Phillipian Commentary: Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

I agree with much of what Angela Davis had to say at her Friday presentation at Andover. To paraphrase the title of her latest book, freedom, and justice are a constant struggle.

What I found troubling was her singling out the State of Israel as the paradigm of injustice. I found this troubling, but not surprising, for two reasons. First, because it was consistent with what she has said in the past and second because criticism of Israel from the left has become routine and predictable.

I find this to be sadly ironic. Dr. Davis advocates for justice for LGBTQIA+ people. Yet while being gay in most countries in the Middle East is illegal and subject to imprisonment, LGBTQIA+ people are welcome in Israel. Israel’s stance on LGBTQIA+ issues is considered the most tolerant in the Middle East. Tel Aviv is known as one of most gay-friendly cities in the world, hosting an annual parade of some 250,000 participants, the largest Pride parade in the Middle East and Asia. The city is home to a plethora of LGBTQIA+ bars, gyms, beaches and hotels.

Dr. Davis advocates for justice for people of color. And in 1984 and later in 1991 Israel conducted dramatic and dangerous airlifts to rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan and Ethiopia who were endangered by political instability. These operations were dubbed Operation Moses and Operation Solomon, respectively. Over 20,000 people were airlifted and brought to Israel, where they were granted Israeli citizenship. Today there are over 121,000 people of Ethiopian descent living in Israel, going to school, to the universities, serving in the military, raising families and contributing to Israeli society.

Dr. Davis advocates for justice for women. Israel has long offered her female citizens—regardless of ethnicity or religion—broad freedoms. Women are protected from discrimination by law. This is in stark contrast to how women in Israel’s neighboring Arab countries are often treated.

In contrast to the regular attacks against Israel from many progressives, it is instructive to read Freedom in the World, the annual report of Freedom House, an NGO that promotes open government, defends human rights and seeks to strengthen civil society. Freedom House has consistently given Israel high marks in its two categories of political rights and civil liberties. In fact, Israel and Tunisia are alone in the Middle East and North Africa as being rated “free” by Freedom House. Every other country in the region is either “partly free” or “not free.”

Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Many Jews and others who support Israel, myself included, are often critical of some of its policies and its government. But when Israel is constantly singled out in progressive circles as the poster child of injustice, while injustice, unfortunately, exists in virtually every country and society around the globe, the line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism becomes blurred. The situation in the Middle East is far too complex and nuanced to constantly condemn one participant to the exclusion of all the others.


Rabbi Michael Swarttz

Jewish Chaplain