Tag Archives: pro-Palestinian

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.


Solidarity with Palestine in Germany

In the recent controversy about an antisemitic op-ed by Columbia University Professor Massad, some fans of Massad noted gleefully that the disgraceful screed published by Al Jazeera “was based on a lecture Massad gave at a conference in Stuttgart… Germany, to a largely German audience.”  The implication was of course that if the audience at a German “conference” happily listened to an American professor claiming that Nazism and Zionism were both antisemitic, this lunacy somehow became legitimate.

But Germans don’t really need an American professor to demonstrate how best to dress up antisemitic resentments. Despite many official German efforts to grapple with the Nazi past and combat contemporary antisemitism, studies have not only documented that about 20% of Germans hold persistent antisemitic views, but that there is also “a big rise in anti-Semitism based on hostility toward Israel.” Indeed, since some 40% of Germans believe “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians,” Massad could clearly expect to find a sympathetic audience for his comparison of Nazism and Zionism.

Indeed, the kind of “conference” Massad attended in Stuttgart in May all but guaranteed that any effort to endow vulgar antisemitic tropes with a veneer of pseudo-sophisticated academic respectability would be warmly appreciated.

PalConference Stuttgart

The event was organized by a group named “Palästinakomitee Stuttgart,” which seems to be a small but long-established organization that spreads the usual propaganda against Israel. Like most organizations that are supposedly “pro-Palestinian,” the Stuttgart group doesn’t campaign for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but for the abolition of Israel as the world’s only Jewish state in favor of the fiction of “ONE secular democratic State.”  The fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians want to live under Islamic Sharia law is just one of the many inconvenient issues that the “Palästinakomitee Stuttgart” prefers to ignore.

For its “Second Palestine Solidarity Conference” this May, the group hosted several well-known “anti-Zionists,” including academics like Ilan Pappé and Ghada Karmi (both University of Exeter, UK), Joseph Massad (Columbia University, NY, US), and Asaad Abu Khalil (aka the blogger “The Angry Arab,” Cal State Stanislaus, US). According to the group’s website, some 300 people – “many of them from abroad” – came to listen to these “high carat” speakers. While we are not told how all this was financed, the information on the event highlights the participation of Al Jazeera’s Mhammed Krichen, noting proudly that the network carried the two-day proceedings live for a “broad audience in the Arab world.”

Given this fabulous free publicity for the small gathering, it is perhaps hardly surprising that the Palestinian ambassador to Germany also showed up to address the audience [in German]. At the beginning of his short remarks, ambassador Abdel Shafi seemed to implicitly acknowledge that it was rather curious that an official of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – which is supposedly committed to establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel – would attend an event organized to champion a very different goal. But in the course of his not particularly coherent remarks, Abdel Shafi also suggested that it was actually pointless to discuss any solution as long as the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank were unable to bridge their differences; of course, he also indicated that, somehow, it was all Israel’s fault. At the same time, he seemed to deplore the growing power of Islamists in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” but he also suggested that the West viewed the Islamists favorably, considering them as a suitable replacement of the Arab dictators that had supposedly served Western economic and political interests so faithfully.

Naturally, Abdel Shafi also talked about the “ongoing nakba” and warned that it was a major task to prevent Israel from realizing its supposed plans to expel all Palestinians from historic Palestine. It was hardly a coincidence that the following day, the ambassador returned to Berlin to host a nakba event that featured a speech focusing on exactly the same accusations against Israel. The speaker was Norman Paech, a well-known former politician and academic whose dedicated anti-Israel activism has brought him some accusations of antisemitism. Indeed, in a sympathetic article [pdf in German] about Hamas-ruled Gaza, Paech has described Israel as “poisonous.”

Demonizing Israel and associating with organizations and individuals who have considerable expertise in this field is apparently part of the job of the Palestinian ambassador to Germany. This is also reflected in the website of the Palestinian mission, where one section is devoted to Israel’s cruel “hunting” of Palestine.

Yet, the ambassador faces a dilemma, because most of the “pro-Palestinian” Israel-haters he happily associates with despise the Palestinian Authority he represents. At the Stuttgart gathering, this was clearly spelled out when “Angry Arab” Asaad Abu Khalil railed against Abdel Shafi’s presence and denounced the PA as a “creation of Tel Aviv.”

The failure of the Palestinian ambassador to openly confront the PA’s detractors and present an alternative to their relentless demonization of Israel by articulating a clear commitment to peaceful coexistence unfortunately reflects the policies of the PA. As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in a recent commentary, “Palestinian Authority leaders have radicalized Palestinians to a point where many do not want to hear about peace with Israel.”

In other words: there is a fierce competition between the PA and Hamas about who is the most intransigent foe of Israel.

Obviously, events like the Stuttgart “solidarity conference” have primarily one purpose: to strengthen this dynamic and keep it focused on making the Jewish state a pariah that will eventually crumble to be replaced by an Arab-Muslim Palestine.

German media and German officials apparently prefer to ignore all this politely. As a report on the Stuttgart “conference” notes bitterly, the event was largely met with silence; similarly,  Paech writes on his website that only a few representatives of the far left followed the Palestinian ambassador’s invitation to attend the nakba event in Berlin.

But while this could be seen as a tacit rejection of the extreme views that are usually propagated by “pro-Palestinian” campaigners, the agenda pushed by the organizations and individuals who relentlessly demonize Israel is not necessarily rejected by German officials. This is illustrated by the recent German decision to back EU demands for labels that distinguish between products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Israeli goods produced within the pre-1967 armistice lines. The only purpose of this measure is to enable supporters of the campaign to boycott Israel to gain followers among people who might find the blanket boycott a bit too reminiscent of the Nazi-slogan “Don’t buy from Jews.”

