Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ali Abunimah

Israel’s Bad Week on UK Campuses

It hasn’t been a good week for free and open debate about the Jewish state on campuses in the United Kingdom. Two separate incidents, one at the University of Essex and a second at Oxford University, have shown just how low opponents of Israel will stoop in order to delegitimize her and squash the free speech of Israel’s citizens and defenders.

Immediately following the announcement of a speech at Essex by Alon Roth-Snir, deputy ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, anti-Israel activists on campus began to organize. Their goal was simple: stifle Roth-Snir’s right to free speech on their campus. Avi Mayer, the director of new media for the Jewish Agency for Israel, created a Storify account of the incident and the university’s response. What Mayer describes speaks volumes about the opposition Israel faces on campus from both faculty and students. Mayer quotes the University of Essex Students’ Union President Nathan Bolton from the Facebook event organizing the protest:

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It hasn’t been a good week for free and open debate about the Jewish state on campuses in the United Kingdom. Two separate incidents, one at the University of Essex and a second at Oxford University, have shown just how low opponents of Israel will stoop in order to delegitimize her and squash the free speech of Israel’s citizens and defenders.

Immediately following the announcement of a speech at Essex by Alon Roth-Snir, deputy ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, anti-Israel activists on campus began to organize. Their goal was simple: stifle Roth-Snir’s right to free speech on their campus. Avi Mayer, the director of new media for the Jewish Agency for Israel, created a Storify account of the incident and the university’s response. What Mayer describes speaks volumes about the opposition Israel faces on campus from both faculty and students. Mayer quotes the University of Essex Students’ Union President Nathan Bolton from the Facebook event organizing the protest:

I’ve made my position crystal clear. The Students’ Union has a position, which reflects my own, that the state of Israel is a state which its very existance is a crime. [sic] The land was stolen from the Palestinian people and then those same people were then systematically exiled from their own homes and continue to be exiled to this day.

I’m proud to not give him the attempt to justify his states oppression. I’m sure the hundreds of students were too. Freedom of expression isn’t applicable here.

Mayer points out the predictably hypocritical response of the anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electric Intifada. While Abunimah was outraged at the attempts of BDS opponents in Brooklyn to squash the departmentally sponsored event aimed at what Jonathan rightly described as hate speech, Abunimah described the actions of protestors at crushing free speech as “great.” The opponents of the BDS event in Brooklyn took issue not with the speech taking place on campus, but rather with the school’s continued sponsorship of events about the conflict that were exclusively anti-Israel in nature.

At Oxford University, a similarly disheartening incident took place between a former Israeli politician and a British MP, George Galloway. The Times of Israel reported on the exchange:

British MP George Galloway quit a debate on Israel at Oxford University Wednesday after discovering that his opponent was an Israeli citizen. The Respect party legislator, who is renowned for being staunchly pro-Palestinian, stormed out of the building saying: “I don’t recognize Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis.”

Galloway was first to speak in the debate, opining in favor of the statement “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank” for 10 minutes. But midway into his opponent’s address, in which the third-year student referred repeatedly to Israel as “we” and “us,” Galloway inquired whether the speaker, Eylon Aslan-Levy, was Israeli. Upon learning that he was, the MP stormed out of the building with his wife, claiming that he was misled.

“I refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the Apartheid state of Israel,” Galloway said in a statement late on Wednesday evening. “The reason is simple; No recognition, No normalization. Just Boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated.”

Anti-Israel activity on college campuses is nothing new, yet these incidents are an incredibly troubling trend in anti-Israel circles. Not only have these British groups and individuals decided they disagree with the actions of the Jewish state and its fundamental right to exist, but they would also like to eliminate its right to defend itself in a purely academic setting. If these opponents of Israel are so certain of their moral superiority, what are they so afraid of?

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Mearsheimer’s Anti-Semitism Scandal

Here is John Mearsheimer, writing last year on the Foreign Policy blog of his Israel Lobby co-author Stephen Walt, defending the positive blurb he provided for a new book by Hitler apologist and Holocaust revisionist Gilad Atzmon:

There is no question that [The Wandering Who?] is provocative, both in terms of its central argument and the overly hot language that Atzmon sometimes uses. But it is also filled with interesting insights that make the reader think long and hard about an important subject. Of course, I do not agree with everything that he says in the book — what blurber does? — but I found it thought provoking and likely to be of considerable interest to Jews and non-Jews, which is what I said in my brief comment.

Mearsheimer’s blurb read:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their “Jewishness.” Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.

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Here is John Mearsheimer, writing last year on the Foreign Policy blog of his Israel Lobby co-author Stephen Walt, defending the positive blurb he provided for a new book by Hitler apologist and Holocaust revisionist Gilad Atzmon:

There is no question that [The Wandering Who?] is provocative, both in terms of its central argument and the overly hot language that Atzmon sometimes uses. But it is also filled with interesting insights that make the reader think long and hard about an important subject. Of course, I do not agree with everything that he says in the book — what blurber does? — but I found it thought provoking and likely to be of considerable interest to Jews and non-Jews, which is what I said in my brief comment.

