Israel Lobby and the Anti-Semitism Hoax

Reprinted from Tikun Olam by permission

First, let me begin by saying that anti-Semitism in itself is certainly not a hoax.  There are centuries of evidence supporting the existence of virulent Jew-hatred.  Anyone with a Twitter account knows that such anti-Semitism exists.  I’ve recently highlighted it at Mint Press News, a publication to which I contributed for over a year.  So anti-Semitism, though largely an enterprise of the far-right, exists on the left as well. Fighting anti-Semitism is a laudable goal.

But here’s where I part company with the institutional Jewish community. If you were to poll Jews about their priorities in life and issues that most concern them, anti-Semitism would be very far down the list.

Of course, members of all religions react with great concern to threats to their co-religionists.  That is understandable.  But Jews aren’t the only religion under threat: true, Jews have been attacked by Islamists in Europe and places like Turkey.  But Coptic Christians were attacked by ISIS in Egypt this week and Rohingya Muslims have been ethnically cleansed by Burmese Buddhists for several years.  Jews in today’s world don’t have a monopoly on victimhood.  But the organized Jewish community acts as if it does.  As if they own the field of religious hatred and are the only victims, or at least the only ones who really matter, because of our past suffering in the Holocaust.
Israel and Palestine: Alternative Perspectives on Statehood
Exaggerating the significance of anti-Semitism also tends to distort Jewish life and identity.  If you define yourself as a Jew as someone fighting against anti-Semitism, rather than fighting for a rich, positive, substantive Jewish identity–you don’t have much substance on which to base your Jewishness. That’s a significant part of my quarrel with groups like the ADL and AJC, whose existence and financial wherewithal is predicated on anti-Semitism.

Jews obsessed with anti-Semitism do offer what they see as a positive model of Jewish identity: Israel.  I wrote about this in the essay, The Closing of the American Jewish Mind, my contribution to the newly published Israel and Palestine: Alternative Models of Statehood.  There I noted that Israel has become a substitute for the Jewish culture, traditions, art, and even religious practice that used to be at the heart of Diaspora Jewry.  Wealthy Jews like Sheldon Adelson, Michael Steinhardt and others have bet hundreds of millions of dollars that while Judaism may wither on the vine, Israel will not.  That’s why they’ve funded Birthright as their primary response to assimilation.

But what happened to Torah, Talmud, religious ritual, Biblical prophecy, Kabbalah, Zohar, Yiddish culture, language, and song, among many others?  If you posit anti-Semitism and Israel as the sole arbiters of Jewishness, it leaves nothing of what sustained us over centuries and even millenia.  It is a poor substitute for what we’re losing.  And I can’t say that I blame any Jewish youth who rejects this tepid porridge they’re offered as a substitute for Jewishness.  This also explains why the Pew poll found that the younger generation is rejecting their parents’ generation and its single-minded near-obsession with Israel to the exclusion of almost all else.

jewish voice for peace anti semitism israel

Jewish Voice for Peace protest UC Regents proposal to define criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic

It goes without saying that if you offer Israel as the New Jewish Religion, that you view any threat to Israel as a threat to the Jewish people.  That is why the Israel Lobby has worked so diligently to insinuate criticism of Israel as a primary tenet of anti-Semitism.  That is why the current far-right Israeli government repeats the smear that BDS is not just anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic.

These are, of course, radical revisions of the traditional definition of anti-Semitism as expression of hatred toward Jews.  If you believe there is no difference between Israel and Jews, then this may make some sense.  But if you conflate the two then you fall into a morass of internal contradictions.  If you reject the notion of dual loyalty, then how do you combat the claim by anti-Semites that Diaspora Jews must be disloyal to their homelands because they retain sole loyalty to Israel?  How do you stand against acts of terror by Islamists aimed at Jews, when the terrorists believe that in attacking Jews they are also attacking Israel?  How do you embrace the claim by the Likudist far-right that Iran aims to destroy not just Israel, but the entire Jewish people?  Especially when the Iranians have never made such a sweeping claim?

Which brings me to the current efforts by legislators in the U.S. and UK to legislate a radical revision in the definition of anti-Semitism.  Recently, the U.S. Senate passed almost unanimously the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which employs the following definition and examples:

  •  Calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
  • Demonizing Israel by blaming it for all interreligious or political tensions
  • Judge Israel by a double standard that one would not apply to any other democratic nation

Few will have any argument with the first two definitions, but the second two are so vague and broad as to be meaningless.  Under this problematic rubric, reporting that Israeli Jews kill Muslims because of their religion is anti-Semitic.  Criticizing Israel for fomenting political discord in the Middle East also appears anti-Semitic.  And criticizing Israel before criticizing every other democracy which engages in bad behavior is also anti-Semitic.  In fact, such an approach makes most Jews themselves anti-Semites because most American Jews are critical, some highly critical of Israel and its policies.