Benjamin Weinthal has argued that the labeling of Israeli products from the settlements may therefore be a slippery slope leading to a legitimation of the broader boycott campaign which singles out Israel – after all, as Weinthal rightly notes, there are no efforts to have similar labels for products from Turkish occupied North Cyprus or the many other areas around the world that are in dispute.

Of course, supporters of the boycott want Israel singled out, and they couldn’t care less that in the case of the settlements, Palestinian workers who are employed there – earning salaries that are considerably higher than in the PA-ruled West Bank – would be the first to suffer.

But this is indeed a characteristic feature of most “pro-Palestinian” campaigns targeting Israel: the enthusiasm for harming Israel is usually so great that the very real costs to the Palestinians are happily ignored. In Germany as elsewhere, solidarity with the Palestinians all too often means supporting efforts to demonize and harm Israel. This appeal to the lowest common denominator is unlikely to bring the Palestinians a state any time soon, but this is apparently not really the priority.

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First published on my JPost blog June 10, 2013

Anonymous: hackers spreading lies and hate [updated]

As widely reported in the news [in early April], hackers from the “Anonymous” group have threatened massive cyber-attacks against Israel on Holocaust Memorial Day. According to the Jerusalem Post, Anonymous boasted that it will “erase Israel from the Internet” by mounting the “largest online assault on a single country in history.”

While Anonymous is supposedly motivated by “pro-Palestinian” sentiments, the date they chose for their attacks is obviously revealing.

But hatred, extremism and antisemitism have long been an integral part of most “pro-Palestinian” campaigns, as is nicely illustrated by this Facebook post of “Activists around the world for Palestine” cheering on the hacking campaign against Israeli sites:

Third Intifada hacking op

Presumably they felt this image is representative of what they stand for, and indeed one of the comments posted in response is “Death to Israel.”

The group is also currently calling for a “3rd Intifada:”

Third Intifada

Unsurprisingly, the “Activists around the world for Palestine” also like to compare Israel with Nazi Germany, as illustrated by this post from April 3, which received 633 “Likes” and 650 “Shares;” as the comments posted in response illustrate, “pro-Palestinian” Jew-haters eagerly seized the opportunity to display their bigotry.

Third Intifada Nazis Israel

Meanwhile on Twitter, an account that supports Anonymous and claims to provide “news” – which more than 900 000 people find worthwhile following – entertained its fans last night not just with largely fake “success” stories, but also with the lie that last November, an Israeli Minister had threatened the Palestinian with a “Holocaust”.


As you can see from the screenshot that was taken some three hours after the tweet was posted, more than 120 people eagerly retweeted these “news.”

It’s an excellent example of the kind of “news” anti-Israel campaigners rely on.

The link provided by the Anonymous “news” tweet leads to a website called “policymic,” where apparently anyone who accumulates enough points from comments can contribute. However, the piece in question was written by the site’s co-founder Jake Horowitz, who claims that he is “trying to spark thoughtful debate on important political issues.”

Horowitz’s post is dated “5 months ago,” and claims that

“A senior Israeli politician warned that Palestinians firing rockets from Gaza into Israel will be punished with a “bigger holocaust” from Israeli armed forces, according to the Telegraph.

Matan Vilnai, deputy defense minister, used the term “shoah” during an interview on Army Radio, a Hebrew word for holocaust typically only reserved in Israel to describe the Nazi holocaust of Jews during World War II.”

Anyone who follows the news about Israel closely would of course know that last November, Matan Vilnai was not deputy defense minister – and anyone who doesn’t follow the news about Israel closely but still wants to write about Israel should be expected to check the facts.

But apparently, Horowitz was too thrilled when he came across this story to even notice that the article he linked to was from the end of February 2008, when Vilnai was indeed deputy defense minister and made this comment, which – due to his unfortunate choice not to use another Hebrew word for “catastrophe” – caused an uproar.

Horowitz also failed to update or correct his misleading post, even though several commenters noted that he was regurgitating an article that was more than four years old.

Now, another five months later, Anonymous “news” picks up this fabrication based on a four-year-old report about a stupid choice of words by an Israeli minister and many of their fans eagerly retweet this “news” item. In their weird world, the completely spurious claim that just a few months ago, Israel was threatening the Palestinians with a Holocaust probably provides ample justification for a massive cyber-attack on Israel during Holocaust Memorial Day.

You couldn’t find a better illustration of the kind of “news” that is endlessly circulated among the “pro-Palestinian” haters of the Jewish state.

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This was first published on my JPost blog on April 7.


Ultimately, the anti-Israel hackers failed to do much damage, and they certainly failed to deliver on their stated ambition to “wipe Israel off the map of the Internet.” According to a Ha’aretz report, “Fewer than 100 small websites and some 15 large organizations were affected for periods ranging from a few minutes to a few hours.”

The hope expressed by Hamas spokesman Ihab al-Ghussian on his Facebook page therefore didn’t really come true: “May God [Allah] protect the spirit and operations of the soldiers in the electronic war.”

On the other hand, Israeli hackers who responded to the attack were quite satisfied…

But let’s not forget Haneen Zoabi’s hasbara

Yesterday’s decision to disqualify the controversial Balad MK Haneen Zoabi from running in Israel’s upcoming elections is sure to be condemned by Israel’s liberal critics at home and abroad – particularly if the disqualification is upheld by the High Court of Justice.

However, it seems that Zoabi has some critics even within her own extended family: as Israeli media reported some two months ago, the petition to disqualify her was signed by a cousin of Zoabi who argued that instead of working for the interests of Israeli Arabs, she “represents the Palestinians in Ramallah – so she should move there.”

No doubt many Israelis will share this sentiment – but ironically, Zoabi’s hostility to Israel has been so extreme that it sometimes had a completely unintended hasbara effect. In July 2011, I wrote a post on this for my JPost blog, which I republish below.

