Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-Zionism

The New Israel Fund—Civil Rights or Political Warfare: An Exchange

Editor’s note: In her March 28 post “An Alternative Model for Pro-Israel Liberals,” Evelyn Gordon compared the work of philanthropist Robert Price to that of the New Israel Fund and J Street. The New Israel Fund’s Naomi Paiss has written in defense of her group. Evelyn Gordon’s response follows.

In the latest paternalistic attack on pro-Israel progressives, Evelyn Gordon attempted to save liberals from themselves. By equating the New Israel Fund and J Street with disloyalty to Israel, she resurrects a disproven canard now only used by those with an ultra-nationalist political agenda. Her depiction of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and our grantees is particularly scathing. And wrong.

The New Israel Fund has always prided itself on being a cutting-edge organization. We gave Israel’s first rape crisis centers their seed money, we were the only organization outside of Israel to support the 2011 social justice protests, and our partners have been instrumental in shaping Israel’s human-rights law and policy.  We were also the first funders of Arab civil society in Israel. 

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Editor’s note: In her March 28 post “An Alternative Model for Pro-Israel Liberals,” Evelyn Gordon compared the work of philanthropist Robert Price to that of the New Israel Fund and J Street. The New Israel Fund’s Naomi Paiss has written in defense of her group. Evelyn Gordon’s response follows.

In the latest paternalistic attack on pro-Israel progressives, Evelyn Gordon attempted to save liberals from themselves. By equating the New Israel Fund and J Street with disloyalty to Israel, she resurrects a disproven canard now only used by those with an ultra-nationalist political agenda. Her depiction of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and our grantees is particularly scathing. And wrong.

The New Israel Fund has always prided itself on being a cutting-edge organization. We gave Israel’s first rape crisis centers their seed money, we were the only organization outside of Israel to support the 2011 social justice protests, and our partners have been instrumental in shaping Israel’s human-rights law and policy.  We were also the first funders of Arab civil society in Israel. 

Our support in the Arab sector has always been multi-faceted. We fund employment and empowerment opportunities for Arab youth at-risk around the country. We work to redress unequal funding to Arab schools and communities. We fight for greater Arab representation on public bodies and committees. And no one does more for Arab and Bedouin women, on issues ranging from polygamy and honor killings to drastically increasing their ability to become leaders in their communities. A glance at our website and list of just our current grantees could have spared COMMENTARY the embarrassment of running a column so contrary to fact.

And, yes, we proudly fund groups like Adalah and Mossawa who engage in critical work on behalf of the Palestinian Israeli communities they serve, using strategies of litigation and community organizing.

Gordon’s depiction of Adalah as undermining Israel and exacerbating anti-Arab discrimination is simply ludicrous. Funding Adalah means that Palestinian Israelis have a voice in the Israeli courts. In 2011, Adalah won a precedent-setting case on behalf of the Palestinian Israeli Zubeidat family, whose application to move into the town of Rakefet was rejected on the basis that they were “socially unsuitable” to live in the town. Last year, another Adalah petition resulted in the cancellation of 51 demolition orders in the unrecognized Negev Bedouin village of Alsira. Although unrecognized, Alsira has been in existence since before the founding of Israel. If carried out, the demolition would have left more than 400 homeless.  

Adalah’s work often benefits other marginalized groups, including achieving a victory a few years ago permitting Israelis—all Israelis—receiving social welfare benefits to own cars, thereby enlarging their employment opportunities.

In the U.S., groups working to promote and protect minority rights are lauded. Just look at the NAACP, La Raza, or for that matter, the ADL. Some factions in Israel, however, have been keen to vilify not only the specific work of groups working for minority rights, but the mere right of such groups to exist.

Israelis, though, are keenly aware of the issues facing minority populations. In a recently published report on racism in Israel, an astounding 95 percent of Israelis expressed concern about racism in the country. And only a little over 10 percent felt the government response was adequate. 

Minority rights for the Arab community often come hand in hand with progress for other marginalized sectors. The big-tent Coalition Against Racism is one group gaining traction in the efforts to make Israel more inclusive. A broad partnership spanning the Israeli spectrum, the group is made up of organizations representing Palestinian Israelis, Mizrachim, Ethiopians, Russians, the Reform movement, the social justice movement, and more. The coalition is an unprecedented endeavor. Rarely in Israel do such disparate groups come together to discuss and formulate joint solutions to make Israel a more just and equal society for everyone. The NIF-supported coalition, who just visited the U.S. to an enthusiastic reception by American Jewish groups, is an amazing model that represents the best of Israel.

We at the New Israel Fund believe in a broad-based and integrated approach to changing Israeli society. And that is exactly why it is so critical to support the civil society groups engaged in our work on the ground, and why our fundraising has increased every year while that of other Jewish organizations is stagnant or declining. American Jews do have a heartfelt investment in the liberal values of democracy, equality, and social justice. Their investment in NIF means they understand that the activists and organizations we support are working for a better Israel.  

Naomi Paiss is the Vice President for Public Affairs at the New Israel Fund

Evelyn Gordon replies:

Naomi Paiss argues that NIF supports a wide spectrum of activity in Israel, citing the fund’s list of current grantees to prove this point. This list indeed includes many unexceptionable organizations–groups that, even if I disagree with them, genuinely strive to improve Israel according to their own lights. And if funding them were all NIF did, neither I nor most other Israelis would have any problem with its operations.

But these innocuous grantees don’t change the fact that NIF also funds many organizations actively engaged in political warfare against Israel. Thus every donation to NIF that isn’t earmarked for a specific organization ends up funding anti-Israel political warfare.

To take just one example, numerous NIF-funded organizations contributed to the infamous Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of “war crimes” during its 2009 war in Gaza and recommended indicting it in the International Criminal Court. Many of these groups remain NIF grantees to this day, including Adalah, Breaking the Silence, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Bimkom, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights. The Goldstone Report’s anti-Israel slurs have been so discredited that even its lead author has repudiated it. The commission’s mandate was thus to arrive at a predetermined verdict—or in other words, to conduct political warfare against Israel rather than honestly to investigate the facts. Consequently, the organizations that submitted anti-Israel allegations to it knowingly contributed to this warfare. Yet the NIF apparently has no problem with its grantees engaging in such activity.

Nor was the Goldstone Report an aberration: Many NIF grantees routinely spend more time and effort libeling Israel overseas than trying to reform it at home. Take, for instance, Breaking the Silence, whose stated mission is “to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories” by disseminating “testimony” from former soldiers about alleged crimes committed by the Israel Defense Forces. But most Israelis know BTS’s claims of widespread abuse are false. Moreover, BTS refuses to divulge details that would enable the IDF to investigate its allegations and (if warranted) prosecute the perpetrators–something that would actually benefit the country by helping to squelch any abuses that do occur. For both reasons, the organization has found little traction at home.

So instead, BTS began taking its “testimony” on tour to college campuses throughout the U.S.–places that are already hotbeds of anti-Israel activity, and where there’s no ready supply of IDF veterans to refute its allegations. Smearing the IDF to American college students does nothing to change the army’s behavior, but it does erode Israel’s support overseas. In short, it’s simply anti-Israel political warfare.

This brings us to Ms. Paiss’s second main argument: that even the grantees I consider problematic also do much laudable work, and therefore deserve support. Here, my response is the same as it was with respect to supporting NIF itself: If these organizations confined themselves to, say, bringing anti-discrimination lawsuits, I’d have no problem with NIF supporting them. But Adalah, ACRI, Bimkom, BTS, PCATI, and many other NIF grantees also spend a lot of time and money on anti-Israel political warfare. Thus by funding these organizations, NIF is funding that warfare–and that’s true even if the grant is earmarked for other purposes, since money is fungible.

Adalah, whose activities Ms. Paiss defends at great length, is an excellent example: In addition to its submissions to Goldstone, it has urged other countries to refer Israel to the ICC, to “re-evaluate their relationship with Israel” and to end “normal relations” with it. It co-authored a report that accuses Israel of being “a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.” It drafted and still promotes a “democratic constitution” that would eradicate the Jewish state by mandating a “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, end Israel’s role as a safe haven for Jews worldwide by abolishing the Law of Return, grant Arab parties a de facto veto over all legislation, and more. All this, incidentally, would seem to violate two of the NIF’s own funding guidelines: Adalah “Works to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel” via projects like its “democratic constitution,” and “Employ[s] racist or derogatory language” by hurling slanders like “apartheid” at Israel. And the same goes for many other NIF grantees (NGO Monitor has an excellent summary here; clicking on its links provides additional detail). 

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Anti-Zionists Must Not Be Allowed to Hijack the Jewish Community

This week the Jewish world is discussing two incidents in which large community institutions were forced to account for invitations to prominent writers who are virulent foes of Israel. In one case New York’s Jewish Museum was under fire for inviting academic Judith Butler. In another, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, also in New York, canceled an appearance by New Republic editor John Judis. What both these figures had in common was their bitter opposition to Israel. In Butler’s case, she is a prominent supporter of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Judis is the author of a book that questions the legitimacy of Israel’s creation in a revisionist history of President Harry Truman’s role in the creation of the Jewish state, as historian Ron Radosh pointed out in the Jerusalem Post.

Taken together, along with other incidents in the last year involving other BDS supporters being invited to Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, the decision by the two museums to let outraged members and donors derail the events is seen as a sign of a wave of repression in the American Jewish community. Sounding a theme that has become a constant refrain on the left, supporters of Israel are being accused of cracking down on dissent. But the issue here isn’t free speech or even whether Israel’s policies should be debated. It’s whether an extremist anti-Zionist minority will be able to hijack Jewish institutions.

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This week the Jewish world is discussing two incidents in which large community institutions were forced to account for invitations to prominent writers who are virulent foes of Israel. In one case New York’s Jewish Museum was under fire for inviting academic Judith Butler. In another, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, also in New York, canceled an appearance by New Republic editor John Judis. What both these figures had in common was their bitter opposition to Israel. In Butler’s case, she is a prominent supporter of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Judis is the author of a book that questions the legitimacy of Israel’s creation in a revisionist history of President Harry Truman’s role in the creation of the Jewish state, as historian Ron Radosh pointed out in the Jerusalem Post.

Taken together, along with other incidents in the last year involving other BDS supporters being invited to Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, the decision by the two museums to let outraged members and donors derail the events is seen as a sign of a wave of repression in the American Jewish community. Sounding a theme that has become a constant refrain on the left, supporters of Israel are being accused of cracking down on dissent. But the issue here isn’t free speech or even whether Israel’s policies should be debated. It’s whether an extremist anti-Zionist minority will be able to hijack Jewish institutions.

The accusation about free speech is a canard. Butler, Judis, and other BDS supporters, such as rocker Roger Waters and writer Alice Walker (who were both invited to the 92nd Street Y last year), do not lack forums to promote their anti-Israel views. Judis admitted as much in an article in the Forward about the controversy. He noted that far from being repressed, Israel’s critics were finding it easier than ever to find forums where they are heard. As is the case with Hillel branches at college campuses around the country that are declaring their willingness to host BDS backers or sponsor programs with anti-Israel groups, anti-Zionists aren’t being silenced. Moreover, the talk about suppression of dissent against Israel rarely takes into account the fact that the mainstream liberal media gives these anti-Zionists equal time on their op-ed pages as well as occasional puffy features where they are portrayed as valiant dissenters even as they are being lionized by newspapers like the New York Times.

The Times can publish what it likes, but institutions that are supported and funded by a broad consensus of the Jewish community are accountable to their donors and the Jewish public. The notion that they should give platforms to individuals who are part of a campaign to delegitimize Zionism and the State of Israel is one that strikes most of those donors as indefensible. They believe their funds should not be used to subsidize programs or promote individuals or produce plays whose purpose is to lend weight to the voices seeking Israel’s destruction.

Those who claim that BDS and anti-Zionism are just another legitimate point of view that deserves a public airing and debate are hypocrites. The BDS cause is one based in a prejudiced view that holds that the Jews are the one people on the planet that are neither entitled to their own homeland or to defend it. Such bias if applied to other groups would be seen as racist. In the case of Jews, the term for such behavior is called anti-Semitism. When combined, as it is by anti-Zionists, with conspiratorial theories about Jewish manipulation of the media or Congress (the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” canard), there is little doubt about the prejudicial nature of the effort.

Judith Butler, John Judis, Roger Waters, and Alice Walker can say whatever they want about Israel in a thousand other, often more prominent, forums than those in the Jewish community. But they are not entitled to have Jewish institutions honor or fund their anti-Israel hate. Upholding that principle isn’t repression. It’s just common sense.

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Why Anti-Zionist Jews Are a Minority

It is a principle of journalism that news consists of those events that are out of the ordinary. The old cliché is that when man bites dog, it’s news. A dog biting a man is not. Thus, the conceit of the New York Times Beliefs column feature on Friday met that basic standard for newsworthiness. A story about religious Jews who actively oppose the existence of the State of Israel is one in which it must be conceded that the subjects are unusual.

