Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-Semitism

The Problem With the Klinghoffer Opera

In an attempt to split the difference with its critics, the Metropolitan Opera announced today that it would go ahead with its plans to put on a production of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer but would not include the piece in its list of live simulcasts that can be watched in movie theaters around the world. Though sticking to his belief that the opera is not anti-Semitic, Met general manager Peter Gelb, did appear to be heeding the warnings of the Anti-Defamation League that the broadcast of Klinghoffer around the globe at a time of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, Africa and Asia would be a mistake.

Predictably, neither side in this dispute is happy. The ADL and the family of Leon Klinghoffer, whose murder by Palestinian terrorists is depicted in the opera, are upset about Gelb’s determination to stage the piece in spite of protests. Meanwhile composer John Adams defended his opera and told the New York Times that he believes any effort to limit its reach not only raises issues about artistic freedom but also promotes intolerance.

Adams’ position is absurd but he is right to think his anger about Gelb’s move will resonate in the artistic community. As with any issue involving critics of politicized art, those who are offended by the opera invariably are portrayed as small-minded or wishing to silence dissident voices. Defenders of Klinghoffer will claim, not without some justice, that many staples of the classic operatic repertory were once politically controversial and subjected to censorship. But comparisons with the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, to take just one prominent example, which were often rightly seen as subverting repressive monarchies or promoting the cause of Italian freedom, and Adams’ excursion into the Middle East conflict, are not apt. The libretto of “Klinghoffer” rationalizes terrorism, denigrates Jews and treats the plight of the Palestinians as morally equivalent to the Holocaust. Whether or not one accepts the notion that Adams’ creation is a musical masterpiece, as the Met insists, the point of the piece is one that is not merely offensive. It is, in its own way, a part of the global campaign of delegitimization of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. As such, the decision of one of the world’s leading arts organizations as well as one of the great cultural institutions of the city with the world’ largest Jewish populations, to produce this atrocity, even if won’t be shown around the world, is deeply troubling.

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In an attempt to split the difference with its critics, the Metropolitan Opera announced today that it would go ahead with its plans to put on a production of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer but would not include the piece in its list of live simulcasts that can be watched in movie theaters around the world. Though sticking to his belief that the opera is not anti-Semitic, Met general manager Peter Gelb, did appear to be heeding the warnings of the Anti-Defamation League that the broadcast of Klinghoffer around the globe at a time of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, Africa and Asia would be a mistake.

Predictably, neither side in this dispute is happy. The ADL and the family of Leon Klinghoffer, whose murder by Palestinian terrorists is depicted in the opera, are upset about Gelb’s determination to stage the piece in spite of protests. Meanwhile composer John Adams defended his opera and told the New York Times that he believes any effort to limit its reach not only raises issues about artistic freedom but also promotes intolerance.

Adams’ position is absurd but he is right to think his anger about Gelb’s move will resonate in the artistic community. As with any issue involving critics of politicized art, those who are offended by the opera invariably are portrayed as small-minded or wishing to silence dissident voices. Defenders of Klinghoffer will claim, not without some justice, that many staples of the classic operatic repertory were once politically controversial and subjected to censorship. But comparisons with the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, to take just one prominent example, which were often rightly seen as subverting repressive monarchies or promoting the cause of Italian freedom, and Adams’ excursion into the Middle East conflict, are not apt. The libretto of “Klinghoffer” rationalizes terrorism, denigrates Jews and treats the plight of the Palestinians as morally equivalent to the Holocaust. Whether or not one accepts the notion that Adams’ creation is a musical masterpiece, as the Met insists, the point of the piece is one that is not merely offensive. It is, in its own way, a part of the global campaign of delegitimization of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. As such, the decision of one of the world’s leading arts organizations as well as one of the great cultural institutions of the city with the world’ largest Jewish populations, to produce this atrocity, even if won’t be shown around the world, is deeply troubling.

The problem with Klinghoffer is not, as some of its defenders have always claimed, that it humanizes the Palestinians. But by using the story of the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship, Achille Lauro as the setting for its attempt to juxtapose the Jews and the Palestinians, it creates a false moral equivalence thought ought to offend all decent persons, especially in the city where the 9/11 attacks occurred less than 13 years ago.

For those who don’t remember, the Achille Lauro incident was one of the most shocking acts of international terrorism. During a cruise from Alexandria, Egypt to Ashdod, Israel in 1985, the ship was taken over by terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Front, a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasir Arafat. Eventually, the hijackers traded the ship and its passengers for promises of safe conduct from the Egyptian government. But before they left it, the Palestinians murdered one of the many American passengers; a wheelchair-bound elderly Jew named Leon Klinghoffer, and then threw his body into the sea.

To say that art should challenge its audiences to rethink their positions on issues or values is one thing. But to rationalize terrorism and the murder of a helpless old man simply because he was a Jew and spoke up against his tormentors does more than push the envelope of conventional tastes. It treats the indefensible as arguable. It portrays actions which are, in any civilized society, considered immoral and base and treats them as merely a question of one’s point of view. As such, “Klinghoffer” must be considered as not merely offensive but morally corrupt.

Given its contemptible premise, many people who know little of the cultural world in our day, may find it hard to understand how Klinghoffer could have been initially produced only a few years after the events it depicts took place in 1991 and become in the last quarter century a staple of the international operatic repertory, at least as far as contemporary opera is concerned. But such offensive views are mainstream opinion in the world of high art these days where productions of classics are often distorted to transform them from their religious and sentimental origins into parables for Marxist or other left-wing ideologies. Indeed, even operas which are inherently sympathetic to the Jews, like Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, have been turned into pro-Palestinian parables (though, it must be admitted that the Met’s 1998 Samson is actually quite sympathetic to the Jews). In such an artistic milieu, Klinghoffer is considered no more controversial than Verdi’s Rigoletto.

That the Met, which has a large Jewish fan base, should go down this contemptible road with Klinghoffer is a testament to Gelb’s determination to transform the venerable opera house into a laboratory for contemporary theater. Gelb has offended many, if not most of his subscribers with awful and ugly modernist productions in recent years and become the butt of almost constant attacks from disgruntled New York opera fans. But he has, to date, survived these disasters and, with a contract that runs into the next decade, seems to think that he can do, as he likes. But the Klinghoffer controversy comes at a particularly bad time for him.

The Met is currently negotiating with its unions about new contracts and Gelb has decided to try cut back on salaries and benefits for opera house workers as well as the chorus and orchestra. The conflict has been embittered by Gelb’s arrogance and profligate spending on his pet productions as well as the fact that he pulls down, as the New York Times reported yesterday, a whopping $1.8 million in salary, a staggering amount even an arts institution that is hurting financially. While it is always difficult to predict the course of labor negotiations, a strike that would postpone the opening of the Met this September or even the cancellation of the entire 2014-15 season a very real possibility. If so, the planned October-November run of Klinghoffer may never happen.

But strike or no strike, the decision to stage Klinghoffer taints the reputations of both Gelb and the Met. If the labor dispute results in a postponement of the Klinghoffer performances, the Met board should seize the opportunity to junk the production entirely. Indeed, now that Gelb has already admitted that the opera may well fan the flames of anti-Semitism if broadcast abroad, the Met should not do so at home either. If they don’t rethink their misguided plan, one of New York’s most beloved arts organizations will come under increasing and justified criticism for legitimizing terror and feeding anti-Semitism. It would be a fitting punishment if, along with all of his other problems, Gelb pays for this monumental error in judgment with his job.

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The Boycott That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Much has already been said, here and elsewhere, about the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). But a particularly unpleasant turn in this saga has been the infiltration of mainline Protestant churches by pro-boycott activists. Jonathan Tobin has written extensively about how this phenomenon has played out within the Presbyterian Church. The United Methodist Church, however, has until now held out firmly against those within their movement who would see them go the way of the Presbyterians. Yet last week the church’s pension board announced that it would be divesting from the British security company G4S on account of the fact that it provides equipment for Israeli prisons and the military operating in the West Bank.

The problem is that back at their convention two years ago, Methodists voted in an overwhelming 2-1 majority against divestment from companies operating in Israel. This decision, it would seem, was simply taken independently by the pension’s board. But given that the grassroots of the Methodist Church (America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination) don’t appear to share this antipathy to Israel, there has been a certain degree of backlash. And rather than defend their actions for what they are—a legitimization of the fiercely anti-Israel BDS movement—the pensions board has shamefully attempted to deny that any such divestment has taken place.

In a “clarification” released over the weekend, the church’s pension board insisted that this move wasn’t about Israel but rather was specific to G4S, claiming the initial investment had been a mistake because the church has a policy of not investing in prisons. Rather, the statement blamed the media and activist groups for labeling this move as a symbolic gesture in favor of divestment against Israel. Given that the investment in question concerns just $110,000 in stock this move was clearly always symbolic. But the explanation given by the Methodists and their pension board just isn’t convincing.

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Much has already been said, here and elsewhere, about the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). But a particularly unpleasant turn in this saga has been the infiltration of mainline Protestant churches by pro-boycott activists. Jonathan Tobin has written extensively about how this phenomenon has played out within the Presbyterian Church. The United Methodist Church, however, has until now held out firmly against those within their movement who would see them go the way of the Presbyterians. Yet last week the church’s pension board announced that it would be divesting from the British security company G4S on account of the fact that it provides equipment for Israeli prisons and the military operating in the West Bank.

The problem is that back at their convention two years ago, Methodists voted in an overwhelming 2-1 majority against divestment from companies operating in Israel. This decision, it would seem, was simply taken independently by the pension’s board. But given that the grassroots of the Methodist Church (America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination) don’t appear to share this antipathy to Israel, there has been a certain degree of backlash. And rather than defend their actions for what they are—a legitimization of the fiercely anti-Israel BDS movement—the pensions board has shamefully attempted to deny that any such divestment has taken place.

In a “clarification” released over the weekend, the church’s pension board insisted that this move wasn’t about Israel but rather was specific to G4S, claiming the initial investment had been a mistake because the church has a policy of not investing in prisons. Rather, the statement blamed the media and activist groups for labeling this move as a symbolic gesture in favor of divestment against Israel. Given that the investment in question concerns just $110,000 in stock this move was clearly always symbolic. But the explanation given by the Methodists and their pension board just isn’t convincing.

G4S has been at the top of the BDS hit list for some time now, along with other favorites like Sodastream and Ahava. More to the point, this move by the pensions board came after considerable lobbying by United Methodist Kairos Response, a hardline pro-Palestinian activist group within the Methodist Church that has been advocating and campaigning for divestment from Israel for some years. When this move was announced they were under no doubt that they had had a victory and announced it as such, celebrating the move as a “landmark divestment action.” David Wildman, United Methodist executive secretary for human rights and racial justice at the General Board of Global Ministries, similarly released a statement referring to Israel’s “illegal … military occupation” and calling the move a “strong human rights message both to G4S specifically and to other companies whose business operations support longstanding human rights abuses against Palestinians.” And while the Methodist pension board has attempted to blame the New York Times for this move being reported as an act of BDS, their own United Methodist Reporter quite openly recorded that, “The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is divesting its investments with a company for the first time due to Israel’s illegal settlements and military occupation.”

It is difficult to make sense of any of this. But the most likely explanation is that this is another instance of an activist vanguard hijacking the relevant committees of moderate institutions with the intention of directing them toward an extreme end. Given that this agenda is completely out of line with the grassroots consensus of the Methodist Church, there has been an attempt to obscure what is being done here. That still leaves others to celebrate this as a blow struck for the anti-Israel agenda, and more importantly it opens the way to legitimizing further divestment and boycott actions in the future.

And underlying all of this, it is impossible to discount the specter of resurgent Christian anti-Semitism, which now sees its greatest growth potential in the liberal rather than the conservative denominations. One can’t imagine that most Methodists would wish to go the way of the Presbyterians, or for that matter their British counterparts who, during their 2010 national conference, voted for a boycott amidst speeches where delegates spoke of being the “heirs of Abraham” as part of a “new covenant” that “never speaks of the land or owning it” and rejects “a racist God with favorites.” We should be open eyed about where all of this may be going, but also about where some of this is coming from.