Mearsheimer’s blurb read:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their “Jewishness.” Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.

And now here is an open letter about Atzmon posted yesterday to Electronic Intifada by Hamas supporter and one-stater Ali Abunimah. It concludes with an affirmation of Palestinian “return,” which is to say Israel’s destruction as a Jewish State, and is signed by a who’s who of the anti-Israel fringe. You really need to read the whole thing, but just to give you a sense for the content:

We call for the disavowal of Atzmon by fellow Palestinian organizers, as well as Palestine solidarity activists, and allies of the Palestinian people, and note the dangers of supporting Atzmon’s political work and writings and providing any platforms for their dissemination…Atzmon’s politics rest on one main overriding assertion that serves as springboard for vicious attacks on anyone who disagrees with his obsession with “Jewishness.”

The writers go on for another few paragraphs in that vein. At one point, they feel the need to disavow “denying the Holocaust [and allying with]… conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities.” That’s difficult to square with Mearsheimer’s blanket assertion that “Atzmon is neither a Holocaust denier nor an apologist for Hitler.” At another point, they reject the “anti-Semitic or racist language” that they’re repudiating along with Atzmon. That in turn sits uncomfortably with Mearsheimer’s statement that he “[doesn't] believe that Atzmon is an anti-Semite.”

Historically, Mearsheimer was content to sit back and use the same rhetoric and excuses as anti-Israel bigots. Then he ventured into supporting one of them, and then he doubled down on his support. And now not even people who want to see the Jewish State extinguished will travel with Mearsheimer’s chosen fellow traveler.

Late last year, the University of Chicago’s Conservative Quarterly Counterpoint published an article on the Mearsheimer/Atzmon controversy. The piece contained a non-exhaustive list of anti-Semitic passages from Atzmon’s book, but it was particularly notable for its pointed opening sentence: “When, after a long career built on a theory that domestic political relationships had a minimal impact on any state’s foreign policy, John Mearsheimer co-wrote The Israel Lobby, a popular book alleging the maximal impact of a small cabal on American foreign policy, we were perplexed at the incoherence.”

Quite so. Mearsheimer had to give up a lifetime of almost metaphysical theory of international relations work so he could scapegoat American Jews and pro-Israel Christians for the world’s problems. Apparently, he gave up more than a little bit of his dignity as well.

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How Do We Define “Pro-Israel?”

One of the standard arguments currently being employed against supporters of the State of Israel is that the true friends of the Jewish state are those who are doing their best to undermine its democratically-elected government and force it to submit to foreign pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. It is an old and somewhat disingenuous ploy that is, at best, an effort by supporters of the losing side in Israeli elections to win back what their friends have lost in the ballot box. There are times when those who like the right-of-center parties in Israel have played this game.  However, since the evisceration of the Israeli left by the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace, it is the sole consolation of those who despise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies. But the anger and frustration of the Jewish left is such these days that some have expanded this tactic and taken to using anti-Semitic tropes about “Israel-firsters” which are straight out of the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel lobby thesis. To listen to people like Media Matters scribbler M.J. Rosenberg these days, it is hard to distinguish the bile he spews at AIPAC and liberal supporters of Israel (forget about what he says about conservatives) from that of out-and-out anti-Zionists.

Rosenberg’s old friend J.J. Goldberg writes in the Forward this week to defend his buddy. It is an unconvincing piece marred not so much by the frame of reference of friendship as it is by a refusal to come to grips with the way Rosenberg’s anger at his former employers at AIPAC and everyone who doesn’t share his opinion has distorted this debate. According to J.J., M.J. is still pro-Israel at heart but just doesn’t like the policies of its government and those Americans who back it. But Rosenberg’s willingness to adopt the rhetoric of Israel-haters undermines his defenders. That this apologia for Rosenberg ran in the same issue of the paper that also contained a flattering profile of Ali Abunimah, one of the leading advocates of the campaign to boycott Israel in the United States, only reinforces the impression that some on the Jewish left are so deeply invested in the effort to undermine backers of the pro-Israel consensus that they are seeking to erase any boundary between mere criticism of the government in Jerusalem and activity whose aims are clearly more sinister.

