Traditionally, hardliners have made the absurd claim that all or most criticisms of Israeli policy in the Middle East are antisemitic, a vile accusation designed to shield the Israeli government from any criticisms at all. Yet even democratic governments—because they spend other people’s tax money and often seemingly care little about foreign non-voters’ (and sometimes even voters’) lives—often have incentives to take morally and financially challenged actions. In the Gaza War, the Israeli government is making costly decisions in terms of both lives and money; it is thus taking actions which likely will damage the security and prosperity of its own people. Is it antisemitic to warn against such actions? The answer seems to be no.

The primary dictionary definition of a Semite is a person who speaks any one of the Semitic languages—for example, Arabic, Aramaic, Assyrian, Hebrew, or other Canaanite languages. The common usage of “antisemitic” means being prejudiced against Jews. Yet Judaism is a religion with adherents all over the world; Zionism is a political movement supporting the creation and maintenance of the state of Israel in Palestine; and Israel is a country of 80 percent Jews and 20 percent Arabs. When talking of public policy, however, “Israel” usually refers to the Israeli government. Finally, more Jews live outside of Israel than within it, and some in the diaspora don’t support Zionism. Therefore, it is absurd to equate any criticism of the Israeli government with maligning the Jewish religion or Jews no matter where they live.

In fact, recently, some American Jewish politicians and media figures have criticized the Israeli government’s actions in the Gaza War—for example, the normally pro-Israeli Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Peter Beinart, a professor and editor at large of Jewish Currents. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Beinart reported that in 2002, Democrats supported Israel over Palestinians by 34 percentage points, but, in early 2023, that had flipped with Palestinians being favored by 11 points; in November 2023, among Democrats under 35, Palestinians were favored by 58 points.

Unfortunately, some of this shift in legitimate public criticism of the Israeli government has spilled over into illegitimate antisemitic actions on college campuses. Beinart noted that this unwarranted misdirection of hostility against external actors toward domestic U.S. citizens perceived to be linked to the foreign entities is an ugly American tradition—for example, hostility to German Americans during World War I, violence against American Muslims after the 9/11 attacks, and assaults on Asian Americans during the Covid pandemic. Beinart further cited research by political scientist Ayal Feinberg, who discovered that antisemitic incidents in the United States tick upward when the Israeli government takes major military actions. That finding is especially ironic since the Israeli government claims to protect Jews worldwide.

It is also ironic that a food-fight involving the right criticizing the left for antisemitism on college campuses has erupted at the same time that the gentile Donald Trump, former president and 2024 presidential candidate, has been criticized by many Jews for his attempt to define what it is to be a good Jew, saying that Jews who vote Democratic hate Israel and their own religion.

It is not antisemitic to critique the Israeli government for its slumber even when it was warned a year prior about a planned Hamas attack; for telling Qatar to keep funding Hamas three weeks before the attack in order to prevent Palestinian unity and a two-state solution; and for falling into Hamas’s trap by conducting an over-the-top of military response to the group’s heinous terrorist attack on October 7—thus raising overwhelming international condemnation of the Israeli government’s killing of more than 31,000 Gazans to date, with the prospect of tens of thousands more dying of famine.

Under international law, war crimes are not justified in response to war crimes. Some commentators claim that Israel is being held to a higher standard than applies to the conduct of other, bloodier civil wars—for example that in Sudan—and that that double standard amounts to antisemitism. But Israel is a developed democracy that is a U.S. ally; Sudan is none of these.

The American commentator David Brooks recently listed several options instead of the Israeli government’s massive invasion and flattening of Gaza from the air by using huge bombs in urban areas: 1) fighting Hamas with a lighter, more surgical strategy, 2) using targeted assassinations of Hamas’s leaders (a counterterrorism strategy), or 3) conducting a long-term counterinsurgency strategy. He found all of the options wanting, asserting that the only way to peace is through defeating Hamas completely by continuing the Israeli government’s pounding of Gaza into dust.

Yet from the beginning, most military analysts, few of them likely actual antisemites, thought eliminating Hamas was an Israeli pipe dream. In addition to grossly underestimating the threat from Hamas and approving Qatar’s continued outside funding of the group before the attack, the Israeli government disregarded President Joe Biden’s entreaties to avoid making the same mistakes of overreaction that the United States did after 9/11. The Israeli government did not listen. Instead of using the more rational retaliation of surgically targeting Hamas’s leaders over time, it began to whale away at Gaza, killing and starving civilians, and inflaming future generations to join groups that will likely become Hamas on steroids.

Even this more targeted response should have been a stopgap measure until a one-state or two-state solution to peace could have been achieved—because experts know that you cannot kill your way out of an insurgency. Instead, to eliminate the insurgency, the underlying cause needs to be removed. Even if the Israeli government turns the rest of Gaza into rubble, it is ensured to be ensnared in a counterinsurgency quagmire for many years—similar to that experienced by the United States in Iraq.