Anti-Semitism Weaponized

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Jerusalem

On August 14, 2002, Amy Goodman interviewed on the radio and TV program Democracy Now the individual who has been described as “Israel’s First Lady of Human Rights” Shulamit Aloni. She is also a former Israeli Minister of Education.[i] The following is a partial transcript of the Interview.

TRANSCRIPT:

Amy Goodman: Often when there is dissent expressed in the United States against policies of the Israeli government, people here are called anti-Semitic. What is your response to that as an Israeli Jew?

Shulamit Aloni: Well, it’s a trick, we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticizing Israel, then we bring up the Holocaust. When in this country people are criticizing Israel, then they are anti-Semitic. And the organization is strong, and has a lot of money, and the ties between Israel and the American Jewish establishment are very strong and they are strong in this country, as you know. And they have power, which is okay. They are talented people and they have power and money, and the media and other things, and their attitude is “Israel, my country right or wrong,” identification. And they are not ready to hear criticism. And it’s very easy to blame people who criticize certain acts of the Israeli government as anti-Semitic, and to bring up the Holocaust, and the suffering of the Jewish people, and that is justify everything we do to the Palestinians.[ii]

Here is a comment from Stanford University History Professor Joel Beinin on the use of the accusation of anti-Semitism to silence criticism of Zionism and of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Beinin is active in Jewish Voice for Peace and an editor of Jewish Peace News.

Why discredit, defame and silence those with opposing viewpoints? I believe it is because the Zionist lobby knows it cannot win based on facts. An honest discussion can only lead to one conclusion: The status quo in which Israel declares it alone has rights and intends to impose its will on the weaker Palestinians, stripping them permanently of their land, resources and rights, cannot lead to a lasting peace. We need an open debate and the freedom to discuss uncomfortable facts and explore the full range of policy options. Only then can we adopt a foreign policy that serves American interests and one that could actually bring a just peace to Palestinians and Israelis.[iii]

Beinin is not alone in his criticism of using anti-Semitism as a weapon to smear opponents or critics of Zionism. Moshé Machover, is an author, a British-Israeli peace activist and member of the UK’s Labour Party. He prepared the following testimony in defense of Jewish peace activist Tony Greenstein. Machover was also the founder of the Israeli socialist political party Matzpen. He wrote:

Anti-Zionism conflated with anti-Semitism

As we have seen, Zionism is a political ideology-cum-project. The State of Israel – a product of the Zionist project as well as an instrument for its continuation and extension – is, like any state, a political entity.

Israel has been in military occupation of the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip for over 50 years and is exercising harsh oppression over millions of Palestinian Arabs who have no civil or national rights. It has been avidly stealing their land and colonising it with illegal, exclusively Jewish settlements. Israel may not be worse in this respect than other states that ruled over other nations and colonised their land – for example, Britain in its former colonies, such as Kenya. But Israel is also no better than other colonising states, nor is there any reason to expect it to be any better: colonisation has its own logic, and generally involves harsh racist oppression and occasional atrocities, justified by the ‘need to keep order among the natives’. Israeli officially inspired and fomented racism is by now widely known and condemned.

Opposition to Zionism and to the colonising regime and policies of Israel is therefore a legitimate political position. It only becomes illegitimate if it is motivated or accompanied by illegitimate motives or arguments, for example such as stem from generalised hatred or prejudice against Jews as Jews. But such illegitimate motives or arguments need to be proven before accusing an opponent of Zionism and Israel’s regime of ‘antisemitism’; they cannot simply be assumed or taken for granted. In the absence of proof, accusation or insinuation that anti-Zionist discourse and opposition to the Israeli regime are per se ‘anti-Semitic’ is a despicable calumny……

Jews in the diaspora, including this country, are deeply divided in their attitude to Zionism and Israel. Many have made attachment to Israel part of their Jewish identity, as a supplement – and in some cases as a surrogate to their religion. They support Israel ‘right or wrong’ and tend to assume that hostility to Zionism must be motivated by anti-Semitism.[iv]

Here is another article which discusses the tactic of using the charge of anti-Semitism to attempt to silence critics of Israel. It is titled, “Redefining Anti-Semitism: An Effort to Silence Criticism of Israel,” by Allan C. Brownfeld, and published in Issues, Winter 2018, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism. Brownfeld is the editor of the ACJ Issues and Special Interest publications. He writes:

