Tag Archives: BDS

Teaching anti-Israel incitement

I have long argued that, instead of talking about “pro-Palestinian” activism, it would be much more accurate to talk about anti-Israel activism, because the goals and methods of groups like the BDS movement that advocates boycotting Israel show a single-minded focus on demonizing the Jewish state in order to justify its eventual elimination. Like Hamas, Hezbollah and other Islamist terror organizations as well as the mullah-regime in Iran, these activists want a “world without Zionism” and therefore, they want everyone to see Israel as they do:

Israel killer monster

Unsurprisingly, BDS advocates don’t like it much when others object to their relentless demonization of Israel and they quickly resort to complaints that they are being intimidated and that their freedom of speech is being restricted – though it would arguably be more honest if they simply claimed a right to protected hate speech. Moreover, it has been clear for some time that BDS advocates themselves don’t think that people who don’t share their views should have a right to free speech. One of the most recent examples of BDS bullies trying to deny a pro-Israel speaker his freedom of speech was recorded and received relatively wide attention, because the speaker who was attacked – Fathom editor Alan Johnson – and others wrote about it.

Johnson’s two commentaries on the incident provide several concise and analytically sharp observations on some crucial points everyone should understand about BDS and the related anti-Israel activism.

In his first post, Johnson highlights the role that antisemitism and a fanatic “Anti-Zionist Ideology” play in BDS activism, pointing out that given the rhetoric and ideology of BDS activists, it is all but “inevitable” that their campaigns “will act as a lightning rod for rising European anti-Semitism.”

While the blatant antisemitism that is an inevitable part of BDS efforts to demonize Israel is too often ignored, there is another point that Johnson makes which should be very obvious, but is hardly ever noticed:

“‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’ have become tied up with the performance of political identity in the West in a most dangerous way. ‘The Palestinians’ are a stage on which the BDS activists act out their identity. To make that possible, ‘The Palestinians’ must be reduced to pure victims of the evil Nazi-Israelis. For only those kind of Palestinians can enable feelings of moral superiority, purity, quest, meaning, even transcendence of sorts. Palestinians being starved by Assad hold no interest. Palestinians being thrown from rooftops by Hamas members hold no interest. When Salam Fayyad is building up the Palestinian Nation the BDS activists just yawn, or denounce him as a collaborator. Only as agency-less pure victims can the Palestinians play their allotted role as a screen onto which the individual projects his or her identity of the righteous activist.”

Johnson’s second post on the incident highlights the most important – and all too rarely mentioned – point already in the title: “On Israel, the intellectuals are driving the students mad.” As Johnson argues:

“The real culprits are the anti-Israel intellectuals who are driving those students mad. They tell the students that Zionism is racism, while its creation, Israel, has ‘ethnically cleansed’ the Arabs, built an ‘apartheid state’ and is now carrying out a slow ‘genocide’ in Gaza. Stuff a young idealist’s head with that kind of rubbish and do not be surprised if the result is hatred and thuggery.

Today, many students are fed a diet of intellectual incitement when it comes to Zionism and Israel. UC Berkeley’s Judith Butler tells them that Israel is nothing but ‘a violent project of settler colonialism’ while Hamas and Hezbollah are ‘social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.’ Diana Buttu of Harvard Kennedy School teaches that Israel is guilty of ‘ethnic cleans[ing]’ and ‘massacre.’ Student reading lists are populated by the works of the Israeli Ilan Pappe of Exeter University, who routinely uses the language of ‘genocide politics’ to describe the actions of the Israeli government. […]

The Nazi slogan was ‘the Jews are our misfortune.’ Today, too often, anti-Israel intellectuals are educating students to think that ‘Israel is our misfortune.’”

It is arguably long overdue that people take notice of the fact that when it comes to Israel, students nowadays are all too often taught by professors who claim academic freedom and the right to free speech to engage in unrestrained anti-Israel propaganda. There are some encouraging signs that this problematic issue is finally being addressed. In this month’s Tower Magazine, Howard Wohl, President of Brooklyn College Hillel, also draws attention to the fact that “on too many campuses in North America […] hate speech has become ‘protected’ under the guise of academic freedom.” Wohl points out that “the academic world […] is the main source of support, organization, and activism for anti-Israel causes across North America and Europe. Some parts of academia have turned anti-Israel words and actions into a cottage industry, manufacturing vitriol and protest against the very existence of the Jewish State.”

It is indeed a revealing fact that at western universities, the world’s only Jewish state – which happens to be the most democratic, liberal and pluralistic state in the Middle East – is the only state whose abolition is regularly advocated by professors and students with great passion. Anyone who suspects that this is at least partly due to antisemitism will be immediately denounced as someone who is trying to stifle debate. But as far as BDS supporters are concerned, there is actually nothing to debate: all the leading BDS advocates are adamant that anything short of Israel’s elimination as a Jewish state will not really provide “justice” for the Palestinians.

In this context, one should recall the observations of Britain’s former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, who wrote in a 2012 article on “Europe’s New Anti-Semitism:”

“I have argued for some years that an assault on Jewish life always needs justification by the highest source of authority in the culture at any given age. Throughout the Middle Ages the highest authority in Europe was the Church. Hence anti-Semitism took the form of Christian anti-Judaism.

In the post-enlightenment Europe of the 19th century the highest authority was no longer the Church. Instead it was science. Thus was born racial anti-Semitism […]

Since Hiroshima and the Holocaust, science no longer holds its pristine place as the highest moral authority. Instead, that role is taken by human rights. It follows that any assault on Jewish life — on Jews or Judaism or the Jewish state — must be cast in the language of human rights. Hence the by-now routine accusation that Israel has committed the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide and crimes against humanity. This is not because the people making these accusations seriously believe them — some do, some don’t. It is because this is the only form in which an assault on Jews can be stated today.”

