Op-Ed by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz: Anti-Israel Sentiment Has Crossed a Dangerous Line

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This week an anonymous U.S. official used a vulgar and disrespectful term to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even though the White House distanced itself from this utterance (which I won’t repeat here) and re-emphasized the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the damage was already done.

In a world where anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise and relations between the Obama Administration and Israel are perceived as being not quite as unshakable as during previous administrations, a misstep of this nature cannot be written off as merely salty. It degrades the level of public discourse concerning Israel and makes clearly unacceptable language if not exactly acceptable then not quite as abhorred as it should be, especially at the highest levels of government. If trashing Israel’s leader on a deeply personal level is okay for someone described as a senior U.S. official, what door does it open for everyone else? Anti-Israel sentiment has already crossed a dangerous line. This latest incident doesn’t bode well for the future.

A few weeks ago, Leonard Petlakh, the executive director of the Kings Bay Y and someone who has worked hard to bridge cultural gaps between Muslims and Jews, was brutally attacked outside the Barclays Center by one of a group of protestors after an exhibition game between the Nets and the Maccabi Tel Aviv team. Shouts of “Free Palestine” and “You are child murderers” accompanied this attack, which was roundly denounced as anti-Semitic by leaders representing all of our city’s largest ethnic groups. While the alleged attacker was arrested, he has not been charged with a hate crime.

Here in America, where freedom is speech is constitutionally protected, we embrace the broad exchange of ideas. Many supporters of Israel — myself included — champion a free and independent State of Palestine, with Palestinian citizens living in peace alongside their Israeli brothers and sisters. In the State of Israel, there are 12 Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, and 69 in total have served since Israel’s inception as a state.

What we do not abide here in America are violence and “hate speech.” There is a world of difference between disagreeing with Israel’s diplomatic and domestic policies, which anyone is free to criticize, and anti-Zionism, which has a disturbing tendency to degenerate into passionate cries of “Kill the Jews,” “Hitler was right,” “Wipe Israel off the map,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

While we stand up for Israel because it is a Jewish, democratic state, and a refuge for those seeking shelter from tyranny and oppression in their own countries, we also stand up for Israel for reasons that transcend the sociopolitical. Israel speaks to our soul, our faith, our physical core. Since ancient times, Jewish people living throughout the Diaspora have directed their prayers toward Jerusalem — the city whose name suggests peace and completeness. American Jews maintain an intrinsic connection to Israel and its holiest of cities.

It is imperative that we, as a free people living in a constitutional republic, support Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East. While we may not always approve of Israel’s policies, it is incumbent upon all of us to support the nation that is waging the war against global terror within its own borders. It is essential that we speak out against anti-Semitism in all of its crafty disguises. An anti-Zionist boycotting a food coop for selling Israeli items is, in too many cases, a person disparaging Jews the next. A U.S. official calling Benjamin Netanyahu an expletive for “coward” makes you wonder what’s really going on inside the minds of our policy-makers — and it gives license to unleash the tongues of all the Israel bashers out there, whose numbers are already growing. That’s the last thing we need.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz represents Brooklyn’s 45th Assembly District, which includes parts of Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend, Manhattan Beach, Midwood, and Brighton Beach. His community office is located at 1800 Sheepshead Bay Road, the phone number is (718) 743-4078 and his email is [email protected]

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