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Presbyterians’ Tent of Nations Propaganda

Later this month, the Presbyterian Church USA will hold its biennial General Assembly at which delegates will decide whether one of the country’s mainstream Protestant denominations will fully embrace an economic war on Israel and the Jewish people. But the battle over resolutions that endorse divestment from companies that do business with Israel is not confined to the debates at that gathering. Presbyterian activists have been working hard over the last two years when similar proposals narrowly failed at the last PCUSA biennial to create an atmosphere of hatred against the Jewish state and its supporters. Earlier this year, a church-affiliated group published an outrageous book and companion CD titled Zionism Unsettled that crossed all boundaries between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and open hostility toward both Israel and Jewish peoplehood. Much of that effort smacked of traditional anti-Semitism, but press arms of the church are also fueling the fires of hate with misleading charges against Israel that are intended to boost the divestment campaign.

One such example, involving the so-called Tent of Nations, a pro-Palestinian rallying point in the West Bank claimed that Israeli forces not only oppress Palestinians but also sought to wage war on their trees. The PCUSA News Service wrote that the Israeli military wantonly destroyed between 1,500 and 2,000 trees planted at the site on property owned by a Palestinian farmer. In this version of the episode, parroted by other left-wing Protestant sites, Israel was seeking to seize Palestinian land and ignoring its own courts. But the truth, as this report from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out, is that much of this tale is pure propaganda built on an edifice of falsehoods.

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Later this month, the Presbyterian Church USA will hold its biennial General Assembly at which delegates will decide whether one of the country’s mainstream Protestant denominations will fully embrace an economic war on Israel and the Jewish people. But the battle over resolutions that endorse divestment from companies that do business with Israel is not confined to the debates at that gathering. Presbyterian activists have been working hard over the last two years when similar proposals narrowly failed at the last PCUSA biennial to create an atmosphere of hatred against the Jewish state and its supporters. Earlier this year, a church-affiliated group published an outrageous book and companion CD titled Zionism Unsettled that crossed all boundaries between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and open hostility toward both Israel and Jewish peoplehood. Much of that effort smacked of traditional anti-Semitism, but press arms of the church are also fueling the fires of hate with misleading charges against Israel that are intended to boost the divestment campaign.

One such example, involving the so-called Tent of Nations, a pro-Palestinian rallying point in the West Bank claimed that Israeli forces not only oppress Palestinians but also sought to wage war on their trees. The PCUSA News Service wrote that the Israeli military wantonly destroyed between 1,500 and 2,000 trees planted at the site on property owned by a Palestinian farmer. In this version of the episode, parroted by other left-wing Protestant sites, Israel was seeking to seize Palestinian land and ignoring its own courts. But the truth, as this report from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out, is that much of this tale is pure propaganda built on an edifice of falsehoods.

As CAMERA notes, the first thing that is wrong with this story is that the Israel Defense Forces did not violate court orders when it uprooted the trees at the Tent of Nations site. While the Palestinian family was able to prove they owned an adjacent hilltop, they have consistently failed in the courts to prove their assertions that they also own the valley where the trees were planted. The family lost the case in Israel’s independent courts. Though they argue that it has been theirs for a century, there is no evidence that it was ever cultivated or in any way occupied by them until just a few years ago when, in an effort to demonstrate ownership, they planted some trees. It is also worth pointing out, as aerial photos taken by the Israelis proved, there were no more than 300 recently planted trees there, not the thousands that the Palestinians and their Presbyterian friends claimed. The entire point of the tree planting was not agriculture but politics and an effort to goad the Israeli government into taking action that can be portrayed as oppression but which is actually upholding the rule of law.

This story proves that in order to libel Israel, these Presbyterian activists will do just about anything, including making vast exaggerations and distortions in order to whip up anger at the Jewish state. But what else can we expect from a church that produced a book like Zionism Unsettled which seeks to portray all of Israel and not just the West Bank settlements as a crime against humanity. In seeking to brand all Israel supporters as co-conspirators in the plot against the Palestinians, the pro-BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) crowd is burning even its bridges with left-wing Israelis and American Jews like J Street. Even the left-wing lobby understands that what is at stake in this battle with church activists is not merely a symbolic resolution but an effort to delegitimize the Jewish people.

It bears repeating that most American Presbyterians have no interest in backing a campaign of hate against Israel and Jews. To the contrary, most mainline Protestants, including those affiliated with PCUSA churches or who serve as their pastors, are not comfortable with the fact that a small group of radical activists have hijacked their church. But given the nature of the incitement produced by official church groups, PCUSA congregants can no longer claim ignorance or indifference about what is being done in their name. If their representatives vote to join those waging war on Israel later this month, the church will have ended any hope of future relations with either Jews or Christians of conscience.

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The Brussels Shooting and Why Europe Won’t Confront Islamic Jew-Hatred

The revelation that the Belgium police have now made an arrest in relation to the recent shooting at the Jewish museum in Brussels, and more significantly that the suspect is a Muslim radical who spent time fighting in Syria, confirms what many had suspected about that attack; that it was the work of Islamic militancy and the Jew-hatred that constitutes a core aspect of that ideology. When a similar shooting attack took place in 2012 at a Jewish school in Toulouse, much of the media initially attempted to speculate that this was the work of a far-right white supremacist. No doubt the liberal media was holding out for such a result this time too. But in both cases these attacks were the work of home-grown Islamic extremism. These acts may for the moment only concern a very small number of radicalized individuals, yet such individuals emerge from a much wider sub-culture of hate that Europe’s elites not only attempt to ignore, but that is even excused and legitimated by the prevailing narrative in Europe.

The suspect in question has been named as 29-year old French national Mehdi Nemmouche, who spent a year fighting with rebels in Syria. It’s not as if there haven’t been enough warnings about the dangers represented by the phenomenon of large numbers of European Muslims going to fight in Syria, but if European governments have proven incapable of preventing these individuals from making their way to Syria, then one also has to wonder how they were so easily able to slip back into Europe. Still, the case of the Toulouse shooting provides a noteworthy parallel. The gunman in that case, Mohammed Merah, had already spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan and now it is widely believed that Merah’s sister Souad is also currently in Syria.

It is more than just a little revealing that so many of Europe’s Muslims are drawn to fight for Islamic causes in far off countries in the first place; there are an estimated 600 French Muslims fighting in Syria and almost as many from Britain. It is similarly telling that when these people return they not only continue to engage in acts of violence, but that their violence is directed toward Jews. Of course we shouldn’t ignore the violence against Jews coming from Muslims who haven’t first been radicalized via Syria or elsewhere; on the same day as the shooting in Brussels two French Jews were assaulted in Paris as they were leaving a synagogue. There is hardly space here to rehearse all the recent incidents from Europe of Muslims attacking Jews, but a European Union survey from the fall exposed how in most European countries Muslims were by far the leading group responsible for anti-Semitic incidents, closely followed by individuals identified as being on the far left.  

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The revelation that the Belgium police have now made an arrest in relation to the recent shooting at the Jewish museum in Brussels, and more significantly that the suspect is a Muslim radical who spent time fighting in Syria, confirms what many had suspected about that attack; that it was the work of Islamic militancy and the Jew-hatred that constitutes a core aspect of that ideology. When a similar shooting attack took place in 2012 at a Jewish school in Toulouse, much of the media initially attempted to speculate that this was the work of a far-right white supremacist. No doubt the liberal media was holding out for such a result this time too. But in both cases these attacks were the work of home-grown Islamic extremism. These acts may for the moment only concern a very small number of radicalized individuals, yet such individuals emerge from a much wider sub-culture of hate that Europe’s elites not only attempt to ignore, but that is even excused and legitimated by the prevailing narrative in Europe.

The suspect in question has been named as 29-year old French national Mehdi Nemmouche, who spent a year fighting with rebels in Syria. It’s not as if there haven’t been enough warnings about the dangers represented by the phenomenon of large numbers of European Muslims going to fight in Syria, but if European governments have proven incapable of preventing these individuals from making their way to Syria, then one also has to wonder how they were so easily able to slip back into Europe. Still, the case of the Toulouse shooting provides a noteworthy parallel. The gunman in that case, Mohammed Merah, had already spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan and now it is widely believed that Merah’s sister Souad is also currently in Syria.

It is more than just a little revealing that so many of Europe’s Muslims are drawn to fight for Islamic causes in far off countries in the first place; there are an estimated 600 French Muslims fighting in Syria and almost as many from Britain. It is similarly telling that when these people return they not only continue to engage in acts of violence, but that their violence is directed toward Jews. Of course we shouldn’t ignore the violence against Jews coming from Muslims who haven’t first been radicalized via Syria or elsewhere; on the same day as the shooting in Brussels two French Jews were assaulted in Paris as they were leaving a synagogue. There is hardly space here to rehearse all the recent incidents from Europe of Muslims attacking Jews, but a European Union survey from the fall exposed how in most European countries Muslims were by far the leading group responsible for anti-Semitic incidents, closely followed by individuals identified as being on the far left.  

Europe’s elites have proven completely incapable of confronting and tackling this worsening phenomenon because they are incapacitated by a worldview that barely even allows them to openly acknowledge the problem. Most types of racism and bigotry in Europe have been swept away not by government legislation but by a culture of political correctness imposed by Europe’s media and cultural institutions that sets such views beyond the pale. Yet because that very doctrine of political correctness holds immigrant communities and particularly Muslims to be a victim group of the highest order, it has become impossible for Europeans to imagine that these people might themselves be the perpetrators of racism and bigotry. The model doesn’t allow for such a notion, especially not when the victims are Jews. Since Europeans perceive Jews as being white, Western, and affluent, that places them on the side of the oppressors and not among the oppressed.

Then there is the Israel factor. As much as critics of Israel like to stress that it’s Zionists and not Jews they take issue with, whenever Jews are attacked, liberals and liberal Europeans inevitably make the Israel connection and in so doing invalidate their own pretense that they view the two as being entirely separate. When Jewish children were mowed down by bullets as they made their way to school in Toulouse and the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton was obliged to concoct some words of sympathy, she stunned observers by using this event to note how, “we see what is happening in Gaza.” It seems that for people like Ashton, it is impossible to acknowledge Jewish victimhood without also footnoting Palestinian suffering, as if in some attempt to explain away whatever has just been done to the Jews in question.

European liberals delight in expressing horror and gleeful outrage at the sight of American Evangelical Christianity. They warn against reactionary Christian attitudes on any social issue that arises in their own country and they are always sure to castigate the Catholic Church whenever the opportunity presents itself (Pope Benedict’s visit to London was marred by large and angry protests). But if Europeans were really concerned about ultra-conservative religious extremism then they would act to prevent the proliferation of radical Islam in Europe. Similarly, if they were serious about ending racism then they would crack down on the only form of racism in Europe today that still kills people: Islamic Jew-hatred.

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Europe’s Lurch Right Is Bad for the Jews … and the United States

The huge gains made by far-right nationalist parties in the European Union elections last week have a lot of people on the continent and elsewhere scared. The results threaten to undermine the hard-won European unity that has been achieved since the end of World War Two. The gains made by such parties across the board are the result of a variety of different local dynamics, but the common theme is hostility to immigrants and other religious minorities. Though center-right parties will still predominate in the EU parliament, the election threatens to further exacerbate an atmosphere in Europe in which anger against perceived outsiders morphs from localized violence to a general spirit of isolationism. The fact that many of these parties, such as France’s National Front, have flirted with anti-Semitism while others, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, have openly embraced it seems to illustrate the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. That last week ended with a murderous attack on Jews in Belgium also raised the fear level of embattled Jewish communities in Europe.

But there are some who are looking for a silver lining amid this dismal news. When some Jews look at Europe’s far right parties, they see a potential ally against Islamists since the nationalists there are often obsessed with what they see as a threat to their culture and national identity from the large populations of immigrants from Muslim countries. This leads some Americans who are on the right to believe that even though the EU nationalists are clearly hostile to Jews and Israel, they may nevertheless help secure Europe against Islamist influence and thus help preserve the West against those who are trying to overthrow it. While there is a superficial logic to this enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend sort of thinking, it is a grave mistake. European Jews wouldn’t be the only piece of collateral damage in the blowup of Western democracy. The far right’s victory would weaken American influence and create a far more dangerous world for all of us.