The Pew Research Center of U.S. Jews published in October reported that 91 percent of Orthodox Jews, 88 percent of Conservative Jews, and even 70 percent of those who identified themselves as Reform Jews are either very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel. That means any discussion about observant Jews who are anti-Zionists is, by definition, one about a very tiny minority. But considering that three of the five Jews whose views are featured in the piece seem to fall into the category of Modern Orthodox, of whom 99 percent told Pew they were very or somewhat attached to Israel with one percent saying “not very attached” and zero percent “not at all attached,” the trio constitute a sample of a group that is not merely a minority but one so small that it is statistically insignificant.

Once that is understood, it becomes clear that one of the main failings of the article is not only the fact that its author has no interest in challenging their views but that it fails to put that fact in proper perspective. The Orthodox trio and the one Conservative Jew and one Reconstructionist movement rabbi (whose views may not be all that out of the ordinary among that small left-leaning demographic) highlighted are a peculiar minority. But the willingness of the paper to give them such favorable attention illustrates once again the falsity of the notion that it takes courage for Jews to oppose Israel. To the contrary, as was made clear last week by the controversy over two Manhattan rabbis who defied many of the congregants by signing a letter denouncing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), those Jews who publicly denounce Israel can always look forward to the applause of the mainstream media.

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It is a principle of journalism that news consists of those events that are out of the ordinary. The old cliché is that when man bites dog, it’s news. A dog biting a man is not. Thus, the conceit of the New York Times Beliefs column feature on Friday met that basic standard for newsworthiness. A story about religious Jews who actively oppose the existence of the State of Israel is one in which it must be conceded that the subjects are unusual.

The Pew Research Center of U.S. Jews published in October reported that 91 percent of Orthodox Jews, 88 percent of Conservative Jews, and even 70 percent of those who identified themselves as Reform Jews are either very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel. That means any discussion about observant Jews who are anti-Zionists is, by definition, one about a very tiny minority. But considering that three of the five Jews whose views are featured in the piece seem to fall into the category of Modern Orthodox, of whom 99 percent told Pew they were very or somewhat attached to Israel with one percent saying “not very attached” and zero percent “not at all attached,” the trio constitute a sample of a group that is not merely a minority but one so small that it is statistically insignificant.

Once that is understood, it becomes clear that one of the main failings of the article is not only the fact that its author has no interest in challenging their views but that it fails to put that fact in proper perspective. The Orthodox trio and the one Conservative Jew and one Reconstructionist movement rabbi (whose views may not be all that out of the ordinary among that small left-leaning demographic) highlighted are a peculiar minority. But the willingness of the paper to give them such favorable attention illustrates once again the falsity of the notion that it takes courage for Jews to oppose Israel. To the contrary, as was made clear last week by the controversy over two Manhattan rabbis who defied many of the congregants by signing a letter denouncing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), those Jews who publicly denounce Israel can always look forward to the applause of the mainstream media.

While this quintet are entitled to their views about Israel and appear to be none the worse for wear for being so determined to flout the views of their co-religionists, two aspects of the article are particularly objectionable. One is the article’s assumption that there is something remarkable about the fact that they are able to go about their business while living in a Jewish community and attending synagogue without much trouble. The second is the failure of the piece to acknowledge that the views their subjects express are inherently bigoted.

It should be acknowledged that the article is correct when it states that prior to 1948, support for Zionism was not universal among American Jews. Many Jews, especially those affiliated with “classic” Reform temples, viewed it as a threat to the rights of American Jews to be treated as equal citizens in the United States. The reason the adherents of that view declined from minority status to statistical insignificance is that Israel’s creation did no such thing. To the contrary, the creation of a Jewish state only a few years after the Nazis and their collaborators had killed nearly one third of the Jews on the planet engendered the respect of other Americans as well as enhancing the self-esteem of every Jew in the world whether he or she was religious or a Zionist.

Israel gained its independence because the Jews had a right to sovereignty in their ancient homeland and not as compensation for the Holocaust. The sweat and the blood of the Jews who built Israel and fought to defend it earned that independence. But the Holocaust made it abundantly clear, even to those who had never previously given the idea their support, that without a Jewish state to defend them, Diaspora Jews who had not been lucky enough to make it the United States or the other English-speaking countries that had not succumbed to the Nazis would always be at the mercy of violent anti-Semitism. That was just as true of Jews who lived in Muslim and Arab countries (who were forced to flee their homes after 1948) as it was of the Jews of Europe. Theodor Herzl’s understanding of the inevitable fate of a homeless Jewry—a thesis that he adopted after seeing Alfred Dreyfus being degraded in Paris as a mob shouted, “Death to the Jews”—was sadly vindicated by the events of the first half of the 20th century.

Though their neighbors and fellow congregants treat them with the toleration that Israel’s foes do not extend to the Jewish state, the common failing of the five anti-Zionist Jews in the Times story is their failure to account for this basic historical lesson that the rest of their community understands. One need not support every action of the government of the State of Israel or have no sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians to understand that not only does Israel have a right to exist but that its fall would endanger the lives of its people and, by extension, Jews everywhere. The notion put forward by one of the subjects that “non-statist Zionism” would succeed was exploded several decades ago by the refusal of Arab opponents of the Jewish presence in Israel/Palestine to accept Jews on any terms.

Nor does the article ask its subjects why the Jews, of all peoples, should be asked to forgo the right to their own country when no other nation is required to do so. Cynthia Ozick famously wrote that universalism is the parochialism of the Jews. But it takes a particularly perverse kind of universalism to say that Jews should have fewer rights than other peoples.

But what is particularly disingenuous about the Times article is the unwillingness to hold its subjects accountable for the thinly veiled anti-Semitism that often masquerades as anti-Zionism in contemporary debates. Groups like Jewish Voices for Peace—which is supported by one of the quintet—aren’t content to support liberal Israelis or to criticize Israel’s government. Instead it seeks to wage economic warfare on Israel in order to destroy it. If the only imperfect state that is seen as worthy of such a fate is the one Jewish one—rather than the many others founded on national or religious principles—then it is clear that the driving force behind anti-Zionism is prejudice and not concern about human rights. Websites like Mondoweiss, to which one of the five contributes, similarly trades in anti-Jewish stereotypes in its campaign against Zionism.

What the overwhelming majority of Jews know that these five people and their adoring audience at the Times don’t is that opposition to Israel’s existence—as opposed to criticism of it—is taking a stand against the right of the Jewish people to life. While there is a portion of the ultra-Orthodox community that also holds to anti-Zionism because of their own bizarre interpretation of Judaism (which strangely goes unmentioned in the article), non-Haredim who do so are fighting common sense, history, and the basic principles of fairness. If those who adopt such positions are a minority, it is not due to any resistance on the part of the majority to ethics or concern for others but because of the implausibility of their beliefs.

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Presbyterians Declare War on the Jews

In the last decade, several mainstream American Protestant denominations have flirted with resolutions endorsing boycotts of companies doing business with Israel. Most of these efforts have been defeated, albeit narrowly, by strenuous efforts by Jewish groups determined to preserve good interfaith relations as well as by Christians who wanted no part of a movement dedicated to waging economic war on a democratic state. In most cases, these battles have involved a small cadre of left-wing activists involved in church leadership groups that had little support among ministers, and even less among rank-and-file church members. Thus, even the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), a church that has a particularly virulent group of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists working in positions of influence, failed to pass a divestment resolution in 2012. But despite that defeat, those anti-Israel elements have now regrouped and launched a new initiative that threatens to escalate the battle within the church and to undermine any remnant of good will that still exists between this Presbyterian group (the PCUSA is just one among a number of groups that call themselves Presbyterians) and American Jews.

As the Times of Israel reports, the Presbyterians’ Israel Palestinian Mission Network (IPMN) has issued a “study guide” about the Middle East conflict that will forever change the relationship between the church and the Jewish people. The 74-page illustrated booklet and companion DVD entitled Zionism Unsettled was published last month for use by the church’s 2.4 million members. Unlike other left-wing critiques of Israel, the Presbyterian pamphlet isn’t content to register disapproval of Israeli policies and West Bank settlements or to lament the plight of the Palestinians. The booklet is a full-blown attack against the very concept of Zionism and seeks to compare Zionism to the Christian anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust and other historical atrocities. Its purpose is to brand Israel as an illegitimate entity and to treat its American Jewish supporters as having strayed from the values of their religion. Zionism Unsettled not only swallows the Palestinian narrative about Middle East history whole, it is nothing less than a declaration of war on Israel and American Jewry.

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In the last decade, several mainstream American Protestant denominations have flirted with resolutions endorsing boycotts of companies doing business with Israel. Most of these efforts have been defeated, albeit narrowly, by strenuous efforts by Jewish groups determined to preserve good interfaith relations as well as by Christians who wanted no part of a movement dedicated to waging economic war on a democratic state. In most cases, these battles have involved a small cadre of left-wing activists involved in church leadership groups that had little support among ministers, and even less among rank-and-file church members. Thus, even the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), a church that has a particularly virulent group of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists working in positions of influence, failed to pass a divestment resolution in 2012. But despite that defeat, those anti-Israel elements have now regrouped and launched a new initiative that threatens to escalate the battle within the church and to undermine any remnant of good will that still exists between this Presbyterian group (the PCUSA is just one among a number of groups that call themselves Presbyterians) and American Jews.

As the Times of Israel reports, the Presbyterians’ Israel Palestinian Mission Network (IPMN) has issued a “study guide” about the Middle East conflict that will forever change the relationship between the church and the Jewish people. The 74-page illustrated booklet and companion DVD entitled Zionism Unsettled was published last month for use by the church’s 2.4 million members. Unlike other left-wing critiques of Israel, the Presbyterian pamphlet isn’t content to register disapproval of Israeli policies and West Bank settlements or to lament the plight of the Palestinians. The booklet is a full-blown attack against the very concept of Zionism and seeks to compare Zionism to the Christian anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust and other historical atrocities. Its purpose is to brand Israel as an illegitimate entity and to treat its American Jewish supporters as having strayed from the values of their religion. Zionism Unsettled not only swallows the Palestinian narrative about Middle East history whole, it is nothing less than a declaration of war on Israel and American Jewry.

As a work of political science or history, Zionism Unsettled is unworthy of serious discussion. Its argument rests on the prejudiced assumption that the Jews are the one people on earth that are unworthy of self-determination or the same rights to a homeland as any other on the planet. It smears those who sought to create the Jewish homeland and whitewashes those who have waged war and engaged in terrorism to destroy it. Ignoring history and the reality of virulent anti-Jewish prejudice in the Arab and Muslim world, it claims Jewish life would thrive in the region if there were no Israel. If that absurd assertion were not enough to strip it of even a vestige of credibility, it goes so far as to claim that the tiny, intimidated remnant of Jewish life in an Iran ruled by a vicious anti-Semitic regime is a model of coexistence.

With regard to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it sees only black and white. In Zionism Unsettled, the Jews have no right to Israel and no right to defend themselves. On the other hand, it rationalizes and even justifies violence against Israel.

But the argument goes further than anti-Zionism. The pamphlet actually criticizes the Catholic Church for its historic efforts at reconciliation with the Jewish people, saying the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate that rejected the Deicide myth against the Jews “raises as many questions as it answers.”

Unlike past controversies in which Jewish groups sought to bridge the divide between the two communities, the distribution of a publication that is driven by sheer hatred and a determination to see Israel destroyed requires a more forthright response. The response to this screed should be unequivocal. Any Presbyterian Church USA that chooses to distribute it is not merely offending supporters of Israel. It is endorsing hate speech and seeking to spread a doctrine that seeks Israel’s destruction and views Jews who do not reject Zionism as guilty of complicity in the “crimes” of the Jewish state. With this publication, the PCUSA has crossed a line that divides people of good will from those who promote racism or anti-Semitism. The many decent members of congregations affiliated with the PCUSA can no longer stand by mutely while the good name of their church is sullied in this manner. They must either actively reject this ugly publication or forever be tainted by association with the vile hatred to which their leadership has committed them. 

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The ASA, NYU, and the Shame of Academia

The vote last month by the American Studies Association to join a boycott of Israel’s colleges and universities generated a firestorm of criticism of the group, and justifiably so. The willingness of an academic organization to participate in an effort to single out the Jewish state in this manner is an appalling instance of prejudice. The vote illustrated the way the far left has seized control of such scholarly groups and the insidious nature of a campaign which is not designed so much to help the Palestinians—the alleged objects of the ASA’s concern—but to aid an economic war on Israel that is rooted in a desire to wipe the one Jewish state on the planet off the map. But in addressing the efforts of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement, it isn’t enough merely to scrutinize this and other groups of pseudo-scholars bent on politicizing their fields of study. The time has come to hold their enablers accountable, as well.

That’s the thrust behind a lengthy piece published in Forbes this week by journalist Richard Behar in which he lets loose with a cri de coeur directed at his alma mater New York University, and its president, John Sexton, for his indifferent response to the ASA.

