Editor’s Note: Peter Fox has written for Newsweek, The Jerusalem Post and The Forward. Follow him on social media @thatpeterfox. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
“I have reflected & wanted to apologize for posts during the recent Israel/Hamas fighting that suggested Israel is committing ‘genocide.’ It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful & is being used to justify antisemitism here & abroad. Now is the time to avoid hyperbole.”
These words from the Oscar-nominated actor and star of The Avengers series come after a surge of both verbal and violent attacks against Jews has erupted around the world, apparently sparked by the reignited conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Over the past few weeks, Jews have been assaulted on the streets of New York and Los Angeles. In London, anti-Semitic incidents increased by over 500% in a period of two weeks, according to the Community Security Trust, an organization that aims to protect British Jews.
With too many public figures – including President Joe Biden – slow to acknowledge the rise in anti-Semitic attacks, Ruffalo’s statement is all the more surprising – and meaningful. Considering his history of public criticism of Israel, it’s notable that his apology recognized how some of his language has added to a growing hostility toward Jews beyond reasonable political critique.
Though Ruffalo didn’t explicitly mention which of his posts he was referring to, it’s likely he was referencing a pair of tweets from May 11 and 15 that declared “it’s time for sanctions on Israel to free Palestinians,” and likened Israel to apartheid South Africa. While these are not necessarily anti-Semitic, his framing of the issue omits mention of Israeli civilians pummeled with thousands of Hamas rockets.
Such blurring and misinformation abounds. Similar reductive tweets from members of Congress, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, could potentially gave unintended fuel to bad actors who may feel empowered to commit anti-Semitic violence.
“Apartheid states aren’t democracies,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted May 15.
Indeed, discussing Israel-Palestine is only getting harder, as some translate the conflict into abhorrent terms such as “genocide,” “apartheid” and “settler colonialism” without deeper context for how the current situation got to where it is.
In April, for example, Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing the Israeli government of committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians. While Palestinians do face discrimination and restricted movement under Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, charges of apartheid have long been seen among many in the Jewish community as a distortion at best, and anti-Semitic libel at worst.
Sen. Bernie Sanders recently said his supporters should “tone down their rhetoric” when it comes to language such as apartheid. There is good reason for this. In Israel, Jews and Arabs are neighbors, go to school together, work together, are represented in every branch of government and are treated in the same hospitals. None of this would ever take place in an apartheid regime.
I am not suggesting that we ignore legitimate issues of racism and discrimination against Palestinians. They absolutely exist. Opposing occupation should be discussed with measured critique, not misleading slogans that garner thousands of “likes” on social media. Israel is a flawed multicultural democracy, and should be treated as such.
You can absolutely criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic (just ask any Israeli).
You can criticize Palestinians without being Islamophobic.
But if your insights require you to spew bigotry, you’re doing it wrong. When you succumb to hyper-tribalism, your message loses all of its meaning. Better to practice holding multiple truths at the same time.
In the past few months I’ve had respectful dialogue with Palestinians on the new social media app, Clubhouse. It is possible to engage critically without resorting to aggressive sentiments.
In an era where every word and action is under the microscope, it’s important when a major celebrity expresses a sincere apology. With his statement, Mark Ruffalo chose to stand up for the dignity of Jews and risk being attacked by his political allies (the replies to his tweet are depressing).
When hate rises, it calls on all of us to rise higher. The calls of concern from American Jews can no longer be ignored.