Academics expose threat to freedom of speech on Israel and Palestine

Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Universities
Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Universities, suggested they seek to ban Israel Apartheid Week

‘People can and do have a range of views on this flashpoint in the Middle East. Yet there should surely be no two views about the importance of defending the right to free expression in our institutions.’                       Tom Hickey, University of Brighton

On February 27, a letter appeared in the Guardian signed by 243 academics condemning “outrageous interferences with free expression” and “direct attacks on academic freedom” resulting from attempts “to silence campus discussion about Israel, including its violation of the rights of Palestinians for more than 50 years.”

The letter attributed these developments to adoption by the UK government of “the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism” which is being interpreted as meaning that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is prima facie evidence of antisemitism.

New names are pouring in to be added to the list of signatories to the academics’ letter. If you would like to join them please read the statement below. The full text of the letter follows.

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History shows that anti-Semitism and pro-Zionism have never been mutually exclusive

Amy Kaplan

reproduced from Mondoweiss by permission of the author

Is it possible to be anti-Semitic and pro-Israel at the same time? Your answer depends on how you define the terms. As Toni Morrison wrote, “definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” If you define anti-Semitism solely as criticism of Israel, the answer is dangerously simple. It establishes a logic that can excuse the racism of a white nationalist and encourage him to quote Theodore Herzl. The controversial appointment of Stephen K. Bannon as Donald Trump’s chief strategist shows how difficult it is to disentangle definitions of anti-Semitism from attitudes toward Israel and makes it all the more urgent to do so

Only one major Jewish organization, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), has condemned the appointment of a man who “presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.” Along with smaller liberal Jewish groups, the ADL defines anti-Semitism as a form of prejudice, hatred and exclusion that intersects with other kinds of racism and bigotry.

Breitbart store for racism

In contrast, Bannon’s defenders maintain an exclusive definition of anti-Semitism. The Zionist Organization of America lauds Bannon as “the opposite of an anti-Semite.” “Every article [on Breitbart News, the website Bannon ran] about Israel and the Palestinian Arabs he has published are all supportive of Israel.” These included “fighting anti-Semitic rallies at CUNY,” “courageously… reporting that the Palestinian authority defames Israel”; “bravely” publicizing “Iran’s violations of the Iran deal–which pose an existential threat to Israel”; and “sympathetically” reporting on the “scourge of anti-Semitic anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS)”. The evidence that Breitbart News is not anti-Semitic, is simply that it hurls that label at those who oppose the Israeli occupation and support Palestinian rights.

Continue reading “History shows that anti-Semitism and pro-Zionism have never been mutually exclusive”

Labour’s Relationship to Zionism and the Israeli State

Download the full pamphlet

The authors of this ‘pamphlet’, are all Labour Party members, all members of the health professions. Over the last year there has been a concerted effort to bully the Party into silence on Israel/Palestine, and we have witnessed the Party leadership buckle under the pressure. This campaign aimed, first, to confuse the struggle for civil rights in Israel/Palestine with racial prejudice; and, second, to demonise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, a grass roots, human rights-based movement of non-co-operation with institutions complicit in Israel’s Occupation, undertaken in response to a call from the collective voice of Palestinian civil society. Our opportunity to express and act upon the compassion and solidarity we feel for the Palestinian people is at risk of being seriously eroded.

Our points of view and those of others like us have been made to sound controversial in the UK, although there is little here that has not been put forward in the pages of Israel’s own daily newspaper, Haaretz. We expect our efforts to be met with counter-arguments, and not further witch hunting. In this way, we hope that the membership will have the opportunity to appraise the relative merits of different points of view in the light of our shared ideals. Continue reading “Labour’s Relationship to Zionism and the Israeli State”

Portsmouth PSC comments on Home Affairs Committee report

Home Affairs Select Committee Report Antisemitism in the UK
Tenth Report of Session 2016-17

Commentary by Portsmouth & South Downs PSC

The first section of these comments concerns the IHRA definition of antisemitism that the report recommends for general adoption and endorsement by the Government, a recommendation  that the Government has since accepted.    FSOI must challenge this definition which classifies some entirely legitimate and basic criticism of Israel and Zionism as antisemitic.   This is followed by comments on other sections of the report.

Sections 16, 17 and 24 on the definition of antisemitism.