Such definitions have one major goal: to silence, rather clumsily, political speech regarding Israel.  They are intended to “box in” the BDS movement and other forms of “delegitimization” by defining legitimate political discourse as off-limits.  Such efforts must be seen for what they are: bald-faced attempts to stifle debate and suppress dissent.  Democracies are antithetical to such notions.  They are strong precisely because they permit, even encourage the free flow of ideas.  That is how the best ideas develop and how we keep such societies strong and vital.  Suppressing speech, as the Israel Lobby seeks, is anti-American and anti-democratic.

The British parliament stands ready to pass an equally noxious anti-Semitism bill which the media have largely misreported as a milquetoast affirmation of the basic decency of Jews in the face of mindless hate.  This Christian Science Monitor report sounds innocent enough:

…The British government hopes the new definition will offer a more concrete and clearer notion of anti-Semitism, to be adopted in as many circles as possible. Proponents believe that the clarified definition will prevent vagueness that may lead to anti-Semitic crimes going unreported or unacknowledged. The definition is part of an international effort to end hate crimes against Jewish people as well as combat Holocaust denial in all its forms.

Until you read the fine print on the website of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance which the Parliament relied on in crafting its own definition:

  • 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.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence
    of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other
    democratic nation.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

These examples themselves are deeply problematic.  The State of Israel is racist.  It’s policies are racist.  The structure of its society is racist.  By noting and criticizing such racism prevalent in Israeli society I by no means “deny Jewish people their right to self-determination.”  In fact, I strengthen Israel in doing so.

The “double standard” theory is bogus as well.  Holding Israel to the standards of international law is not “applying a double standard.”  In fact, the three main demands of BDS (ending Occupation, return of Palestinian exiles, and offering fully equality to Israeli Palestinians) derive from the heart of democratic traditions.

As for the “Nazi analogy,” I’d be a lot more comfortable with this one if the Israel Lobby wasn’t so free and easy to call Israel’s critics and opponents Nazis and the like.  Not to mention that there are clear elements of Israeli policy that echo those of the Nazis, just as there are elements of Trumpism which do so as well.  Why should the former be labelled anti-Semitic?  A clear, carefully articulated analogy based on historical facts cannot be.

Finally, you can’t call “holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel” anti-Semitic if Israel’s leaders themselves refuse to make such a distinction.  You can’t have your cake and eat it.

These efforts to redefine anti-Semitism for the convenience of the Lobby and as a buttress against criticism of the noxious polices of the State of Israel are worse than a waste of time.  They are a radical departure from established consensus both among moral philosophers, historians and Jews themselves about the definition of the noxious concept of Jew-hatred. We are about to see such a radical departure from consensus here in the United States as Donald Trump takes office. It will lead to great ugliness and distortion of the great traditions of American democracy. Let’s not do the same to the concept of anti-Semitism.

International “definition” of antisemitism threatens to limit criticism of Israel

Free Speech on Israel                                                                                    

Press release         For immediate release

International “definition” of antisemitism threatens to limit criticism of Israel

Arabs to the gas chamber
Will using an image like this, or commenting on its resonance to the Nazi regime, be outlawed?
  • This ‘international definition’ has no international status
  • The ‘definition’ deliberately emphasises criticism of Israel and Zionism as likely to be antisemitic
  • The UK government’s proposed adoption of it threatens to obstruct or even criminalise free speech

The UK Government has announced that it will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Were the definition to stop at that point its adoption by the Government could be applauded. But the major part of the definition is given over to examples of actions that should be investigated as purported to show antisemitic motivation. Of the eleven examples given, seven relate not to Jews as Jews, but to the state of Israel and its actions.

This emphasis reveals the motivation of those who have been promoting this definition for more than 10 years. It will be all too easy for governments, or others via litigation, ‘lawfare’, to employ it to limit criticism both of: Israel’s repeated breaches of International Law and abuses of the Human Rights of Palestinians; and critiques of Zionism as an ideology used to justify and excuse Israel’s actions.

There are already many examples of attempts to illegitimately stretch the use of the definition to censor legitimate political and moral debate. A particular target has been the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – a mass non-violent civil society campaign to hold Israel to account. Already Israel’s UK supporters have rushed to pre-emptively interpret the Government’s announcement as shielding Israel and its foundational political philosophy of Zionism, rather than protecting Jews.

There is a simple option for the Government that will allay fears that this definition will be used to suppress free speech. This is to adopt just the 40-word definition cited above, but not the contentious, partisan, politically slanted examples that accompany it.