And this is also why a prominent BDS advocate like Judith Butler insists that Israeli universities must be boycotted, while she would have no problem to lecture at a Palestinian university that has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism and allowing the glorification of terrorism.

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Update: Since this is a belated cross-post – first published on my JPost blog in mid-March – I would like to add that in the past two months, developments on some American campuses have been bad enough to attract much attention, even in the mainstream press. Some of the most dismal incidents are highlighted in Professor Jacobson’s post “Vassar Nazi cartoon reflects campus dehumanization of Israel.” I have also written some related posts published at The Louis D. Brandeis Center.

 

Quote of the day: BDS and antisemitism

“My own belief is that the BDS people and their fellow travellers, whatever their background, are anti-Semites. They do all they can to stigmatize the Jewish state and reduce its ability to defend itself. They know that Israel is surrounded by neighbours who will never recognize its existence, much less sign a treaty developed in a ‘peace process’ quarterbacked by Washington. The Palestinians and the Arab states who claim to support them are not hoping for a more generous Israel or a BDS-approved Israel or an Israel willing to hand over the West Bank. They are working for a day when Israel will be gone forever.

In order to satisfy this generation’s anti-Semites, Israel must meet standards that no other country in the world has ever met or ever will. At the United Nations Israel is condemned more often than all other countries combined.”

Robert Fulford on “The BDS smokescreen” in Canada’s National Post

Ali Abunimah, the Zionist and the hijabi

When an ardent BDS supporter found herself seated “next to a Zionist” at a BDS event, Ali Abunimah rushed to express his sympathy for her predicament:

 BDS smalltalk1

BDS smalltalk2

Now let’s imagine that the “Zionist” had tweeted:

“Sitting next to a hijabi at Loyola’s open forum. Why me”.

If Ali Abunimah had seen such a tweet, he would have rushed to write yet another Electronic Intifada post expressing his disgust at this example of Zionist racism, supremacism, apartheid, Islamophobia and what not.

Free speech and antisemitism: Max Blumenthal’s Goliath [updated]

When the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) released its 2013 list of the “Top 10 Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs” at the end of December, Max Blumenthal reacted with scorn and ridicule when he found himself included in the category “The Power of the Poison Pen.” As if to prove SWC’s assessment, he posted a drawing by the cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who, for good reason, had himself been included in the SWC list for 2012.

Blumenthal Hier cartoon

According to the SWC, it was his recently published book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel and his efforts “to equate Israelis with Nazis” that earned Blumenthal a place on the list.

But Blumenthal’s book also had its defenders, most notably perhaps James Fallows, a veteran board member of the prestigious New America Foundation (NAF) who is widely regarded as “a highly acclaimed author, journalist, editor, and media commentator.”

Writing at the Atlantic, Fallows described Blumenthal’s Goliath as a book that “should be discussed and read” and dismissed criticism of Goliath, asserting that it amounted to “flat mischaracterizations” when critics denounced the book as “bigoted propaganda” that is “so anti-Israel it is effectively anti-Semitic.” Fallows also defended the controversial decision to provide Blumenthal with a platform to promote his book at the NAF in early December, arguing that it “was the right call on general free-speech principles” to ignore critics of the event.

Blumenthal certainly appreciated Fallows’ endorsement and promptly posted an excerpt on his Amazon page for Goliath.

But there was another endorsement for Goliath that Blumenthal appreciated greatly – and it arguably makes a fool of Fallows, because it documents that Blumenthal indeed wanted his readers to understand his book as “so anti-Israel” that critics who denounced Goliath as antisemitic can only feel fully vindicated.

Blumenthal made it abundantly clear what he wanted readers to take away from his book when he recommended a “brief but thorough review of Goliath” to his more than 27,000 Twitter followers, explicitly thanking the blogger who had posted the review for the “praise.”

Blumenthal Goliath review1

Here are the relevant quotes from this “brief but thorough review:”

“You’d think Jews, […] of all people, would react viscerally […] against the notion of their state would [sic] come to create their own Gestapo (Shin Bet), build concentration camp (Ketzlot, for African refugees), emphasize racial purity while demonizing miscegenation (rationalized as the ‘demographic’ problem, but more significantly given religious and racial expression in groups like Lehava), using the police state, not just against enemies, but to crush dissent and ghettos (the walls are sprouting up all over Palestinian towns in the West Bank and, of course, there’s always Gaza). Even Kristallnacht was recreated by what amounts to an officially sanctioned anti-immigrant pogrom in Tel Aviv, in May of 2012.

Yes, you’d be mistaken. Reading Goliath, the similarities between Nazi Germany and today’s Israeli regime are impossible to avoid. […]

As I read Goliath, one thought […] kept cropping up throughout: Apart from the specific group, it’s [sic] flag, and all the other trappings of a national mythos and its veneration, are the aims and methods of the ‘pure’ Zionist state so very different than those of the ‘pure’ Aryan one?”

It is often difficult to show antisemitic intent, but Blumenthal makes it easy by endorsing this review – as well as others that offer similar “praise” – thus leaving no doubt how he wanted his book to be understood. Inevitably, this means that Blumenthal and his admirers actually agree with his critics that Goliath presents Israel as an utterly evil state that can only be compared to Nazi Germany. Even though there is considerable controversy about the question when hostility to Israel should be defined as antisemitism, Blumenthal’s single-minded effort to portray Israel in an extremely biased way in order to promote comparisons to Nazi Germany that would justify political campaigns aimed at eliminating the Jewish state qualifies even under the most stringent criteria.