The report makes great play of the fact that unlike the Chakrabarti Report, it gives a definition of antisemitism and recommends its general adoption.  But its definition adds next to nothing, other than confusion, to understanding what is meant by antisemitism.  It adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s definition of May 2016:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.  Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. Continue reading “Portsmouth PSC comments on Home Affairs Committee report”

FSOI statement – London Assembly antisemitism vote a “charter for censors”

Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation, condemns the decision of the London Assembly on Feb 8 to adopt a position on antisemitism that is a charter for censors. It threatens to make effective campaigning for justice for Palestinians impossible.

Antisemitism is an age-old visceral hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. It must be vigorously fought against, along with all forms of bigotry. To confuse it with opposition to a state which calls itself Jewish, or to the founding ideology of that state, Zionism, is to obscure the real meaning of the term antisemitism and make combatting it more difficult. This is exactly what the motion passed by the Assembly does.

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The new definition of antisemitism: Excusing Israel not protecting Jews

What antisemitism is, and what it is not

Printable version

The UK Government has adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism of antisemitism: a seriously deficient definition

Since early in 2016, debate about rights for Palestinians has been under severe threat because criticism of Israel and of its founding ideology, Zionism, has been misrepresented as antisemitic.

Antisemitism is hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews.  It must be vigorously combatted, along with all forms of bigotry. Confusing it with opposition to the state of Israel or Zionism is to obscure the real meaning of the term antisemitism and make fighting against it more difficult.

Continue reading “The new definition of antisemitism: Excusing Israel not protecting Jews”

Why can’t I make these necessary arguments?

Mike Cushman

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is about far more than the ever-present necessity to remember the Holocaust: it is about limiting debate about the nature and activity of the Israeli state.

The definition, and its earlier appearance as the EUMC draft working definition, has been used to try to prevent the description of Israel as an Apartheid state. Anyone is entitled to attack this description as mistaken or as malicious but to assert that it must not be used is a punitive restriction on free speech. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of Apartheid in Afrikaans is separateness. What critics of Israel call the apartheid wall, the Israelis call the separation barrier; hardly an example of lost in translation.

The Apartheid Wall next to the Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem
The Apartheid Wall next to the Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem

All across the United Kingdom at the end of February there will be events to mark 2017 Israel Apartheid Week. IAW has long been a high spot of the calendar of Palestine support – each year it is denounced as antisemitic on account of its name not because of some supposed outrage. The current

round of false antisemitism allegations started from the attack on the Oxford University Labour Club for its endorsement of the 2016 IAW –

Israel Apartheid Week 2016 poster
Israel Apartheid Week 2016 poster

this was deemed by the Zionist claque to be indisputable evidence of antisemitism with any supporting facts. May’s adoption of the IHRA definition will empower the self-appointed Witchfinders General to harass defenders of human rights and international law.

Every day the Israelis are attempting to separate out the Palestinians from East Jerusalem through home demolitions and through revocation of residents’ rights to live in the city – who cannot see the replication of the practices of Apartheid South Africa in these practices? Only Zionist true believers and their acolytes in western governments, ready to apologise for and excuse almost every Israeli brutality. Every crocodile in every zoo in Europe and North America has been ruthlessly stripped of their tears to wet the handkerchiefs of May and Merkel and Hollande when they limply distance themselves from a particularly inexcusable excess.  Trump, however, has not bothered any passing reptile: refusing to shed any tear, human or otherwise, for the plight of a single Palestinian. These politicians will turn round in ten years’ time to tell us they never supported Israeli apartheid and excoriated Netanyahu and his gang just as their predecessors told us with straight faces that they always supported Mandela.

Central to apartheid in Israel as in South Africa is differential rights to own and occupy property and land. Expulsion of Black Africans from Sophiatown is remembered for its brutality. The gradual expulsions from Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah is slower but no less traumatic. South Africa had its Group Areas Act; Israel has its Absentee Property Law with its Orwellian creation of present absentees. These are the inescapable equivalences that the IHRA definition seeks to proscribe.

A key signifier of antisemitism according to the IHRA is questioning the right of Israel to exist by claiming it is a racist endeavour. It is not some capricious act to raise these questions; they are demanded by any simple observation of the facts. The Absentee Property Law is central to land holding in Israel and it is an explicitly racist piece of legislation. The desire to expel Arabs (sic) has been a recurrent theme from Ben Gurion’s regime onwards. Even before the state was founded, the slogan “Jewish Labour only” was common in Mandate Palestine.

