Selective umbrage

Keys replied that she thinks that music is a universal language of peace that should be used to unify diverse audiences, much as Israeli musicians rationalized playing Wagner’s music in international concerts despite Israeli critics’ complaints that doing so was insulting to Jews because Wagner was a favorite of Hitler.

Is it some kind of perverse complement that Israel is deemed as unworthy by its critics for its relatively lesser crimes than other countries in, say, Africa and Asia whose murderous policies against its own citizens make Israel's worst offfenses pale in comparison but generate little international commentary from academics and artists? We expect more of Israel, so are free to condemn it while silently observing greater crimes elsewhere? Should Israel see this distinction as friendly flattery?

Or is it something else that moves its critics to condemn its citizens singly for its behavior? British scholars denied Israeli scholars attendance at a meeting in the U.K. because Israel (not these scholars) do things the hosts don’t approve — because why? They and their country are so pure they are in a position to discriminate against people on abstract moral grounds they apply to Israelis only? Do they invite Russians, Syrians, Koreans, to their scholarly meetings? Or, is this selective umbrage something else, an atavistic prejudice against Israel, the Jewish state?

The worst apartheid, if this word applies to the situation under discussion, is the official position of Arab countries and Palestinians toward Israel, which is non-recognition of its very right to exist. But these same human rights organizations that chastise Israel and its people don’t mention that in their propaganda.

The 92nd Street Y in New York City invited Walker to speak there despite her refusal to allow her bookThe Color Purpleto be translated to Hebrew out of sympathy to Palestinians. She also advocated keeping the Israeli Philharmonic from performing in Carnegie Hall. The wiser, I would argue, more liberal approach to this conundrum would be to allow Walker to speak but leave her critics to not attend, or Keys to perform but not attend, if you disagree passionately with their politics. Hawking has every right to support organizations that condemn Israel’s policies. But he mortgaged his intellectual honesty to advocacy groups by deciding not to discuss science with Israeli scientists.

The degree of the anti-Israel disdain raises a question. Why are these people’s umbrage reserved for Israel?

Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington, D.C., and Miami-based attorney, literary agent and author of 11 books. www.ronaldgoldfarb.com.