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The huge gains made by far-right nationalist parties in the European Union elections last week have a lot of people on the continent and elsewhere scared. The results threaten to undermine the hard-won European unity that has been achieved since the end of World War Two. The gains made by such parties across the board are the result of a variety of different local dynamics, but the common theme is hostility to immigrants and other religious minorities. Though center-right parties will still predominate in the EU parliament, the election threatens to further exacerbate an atmosphere in Europe in which anger against perceived outsiders morphs from localized violence to a general spirit of isolationism. The fact that many of these parties, such as France’s National Front, have flirted with anti-Semitism while others, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, have openly embraced it seems to illustrate the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. That last week ended with a murderous attack on Jews in Belgium also raised the fear level of embattled Jewish communities in Europe.

But there are some who are looking for a silver lining amid this dismal news. When some Jews look at Europe’s far right parties, they see a potential ally against Islamists since the nationalists there are often obsessed with what they see as a threat to their culture and national identity from the large populations of immigrants from Muslim countries. This leads some Americans who are on the right to believe that even though the EU nationalists are clearly hostile to Jews and Israel, they may nevertheless help secure Europe against Islamist influence and thus help preserve the West against those who are trying to overthrow it. While there is a superficial logic to this enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend sort of thinking, it is a grave mistake. European Jews wouldn’t be the only piece of collateral damage in the blowup of Western democracy. The far right’s victory would weaken American influence and create a far more dangerous world for all of us.

As much as the lurch right seems to represent a backlash among Europeans against outside influences, let’s put aside any illusion that these parties are really capable of routing Islamist influences. Nothing short of a turn to open fascism can evict Muslim immigrants from Europe. The rising influence of these communities and the anti-Semitism they help fuel stems not only from their numbers but also from the way the Jew-hatred they brought with them dovetails with traditional European anti-Semitism. Hostility to Israel and Jewish interests unites academics and other elites with those on the far right and Muslims. Euro nationalists of various stripes are not likely to be able to achieve their objectives with respect to Muslim immigrants because of the huge numbers involved and the resistance to that project from the traditional parties of the left and the center. But their fomenting of hate against religious minorities is likely to be more successful when it is directed against the far less numerous Jews. Though the far right and Muslims are locked in a never-ending fight, Jews are more vulnerable and easily caught in the crossfire of that conflict.

Just as important is the potential that these parties will splinter Europe in ways that are profoundly damaging to the defense of Western democracy. Small government conservatives in the United States may sympathize with those Europeans who bristle at being ruled by unaccountable EU bureaucrats in Brussels. But as much as the EU seems to be a perfect combination of the perils of big social democratic governments, a Europe that is worried about appeasing anger on the right is one that is likely to opt out of the collective security arrangements that have guaranteed the peace of the world since 1945. The EU is already a weak partner of the United States. But the increasing influence of rightist parties is liable to have a far greater impact on the ability of the U.S. to count on being able to use NATO to resist threats to collective security around the globe and in Europe as the Russian assault on Ukraine has proved.

The rise of the European right won’t do much to undermine the assault on the West from Islamists, but it could undermine any hope that the U.S. will be able to defend Western interests. European anti-Semites are, in fact, natural allies of their Muslim antagonists when it comes to making life difficult for European Jews and isolating Israel. This is an ominous development that should be viewed with horror by precisely those in the West who have rightly worried most about the way Islamists are gaining ground in Europe.

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Another Anti-Semitic Outrage on the Dark Continent

Yet again, Jews in Europe are grieving. Saturday’s brutal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a stark reminder that, for its Jewish communities, Europe is rapidly becoming a dark continent, one where extreme violence lurks behind the constant stream of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic invective found on extremist websites and mainstream media outlets alike.

Four people were murdered in the museum shooting. Two of them were a couple from Tel Aviv, vacationing in the Belgian capital. The third was a female volunteer at the museum, while the fourth was a 23 year-old museum employee who was hospitalized in critical condition and who died shortly afterwards from his injuries. The assault was eerily reminiscent of the Islamist terror attack in 2012 at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, in which three young children and a rabbi were similarly shot at close range by Mohammed Merah, an individual with dual French and Algerian citizenship who entered the global Islamist terror network following visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Yet again, Jews in Europe are grieving. Saturday’s brutal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a stark reminder that, for its Jewish communities, Europe is rapidly becoming a dark continent, one where extreme violence lurks behind the constant stream of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic invective found on extremist websites and mainstream media outlets alike.

Four people were murdered in the museum shooting. Two of them were a couple from Tel Aviv, vacationing in the Belgian capital. The third was a female volunteer at the museum, while the fourth was a 23 year-old museum employee who was hospitalized in critical condition and who died shortly afterwards from his injuries. The assault was eerily reminiscent of the Islamist terror attack in 2012 at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, in which three young children and a rabbi were similarly shot at close range by Mohammed Merah, an individual with dual French and Algerian citizenship who entered the global Islamist terror network following visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It just so happens that I am writing these lines from Jerusalem, where I am one of several speakers at a major conference on anti-Semitism organized by the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University. As the news from Brussels broke on Saturday night, hundreds of Israelis were gathering in cafes and bars to watch the final of the European Cup soccer tournament. In the informal conversations I had with fellow spectators, I encountered anger and disgust, but little surprise–this is Europe we’re talking about, after all. And to its immense credit, the Israeli government’s official response to the attack reflected these public sentiments. “This act of murder is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state,” declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Slander and lies against the State of Israel continue to be heard on European soil even as the crimes against humanity and acts of murder being perpetrated in our region are systematically ignored.”

When it comes to spreading fear among Jews, Belgium is, in fact, one of the worst offenders. The the latest annual survey of global anti-Semitic incidents and expressions from Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute noted that “the countries in which the situation and sense of vulnerability seem to be the worst were Hungary, France, and Belgium.” Indeed, anyone tempted to think that the Brussels attack was an isolated aberration would do well to consider the depressingly long list of anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium that presaged it.

Last year, an anti-Semitism watchdog group reported a 23 percent increase in antisemitic attacks in 2012 from the previous year (when you remember that many such incidents go unreported, the number is likely to be higher.) As Netanyahu asserted in his response to the museum attack, these physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are enabled by the incitement which underpins them. There was, for example, the Brussels concert of the former Pink Floyd vocalist, and professional Israel-hater, Roger Waters, which featured a pig-shaped balloon emblazoned with a Star of David. A website for the teaching of history run by the Belgian Education Ministry featured a cartoon by the anti-Semitic Brazilian artist, Carlos Latuff, which compared Israel with Nazi Germany through a representation of a dead concentration camp victim alongside a dead Palestinian, their limbs arranged in the shape of a swastika. In February this year, passengers on a Belgian train were informed over the speaker system, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching Auschwitz. All Jews are requested to disembark and take a short shower.” Earlier this month, police in Brussels used water cannon to disperse a mob of anti-Semites who had gathered for an event featuring the anti-Semitic French provocateur, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, and Laurent Louis, a Belgian parliamentarian who has regularly issued anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic statements. 

It’s often quipped that European governments have a decent record of commemorating dead Jews, as evidenced by the numerous Holocaust memorials across the continent, and a pretty awful record when it comes to protecting live ones. The imperative of guaranteeing freedom of speech necessarily limits any actions that governments can take against anti-Semitic incitement, but that should not prevent European leaders from explicitly recognizing where this poison springs from. It is not enough to say, as did the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, that the Brussels atrocity “was an attack on European values which we cannot tolerate.” Only when Europe’s politicians finally acknowledge that the continent’s culture of Israel-hatred–expressed through boycott campaigns, degrading films and cartoons, frequent analogies between Israel and Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa, and much else besides–is what lies behind this deadly violence, will we finally be able to say that some progress in confronting this social disease has been made.

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Anti-Jewish Rhetoric at the Modern Language Association

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, I have an update on the Modern Language Association’s debate on Israel. The Association is now voting on Resolution 2014-1, which calls on the “Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” Voting ends on June 1.

The resolution barely passed the MLA’s Delegate Assembly back in January. That was a setback for the anti-Israel crew at the MLA, which had overwhelmingly won a similar vote back in 2008. I assumed that the resolution would easily win a full membership vote, but a group called MLA Members for Scholar’s Rights has made a real debate of it. Much of that debate has been conducted at an MLA member’s-only site, during a comment period on the resolution, which has now ended. Someone has been good enough to post most of it here.  At least two things are striking about the debate.

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Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, I have an update on the Modern Language Association’s debate on Israel. The Association is now voting on Resolution 2014-1, which calls on the “Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” Voting ends on June 1.

The resolution barely passed the MLA’s Delegate Assembly back in January. That was a setback for the anti-Israel crew at the MLA, which had overwhelmingly won a similar vote back in 2008. I assumed that the resolution would easily win a full membership vote, but a group called MLA Members for Scholar’s Rights has made a real debate of it. Much of that debate has been conducted at an MLA member’s-only site, during a comment period on the resolution, which has now ended. Someone has been good enough to post most of it here.  At least two things are striking about the debate.

First, opponents fully understand that the resolution is not really about denials of entry. Neither those who sponsored the resolution nor those who are voting for it think that the State Department is deferring important policy decisions until the professors of language and literature weigh in. The resolution is “a Trojan horse for a boycott” or, to be more precise, for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, a movement that refuses to be pinned down on the question of Israel’s right to exist, that seeks to turn Israel into a pariah state on the model of apartheid South Africa, and that, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, has recommended that backers do their best to shun Israel academics because “academic exchanges with Israeli academics … have the effect of normalizing Israel and its politics of occupation and apartheid.” This line, perhaps because of the bad publicity it has generated, was recently removed from the site of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, but it can still be seen in this snapshot.

We can be confident that support for BDS is the symbolic import of the resolution because of what we know about its sponsors, Bruce Robbins of Columbia University and Richard Ohmann of Wesleyan University. Both signed a 2009 letter that, after describing the boycott campaign against South Africa, has this to say:

It is time for the United States to place a similar pressure on Israel. That Israel has been America’s beneficiary, unchallenged in its war crimes and in its acts of terror, uncontested for its racist civil constitution and illegal occupations, has not been to the United States’ advantage. On the contrary, such unquestioning support of Israel has fuelled the legitimate anger of the Islamic world, supplied the justification for terrorism, and continually tarnished the United States’ reputation among the democracies of the world.

Second, some of the resolution’s supporters, all MLA members, oblige those who find anti-Semitism in the BDS movement. For example:

As on the broader political scene, moves to seek justice and opportunity for Palestinians (or to remove obstacles to achieving those goals) are countered by Zionist attack dogs. When the Zionist lobby railroads its way through Congress, universities, and civil society no request is made for equal time for the other side. Only when a counter voice is raised in this tightly controlled wilderness, do the proponents of Israeli exceptionalism cry foul.

Another is more explicit: this “resolution rightly targets only Israel given the humongous influence that Jewish scholars have in the decision making process of Academia in general.”

Supporters of BDS will assert that it is unfair to pin a few anti-Semitic comments on them. Set aside the fact that, as one supporter puts it, the “xenophobic rhetoric of ‘outsiders’ and conspiracies” pervades the debate. At least as telling is how the BDS movement itself reacts to well-founded accusations that prominent supporters, like Roger Waters and Alice Walker deploy classic anti-Semitic tropes. As far as I know, no BDS leader has uttered a peep, and both remain propaganda tools in good standing.

This silence is presumably related to the movement’s studied ambivalence about whether it wants to roll back 1967 or 1948. While there are presumably some anti-Semites among any group that criticizes Israel, anti-Semites are an important part of BDS’s base.

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Erdogan Unhinged

The German government’s publicly expressed discomfort with a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-Semitic premier–will be familiar to those who have covered Erdogan’s career or followed his exploits. Germany has no issue with Erdogan’s visit per se as much as they don’t like the idea of him giving an address to the country’s Turkish diaspora.