The fact that Israel, uniquely, is a state without a singular nationality is racist. The Law of Return allowing Jews with no connection to Israel beyond a self-claimed mythical biblical one are allowed to immigrate, while Palestinians remain to sojourn in refugee camps, can only be regarded as racist. Israel proudly claims to be a Zionist entity. Central to Zionism is the claim to a special status for Jews and a lesser status for others – this is as explicitly racist as anything in the Nurnberg laws (naturally, making this comparison is another sign of antisemitism).

The question of self-determination, although the substance of that right is never explained, is commonly translated into ‘questioning the right of Israel to exist’. This is a strange formulation. States do not have rights, people do. States are contingent and rise and fall. Scots contest the right of the United Kingdom to exist. The right of the USA to exist was challenged in a bloody civil war. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia lost their rights to exist, one peacefully the other far less so. The right of Jews living in Israel not to be slaughtered is absolute; their right to live as they please regardless of their impact on Palestinians is not. If self-determination means they can dictate the conditions of life of others who are denied any engagement in a democratic process, then that is selfish not self.

In writing this I have consciously transgressed the strictures of the IHRA. I do that unapologetically; not because I am antisemitic or ‘self-hating’ but because my Jewish heritage instructs me to stand against injustice and oppression. Zionism is more harmful for Jews than anything since the holocaust because it frames Judaism as unjust. While I am not religious I require religions, maybe vainly, to be enablers of the transmission of virtue, generosity and justice: I demand no less of humanism and atheism. Israel is a living proof of the ludicrous optimism of my expectations.

 

Will the Government’s proposed definition of antisemitism help or hinder?

David Plank

In response to a recommendation of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in its Report, Antisemitism in the United Kingdom, the Government has agreed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism “for the criminal justice agencies and other public bodies to use…”  [CM 9386]

David Plank
David Plank

I am concerned at the lack of clarity in the Prime Minister’s announcement of the Government’s decision and at the party political comment which accompanied it. I am also concerned that the Home Affairs Committee’s recommendation on which that decision relies is not well founded in evidence. My Critique of the Report noted that –
“… the Committee … omits to address the cause of much current and past dispute which concerns the definition of acts which are or are not antisemitic according to different sincerely held views which may or may not be mistaken or antisemitic. In this signal regard the Committee has failed to get to the root of the matter …” [Paragraph 8.13]

The single sentence that forms the IHRA’s working definition may be useful to some as just that – a working definition. The problem arises from the associated examples which the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has adopted to guide its work, some of which are the subject of the controversy and outright disagreement referred to in my Critique. [Paragraph 7.20]

For instance, the IHRA’s guidance  includes as an example of antisemitism in public life “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination …”  and gives as an example of this “…, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” But the first part of this statement is much broader than the instance in the second part. The first part can be read to mean that the assertion by Palestinian people of their comparable right of self-determination is antisemitic because it might be seen to deny or conflict with the Jewish right. And it will be read in this way by many people. The first part also runs the serious risk of suppressing expressions of the great anger felt by many Palestinians at what they see as the annexation of their country and its continuing “colonisation” through the establishment by Israel’s Government of Jewish settlements on land which, according to the United Nations, is unlawfully occupied by Israel. Surely, our basic right to free speech should allow such expressions of indignation without fear of prosecution for an alleged crime of antisemitism – and it should allow us to hear and be influenced by those expressions without fear of reproach or allegation. If the IHRA’s guidance is adopted as well as the single sentence definition, the right to free speech without fear of prosecution is put at risk.

Another example given in the IHRA’s guidance is “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” Is “Jewish citizens” intended to apply to an individual Jewish citizen or to Jewish citizens as a whole? Clearly, such an accusation against Jewish citizens as a whole is likely to be antisemitic as it appears to be based in a prejudiced stereotype of Jewish people, i.e. “a certain perception of Jews” as the IHRA’s working definition puts it. However, is it not possible that an individual Jewish citizen might be criticized in this way not because he or she is Jewish but because that is what he or she does? In this circumstance, whether or not the criticism was fair or accurate, it would not be racist. Do we want to encourage allegations of antisemitism for such a criticism of an individual? I think not. But this is the probable effect of adopting this example as part of the proposed definition. This could of course be down to poor drafting. If so, it is not the only example as there are a number in the IHRA’s guidance – which in itself makes it unsuitable for wider adoption in its current form, particularly adoption in the law or associated statutory guidance.

And then there is the preamble to the examples given in the IHRA’s guidance which states “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” But that is how many British and Israeli Jews do see Israel, which is likely to mean that the subsequent sentence in the guidance would in day to day practice be ignored: “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”  This qualification would probably be overlooked or forgotten by some with resultant allegations of antisemitism and reports to the police of an alleged crime. This does not seem likely to assist good community relations.