As Behar makes clear, responsibility for this disgrace doesn’t belong solely to the radicals intent on demonizing Israel. It also should be placed on those institutions that are supporting these hatemongers as well as resisting efforts to hold them accountable. As Behar notes, NYU falls into both categories.

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The vote last month by the American Studies Association to join a boycott of Israel’s colleges and universities generated a firestorm of criticism of the group, and justifiably so. The willingness of an academic organization to participate in an effort to single out the Jewish state in this manner is an appalling instance of prejudice. The vote illustrated the way the far left has seized control of such scholarly groups and the insidious nature of a campaign which is not designed so much to help the Palestinians—the alleged objects of the ASA’s concern—but to aid an economic war on Israel that is rooted in a desire to wipe the one Jewish state on the planet off the map. But in addressing the efforts of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement, it isn’t enough merely to scrutinize this and other groups of pseudo-scholars bent on politicizing their fields of study. The time has come to hold their enablers accountable, as well.

That’s the thrust behind a lengthy piece published in Forbes this week by journalist Richard Behar in which he lets loose with a cri de coeur directed at his alma mater New York University, and its president, John Sexton, for his indifferent response to the ASA.

As Behar makes clear, responsibility for this disgrace doesn’t belong solely to the radicals intent on demonizing Israel. It also should be placed on those institutions that are supporting these hatemongers as well as resisting efforts to hold them accountable. As Behar notes, NYU falls into both categories.

While Sextonhas stated his disagreement with the ASA’s vote, as Behar rightly notes, the NYU president’s statement was perfunctory, especially when compared to more passionate denunciations of this subversion of academic integrity made by the presidents of other universities–such as the University of Connecticut, Wesleyan, Middlebury College, or the University of Indiana–that Behar cited. But if that sounds like nitpicking, it isn’t. NYU has a special responsibility to speak up about this issue because its faculty is neck-deep in the ASA’s decision-making process. The incoming head of the group is NYU’s Lisa Duggan and fully 25 percent of the national council that first promulgated the anti-Israel resolution is based at the school. Moreover, as the home to what Hillel International reports is the largest number of Jewish students at any American institution of higher learning, NYU should also be mindful that giving platforms to scholars that promote an ideology that is indistinguishable from classic anti-Semitism places them under a particular obligation to avoid creating a hostile environment for Jews.

A key element of this controversy is the fact that many schools are themselves institutional members of the ASA and are thus compromised by its participation in the boycott. NYU is one such university. But unlike other schools that have moved to sever their connections with the ASA and thus remove this taint from themselves, it has neither done so nor clarified the nature of its connection with the group.

As Behar also notes, NYU bears a special responsibility for speaking about discrimination against Israel, because of its decision to open a campus in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. While that principality has welcomed business with the West and its leaders have been showering NYU and other American partners with generous donations, it has also been notorious for its discrimination against Israel, Israelis and Jews. Just this past a month a Dutch soccer team invited to play in the country was forced to leave one of its members at home because he was an Israeli citizen if the team was to be permitted to play in Abu Dhabi.

The need to raise money may be offered as an excuse for an institution like NYU getting into bed with a nation that boycotts Israel. But even if we are to grant them a pass on that egregious connection, that should make Sexton and NYU even more eager to distance the univeristy from the ASA’s attack on academic freedom.

Also discouraging is NYU’s public opposition to the proposal in the New York State legislature, by its Speaker Sheldon Silver, that would block colleges and universities from using state aid money to fund groups that promote discriminatory boycotts like the ASA. While more a symbolic measure than anything else, it is still a way for the state of New York to register its disgust at the ASA. Yet rather than sever its ties with the ASA, NYU to condemn the proposal as an affront to academic freedom.

Behar, whose piece contains a lengthy defense of Israel against the specious charge that is an apartheid state, understands the realities of the conflict and the plight of Palestinians better than the ASA’s members. In a Forbes cover story published last August, he wrote about the way Israel’s growing high-tech industry was seeking Palestinian partners. But as he reported in a follow-up article, the Arab businessmen who were working with Israelis in partnerships that stood to benefit the Palestinian economy were subsequently forced to disavow any interest in working with the Jews. The dynamic of the conflict is such that anyone who seeks to create common ground with Israelis is branded a collaborator. Rather than working to promote peace, groups like the ASA are, instead, backing those forces that are intent on perpetuating and worsening the situation.

Behar is to be applauded for speaking out in this manner. But he should not be alone. It is time for alumni of other schools that are also implicated in the ASA scandal to pressure them to draw a line in the sand against anti-Israel hate. A good place to start would be by withholding contributions that alumni are endlessly asked to make from universities that foster anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiment on their campuses under the spurious guise of academic freedom.

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Who Won at the MLA?

On Saturday, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association narrowly passed an amended version of the anti-Israel resolution I wrote about here on Friday. The resolution, as passed by a 60-53 vote of the Assembly, states that “the MLA urges the U.S. Department of State to contest Israel’s denial of entry to the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” The resolution still must get through the Executive Committee and survive a general membership vote, but I doubt it will fail.

The original resolution included the West Bank and Gaza and spoke of Israel’s “arbitrary” denials. The changes are significant. The proposers had to remove the language in question when it became clear that they had not presented nearly enough evidence to substantiate it. That setback will be neglected in coverage of the event. But there are good reasons for thinking the anti-Israel forces in academia suffered a blow at the MLA.

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On Saturday, the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association narrowly passed an amended version of the anti-Israel resolution I wrote about here on Friday. The resolution, as passed by a 60-53 vote of the Assembly, states that “the MLA urges the U.S. Department of State to contest Israel’s denial of entry to the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” The resolution still must get through the Executive Committee and survive a general membership vote, but I doubt it will fail.

The original resolution included the West Bank and Gaza and spoke of Israel’s “arbitrary” denials. The changes are significant. The proposers had to remove the language in question when it became clear that they had not presented nearly enough evidence to substantiate it. That setback will be neglected in coverage of the event. But there are good reasons for thinking the anti-Israel forces in academia suffered a blow at the MLA.

Consider the context. In April 2013, the Association for Asian American Studies passed a pro-boycott resolution unanimously. To this day, as far as I know, no member has publicly dissented. In November the National Council of the American Studies Association unanimously endorsed a pro-boycott resolution. But unlike the Association for Asian American Studies, the ASA felt compelled to call a membership vote, and the resolution met determined resistance. It passed by a wide margin but has since been rejected publicly by, at last count, 183 colleges and universities.

The MLA resolution was not a boycott resolution, nor apart from actually naming Israel was it unprecedented. As I have noted here before, the MLA passed in 2008 a resolution expressing solidarity with students of Palestinian culture. The “whereas” section of that resolution declares that “education at all levels in the occupied territories is being stifled by the occupation” and that “those teaching and writing about the occupation and about Middle East culture have regularly come under fire from anti-Palestinian groups on extra-academic grounds.” The 2008 resolution passed by a much bigger margin, 77-9, than this year’s did. Although the anti-Israel crowd insists that debate, once stifled, is breaking out and that we are reaching a “tipping point,” their argument is faring worse than it was faring in April and, at least within the MLA, worse than it was faring six years ago.

Even more strikingly, the MLA’s Radical Caucus introduced an “emergency resolution” in solidarity with the American Studies Association. It declared that “the MLA condemns the attacks on the ASA and supports the right of academic organizations and individuals, free from intimidation, to take positions in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against racism. Be it further resolved that the MLA encourage robust discussion of issues regarding the academic freedom of Palestinians.” Emergency resolutions require a 75 percent vote of the Delegate Assembly to be considered. This one could not even muster a majority and went down 59-41. The failure occurred even though supporters of the resolution claimed, a bit preposterously, that a vote for it would not constitute support for the boycott. The Executive Committee could still choose to act on the resolution, but such action is unlikely in light of the decisive vote.

The tweet I just linked to quotes one Grover Furr, of Montclair State University. Furr is a defender of Stalin (perhaps one of the last remaining on the left), a retailer of disgusting allegations of Zionist complicity in the Holocaust, and a critic of non-violent protest (BDS is apparently too soft for him). Don’t take my word for it. He says it all on his own website here and here.

Furr, by the way, proposed the emergency resolution on behalf of the Radical Caucus.

While I am not given to optimism, perhaps it is not too much to hope that the overwhelming rejection of Furr’s resolution means that the MLA is starting to notice that the variety of Israel criticism that has been on display this year, most prominently in the BDS movement, is an embarrassment and a liability.

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Israel Boycotts and the Lure of Notoriety

Here on the blog, Jonathan Marks has been covering the ongoing saga of the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, leaving off last week with a note about the possible next target for academics’ anti-Israel zealotry. He wrote that the upcoming conference of the Modern Language Association, which has a larger membership than the ASA, will host a roundtable on the topic stacked with pro-boycott voices. The “playbook,” he comments, would normally have this year’s conference used as the backdrop for a boycott resolution at next year’s conference.

The trend does indeed usually go in one direction. But perhaps there is reason to hope this trend will slow dramatically at this point. The pushback against the boycott from American academia has been swift. On Sunday night, William Jacobson posted at Legal Insurrection the latest tally of schools that had rejected the boycott and/or terminated their membership in the ASA. There were over thirty schools and counting to reject the boycott, and Yair Rosenberg has been noting the additional schools to come out against the boycott over the last couple of days, including Smith College and the University of Cincinnati.

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Here on the blog, Jonathan Marks has been covering the ongoing saga of the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, leaving off last week with a note about the possible next target for academics’ anti-Israel zealotry. He wrote that the upcoming conference of the Modern Language Association, which has a larger membership than the ASA, will host a roundtable on the topic stacked with pro-boycott voices. The “playbook,” he comments, would normally have this year’s conference used as the backdrop for a boycott resolution at next year’s conference.

The trend does indeed usually go in one direction. But perhaps there is reason to hope this trend will slow dramatically at this point. The pushback against the boycott from American academia has been swift. On Sunday night, William Jacobson posted at Legal Insurrection the latest tally of schools that had rejected the boycott and/or terminated their membership in the ASA. There were over thirty schools and counting to reject the boycott, and Yair Rosenberg has been noting the additional schools to come out against the boycott over the last couple of days, including Smith College and the University of Cincinnati.

At first glance, it might seem obvious to reject such a boycott: it flies in the face of the principles of academic engagement. The pro-boycott voices have taken a stand against the free flow of ideas and in favor of ethnic discrimination, a strange position for a university to take up–or, at least, it should be. But anti-Israel activists have been known not for their intellectual pursuit but for their extremism. Even Mahmoud Abbas opposes the boycott, making these activists and academics more extremely anti-Israel than Yasser Arafat’s successor.

And so the condemnation of these fanatic purveyors of hate came not only from the right but even from the left, which has become increasingly uncomfortable with Israel but which has not gone so far as to surpass the Palestinian Authority in its opposition to the current Israeli government, unlike the ASA. Today the Washington Post reported on the universities’ attempts to distance themselves from the ASA’s extremism:

Schools including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton and Boston universities and the Universities of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Texas at Austin  and others have slammed the boycott, issuing statements similar to one by Harvard President Drew Faust that said that academic boycotts “subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars.”

Penn State University at Harrisburg and Brandeis University have said they are withdrawing their memberships from the American Studies Association, and other schools are considering doing the same thing. In addition, two major associations of institutions of higher education, the Association of American Universities and the Association of American University Professors, have issued statements rejecting the boycott.

The Post includes some of the university presidents’ statements supporting dialogue over exclusion, such as from the University of Connecticut’s Susan Herbst:

Academic leaders at UConn will continue to visit Israel and Arab nations, invite Israeli and Arab scholars to our campuses, encourage our students and faculty to study in these nations, and pursue research collaboration with the many outstanding Israeli universities. We do this with pride and a productive focus on social justice, to forge the very critical dialogues that will someday lead to the peace we all seek.

That is the true essence of a university — to foster dialogue and develop solutions to problems without regard to political, racial, and cultural differences.

You can sense a kind of exasperation in some of these statements, as though the presidents of major American universities can’t quite believe they have to explain the basic principles of academic engagement and the rank senselessness of boycotting the Jewish state–and only the Jewish state, as opposed to non-democracies, unfree societies, etc.

Will it matter? How will this response factor into the decisions of groups like the MLA, who will be considering whether to codify their commitment to ethnic discrimination? There are two possibilities.

The first is that they will read the statements from presidents of dozens of universities expressing the embarrassment these boycotts bring to the good name of American academia and take the ASA’s experiment as a cautionary tale in letting their organizations be hijacked by anti-Israel extremists. Rather than choose sides, they will choose academic open-mindedness.

The second option is to embrace the opprobrium as confirmation of their wacky ideas about Zionist conspiracies. That would be the Walt-Mearsheimer path. When the two academics first proposed their silly ideas about the Israel lobby as a magazine piece, it was obviously wrongheaded but taken as an interesting conversation starter. When they expanded it into book form, it was dismaying to the pro-Israel community at first, because the authors had realized how lucrative it is in this day and age to peddle conspiracy theories about Jews.