Gadaffi Zoabi Tibi 2010

The good old times: Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi (center, of course!) flanked by Israeli MKs Zoabi and Tibi in 2010

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There is no question that Haneen Zoabi would be horrified at the idea that she is in any way engaging in “hasbara” for Israel – after all, she is a member of Knesset representing the Balad party which is fiercely opposed to Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Zoabi herself regards the Knesset as “a citadel of inequality” and some of her fellow Knesset members, including Binyamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Lieberman, are in her view just “a bunch of fascists.”

But Zoabi’s openly hostile views of the state where she serves as a member of parliament sometimes seem to have a curious “hasbara” effect. Consider the reader comments in response to a recent article published by the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site where Zoabi furiously objected to a British decision to ban the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, from entering Britain.

Zoabi claims in her article that the “British authorities have fallen into an Israeli trap.” She argues:

“Instead of supporting our leaders and their campaign for freedom and democracy, they [i.e. the British authorities] are supporting Israeli persecution of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Until now, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been struggling for our political rights in our country, and confronting Zionist racism inside Israel. But now it seems we have to confront Zionist racism abroad as well.”

“The pro-Israeli lobby must not be allowed to determine politics in Britain. Palestinians in Israel see the arrest of Salah by the British authorities as backing Israeli policies against us. We ask the British people to reject this, not to allow Israeli racism to inform them and support instead our just demands for democracy in our own land.”

One of the first comments (ZackSame, 30 June 2011 8:27AM) garnered 484 endorsements from other readers; it stated dryly:

“Britain has every right to ban any hatemongering crackpot from entering the country, whether they be Koran burners or in this instance conspiracy spouting, homophobic, Bin Laden fans, it might not square with the opinions of foreign politicians like the author but that’s the way it is.”

Another comment (Keo2008, 30 June 2011 8:39AM) that got 450 endorsements argued:

“This article and this man [i.e. Salah] sum up exactly why it is so hard to make peace in Israel. Israeli policies towards the Palestinians are indeed appalling and should be condemned. But to try to turn this racist, antisemitic, pro-Hamas and pro-Al Qaeda man into some kind of martyr to the cause is disgraceful.

So long as Palestinians follow racist extremists like this man, the more the Israelis will turn to their extremists for protection. Raed Salah does the Palestinian cause no favours. Haneen’s support for this racist does the Palestinian cause no favours. Britain was absolutely right to get rid of him.”

It is noteworthy that in the few lines I quoted from Zoabi’s article, she refers twice to “Zionist racism” and once to “Israeli racism;” at the same time, she seems to imply that Sheikh Raed Salah should be considered as one of the Palestinian leaders of a “campaign for freedom and democracy” – which happens to be a view that is apparently shared by Gaza’s Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, who recently honored Salah as “a great Palestinian leader.”

Indeed, according to some Israeli experts on terrorism and Islamist extremism, Salah’s Islamic Movement “is a faction of the regional Muslim Brotherhood organization.”

It is also telling that while Zoabi herself is sophisticated enough to decry the supposed influence of the “pro-Israeli lobby” in her article, Salah’s Islamic Movement openly railed against the “Jewish lobby.”

Zoabi’s problem is that on the one hand, she presents herself as an apparently secular leftist who fights for “freedom and democracy” as a member of a supposedly “democratic progressive” party, but on the other hand, she eagerly embraces an Islamist like Salah, who has espoused the most reactionary views and resorted to sectarian incitement.

It is no small irony that Zoabi once asserted that “Racism is a contagious disease.” Arguably, she proves her point. After all, once upon a time, leftist convictions prominently included the notion that ethnic bonds should count for less than common political ideals. But Zoabi is willing to defend a fellow Palestinian even when he is an Islamist like Salah who stands for a political vision that should be very hard to reconcile with her own.

To be sure, Zoabi herself acknowledges in her article that Salah and she “represent different political organisations and traditions,” but given her writings and her actions – both she and Salah participated in last year’s “Gaza Flotilla” and were on the Mavi Marmara – it seems fair to conclude that Zoabi belongs to this part of the “left” that doesn’t hesitate to ally itself with even the most reactionary forces as long as there is one shared goal: undermining Israel’s legitimacy and its existence as a Jewish state.

Revealingly, Zoabi has made clear in another article earlier this year just how important ethnic identification is for her. Reacting to “revelations” about supposed Palestinian concessions in the negotiations with Israel, Zoabi insisted that “Palestinian negotiators must not take key decisions on our behalf,” and she claimed:

“We, as Palestinian people living inside Israel and on the basis of our historic right and international law, have full right of veto – not only on matters that affect our lives, such as the return of the refugees, the Jewish identity of the state and population exchange, but also on all matters affecting and infringing the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Can you imagine what Haneen Zoabi would say if Jewish minorities around the world would claim a comparable “full right of veto” regarding “all matters affecting and infringing the rights of the Jewish people”?

One reader’s response (peitha, 31 January 2011 10:34AM), endorsed by 122 others, pointed out quite rightly:

“It is telling though that a menmber [sic] of the Knesset is so hostile to the state in which she serves as a legislator she regards outside negotiators as the voice of the people she is supposed to represent.”

Zoabi’s recent article elicited a similar comment (randstad, 30 June 2011 8:38AM) which was endorsed by 453 people:

“The irony is if Salah or the author [i.e. Zoabi] had taken these types position [sic] in any Arab countries against that country, they would [have] been at best in jail or more likely dead or hiding out in another country as recent events tell us. It is a mark of how ‘bad’ Israel is there [sic] free to preach what they do in the way they do.”

I would have thought it’s something like “mission impossible” to get hundreds of Guardian readers to endorse a pro-Israeli comment – and I should know, because I have occasionally contributed articles there and often taken part in the ensuing debates. But it seems that when it comes to explaining what Israel is up against, Haneen Zoabi unwittingly does a much better job than people who try. So perhaps Zoabi deserves a big “thank you” for a “hasbara” job well done.