Turkey is a NATO member and, if you ask European Union officials on the record, a perennial candidate for eventual EU membership (though an obviously unrealistic one). So why is a European country eschewing the standard multiculti fare and worrying aloud about the Islamist leader’s speech? Because Erdogan is a loose cannon, whose public profile has always had to be managed carefully by party leaders lest the world hear a set of Erdogan Unplugged and come to the conclusion that the Turkish leader is a raving maniac.

The rise of social media–which Erdogan has tried to ban–and the spread of public protest movements to Turkey have tested Erdogan and his party. They have begun to come unglued. The latest test of Turkish leadership was the awful tragedy of the mine explosion in the Turkish city of Soma on May 13. Our Michael Rubin explained that the disaster–or, rather, its aftermath–encapsulated a couple of the major problems of Erdogan’s rule, most notably incompetence and blame-shifting.

After a government official was caught on camera beating a defenseless protester, tragedy descended into farce, as the Telegraph reports today:

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The German government’s publicly expressed discomfort with a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-Semitic premier–will be familiar to those who have covered Erdogan’s career or followed his exploits. Germany has no issue with Erdogan’s visit per se as much as they don’t like the idea of him giving an address to the country’s Turkish diaspora.

Turkey is a NATO member and, if you ask European Union officials on the record, a perennial candidate for eventual EU membership (though an obviously unrealistic one). So why is a European country eschewing the standard multiculti fare and worrying aloud about the Islamist leader’s speech? Because Erdogan is a loose cannon, whose public profile has always had to be managed carefully by party leaders lest the world hear a set of Erdogan Unplugged and come to the conclusion that the Turkish leader is a raving maniac.

The rise of social media–which Erdogan has tried to ban–and the spread of public protest movements to Turkey have tested Erdogan and his party. They have begun to come unglued. The latest test of Turkish leadership was the awful tragedy of the mine explosion in the Turkish city of Soma on May 13. Our Michael Rubin explained that the disaster–or, rather, its aftermath–encapsulated a couple of the major problems of Erdogan’s rule, most notably incompetence and blame-shifting.

After a government official was caught on camera beating a defenseless protester, tragedy descended into farce, as the Telegraph reports today:

A Turkish prime ministerial aide who rose to international attention after being photographed kicking a prone demonstrator has been given sick leave after suffering injuries to the same leg he used to carry out the attack.

Images of Yusef Yerkel assaulting the protester on the streets of Soma on May 14 a day after a mining disaster that killed 301 people quickly went viral after they were posted on the internet.

They also became emblematic of a perceived insensitivity to the tragedy on the part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister and Mr Yerkel’s boss, who was visiting Soma when the incident occurred.

That’s quite the generous workers’ comp plan on offer in Erdogan’s government. But the spectacle spread, perhaps inevitably, when the prime minister himself was confronted by protesters:

“Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?” Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heard yelling at a protester in video footage circulated by the opposition Sozcu newspaper, using an expression considered a curse in Turkish.

That sentence is key to understanding the rot of Erdogan’s world. To be called an Israeli is apparently by definition supposed to be an insult in Turkey. The tensions between Turkey and Israel have much to do with geopolitics but enough to do with Erdogan’s Islamism to shine a spotlight on anti-Semitism in that country, and the way Erdogan is happy to express it and fan it when he feels threatened.

Falling back on anti-Semitism and specifically claims of Jewish disloyalty (hence a Turk being called “Israeli spawn”) is old hat for the region’s autocrats when they need to distract the public from their own corruption. It’s an especially important tool for Erdogan because he’d like to extend his influence throughout the Middle East but would be something of an outsider to the region’s Arabs. Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel incitement are seen by thugs like Erdogan to be unifying themes, and reveal the absurdity of Western leaders like Barack Obama “anchoring” regional policy in a petty aspiring tyrant like Erdogan.

Such incitement is often dismissed as mere rhetoric, but aside from the actual danger to Israel–such as embracing and funding Hamas, for example–the toll such hate takes on Jews in Turkey should not be overlooked. In a post at Hurriyet Daily News, Haymi Behar explains “what it is to be born as ‘Israeli spawn’ in Turkey.” Here’s a sample:

It means your favorite team Fenerbahçe playing against Maccabee Tel Aviv – which you only know by name – and your classmates who go to matches with asking you: “Are you supporting ‘us’ or ‘them?’”

It means internalizing Anne Frank’s Diary as you grow up.

It means being a part of a mere 13 million tribe in a sea of 7 billion in the world, and being a small sample of the 17,000 “spawn brothers” in Turkey.

It means trying to figure out why you are being held personally responsible Jesus’ crucifixion and the killing of Sultan Fatih the Conqueror, even though Jews only make up 0.2 percent of the world’s population.

It means having the ability to have all the answers ready, waiting in your mind, to respond anytime in your life to all these colossal historic questions.

It means trying to create a happy life for yourself while baring the burden of your ancestors having been enslaved, expelled constantly, despised and being the victims of the most massive industrially planned genocide ever committed.

It means keeping in your mind the question, “How did we manage to be the leading actors of so many conspiracy theories with such a small population?”

It means getting used to hearing hate speech and discrimination any God given day.

This is what can be revealed to the world when Erdogan speaks his mind, and it’s why the German government was holding its breath–because putting faith in Erdogan’s better judgment is like putting faith in any number of comforting, but nonexistent, entities.

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The Audacity of Protesting Anti-Semitism

Strange that a recent article about anti-Semitism that appeared in the Guardian should have been accompanied by a picture not of Jews, but rather of Palestinian children. Beneath it reads the caption “Palestinian children are denied some fairly basic human rights.” Which human rights? We’re not told. And “fairly basic,” is that a legal term? Well never mind.

The article in question is an attack on the Anti-Defamation League’s recent survey of global anti-Semitism. It at once accuses the ADL of having essentially fabricated its findings through the use of “leading questions” and of having then used these findings for political ends by defending Israel, implicating Muslims and specifically framing Palestinians. This despite the fact that all nationalities surveyed were asked the same set of questions. Naturally, the Guardian was able to find two Jews to write such a piece. Donna Nevel is described as “a long time organizer against Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism” and serves on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace and the coordinating committee of something called the Nakba Education Project. Her co-author Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark similarly sits on the committee of the Nakba Education Project and is a co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. 

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Strange that a recent article about anti-Semitism that appeared in the Guardian should have been accompanied by a picture not of Jews, but rather of Palestinian children. Beneath it reads the caption “Palestinian children are denied some fairly basic human rights.” Which human rights? We’re not told. And “fairly basic,” is that a legal term? Well never mind.

The article in question is an attack on the Anti-Defamation League’s recent survey of global anti-Semitism. It at once accuses the ADL of having essentially fabricated its findings through the use of “leading questions” and of having then used these findings for political ends by defending Israel, implicating Muslims and specifically framing Palestinians. This despite the fact that all nationalities surveyed were asked the same set of questions. Naturally, the Guardian was able to find two Jews to write such a piece. Donna Nevel is described as “a long time organizer against Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism” and serves on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace and the coordinating committee of something called the Nakba Education Project. Her co-author Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark similarly sits on the committee of the Nakba Education Project and is a co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. 

Nevel and Neimark’s article could be read in two ways. At face value it appears to simply be an attack on a survey about anti-Semitism–a fairly baffling undertaking as it is. Yet, to achieve this attack, the authors have to first undertake a rather unconvincing exercise in apologetics on behalf of anti-Semitism itself. Working their way through these allegedly “leading questions” the writers in each case try to convince the reader that what is being asked about here is either not really anti-Semitism, or otherwise that it’s not at all unreasonable that Palestinians and others should hold such views. So for instance, when the survey asks “Do Jews have too much power in the business world?” the authors claim in the Palestinian respondents’ defense, “Were they really to be expected to answer anything but ‘yes’?” Similarly, when the survey asked if Jews talk too much about the Holocaust, Nevel and Neimark argue that for Palestinians—who the survey found to be the most anti-Semitic population in the world—it is only fair that they should answer in the affirmative. After all, allege the authors, the Holocaust is exploited to justify denying Palestinians their human rights. 

One paragraph was so outrageous that even the Guardian lost heart and had it removed. A note at the bottom of the piece now states that a paragraph was removed “that made a reference to ‘loyalty to Israel’ that was inconsistent with Guardian editorial guidelines.” It might be instructive to quote the offending “dual loyalties” paragraph in full:

In its press release, the ADL states that “The most widely accepted anti-Semitic stereotype worldwide is: Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country/the countries they live in.” It’s an odd indicator of anti-Semitism given that Israeli leaders consistently claim to speak for the global Jewish community and consider loyalty to Israel a precondition for being a good Jew. So it’s actually not surprising that this constant assertion has penetrated the consciousness of the rest of the world.

In their efforts to vindicate the Palestinians and other Muslim nations, Nevel and Neimark are forced to set the bar for anti-Semitism so high as to rid the term of all meaning. Indeed, in their article the authors complain of the ADL survey, “many of its questions are pointedly designed to skew the results because they have little to do with revealing actual anti-Semitism.” But overall the writers hardly give the sense of being genuinely concerned by whatever they consider “actual anti-Semitism” to be. In the wake of the precedent set by the Nazis, it seems that many are under the impression that if it doesn’t involve the mass extermination of the Jews, then it doesn’t really pass for serious anti-Semitism. In viewing the matter this way they risk legitimating the very demonization that makes such extermination possible.  

Yet, demonizing Jews via the ADL is precisely what Nevel and Neimark are apparently prepared to do. Dismissing the severity of rising global anti-Semitism, and accusing the ADL of instigating paranoia, the authors reference a survey showing that there is more bias against Muslims and Roma in Europe than Jews, although it seems the authors were too pleased with the results of that survey to raise the formerly worrisome matter of leading questions. They then go on to level their final allegation: that the ADL shouldn’t simply concern itself with anti-Semitism, but rather all prejudices.

By making this last attack, Nevel and Neimark appear to accuse Jews of the terrible crime of caring more about Jew-hatred than hatred of other peoples. One wonders if in the course of their work against “Islamophobia” and on behalf of Palestinians, the authors ever castigate these groups on the same charge. For these writers, the real crime is not the hatred of Jews–which they apparently think exaggerated–but the fact that the Jews have the self-interested audacity to protest their own persecution more than they protest the persecution of others. 

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Fighting Back in France

When Roger Cukierman returned to holding the presidency of CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France)—the umbrella group of French Jewish organizations and the pre-eminent voice of that community in Paris—in 2013, pieces began appearing in the press criticizing Cukierman’s leadership of French Jewry. Cukierman was painted by some as being weak in the face of rampant French anti-Semitism and of essentially advocating a policy of appeasement. One piece from January that appeared in Tablet claimed that Cuckierman’s strategy for combating anti-Semitism in France consisted of having the French Jewish community distance itself from Israel (so that Jewish institutions wouldn’t simply be viewed as an annex of the Israeli embassy). Another piece accused Cukierman of claiming that the Quenelle gesture—the inverted Nazi salute—isn’t always anti-Semitic, another argued that France’s aging Jewish leadership is out of touch with younger generations—a common, if mindless, complaint heard the world over.

So when I met with Cukierman (who is also vice president of the World Jewish Congress) I was surprised to find someone whose outlook broke with the above representation in just about every way. When I questioned Cukierman about the relationship between Israel and anti-Semitism in France he responded quite emphatically, “It’s not true that anti-Semitism is the result of Israeli policy,” insisting that this is the same anti-Semitism that has existed since long before the creation of the State of Israel. Pushing the matter further, I wondered what CRIF’s president thought of the notion that Diaspora Jews should be seen to be more critical of Israel; after all, it’s an idea that’s gaining traction both among some Jewish leaders in Europe and with certain liberal Jewish groups in America. Again, Cukierman was unequivocal, “the Israeli citizen is the one who is risking his skin … it would be outrageous to tell the Israelis what they should do for their own security … I consider it their risk, and their choice, and their life.” So no mistaking his position on that matter.

