December ’92 in the Exponent: When Is It Valid Criticism?


Israel-Bashing? Anti-Semitism?

For good reason, Jews have always been sensitive to the world’s perception of Israel.

That’s why the lead item in the Dec. 4, 1992 Jewish Exponent is so timeless; it could easily be written today. The names may change, but the issues remain mostly the same.

Rabbi Henry Cohen of Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne tackled the ticklish question of when criticism of Israel is valid and when it’s Israel-bashing or anti-Semitism.

An editor’s note pointed out that the commentary could prove controversial.

“The subject is a sensitive one with a wide range of possible opinion,” the note reads. “The Exponent welcomes letters responding to this essay.”

For the record, the paper apparently did receive several letters, some of which were published in subsequent issues.

Cohen, now the synagogue’s rabbi emeritus, started out by discussing how delicate the issue could be.

“All of us, I assume, agree that some criticism of Israel or its policy is legitimate,” he wrote. “However, it sometimes seems that ‘legitimate’ means the criticism I have; anyone that is more critical than I am has gone ‘over the line.’”

Cohen details examples of criticism where debate is valid before considering when criticism becomes Israel-bashing or even anti-Semitism.

“The answer depends on what one means by anti-Semitism. One classic definition is antipathy against Jews based on false generalizations: stereotypes of Jews as greedy, materialistic, disloyal, exploiters, the power behind whatever danger our nation faces,” Cohen wrote.


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