When the book came out, however, there was much relief: the book could be easily criticized without consideration of the authors’ motives because it was of such shoddy scholarship as to be self-discrediting. The authors had their facts wrong, and clearly didn’t understand even the basics of Middle Eastern politics. From an academic perspective, the book was a complete failure, an embarrassment to the very idea of serious scholarship.

But that didn’t matter: anti-Zionism sells. Of course the facts weren’t on the authors’ side, but it soon became clear that was never a consideration. You can go from being an academic to a sought-after household name by dedicating your career to catering to the conspiracy-theorist fringe. Thus academic groups similar to the ASA may come to their senses and remember their mission is to educate. Or they may anticipate the notoriety that comes with abandoning that mission and embrace it for the sake of fame and intellectual martyrdom. The blowback against the ASA may be the end of this nonsense, in other words, or it may only be the beginning.

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Drawing a Line in the Sand on Hate

Those seeking to keep Jewish organizations alive and well in an era when assimilation is shrinking the numbers of those affiliating with such groups can’t be blamed for emphasizing inclusiveness. There aren’t that many Jews to start with, so a big tent is always a necessity when it comes to creating a viable community. But there are times when such groups must draw the line. That’s what Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut did when he warned the group’s Swarthmore College chapter that it was out of line for deliberately ignoring guidelines about Israel advocacy. Fingerhut will take a beating in some quarters for this decision since it will be portrayed on the left as an attempt to suppress free speech or as a measure that will exclude some Jews from the umbrella organization for campus activities. But Fingerhut made the right call.

By telling Swarthmore that its willingness to host anti-Israel groups and speakers was out of bounds, Fingerhut is sending a necessary message that should be heeded throughout the American Jewish world. At a time when worry about inclusiveness and outreach has become an omnipresent mantra, Hillel has reminded us that inclusiveness for its own sake is a trap, not a formula for a stronger community. Providing a platform for those who advocate for Israel’s destruction is legitimizing hate, not facilitating a productive dialogue. If Swarthmore wishes to promote anti-Zionism and efforts to boycott, divest, and sanction the Jewish state, it cannot do so under the imprimatur of Hillel.

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Those seeking to keep Jewish organizations alive and well in an era when assimilation is shrinking the numbers of those affiliating with such groups can’t be blamed for emphasizing inclusiveness. There aren’t that many Jews to start with, so a big tent is always a necessity when it comes to creating a viable community. But there are times when such groups must draw the line. That’s what Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut did when he warned the group’s Swarthmore College chapter that it was out of line for deliberately ignoring guidelines about Israel advocacy. Fingerhut will take a beating in some quarters for this decision since it will be portrayed on the left as an attempt to suppress free speech or as a measure that will exclude some Jews from the umbrella organization for campus activities. But Fingerhut made the right call.

By telling Swarthmore that its willingness to host anti-Israel groups and speakers was out of bounds, Fingerhut is sending a necessary message that should be heeded throughout the American Jewish world. At a time when worry about inclusiveness and outreach has become an omnipresent mantra, Hillel has reminded us that inclusiveness for its own sake is a trap, not a formula for a stronger community. Providing a platform for those who advocate for Israel’s destruction is legitimizing hate, not facilitating a productive dialogue. If Swarthmore wishes to promote anti-Zionism and efforts to boycott, divest, and sanction the Jewish state, it cannot do so under the imprimatur of Hillel.

As JTA reports, Swarthmore’s chapter rejected Hillel’s guidelines for campus activities saying, “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.” On the surface that sounds reasonable and non-judgmental. Why shouldn’t a student group welcome anti-Zionists? Aren’t their views just as worthy of a hearing as those of people who support Israel’s right to exist?

Actually, no they’re not. There are plenty of venues, especially on contemporary college campuses, for those who wish to argue for waging economic warfare on Israel or to claim that the Jewish state must be dissolved. In a free country, people have the right to spew all kinds of hatred. But there’s something particularly bizarre about the notion that it is the responsibility of Jewish groups to facilitate such activities.

Israel is not perfect and Jewish groups should reflect the same diversity of opinion about its politics and government that is present in the country’s lively free press and democratic political system. But supporters of BDS and anti-Zionism are not mere critics of West Bank settlements or urging Israel’s leaders to make more concessions to the Palestinians in peace talks. They are working for Israel’s destruction.

Doing so puts them not only outside what passes for reasonable discourse in a Jewish community but in the category of those who are supporting hatred and rationalizing violence. These Israel-haters don’t merely judge democratic Israel by a double standard not applied to genuine tyrannies around the world like China or Iran. They would deny the Jews the right to their own country (wherever its borders might be drawn) in at least a part of their ancient homeland and their right of self-defense against the terrorists and terror-supporting states that threaten it. That is something they wouldn’t think of applying to any other ethnic or religious group. As such, it is an act of bias. While some are shy about calling such activities anti-Semitic, that is exactly what they are no matter whether those taking part claim Jewish ties or not.

Swarthmore is not alone in wishing to legitimize Israel haters. As I noted last week and yesterday, the willingness of liberal groups like the New America Foundation to support the author of a vicious anti-Zionist book shows the troubling manner in which such haters have been able to use their connections on the left to mainstream their noxious point of view. But as dangerous as that trend is, it is even more insidious for Jewish groups to fall prey to the same trick.

Some in the Jewish community, such as Rabbi Melinda Weintraub, the director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs Civility Initiative (who spoke at a forum with me at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center this past weekend), think it is a mistake to close any doors to groups taking such positions. She says we are misconstruing their positions or misunderstanding the motives of anti-Zionists and believes the community will be stronger if it places no such limits on dialogue with the BDS crowd.

But a community that is willing to treat hatred against Israel as normative will not only be incapable of organizing support for the embattled Jewish state. It will be committing suicide. A community that stands for nothing but inclusiveness is one that stands for nothing and has no reason to go on functioning. A group that legitimizes such hate is adopting a deconstructionist view of Jewish life that would both make a mockery of its liberal principles and betray its Jewish mission. Hillel has no more business hosting a BDS advocate or anti-Zionist than it does in providing a platform for neo-Nazis or a racist like David Duke.

Fortunately, Hillel has recognized that as much as it wishes to encourage diversity it cannot compromise on fundamental principles. A line must be drawn when it comes to advocating against Zionism or for Israel’s destruction. The Israel-haters have no place in American Jewish life.

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A Disingenuous Defense of Hate Speech

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the disturbing decision of the influential New America Foundation to host and promote Max Blumenthal’s new book calling for Israel’s destruction. As I wrote then, and in a previous post noting the civil war that has broken out on the left about it, any discussion of this piece of trash need not detain us long. It is an ignorant piece of agitprop the purpose of which is to depict the State of Israel as comparable to Nazi Germany. His goal is not to add to the debate about West Bank settlements or the critique of liberal foes of the Netanyahu government but also, as leftist writer Eric Alterman noted, to question the legitimacy of Zionism and the whole idea of Jewish sovereignty over a single inch of territory on either side of the 1967 lines. This is a theme Blumenthal has addressed with refreshing candor during some of his book tour appearances when he has pondered the question of whether Jews should be allowed to live in the territory of what is now Israel after his wishes are fulfilled. It is as devoid of any intellectual integrity as any screed produced by those who support Hamas and its vision of a new Middle East without Israel. However, the issue isn’t a book that engages in hate speech but what a respectable and well-connected think tank like the NAF was doing promoting it.

That issue has now been addressed by the group’s founding director James Fallows, who not only defended the book and its author but seemed to think my piece and another that inspired it by historian Ron Radosh was a campaign aimed at suppressing free speech. This is nonsense. As Radosh has noted in a response, no one is stopping Blumenthal from writing a book and speaking about it. But we do have a right to ask why the New America Foundation thinks it is worthy of being given their imprimatur. The problem with engaging Fallows’s argument is that he is being completely disingenuous. In order to defend Blumenthal and his book he has to completely misrepresent it and the discussion that he says is worth having about it.

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the disturbing decision of the influential New America Foundation to host and promote Max Blumenthal’s new book calling for Israel’s destruction. As I wrote then, and in a previous post noting the civil war that has broken out on the left about it, any discussion of this piece of trash need not detain us long. It is an ignorant piece of agitprop the purpose of which is to depict the State of Israel as comparable to Nazi Germany. His goal is not to add to the debate about West Bank settlements or the critique of liberal foes of the Netanyahu government but also, as leftist writer Eric Alterman noted, to question the legitimacy of Zionism and the whole idea of Jewish sovereignty over a single inch of territory on either side of the 1967 lines. This is a theme Blumenthal has addressed with refreshing candor during some of his book tour appearances when he has pondered the question of whether Jews should be allowed to live in the territory of what is now Israel after his wishes are fulfilled. It is as devoid of any intellectual integrity as any screed produced by those who support Hamas and its vision of a new Middle East without Israel. However, the issue isn’t a book that engages in hate speech but what a respectable and well-connected think tank like the NAF was doing promoting it.

That issue has now been addressed by the group’s founding director James Fallows, who not only defended the book and its author but seemed to think my piece and another that inspired it by historian Ron Radosh was a campaign aimed at suppressing free speech. This is nonsense. As Radosh has noted in a response, no one is stopping Blumenthal from writing a book and speaking about it. But we do have a right to ask why the New America Foundation thinks it is worthy of being given their imprimatur. The problem with engaging Fallows’s argument is that he is being completely disingenuous. In order to defend Blumenthal and his book he has to completely misrepresent it and the discussion that he says is worth having about it.

Fallows claims Blumenthal belongs to the tradition of muckraking advocacy and “is a particular kind of exposé-minded, documentary-broadside journalism whose place we generally recognize and respect.” He compares it The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath and claims it is no more anti-Israel than The Wire was anti-American. But in order to make this claim Fallows has to ignore not only the content of much of the book but Blumenthal’s open advocacy of the cause of dismantling Israel. The comparisons are ludicrous since neither Upton Sinclair nor John Steinbeck wrote books aimed at convincing people that the United States ought not to exist as an independent country. Criticisms of the book are not based on the notion that the isolated interviews he conducts with Israeli extremists are fabricated, but that Blumenthal thinks even Israeli liberals and bitter critics of Netanyahu like author David Grossman are just as illegitimate as the wingnuts of Israeli society. Grossman rejected Blumenthal because his purpose wasn’t to reform Israel but to end its existence as a Jewish state.

Fallows concludes by saying he isn’t sure whether Blumenthal is right or wrong, but, “he is documenting things that need attention … If he is wrong, his case should be addressed in specific rather than ruled out of respectable consideration. If he’s right, we should absorb the implications.”

That is a position that makes sense when you are talking about those who critique Israel’s settlement movement or the wisdom of its positions on the peace talks. I may disagree with some of those who take that position, but these are debatable points. But when Fallows claims the same is true of Blumenthal’s screed, he is saying something very different. By claiming that this book requires our attention, he is asserting that Israel’s existence and the right of its six million Jews to self-determination and self-defense is debatable. The answer to Fallows from those of us who were offended by NAF’s decision to embrace Blumenthal is to say that these notions are no more debatable than the positions of the Klan, apartheid advocates, or those of al-Qaeda. Blumenthal’s book belongs in the category of those things that are offensive, not because he is critical of an imperfect democracy but because his purpose is to advance the cause of its dissolution.

That Fallows won’t admit this forces us to ask whether his powers of reasoning and reading comprehension skills (assuming that he has actually read Blumenthal’s book) are really this feeble or whether he is just not telling the truth about it for some reason, such as solidarity with Blumenthal’s influential parents who are his friends or dislike of the pro-Israel critics of the book on both the right and the left. But either way, the issue here is not free speech but the disturbing willingness of supposedly respectable figures to be agnostic about Israel’s existence. Max Blumenthal is no more worthy of being given important soapboxes like the NAF than David Duke is. If Fallows disagrees, his judgment and integrity have been called into question, not those whom he wrongly smears as opponents of free speech.

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Re: ASA’s Anti-Israel Gesture Politics

As I have noted here, the American Studies Association considered, at its annual meeting last month, a resolution to boycott Israel. As Ben Cohen explained earlier today, ASA’s National Council has now voted unanimously to endorse such a resolution and has put it up for a vote. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are rightly declaring victory. But in assessing this “BDS win,” we ought to consider how the resolution was put through. In an otherwise balanced story at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik largely accepts the disingenuous story the Association is telling about the Council’s decision.

According to the ASA’s statement, this decision was the product of long deliberation. “In May 2013 the Executive Committee met and discussed the proposed resolution submitted by the [Academic and Community Activism Caucus] at great length. It agreed that it would be in the best interest of the organization to solicit from the membership as many perspectives as possible on the proposed resolution to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making.”

In fairness, the National Council did deliberate for a much longer period than expected, and it did conduct a debate at the national meeting, during which opponents of the boycott spoke. But it is dishonest to present the Executive Committee and National Council as neutral opinion gatherers, looking to discern the ASA’s will.