Another key aspect of the guidance is likely to be overlooked in practice. The “contemporary examples of antisemitism” listed by the IHRA are all prefaced by a key clause that they “… could, taking into account the overall context, include …” The crucial qualification of “taking into account the overall context” is almost certain to sink without trace in the practical application of the proposed definition to alleged criminal offences by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service – and in relation to their responsibilities by local authorities, universities and other public bodies – which are those likely to be obliged to apply the definition according to a BBC report. [Breaking news, 12.12.16] Given the huge difficulty the police and others have had with the guidance that they should “believe” persons alleging child sexual abuse, it seems probable that equal if not greater difficulty would occur with this more complex issue – with the consequent serious risk of oppression by the authorities and persecution by the media of relatively defenceless individuals being seen as guilty until their innocence is proved or proceedings are dropped.

One also has to ask why antisemitism? What is it that singles out antisemitism from other forms of racism which warrants this very specific and high profile attention as to its definition and pursuit over and above what the law already provides? The evidence of recorded antisemitic incidents does not appear wholly to support such special attention. The Home Affairs Committee at the top of its report cites as its first key fact an 11 per cent increase in such incidents over the first six months of 2016 as reported by the Community Security Trust (557 incidents compared with 500 in the first six months of 2015). However, the Committee omits to mention from the same source that 77 per cent of this increase is via social media which, though very real and vile, is a different phenomenon; primarily for the reason of anonymity as addressed in my Critique allowing unaccountable behind the hand and behind the curtain gossip which was not widely broadcast before to take visible public form now. Nor does the Committee reflect in its key fact that, according to the same source, there was a 13 per cent fall in violent antisemitic incidents over the same period. The omission of this very welcome development from the key fact further discredits the Home Affairs Committee’s report and weakens it as a basis for special government action.

Clearly, antisemitism is a significant problem requiring determined action by the authorities within the law. Clearly, the level of recorded antisemitic incidents has increased since the 2014 ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces and is remaining at a higher level unlike previous spikes. However, it remains lower than the spike in the first half of 2009 when 629 incidents were recorded and social media was not as prevalent as it is now. Therefore, it is not clear why antisemitism amongst the various forms of racism is thought to require the special and singular attention it appears to be being given now. Why is not similar attention being given by the Committee and the Government to the equally appalling scar of Islamophobia in our society? Arguably, the case for combating Islamophobia is as great if not greater than that for antisemitism. So, why is the government not devoting similar attention to both? Without a clear answer to these questions I am uneasy about the basis upon which the government is proceeding. [Community Security Trust, Antisemitic incidents, January – June 2016]

This unease becomes concern when account is taken of the highly politicized context of the Prime Minister’s announcement of 12 December. On the same day the BBC in its breaking news issued a report headed “Anti-Semitism: Theresa May attacks “twisted” Labour views”. In this the Prime Minister is quoted as having said at a lunch of the Conservative Friends of Israel in London, “It is disgusting that these twisted views are being found in British politics. Of course, I am talking mainly about the Labour Party and their hard-left allies.”  This was clearly timed to coincide with the Prime Minister’s announcement from 10 Downing Street. Given the highly dubious nature of the allegations against the Labour Party in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular as evidenced in my Critique, this statement by the Conservative Prime Minister, which has not been denied by her office, looks like further evidence of highly regrettable party politicization of this most important, controversial and sensitive issue. The Prime Minister’s statement also reminds me of the Home Affairs Committee’s report’s denigratory tone where it refers to “hard-left” groups. The pejorative connotations of this are spelled out in my Critique. [Paragraphs 3.1 to 3.6]

The accuracy of the Prime Minister’s remarks is brought into question by the same account of antisemitic incidents issued by the Community Security Trust. This report shows that for the first six months of 2016, 24 per cent of all the 557 recorded incidents were “politically motivated” (135). Of these, 98 were classified as “Far Right”, 32 as “Anti-Zionist” and 5 as “Islamist”.

That the Labour Party is reported to have welcomed the introduction of a new definition does not improve this situation or make it more acceptable. In my view the Party has been scarred by its unjustified vilification and, understandably, may not want to be seen as obstructive at this time. After all, if the Party expressed well founded reservations, it would undoubtedly be portrayed as yet more evidence against it. Also, the Party may not take exception to the IHRA’s one sentence working definition which is consistent with the commonplace explanation of antisemitism Jeremy Corbyn gave in his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. [Paragraph 11 of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report] But as I have said, it is the guidance which is the real problem not the one sentence. It is possible that the Labour Party will refine its position in due course.

