Combating Anti-Zionist Anti-Semitism

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On July 31, I drove down to Ithaca, N.Y. to give a talk titled “Hate Speech and the New Antisemitism: Why Anti-Zionist Extremism is on the Rise and What We Can Do to Stop It.” The lecture was sponsored by the Ithaca Area United Jewish Community and publicized by the Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East, a local grassroots anti-racism organization.

Here are my talk’s main themes.


Despite some major recent setbacks, anti-Israel activists continue to aggressively promote boycott, divestment and sanctions. An army of activists committed to delegitimizing Israel have been working overtime to embed themselves within America’s college campuses and mainline churches.

BDS has managed to insinuate itself into a cluster of progressive causes – from environmentalism to feminism to gay rights and Black Lives Matter. BDS-sponsored programming is also beginning to make some headway in the curricula of U.S. high schools and even American Jewish day schools.

My lecture built on several videos that I have recently featured, which focused on how to facilitate a robust and constructive conversation relating to Israel without resorting to anti-Semitism and the sorts of vicious tropes that have sustained Jew-hatred across the millennia. Specifically, they addressed how legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line into hate speech when it portrays Israel’s leaders or people in ways similar to classic Jewish stereotypes.

My latest lecture complemented these earlier presentations, as it also discussed the “new anti-Semitism” and the BDS assault on Jewish identity. But it also took this discussion one step further by highlighting how such a demonizing anti-Zionism has taken root in the progressive Left – an intellectual space which should be inherently unwelcoming to discrimination and racism in all its forms.

Overview of Rising Anti-Semitism on America’s College Campuses

There is a strong correlation between virulent anti-Zionist expression and conduct that harms Jewish students. At schools where BDS is being actively promoted by one or more faculty and by anti-Zionist student groups, Jewish students are also being physically and verbally assaulted, vilified on social media, intimidated into silence and discriminated against.

A new report released last week by the AMCHA Initiative shows an alarming spike in campus anti-Semitism during the first half of 2016, when comparing the data to the same time period in 2015. The study also documents how Jewish students engaging in activities that have nothing to do with Israel now report fearing for their safety and wellbeing.

Defining Anti-Semitism as it Relates to Israel

Contemporary anti-Semitism is defined as the denial to Jews as a distinctive people the right to self-government in the land of their origins. Anti-Zionists are engaged in a type of racist endeavor – but they’re also attempting to roll back an internationally-recognized right. The anniversary of the League of Nation’s adoption of the British Mandate for Palestine and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ plan to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration recently occurred.

Abbas and the BDS movement are engaged in a similar effort to retroactively revoke the Jewish People’s right to statehood – the very essence of discrimination. Simply put: There’s no conceivable sense in which attempts to strip Jews – and only Jews – of fundamental rights can be seen as anything other than anti-Semitic.

BDS as an Assault on Jewish Identity

Anti-Zionist activists don’t hide their ultimate goals and true intentions. BDS leaders openly call for the abolition of the Jewish homeland – not Palestine alongside Israel, but Palestine instead of Israel.

BDS Puts Jews in Harm’s Way

Political Zionism views Jewish self-determination as the answer to millennia of Jew-hated and persecution. But anti-Zionists tend not to see Jews as insecure or vulnerable.

This callous insensitivity to the Jewish people’s fears and concerns for their own basic security is an unambiguously racist stance.

Anti-Zionism and Classic Anti-Semitic Tropes

Criticism of Israel morphs into anti-Semitism not when it’s uncouth or uncivil, but when it expresses an utter hostility to Jewish peoplehood or when it projects the negative stereotype of the Jew (e.g., sinister, bloodthirsty, clannish, disloyal, rootless, parasitic, cunning, money-grubbing and power-grabbing) onto the Jewish-majority state.

It is now fashionable to say that Jews are white, privileged, and identified with an imperialist, exploitative, colonial state. Debating whether Jews control the media and the banks has become a permissible form of discourse about power and privilege. Scholar Eve Garrard called this “rich-Jew anti-Semitism.” Jews are cast as “anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood.”