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As I have noted here, the American Studies Association considered, at its annual meeting last month, a resolution to boycott Israel. As Ben Cohen explained earlier today, ASA’s National Council has now voted unanimously to endorse such a resolution and has put it up for a vote. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are rightly declaring victory. But in assessing this “BDS win,” we ought to consider how the resolution was put through. In an otherwise balanced story at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik largely accepts the disingenuous story the Association is telling about the Council’s decision.

According to the ASA’s statement, this decision was the product of long deliberation. “In May 2013 the Executive Committee met and discussed the proposed resolution submitted by the [Academic and Community Activism Caucus] at great length. It agreed that it would be in the best interest of the organization to solicit from the membership as many perspectives as possible on the proposed resolution to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making.”

In fairness, the National Council did deliberate for a much longer period than expected, and it did conduct a debate at the national meeting, during which opponents of the boycott spoke. But it is dishonest to present the Executive Committee and National Council as neutral opinion gatherers, looking to discern the ASA’s will.

Consider the Executive Committee. Five of its six members had endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) as of May 2013. Those members are Curtis Marez, the outgoing president of ASA, Lisa Duggan, the incoming president, Karen Leong, who was among the proposers of a similar boycott by the Association for Asian American Studies, Nikhil Pal Singh, member of a scholar’s delegation that has called for a boycott, and Chandan Reddy. Four of the six signed a 2009 letter to then president-elect Obama, describing Israel as the perpetrator of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.”

The National Council is only a little more balanced. Ten of the eighteen members who voted on the resolution had endorsed the USACBI as of May 2013 and seven signed the 2009 letter to Obama. One other Council member is part of a Queer Solidarity with Palestine effort to promote a boycott. One, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, is a member of the USACBI’s advisory board, and another, Sunaiana Maira, is part of the USACBI’s (I’m not making this up!) “Organizing Collective.”

As far as I know, not one member of the Council has been on record as raising a question about, much less opposing, a boycott. It is therefore hard to believe that a diversity of perspectives were needed “to aid the National Council in its discussions and decision-making.”

Jaschik reports that backers of the resolution argued at last month’s meeting that “the council should not hand the decision to the full membership for a vote. The Council has called a vote anyway, but is evidently not confident that members will fall in line if they have time to deliberate. So they have opened the vote for just ten days, when members who have not been following the issue will be occupied with finals and other end-of-semester chores. I hope the Council is right to worry. Certainly, as the Inside Higher Ed piece indicates, there is an opposition to the boycott within ASA, and several have spoken up. But I suspect the Council has simply miscalculated. In its eagerness to ram through the resolution, it will have shown the people of good sense who remain in ASA what the future of the organization looks like.

They should leave, and take their credibility with them.

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ASA’s Anti-Israel Gesture Politics

“Big Win for Boycott Movement” reads the headline of the Inside Higher Ed report on yesterday’s decision by the American Studies Association (ASA) to shun collaboration with Israeli academic institutions. The report correctly points out that this is the second time this year that an academic body in the U.S. has endorsed the boycott, following a similar decision in April by the Asian American Studies Association. The report goes on to observe that the ASA move,

…is seen as a major victory for the movement for an academic boycott of Israel. The academic movement to boycott Israel has considerable support in Europe, but has been largely opposed by major academic associations in the United States, citing longstanding objections to countrywide boycotts as antithetical to academic freedom…Supporters of the boycott have argued that just the discussion of the idea at a meeting as large as the American Studies Association marks a significant departure for American academe.

It is certainly true that supporters of the boycott are now hoping for a ripple effect elsewhere in academia. As one boycott activist remarked on Twitter, “these victories don’t exist in a vaccuum (sic)–they’re part of a much larger movement.” Still, when understood in the context of recent history, the ASA decision looks much less like a “victory” and much more like a demonstration of the kind of futile gesture politics beloved on the far left.

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“Big Win for Boycott Movement” reads the headline of the Inside Higher Ed report on yesterday’s decision by the American Studies Association (ASA) to shun collaboration with Israeli academic institutions. The report correctly points out that this is the second time this year that an academic body in the U.S. has endorsed the boycott, following a similar decision in April by the Asian American Studies Association. The report goes on to observe that the ASA move,

…is seen as a major victory for the movement for an academic boycott of Israel. The academic movement to boycott Israel has considerable support in Europe, but has been largely opposed by major academic associations in the United States, citing longstanding objections to countrywide boycotts as antithetical to academic freedom…Supporters of the boycott have argued that just the discussion of the idea at a meeting as large as the American Studies Association marks a significant departure for American academe.

It is certainly true that supporters of the boycott are now hoping for a ripple effect elsewhere in academia. As one boycott activist remarked on Twitter, “these victories don’t exist in a vaccuum (sic)–they’re part of a much larger movement.” Still, when understood in the context of recent history, the ASA decision looks much less like a “victory” and much more like a demonstration of the kind of futile gesture politics beloved on the far left.

Recall that the proposal for an academic boycott was first launched in 2004, by a group calling itself the “Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel,” or PACBI. In its founding document, PACBI made it very clear that the ambition of the boycott is not to secure an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, but the comprehensive dismantling of the Jewish state. This position was reflected in PACBI’s denunication of the “Zionist ideology” underlying “Israel’s colonial oppression of the Palestinian people” and the “denial of its responsibility for the Nakba–in particular the waves of ethnic cleansing and dispossession that created the Palestinian refugee problem.”

Almost ten years later, the academic boycott aimed at the destruction of Israel has signally failed to make an impression outside of those university bodies that were already predisposed to support it–labor unions on European campuses controlled by far left elements, as well as groups like ASA, who regard scholarship as a mission to perpetuate the pernicious, if fading, influence of the New Left in our classrooms. It has also failed to foster the kind of general public revulsion toward Israel that was inflicted upon the old apartheid regime in South Africa. Indeed, if this was the “big win” heralded by Inside Higher Ed, then we might expect Cornell University to immediately reconsider its decision to build a sparkling new technology center on Roosevelt Island in collaboration with Israel’s Technion; as things stand, it is doubtful that the executives involved with this project are even aware of the ASA decision.

Rather than being a mass movement that has electrified universities globally, the academic boycott is more accurately seen as an irritant that generates the occasional ugly scandal, such as the decision by Jake Lynch, a professor at Sydney University in Australia, to engage in racial discrimination against Professor Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University, or the withdrawal by the renowned scientist Stephen Hawking from a prestigious conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres. If we remain under the impression that the academic boycott punches far above its weight, that’s in part because the first serious attempt to implement it, undertaken by British academics in 2005, generated a slew of reportage and shocked comment on major outlets like the BBC, the Washington Post, and the Guardian. Contrast that with this year’s ASA decision, which has mainly been covered by Israel-fixated anti-Semitic websites like Mondoweiss and the Electronic Intifada. Beyond the ranks of the faithful, then, the academic boycott of Israel just isn’t that exciting anymore.

There will be those who counter that we cannot be complacent, and that we must continue to challenge and counter the boycotters. I have no quarrel with that, but I don’t expect those arguments to get very far. For example, the unarguable truism that there are far worse offenders in this world than Israel leaves the boycotters unmoved, for two principal reasons. Firstly, the boycotters don’t understand the profound moral difference between totalitarian regimes and democratic Israel: asked by Insider Higher Ed why ASA wasn’t boycotting Syria or North Korea, its president, Curtis Marez, replied that he wasn’t aware of boycott demands being made by the “civil society” in those countries. Someone who thinks that “civil society” even exists in these citadels of torture is clearly a lost cause.

Secondly, a large number of boycotters actually support these foul regimes, viewing them as progressive bulwarks against American and “Zionist” global domination. Max Blumenthal, the propagandist who currently serves as the poster child for anti-Zionists everywhere, recently published a rant targeting “hardline anti-Castro activists” pushing for the “overthrow of Cuba’s socialist regime”–a regime which habitually locks up dissidents both inside and outside academe.

The ASA decision is therefore an indication of the far left’s frustration. Unable to impact policy decisions, it turns instead to largely symbolic acts like a boycott, enabling those who endorse it to feel like they are “doing something.” So, yes, we must remain vigilant, but we must also happily recognize that a decade of anti-Zionist propaganda has very little to show in the way of concrete achievement.

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Using the Bedouin to Attack Israel

For Israel’s critics, the “day of rage” staged by some Israeli Bedouin is a perfect opportunity to trot out some of their standard cant about the Jewish state stealing Arab land. That was the conceit of a letter signed by many of the British artists and propagandists who can usually be found protesting Israel’s existence or its right to defend itself as well as by a gathering of members of the European Parliament. Others held demonstrations around the world at which sympathy for the Bedouin and contempt for Israel flowed freely. Even some left-wing Jewish groups, like Rabbis for Human Rights, have chimed in with specious comparisons of the government’s actions to Jewish victims of anti-Semitic oppression in Tsarist Russia. But like many of the sins that Israel is charged with by ideological foes, the real story of what is happening with the Bedouin is nothing like the simplistic morality tale of Zionist perfidy that we are hearing.

The Bedouin protests center on an Israeli government plan formulated by former Minister Benny Begin and Udi Prawer, the director of planning in the Prime Minister’s Office, to actually help the poorest segment of the country’s population. The Bedouin are concentrated in the Negev Desert, where they have existed as nomads for generations. A government commission has called for the relocating of some 30,000 of them to new towns where they can receive government services that are impossible to deliver to people roaming the countryside or living in small, scattered shantytowns.

As Haviv Rettig Gur writes, in an excellent analysis of the situation published in the Times of Israel:

Israel has already recognized several of the haphazard tent-cities of the Bedouin “dispersion,” but could not keep doing so indefinitely for the simple reason that the Negev Bedouin are the fastest growing population in the world, according to the Israeli government. They double their population every 15 years, and are expected to reach 300,000 by 2020. There simply isn’t any sustainable way to accommodate such a fast-growing population without municipal planning and multi-story housing.

And nowhere in the EU Parliament’s gathering of Socialists and Democrats could one learn that the Bedouin are being moved just three to five kilometers down the road from their current place of residence, and not out of the country.

While the Israeli Bedouin have legitimate grievances with the government, the notion that they are having their land stolen or being turned into just another group of homeless Palestinian refugees is bunk.

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For Israel’s critics, the “day of rage” staged by some Israeli Bedouin is a perfect opportunity to trot out some of their standard cant about the Jewish state stealing Arab land. That was the conceit of a letter signed by many of the British artists and propagandists who can usually be found protesting Israel’s existence or its right to defend itself as well as by a gathering of members of the European Parliament. Others held demonstrations around the world at which sympathy for the Bedouin and contempt for Israel flowed freely. Even some left-wing Jewish groups, like Rabbis for Human Rights, have chimed in with specious comparisons of the government’s actions to Jewish victims of anti-Semitic oppression in Tsarist Russia. But like many of the sins that Israel is charged with by ideological foes, the real story of what is happening with the Bedouin is nothing like the simplistic morality tale of Zionist perfidy that we are hearing.

The Bedouin protests center on an Israeli government plan formulated by former Minister Benny Begin and Udi Prawer, the director of planning in the Prime Minister’s Office, to actually help the poorest segment of the country’s population. The Bedouin are concentrated in the Negev Desert, where they have existed as nomads for generations. A government commission has called for the relocating of some 30,000 of them to new towns where they can receive government services that are impossible to deliver to people roaming the countryside or living in small, scattered shantytowns.

As Haviv Rettig Gur writes, in an excellent analysis of the situation published in the Times of Israel:

Israel has already recognized several of the haphazard tent-cities of the Bedouin “dispersion,” but could not keep doing so indefinitely for the simple reason that the Negev Bedouin are the fastest growing population in the world, according to the Israeli government. They double their population every 15 years, and are expected to reach 300,000 by 2020. There simply isn’t any sustainable way to accommodate such a fast-growing population without municipal planning and multi-story housing.

And nowhere in the EU Parliament’s gathering of Socialists and Democrats could one learn that the Bedouin are being moved just three to five kilometers down the road from their current place of residence, and not out of the country.

While the Israeli Bedouin have legitimate grievances with the government, the notion that they are having their land stolen or being turned into just another group of homeless Palestinian refugees is bunk.

As Gur notes, there is a disconnect between those purporting to speak on behalf of the Bedouin and most of the members of this group. It should be remembered that although their foreign supporters speak of them as “Palestinians,” the Bedouin are loyal citizens of Israel whose sons serve in the Israel Defense Forces. As is the case in Jordan, the Bedouin and Palestinian Arabs are members of two distinct groups with different histories and identities. The overwhelming majority make no demands about losing land and even the minority that do make such claims have little to back up their claims in the way of proof. Most will not be relocated and some of their towns have been recognized by the government and will receive massive infusions of help to build needed infrastructure.

As Gur and other Israelis who sympathize with the plight of the Bedouin notes, it is entirely possible to argue that those who are being moved from shantytowns with no clean water, sewage, or other amenities to new developments may not be getting enough compensation. There is also the worry that new sites will be inadequate. Certainly, Israel’s history with poorly planned development towns where hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands (the truly forgotten refugees) were dumped in the 1950s should worry anyone who contemplates repeating this example with the Bedouin.