In a paper entitled “Another Milestone for the Mainstreaming of Antisemitism: The New America Foundation and Max Blumenthal’s Goliath” that has just been published by the Louis D. Brandeis Center, I have also provided extensive documentation that Blumenthal’s book, or the material he published earlier and then recycled for the book, has been praised on all the major sites popular among conspiracy theorists, Jew-haters, racists and neo-Nazis: from Stormfront to David Duke’s site, Rense, and Veterans Today. In addition, Goliath was of course celebrated by outlets such as Mondoweiss and the Electronic Intifada, which cater to activists devoted to promoting boycott campaigns against Israel and maligning the Jewish state as illegitimate and uniquely evil.

Even if the hate-filled material promoted by these sites is considered “protected” free speech, few would argue that it is a violation of the principles of free speech that mainstream outlets usually shun this material and no respectable think tank would consider featuring it.

So what to make of the fact that a prestigious think tank like the NAF and a prominent commentator like James Fallows insist that it was entirely appropriate to promote a book written with the intent to depict Israel as the Nazi Germany of our time? What to make of the accusation that opposing the promotion of a book like Blumenthal’s Goliath violates “general free-speech principles?”

As Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin rightly argued:

“By claiming that this book requires our attention, he [Fallows] is asserting that Israel’s existence and the right of its six million Jews to self-determination and self-defense is debatable. The answer to Fallows from those of us who were offended by NAF’s decision to embrace Blumenthal is to say that these notions are no more debatable than the positions of the Klan, apartheid advocates, or those of al-Qaeda. Blumenthal’s book belongs in the category of those things that are offensive, not because he is critical of an imperfect democracy but because his purpose is to advance the cause of its dissolution.”

Fallows noted at the end of his defense of the NAF event for Goliath that if Blumenthal is wrong, “his case should be addressed in specific rather than ruled out of respectable consideration.” That means in effect that Blumenthal’s critics are supposed to make a convincing case that Israel is not like Nazi Germany and that the world’s only Jewish state should perhaps be allowed to continue existing, even if some of its citizens, officials and politicians have views that are no better than those held by reactionaries in Europe or the US.

The bigotry inherent in comparing Israel to Nazi Germany has been often demonstrated. Among the most memorable examples is perhaps the 1961 debate at Montreal’s McGill University between the famous British historian Arnold Toynbee and Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Yaacov Herzog. Toynbee had been willing to believe in the 1930s that Hitler had only limited ambitions, but he was alarmed by Zionism, which he considered “demonic.” During a lecture at McGill in January 1961, Toynbee questioned the right of the Jewish people to a state and claimed that Israel’s conduct in the War of Independence was morally equivalent to the Nazis. In the subsequent debate, Herzog forced Toynbee to concede that if Israel’s actions during a war of self-defense justified the comparison to Nazi atrocities, every nation’s conduct in war – and certainly the conduct of the Arabs, who had threatened the fledgling Jewish state with a “war of extermination and momentous massacre” – would have to be denounced in the same terms.

It would be easy to repeat the same exercise with Blumenthal’s Goliath, but since the bigoted comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany has remained fairly popular for more than five decades, it is arguably time to acknowledge that continuing to debate this calumny as if it had any merit might only serve to legitimize and perpetuate the underlying bigotry. As Tobin argued, there are ideas and ideologies that don’t deserve to be debated, and few would suggest that the ideas of Max Blumenthal’s admirers on David Duke’s site, Stormfront, Rense, and Veterans Today need to be seriously debated in order to be refuted. Yet, this is exactly what Blumenthal wants us to do, as this tweet he recently sent to me illustrates:

Blumenthal Stormfront Zionism

In the post Blumenthal links to, a Stormfront member advances the “controversial and extremely radical proposition” that White Nationalists in Europe and the US should support Zionism and even a “mandatory expulsion of Jews” to Israel in order to reduce the “excessive influence” of Jews “over both the media and economics.” As far as Blumenthal is concerned, this “proves” that anti-Israel activists like him are right to claim that Zionism is not only racism, but also a pernicious form of antisemitism that supports a “Juden raus” policy by establishing and maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.

James Fallows may think all this is worthy of debate, but as Twitter user Sol Robinson demonstrated with his reply to Blumenthal, there isn’t really all that much to debate when someone “cannot understand the difference between Jews wanting to get away from racists, and racists wanting jews gone.”

Blumenthal Stormfront reply

Assuming that Blumenthal really “cannot understand” this difference is arguably the most charitable take, particularly in view of the fact that Blumenthal himself  advocated a “Juden raus” policy for those Israeli Jews who would refuse to “become indigenized” in the Arab state that Blumenthal hopes will replace the Jewish state in the not too distant future. To put it bluntly: there is precious little difference between what Stormfront members would like to see happen in Europe and the US and what Max Blumenthal would like to see happen in the Middle East.

Marginalizing such views as despicable bigotry that doesn’t deserve to be dignified by serious debate is not a violation of free speech. Max Blumenthal may fervently believe that the Middle East’s most democratic and pluralistic state is the Nazi Germany of our time and should be treated accordingly, but anyone who agrees that this is a proposition worthwhile debating would have to explain why other hate-filled bigotries that are popular among Blumenthal’s fans at Stormfront and similar sites are generally not regarded as worthy of debate.

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First published on my JPost blog and at Harry’s Place.

Update: In the meantime, I’ve written another related post published on the blog of the Louis. D. Brandeis Center, where I address the spurious claim by Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi that BDS advocates like them suffer from “accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS.”

As I argue there, one important point to keep in mind is:

“When prominent tenured academics like Butler and Khalidi worry about the ‘intimidation’ of BDS advocates and proceed to call on their colleagues to oppose this alleged intimidation, it is arguably time to point out that students who oppose the BDS goal of doing away with the Jewish state and view the comparison of Israel and Nazi Germany as anti-Semitic have plenty of reason to feel much more intimidated. Highlighting a research paper on ‘Antisemitism in the Contemporary American University,’ the eminent anti-Semitism expert Robert Wistrich noted three years ago that ‘it is a deeply troubling fact that anti-Semitism (often in the form of anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel) has become a significant part of intellectual and academic discourse.’”

