rockets at Israel was also largely ignored in the international media or only referred to, as in this classic case of a slanted headline published by, by mentioning Israeli retaliatory strikes first.

Still, there’s more at stake here than just the usual anti-Israel media bias that has buried the lede about a “TikTok intifada.” That the Palestinian Authority has encouraged the upsurge of violent rhetoric against Jews with its routine incitement against Israel via its official media and in its education system has been swept down the Orwellian memory hole. Similarly downplayed is how the violence is the direct result of Palestinian political maneuvering with both Fatah and Hamas seeking to deflect attention from their own shortcomings or the likelihood that elections will once again be canceled in the West Bank.

Nor is it just a matter of the latest instance of an anti-Zionist group like Human Rights Watch issuing a report falsely claiming that Israel practices “apartheid” against the Palestinians while ignoring the Palestinian terrorism that is the reason why Israel must take measures of self-defense that are routinely mischaracterized and libeled by Palestinian propaganda outlets and their leftist NGO allies.

Look beneath the surface of all these instances of biased reporting or anti-Zionist narratives and you’ll see an attitude that is eerily familiar to anyone who has been following the discussion about racism in the United States. While some of the jargon is different, at the heart of it are allegations about “privilege” and “supremacy” in which the Palestinians are depicted as victims of “systematic” Jewish racism. It turns out that the same toxic themes rooted in critical race theory and intersectionality are being applied to Israel as well as to the United States.

That fits in with a leftist ideology that falsely links the Palestinians’ century-old war on Zionism with the struggle for civil rights in the United States. In this formulation, Israel and the Jews are described as benefiting from white privilege, even though most Israeli Jews are—in the terminology of critical race theory—“people of color” because their origins are in the Middle East rather than Europe. And Zionism is treated as just another variety of white supremacy invented to subjugate “indigenous” people despite the fact that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel.

Those who brand America as an irredeemably racist nation point to the troubled history of slavery and “Jim Crow” while ignoring the fact that the broad arc of U.S. history has been one of continual progress towards great freedom and equality for all people. But when applied to the Middle East conflict, that tortured effort to anchor everything in discussions of race is even more misleading.

The struggle between the Jewish people seeking self-determination in their ancient homeland and Arab neighbors who have refused to share the land and sought to keep Jews in their traditional roles of dhimmi—a powerless and persecuted minority—in the Middle East is complex and full of tragic incidents. But just as focusing obsessively on race as the answer to every American dilemma does nothing to advance justice or improve the lives of minorities, applying these race theories to the conflict between Jews and Arabs cannot help the cause of peace.

Applying the language of critical race theory to Israel makes little sense to those who understand the origins of this conflict or the way the Palestinians have rejected every effort at compromise in pursuit of their goal of eliminating Israel. It also means trashing the rights of the Jewish people so as to empower Palestinians who won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Those who latch onto this ideology are seeking a simplistic way of explaining everything while at the same time attempting to delegitimize their opponents. The media bias employed against Israel, in addition to the libels promoted by groups like Human Rights Watch, enables those looking to apply these theories to the Jewish state to feel as if the anti-Semitic invective directed at Israel and its supporters is liberal advocacy rather than hate speech.

In one sense, shoehorning Israel and the Palestinians into their bogus theories is a form of virtual intersectional tourism, allowing those who know little about the Middle East to pontificate on it as if they were experts. That might almost be comical, though it also gives a permission slip to those who are unalterably opposed to peace.

By falsely labeling Jewish self-determination as racism and Israeli self-defense as white privilege and supremacy, those who play this absurd game reinforce Palestinian intransigence. These woke virtual tourists to the conflict give aid and comfort to the already powerful forces within Palestinian society that cling to the delusion that one day, the descendants of the 1948 refugees will dispossess the Jews of Israel and that the world will hand them Israel on a silver platter. In this way, they are helping to condemn yet another generation of Palestinians to the moral and economic squalor imposed upon them by their violent and corrupt leaders in the Fatah and Hamas movements.

As long as American left-wingers and some of their liberal fellow travelers, including Jews who support anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voices for Peace and IfNotNow, look at the Mideast through the prism of the critical race theory that the Black Lives Matter movement has popularized, they will be contributing to the perpetuation of a conflict that has already gone on for too long. But it will be Israelis and Palestinians who will pay the price for their mistake.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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