But the bottom line here is that if the Bedouin are to receive the government services they need and deserve, many of them are going to have to settle down rather than going on living a nomadic existence that is incompatible with maintaining standards of health, let alone education or opportunity.

The romanticization of nomadic existence in Western literature and imagination helps stoke resentment of Israel’s efforts. But it must be understood that the worst outcome for the Bedouin would be for the Israeli government to simply allow the status quo to continue. If hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens are to be afforded a decent standard of living, the creation of towns where the Bedouin will be able to have clean water, decent housing, and schools is an imperative. To assert that all of the desert must be considered an open range across which the Bedouin must be allowed to roam without taking into consideration the rights or the needs of other Israeli citizens or the wellbeing of the Bedouin themselves currently living in unsanitary and not terribly picturesque tent cities is a position rooted neither in law or good public policy.

But Israel’s critics aren’t really interested in the facts here any more than they can be bothered to understand why the Jewish state had to build a security fence to protect its population against Palestinian suicide bombers or why terrorist enclaves in Gaza could not be allowed to go on lobbing missiles into Southern Israeli towns, villages, and farms. Israel isn’t stealing anyone’s land. What it is confronted with in the Negev is the difficult task of administering a situation in which a pre-modern lifestyle is pit against the realities of a modern state and 21st century expectations of how people can live. While its policies may not be perfect, most of those who purport to wish the Bedouin well are, in fact, merely using them as yet another club with which to beat Israel.

The bottom line here is that the protests being held in Europe and the United States on this issue have little to do with the actual grievances of some of the Bedouin or the rights and wrongs of Israeli government actions toward them. It is merely one more excuse for those who believe the Jews have no right to sovereignty in any part of their ancient homeland to lodge false claims of land theft. Though the Bedouin deserve fair treatment, what those who are using this issue want is unfair treatment for Israel.

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NAF Puts Anti-Zionism on the Table

The New America Foundation (NAF) is one of the most prosperous and influential think tanks in Barack Obama’s Washington. It’s run by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was director of policy planning in the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2011. Its executive board is chaired by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and is filled with luminaries of the world of finance like Steve Rattner (Obama’s “car czar”), media stars like Fareed Zakaria, public intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama and even a token centrist like Walter Russell Mead as well as the likes of George Soros’s son Jonathan. In other words, it’s about as connected to the pulse of the Obama-era capital as you can be outside of the West Wing. While the NAF’s positions are predictably liberal, it has tried to position itself as a new age, high-tech group that is in the business of selling the world post-partisan answers to the country’s problems that emphasize “big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions.” That generally is translated into programs promoting liberal ideas about education, jobs, investment, and the future of Afghanistan, just to cherry-pick some of the topics explored at events sponsored by the group in November. But next month, the NAF will put something different on the agenda: anti-Zionism.

The occasion is a December 4 book event at the foundation headquarters featuring Max Blumenthal, author of a risible anti-Zionist rant titled Goliath that was brought to our attention by an excellent article by historian Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media. We need not waste much time rehashing the book’s complete lack of intellectual merit or integrity. Suffice it to say its purpose is to libel the State of Israel as not merely an apartheid state but as a successor to the Nazis. His goal is not to force its withdrawal from the West Bank or to reform it in any matter but to work for its abolishment and replacement with a new Arab state in which those of the six million Jews who care to say will be forced to assimilate into Arab society rather than maintain a separate national identity. As I wrote earlier this month, even a virulent left-wing critic of Israel as Eric Alterman dismissed it in the pages of the Nation as the “‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” and speculated that it would make a worthy choice for publication by “the Hamas Book of the Month Club (if it existed),” though lamentably it was put in print by his own magazine’s publishing arm.

Fortunately, most serious reviewers of books, including those on the left, have ignored Blumenthal’s trash. That is as it should be, not because bad ideas should be suppressed but because hatred and bias such as that advocated by Blumenthal do not deserve to be treated as a serious intellectual proposition up for debate. Yet that is exactly what the NAF is doing by inviting Blumenthal with the sort of breathless prose that is in the announcement on their website, calling the book “an unflinching, unprecedented work of journalism.” That means the issue here isn’t whether Blumenthal is an Israel-hater but how it is that a well-heeled and highly influential organization like the NAF has decided that anti-Zionist screeds are what they want their members to discuss. The point is not that Blumenthal will, even with the NAF’s help, persuade Americans to support dismantling Israel, but what it says about liberal elites that they think this is the sort of thing that should be on their agenda.

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The New America Foundation (NAF) is one of the most prosperous and influential think tanks in Barack Obama’s Washington. It’s run by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was director of policy planning in the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2011. Its executive board is chaired by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and is filled with luminaries of the world of finance like Steve Rattner (Obama’s “car czar”), media stars like Fareed Zakaria, public intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama and even a token centrist like Walter Russell Mead as well as the likes of George Soros’s son Jonathan. In other words, it’s about as connected to the pulse of the Obama-era capital as you can be outside of the West Wing. While the NAF’s positions are predictably liberal, it has tried to position itself as a new age, high-tech group that is in the business of selling the world post-partisan answers to the country’s problems that emphasize “big ideas, impartial analysis and pragmatic solutions.” That generally is translated into programs promoting liberal ideas about education, jobs, investment, and the future of Afghanistan, just to cherry-pick some of the topics explored at events sponsored by the group in November. But next month, the NAF will put something different on the agenda: anti-Zionism.

The occasion is a December 4 book event at the foundation headquarters featuring Max Blumenthal, author of a risible anti-Zionist rant titled Goliath that was brought to our attention by an excellent article by historian Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media. We need not waste much time rehashing the book’s complete lack of intellectual merit or integrity. Suffice it to say its purpose is to libel the State of Israel as not merely an apartheid state but as a successor to the Nazis. His goal is not to force its withdrawal from the West Bank or to reform it in any matter but to work for its abolishment and replacement with a new Arab state in which those of the six million Jews who care to say will be forced to assimilate into Arab society rather than maintain a separate national identity. As I wrote earlier this month, even a virulent left-wing critic of Israel as Eric Alterman dismissed it in the pages of the Nation as the “‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” and speculated that it would make a worthy choice for publication by “the Hamas Book of the Month Club (if it existed),” though lamentably it was put in print by his own magazine’s publishing arm.

Fortunately, most serious reviewers of books, including those on the left, have ignored Blumenthal’s trash. That is as it should be, not because bad ideas should be suppressed but because hatred and bias such as that advocated by Blumenthal do not deserve to be treated as a serious intellectual proposition up for debate. Yet that is exactly what the NAF is doing by inviting Blumenthal with the sort of breathless prose that is in the announcement on their website, calling the book “an unflinching, unprecedented work of journalism.” That means the issue here isn’t whether Blumenthal is an Israel-hater but how it is that a well-heeled and highly influential organization like the NAF has decided that anti-Zionist screeds are what they want their members to discuss. The point is not that Blumenthal will, even with the NAF’s help, persuade Americans to support dismantling Israel, but what it says about liberal elites that they think this is the sort of thing that should be on their agenda.

Let’s specify that NAF has not explicitly endorsed Blumenthal’s ideas. As Radosh notes, it’s doubtful that their board was consulted about the decision to host his book tour. But all the disclaimers in the world won’t change the fact that by choosing to associate their institution with a book that smears Israelis as Nazis and calls for its destruction, the NAF has crossed a line that no decent individual or group should even approach. Moreover, by doing so they are also sending a dangerous signal in the world of D.C. ideas that talk about doing away with Israel is no longer confined, as it should be, to the fever swamps of the far left or the far right. Instead, thanks to the Nation and its friends at the New America Foundation, open hatred against Israel and the campaign to delegitimize Zionism have now been given an undeserved veneer of respectability in Barack Obama’s Washington.

In one sense, it is hardly surprising that Slaughter’s group would embrace Blumenthal’s book at the same time that the current head of the State Department is counseling Congress to “ignore” Israeli concerns about Iran and betraying its democratic ally with deals that legitimize Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But policy disagreements are one thing; putting anti-Zionism on the agenda as a worthy discussion point is quite another. Just as it would be a scandal if some conservative think tank of comparable stature hosted an author of an openly racist book or one advocating the virtues of slavery, there is something shocking and fundamentally indecent about NAF’s decision to host a writer who is the moral equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke. It may be too much to hope that board members speak up and seek to cancel this event. But if they don’t, the NAF will lend its prestige to a disreputable author and cause and find itself tainted as an aider and abettor of anti-Israel hate.

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The Anti-Zionist Civil War on the Left

Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

The exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

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Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

The exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

The dustup centers on Goliath, a new anti-Israel screed by Blumenthal, the son of Clinton administration figure Sidney Blumenthal, published by Nation Books. But to Blumenthal’s chagrin, the magazine (which is no stranger to anti-Zionist articles) allowed columnist Eric Alterman to write about it in The Nation. Alterman is himself a fierce and often obnoxious critic of Israel and defenders of Israel, and has been a major promoter of the myth that the pro-Israel community has been seeking to silence the Jewish state’s critics. Yet Blumenthal’s book was so appalling that Alterman took it apart in the magazine that spawned it. Calling it “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” Alterman scored it for its frequent comparisons of the Jews with the Nazis and its complete absence of any acknowledgement of the Muslim and Arab war to destroy Israel. As Alterman wrote in a subsequent blog post, “It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed).”

To give you a taste of how outrageous this book is, Blumenthal even has the nerve to recount a conversation with Israeli author David Grossman who has been an important figure in the peace movement in which he lectured the Israeli about the need for the state to be dismantled and for its citizens to make their peace with the need to rejoin the Diaspora rather than to cling to their homes. Grossman responds to Blumenthal by walking out and telling him to tear up his phone number. Blumenthal attributes Grossman’s reaction to Israeli myopia.

But it gets better. As the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg writes in his own column on the dispute, Blumenthal appeared at a Philadelphia event with the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick (whose recent anti-Zionist diatribe in the New York Times was discussed here).

Almost halfway through their 83-minute encounter (minute 34:00 on YouTube), Lustick emotionally asks Blumenthal whether he believes, like Abraham at Sodom, that there are enough “good people” in Israel to justify its continued existence — or whether he’s calling for a mass “exodus,” the title of his last chapter, and “the end of Jewish collective life in the land of Israel.”

Blumenthal gives a convoluted answer that comes down to this: “There should be a choice placed to the settler-colonial population” (meaning the entire Jewish population of Israel): “Become indigenized,” that is, “you have to be part of the Arab world.” Or else …? “The maintenance and engineering of a non-indigenous demographic population is non-negotiable.”

This is sobering stuff and, as Goldberg, put it, “a chilling moment even for the anti-Zionists among us.”

The bottom line here is that the real debate about the Middle East is not between the so-called “Jewish establishment” and left-wing critics of Israel like the J Street lobby and writers like Alterman and Goldberg. Rather it is between anyone who recognizes that Jews have a right to a state and those who wish to see that state destroyed. The vitriolic nature of Blumenthal’s disingenuous responses (here and here) to criticisms from these left-wing writers is, in its own way, a mirror image of the way Palestinians and European anti-Zionists have raised the ante in the past two decades as the line between critiques of Israel and traditional Jew-hatred have been blurred. Suffice it to say that in Blumenthal’s world, anyone who believes in the Jewish right to a state even in a tiny slice of their ancient homeland is a fascist, a Nazi, or a fellow traveler.

This shows how the discussion of Israel has deteriorated in the last generation of peace processing. Instead of appeasing its critics, every move toward peace in which Israel has given up territory has only convinced its enemies that it can be portrayed as a thief that can be made to surrender stolen property. While some of Israel’s critics think that conception can be limited to the lands beyond the 1949 cease-fire lines, people like Blumenthal remind us that this is an illusion.

For 20 years since the Oslo Accords Israel tried to trade land for peace only to have each offer of statehood for the Palestinians be rejected. Despite the spin that is directed at the West by some Palestinians, their culture of hatred for Israel and the Jews has made it impossible for even their most “moderate” leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. While Israel’s political thinking has shifted in this period to the point where even the supposedly “hard line” Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted a two-state solution, the Palestinians remain stuck in a time warp in which Fatah and Hamas compete for support based on their belligerency toward the Jews.

Unfortunately many American Jews are similarly stuck in the past and cling to the belief that Israel could entice the Palestinians to make peace via concessions. But rather than continuing to bang away at each other, as they have for a generation, the pro-Israel left and the pro-Israel right need to focus on the real opponent: the growing BDS (boycott, disinvest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state whose aim is its destruction and its allies.

Alterman and Goldberg may think that if only Netanyahu and the overwhelming majority of Israelis who have drawn logical conclusions from Oslo’s collapse would change their minds, peace would be possible. But they, like those on the right who see them and J Street as the real enemy, are wasting their time. The only argument that means anything in the post-Oslo era is between those who stand with Israel’s right to exist and those who oppose it. While Blumenthal’s despicable hate is deserving of every possible condemnation, he deserves our thanks for reminding us of this.

