So, is “Israel-firster” antisemitic? Its origins are certainly antisemitic, and the idea that Jews are incapable of being loyal to the country of their citizenship and are only loyal to world Jewry, or the Jewish state, is an age-old antisemitic trope. This doesn’t mean that those who use it are antisemitic. They just might be ignorant, like J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, who to my surprise buys into the trope. Obviously, “Israel-firster” is a term deployed by opponents of Israel, and opponents of a close relationship between the U.S. and Israel, to stoke resentment of Jews they find objectionable.
The Washington Post reports Ben-Ami’s views as follows:
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a left-leaning voice on Israel issues, said he had no problem with “Israel-firster.”
“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” Ben-Ami said.
Ben-Ami added that Jewish groups “should tread lightly” when they make accusations of anti-Semitism. “Because when they do need to use that word, people won’t take you seriously,” he said.
I think sometimes it’s helpful to ask what if – what if other groups were described in a comparable way? So how about referring to anyone supporting, promoting or actively participating in the activities of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as an “ummah-firster”? After all, the OIC claims it has “the singular honor to galvanize the Ummah into a unified body and have actively represented the Muslims by espousing all causes close to the hearts of over 1.5 billion Muslims of the world.”
So if “Israel-firster” implies an overriding loyalty to world Jewry and the Jewish state, then “ummah-firster” will imply an overriding loyalty to “all causes close to the hearts of over 1.5 billion Muslims of the world” and to the Muslim member states of the OIC and the OIC itself – and if the use of “Israel-firster” is OK, it should be equally OK to use “ummah-firster”.
No problem, right?