The Anti-Zionist Movement’s Bigotry Toward Palestinians

The obsessive focus on Israel’s alleged misdeeds does a grave disservice to the millions of women, gays, Christians and other Middle East minorities who are being ruthlessly slaughtered and persecuted by brutal dictators and Islamist fanatics and are desperate for the West’s support. BDS hasn’t delivered a single tangible benefit to the Palestinians, the people that it claims to care so much about.

In 2014, the SodaStream factory relocated to the Negev, following BDS pressure. BDS activists routinely harass and bully Palestinian peace activists, human rights and coexistence advocates.

As I highlighted in a recent Legal Insurrection post, the intimidation is on account of the fact that BDS isn’t just about boycotts – it’s about preventing Israelis and Palestinians from having any “normal interactions,” keeping Israelis from engaging with Arabs, and forcing Arabs to stay away from Jews.

In the remainder of this section of my lecture, I reviewed the BDS movement’s astonishingly condescending and patronizing stance toward the Palestinians. It’s actually a soft form of bigotry.

Palestinians are viewed as lacking any agency, and as being incapable of moral responsibility. So Israel’s supposed wrongdoings are picked over relentlessly (not least because of the access afforded by Israel’s open society and free press), but the corruption, repression and abuses of Palestinian governing authorities is either ignored or blamed on Israel.

Selective Outrage: The Hypocrisy of BDS

The accusations raised against Israel are rarely directed against any other states – including those that have committed far more, and far worse, human rights violations. The silence from BDS to the ongoing state-wide purge of political opponents in Turkey is a case in point.

During the last several weeks, many have questioned why Turkey isn’t also coming in for an academic boycott. Basically, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is carrying out policies in higher education – and has been for some time – that BDS supporters falsely accuse Israel of adopting.

Even in the case of Turkey, where most scholars will soon be Erdogan’s lackeys, we should still seek out avenues to interact with them. But it’s telling that BDS won’t turn its attention to Turkey. It reflects the moral impoverishment of this movement.

Cognitive Biases of the BDS Movement

Here, I highlighted the accusation of pinkwashing: the ludicrous charge that the extraordinary freedoms and rights that Israel affords to its gay citizens are merely a deceitful ploy to deflect attention from its horrendous abuse of the Palestinians. Most of the audience had never heard of the term, or the crazy way Israel is defamed these days for its remarkable support of gay rights.

Intersectionality: Accounting for the Success of BDS

BDS has interjected itself into other unrelated causes, often very worthy ones, by relying on a perspective that sees various forms of oppression (like racism, sexism, classism, ableism or homophobia) as interwoven and connected. Called intersectionality, it’s an intellectual theory about how social forces are linked and associated with each other. But it’s also a comprehensive community relations strategy. It’s all about networking and building alliances.

Intersectionality rests on the insane idea that if you see your group as oppressed, then you should see Israel as part of the dominant white, male, heterosexual power structure that’s doing the oppressing – and you must therefore join forces and stand in solidarity with the BDS movement. I offered a variety of examples, but primarily concentrated on the BDS hijack of the BLM movement.

This has been a gradual convergence. But now the alliance appears to have firmly jelled.

These days, BLM activists routinely describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle between white supremacist colonialists (Israeli Jews) and an oppressed dark-skinned racial group (the Palestinians).

That false narrative now features prominently in BLM’s long-awaited platform, which was recently released. It manages to both erase any Jewish connection to the Holy Land anddeny the existence of Sephardic, Mizrachi and Ethiopian Jews who make up nearly half of Israel’s Jewish citizenry. Many of them are the descendants of refugees from Arab lands who, forced out of their ancient communities there, found safe harbor in Israel. So BLM isfailing to live up to its foundational principles – those that Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders espoused. It’s a betrayal of their message and legacy.

And it’s only getting worse: BLM now champions terrorists like Rasmea Odeh as role models. Odeh orchestrated the death of two Hebrew University college students some 40 years ago. She was convicted in 1969, and served time in an Israeli prison before being released in a prisoner exchange. She eventually became a U.S. citizen, but failed to disclose her past history on immigration forms.