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Academics and BDS: An Update

Last week, I criticized the most recent issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom (JAF), a journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Mainly activists in and sympathizers with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement author that issue of the publication. I thought that the AAUP, which opposes academic boycotts, should be troubled that Ashley Dawson has used the journal he edits to promote his politics. I hoped that AAUP leaders would speak up.

But Cary Nelson, past president of the AAUP, and Ernst Benjamin, former AAUP general secretary, were already preparing fine responses, which the JAF has published here and here. Nelson rejects the argument that academics should boycott Israel because it does not respect academic freedom. There “is more academic freedom in Israel than in other nations in the Middle East.” Boycotting Israel’s universities because of the policies of its government is “hypocritical and a fundamental betrayal” of the mission of academics. While Nelson personally supports a boycott targeting Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, he acknowledges that supporters of  “any economic boycott,” risk being “harnessed to more radical agendas like the abolition of the Israeli state. Some in the boycott movement have exactly that goal.”

I am unlikely to agree with Benjamin and Nelson about Israel and will protest if they seem to conflate legitimate concerns about campus anti-Semitism with the desire to censor anti-Israeli speech. But AAUP is the only organization not formed to combat anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity that criticized the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) when it embraced the BDS movement. Nelson and Benjamin’s responses to the essays in the JAF, which have, apart from the efforts of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, escaped criticism, are another sign of the importance of AAUP principles. If AAUP’s 45,000 members heeded its call to defend the unique place of colleges and universities in American life from those who would use them as a base of propaganda operations, I would be very optimistic about the future of higher education.

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Last week, I criticized the most recent issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom (JAF), a journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Mainly activists in and sympathizers with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement author that issue of the publication. I thought that the AAUP, which opposes academic boycotts, should be troubled that Ashley Dawson has used the journal he edits to promote his politics. I hoped that AAUP leaders would speak up.

But Cary Nelson, past president of the AAUP, and Ernst Benjamin, former AAUP general secretary, were already preparing fine responses, which the JAF has published here and here. Nelson rejects the argument that academics should boycott Israel because it does not respect academic freedom. There “is more academic freedom in Israel than in other nations in the Middle East.” Boycotting Israel’s universities because of the policies of its government is “hypocritical and a fundamental betrayal” of the mission of academics. While Nelson personally supports a boycott targeting Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, he acknowledges that supporters of  “any economic boycott,” risk being “harnessed to more radical agendas like the abolition of the Israeli state. Some in the boycott movement have exactly that goal.”

I am unlikely to agree with Benjamin and Nelson about Israel and will protest if they seem to conflate legitimate concerns about campus anti-Semitism with the desire to censor anti-Israeli speech. But AAUP is the only organization not formed to combat anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activity that criticized the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) when it embraced the BDS movement. Nelson and Benjamin’s responses to the essays in the JAF, which have, apart from the efforts of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, escaped criticism, are another sign of the importance of AAUP principles. If AAUP’s 45,000 members heeded its call to defend the unique place of colleges and universities in American life from those who would use them as a base of propaganda operations, I would be very optimistic about the future of higher education.

But I wish that AAUP leaders and members were more attentive to AAUP’s own 1940 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure. Its argument for academic freedom assumes that the “common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” While the AAUP should resist attacks on academic freedom, it should also insist that “membership in the academic profession carries with it special responsibilities,” including the responsibility to uphold the “free search for truth and its exposition.” The AAUP, which dismisses criticisms of the university that it regards as political, shows little concern, apart from its stance on academic boycotts, for the responsibility of academics to put the search for truth before activism.

The 1915 Declaration of Principles of Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure claims that the “liberty of the scholar . . . to set forth his conclusions” is “conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit.” While scholars, like other citizens, have freedom of speech, academic freedom merits special protection because the inquiry after truth serves the common good. But if the academy fails to “prevent the freedom which it claims in the name of science from being used . . . for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”

Organizations like the AAAS are objectionable not only because they support academic boycotts but also because they choose advocacy over inquiry. Although the AAAS, in the resolution its membership unanimously supported, mentions academic freedom, it also affirms “a critique of U.S. empire, opposing U.S. military occupation in the Arab world and U.S. support for occupation and racist practices by the Israeli state.” This is no isolated conclusion but, according to the resolution, a goal the AAAS, as a professional academic organization, pursues. The case for academic freedom is weakened when academic organizations consider the advancement of a political agenda their very reason for being.

The “free search for truth and its free exposition” sometimes entails advocacy, as when an economist concludes, on the basis of scholarly work, that a policy is misguided and says so. Defenders of academic freedom are properly wary of attacks on advocacy. But they must also be wary of academics that, by making advocacy the purpose of scholarship, undermine the case for academic freedom. They should remind their colleagues that, to quote the 1915 statement, “the university teaching profession is corrupted” to “the degree that professional scholars, in the formation and promulgation of their opinions, are, or . . . appear to be, subject to any motive other than their own scientific conscience.” If we fail to hold our colleagues accountable, “this task will be performed by others.”

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Ian Lustick’s Iron Dice

As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

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As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

Let’s briefly recap Lustick’s dismissive take on the two-state solution in his new article. It is “an idea whose time has passed,” it is neither “plausible or even possible,” it’s a “chimera,” a “fantasy.” The “obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Conclusion? “The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned.” In fact, negotiations do actual harm: “Diplomacy under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere.”

The ultimate two-stater

Yet only a decade ago, Lustick thought that the success of the “peace process” in achieving its aim of two states wasn’t only plausible and possible. It was inevitable. Lustick explained his thesis in a lengthy 2002 interview peppered with analogies and metaphors, including this one:

I like to think of it as a kind of gambler throwing dice, except it’s history that’s throwing the dice. Every throw of the dice is like a diplomatic peace process attempt. In order to actually succeed, history has got to throw snake eyes, 2. And, you know, that’s not easy, you have to keep throwing the dice. Eventually, you’re going to throw a 2. All of the leadership questions and accidents of history, the passions of both sides, the torturous feelings of suffering, the political coalitions, the timing of elections will fall into place.

What is Lustick saying here? Remember that the odds of throwing snake eyes on any given toss of the dice are 36 to 1, so only a fool or an idiot would despair after, say, a dozen or even two dozen throws. Even failure is just a prelude to success, since as long as you keep throwing, “eventually, you’re going to throw a 2.” The old sawhorse that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is belied by the dice-thrower, who repeats the same action knowing that each result will be different. And that’s why the United States keeps repeating the diplomatic moves that Lustick now finds so tiresome. The “peace processors” are just adhering to his logic, circa 2002, which guarantees that one of these initiatives is destined to succeed—provided there are enough of them.

And what did Lustick in 2002 have to say to those Israelis who “want the West Bank and Gaza to remain permanently under Israeli rule”? “You will have to roll a 13,” Lustick told them.

But you can’t roll a 13, which is to say that the right has no plan for how it can successfully keep the territories anymore. They don’t even advocate as a realistic option expelling the Palestinians. So they have no plan. So if you are the right and you know you have to roll a 13, the strategy is, don’t let the dice get rolled, keep trying to stop every initiative and subvert it if it gets started…. It’s the only rational thing to do in order to prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution.

So the Israeli version of a one-state solution—an Israel from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean—was the hopeless cause of dead-enders who defied “history” itself. In 2002, Lustick was certain that “one of these days,” Israel would leave the West Bank:

Israel is caught between the inability to make the issue disappear by making the West Bank look like Israel, and the inability to make it disappear by actually withdrawing, by getting through that regime barrier, that regime threshold. Some day, one of these days, that regime threshold is going to be crossed.

The Palestinian version of the one-state option? Lustick didn’t even mention it in 2002.

So Lustick was the ultimate two-state believer. I don’t think even the inveterate “peace processors,” whom he now dismisses so contemptuously, ever assumed that repeated failures would bring them closer to their goal. Lustick did believe it: one couldn’t “prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution,” and it was just a matter of time before “that threshold is going to be crossed.” So certain was Lustick of the inexorable logic of the two-state solution that he believed even Hamas had acquiesced in it. And because Israel had spurned Hamas, Israel had squandered an opportunity to turn it into a “loyal opposition.”

Here lies the problem—perhaps dishonesty is a better word—in Lustick’s latest piece. Lustick ’13 never takes on Lustick ’02, to explain why “history,” destined to lead to two states only a few years ago, is now destined to end in one state. It’s tempting to make light of the seemingly bottomless faith of “peace processors,” and I’ve done it myself, with relish. But the case Lustick made for them in 2002 had a certain logic. The case he’s made against them in 2013 is weak. Indeed, he never really builds much of a case at all.

Is it the number of settlers? If so, he doesn’t say so. Lustick knows how many settlers there are, and he numbered them in a lecture in February. In 2002, he says, there were 390,000 (West Bank and East Jerusalem). In 2012, he says, there were 520,000. That’s 130,000 more (two-thirds of it, by the way, natural growth). Presumably, some significant proportion of the 130,000 have been added to settlements whose inclusion in Israel wouldn’t preclude a two-state solution, because of their proximity to pre-1967 Israel. So we are talking about some tens of thousands. Which 10,000 increment, between 2002 and 2013, put Israel past the “point of no return”?

Lustick doesn’t say. In the Times, he claims that American pressure could have stopped Menachem Begin’s re-election in 1981, precluding the building of “massive settlement complexes” and prompting an Oslo-like process a decade earlier, in the 1980s. It’s a we’ll-never-know counter-factual, but it doesn’t solve the conundrum. Lustick knew all this in 2002, and it didn’t dampen his faith in the historic inevitability of the two-state solution. So the question remains: what’s happened since 2002 to change Lustick’s mind so drastically?

“The state will not survive!”

Here we come to Lustick’s supposedly original contribution to the “one-state” argument. He isn’t repeating the usual claim that Israeli settlements have made a Palestinian state unachievable. He’s arguing that the Israeli state is unsustainable. “The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible” as an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The best indicator? Israelis say so! “Many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of ‘If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!’”

I don’t know any research that’s established “the most common phrase in Israeli political discourse,” and I’m guessing that Ian Lustick doesn’t either. He just made it up. In his February lecture, he did cite one work, from 2009, that counted how many articles published in the left-wing Haaretz employed the phrases “existential danger” or “existential threat.” There’s a bump up after 2002 (Second Intifada), then a spike up in 2006 (Second Lebanon War). The “study” proves absolutely nothing. After all, this is Haaretz, the Wailing Wall of the Israeli left. A perfectly plausible explanation is that the paper’s editorial bias, exacerbated by the eclipse of the left, has tended to favor doomsday prognostication.

And Lustick is contradicted by real research on real people, which he either ignores or of which he’s ignorant. The Israel Democracy Institute’s latest large-scale poll, for 2012, shows that optimists outnumber pessimists among Israeli Jews by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent. Over 85 percent say Israel can defend itself militarily and only 33 percent think Israel will become more isolated than it now is. The Tel Aviv University academic who oversees the poll summarized the results: “It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically. Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.” That may be an understatement. Israel is ranked eleventh in the world in the latest UN-commissioned World Happiness Index, which hardly correlates to any level of depression.

According to the Peace Index poll ahead of this Jewish New Year, only 16 percent of Jewish Israelis think the country’s security situation will worsen. 46 percent think it will stay the same, and 28 percent think it will actually improve—this, despite the chaos in Syria and the Sinai, and the spinning centrifuges in Iran. The only thing Israelis are persistently pessimistic about is the “peace process,” but that doesn’t sour the overall mood—except for the small minority, including those op-ed writers for Haaretz, who apparently constitute Lustick’s “sample.”

(Lustick also alludes to “demographic momentum” as working against Israel, and he has puttered around with figures in an attempt to show that Israelis are lining up to emigrate. He got away with this until an actual demographer, Sergio DellaPergola, took a hammer to one of his amateur efforts and left nothing intact. It’s a must-read takedown.)

Israel the balloon

But in the end, for Lustick, it doesn’t really matter how prosperous or stable or viable Israel appears to be, even to Israelis. That’s because Israel is like… wait for it… a balloon. “Just as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics.” Zionist Israel is a bubble that’s bound to burst. It’s been inflated by American support, and the “peace process” has protected it from rupture. But the larger the balloon gets, the more devastating that rupture will be. In February, Lustick revealed that he is writing an entire book on this thesis, evoking “history” again, with a fresh analogy to exchange rates:

History will solve the problem in the sense of the way entropy solves problems. You don’t stay with this kind of constrained volatility forever. When you constrain exchange rates in a volatile market by not allowing rates to move even though the actual economy makes them absurd, rates will eventually change, but in a very radical, non-linear way. The more the constraint, the less the adaptation to changing conditions, the more jagged and painful that adaptation is going to be.