Free Speech on Israel also urges the Government to adopt an equivalent definition of Islamophobia and promote it vigorously since attacks on Muslims, both verbal and physical, are a far greater and more frequent threat to the safety and security of British citizens and residents than is antisemitism.

END

NOTES:

  1. Free Speech on Israel is a network of labour, green and trade union activists in the UK, mainly Jewish, who came together in April 2016 to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for justice for Palestinians as antisemitic. Their attacks form part of two highly orchestrated campaigns: one, to undermine the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, the first potential British Prime Minister to have a consistent record of supporting Palestinian rights; the other, to suppress the pro-Palestinian voices of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others of many faiths and none, campaigning for freedom, justice and equality for all.
  1. The IHRA definition of antisemitism is at https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/sites/default/files/press_release_document_antisemitism.pdf . It is virtually identical with the 2005 ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’ which according to an expert report to a Parliamentary inquiry “rapidly became a topic of controversy rather than consensus….. [and has] largely has fallen out of favour”. Kenneth Stern, the lead author of the EUMC definition has roundly condemned its use to limit debate in the United States.
  1. Oxford University philosopher Brian Klug has proposed a more straightforward and easier to apply definition of antisemitism as: ‘a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’ Use of Dr Klug’s definition was recommended by Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism in his report commissioned to assist the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism.
  1. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign was launched by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 and has attracted worldwide support. It is the object of concerted attack by the Israeli Government and its supporters in other countries.
  1. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is not a formal international organisation. It is a loose alliance whose founding purpose is to ensure, through education, that new generations are informed about that tragedy.

 

Zionism’s Record During the Holocaust

Please read the article, ‘Paul Bogdanor and the Zionist three card trick,’ in full on Tony Greenstein’s blog.

When Bogdanor’s article An Antisemitic Hoax: Lenni Brenner on Zionist ‘Collaboration’ With the Nazis appeared I wrote a response Why Ken Livingstone Got It Right Over Nazi Support for Zionism which showed why Bogdanor’s article was based on a series of lies and distortions.  Bogdanor was stung into writing a rejoinder, Tony Greenstein’s House of Cards, which has been published on the pro-war and Islamaphobic Harry’s Place, the Der Sturmer of the Internet, which specialises in demonising people on the Left like Livingstone and Galloway.

Judische Rundschau the Zionist paper carried the slogan 'Wear the Yellow Start with Pride'
Judische Rundschau the Zionist paper carried the slogan ‘Wear the Yellow Start with Pride’

Bogdanor’s writing is reminiscent of the vitriol employed against Hannah Arendt, herself a Jewish refugee from Nazism and Ben Hecht.  Hecht was a Revisionist Zionist who was so appalled by Zionist collaboration with the Nazis in Hungary and the indifference of American Zionists to the Rescue of Jews, that he wrote a devastating book ‘Perfidyabout Israel’s Kasztner’s trial.

Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem – the Banality of Evil was based on a series of 5 articles in the New Yorker.  The book touched on subjects such as the relationship between the Zionist movement and the Nazis in Hungary, the record of Kasztner, the leader of Hungarian Zionism and the Jewish leadership under Nazi occupation, which the Eichmann trial had studiously avoided. 

… the campaign, conducted with all the well-known means of image-making and opinion-manipulation, got much more attention than the controversy…. (it was) as though the pieces written against the book (and more frequently against its author) came “out of a mimeographing machine” (Mary McCarthy)… the clamor centered on the “image” of a book which was never written, and touched upon subjects that often had not only not been mentioned by me but had never occurred to me before.”

Shooting the messenger has always been the Zionist modus operandi. Apparently Arendt had claimed that ‘the Jews had murdered themselves.’ Why had she told ‘such a monstrously implausible lie?  Out of “self-hatred” of course.’

Marek Edelman, the commander of the Jewish Fighting Organisation in Warsaw, ZOB, was not invited to testify at the Eichmann trial because he was not a Zionist.  He had been a member of the anti-Zionist Bund, which had led the resistance.  Likewise Rudolf Vrba, the Jewish escapee from Auschwitz, whose Auschwitz Protocols had helped save 200,000 Hungarian Jews, was also not invited to testify because he too was not a Zionist.  As Ruth Linn, a Professor at Haifa University, explained ‘More than 35 years later… a prominent Israeli Holocaust historian explained to me that    “Vrba was probably not invited since the State of Israel had no money to sponsor the flight.’ even though witnesses from further afield had their fares paid. Even Andrew Biss, the friend of Rudolf Kasztner, the former head of Va’ada, the Zionist Rescue & Relief Committee in Budapest, was not invited to testify, because he intended to defend Kasztner.  Those stage managing the Eichmann trial were determined to keep the Kasztner saga out of the courtroom. Continue reading “Zionism’s Record During the Holocaust”