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One of the standard arguments currently being employed against supporters of the State of Israel is that the true friends of the Jewish state are those who are doing their best to undermine its democratically-elected government and force it to submit to foreign pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. It is an old and somewhat disingenuous ploy that is, at best, an effort by supporters of the losing side in Israeli elections to win back what their friends have lost in the ballot box. There are times when those who like the right-of-center parties in Israel have played this game.  However, since the evisceration of the Israeli left by the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace, it is the sole consolation of those who despise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies. But the anger and frustration of the Jewish left is such these days that some have expanded this tactic and taken to using anti-Semitic tropes about “Israel-firsters” which are straight out of the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel lobby thesis. To listen to people like Media Matters scribbler M.J. Rosenberg these days, it is hard to distinguish the bile he spews at AIPAC and liberal supporters of Israel (forget about what he says about conservatives) from that of out-and-out anti-Zionists.

Rosenberg’s old friend J.J. Goldberg writes in the Forward this week to defend his buddy. It is an unconvincing piece marred not so much by the frame of reference of friendship as it is by a refusal to come to grips with the way Rosenberg’s anger at his former employers at AIPAC and everyone who doesn’t share his opinion has distorted this debate. According to J.J., M.J. is still pro-Israel at heart but just doesn’t like the policies of its government and those Americans who back it. But Rosenberg’s willingness to adopt the rhetoric of Israel-haters undermines his defenders. That this apologia for Rosenberg ran in the same issue of the paper that also contained a flattering profile of Ali Abunimah, one of the leading advocates of the campaign to boycott Israel in the United States, only reinforces the impression that some on the Jewish left are so deeply invested in the effort to undermine backers of the pro-Israel consensus that they are seeking to erase any boundary between mere criticism of the government in Jerusalem and activity whose aims are clearly more sinister.

Given the viciousness of his rhetoric, it is not surprising that Rosenberg has become a lightening rod. Liberal icon Alan Dershowitz has called on the White House to disassociate itself from his current employer, the prominent liberal group Media Matters, due to Rosenberg’s conduct. That is a matter for the left to hash out. I am more interested in the attempts by people like Goldberg to defend Rosenberg on the grounds that he is just a garden-variety critic of Netanyahu. Indeed, Goldberg claims the whole dustup is the fault of Netanyahu and his anti-peace policies. This is an absurd distortion of Netanyahu’s record, but its main fault is that he ignores the fact that it is the Palestinians who have conclusively rejected peace. Goldberg and Rosenberg’s positions on the peace process have been rendered not so much incorrect but irrelevant by the ruthless dynamics of Palestinian politics that has made peace unlikely for the foreseeable future. But rather than acknowledge this reality, they prefer to keep up their fight against the Jewish right. In the case of Rosenberg, his position is now so extreme that he is not only unable to put forward his opinions in a reasonable manner unmarred by hate speech, he also seems unwilling to recognize any distinction between attacks on supporters of Israel’s current government and the right of its people to have their democratic verdict respected abroad and the violent rhetoric employed by those who literally wish to see the state destroyed.

Many on the left these days lack the humility that ought to always be part of American Jewish attempts to diagnose Israel’s problems. Even worse, some like Rosenberg are so frustrated by the way their assumptions about how to make peace have been overtaken by events that they have come to see any attack on Israel’s leaders or the vast majority of Americans who have stepped forward to support that government as being fair comment. In doing so, he has resorted to the lowest sort of smear that had heretofore been the province of Israel-haters. Though Goldberg assures us M.J. is the same lover of Israel he was in his youth, that only goes to show how politics can distort a man’s vision and his moral compass so as to allow him to try to destroy that which he once held dear in the name of preserving that same thing.

As the decision by the Forward’s editors to publish a puff piece on Abunimah shows, Rosenberg is not alone in having stepped over the line from honest Zionist criticism to that shadowy no man’s land in which those who are neutral about Israel’s existence live. Abunimah’s Electronic Intifada website is the source of a non-stop flow of hatred at the Jewish state and Zionism. For a Jewish newspaper that considers itself to uphold the liberal end of the pro-Zionist spectrum to have made such a decision calls into question not only the judgment of the editors but also whether they believe there is any line across which Jews may not stray before their conduct can be properly termed “anti-Israel.”

There is no one definition of the term pro-Israel. It does not require anyone to be a cheerleader for Netanyahu or any other Israeli leader or party. One need not be pro-settlements or anti-settlements or espouse any particular position on Iran or any other issue that divides Israelis and American Jews. But there are some things one cannot do and still claim to be within the pro-Israel camp. One of them is to adopt rhetoric that apes the efforts of Israel-haters to delegitimize supporters of Israel and which adopts the classic themes of anti-Semitism. The other is to espouse neutrality about attempts to wage economic warfare on Israel via the BDS movement that calls for Americans to boycott, divest and sanction the Jewish state.

What is needed now is not so much ideological conformity within the pro-Israel camp as some soul-searching by a Jewish left that appears to have lost its way. Let us pray they come to their senses and recognize that however frustrated they may be by the current state of Israeli and Palestinian politics, there are some things they may not do and still be included under the rubric of “pro-Israel.”

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