Ali Abunimah hopes Obama will make history [updated]

No, the title of this post doesn’t mean that Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada hopes President Obama will achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in his second term. After all, like most “pro-Palestinian” activists, Abunimah is not primarily interested in the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather in getting rid of the Jewish State.

Yet, as much as so-called pro-Palestinian activists may hate Israel, they often also have plenty of other resentments that add up to an utterly unhinged world view. There is perhaps no better way to examine the fringe views that are so popular in “pro-Palestinian” circles than to follow Ali Abunimah on Twitter.

Consider this recent tweet by Abunimah:

Abunimah on Obama

To be sure, once upon a time, Abunimah had a much more favorable view of Obama – but that was of course when Obama would “attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time.”

By now, Abunimah seems thoroughly disenchanted, not just with Barack Obama, but even with the Democratic Party in general:

Abunimah on US parties

It is noteworthy that in this tweet, support for Israel ranks only third in the list of Democratic faults.

That is because Abunimah was also tweeting a Reuters report published by the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency that described how some Pakistanis reacted to Obama’s re-election.

Abunimah on Pakistan

Of course, Ali Abunimah doesn’t usually care all that much what’s going on in Pakistan, and he certainly wouldn’t like it if people started to compare all the attention the Palestinians are getting to the disgraceful neglect of the Baloch struggle against Pakistan’s murderous oppression of their aspirations for freedom.

However, Abunimah’s concern for Pakistani victims of American drone strikes is apparently due to his view that both the US and Israel should be condemned for fighting against Islamist terrorism. It was therefore hardly a surprise when Abunimah retweeted a complaint that General Petraeus had resigned because of an extramarital affair, and not because “he murdered innocent people.”

Abunimah on Petraeus

Elaborating on this issue at the Electronic Intifada, Abunimah not only reminded his readers that Petraeus once made a controversial remark blaming the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict for fuelling the flames of Arab hatred for America, but also claimed that this remark was motivated by “the same cold calculation of how to maintain and advance US imperial domination that allowed him [Petraeus] to oversee – on behalf of the president – wars, occupations and murders of children and teenagers and other civilians all over the world using drones.”

So in the world of Ali Abunimah and his many fans, the US president and the generals who serve in the US army are all just murderers and criminals.

Needless to say, this is even more true when it comes to Israel. Here is Ali Abunimah’s take on the recent aggression from Hamas-ruled Gaza:

Abunimah Gaza resistance Abunimah PalDefForces

Amazingly, there are still people who apparently think Abunimah should somehow be taken seriously. Last March, The Forward published a fairly sympathetic profile of him, which concluded with the remark that Abunimah feels that the criticism he gets proves that people “are paying attention” to him. The Forward profile ended by quoting Abunimah:

“I am not a professor at a big university. I don’t have a think tank behind me. I don’t have a title, and yet I am able to influence in one way or another the way people think and the way that they act […] As much as the opposition would like to ignore me, they can’t, and that is not because of any title I carry.”

Well, with all this influence Abunimah fancies himself having, Obama has already one leg in prison… Of course, there may be severe overcrowding, since most US generals should probably also be there, and let’s not forget George W. Bush and all Israeli leaders and generals and whoever else isn’t in favor of the glorious “resistance” put up by Islamist terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere.

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This is a belated cross-posted from my JPost blog.


In response to this post, G-Nice‏@ArikSharon alerted me to an interesting piece written by the widely respected Palestinian* commentator Hussein Ibish a few years ago. Under the title “What does Ali Abunimah really believe?,” Ibish notes that he and Abunimah wrote “numerous articles and monographs” together, but that Abunimah’s views “have shifted radically in recent years.” Ibish also points out something I’ve often noticed when reading Abunimah’s output: namely, that he “tailors his statements to appeal to different audiences in different media at different times” – which perhaps indicates that he is aware that openly standing by the unhinged views with which he fires up his fans would come with the price of not being taken serious by a less partisan audience.

Needless to say, I fully agree with Ibish’s view that “its not really possible to fully understand what Abunimah’s real thinking is without consulting [his] tweets in which he has been letting his guard down and allowing those who pay attention to get a close glimpse of his actual agenda, which is decidedly not a pretty picture.”

But since Ibish uses the term “agenda,” it’s worth highlighting that Abunimah combines his enthusiastic cheerleading for Hamas and Islamic Jihad with a relentless demonization of Israel, passing it off not only as “pro-Palestinian”, but also as a progressive defense of human rights.

This is of course exactly the kind of “pro-Palestinian” activism that has done so much to poison progressive politics.

Whether or not Abunimah’s activism can be described as “pro-Palestinian,” it sure qualifies as obsessively anti-Israel. Yet, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demonstrated with his recent speech at the UN to much applause, it indeed seems that championing the “Palestinian cause” is generally understood as requiring harsh denunciations of Israel.

But it is too often overlooked that the most fervent anti-Israel ideologues show symptoms that are hard to distinguish from those that Walter Russell Mead has repeatedly described so well for antisemitism. As Mead put it:

“Jew haters don’t understand how the world works; anti-Semitism is both a cause and a consequence of a basic failure to comprehend the way pluralistic and liberal societies behave. As a result, nations and political establishments warped by this hatred tend to make one dumb decision after another.”

Those who are consumed by hate for the world’s only Jewish state and dedicate themselves single-mindedly to the goal of undoing its establishment tend to exhibit similar failures of comprehension – which is arguably no coincidence given the often observed overlap between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

But as Mead rightly noted in a post on “The Hate That Dares Not Speak Its Name,” “many of today’s anti-Semites like to think of themselves as enlightened, modern people and [they] get all huffy and hissy if anyone accuses them of prejudice in any form.”

This is certainly true for Ali Abunimah and many of his fellow activists and followers. Yet, while Abunimah has repeatedly tried to distance himself from activists who propagated antisemitic tropes all too openly, there is no denying that the politics of the supposedly “progressive” down-with-Israel crowd differs very little from the hate-filled visions of antisemites.