Odeh is entitled to due process and to challenge her 2014 conviction for immigration fraud. But BLM leaders aren’t merely insisting that Odeh have her day in court. They’re also championing her as their hero, and encouraging American college kids to hold rallies in support for this unrepentant murderer. Despite all the publicity surrounding Odeh, this shameful and “sickening deification” is for the most part still a dirty little secret.

Why the Global Left Adopted a Demonizing Anti-Zionism

Many self-identified progressives now openly embrace groups that publicly promote genocidal Jew-hatred and admire Nazis. Judith Butler – an American professor, leading lesbian feminist and the doyenne of the BDS movement – has declared that Hamas and Hezbollah are progressive movements of the left.

In European leftist circles, including in British academia, there are high levels of solidarity with Hezbollah and Hamas – and an explicit defense of their terrorist tactics. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, has called members of these terrorist organizations his “friends” and agents of “long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region.”

University of Maryland historian Jeffrey Herf argued that we can trace this virulent anti-Zionism back to the 1960s, when it picked up steam in certain European leftist circles on account of Soviet antisemitic propaganda and new alliances with Arab terror organizations.

BDS didn’t originate in the West Bank as a call from civil society organizations there. Itsroots were in Iran, where the first BDS manifesto was prepared and then launched at the 2001 World Conference on Racism in Durban – a coming-out party for today’s trope of Israel as a racist, apartheid state. The Durban conference descended into a blatant expression of Jew-hatred. It got so bad that the U.S. delegation walked out.

There is another source for the anti-Zionism of the left: The narrative may offer some measure of relief from Holocaust guilt.

Israel consistently scores low in terms of civilian casualty ratios in modern urban warfare. But according to some experts, images of Israeli soldiers allegedly acting brutally may serve as a psychological balm, helping to symbolically replace or erase the uncomfortable images of little Jewish children in the ghettos and concentration camps.

Eve Garrard wrote that,

It’s very hard for Europe to forgive the Jews for the Holocaust, and seeing Jews as hateful makes life easier – people needn’t worry about whether they’re treating Jews quite fairly if they believe them to be lying, bloodthirsty and oppressive.

Garrard also pointed out that anti-Semitism “feels good.” It enables people to signal their virtue by visibly presenting themselves as morally pure, as selfless warriors for social justice, and as champions of the weak against the great evils of apartheid and colonialism.

Seven Things We Can Do to Stop Anti-Zionist Extremism:

1: If You See Something, Say Something
It’s important that statements that demonize and defame Israel be stigmatized as hate speech, just like any other form of racism – and even when it’s issued by other minority groups or from supposed anti-racists on the left.


2: Recognize the Ways Anti-Semitism is Channeled
Anti-Semites believe that Jews are responsible for what ails the world, so if we could just somehow get rid of the Jews, we would all be miraculously better off. Tropes about omnipotent power abound, with Jews portrayed as the puppet masters of helpless gentiles.

In today’s propaganda, the Jewish State is often depicted as a killer octopus. It’s usually easy to spot this kind of crackpottery. But – as explained in a recent thought-provoking article by David Hazony, editor of The Tower website – there is a related anti-Semitism that’s often overlooked: the notion that if Israel were to just back down and back off, and make more concessions, then maybe not all the problems of the world, but a lot of them – and especially problems in the Middle East – would be solved.

Hazony argued that this perspective is linked to the broader anti-Semitic argumentative web because it views Israel as the source of all troubles and the central problem undermining regional peace.

3: Discredit Claims that Hatred and Violence Against Jews is ‘Different’
A common anti-Semitic trope is that Jews are to blame for whatever calamities befall them. So today when Jews are attacked, they’re told that they’ve brought the violence onto themselves.

According to this mindset, hatred and violence against Jews is excusable, understandable, even appropriate as a form of protest to Israel’s alleged bloodthirsty acts. Jews are to blame for the hatred, which arises as an inevitable byproduct of Israel’s so-called atrocious behavior.

Simply put: the “new anti-Semitism” sees verbal and physical assaults on Jews – anywhere and everywhere – as politically justified on account of Israel’s alleged perfidy and malevolence.

In our professional and personal lives, when we know that someone is being ostracized, harangued or bullied for supporting Israel we need to speak up about it, and hold the bigots accountable.