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When Roger Cukierman returned to holding the presidency of CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France)—the umbrella group of French Jewish organizations and the pre-eminent voice of that community in Paris—in 2013, pieces began appearing in the press criticizing Cukierman’s leadership of French Jewry. Cukierman was painted by some as being weak in the face of rampant French anti-Semitism and of essentially advocating a policy of appeasement. One piece from January that appeared in Tablet claimed that Cuckierman’s strategy for combating anti-Semitism in France consisted of having the French Jewish community distance itself from Israel (so that Jewish institutions wouldn’t simply be viewed as an annex of the Israeli embassy). Another piece accused Cukierman of claiming that the Quenelle gesture—the inverted Nazi salute—isn’t always anti-Semitic, another argued that France’s aging Jewish leadership is out of touch with younger generations—a common, if mindless, complaint heard the world over.

So when I met with Cukierman (who is also vice president of the World Jewish Congress) I was surprised to find someone whose outlook broke with the above representation in just about every way. When I questioned Cukierman about the relationship between Israel and anti-Semitism in France he responded quite emphatically, “It’s not true that anti-Semitism is the result of Israeli policy,” insisting that this is the same anti-Semitism that has existed since long before the creation of the State of Israel. Pushing the matter further, I wondered what CRIF’s president thought of the notion that Diaspora Jews should be seen to be more critical of Israel; after all, it’s an idea that’s gaining traction both among some Jewish leaders in Europe and with certain liberal Jewish groups in America. Again, Cukierman was unequivocal, “the Israeli citizen is the one who is risking his skin … it would be outrageous to tell the Israelis what they should do for their own security … I consider it their risk, and their choice, and their life.” So no mistaking his position on that matter.

If Cukierman does not consider anti-Israel sentiments to be at the root of France’s alarming upsurge in anti-Semitism, then how is it to be explained? Cukierman suggests that there are three separate sources of hostility to Jews in France; the far-right, the far-left and radical Islam. Others from his office suggested also the role of economic hardships and post-colonial guilt. Still, these factors are certainly at play in other European countries, but it is France that seems to be considered one of the most troubled locations on the map of global anti-Semitism. Could it be less a matter of the combustible concoction of all these factors and more the fact that France has each factor in greater abundance than anywhere else? Perhaps in France, after a fraught flight from North Africa, post-colonial feeling is particularly intense; perhaps France’s Muslim population is larger and less assimilated than in other places; perhaps the left is particularly dominant in Franc; or perhaps the right has some particularly charismatic leaders in the form of the le Pens.

When I asked Cukierman and his delegation what they thought was unique about the situation in France, their suggestion was Diuedonne, the inflammatory comedian who has popularized the Quenelle and, as Cukierman explained, united disparate elements on the various fringes. It wouldn’t be the first time that a rabble rousing orator directed the mob against the Jews, but for that to happen, there has to at least be a rousable mob to be directed in the first place. Cukierman concedes that efforts by the French government to censor Diuedonne may have perversely caused some in the mainstream to become more sympathetic to him. Yet it would seem that Cukierman still favors this kind of intervention by the government to deny Diuedonne a platform, as he explains, when Jewish schools are being attacked and when it’s not safe to appear identifiably Jewish on the Paris metro, it’s not so easy to just sit back.

Cukierman praises the efforts of the French government to try and protect the Jews and stamp out anti-Semitism. The current French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been particularly supportive, even having asserted that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are one and the same. For their part the Jewish leadership in France has been spearheading its own campaign. Cukierman is eager to tell me about their inter-communal initiative to have religious, political, and Trade Union leaders come out and publicly sign their names to a declaration calling for greater tolerance. One hopes it works. Presumably Cukierman understands his country and community better than we do.

With so many Jews now leaving France or expressing an interest in doing so, surely the leadership must be worried. But Cukierman explains that the flight is being driven more by economics than anti-Semitism, since it’s not only the Jews that are trying to leave. And to all those who think the Jewish sojourn in France is coming to an end Cukierman had this to say: “There have been Jews in France for 2,000 years, we’ve gone through many dramas including the Shoah and still there are Jews in France and Europe … And I’m not sure the future of the Jews in America will be eternal.”

Jewish life in France may yet continue for some time; it remains the world’s second-largest diaspora community. However, Cukierman laments that French Jewish life has become increasingly ghettoized. Ah, so then at least intermarriage must be down? Alas, the delegation reports that intermarriage in France is flourishing like never before. 

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SJP Vassar: Sorry, Not Sorry

The Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has finally issued an apology for posting anti-Semitic material. They say: “Up until this point, the social media platforms (tumblr and twitter) associated with SJP Vassar’s name have been managed by one person and the SJP general body was not involved in decisions made about what was being posted. We condemn any and all hate speech including any form of anti-Semitism and we are deeply sorry several offensive posts were made in SJP Vassar’s name.”

This apology is better than anything SJP Vassar has said so far, though it does not account for the rant, linked to on SJP Vassar’s Facebook page, that I wrote about earlier in the week, accusing its critics of being “Zionist watchdogs,” paid by “Zionist watchdog organizations” to make “slanderous claims.” This rant, issued in the name of the organization, was presumably written in full knowledge of the posts the “SJP Vassar General Body” now disavows.

Now consider the post that immediately follows the apology, a quotation attributed to George Habash. “In today’s world no one is innocent, no one is neutral. A man is either with the oppressor or the oppressed. He who takes no interest in politics gives his blessing to the prevailing order.”

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The Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has finally issued an apology for posting anti-Semitic material. They say: “Up until this point, the social media platforms (tumblr and twitter) associated with SJP Vassar’s name have been managed by one person and the SJP general body was not involved in decisions made about what was being posted. We condemn any and all hate speech including any form of anti-Semitism and we are deeply sorry several offensive posts were made in SJP Vassar’s name.”

This apology is better than anything SJP Vassar has said so far, though it does not account for the rant, linked to on SJP Vassar’s Facebook page, that I wrote about earlier in the week, accusing its critics of being “Zionist watchdogs,” paid by “Zionist watchdog organizations” to make “slanderous claims.” This rant, issued in the name of the organization, was presumably written in full knowledge of the posts the “SJP Vassar General Body” now disavows.

Now consider the post that immediately follows the apology, a quotation attributed to George Habash. “In today’s world no one is innocent, no one is neutral. A man is either with the oppressor or the oppressed. He who takes no interest in politics gives his blessing to the prevailing order.”

COMMENTARY readers will know that Habash founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an organization committed to the recovery, through violence, of the whole of what is now Israel, or what Habash called “the Occupied Territories of 1948.” The “only language,” says the PFLP’s founding document, “that the enemy understands is the language of revolutionary violence.” The PFLP pursued its program not only through a series of airline hijackings but also through actions like the 1972 Lods Airport massacre, in which terrorists working with the PFLP fired machine guns and threw grenades into crowds of people waiting in what is now Ben Gurion airport, killing 39. It is in this context that we have to consider the Habash quotation which begins, “Has it been said that these operations expose the lives of innocent people to danger?” Or, as Habash stated more boldly in a 1970 interview, to “kill a Jew far from the battlefield has more effect than killing 100 of them in battle.” That the new post-apology era begins with Habash is, to say the least, not encouraging.

In its apology, SJP Vassar says that it is “now reevaluating how social media associated with SJP Vassar will be managed as we sincerely want these outlets to reflect our mission of social justice, opposition to all forms of racism, and solidarity with the Palestinian people.” The first fruits of this reevaluation suggest that disentangling the ostensibly nonviolent radical movement of which SJP is a part from the romanticization of violence against Jews is going to be more difficult than the students or the faculty members who guide them imagine.

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Israel and the Reality of Anti-Semitism

In an era when acceptance of Jews in virtually every facet of society in the United States is universal, discussions about anti-Semitism are often understandably shelved in favor of those about prejudice about other, less successful minority groups. But when one looks around the globe, it’s clear that anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. Any doubts about that were removed by what may have been the most ambitious effort ever to quantify levels of prejudice. The international survey of attitudes toward Jews by the Anti-Defamation League published today has removed any doubt about the virulence of anti-Semitism.

The ADL Global 100 Index of Anti-Semitism is based on polls of adults in 101 countries plus the Palestinian territories. It contains few surprises, but confirms what has already been widely understood to be true about the persistence of bias against Jews. That 26 percent of all respondents across the globe agreed with at least six out of a list of 11 anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews is hardly remarkable. Nor is the fact that this hate is largely concentrated, but not exclusive to the Middle East and North Africa, where 74 percent hold such views, and is most prevalent among Muslims (49 percent worldwide and 75 percent in the Middle East and Africa), who are, ironically, held in even lower esteem by those polled than the Jews.

The survey did not directly establish whether the persistence and widespread nature of anti-Semitic attitudes could be directly linked to hostility to Israel. Indeed, some of the results may point in another direction since the people of Holland have one of the lowest indexes of anti-Semitic attitudes (5 percent) in the world while also harboring great hostility to Israel. Similarly, Iran has become Israel’s most virulent and potentially dangerous foe in the Middle East while actually having the lowest level of anti-Semitic views in the region, albeit a still alarmingly high rate of 56 percent.

Yet despite these anomalies (which can perhaps be explained by other factors), it is hardly possible to look at the map that charts these numbers without coming to the conclusion that the willingness to single out the one Jewish state on the planet for discriminatory treatment and to think it–alone of all nation states–deserves to be eliminated without understanding the strong link between levels of anti-Semitism and the war on Israel and the vital need to preserve that bulwark of Jewish existence against those who seek its destruction.

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In an era when acceptance of Jews in virtually every facet of society in the United States is universal, discussions about anti-Semitism are often understandably shelved in favor of those about prejudice about other, less successful minority groups. But when one looks around the globe, it’s clear that anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. Any doubts about that were removed by what may have been the most ambitious effort ever to quantify levels of prejudice. The international survey of attitudes toward Jews by the Anti-Defamation League published today has removed any doubt about the virulence of anti-Semitism.

The ADL Global 100 Index of Anti-Semitism is based on polls of adults in 101 countries plus the Palestinian territories. It contains few surprises, but confirms what has already been widely understood to be true about the persistence of bias against Jews. That 26 percent of all respondents across the globe agreed with at least six out of a list of 11 anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews is hardly remarkable. Nor is the fact that this hate is largely concentrated, but not exclusive to the Middle East and North Africa, where 74 percent hold such views, and is most prevalent among Muslims (49 percent worldwide and 75 percent in the Middle East and Africa), who are, ironically, held in even lower esteem by those polled than the Jews.

The survey did not directly establish whether the persistence and widespread nature of anti-Semitic attitudes could be directly linked to hostility to Israel. Indeed, some of the results may point in another direction since the people of Holland have one of the lowest indexes of anti-Semitic attitudes (5 percent) in the world while also harboring great hostility to Israel. Similarly, Iran has become Israel’s most virulent and potentially dangerous foe in the Middle East while actually having the lowest level of anti-Semitic views in the region, albeit a still alarmingly high rate of 56 percent.

Yet despite these anomalies (which can perhaps be explained by other factors), it is hardly possible to look at the map that charts these numbers without coming to the conclusion that the willingness to single out the one Jewish state on the planet for discriminatory treatment and to think it–alone of all nation states–deserves to be eliminated without understanding the strong link between levels of anti-Semitism and the war on Israel and the vital need to preserve that bulwark of Jewish existence against those who seek its destruction.

Among the fascinating details to be gleaned from this is the fact that 70 percent of those who hold anti-Semitic views have never met a Jew, most wildly overestimate the number of Jews in the world (instead of the fraction of a percent they invariably guess it to be vastly greater), and that more young people doubt the Holocaust while harboring fewer anti-Semitic views.

While the survey centered on several basic canards about Jews, such as Jewish power (including control over the media, finance, the U.S. government or starting wars) and those who hold such vile views generally do so without personal knowledge of Jews, Jewish history, or the Holocaust. Nor is it possible to draw a direct correlation between bad economies and hate since while a depressed Greece has the highest anti-Semitic rating in Europe at 69 percent, the generally prosperous people of South Korea (almost all of whom have never had any contact with Jews) have an ominous rating of 53 percent.