As hard as Abunimah may try to pose as a progressive anti-racist and defender of human rights, his enthusiastic cheerleading for Hamas and groups like Islamic Jihad ultimately means going along with the seething Jew-hatred expressed in the Hamas Charter and in countless jihadi pronouncements.

But there is arguably more to it, because – as I tried to illustrate by highlighting Abunimah’s views on Obama – dedicated anti-Israel activists like Abunimah tend to have radical fringe-views not only on Israel, but also on many other issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the down-with-Israel-crowd also hates a lot about America and the West in general – and this hate is so all-consuming that there seems to be little else.

Those who happily subscribe to these fervent resentments will therefore usually be unable or unwilling to see the Middle East and the Muslim world as anything but victims of Western depravity. Whatever might be wrong there is not deemed worthy of attention given the enormity of Western wrong-doing.

To be sure, this version of “The White Man’s Burden” has long been a widely accepted part of the supposedly progressive world view that elevates the “Palestinian cause” to the all-important issue of our time. While the latent antisemitism that is so frequently an integral part of this “progressive” activism certainly helps to explain some of the bizarre positions that are so enthusiastically embraced by “pro-Palestinian” campaigners, it is also very interesting to look at this as a broader manifestation of the Zeitgeist. Some of the writings by Richard Landes are particularly interesting in this context. He has coined the term “Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome,” arguing:

“Without self-criticism and its accompanying learning curve, there is little progress. Hence progressives rightly emphasize self-criticism. […] In some cases, however, self-critical progressives can take this strategy so far that they fall into the trap of taking most or all of the responsibility for something when it is not primarily of their doing. To some extent, this unusual generosity reflects the notion that it takes a “big man” to admit fault, and that if we progressives are stronger, we should make the first, second and even third moves of concession and apology, in order to encourage those with whom we find ourselves in dispute. Combining inflated rhetoric with a therapeutic notion that the disadvantaged should not be held to the same exacting standards (moral equivalence) leads one to fall into self-critical pathologies.

In the most extreme cases, we encounter Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS): “it is all our fault; and if we can only be better, we can fix anything/everything.” This hyper-critical attitude can be seen with particular clarity in the response of some progressives and radicals to both the 9-11 attack in 2001 in the US, and the 7-7 attack in 2005 in London. For many, “What did we do to make them hate us?” trumped “What are they telling themselves that makes them hate us so?” In a sense, the very preference for the former question underlines our desire to be in control. Maybe we can fix what it is that we do to them, so they’ll not hate us so. Maybe even, they’ll like us. […]

The tendency to hyper-self-criticize leads to a kind of moral self-absorption in which one loses any sense of the other side of any conflict as moral agent. […] the real tragedy here comes with the unconscious racism involved in such a moral argument. The proponents of such thinking fail to grant the “other side” any moral agency. “Their behavior is entirely reactive, a response to our bad deeds. If only we would stop, they would stop.” This approach, which gives us, among other things, the current policy of appeasement in the West, also operates on assumptions that the “other” — in this case, the global Jihadis and the Muslim cultures from which they draw their recruits — are not autonomous moral agents. In other words, they, like animals, can’t help themselves. Hence, we make no moral demands on them, indeed, we lower ourselves to their moral level with our equivalences.”

* * *

*Correction: Somebody on Twitter protested my description of Ibish as Palestinian, and indeed it seems I was mistaken. There is only very little information on Ibish’s family background available, but a 2003 obituary of his father, Professor Yusuf Hussein Ibish, indicates that he came from a Syrian-Kurdish family while his mother Joan Schenck was apparently European or American.

Free Gaza tweets for terror and a world without Zionism

The still ongoing controversy about Free Gaza’s propagation of antisemitic material has revealed the for me somewhat surprising fact that apparently quite a few of the group’s supporters seem to believe that Free Gaza is somehow dedicated to promoting peace and coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians.

That is plainly not the case.

One of the most recent tweets from Free Gaza is a call to #NormalizeResistance. As I write, this hashtag seems to be primarily used to protest an invitation for Gilad Shalit by FC Barcelona, and the top tweet right now comes from an account set up under the name of Khader Adnan.

We know what Islamic Jihad member Khader Adnan means by “resistance” – and as it happens, Gaza’s rulers understand “resistance” in pretty much the same way.

It is precisely this kind of “resistance” advocated by Islamic Jihad and Hamas that has led to the “blockade” that Free Gaza opposes: Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, more than 8,000 rockets have been fired from there by the “resistance,” terrorizing about one million Israeli civilians who live within the range of these rockets.

So let’s see what Free Gaza has to say about the “resistance”:

These tweets refer to an incident on June 1, 2012, when an armed infiltrator associated with Islamic Jihad from Gaza was discovered by IDF units near the Gaza border and managed to kill one soldier before being killed himself.

To sum up Free Gaza’s take on the event: an “operation” executed by “Gaza defenders” succeeded in killing one “IOF” soldier – though Free Gaza had apparently hoped the “operation” would result in three “dead Israeli soldiers.”

On the rockets raining down on Israeli towns, Free Gaza has this to say:

“Over 100 retaliatory projectiles and rockets including long-range Grad type have been fired from Gaza by Palestinian resistance groups.#Gaza

When it comes to Free Gaza’s – and certainly Greta Berlin’s – vision for the future, there seems to be no room for Israel as a Jewish state, and indeed, there seems to be no room for Jewish Israelis. In January, Free Gaza tweeted a link to a blog post entitled “Call me a Palestinian from Palestine.”

The post features a large photo of a mural depicting the widely idolized Leila Khaled, whose “fame” rests on her contribution to making airplane hijackings a successful terrorist tactic some 30 years ago.