Another crucially important point is that, as Britain’s former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has argued, “an assault on Jewish life always needs justification by the highest source of authority in the culture at any given age.” A widely praised new study based on some 14,000 hostile messages sent to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin by Monika Schwarz-Friesel provides plenty of evidence that contemporary antisemitism is often expressed as “anti-Israelism” and that it is promoted primarily by “the social mainstream – professors, Ph.Ds, lawyers, priests, university and high-school students.”

Whitewashing BDS and antisemitism in the New York Times

[Note: First published on my JPost blog on February 5, 2014]

A few days ago, anti-Israel activists noted with considerable satisfaction that several recently published New York Times (NYT) articles seemed to justify the conclusion that the paper might be “entering a new era on Israel.” Particular excitement was caused by the NYT decision “to print an oped by BDS leader Omar Barghouti.” Writing on his own blog, Jonathan Cook hailed this decision as “quite a milestone,” and explained:

“Omar includes many issues usually unmentionable in the NYT. But more so than the content of his article, the fact that the NYT is prepared to give a platform to him and the boycott movement – currently viewed by Israel as an enemy potentially even greater than Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons – would truly constitute a revolution in what can be said in the US establishment’s paper of record.”

Cook is absolutely right here. By providing a platform to Barghouti, the NYT has published a not-so-veiled call for abolishing the world’s only Jewish state and, at the same time, allowed Barghouti to falsely claim that the boycott movement he leads is not antisemitic.

Barghouti’s article is entitled “Why Israel Fears the Boycott,” though the URL tells us that the original title was “Why the Boycott Movement Scares Israel.” The answer to this, in whatever variation, is very simple: just like earlier boycotts under the motto “The Jews Are Our Misfortune,” the BDS movement employs similar tactics of slandering the Jews – nowadays the Jews of Israel and those who support the Jewish state – by falsely presenting them to be solely responsible for the “misfortune” of other people, in particular the Palestinians.* Since the long list of lies and slanders Barghouti usually employs when he travels the world to promote the boycott movement has been often described and refuted, I will focus here only on two crucial points that Barghouti tries to obfuscate in his NYT op-ed.

The first is that, as far as Barghouti is concerned, the so-called BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement is not campaigning for a negotiated two-state solution and an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Instead, it denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, irrespective of the borders of this state. As Barghouti himself explained, even if Israel gave up its control of all the territories captured in 1967, this would not end the BDS campaigns, because BDS embraces the same rejectionist positions that led to the Arab refusal to accept the UN partition plan in 1947. Barghouti likes to talk a lot about “Palestinian rights,” and while he is careful to use language that conforms to today’s human rights discourse, the most fundamental Palestinian “right” he advocates is the “right” to undo the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state.

But while Barghouti and his fellow BDS activists usually feel very confident asserting that Palestinian refugees and their descendants have a unique status and “rights” that no other group of refugees enjoys, they do seem somewhat worried that people might conclude that the boycott movement is, in effect, antisemitic. BDS activists may well have Jewish friends or may even be Jews themselves, but the boycott campaigns they advocate target the Jewish state for being Jewish – as Barghouti himself acknowledges when he says that BDS campaigns would go on even if Israel no longer controlled the West Bank.

Barghouti complains that “Israel and its lobby groups often invoke the smear of anti-Semitism, despite the unequivocal, consistent position of the movement against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.” When you click on the link he provides, you get to a post from 2010 on a BDS website, which essentially claims that BDS cannot be antisemitic because it is supposedly supported by “many Jewish organizations and prominent Jewish academics and cultural figures around the world.”  That is a recipe also advocated on the website of David Duke – whom the Anti-Defamation League describes as “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite.” An article there has much to say about the usefulness of Jewish activists in “anti-Zionist” campaigns and the writer eventually acknowledges freely: “We often cite Jewish writers in order to avoid the anti-Semitic label.”

Unfortunately for Barghouti and David Duke, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, explained only recently that even if you are Jewish, you “can be an anti-Semite if you talk like anti-Semites.” And, as David Hirsh pointed out in a relevant paper on “Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism”, antisemitism doesn’t necessarily mean hating all Jews: “Most forms of antisemitism in history have allowed for ‘exceptional’ Jews. It is not a necessary attribute of antisemitism that it must target every Jew and so there could exist an antisemitism which exempts those Jews who do not identify as ‘Zionist’ from hostility.”

What is really interesting in this context, however, is the fact that Barghouti didn’t try to prove his opposition to antisemitism by linking to a declaration he signed in 2012. Under the title “The struggle for Palestinian rights is incompatible with any form of racism or bigotry,” this declaration, posted by Ali Abunimah at the Electronic Intifada, asserts that the Palestinian “struggle for our inalienable rights is one opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry, including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Zionism, and other forms of bigotry.” As the screenshot below documents, Omar Barghouti is signatory no.5 on this resurrection of the “Zionism is racism” calumny.

Zionism is racism

While the infamous UN resolution is nowadays widely regarded as an embarrassing part of the Soviet-Arab Cold War efforts to undermine Israel, it is hardly surprising that anti-Israel activists yearn to recreate this effective weapon to delegitimize the Jewish state – after all, in the wake of the UN’s “Zionism is racism” resolution, Zionism became “a metaphor for universal evil” and it was considered perfectly legitimate to boycott Jewish groups or individuals suspected of Zionist sympathies. This must truly seem like the good old times if you are a BDS activist.