One need not agree with the BDS movement, the Presbyterian study, or other critics of Israel’s occupation policies to recognize that false charges of “anti-Semitism” are simply a way to silence and intimidate criticism. Jewish and other critics of Zionism have shown that such false charges of “anti-Semitism” will hardly stop the growing debate.  As Professor Judith Butler of the University of California, Berkeley, an outspoken Jewish critic, explains:  “If one can’t voice an objection to violence done by Israel without attracting a charge of anti-Semitism, then that charge Works to circumscribe the publicly acceptable domain of speech, and immunize Israeli violence against criticism.  One is threatened with the label ‘anti-Semite’ in the same way one is threatened with being called a ‘traitor’ if one opposed the most recent U.S. War (in Iraq). Such threats aim to define the limits of the public sphere by setting limits on the speakable. The world of public discourse would then be one from which critical perspective would be excluded, and the public would come to understand itself as one that does not speak out in the face of obvious and illegitimate violence.

To define “anti-Zionism” as “anti-Semitism” is completely ahistorical, since Zionism has been opposed by many—if not most—Jews from the beginning.  In 1885, Reform rabbis meeting in Pittsburgh wrote an eight point platform which emphasized that Reform Judaism rejected nationalism of any variety.  In 1897, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution declared:  “Zion was a precious possession of the past…as such it is a holy memory, but it is not our hope for the future.  America is our Zion.”  In 1904, “The American Israelite” noted, “There is not one solitary prominent native Jewish American who is an advocate of Zionism.”[v]

Here is another example where Richard Silverstein, a prominent Jewish American blogger and journalist, writes on the use of the charge of anti-Semitism to attack supporters of the BDS Campaign against Israel in an attempt to changes its policies towards the Palestinians.

This week, Norway’s largest labor union endorsed BDS.  Before the vote, Israel’s ambassador, Raphael Schutz, posted a bizarre rant on Facebook which featured a picture of a banner at a Norwegian BDS rally.  The banner showed an Israeli orange dripping (presumably) Palestinian blood.  The clear implication of the protest banner was that Israeli Occupation leads to the shedding of Palestinian blood.  The truth of this statement cannot be in doubt.  Since 1948 approximately 40,000 Palestinians have died at the hands of Israeli forces.

Despite this almost self-evidence statement, Schutz determined to turn the banner into an outrageous claim of anti-Semitism.  He juxtaposed a medieval illustration of the supposed Jewish murder of a Christian child, known as a blood libel, in order to drain his blood to make matzah for Passover.  In doing so, Schutz exploited one of the foulest anti-Semitic tropes.  I displayed an image of the medieval illustration so readers could see exactly how repulsive it is (and how repulsive it is for anyone to exploit it for the wrong ends).  At the same time, Schutz insulted the suffering of millions of Jews who died at the hands of real anti-Semites from the days of Rome up to the Holocaust.

Outrageous propaganda of this sort is meant to induce tremendous guilt in the hearts of Christian Europe (including Norway), which did indeed cause massive suffering and the deaths of millions of Jews over the centuries.  No doubt, Europe has much to atone for in its historic treatment of Jews.  But it has nothing to atone for in its treatment of Israel, since the matters are not directly related.

A similar charge levelled by the True Believers against BDS is that it either is a terrorist group or supported by terrorist nations or groups.  Beats me, how a non-violent movement can be a terrorist group.  But I suppose if you believe BDS will destroy Israel (it’s not clear how it will do that), then that act of destruction could be construed as an act of terror.  You’d have to be fairly deranged to believe this.  But, like Trump, we’ve seen more than enough evidence that this Israeli government is quite deranged, at least politically, if not clinically.[vi]

Glenn Greenwald is a rising star on the American and World media scene. He first arose to fame in helping bring the Edward Snowdon exposure of the National Security Agency (NSA) illegal spying to light. Greenwald is of Jewish background but has never been involved with Jewish organized religion.[vii] He is an independent “progressive” and writes on many topics including Israel-Palestine and American foreign policy. Here is a sample of his views on anti-Semitism sent over Twitter: the “Idea that someone can’t be an anti-semite if they support Israeli Govt is just as corrupt as equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism.”[viii]

Greenwald wrote an article in defense of Andrew Sullivan who was a Senior Editor at The Atlantic magazine. Sullivan published an article critical of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby and was attacked by the Literary Editor of The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier. Wieseltier accused Andrew Sullivan of “being an anti-semite, largely due to his critical (i.e., forbidden) comments about Israeli actions and American neoconservatives.  Particularly since the horrific Israeli assault on Gaza, Sullivan has become more critical of Israeli actions and more dubious of uncritical U.S. support.”[ix] Here is Greenwald’s comment on the attack.

