There were those who wondered about the wisdom of President Obama’s appointment of Hannah Rosenthal as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Some feared that a person who served as a member of the leftist lobby J Street’s advisory board was ill-equipped to confront the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping through both Europe and the Arab and Islamic world since the focus of most contemporary Jew-haters is the state of Israel.
But while Rosenthal’s speech this past weekend at the launch of a new Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Indiana University fell short of a clear statement that the movement for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel is proof of anti-Semitism, she still enunciated a definition of the term that leaves little room for doubt that it applies to such anti-Israel agitation.
Rosenthal acknowledged that it is harder for some to identify anti-Semitism when it exhibits itself as a criticism of Israel which is not anti-Semitic per se. But she took the next logical step, rightly pointing out that “opposition to a policy by the State of Israel morphs into anti-Semitism easily and often.” She then endorsed the framework for identifying anti-Jewish hatred that has been articulated by Natan Sharansky:
When Israel is demonized, when Israel is held to different standards than the rest of the countries, and when Israel is delegitimized. These cases are not disagreements with a policy of Israel, this is anti-Semitism
Rosenthal explicitly stated that boycotts of Israeli academics are anti-Semitic. But she did not go on to mention BDS, a movement that is widely supported in Europe and is struggling to gain a foothold on university campuses in this country .
However, if the BDS movement is examined dispassionately, according to the criteria laid out by Rosenthal, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it is inherently anti-Semitic.
BDS activists regularly demonize Israel as an apartheid state, even though the analogy between an Israel where Arabs exercise full citizenship rights and apartheid South Africa is utterly specious. BDS supporters single out Israel as a human rights violator that must be isolated even though the generally exaggerated and often untrue charges lodged against it are piddling when compared to monstrous crimes being carried out elsewhere in the world in places like Iran, North Korea, and even China. The scale of human rights violations throughout the Arab and Islamic world and in various African and Asian nations are appalling, yet no country but Israel is seen by the anti-Israel left as worthy of their protests—only the world’s one Jewish state. Zionism is the sole national liberation movement in the world to be considered racist. The BDS campaign against Israel is a clear form of delegitimization; it is textbook anti-Semitism.
At Indiana, Rosenthal spoke of American outreach and diplomacy to combat anti-Semitism. And though there was a whiff of political correctness about her remarks, her office’s work is undeniably effective and important. Yet while her activism against all forms of hatred is commendable, it is not enough at this moment in history.
As it happens, the director of the new institute at Indiana University is Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, a distinguished scholar who was widely criticized by liberals for his essential study “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” published in 2006 by the American Jewish Committee. Rosenfeld shined a spotlight on the nexus between the intellectual left and traditional anti-Semitism that has manifested itself as anti-Zionism. The BDS movement is the creature of this unholy alliance.
While generalized condemnations of Jew-hatred are welcome, what is needed most of all is a direct attack on the BDS movement—along the lines set down by Hannah Rosenthal. The propaganda campaign against Israel on university campuses and elsewhere by BDS activists and their leftist allies must be labeled for what it is: the cutting edge of new wave of anti-Semitic incitement.