The inconvenient truth is that as long as BDS activists like Omar Barghouti remain firmly opposed to a two-state solution that would result in the peaceful coexistence of a Jewish and a Palestinian state, their activism has nothing to do with human rights. Try as he may, Barghouti cannot conceal that he is actually campaigning for what he regards as the most fundamental and non-negotiable Palestinian “right:” the supposed “right” to finally achieve what the Arab war against the emerging Jewish state failed to accomplish. The Palestinians who fled this war that was supposedly waged on their behalf have served as pawns ever since, clinging to their refugee status and the illusion that it could be passed on through generations reared in the belief that the Jews of Israel are their “misfortune.” But then as now, their misfortune was the unwillingness of the Arabs to acknowledge the simple fact that the Jews are one of the Middle East’s most ancient peoples who, in modern times, could claim as much of a right to self-determination as the Arabs. People like Omar Barghouti are still unwilling to acknowledge this simple fact and are devoting all their energies to convince the world that Jewish self-determination is the misfortune of the Palestinians and that it is therefore their “right” to insist that the Jews in the Middle East should be forced to once again live as a minority under Arab Muslim rule.

*Update: A paper by Mark Gardner published in Democratiya Autumn 2007 that I discovered only recently explores several of the points I’m trying to make here under the apt title “‘The Zionists are our Misfortune’: On the (not so) new Antisemitism.”

Another libel in the making

While anti-Israel activists currently keep themselves entertained with their annual “Israel Apartheid Week” spectacle, there are apparently some who feel that just slandering Israel as a state that is guilty of practicing apartheid isn’t good enough. In an attempt to “improve” on the demonization of the world’s only Jewish state, some activists are now trying to spread the idea that Israel is the Nazi Germany of our time. As I have recently documented in detail, Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath is entirely devoted to this purpose, and Blumenthal’s message is not only appreciated by anti-Israel activists on US campuses, but also by the fans of David Duke, Stormfront and similar outlets catering to conspiracy theorists, racists and neo-Nazis.

For the Jew-haters at Stormfront, Max Blumenthal is “great,” and his relentless demonization of Israel is appreciated as proof that “not all jews are assholes.” (See documentation here (pdf)). But beyond garnering praise for himself, Blumenthal also managed to demonstrate that the racists at Stormfront have their priorities: while they would usually not show much sympathy for the plight of African migrants and refugees, they won’t ignore it when somebody claims that Africans in Israel are treated so badly that one can only compare their fate to what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Israel’s supposedly Nazi-like treatment of African migrants and refugees is a major topic in Goliath, and for some of the related material, Blumenthal collaborated with David Sheen, a Canadian-born Israeli who describes himself as a “documentarian & designer.” A few months ago, Mondoweiss – a site that has been frequently accused of publishing antisemitic material – announced that Sheen was writing “the first book on anti-African racism in Israel,” and currently, Sheen is on a month-long speaking tour in the US and Canada to tell everyone who’s willing to listen that his fellow citizens in his adopted country treat African refugees and migrants like the Jews were treated in Nazi Germany.

Max Blumenthal helpfully tweeted a picture showing one of the slides from Sheen’s presentation that illustrates what a great job he’s doing – because obviously, if there is an employment office in the Israeli detention center for African migrants, this is reason enough to compare the facility to Auschwitz and the cynical “Arbeit macht frei” slogan at its entrance gate.

Sheen Arbeit macht frei

To be sure, in Auschwitz the sign indicated “another form of genocide that the Nazis called ‘extermination through work,’” but for “journalists” like Max Blumenthal and David Sheen, this is apparently an irrelevant detail.

Among the material Sheen is presenting to make his case is also a video with the juicy title “Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land.” The fact that more than 600 000 people have watched this clip so far should probably not be taken as a sign of widespread interest in the plight of African migrants in general; indeed, it is safe to assume that few of the people who watched the clip noticed that right at the beginning, the narrator says: “As Europe closes its gates to asylum seekers, Israel became the next best option.”

This seems to be a glitch that really shouldn’t happen to professional Israel bashers. It certainly shouldn’t happen to David Sheen, who, after all, is working on a book in which he intends to make the case that the plight of Africans in Israel

“has huge implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because if Israeli policy is not based on equal treatment regardless of ethnicity, but on ensuring that as few as possible non-Jewish people remain in the country, then that would go a long way towards explaining Israel’s actions vis-a-vis the Palestinians for the last 66 years. Perhaps the source of the conflict isn’t Arab anti-Semitism, or even competing land claims, but as distasteful as it sounds, a drive by Israeli political and religious leaders for racial and religious purity.”

Now we only have to find out why “Europe closes its gates to asylum seekers”… or why some would talk about “America’s deportation machine”…

Of course, anti-Israel activists couldn’t care less about refugees and migrants outside of Israel. If they did, they would have to realize that the kind of books Blumenthal and Sheen produce could also be written on the US and most European countries. A recent report entitled “Fortress Europe: How the EU Turns Its Back on Refugees” explained that the “expectations of refugees who come to Europe often go unfulfilled. Many must struggle through long asylum application processes or fight against ingrained local prejudice. In some countries, they endure appalling living conditions in refugee camps; in others, they end up on the streets.” Recently filmed footage from an Italian “reception center” for refugees showed scenes that inspired widely reported comparisons with concentration camps;  a report on “Europe’s Deepening Refugee Crisis” described “a cycle of degradation faced by thousands of African refugees living in Europe today;” refugees in Germany complain that they are treated like criminals; in the Netherlands, scores of asylum seekers facing deportation have committed suicide in the past decade and many more have tried to kill themselves; and the way some asylum seekers are treated in Britain has led critics to conclude that they are not even seen as human beings.

And just imagine how popular this slide show would be if it was about Israel…

Sheen uninteresting deportations

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

 

Soccer and terrorism: what UEFA needs to know [updated]

Thanks to an energetic campaign by anti-Israel activists, even someone like me who doesn’t really keep up with sports and soccer news can know that this year’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals are scheduled to take place in Israel this June.