What’s most striking about this attack is how inconsequential it is.  It was once the case, not all that long ago, that an accusation of “anti-semitism” was the nuclear weapon of political debates, rendering most politicians and pundits (especially non-Jewish ones) petrified of being so accused.  A 4,300-word prosecution brief published by The New Republic, accusing a major political writer of being a Jew-hater, would have been taken quite seriously, generated all sorts of drama, introspection and debate, and seriously tarnished the reputation of the accused.

No longer. Neoconservatives have so abused and cynically exploited the “anti-semitism” charge for rank political gain — to bully those who would dare criticize Israeli actions or question U.S. policy towards Israel  — that it has lost its impact.  Ironically, nobody has done more to trivialize and cheapen anti-semitism accusations than those who anointed themselves its guardians and arbiters.  As Charles Freeman can attest, frivolous anti-semitism accusations can still damage those seeking high-level political positions, but those accusations no longer pack any real punch in virtually any other realm.  As neoconservatives became discredited, so, too, did their central political weapon:  casually and promiscuously accusing political adversaries of anti-semitism.

There’s a clear benefit to this development (namely:  the threat of invalid anti-semitism accusations no longer deters free political debate beyond the halls of Congress), but there’s an obvious danger as well:  cheapening the charge of anti-semitism through frivolous and politically manipulative uses weakens the ability to combat actual, real anti-semitism, which does still exist.  If perfectly mainstream writers, expressing perfectly appropriate and reasonable arguments about Israel, are routinely condemned for “anti-semitism,” then it must not be a particularly bad thing to be, so this reasoning goes.  If The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan, and Time‘s Joe Klein, and Foreign Policy‘s Stephen Walt, and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, and Gen. Wes Clark (TNR target), and Howard Dean, and former President Jimmy Carter, and a whole slew of others like them are “anti-semites,” then how terrible of an insult is it?  By tossing around the term cynically and to advance personal vendettas, neoconservatives are the authors not only of their own irrelevance but also, more significantly, of the growing irrelevance of the “anti-semitism” charge.[x]

Here is a more recent comment by Greenwald on the use of the charge anti-Semitism to attack critics of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

…When Palestinians fight against occupying troops on their soil, they are denounced — and often killed — as “terrorists.” Meanwhile, nonviolent campaigns to end the occupation through a South Africa-style boycott are demonized as “anti-Semitism” and officially barred — censored — in all sorts of ways, in numerous countries around the world.

If fighting Israeli occupying forces is barred as “terrorism,” and nonviolent boycotts against Israel are barred as “anti-Semitism,” then what is considered a legitimate means for Palestinians and their allies to resist and end the decades long, illegal Israeli occupation? The answer is: nothing. Palestinians are obliged to submit to Israeli occupation in a way that none of the people demanding that would ever themselves submit to occupation of their land. All forms of resistance to Israeli occupation are deemed illegitimate. That, manifestly, is the whole point of all of this.[xi]

There are many more Jewish voices that are anti-Zionist, non-Zionist, Post-Zionist and even liberal Zionists that speak out against Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians and on the abuse of using anti-Semitism to attack those who defend Palestinian human rights.[xii]

Here is what Israel academic Neve Gordon writes on the question of anti-Semitism as a method of attacking and intimidating critics of Israel and Zionism. The article was published in the prestigious London Review of Books. The quote is lengthy but well worth reading on the use of anti-Semitism in an attempt to silence criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

The ‘new anti-Semitism’, we are told, takes the form of criticism of Zionism and of the actions and policies of Israel, and is often manifested in campaigns holding the Israeli government accountable to international law, a recent instance being the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In this it is different from ‘traditional’ anti-Semitism, understood as hatred of Jews per se, the idea that Jews are naturally inferior, belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy or in the Jewish control of capitalism etc. The ‘new anti-Semitism’ also differs from the traditional form in the political affinities of its alleged culprits: where we are used to thinking that anti-Semites come from the political right, the new anti-Semites are, in the eyes of the accusers, primarily on the political left.