But while a deep dive into the numbers provides a fascinating look at the way the world thinks with often perplexing results, there is no doubt about one hard and fast conclusion: the grip of anti-Semitism on the inhabitants of Planet Earth 70 years after the Holocaust remains powerful and perhaps impervious to reason.

Why single out one of the world’s tiniest populations for such hatred? To that question, the survey offers no answer, as ADL head Abe Foxman admitted to the Wall Street Journal. Like traditional staples of anti-Semitism such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the justification for these noxious attitudes come from a variety of often contradictory frames of reference about Jewish activity, most of which are rooted in myth rather than reality.

Anti-Semitism has survived the death of European theocracies, Nazism, and Communism and metastasized into a belief system embraced by Muslims and Arabs, and remains a deadly force. Though some might claim that the existence of Israel and allegations about its behavior has become the single greatest motivating factor for anti-Semitism (judging by the survey, the Palestinians are the most anti-Semitic people on Earth), that assertion must be placed up against the fact that the attitudes that indicate hostility to Jews long predate the birth of the Jewish state or its coming into possession of the West Bank in 1967. Seen in that perspective, it’s clear that Israel is just the latest, albeit a vicious, excuse for Jew hatred. If not all those who hate Israel also embrace the full roster of anti-Semitic stereotypes, their willingness to embrace the war against the Jewish state demonstrates the way Jews remain the planet’s boogeyman and the objects of unthinking bias and potential violence.

Many Jews will look at these numbers and, no doubt, wonder how they can change the minds of the haters or adopt behaviors that will undercut the stereotypes. But whatever else it tells us, the survey is a reminder that anti-Semitism is about the minds of the anti-Semites and their desire to seek out a small group for hostility, not what the Jews do. Those who will seek to blame Israel or Jewish power for these numbers are deceiving both themselves and others. Anti-Semitism is an ancient belief system that can adapt itself to any set of circumstances or locale.

While the ADL and others will continue their work of seeking to educate the world against hate, until that seemingly futile task succeeds, Jews would do well to redouble their support for the Jewish state and to stand ready to defend it. There was no ADL survey in 1933 to tell us what we already knew about anti-Semitism as there is today. But all these years after the Holocaust and the subsequent rebirth of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism, the necessity of the existence of Israel—a place where Jews can defend themselves against the haters and shelter those in need—is no less an imperative for being the obvious verdict of history.

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More on SJP at Vassar College

Last week, I wrote about the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which quoted an anti-Semitic author, writing for an anti-Semitic publication, to this effect: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” I learned about the episode from Rebecca Lesses of Mystical Politics, whose follow-up posts are also worth reading. David Schraub and Petra Marquardt Bigman have also commented.

The Vassar SJP has now issued an apology of sorts: “we did not vet the original posters of some of the content we reblogged close enough this past week, and only focused on the content.” Last week, they dismissed criticisms this way: “if the idea is alright, who cares where they [sic] come from?” But they now understand that the “sources, no matter the content, can be triggering to many in our audience.”

The Vassar SJP is therefore counting on an assumption that David Schraub’s post questioned in its very title, that one is “Innocent Until Proven Nazi.” As Schraub puts it: “Suppose Vassar SJP had posted the exact same material, only it wasn’t attributable to an avowedly white nationalist website? Would the reaction have been the same? For some of us, sure: we know anti-Semitism when we see it. But for others, it seems that the Nazi link is a crutch — without it they find it very difficult to even raise the prospect of anti-Semitism.”

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Last week, I wrote about the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which quoted an anti-Semitic author, writing for an anti-Semitic publication, to this effect: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” I learned about the episode from Rebecca Lesses of Mystical Politics, whose follow-up posts are also worth reading. David Schraub and Petra Marquardt Bigman have also commented.

The Vassar SJP has now issued an apology of sorts: “we did not vet the original posters of some of the content we reblogged close enough this past week, and only focused on the content.” Last week, they dismissed criticisms this way: “if the idea is alright, who cares where they [sic] come from?” But they now understand that the “sources, no matter the content, can be triggering to many in our audience.”

The Vassar SJP is therefore counting on an assumption that David Schraub’s post questioned in its very title, that one is “Innocent Until Proven Nazi.” As Schraub puts it: “Suppose Vassar SJP had posted the exact same material, only it wasn’t attributable to an avowedly white nationalist website? Would the reaction have been the same? For some of us, sure: we know anti-Semitism when we see it. But for others, it seems that the Nazi link is a crutch — without it they find it very difficult to even raise the prospect of anti-Semitism.”

The Vassar SJP has backed off not even a little from the claim that the “idea is alright,” where the “idea” is that Israel’s defenders, whether on the right or the left (neither Lesses nor Schraub is on the right and the former has explicitly distanced herself from COMMENTARY) are or are deliberately in league with fifth columnists, or traitors. Indeed, the SJP, which has asserted that its apology came late “due to finals week” found time, in what it called “Communique #1” to accuse its critics of being paid agents of the Zionist conspiracy. They “know that the manufactured misrepresentation of our mission does not occur in a vacuum” and are  “aware of the watchdog organizations who pay alums and students to generate slanderous claims against pro-palestinian activists.” They “find it an appalling irony to be accused of supporting white supremacy by those who support the racist Israeli regime,” whose “agenda is comprised of policies that work towards exterminating Palestinians and African migrants.”

The apology was followed up, remarkably, by a new posting, since taken down, of a Nazi propaganda poster depicting, among other things, a big-nosed man clutching a money bag. When called on this latest misstep by Lesses, SJP Vassar saw no problem at all: “it’s from a blog showcasing various types of historical propaganda.” In other words, just as Schraub suggested, they think that they can be accused of spreading anti-Semitism only if they lift material directly from a known anti-Semitic website. The idea—here that greedy Jews are part of a monstrous America—is, once again, “alright.”

The attitude of the Vassar SJP is oddly blithe, as if they do not know they are playing with fire. But they are. Consider another post about the African-American activist Stokely Carmichael, taken from a site called Disciples of Malcolm. Carmichael is quoted to the effect that Martin Luther King was “confused” when he associated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. But King, Carmichael adds, was depending on progressive Jewish support, or the support of “Zionists who did not say they were Zionists.”

Carmichael was also wont to say “the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.”

If SJP has a faculty adviser, this may be what we in the education biz call a “teaching moment.”

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Obama’s Favorite v. BDS Presbyterians

I wrote on Tuesday about one of the first shots fired by those seeking to boycott Israel in advance of this summer’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. Two years ago at the last such gathering, the Presbyterians came within two votes of adopting a pro-BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) proposal against Israel and the powerful anti-Zionist faction in their ranks are taking no chances about this year’s debate. They forced a Virginia pastor to resign as moderator of their Middle East committee because he had taken trips to Israel sponsored by Jewish groups even though he had been on pro-Palestinian junkets in the past. But the focus of much of the discussion among Presbyterians will be the book and companion DVD published earlier this year titled Zionism Unsettled. As I noted in February it is an anti-Zionist screed with heavy overtones of anti-Semitism that seeks to delegitimize not only the Jewish state but also its American supporters.

Among the targets of Zionism Unsettled is an unlikely figure: the distinguished Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who is, as is well known, President Obama’s favorite philosopher. According to the new Presbyterian guide to the Middle East, Niebuhr and other liberal figures that supported the establishment of a Jewish state are guilty of “moral blindness” for embracing Zionism. But his daughter and his grandnephew have now come forward both to defend Niebuhr and to place Zionism Unsettled in the proper context of the war on Israel. Writing in the Huffington Post, Elisabeth Sifton and Gustav Niebuhr state clearly that by trashing the great theologian in this manner, the BDS crowd is not only distorting the record but also placing the Presbyterians on the wrong side of history.

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I wrote on Tuesday about one of the first shots fired by those seeking to boycott Israel in advance of this summer’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. Two years ago at the last such gathering, the Presbyterians came within two votes of adopting a pro-BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) proposal against Israel and the powerful anti-Zionist faction in their ranks are taking no chances about this year’s debate. They forced a Virginia pastor to resign as moderator of their Middle East committee because he had taken trips to Israel sponsored by Jewish groups even though he had been on pro-Palestinian junkets in the past. But the focus of much of the discussion among Presbyterians will be the book and companion DVD published earlier this year titled Zionism Unsettled. As I noted in February it is an anti-Zionist screed with heavy overtones of anti-Semitism that seeks to delegitimize not only the Jewish state but also its American supporters.

Among the targets of Zionism Unsettled is an unlikely figure: the distinguished Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who is, as is well known, President Obama’s favorite philosopher. According to the new Presbyterian guide to the Middle East, Niebuhr and other liberal figures that supported the establishment of a Jewish state are guilty of “moral blindness” for embracing Zionism. But his daughter and his grandnephew have now come forward both to defend Niebuhr and to place Zionism Unsettled in the proper context of the war on Israel. Writing in the Huffington Post, Elisabeth Sifton and Gustav Niebuhr state clearly that by trashing the great theologian in this manner, the BDS crowd is not only distorting the record but also placing the Presbyterians on the wrong side of history.

Sifton and Niebuhr note the significance of the Presbyterian General Assembly taking place in Detroit this year:

Detroit [is] ironically, the city where Niebuhr first served as a pastor (and where, almost 90 years ago, he first argued publicly that Christian efforts to convert Jews should cease, given that Jews — but not only Jews — considered such efforts anti-Semitic). If the motion is carried this time, Presbyterians — congregations, seminaries and individuals — will have to explain how their church’s endorsement of the scathing critique of Israel in Zionism Unsettled shouldn’t be regarded as profoundly anti-Israel.

But what really bothers the pair is the way contemporary Presbyterians are ready to ignore history in order to advance their anti-Zionist agenda.

Passages in Zionism Unsettled besmirching these “liberal pro-Zionists” disregard chronology and common sense to make illiberal, inaccurate accusations. Ludicrously, Niebuhr and Tillich are lumped together with other “intellectuals with roots in Germany” (some of them Jews) in an alleged “moral support group” in the 1930s that became a “political think tank” for Zionism doing its best to drag the United States into the war. These Christians’ admirable solidarity with Jews — at a time when fanatical anti-Semites were denouncing, threatening and killing pro- and anti-Zionist Jews along with uncommitted ones — is now counted against them. 

For Presbyterians to indulge in such clumsy calumny against formative modern Protestant teachers might prompt one to mere head-shaking pity. But we are concerned that the booklet does not foster actual study within Christian institutions and instead effectively shuts down discussion. It seems to brand any understanding of Zionism past or present as ipso facto hostility to Palestinians. Nor does it advance the real cause worth striving for: agreement on a workable basis for political, religious and cultural peace between Israel and the Arab nations.

Niebuhr’s stand against anti-Semitism demands our admiration today, but it was particularly courageous in the context of the era in which he made it. Though not uncritical of Zionist leaders whom he rightly chided for being too optimistic for thinking the Arabs would not fight the creation of a Jewish state because it was clearly in their interests to share the land and cooperate toward the goal of economic development, Niebuhr nevertheless understood that the effort to create a state in their historic homeland was a just cause. The problem with the BDSers is not merely that they don’t tell the truth about Israel’s measures of self-defense or its right or even the reality of Palestinian violence and rejectionism. It is that they reject Niebuhr’s belief that Jewish aspirations for a state were entirely “legitimate.” As such they seek to deny to the Jews alone what no one would think of refusing to any other people. Niebuhr understood the thin veil that separated anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism, as did many other decent thinkers on both the left and the right in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

By turning their back on this great man with the publication of Zionism Unsettled and by flirting with BDS, Presbyterians are doing more than venting their spleen against Israel. They are turning their back on a tradition of Christian decency that Niebuhr embodied.

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What Is Going on at Vassar College?

Vassar has recently distinguished itself in at least two ways. First, it is one of a tiny group of colleges whose faculty supported the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel in substantial numbers. Thirty-nine faculty members signed a letter that sang the praises of the boycott-Israel movement. Second, as I have written here before, Vassar was the venue for an open forum at which two professors were vilified for leading a trip to Israel and at which Jewish students who spoke up were heckled. William Jacobson has provided extensive coverage of the situation at Vassar and was there to speak earlier this week.