There are a number of examples of how this support can make a difference for pro-Israel artists, academics and others. The audience members seemed particularly struck by the fact that many Israeli academics now report having to hide their nationality in order to get published.

They also appeared taken aback by the bizarre case of St. Louis Rabbi Susan. A longtime nationally-prominent and award-winning progressive activist, Talve was recently vilified by BDS and BLM activists as a “terrorist” because she was critical of Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, and had gone on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel. It turned out that a lot of people in St. Louis didn’t much like seeing their beloved rabbi pilloried for being a Zionist. They stood by her. Last I heard, the smear campaign had petered out.

4: Don’t Minimize the Problem
As the British sociologist David Hirsh noted, “BDS does not impact much against Israel; it impacts hard against Jews around the world where BDS takes hold.” What will be the level of support for Israel when the current generation of students, having passed through theanti-Israel grinder in college and having internalized all its falsehoods, are entering their professions and producing future national voting positions? The anti-Zionist movement is bound to have a negative impact on young American Jews because, while Israel is the ostensible target of BDS, first in the firing line are diaspora Jews.

A generation of young Jewish people may end up suppressing their Jewish identities just in order to get by. If BDS were merely a campaign of economic warfare, it would be easy to defeat. Israel is well-integrated in the global economy and too important as an investment opportunity for it be isolated. But BDS is more than boycotts and divestments. It’s essentially a campaign to make people angry with Israelis, and with those people around the world who are suspected of supporting Jewish sovereignty. So it’s a serious problem.

5: Stand Against All Racisms, but Don’t Belittle the Threat to Jews
There has recently been a global resurgence of anti-Semitism, with a particular focus on Europe. Rising anti-Semitism there is driving record high Jewish immigration to Israel. In the United States, anti-Jewish hate crimes make up the bulk of religiously-motivated ones. Anti-Muslim hate speech and hate crime is on the rise in America too, but it pales in comparison to the verbal abuses and assaults against Jews in the country – as a percentage of religious-bias hate.

While Jews should condemn hate speech directed against any American minority group, they need to insist that this solidarity be reciprocated and that the support not become an avenue for engaging in virulent forms of anti-Israel messaging. Consider the recent national campaign to put public Hanukkah celebrations into service for an anti-Islamophobia agenda. The reality is that these events morphed into anti-Zionist spectacles. Interfaith efforts to combat racism are valuable, but not if they become co-opted by BDS and not if they’re exploited as a means for introducing an anti-Israel narrative through the back door.

Educate Yourself, Then Educate Others
Don’t let the lies go unchallenged, because much of what is said about Israel is simply factually inaccurate, or needs to be qualified and put into context.

Anti-Israel propagandists have concocted a fantasy world where:

  • Hamas is a social service provider whose leaders would accept a two-state-solution if only Israel would stop being so intransigent;
  • West Bank settlers are like ‘termites’ consuming Palestinian property; and
  • An Israeli building a second bedroom or a balcony in a legitimately purchased apartment in a Jewish neighborhood of east Jerusalem is a war criminal and the primary obstacle to peace.


Conclusions: Build a Firewall Against the Hate

Can Jews back progressive causes and be pro-Israel at the same time? The answer from the BDS movement is a resounding no, because being a Zionist makes one complicit in supporting a racist, apartheid and genocidal state.

The charge is absurd. Israel isn’t perfect, but compared to a region which has literally “reverted to the Dark Ages,” its fully functioning democracy is heaven on earth.

The problem isn’t the crazy talk of BDS leaders, though. It’s that a great many well-meaning people have come to believe the BDS nonsense, and they’ve now allowed anti-Israel fanatics to worm their way into a myriad of progressive organizations and projects. In some of these spaces – like the Black Lives Matter movement – they’re nowrunning the show. We need to demand from progressives that they do a better job in policing the liberal left’s intellectual borders.

As noted recently in an important essay by Alan Johnson in Fathom, “We need to insist that [the left] build an intellectual firewall separating criticism of Israeli politics and policy from the demonology of Zionism and Israel—which is not legitimate, and which can be lethal.”

This article originally appeared on Reproduced by permission.

Combating Anti-Zionist Anti-Semitism

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