Naturally, the BDS-crowd that wants Israel held to bigoted double standards can’t stand the idea, and at sites like the Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah and friends have begun to churn out their usual fare of propaganda, petitions and piffle to rally the BDS-faithful for yet another campaign.

When it comes to football, it’s perhaps particularly easy to illustrate that BDS is indeed all about applying bigoted double standards to Israel.  After all, while there have been displays of despicable racism by Israeli football fans, very similar problems have long plagued the sport in Europe and elsewhere, as even the title of this BBC analysis from 2000 nicely illustrates: “Soccer violence an international problem.”

Yet, the BBC and other media outlets like nothing better than to report over and over again on the transgressions of Israeli fans. But when Egyptian football fans display a huge banner calling for a new Holocaust, it’s not worth mentioning. Similarly, there is no interest when Jibril Rajoub, the President of the Palestinian Football Federation and the Palestinian Olympic Committee elicits chuckles and roaring applause when he promises that he will provide helicopters for visiting committee members “so they will see no Jews, no Satans, no Zionist sons of bitches.”

Given the determined disinterest of the media in reporting anything that might show the pervasive demonization of Jews and Israel among Palestinians, the activists who want to pressure UEFA into boycotting Israel take no risk when they use Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak to push their campaign. And the BBC is there to help: as blogger Adam Holland noted in a post last July, the BBC “reported on Israel’s release of Mahmoud al-Sarsak and his return to Gaza, portraying him as a hunger-striking soccer player who was never formally charged with a crime. […]  All that is true, of course, but only a partial recounting of the facts.”

Holland goes on to quote a related AP report:

“Dozens of Islamic militants fired rifles in the air Tuesday in a rousing homecoming for a member of the Palestinian national soccer team who was released by Israel after being held for three years without formal charges.

The player, Mahmoud Sarsak, 25, had staged a hunger strike for more than 90 days to press for his release, winning support from international sports organizations.

Israel accused Sarsak of being active in the violent Islamic Jihad group, a charge he denied while in custody.

However, senior Islamic Jihad officials were present during a welcoming ceremony for him in Gaza City on Tuesday, and one of the group’s leaders, Nafez Azzam, praised the soccer player as ‘one of our noble members.’

Later Tuesday, as Sarsak approached his family home in the Rafah refugee camp, dozens of Islamic Jihad gunmen fired in the air from SUVs and motorcycles. Women waved black Islamic Jihad banners from nearby homes and streets were decorated with huge photos of the player.”

Combining soccer and terrorism isn’t all that unusual for Palestinians, as documented by this very long list of sport events, programs and facilities named after terrorists. Football events on this list include a youth tournament in August 2012 named after three terrorists who murdered a 45 year-old father of 7; another football tournament for youth in March 2011 named after the first Palestinian female suicide bomber Wafa Idris who used her position as a volunteer for the Palestinian Red Crescent to bypass Israeli security; the May 2010 “Shahid…Abu Al-Qassam…tournament for security services teams;” and the regularly held “Abu Jihad football tournament.”

Beyond using sport events to honor terrorists, sport facilities have also been used to store weapons and explosives and to launch rockets targeting Israeli civilians.

 Gaza stadium

Screenshot IDF tweet

But needless to say, the fact that Gaza terrorists use a stadium to fire missiles on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem doesn’t prevent the likes of Ali Abunimah to accuse Israel of wantonly destroying the stadium and demanding that therefore, “Israel must not host UEFA tournaments” – and of course, Abunimah is not at all embarrassed to back up his call by referring to Mahmoud Sarsak, one of Islamic Jihad’s “noble members.”

But indeed, why should Abunimah be embarrassed to promote an Islamic Jihad member cynically appealing to “people of conscience”? When it comes to the Palestinians, anything goes: the Palestinian Authority (PA) was not even embarrassed to honor Amin Al-Hindi, one of the senior planners of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, with “an imposing official military funeral.” As one commentary in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida put it when Al-Hindi passed away in August 2010:

“Everyone knows that Amin Al-Hindi was one of the stars who sparkled at one of the stormiest points on the international level – the operation that was carried out at the [Olympics] sports stadium in Munich, Germany, in 1972. That was just one of many shining stations.”

Given this unabashed veneration for the planners of the Munich massacre, it is all the more disgraceful that Jibril Rajoub – the man who wants to see “no Jews, no Satans, no Zionist sons of bitches” – claimed that commemorating the 40th anniversary of this atrocity would amount to “racism.” But of course, the western media had no interest in finding out how Palestinian authorities and Palestinian society today view the terror strike at the Munich Olympics – after all, it wouldn’t have been all that pleasant to acknowledge the official Palestinian praise for the “stars who sparkled” so gloriously in the Munich massacre.

Naturally, the BDS activists who try to pressure UEFA into boycotting Israel also have nothing to say about the pervasive glorification of terrorism, and the cooperation with terrorism, that is so common in Palestinian sport.  But whether it is sports or any other area, BDS always means bigoted double standards: grotesquely magnifying Israeli problems that are not dissimilar to shortcomings in other countries, while ignoring gross abuses by Palestinians.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

Since I first posted this, I realized that there could be almost daily updates to this story. Here’s just one from The Guardian’s Comment is free (Cif), written by Cif blogger Giles Fraser whose posts get filed under “belief” in Fraser’s “Loose canon” series….

Under the headline “Why Theodor Herzl’s writings still have an urgent message,” Fraser writes about antisemitic chants by Hungarian football fans and other recent manifestations of antisemitism in Hungary; he then goes on to argue that because of such incidents, “re-reading Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish Question in a Budapest cafe, opposite the astonishingly beautiful Dohány Street Synagogue, feels, once again, so topical.”

And just a few hours ago, Robert Mackey of the NYT Lede blog found it worthwhile to post a tweet about some Palestinian youngsters who protested a planned game by the Barcelona club in Tel Aviv.