The text of the post itself is fairly typical for the Palestinian “steadfastness”-genre that usually invokes the popular “blood-and-soil”-theme that self-described progressives apparently find deeply moving when it’s employed by Palestinians. In this case it’s an image often used on “Land Day”:

“My blood and sweat have since the dawn of history watered this land, kept it green and blooming and gave the poppies their colour.”

The main theme of the post is built on a much-used dichotomy: on one side are the unspeakably evil and cruel “Zionist racist” colonizers who are the real terrorist that “raped and continue to rape [Palestine] for over 63 years;” on the other side are the noble natives who patiently suffer, waiting for the day when their “home between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River … will be free of the Zionist colonists, the cowards and racists that … have no place in this land.”

Among the rapturous reader comments, there is one by Greta Berlin, linking to Free Gaza’s website, saying: “Heartbreaking and uplifting. As long as the young people of Palestine never forget, Palestine will always be remembered and will, one day. be returned.”

Yet another indication that Greta Berlin wants a “Zionist-free” Palestine “between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River” is the indignant tweet sent out by Free Gaza about a Huffington Post story with the somewhat misleading headline “Helen Thomas Denied Table For White House Correspondents Dinner.” However, as the report explains, Helen Thomas was given the privilege to get two tickets for this dinner even though she was no longer a White House correspondent. The Huffington Post report delicately alludes to “controversial comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” that cost Thomas her status as a White House correspondent; the incident referred to is a clip showing Thomas voicing the view that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home [to] Poland, Germany… America and everywhere else.”

In any case, Free Gaza was clearly very upset that Helen Thomas wasn’t granted the extraordinary privilege of reserving a whole table at the glitzy White House Correspondents’ Dinner, tweeting:

“Helen Thomas denied own table at big D.C. dinner. http://huff.to/HdDf28 via @Gaza Please write to the organizers and express your disgust.”

Last but by no means least, it is noteworthy that in the ongoing controversy about the antisemitic material tweeted by Free Gaza, it is widely ignored that several of these tweets link to fringe websites that propagate bizarre conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, Free Gaza has also done this when it’s not really about Jews or Zionists: At the end of last December, Free Gaza posted a tweet about the “Engineered ‘Arab Spring:’” “2011 YEAR of the DUPE: One Year into the Engineered “Arab Spring,” One Step Closer to Global Hegemony.”

The article Free Gaza linked to revealed that “the US had been behind the uprisings and that they were anything but ‘spontaneous,’ or ‘indigenous;’” indeed, according to the lengthy piece, “the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous foundations, organizations, and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world.”

Unsurprisingly, the site that published this piece also offers the “truth” about a whole lot of other dreadful cover-ups, including the terrorist attacks of 9/11…

Defending Free Gaza’s antisemitism at +972 and Open Zion

A few days ago, I noticed on my Twitter timeline some commotion about a tweet that had been posted by a group calling itself “Free Gaza Movement” – and it should go without saying that the group’s goal is NOT to free Gaza from the oppressive and abusive rule of Hamas… Instead, Free Gaza devotes itself single-mindedly to delegitimizing Israeli measures to prevent the smuggling of explosives, rockets and weapons into Gaza, and over the past few years, the group has been organizing “flotillas” to “break the siege of Gaza.”

As with many so-called “pro-Palestinian” groups, this also means that Free Gaza spreads a lot of horror stories about Israel, Zionism and Jews. But the recent Free Gaza tweet that attracted so much attention was particularly blatant, asserting that “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Anyone skeptical about this claim could click on a link to a video clip featuring a well-known antisemitic conspiracy theorist.

The details of this story and how it developed over the past few days have been documented by Avi Mayer; and by now, there have also been reports in the media about it. Most notably, the influential Walter Russell Mead devoted a long post to this incident, calling on Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who has endorsed Free Gaza – to withdraw his support of the group and to denounce Free Gaza’s propagation of “ugly filth of the lowest kind, gutter anti-Semitism mixed with genocidal rage.”

As I noted in a related post, Free Gaza reacted by offering various evasions and non-apologies. The group’s co-founder Greta Berlin, who was responsible for several of the antisemitic links provided by Free Gaza, claimed in a disingenuous “apology” posted on the Free Gaza website that this material “was shared to a group of people who were discussing the evils of propaganda and racism.”

Despite the fact that Free Gaza has a long record of posting antisemitic material, some people were all too eager to believe this transparently dishonest explanation. Writing on his +972 blog, Larry Derfner complained about “The slandering of Gaza flotilla activist Greta Berlin,” and on Peter Beinart’s Open Zion blog, Emily Hauser declared herself satisfied with Greta Berlin’s assurances that she was not a Holocaust denier and that, even though she hadn’t watched the video she propagated, she posted it as an example of “EXACTLY what I and others are horrified over.”

There is an ancient proverb I remember from school, which we were taught to illustrate the point that claiming innocent intentions doesn’t necessarily absolve a person of the serious consequences of an action: “though the boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.”

Quite plainly, what Derfner and Hauser were doing, for whatever reasons, was defending Free Gaza’s antisemitism – and they could have easily realized that this was what they were doing had they bothered to just quickly scroll through the tweets of Free Gaza from the last few weeks.

Just going back to September 1, we find the following: Israel is “committing slow motion genocide” in Gaza; Gaza is a “‘forgotten’ Extermination Camp” much worse than Auschwitz, the Warsaw Ghetto and Treblinka; the Mossad was behind the man who made a film denigrating Islam; alternatively, it was some conspiracy involving “An Israeli film-maker, 100 Jewish donors and their Salafi allies;” and on September 1, Free Gaza linked – not for the first time – to the writings of Gilad Atzmon, a well-known peddler of antisemitic rants.

Here are just a few screenshots of some of the tweets:

By ignoring the blatantly antisemitic material persistently propagated by Free Gaza and rushing to the group’s defense, Derfner and Hauser illustrated a major principle of Israel’s far-left critics: When it comes to so-called pro-Palestinian activists, the iron rule is “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” – and of course, when it comes to Israel, the rule is “see only evil, hear only evil, and speak only evil.”