The logic of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ can be formulated as a syllogism: i) anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews; ii) to be Jewish is to be Zionist; iii) therefore anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. The error has to do with the second proposition. The claims that Zionism is identical to Jewishness, or that a seamless equation can be made between the State of Israel and the Jewish people, are false. Many Jews are not Zionists. And Zionism has numerous traits that are in no way embedded in or characteristic of Jewishness, but rather emerged from nationalist and settler colonial ideologies over the last three hundred years. Criticism of Zionism or of Israel is not necessarily the product of an animus towards Jews; conversely, hatred of Jews does not necessarily entail anti-Zionism.

Not only that, but it is possible to be both a Zionist and an anti-Semite. Evidence of this is supplied by the statements of white supremacists in the US and extreme right-wing politicians across Europe. Richard Spencer, a leading figure in the American alt-right, has no trouble characterising himself as a ‘white Zionist’ (‘As an Israeli citizen,’ he explained to his interviewer on Israel’s Channel 2 News, ‘who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood, and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me, who has analogous feelings about whites … I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves. Just like you want a secure homeland in Israel’), while also believing that ‘Jews are vastly over-represented in what you could call “the establishment”.’ Gianfranco Fini of the Italian National Alliance and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, have also professed their admiration of Zionism and the ‘white’ ethnocracy of the state of Israel, while on other occasions making their anti-Semitic views plain. Three things that draw these anti-Semites towards Israel are, first, the state’s ethnocratic character; second, an Islamophobia they assume Israel shares with them; and, third, Israel’s unapologetically harsh policies towards black migrants from Africa (in the latest of a series of measures designed to coerce Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to leave Israel, rules were introduced earlier this year requiring asylum seekers to deposit 20 per cent of their earnings in a fund, to be repaid to them only if, and when, they leave the country).

If Zionism and anti-Semitism can coincide, then – according to the law of contradiction – anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not reducible one to the other. Of course it’s true that in certain instances anti-Zionism can and does overlap with anti-Semitism, but this in itself doesn’t tell us much, since a variety of views and ideologies can coincide with anti-Semitism. You can be a capitalist, or a socialist or a libertarian, and still be an anti-Semite, but the fact that anti-Semitism can be aligned with such diverse ideologies as well as with anti-Zionism tells us practically nothing about it or them. Yet, despite the clear distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, several governments, as well as think tanks and non-governmental organisations, now insist on the notion that anti-Zionism is necessarily a form of anti-Semitism. The definition adopted by the current UK government offers 11 examples of anti-Semitism, seven of which involve criticism of Israel – a concrete manifestation of the way in which the new understanding of anti-Semitism has become the accepted view. Any reproach directed towards the state of Israel now assumes the taint of anti-Semitism.

One idiosyncratic but telling instance of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ took place in 2005 during Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. When soldiers came to evacuate the eight thousand Jewish settlers who lived in the region, some of the settlers protested by wearing yellow stars and insisting they would not ‘go like sheep to the slaughter’. Shaul Magid, the chair of Jewish Studies at Indiana University, points out that by doing so, the settlers cast the Israeli government and the Israeli military as anti-Semitic. In their eyes, the government and soldiers deserved to be called anti-Semites not because they hate Jews, but because they were implementing an anti-Zionist policy, undermining the project of settling the so-called greater Israel. This representation of decolonialisation as anti-Semitic is the key to a proper understanding of what is at stake when people are accused of the ‘new anti-Semitism’. When the professor from Haifa University branded me an anti-Semite, I wasn’t his real target. People like me are attacked on a regular basis, but we are considered human shields by the ‘new anti-Semitism’ machine. Its real target is the Palestinians.

There is an irony here. Historically, the fight against anti-Semitism has sought to advance the equal rights and emancipation of Jews. Those who denounce the ‘new anti-Semitism’ seek to legitimate the discrimination against and subjugation of Palestinians. In the first case, someone who wishes to oppress, dominate and exterminate Jews is branded an anti-Semite; in the second, someone who wishes to take part in the struggle for liberation from colonial rule is branded an anti-Semite. In this way, Judith Butler has observed, ‘a passion for justice’ is ‘renamed as anti-Semitism’.[xiii]