Mackey Pal soccer

 As the link tweeted by Mackey explains oh-so-helpfully:

“11 soccer playing youths from Bil’in torched 11 FC Barcelona football jerseys at the Apartheid-Annexation Wall in disgust at that club’s proposed playing of an exhibition game in Israel’s national stadium, Tel Aviv, on July 31st. FC Barcelona is a serial offender in normalising the occupation, toadying up to Israel and drawing an equivalence between colonised and colonizer, victim and victimiser. As the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) put it: Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote ‘balance’ between the ‘two sides’ in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the ‘conflict,’ are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or ‘reconciliation between the two sides’ without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice.”

I could be COMPLETELY wrong, but somehow I suspect that Mackey hasn’t yet shown any interest in the rampant racism and glorification of terrorism that is sadly such an integral part of Palestinian sport.

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h/t Adam Holland for the Mackey tweet.

Shana Tova from Berlin’s Jewish Museum

Last Saturday evening, the Jewish Museum in Berlin hosted a “debate” on a question that you could translate from German either as “Is Zionism part of Judaism?,” or, perhaps more sensibly, “Is Zionism part of Jewish identity/Jewishness?”

The answer of the museum’s guest of honor is well-known: the American academic Judith Butler – who, just a few days earlier, had received the Adorno Prize in Frankfurt in recognition of her work on gender, sexuality, critical theory and moral philosophy – has most recently published a book entitled “Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism.”

Butler is also a well-known supporter of the BDS-movement that targets Israel with campaigns calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions with the ultimate goal to delegitimize the Jewish state and pave the way for Israel’s dissolution in a bi-national “Isratine.”

As I have pointed out previously, Butler’s support for the BDS movement means in practice that her political statements can be found on a website frequently criticized for antisemitic content and that she would refuse to lecture at Tel Aviv University, but be perfectly happy to visit Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism and glorifying terrorism. Indeed, in the acknowledgements for her recent book, Butler mentions Birzeit University as one of the places where she “learned from students and faculty.” Hopefully, these students didn’t include those that attended a festive event on the university campus to honour the terrorists released last year in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

While Butler thus helps to make the case that BDS really stands for “Bigoted Double Standards,” there is no question that “anti-Zionists” everywhere appreciate her academic celebrity status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies – which was only reinforced by the Adorno Prize – as a great asset.

There is also no question that the Jewish Museum in Berlin was fully aware of the problematic political implications of Butler’s views. Yet, the organizers of the event apparently preferred a “debate” that excluded questions to which Butler obviously has no good answers.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post – which noted straightforwardly that this seems to have been “the first anti-Israel event held in the Jewish museum since its opening in 2001” – the organizers allowed only “written audience questions” and made clear that any questions on Butler’s widely criticized views about Hamas and Hezbollah would be ignored.

But judging from media reports about the event, the audience had anyway come to cheer Butler – as one German newspaper put it: “The audience was dominated by the typical ‘Butler-Groupies’: people with an academic education between 20 and 30.”

Butler’s debating partner, the liberal German Jewish professor Micha Brumlik, found apparently little favor with this audience, and his attempts to argue that Butler’s professed enthusiasm for a merely “cultural” Zionism were neither grounded in Jewish tradition nor realistic clearly made much less of an impression than Butler’s response that somebody had to stand up for utopian ideals. Indeed, several of the German language reports end by quoting Butler’s relevant remarks, and the Berliner Zeitung concludes by asserting that a utopian quality was after all an essential characteristic of philosophy.

If we “translate” what Butler is saying here (noting that her new book includes reflections on “Ethics, Politics, and the Task of Translation”), it turns out that she simply wants to have her cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, we are supposed to appreciate that it is the core business of a philosopher to come up with noble utopian ideals that are above mundane criticisms questioning how realistic they are; on the other hand, Butler clearly wants her political views to be taken serious and lends her prestige as a philosopher to one of the most controversial causes of our time.

The bottom line of Butler’s argument is that the most ethical resolution of the Arab conflict with Israel requires Jews to realize that Arabs and Muslims were right all along when they insisted that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. Butler is obviously aware that with this view, she has a lot of really bad company, and she has taken to emphasizing her opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism.

In the controversy about her nomination for the Adorno Prize, she also tried hard to market herself as a fearless fighter against the popular straw-man argument that anyone who dares to criticize Israeli policies risks being denounced as an antisemite.

But the “debate” hosted by Berlin’s Jewish Museum illustrated once again that in a climate where it is regarded as legitimate to assert that it would only be ethical to do away with the Jewish state, antisemitism is never far away.

Reporting on the event for the Jüdische Allgemeine, Fabian Wolff notes that the debate moderator Andreas Öhler limited himself mostly to telling a few stories about his Jewish and Israeli friends. At one point Öhler mentioned how amazed he was to realize that despite Israel’s policies, there were so many nice Israelis who were interested in culture and music…

Sounds somehow familiar? Well, it should: whether Öhler was aware of it or not, the staff of Berlin’s Jewish Museum can certainly be expected to realize that this remark unmistakably echoed the popular stories about Nazi or SS officers as lovers of classical music, which have become part of movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist.

Without this background, it is hard to explain why Öhler should have been so amazed to discover that there are many really nice Israelis who love culture and music.

It is noteworthy in this context that studies show that some “40% of Germans are critical of Israel in ways […] deemed anti-Semitic. The commission regarded anti-Israel critics as having crossed a line, for example, when they compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi extermination of Jews in death camps. Among the […] findings cited in the report: More than 41% of Germans believe Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”

In view of these findings, it is all the more dismaying that moderator Öhler reportedly opened the event with Judith Butler by declaring everyone’s resolve not to be frightened – meaning, presumably, not to be frightened of accusations of antisemitism in a “debate” intended to establish that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state violates crucial ethical norms. But in a country where some 40 percent of the population believes that, when it comes to the Palestinians, Israel’s Jews are the Nazis of our time, there is actually plenty of reason to be frightened when the Jewish Museum decides to give out the message that, done properly, it is intellectually and ethically noble to “criticize” Israel for the evil of existing as a Jewish state.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog; also posted on Harry’s Place.