No surprise then that, in addition to his defense of Free Gaza’s antisemitism, Larry Derfner’s most recent writings include ruminations about his misgivings that “commemorating the Holocaust” and “Israeli bad taste…unfortunately tend to go together.” Right, let’s rush to dismiss blatant antisemitism propagated by “pro-Palestinian” activists and let’s instead focus on ridiculing efforts to cope with the difficulties of dealing with the trauma of a genocide that, still within living memory, wiped out one third of the world’s Jewish population.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.


Please note that the examples of Free Gaza’s propagation of antisemitic material  provided here are in addition to the ones already documented by Avi Mayer.


Since I wrote this post, Larry Derfner has responded by doing what presumably passes for real reporting at +972: he conducted a telephone interview with Greta Berlin, and proceeded to publish her lies:

“Regarding an FGM tweet about the infamous film “The Innocence of Muslims” that mentions ‘An Israeli film maker, 100 Jewish donors,’ she said those details were taken from the early reports in the New York Times and other mainstream news agencies, but that since then, of course, the story had changed. ‘The New York Times was fooled, too,’ she said.”

As my screenshot of the tweet documents, the source linked to in the tweet is not quite the New York Times, but a website called Redress; here’s the link provided in the tweet: “An Israeli film-maker, 100 Jewish donors and their Salafi allies.”  On this same site, you can also enjoy a follow-up post on “Israel’s Salafi foot soldiers in the wake of anti-Islam film,” where Nureddin Sabir, the site’s “editor”, argues:

“Israel must bear responsibility for creating the climate that gave rise to the anti-Islam film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. But it is Israel’s Salafi and Wahhabi foot soldiers behind the violent protests across the Arab and Muslim worlds who may eventually bring Arabs and Muslims down to their knees.”

Can you get any more nutty?

The other tweet on the Mossad being behind “Sam Bacile” links to a website called Cannonfire and a post entitled “Why I believe that Mossad was behind ‘Sam Bacile.’”

Most likely, none of this will impress Derfner, who writes:

“Even if I find some of her terminology about Gaza (‘slow-motion genocide’ and ‘extermination camps’) to be awfully exaggerated and dangerous, I see no evidence that she’s the monster she’s been made out to be. She’s a self-described anti-Zionist, but I see nothing she’s done or said that I, at least, would consider beyond the pale.”

And, concluding by sharing his impression of Berlin, Derfner writes:

“She doesn’t strike me as a person who scares easily, or who would disown something she believes in to stay in anyone’s good graces. If she genuinely believed in crackpot, anti-Semitic ideas, I think she’d say so and stick by it.”

Once I can think of a way to describe this conclusion politely, I’ll post an update.


Just a short while ago, Avi Mayer published installment no.2 about the ongoing Free Gaza & Greta Berlin saga. He deals extensively with Larry Derfner’s embarrassing attempts to defend Berlin, so I won’t go here into any further detail, except mentioning one point: Derfner updated the post where he so faithfully parroted everything Berlin told him with a statement signed by some people who claim to be members of the “secret” Facebook group with whom Berlin was supposedly discussing the “evils of propaganda and racism.”

First it needs to be noted that the group is soooo secret that they are apparently unable to even provide a link to their site on Facebook; and secondly, I think they are (perhaps inadvertently) rather honest when they all but admit that the opinions they were (or would be) expressing on the subjects they were supposedly discussing would really not be publishable:

“Many of us know each other personally; our mutual trust allows discussions to involve subjects that are not appropriate for public consumption, sometimes simply because our opinions are not fully ripe; we experiment with them and bounce them off each other in an attempt to understand the issues at hand, developing a better and more coherent argument.” [my emphasis]

Right, I can see why people wouldn’t want to publish their “unripe” “experimental” opinions about Nazi propaganda…


Free Gaza Movement discusses the evils of propaganda and racism

When Avi Mayer recently documented that the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) has repeatedly propagated antisemitic material, the group reacted by offering various evasions and non-apologies.

Greta Berlin, the co-founder of the group who was responsible for several of the antisemitic links provided by Free Gaza, is now claiming in an “apology” posted on the Free Gaza website that this material “was shared to a group of people who were discussing the evils of propaganda and racism.”

I happen to have two screenshots of one of Greta Berlin’s Facebook friends that apparently document the kind of “discussion” she had in mind:

So this is one argument: “The Zionists collaborated with The Nazis. Why, otherwise, did the Jews go to their death like lamb to the slaughter?”

Among many “pro-Palestinian” items, the Facebook page of this lady also contains this picture with her comments:

This is simply to document a phenomenon that is quite common among “pro-Palestinian” groups: they attract a lot of supporters who feel quite obviously that being “pro-Palestinian” means hating Israel and Jews.

The story about the Free Gaza Movement has in the meantime been picked up by several media outlets, including Walter Russell Mead’s Via Media.


Here is some of Free Gaza’s recommended reading: From the “Occupied Palestine” blog that is supposedly devoted to “Blogging 4 Human Rights & Liberation of Palestine!” The post recommended by Free Gaza is entitled “A ‘Leaflet’ to the World about it’s own ‘forgotten’ Extermination Camp called Gaza.”

Here are a few lines, quite representative of the rest of the text:

“Gaza has become an extermination camp.

With no place to run to the warmongering zionist entity commits annihilation not with gaschambers but managed to be more lethal with more advanced killing substances.

Not like Jewish people were shaved, undressed and gassed in special designed murderous showerrooms. In Gaza, no need to undress nor to shave no remains will be left after Israel is finished with you.

One difference with the Holocaust is Palestinians in Gaza do not get looted before they get killed like in Auschwitz. But this, is merely because there is nothing left to rob but lives.”