It is regrettable that the Home Affairs Committee and now the Government appear to have overlooked the constructive work done in this very area for the Parliamentary Sub-Committee Against Antisemitism by Professor David Feldman in his January 2015 Sub-Report.  This report by the subsequent adviser to the Shami Chakrabarti Enquiry seems to provide a more fertile base for progress in this vexed and contentious area.
For all these reasons I am very concerned at this ill-judged and ill-omened initiative. Proper conduct in government is crucial to a civilized and civilizing society. Such conduct is not evident to me in this policy announcement. In my view this initiative may set back the honourable cause of combating antisemitism not advance it. It is certainly not likely to advance the equally honourable cause of free speech; indeed it is likely to have a chilling effect upon it.

3 February 2017
David’s interview on his Critique by Rosemary Bechler of Open Democracy
David’s further conclusion on the Home Affairs Committee’s Report following the recent Al Jazeera Investigates programmes, “Not worth the paper it is written on”,

Why do they hate us? An apology for my enemies

Michael Lesher

Reproduced by permission of the author from The Times of Israel Blog

You’ve seen them, haven’t you? The vicious personal attacks, the expletives, the death wishes? If you’ve read any writing like mine – writing by a Jew who acknowledges Palestinian humanity – and taken the time to look at some of the readers’ comments, you know what I mean.

Michael Lesher
Michael Lesher is an author, lawyer and Orthodox Jew who lives in Passaic, NJ. His most recent book is Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., 2014).

If you don’t – well, for simplicity’s sake, let’s consider only the attacks on me personally. (Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Norman Finkelstein and my friend Jonathan Ofir, among others, have all attracted similar vituperation.) An ostensibly religious Jew has publicly called me a “deviant,” “an enemy” and “the worst kind of Jew”; he has also compared me to Nazi collaborators, concluding that since I “lack[] the morality of a sewer rat,” it might be appropriate for a truly religious Jew to murder me.

An exceptional case? I wish it were. One of my recent columns in this space called attention to the dehumanization of Palestinians who resist Israel’s occupation. In response, an assortment of Jewish readers described me as “vile,” “a sub-category of human,” “a disgusting human being,” “an enemy to Judaism” and a “self-aggrandizing demented buffoon” with “sick, twisted opinions.” Another of my fellow Orthodox Jews – borrowing a leaf from the Nazi pamphlet Entartete Kunst – suggested that my concern with Palestinian rights could only mean a taint in my Jewish lineage.

And so it goes.

I could ignore these comments, of course. But I prefer trying to understand them. For if we don’t understand what drives Jews to such bizarre slanders – all the while believing themselves completely above reproach – it’s obvious that we won’t be able to change their minds. And if we don’t, it isn’t only Palestinian rights that must suffer: people incapable of civilized discourse about the institutions they cherish are eo ipso incapable of keeping their civilization alive. So it’s dangerous to turn one’s back completely on the invective, however stupid and shallow – the very stupidity of the attacks is the index of the threat their authors pose to their own culture. And to mine.

So why do the mudslingers hate us so much? Here are few things I think I can discern behind the ranting.

1) They’ve been deceived about themselves. For decades, many Jews – particularly Israeli Jews, and those raised to identify with Israel – have been taught that they belong to a higher breed of human being, one that by nature never harms anyone needlessly. Like the citizens of Mark Twain’s Hadleyburg, they believe in their moral superiority because it’s been preached at them, incessantly, as the essence of their identity: to doubt it is to doubt themselves.

Thus the celebrated Jewish-American writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who embraced Israeli citizenship in time to assist in the torture of Palestinian prisoners and the brutal military repression that characterized the IDF’s response to the overwhelmingly nonviolent first intifada, could still kvell in print over Israel’s martial prowess and piously insist that Israeli Jews are morally superior to the Palestinians they kill.

It’s not that Goldberg is stupid or deliberately dishonest. He’s just so wedded to the fantasy of Jewish purity that he cannot acknowledge the testimony of his own eyes without imperiling his sense of identity. Like Heinrich Himmler, who boasted that SS officers, having seen “a hundred corpses lying together,” “remained decent fellows” because of the Germans’ “harmless soul” and “idealism” – qualities never found among the “alien peoples” they were forced to exterminate – Goldberg must insist, against all evidence, that Palestinians are naturally violent while “we [Israelis] don’t try to kill children.”