Judith Butler and the politics of hypocrisy

German prize award committees seem to have a weak spot for outspoken Jewish critics of Israel: writer and activist Uri Avnery has accumulated multiple German awards over the years, and the staunchly pro-Palestinian attorney and activist Felicia Langer was awarded Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, First class, in 2009. Now it is the turn of Judith Butler, an American philosopher and professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, who will receive the prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize on September 11 in Frankfurt.

To be sure, the Adorno Prize is awarded to “acknowledge outstanding performances in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film” – which is to say that it is Butler’s academic work, and not her political activism that are being honored with the prize. However, it is obviously Butler’s academic fame and her status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies that make her activism very valuable to her political allies in the BDS-movement that targets Israel. Critics who argue that it is therefore disingenuous to pretend that Butler’s contribution to philosophy can be honored irrespective of her political activism obviously have a point.

There are indeed several problematic political implications of honoring Butler with the Adorno Prize.  First and foremost, it has to be noted that, while we cannot know how Adorno would feel about Israel now, we do know that he was very concerned about the antisemitic and anti-Zionist tendencies that became acceptable and even fashionable on the left in the 1960s.  At the beginning of the Six-Day-War in 1967, Adorno expressed great alarm about the danger Israel faced and explicitly stated that he hoped that Israel would prove militarily superior to the Arabs. Shortly before his death in 1969, he worried that the open hostility to Israel displayed by the student movement might indicate fascist tendencies.  [See: Stephan Grigat, Befreite Gesellschaft und Israel: Zum Verhältnis von Kritischer Theorie und Israel; a shorter version is: Kritische Theorie und Israel: Adorno, Horkheimer und Marcuse über den Zionismus]

It is therefore hard to imagine that Adorno would have been anything but horrified by Judith Butler’s view that “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.” While Butler also emphasized that there were “certain dimensions of both movements” that were problematic and that she herself was firmly committed to “non-violent politics,” she also eventually clarified that in her view, Hamas and Hezbollah qualified as “left” because “they oppose colonialism and imperialism.”

How completely inane this view is will be readily apparent to anyone who has ever glanced at the Hezbollah or Hamas Charters, and there is arguably a strong case to be made that somebody who is able to see anything “progressive” in groups that define themselves in the most reactionary religious terms and advocate an unbridled Jew-hatred should automatically be disqualified from winning a prize named after Adorno.

Unsurprisingly, Butler has reacted to criticism of her views regarding Hamas and Hezbollah by complaining that her remarks “have been taken out of context.” She mainly emphasizes now that she has “always been in favor of non-violent political action” and explicitly declares: “I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have.”

But it is arguably revealing that Butler chose the Mondoweiss website to publish her most recent rebuttal. Surely an academic of her standing had many other choices and did not have to turn to a site that has often been criticized for hosting antisemitic posts and comments as well as antisemitic cartoons? On such a site, it is somewhat strange to read Butler’s lament:

“For those of us who are descendants of European Jews who were destroyed in the Nazi genocide (my grandmother’s family was destroyed in a small village south of Budapest), it is the most painful insult and injury to be called complicitous with the hatred of Jews or to be called self-hating.”

And how come that somebody who evokes such a family history has nothing to say about the Jew-hatred espoused by Hamas and Hezbollah, and their acknowledged ideological sponsors, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime?

How come that somebody who evokes such a family history would eloquently speak out in favor of boycotting Israeli universities, but would have no problem to lecture at Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism? One former student of Birzeit University is Ahlam al-Tamimi, the exceedingly proud collaborator in the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing whose release in exchange for Gilad Shalit was publicly celebrated by the Islamic bloc at the University of Birzeit.

Adorno prize winner Judith Butler can only imagine to speak at Tel Aviv university once it is a “fabulous bi-national university,” but she has no problem lecturing at Birzeit University, where Ahlam al-Tamimi is a much admired celebrity.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Quote of the day

“We can tell that this hostility to Israel is as artificially constructed as any antisemitism by looking at the list of theatre groups [performing at the Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival in London] against which the enlightened ones organized no boycott. Antizionists have created a whole new ‘-ism’, a worldview, around their campaign against Israel. Within it, a caricature of Israel is endowed with huge symbolic significance which relates only here and there to the actual state, to the complex conflict and to the diversity of existing Israelis. If the Palestinians stand, in the antizionist imagination, as symbolic of all the victims of ‘the west’ or ‘imperialism’ then Israel is thrust into the centre of the world as being symbolic of oppression everywhere. Like antisemitism, antizionism imagines Jews as being central to all that is bad in the world.”

From the truly brilliant reflections by David Hirsh on the Habima Theatre’s performance of “The Merchant of Venice” in London. David prefaces his post with the often debated question: “Is the Merchant of Venice an antisemitic play or is it a play which intimately depicts the anatomy of persecution, exclusion and bullying?” The way David tackles this question is particularly powerful because he combines his impressions from the play with his thoughts about the BDS protesters who tried to disrupt the performance.

Update:

At CiFWatch, Adam Levick has an excellent post on the review of the Habima production by the Guardian’s theatre critic, who, unsurprisingly, happens to be an enthusiastic admirer of Caryl Churchill’s antisemitic play “Seven Jewish Children.” It’s only natural then that the Guardian’s theatre critic can’t help herself when she sees the broken Shylock at the end of the play: why mention anything about antisemitism if you feel so strongly that it’s “impossible not to think of other displaced people, too, most particularly the Palestinians”…