In a blog entry describing reactions to Jacobson’s speech, Jewish studies professor Rebecca Lesses draws attention to a series of posts by Vassar’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the most shocking of which includes this language: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” The author of the linked article, Greg Felton, also wrote a book entitled The Host and the Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America. Lesses observes that the Occidental Quarterly, on which the SJP draws, is an anti-Semitic magazine. While I hesitate to take the word of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which she cites, for it, a look through the Occidental Quarterly, which includes an article about libertarianism as a creed advanced by Jewish intellectuals to advance Jewish “group evolutionary interests,” tends to support the charge.

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Vassar has recently distinguished itself in at least two ways. First, it is one of a tiny group of colleges whose faculty supported the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel in substantial numbers. Thirty-nine faculty members signed a letter that sang the praises of the boycott-Israel movement. Second, as I have written here before, Vassar was the venue for an open forum at which two professors were vilified for leading a trip to Israel and at which Jewish students who spoke up were heckled. William Jacobson has provided extensive coverage of the situation at Vassar and was there to speak earlier this week.

In a blog entry describing reactions to Jacobson’s speech, Jewish studies professor Rebecca Lesses draws attention to a series of posts by Vassar’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the most shocking of which includes this language: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” The author of the linked article, Greg Felton, also wrote a book entitled The Host and the Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America. Lesses observes that the Occidental Quarterly, on which the SJP draws, is an anti-Semitic magazine. While I hesitate to take the word of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which she cites, for it, a look through the Occidental Quarterly, which includes an article about libertarianism as a creed advanced by Jewish intellectuals to advance Jewish “group evolutionary interests,” tends to support the charge.

When the source of the passage they had quoted was brought to SJP’s attention on their Facebook page, they were completely unrepentant: “We at Vassar are all about the academic freedoms. If the idea is alright, who cares where they come from?”

Of course it is disappointing that the Vassar SJP believes or pretends to believe that academic freedom is a defense of their decision to cite with favor an anti-Semitic crackpot writing for an anti-Semitic publication. More shocking is their belief that “the idea is alright.” Even an undergraduate can be expected to know that when you accuse a group of being part of a “fifth column,” you are accusing them of treason and suggesting that they deserve the fate of traitors.

The SJP consists of students, and perhaps a national publication is not the place to discuss their foolishness. But the adults in the room, including the 39 who signed the pro-BDS letter, and the administrators who stood by while Jewish students were heckled at Vassar, ought to be held to account for inattention to to a campus climate in which students feel free to post and defend anti-Jewish tropes.

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CUNY Panel Tonight on Israel

American universities have been at the forefront of the attack on Israel’s legitimacy, most notoriously through the BDS campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction the State of Israel. While supporters of Israel’s right to exist have utilized a variety of forums to push back on the anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish state, it is essential that university campuses find room for such voices as well.

So it’s heartening to see the City University of New York (CUNY) doing just that. In response to a recent anti-Israel panel event held at the CUNY Graduate Center, tonight a group of experts will discuss “Israel in the Middle East.” As the organizers explain:

The story of Israel as a nation in the Middle East needs to be told. A recent panel at the CUNY Graduate Center entitled “BDS and Academic Freedom” stigmatized the only state in the Middle East that can properly be described as a liberal democracy and whose Arab citizens enjoy full democratic and civil rights as a racist, apartheid, pinkwashing state. (Pinkwashing means that Israel’s support for civil rights for all is merely a ploy to deceive the world about its true nature.) The panel will discuss the historic Jewish presence in and connection to Israel and its struggle for peace and security. Israel has been a refuge for Jews pushed to the edge in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and has much to contribute to the well-being of a Middle East at peace with itself.

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American universities have been at the forefront of the attack on Israel’s legitimacy, most notoriously through the BDS campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction the State of Israel. While supporters of Israel’s right to exist have utilized a variety of forums to push back on the anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish state, it is essential that university campuses find room for such voices as well.

So it’s heartening to see the City University of New York (CUNY) doing just that. In response to a recent anti-Israel panel event held at the CUNY Graduate Center, tonight a group of experts will discuss “Israel in the Middle East.” As the organizers explain:

The story of Israel as a nation in the Middle East needs to be told. A recent panel at the CUNY Graduate Center entitled “BDS and Academic Freedom” stigmatized the only state in the Middle East that can properly be described as a liberal democracy and whose Arab citizens enjoy full democratic and civil rights as a racist, apartheid, pinkwashing state. (Pinkwashing means that Israel’s support for civil rights for all is merely a ploy to deceive the world about its true nature.) The panel will discuss the historic Jewish presence in and connection to Israel and its struggle for peace and security. Israel has been a refuge for Jews pushed to the edge in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and has much to contribute to the well-being of a Middle East at peace with itself.

Panelists include David Berger, Mark J. Mirsky, and recent COMMENTARY contributor KC Johnson. Here are the details:

May 8, 2014

6:00-8:00 PM

Graduate Center, City University of New York, 365 5th Avenue

Room C 203-205

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The Next Step in the Campus War on Jews

In recent months, those advocating boycotts of Israel have lost a series of votes on college campuses around the country. Though the political culture of academia swings hard to the left with faculty members often tilting the discussion about the Middle East against Israel, a critical mass of fair minded students still exist at most institutions of higher learning. Part of that stems from the fact that some students—especially Jews—have been to Israel on trips where they learn the other side of the story from the pro-Palestinian propaganda that is often shoved down their throats in classes or at college forums. So rather than merely accept the lies about Israel being an “apartheid” state they can lean on their own experiences and speak about the equal rights that are held by all people in the Jewish state or discuss the complex questions about the West Bank in terms other than that of an “occupation.”

That’s a problem for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) crowd, but they’ve come up with an effective answer to it: start a campaign seeking to stigmatize those who take trips to Israel sponsored by Jewish organizations. That’s what’s happening at UCLA where an election has promoted a debate over whether it is ethical for candidates for student offices to have been to Israel on a visit sponsored by a Jewish organization. This specious issue was raised in an article published in the student newspaper the Daily Bruin last week by two members of Students for Justice for Palestine, an anti-Zionist group. It was followed by an attempt to get the student government to enact a ban on its members going to the Middle East with pro-Israel groups. That failed but, as the Daily Bruin also reported, a majority of candidates for student government positions have now signed a pledged not to take such trips.

But rather than dismissing this as just another example of business as usual on left-wing dominated college campuses, friends of Israel as well as open discourse should be alarmed about what is happening at UCLA spreading elsewhere.

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In recent months, those advocating boycotts of Israel have lost a series of votes on college campuses around the country. Though the political culture of academia swings hard to the left with faculty members often tilting the discussion about the Middle East against Israel, a critical mass of fair minded students still exist at most institutions of higher learning. Part of that stems from the fact that some students—especially Jews—have been to Israel on trips where they learn the other side of the story from the pro-Palestinian propaganda that is often shoved down their throats in classes or at college forums. So rather than merely accept the lies about Israel being an “apartheid” state they can lean on their own experiences and speak about the equal rights that are held by all people in the Jewish state or discuss the complex questions about the West Bank in terms other than that of an “occupation.”

That’s a problem for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) crowd, but they’ve come up with an effective answer to it: start a campaign seeking to stigmatize those who take trips to Israel sponsored by Jewish organizations. That’s what’s happening at UCLA where an election has promoted a debate over whether it is ethical for candidates for student offices to have been to Israel on a visit sponsored by a Jewish organization. This specious issue was raised in an article published in the student newspaper the Daily Bruin last week by two members of Students for Justice for Palestine, an anti-Zionist group. It was followed by an attempt to get the student government to enact a ban on its members going to the Middle East with pro-Israel groups. That failed but, as the Daily Bruin also reported, a majority of candidates for student government positions have now signed a pledged not to take such trips.

But rather than dismissing this as just another example of business as usual on left-wing dominated college campuses, friends of Israel as well as open discourse should be alarmed about what is happening at UCLA spreading elsewhere.

The genesis of the effort at UCLA was, of course, the defeat of a pro-BDS motion by UCLA’s student government. But rather than debate the merits of a hate-driven motion whose purpose is to advance efforts to destroy Israel, the BDSers have decided that any vote cast by someone who had actually been to the Jewish state must be tainted by filing complaints with a student judicial board. Since the most potent threat to support for BDS is knowledge of what kind of country Israel is and the challenges it faces, their goal is to treat such trips as “unethical.”

But the point of this effort is not only to boost support for BDS. Shaming those who have been on trips to Israel or take the opportunity to learn more about the Middle East first hand is, above all, a direct attack on Jewish students. Like the incidents where Jewish kids are served with fake eviction notices in their dorm rooms, the BDS campaign is blurring the already indistinct line between their noxious effort to wage economic war on Israel and anti-Semitism.

BDS advocates are, after all, not interested in an open discussion about their ideology, which proposes that the one Jewish state in the world—which is a democracy—should be singled out for discriminatory treatment that is not afforded any other country, including the most egregious human-rights offenders. The last thing they want is for more kids—especially Jewish students who seek to learn more about their faith and people—to be equipped to answer their lies with the truth.

The answer to this campaign should not only be a firm rejection of this bogus ethics issue by students, faculty, and administrators, but redoubled efforts by Jewish groups to get as many young Americans to Israel as possible. The more they know about life in the Jewish state, the less likely it will be that BDS hate groups—including those who parade their bias under a Jewish banner such as the so-called “Jewish Voices for Peace”—will gain support for their vile cause.  

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Livingstone and the Left’s Jewish Problem

London’s former mayor Ken Livingstone has treated the BBC to some more of his infamous thinking on Jews. During an interview he explained that while Jews in Britain had once voted for Labor, as they have become richer they have switched to voting Conservative. On their own these comments might not be thought particularly alarming—although the assertions presented here are questionable—yet they come as part of a whole series of hostile remarks that Livingstone has made about Jews over the years. Such sentiments may be those of a crackpot, but they come from a crackpot who up until just a few years ago was the elected mayor of one of the world’s most significant metropolises. More importantly, however, they represent the tip of the iceberg of more widely held views about Jews that proliferate on the far left, a constituency that Livingstone still represents.

This is not the first time that Livingstone has made known his views about the voting habits of Britain’s allegedly wealthy Jews. During the 2012 mayoral election Livingstone reportedly told supporters that he didn’t expect Jews to vote for him because, by his account, they are rich. If some parts of Britain’s Jewish community have become more affluent, it is certainly far from being a universal reality. And unlike in America where it might be true to suggest that the Jewish community has typically leaned more heavily toward the Democrats, in Britain it would appear that the community is far more evenly split between left and right. Although with comments like these, Livingstone ensured that the Jewish vote swung in favor of his Conservative rival Boris Johnson in that election at least. Still, even then a number of figures in the community came out and reiterated their unfathomable endorsement of Livingstone.

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London’s former mayor Ken Livingstone has treated the BBC to some more of his infamous thinking on Jews. During an interview he explained that while Jews in Britain had once voted for Labor, as they have become richer they have switched to voting Conservative. On their own these comments might not be thought particularly alarming—although the assertions presented here are questionable—yet they come as part of a whole series of hostile remarks that Livingstone has made about Jews over the years. Such sentiments may be those of a crackpot, but they come from a crackpot who up until just a few years ago was the elected mayor of one of the world’s most significant metropolises. More importantly, however, they represent the tip of the iceberg of more widely held views about Jews that proliferate on the far left, a constituency that Livingstone still represents.

This is not the first time that Livingstone has made known his views about the voting habits of Britain’s allegedly wealthy Jews. During the 2012 mayoral election Livingstone reportedly told supporters that he didn’t expect Jews to vote for him because, by his account, they are rich. If some parts of Britain’s Jewish community have become more affluent, it is certainly far from being a universal reality. And unlike in America where it might be true to suggest that the Jewish community has typically leaned more heavily toward the Democrats, in Britain it would appear that the community is far more evenly split between left and right. Although with comments like these, Livingstone ensured that the Jewish vote swung in favor of his Conservative rival Boris Johnson in that election at least. Still, even then a number of figures in the community came out and reiterated their unfathomable endorsement of Livingstone.