2) They’ve been trained in fear. Just as they’ve been taught to assume their own superiority, our critics have been taught to hate and fear those they repress. And why not? If you want to hold other people down with a clear conscience, you need to persuade yourself – or allow yourself to be persuaded – that your victims are monstrous, evil by definition. Over two years ago, I quoted in one of my columns a widely-publicized sermon in which an Orthodox rabbi advised his flock to shun all non-kosher food because “the Arabs seek nothing else but Jewish blood” – implying that Palestinians were not just murderers but vampires, longing to suck the blood from Jewish veins but thwarted when that blood is pure. (Because they aren’t, I guess.) I have yet to hear from another Orthodox Jew who found this passage grotesque; on the contrary, several denounced me for questioning it.

Conversely, such people have been taught to identify virtue exclusively with those they know. Instead of seeing loyalty, justice, compassion as qualities they share with humankind generally, their exposure to these traits in their own communities only reinforces their sense of uniqueness: if we are like that, then they cannot be. This is what Sartre had in mind when he wrote that “if the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would have to invent him.” It’s also why, as Laith Saud has remarked, those Americans (and Jews) today who want to see in themselves “an unadulterated Enlightenment” must picture the Other – Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims generally – as “purely barbaric.” To those trapped in this mindset, the good we know in ourselves must be ours alone if it is to be real.

3) They’re demoralized. Behind the bravado and the hate speech, today’s Israel-Firsters are a confused, beleaguered, unhappy lot. The state they once regarded as Olympian has revealed feet of clay. The airy utopianism of Israel’s early leaders has given way to a Jim Crow society where crowds of young Jews chant racist slogans while the Justice Minister, no less, openly condones murder. Israel supporters who rightly criticize Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies, or condemn the Syrian army’s violence against civilians, are inwardly uneasy when they consider that Israel has been doing the same things for decades. They want to believe in their superiority, but facts keep getting in the way.

James Baldwin pointedly observed in the 1960s that “the absolutely prohibitive price the South has paid to keep the nigger in his place” had only “succeeded in having what is almost certainly the most bewildered, demoralized white population in the Western world.” The same is true of Israelis today, and just as true, I’m afraid, of the Jews who condemn me for repeating some of the facts about Israel’s history and its continuing occupation of Palestinian land. My sins, however these people might describe them, are venial next to the violence they’ve done to their own consciences. Jettison moral principles unless they further Jewish ethnic supremacy; throw away facts; turn your back on the human rights so painstakingly incorporated into international jurisprudence after the horrors of World War II; say no to justice and yes to apartheid; shuck off every acquaintance, every former friend who points out uncomfortable truths to you; trade your religion (if you’re religious) for a slice of stolen real estate – and what have you got to live for, except some dirt that was never yours to begin with? These Zionists are not to be envied; behind their fury, I think I can hear their pain.

So what is to be done with them? Sad to say, the obvious antidote – information to counter ignorance – is not really effective. If these people wanted the facts they would have absorbed them long ago: today, the real difficulty is keeping one’s head deep enough in the sand to avoid knowing the facts. So their ignorance is only the shell of a deeper malady.

I propose a different approach. Instead of educating our critics with facts, I suggest we first demonstrate to them the force of our own moral convictions. We do this not by answering insults with insults, but by addressing them as human beings – just as we address Palestinians. Without flagging for a moment in our pursuit of justice, we can calmly, sadly, insistently challenge our enemies to justify themselves. Do they support the occupation? Jewish settlements that violate the Geneva Convention? Why? Can they justify apartheid? Do they believe they can square Jewish ethics with robbery and violence? If so, how?

Such questions make more sense to me than apologetics. After all, it is our critics, not we, who ought to be apologizing; they, not we, who owe an explanation and a self-defense. And they need to see that we know that, and that we won’t stop affirming it, whatever happens. This may not stop the personal attacks. But I think it can shift the focus of the discourse.

By the way, I do not expect my enemies to be mollified by my attempt to understand their motives. They do not want to be understood; at bottom, they are terrified of understanding themselves.

I make the effort because justice for Palestine cannot be sought in a vacuum. Edward Said was fond of quoting a beautiful line from the poet Aimee Cesaire: “There is room for all at the rendezvous of victory.” The great things we strive for are meant for everyone. And the words we share about those goals must take everyone into consideration, too – even those who hate us.