The Israeli government needs the ‘new anti-Semitism’ to justify its actions and to protect it from international and domestic condemnation. Anti-Semitism is effectively weaponised, not only to stifle speech – ‘It does not matter if the accusation is true,’ Butler writes; its purpose is ‘to cause pain, to produce shame, and to reduce the accused to silence’ – but also to suppress a politics of liberation. The non-violent BDS campaign against Israel’s colonial project and rights abuses is labelled anti-Semitic not because the proponents of BDS hate Jews, but because it denounces the subjugation of the Palestinian people. This highlights a further disturbing aspect of the ‘new anti-Semitism’. Conventionally, to call someone ‘anti-Semitic’ is to expose and condemn their racism; in the new case, the charge ‘anti-Semite’ is used to defend racism, and to sustain a regime that implements racist policies.[xiv]

The renown prize-winning Peruvian writer Mario Llosa Vargas and a laureate of the prestigious Jerusalem Prize has made the following observation, “only the dissidents will save the State of Israel.”[xv]

Notes:

[i] “Israel’s First Lady of Human Rights: A Conversation with Shulamit Aloni,” Democracy Now, August 14, 2002. Link at https://www.democracynow.org/shows/2002/8/14?autostart=truerael’s.

[ii] Transcript of interview with Shulamit Aloni found at http://www.thetimewall.com/2017/07/12/democracy-now-amy-goodman-interviewed-former-israeli-minister-of-education-shulamit-aloni-called-accusation-of-anti-semitism-a-trick-to-silence-criticism-of-israel/

[iii] Joel Beinin, “Silencing Critics Not Way to Middle East Peace,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2007. Link at https://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Silencing-critics-not-way-to-Middle-East-peace-2651877.php

[iv]  Facing Serious Damage to its Image, Israel Must Smear its Critics as Anti-Semites,” by Moshé Machover, Information Clearing House, January 18, 2018. See link at http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/48612.htm

[v] “Redefining Anti-Semitism: An Effort to Silence Criticism of Israel,” by Allan C. Brownfeld, Issues, Winter 2018. The American Council for Judaism web site is found at http://www.acjna.org. The site contains many interesting articles.

[vi] “Israel’s Exploitation of Anti-Semitism in Combatting BDS,” by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, May 14, 2017. Link found at https://www.richardsilverstein.com/2017/05/14/israels-exploitation-anti-semitism-combatting-bds/

[vii] “Glenn Greenwald Was Never Bar Mitzvahed,” Haaretz, May 15, 2014, Link found at https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/glenn-greenwald-was-never-bar-mitzvahed-1.5248424

[viii] Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: 6:43 AM – 17 Nov 2016 “The opposite of an anti-semite: he’s a …” Link found at https://twitter.com/ggreenwald/status/799261143827185665

[ix] “TNR’s ugly and reckless anti-semitism games,” by Glenn Greenwald, Salon, February 9, 2010. Link found at https://www.alternet.org/rss/breaking_news/113806/tnr’s_ugly_and_reckless_anti-semitism_games.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] “Fighting Israeli Occupying Forces Is “Terrorism.” Boycotting Is “Anti-Semitism.” What’s Allowed?” by Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, April 3, 2016. Link located at https://theintercept.com/2016/04/03/fighting-israeli-occupying-forces-is-terrorism-boycotting-is-anti-semitism-whats-allowed/

[xii] For example see the collection of essays found in “On Antisemitism, Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice,” by Jewish Voice for Peace, Foreword by Judith Butler, Introduction by Rebecca Vilkomerson, (Haymarket Books, March. 27, 2017). See link at http://onantisemitism.com/

[xiii] The quote is taken from Judith Butler’s foreword to On Anti-Semitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice, a collection of essays assembled by Jew­­ish Voices for Peace (Haymarket, 271 pp., April 2017). Butler also wrote about Criticism of Israel’s policies and anti-Semitism in “No, it’s not anti-semitic,” by Judith Butler, The London Review of BooksVol. 25 No. 16 · 21 August 2003. The link is found at https://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n16/judith-butler/no-its-not-anti-semitic

[xiv] “The ‘New Anti-Semitism’: Conventionally, to call someone ‘anti-Semitic’ is to expose and condemn their racism; in the new case, the charge ‘anti-Semite’ is used to defend racism, and to sustain a regime that implements racist policies,” by Neve Gordon, London Review of Books,  Vol. 40 No. 01 · 4 January 2018. Link at https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n01/ neve-gordon/the-new-anti-semitism

[xv] “A Writer’s Reality: Prolific author Mario Llosa Vargas’ next series of articles will focus on his harsh impressions during an almost-secret visit to the dark backyard of the Israeli occupation without an army spokesman, without the Foreign Ministry,” by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, September 15, 2005.  Link can be found at https://www.haaretz.com/1.4846417