Over the years Ken Livingstone has provided an unending and rambling feed of comments all deemed offensive to Jews in one way or another. His memoir, ironically titled You Can’t Say That, takes an inexplicable detour from recounting Livingstone’s own career path and somehow finds cause to speak about Jews, Zionism, and Israel on numerous occasions. It goes without saying that Livingstone’s views on Zionism are far from favorable, and in the past he has condemned Jewish support for Israel. Despite all of this, it would be easy, but mistaken, to become hung up on Livingstone’s dubious record. His voice simply speaks for a wider sentiment that permeates much of the left.

Livingstone’s claim that Jews won’t vote Labor because they are rich, much like his previous allegations of Jewish betrayal on account of their support for Israel under Begin, is part of a wider left-wing angst that bemoans the Jews being on the wrong side of the barricades. Which side of the political spectrum Jews actually choose to identify with is irrelevant; the left has increasingly come to imagine the Jews as their adversaries. That said, perhaps this sentiment has always been there–even in the 1840s left Hegelians like Bruno Bauer were chastising the Jews for requesting emancipation while not sufficiently helping to emancipate mankind from a system that they themselves were in part guilty of constructing.    

As Britain’s Education Secretary Michael Gove once observed, when the Jews were weak, impoverished, and persecuted the left saw them as natural allies. Yet if Jews have had the audacity to become successful and assertive then the left now views them as having broken ranks. But perhaps the more important division today is not one of class or affluence, but rather one of race and geopolitics. If, as many have suggested, the left’s disappointment with the docile workers of the West has instead led it to seek a global proletariat in the peoples of the Third World, then this is certainly a dividing line that the Jews fall on the wrong side of. The struggle against Zionist colonialism, which is closely followed by the equally ridiculous notion that there is such a thing as American imperialism, serves as the very revolutionary battleground that the left seeks so as to justify its own worldview.

The stream of comments about Jews that come forth from Livingstone are surely the utterances of someone who just can’t help himself. For people like Livingstone, try as they might, there’s just no hiding their worldview. Just as many of those who talked about the wealth and power of the so-called 1 percent eventually couldn’t avoid referencing Jews, so the far left in general cannot get away from what it really believes about Jews and Zionism.   

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Presbyterians Escalate War on Jews

In February of this year I wrote about the latest instance of the Presbyterian Church USA engaging in hostile behavior toward both Israel and the Jewish people. A new study guide and companion CD about the Middle East published by an official Presbyterian group sought to delegitimize Israel and whitewash those who wage war and terrorism against it. Even worse, it compared Zionism to anti-Semitism and said that American Jews who supported Israel were not faithful to their religion. On top of the denomination’s past flirtations with the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on Israel, the study guide demonstrated just how deep the hatred for Jews had become among some church officials. But an even more recent incident illustrates that these episodes are not aberrations but reflect a clear desire on the part of church cadres to treat any normal contact with Jews as beyond the pale.

What has happened is that a Virginia Beach pastor who was slated to take a leadership role in a church forum at its annual General Assembly has been pressured to resign by Presbyterian Church USA officials. What was his offense? Taking part in two trips to Israel sponsored by a Jewish group. As Rev. Albert Butzer relates in a piece he wrote about his experience for The Presbyterian Outlook, he had looked forward to being the official moderator of the Committee on Middle East Issues at the denomination’s General Assembly. But he was forced out when it came out that he had gone to Israel on trips organized by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia. Though he had previously been to the region on two trips organized by the Palestinians, the mere fact that he had been exposed to Israel’s side of the story in the conflict was enough to brand him as untrustworthy.

While the question of who sits on church committees may not strike many people as an earthshaking question, Butzer’s treatment is significant. His ouster signals a new turn in interfaith relations. Whereas in the past Israel’s foes in mainline Christian churches have sought to cloak their hostility to Zionism and to affirm that they did not wish to harm interfaith relations, it’s now clear that this is no longer the case. By saying that participation in any trip that allows Christians to hear Israel’s point of view even alongside the voices of Palestinians is beyond the pale, the Presbyterian Church USA is telling us that they are declaring war on American Jews as well as Israel.

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In February of this year I wrote about the latest instance of the Presbyterian Church USA engaging in hostile behavior toward both Israel and the Jewish people. A new study guide and companion CD about the Middle East published by an official Presbyterian group sought to delegitimize Israel and whitewash those who wage war and terrorism against it. Even worse, it compared Zionism to anti-Semitism and said that American Jews who supported Israel were not faithful to their religion. On top of the denomination’s past flirtations with the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on Israel, the study guide demonstrated just how deep the hatred for Jews had become among some church officials. But an even more recent incident illustrates that these episodes are not aberrations but reflect a clear desire on the part of church cadres to treat any normal contact with Jews as beyond the pale.

What has happened is that a Virginia Beach pastor who was slated to take a leadership role in a church forum at its annual General Assembly has been pressured to resign by Presbyterian Church USA officials. What was his offense? Taking part in two trips to Israel sponsored by a Jewish group. As Rev. Albert Butzer relates in a piece he wrote about his experience for The Presbyterian Outlook, he had looked forward to being the official moderator of the Committee on Middle East Issues at the denomination’s General Assembly. But he was forced out when it came out that he had gone to Israel on trips organized by the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia. Though he had previously been to the region on two trips organized by the Palestinians, the mere fact that he had been exposed to Israel’s side of the story in the conflict was enough to brand him as untrustworthy.

While the question of who sits on church committees may not strike many people as an earthshaking question, Butzer’s treatment is significant. His ouster signals a new turn in interfaith relations. Whereas in the past Israel’s foes in mainline Christian churches have sought to cloak their hostility to Zionism and to affirm that they did not wish to harm interfaith relations, it’s now clear that this is no longer the case. By saying that participation in any trip that allows Christians to hear Israel’s point of view even alongside the voices of Palestinians is beyond the pale, the Presbyterian Church USA is telling us that they are declaring war on American Jews as well as Israel.

What is also interesting about this tale is that Butzer should in no way be considered an ardent advocate for Israel. In his piece, he goes to great lengths to demonstrate his sensitivity and even sympathy for the Palestinian point of view. He is willing to view Israel in a negative light and seems not to challenge the Palestinian narrative. But he is willing to listen to the other side in the conflict and that is something that BDS supporters inside the church rightly consider to be dangerous to their cause.

Of course, the BDS crowd at the Presbyterian Church USA isn’t saying who is sponsoring the various pro-Palestinian dog and pony shows in the region (here and here) that it is schlepping its members to this year.

But the point here is that it is drawing a line in the sand and labeling anyone who makes common cause with mainstream American Jewish groups as beyond the pale. In return, Jews and all Christians and people of faith who truly care about peace should make it clear that so long as the Presbyterian Church USA is waging war on the Jews, they will treat it as a hate group masquerading as a community of faith.

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Cowards Among the Scarlet Knights

Over the weekend Condoleezza Rice announced that she would be withdrawing as commencement speaker for the upcoming Rutgers University graduation ceremony after students and teachers protested Rice’s selection as speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. Even if you didn’t follow the story, you probably don’t need the details filled in: she is among the best possible candidates to give such a speech, but she worked for George W. Bush; end of story.

The graduation ceremony she was scheduled to appear at coincides with the tenth anniversary of my own graduation from Rutgers. That decade has instilled in me a great sense of apprehension any time Rutgers is mentioned in the news. That’s not to say there is no good news coming out of the school; the construction of a new Hillel building is a sign that the Jewish community at the school remains numerous and committed to Jewish life on campus–despite the anti-Semitic harassment they’ve experienced as the school shrugs its shoulders.

The combination of a proud Jewish community and a pusillanimous school administration (admittedly, no different from most liberal arts colleges) has also inspired the Jews at Rutgers to make their voices heard. One of the more famous examples of this took place while I was a student there, in 2003. An extremist Palestinian “solidarity” group was scheduled to hold its annual event on campus. The New Jersey chapter’s leader gave interviews ahead of the event, in which she explained that murdering innocent Jews in Israel was merely part of a resistance campaign and others had no right to judge the methods of the Palestinian group’s protest, as a contemporaneous piece in Haaretz recounted:

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Over the weekend Condoleezza Rice announced that she would be withdrawing as commencement speaker for the upcoming Rutgers University graduation ceremony after students and teachers protested Rice’s selection as speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. Even if you didn’t follow the story, you probably don’t need the details filled in: she is among the best possible candidates to give such a speech, but she worked for George W. Bush; end of story.

The graduation ceremony she was scheduled to appear at coincides with the tenth anniversary of my own graduation from Rutgers. That decade has instilled in me a great sense of apprehension any time Rutgers is mentioned in the news. That’s not to say there is no good news coming out of the school; the construction of a new Hillel building is a sign that the Jewish community at the school remains numerous and committed to Jewish life on campus–despite the anti-Semitic harassment they’ve experienced as the school shrugs its shoulders.

The combination of a proud Jewish community and a pusillanimous school administration (admittedly, no different from most liberal arts colleges) has also inspired the Jews at Rutgers to make their voices heard. One of the more famous examples of this took place while I was a student there, in 2003. An extremist Palestinian “solidarity” group was scheduled to hold its annual event on campus. The New Jersey chapter’s leader gave interviews ahead of the event, in which she explained that murdering innocent Jews in Israel was merely part of a resistance campaign and others had no right to judge the methods of the Palestinian group’s protest, as a contemporaneous piece in Haaretz recounted:

The trouble began when a coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations decided to hold their annual convention at Rutgers in the second week of October. Last year, the event was held at Michigan University, and the year before that at Berkeley. The host organization was New Jersey Solidarity, which is considered one of the most extreme organizations in the coalition. One of the group’s leaders, Charlotte Kates, for instance, told The New York Post that “Israel is a colonial settler apartheid state” that has no right even to exist, and against which suicide attacks are justifiable. In another interview, with The New York Times, she said: “It is not our place in the United States to dictate the tactics Palestinian groups use in the liberation struggle.” The organization also hung posters around the campus in March that declared: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free.”

There was some protest even outside the student community–genocide is, after all, frowned upon. The group succumbed to internal divisions–apparently in part over an argument about inviting Hamas–and eventually relocated by choice, but the New Jersey chapter tried, unsuccessfully, to hold a new solidarity event on campus. In the interim, led by the Rutgers Hillel, the Jewish community on campus mobilized and held a rally that drew four thousand supporters.

Quite apart from anti-Semitism, my alma mater has been in the news more recently for the horrible and tragic case of the sexual bullying of a gay student who subsequently committed suicide, as well as last year’s scandal over an abusive basketball coach. How I long for the days when Rutgers national-media headlines were more along the lines of Sports Illustrated’s feature on its football program, headlined “Why Can’t Rutgers Ever Win?

I should also note that although Rutgers had its share of bias in the classroom (as does any university), the journalism program I attended was utterly devoid of it. My teachers were uniformly excellent, and I left Rutgers convinced that my decision to attend (I had actually transferred in mid-freshman year) was the right one. I still feel that way, and I have spent my years since graduation recommending the school to anyone who asks my opinion. That won’t stop either.

But I’m left wondering if it’s the same institution I left merely a decade ago. Jewish life continues to flourish at the school. But intellectually, I can imagine parents reading about the Rice controversy and wondering if the professors at such a school can be trusted to impart a passable education. Rice grew up in segregated Birmingham and went on to become the first black female secretary of state. On top of that, she has a well-known expertise in, and passion for, education policy. So you would be hard-pressed to find a better choice for commencement speaker.

But she served the Bush presidency when this nation was at war, and that is too much for the academic left. The Rutgers I remember had plenty of acrimonious debate, but that’s far better than to be ruled by heckler’s veto (which was avoided this time, as Rice withdrew so as not to distract from the students’ graduation celebrations, but was still argued for by the professors). I also don’t remember my instructors being such intellectual cowards. Perhaps I just took the right classes. I suppose students just have to hope they do too, though that’s not a line I imagine the Rutgers administration wants to put on a brochure.

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