Defending Judith Butler in the Ivory Tower

The controversy that erupted when it became known that the prominent American post-structuralist philosopher Judith Butler will be awarded Frankfurt’s prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize has already resulted in a large volume of writings. The website of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East provides a long list of critical commentaries; if you’re looking for voices defending Butler, one place to go to is Mondoweiss – a site that, for good reason, has often been criticized for publishing antisemitic material and views. Yet, Judith Butler chose Mondoweiss to publish her first response to the critics of her Adorno award, and since then, the blog has been quoted by highly respected sites, including the publisher of Butler’s recent book, Columbia University Press (CUP). This illustrates in a nutshell some of the major problems that the defenders of Butler – prominently among them her fellow-academics – are trying to ignore or downplay.

Imagine for a moment that there was a controversy about a prominent academic who just published a book with CUP, and she would choose to respond to her critics on a site that is single-mindedly focused on the failings of the Muslim world and is known to often publish material that can be legitimately described as bigoted against Muslims. Would CUP happily link to the site?

Unfortunately, it seems fair to assume that Butler chose to have her response to her critics published on Mondoweiss because she knows the blog and agrees with its view that the world would be a better place if there was no Jewish state. Indeed, according to the advertisement for her new book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, she “affirms Edward Said’s late proposals for a one-state solution within the ethos of binationalism.” Moreover, Butler also offers the “startling suggestion” that “Jewish ethics not only demand a critique of Zionism, but must transcend its exclusive Jewishness in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.”

It’s indeed a “startling suggestion,” but of course Judith Butler is entitled to her own interpretation of Jewish ethics. At the same time, her critics must be entitled to point out that when Butler claims to merely “criticize” Israeli policies, she does so within the context of her view that Israel shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.

While Butler seizes every possible opportunity to fight the popular straw-man argument that thanks to Israel’s mindless defenders, anyone who dares to criticize Israeli policies risks being denounced as an antisemite, she ignores the very real problem that her views about the illegitimacy of a Jewish state are not only shared by the Mondoweiss crowd, but also by bizarre Jewish fringe groups like Neturei Karta, and of course by Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, whom Butler once described so controversially as “social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.”

To be sure, Butler makes her case for a “world without Zionism” in very different terms than the “anti-Zionist” Jew-haters in the Middle East and elsewhere, but she also seems strikingly unwilling to wrestle with the fact that she advocates a vision cheered and shared mostly by people who justify their views with blood-thirsty Muslim texts and ideas that reflect a Nazi-like demonization of Jews.

Given Butler’s apparent lack of concern about the motivations of those who will be thrilled that a prominent Jewish intellectual and academic lends her prestige to the cause of doing away with the world’s only Jewish state, there is little justification for Todd Gitlin’s view that in the controversy about the Adorno prize, Butler is a victim of the “gotcha habit of seeking the author’s clumsiest, least defensible moments and waving them in the air like chunks of raw meat.”

Indeed, when it comes to Judith Butler’s views on Israel, the real challenge is arguably not to find the least defensible moments, but to find defensible ones.

To pick just one of the many particularly indefensible “moments,” let’s consider some of the implications of the idea that Israel’s Jews should give up their state “in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.” It may not matter in the post-structuralist Ivory Tower inhabited by Judith Butler, but in the real world, the Middle East’s ancient sectarian and ethnic hatreds continue to make the region one of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world.

If this is not enough to illustrate the fact that the Middle East is not really a good place for minorities, let alone for a newly disempowered Jewish minority that has to play the guinea pig for some bi-national experiment in radical democracy, one could also consider the poisonous effects of the endless glorification of terrorism that has long been a regular feature of Palestinian political culture.

Since Butler will receive the Adorno prize on 9/11 – the birthday of Adorno – it is perhaps most appropriate to recall in this context the PEW surveys that monitored Muslim views of Osama bin Laden for several years, beginning in 2003. The specific survey question inquired “how much confidence you have in [X – from a list of named leaders] to do the right thing regarding world affairs.”

Throughout the surveys, it was the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank that expressed the highest confidence in bin Laden, starting with an astonishing 72 percent in 2003, and ending with a hardly less remarkable 34 percent in 2011. When bin Laden was killed, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the left-wing progressive social movement Hamas in Gaza, condemned “the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” adding: “We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.”

A commentary in the German publication taz anticipated sorrowfully that the controversy about Judith Butler’s Adorno prize could ultimately mean that Butler will suffer the same fate as French philosopher Michel Foucault “after his undifferentiated jubilation about the Iranian revolution in 1979” – that is to say that Butler could no longer expect to be taken all that serious as a political thinker. As far as her views on Israel are concerned, that would certainly be a well-deserved fate.

* * *

This article first appeared in The Algemeiner.

By way of an update, I would like to note that this evening, the Jewish Museum in Berlin is hosting a discussion with Judith Butler on the problematically formulated question: “Gehört der Zionismus zum Judentum?” – literally: Is Zionism part of Judaism? Obviously, this slants the playing field in favor of Butler, because it’s easy to argue that you can be a religiously observant Jew without being a Zionist.

According to a related post on the popular German blog Die Achse des Guten, the Jewish Museum will NOT allow questions about Butler’s views on Hamas and Hezbollah. Don’t ask, don’t tell, Judith-Butler-style, I suppose.

So here’s something that should cheer up Butler’s critics: The always very angry Angry Arab recently had a short post where he noted:

“A reader sent me a quotation by Adorno on Israel after the 1967 [war]. This brilliant man sounded like Abraham Foxman when he talked about Israel.”

And no, the very angry Angry Arab of course doesn’t mean that as a compliment – after all, in his calmer moments, he considers the director of the Anti-Defamation Leaguethe clown of the 20th century.”

Needless to say, the Angry Arab has a cozy place in the Ivory Tower.

Last but by no means least, anyone who wants to read up on the Butler controversy should check out the bibliography at the blog of Richard Landes.


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.