Better, thinks Lustick, that the “peace process” in pursuit of the two-state solution be shut down now, so that both sides can slug it out again—this time to “painful stalemates that lead each party to conclude that time is not on their side.” Israel, which has defeated the Palestinians time and again, has to stop winning. Pulling the plug on the “peace process,” he writes in the Times, would

set the stage for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.

And that’s where we want to be! Enough rolling of the diplomatic dice! It’s time to roll the iron dice! It may sound cynical to you, but Lustick thinks it’s destiny: “The question is not whether the future has conflict in store for Israel-Palestine. It does. Nor is the question whether conflict can be prevented. It cannot.” Remember, this is someone who just a few years ago insisted that a two-state solution was inevitable. Now he argues exactly the opposite. The world should get out of the way and let the inescapable violence unfold—only this time, the United States won’t be in Israel’s corner, and so Israel will be defeated and forced to dismantle itself.

The problem with rolling the iron dice, as even an armchair historian knows, is that the outcome is uncertain. What Lustick would like “history” to deliver is a defeat of Zionist Israel of such precise magnitude as to create a perfect equilibrium between Jew and Arab. But it may well be that the outcome he desires is the equivalent of rolling a 13, because Israel has deep-seated advantages that would be magnified greatly were Israel ever to find itself up against a wall. (The fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war may be an apt moment to remember that.) Or something in his scenario could go wrong. As Clausewitz noted about war, “No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.”

One of the possible outcomes Lustick imagines is that “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab.” Given that even “the Arabs” don’t think of themselves anymore as “Arabs” (especially when they gas or bomb one another), and that Jews never thought of themselves as “Arabs” even when they lived in Arabic-speaking countries and spoke Arabic, one wonders how many thousands of dice rolls it would take to produce that outcome.

Prophet of Philly

In the end, it’s pointless to debate Lustick on his own hypothetical grounds, invoking rolling dice, bursting balloons, and volatile exchange rates. That’s because nothing has happened since 2002 between Israel and the Palestinians, or in Israel, that can possibly explain his own total turnaround. I suspect his Times article has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and everything to do with Lustick’s attempt to keep his footing in the shifting sands of American academe.

Ever since Edward Said veered toward the “one-state solution,” the pressure has been growing, and it’s grown even more since Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, finally gravitated toward the same position (something I predicted he would do well before he actually did it). This turn of events left Lustick in the rear of the radical vanguard and far from the action. Ever since Tony Judt passed on, there’s been a vacancy for a professorial Jewish supporter of the “one-state solution.” So this is Lustick’s late-career move, and I anticipate it will do for him a bit of what it did for Judt, transforming him from an academic of modest reputation into an in-demand hero. Invitations will pour in. Soon we will hear of a controversy involving an invitation rescinded, which will raise his standing still higher. And it’s quite plausible that the Times piece will land him a heftier advance for his next book (as of February, “I’ve not written the conclusion yet”), and the promotional push of a major publisher.

In anticipation, Lustick is already casting himself as a prophet of Israel, exemplified in this quote from an answer he gave to a question last winter:

I argued in 1971 that 1,500 settlers in the West Bank were a catastrophe that would lead Israel into a political dungeon from which it might never escape. I was laughed at. I also argued for a Palestinian state alongside of Israel in the early 1970s, but it took twenty-five years before the mainstream in Israeli politics agreed with that. It may take another twenty-five years before they realize that what I’m saying is true now and will be even truer if Israel is still around in twenty or twenty-five more years.

This is not a human measure of prescience, as Lustick himself has acknowledged. How far in advance would anyone have been able to imagine the Iranian revolution or the fall of the Soviet Union? Lustick: “Ten years? No. Five years? Maybe two, if you were very, very good.” If, as Lustick claims, he consistently sees the future of Israel twenty-five years forward, he must inhabit a sphere far above the regular run of prognosticating political scientists. He is now compiling the Book of Ian. Read it, O Israel (enter credit card here), and weep.

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The Depravity of the Anti-Israeli Left

One is tempted to leave Ian Lustick’s Sunday op-ed, “Two-State Illusion,” alone. Its stench is so overwhelming that one might expect it to harm Lustick’s cause without the need for commentary. But because Lustick is a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, one of our most prestigious universities, and because the New York Times has chosen to amplify his view, it is worth considering as a symptom of the depravity of the anti-Israeli left, as what passes for sober commentary in that crowd.

Let me set aside Lustick’s argument against the two-state solution and begin with what is most shocking in his op-ed, his own proposed solution. Lustick argues that the U.S. and others should abandon the two-state solution and let the parties fight it out. The key passage must be quoted at length:

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One is tempted to leave Ian Lustick’s Sunday op-ed, “Two-State Illusion,” alone. Its stench is so overwhelming that one might expect it to harm Lustick’s cause without the need for commentary. But because Lustick is a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, one of our most prestigious universities, and because the New York Times has chosen to amplify his view, it is worth considering as a symptom of the depravity of the anti-Israeli left, as what passes for sober commentary in that crowd.

Let me set aside Lustick’s argument against the two-state solution and begin with what is most shocking in his op-ed, his own proposed solution. Lustick argues that the U.S. and others should abandon the two-state solution and let the parties fight it out. The key passage must be quoted at length:

With a status but no role, what remains of the Palestinian authority will disappear. Israel will face the stark challenge of controlling economic and political activity and all land and water resources from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The stage will be set for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel (my emphasis).

Lustick makes explicit the nihilism of the anti-Israeli left. He has no strong reason to believe that the bloodbath he wishes on the Israelis and Palestinians will have results favorable to either.  But why not break a few eggs if there’s some prospect of an omelette? Like many on the anti-Israeli left, but more explicitly, Lustick is prepared to entertain a morally satisfying position, which costs him nothing but means a blood sacrifice for those whose best interests he professes to have in mind.

Having dealt with the most disgusting elements of the op-ed, let me draw attention to the schoolboy contradiction at the heart of Lustick’s argument. He thinks that a two-state solution is impossible. The sole reason he offers for thinking it impossible is that the facts on the ground, from Israeli settlers to Islamic fundamentalism, make such a solution very difficult. But in defense of the extremely unlikely proposition that a one-state solution can succeed, he offers numerous examples of outcomes once thought impossible that have come to pass, from a solution to the Irish situation to the fall of the Soviet Union.

In other words, Lustick does not really think a two-state solution impossible. Instead, he thinks that when confronted with a choice between two difficult ways forward, one should choose the one that results in the end of the State of Israel. Again, Lustick says out loud what his crowd thinks:

The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion, or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible as a two state solution.

Lustick’s op-ed should be required reading for anyone who thinks that to stand with the anti-Israeli left is to support of the rights of Palestinians. To stand with the anti-Israeli left is instead to hope for an open conflict that will result in the end of Israel. It is not just friends of Israel who should be disgusted with academics who hope to foment such a conflict, knowing, unless they are complete fools, that in making a poorly thought out, long-odds bet on a one-state solution, they gamble with the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

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Two States and the Anti-Zionist Illusion

Twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords the two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs that was its premise remains unrealized. Indeed, support for the idea that a century-old struggle can be ended merely by the stroke of a pen and a new round of concessions on the part of the Israelis is smaller than ever in Israel, even if some elsewhere (such as Secretary of State John Kerry) cling to such illusions. As I wrote last week, it is clear that while the majority of Israelis seem to have drawn some appropriate conclusions to twenty years of peace processing, there remains a constituency in Washington that is determined to ignore the costly mistakes that were made in 1993 and since in the name of promoting peace. So long as the Palestinians are unable to re-imagine their national identity outside of an effort to extinguish the Zionist project and to therefore recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, negotiations are doomed to fail.

This is frustrating for the vast majority of Israelis who, despite their political divisions, are united in a longing for peace that made projects like Oslo and other such initiatives possible. It also exasperates foreign onlookers who wrongly believe the Arab-Israeli conflict is the root of all trouble in the Middle East (a myth that has been exploded by the Arab Spring and its battles in Egypt and Syria that have nothing to do with Israel).

But it is welcomed by those in the West whose dreams have never centered so much on schemes of a “New Middle East” in which economic cooperation will make everyone happy as they have on simply ending the Zionist dream. One such dreamer is the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick, a political science professor and sometime State Department consultant who was given the front page of the New York Times Sunday Review today to explain in 2,300 words why the obsession with two states should give way to the project of simply eliminating Israel and replacing it with an Arab-majority nation. Given the persistent and increasingly obvious anti-Israel bias of the paper (especially its editorial and op-ed pages) it is hardly a surprise that it would give such prominent play to a piece with such a goal. But even by the low standards that currently govern that section, the disingenuous nature of Lustick’s rant is stunning.

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Twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords the two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs that was its premise remains unrealized. Indeed, support for the idea that a century-old struggle can be ended merely by the stroke of a pen and a new round of concessions on the part of the Israelis is smaller than ever in Israel, even if some elsewhere (such as Secretary of State John Kerry) cling to such illusions. As I wrote last week, it is clear that while the majority of Israelis seem to have drawn some appropriate conclusions to twenty years of peace processing, there remains a constituency in Washington that is determined to ignore the costly mistakes that were made in 1993 and since in the name of promoting peace. So long as the Palestinians are unable to re-imagine their national identity outside of an effort to extinguish the Zionist project and to therefore recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, negotiations are doomed to fail.

This is frustrating for the vast majority of Israelis who, despite their political divisions, are united in a longing for peace that made projects like Oslo and other such initiatives possible. It also exasperates foreign onlookers who wrongly believe the Arab-Israeli conflict is the root of all trouble in the Middle East (a myth that has been exploded by the Arab Spring and its battles in Egypt and Syria that have nothing to do with Israel).

But it is welcomed by those in the West whose dreams have never centered so much on schemes of a “New Middle East” in which economic cooperation will make everyone happy as they have on simply ending the Zionist dream. One such dreamer is the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick, a political science professor and sometime State Department consultant who was given the front page of the New York Times Sunday Review today to explain in 2,300 words why the obsession with two states should give way to the project of simply eliminating Israel and replacing it with an Arab-majority nation. Given the persistent and increasingly obvious anti-Israel bias of the paper (especially its editorial and op-ed pages) it is hardly a surprise that it would give such prominent play to a piece with such a goal. But even by the low standards that currently govern that section, the disingenuous nature of Lustick’s rant is stunning.

The core conceit of Lustick’s piece is to put forward the idea that a radical transformation of the conflict is not only possible but also probable. Thus, he claims that “the disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum” is a plausible outcome. Indeed, though his essay occasionally hedges its bets, his enthusiasm for the prospect of the end of the Jewish state is palpable. Indeed, he compares it to the end of British rule over all of Ireland, the French hold on Algeria, or the collapse of the Soviet Union, historical events that he claims were once thought unthinkable but now are seen as inevitable outcomes. These analogies are transparently specious, but they are telling because they put Israel in the category of imperialist projects rather than as the national liberation movement of a small people struggling for survival. That tells us a lot about Lustick’s mindset but little about the reality of the Middle East. Unlike the Brits’ Protestant ascendancy in Ireland or the French pieds noirs of Algeria or even the Soviet nomenklatura, the Jews of Israel have nowhere to go. That he also compares Israel to apartheid South Africa, the Iran of the shah, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq shows just how skewed his view of the country has become and how little he understands its strength and resiliency.

Let’s concede that Lustick is right about one thing. The two-state solution as conceived by the authors of Oslo or those piously pushing Kerry’s negotiations is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future. The maximum concessions offered by Israel don’t come close to satisfying the minimal requirements of the Palestinians.

In 2000, 2001, and 2008, Israel offered the Palestinians a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and was turned down every time. Lustick found no space to mention this fact in his article, just as he failed to mention what happened in 2005 when Israel withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza, a concession that only led to the area being converted into a terrorist launching pad rather than an experiment in peace and nation building. Even the moderate Palestinians that are supposedly Israel’s negotiating partners continue to use their broadcast and print media as well as their educational system to foment hatred of Israel, laud terrorism, and to make it clear their goal is not two states living in peace alongside each other, but the extinction of the Jewish state.

Such inconvenient details don’t make it into Lustick’s narrative because they undermine his basic premise that it is Israel’s settlement policy that makes peace impossible. He even claims that if only the Carter administration had listened to him back in 1980, a full-fledged U.S. effort to force Israel to bow to Palestinian demands (at a time when the PLO wasn’t even pretending as it does now that its goal was not Israel’s destruction) would have brought about Oslo a decade earlier when he thinks it might have worked. But since the Palestinian culture of rejectionism and violence that he persists in ignoring now was even stronger then, the claim is as illogical as it is egotistical.

But this piece of shameless self-promotion isn’t nearly as outrageous as his vision of a post-Zionist Middle East. There is no rational scenario under which the current State of Israel will collapse and/or would allow itself to be dismantled or to be converted into an Arab-majority country. Those who dwell in the dream castles that they have built are generally insensible to the world in which the rest of us live. It is not surprising that those who, like Lustick, have spent their lives predicting Israel’s demise and cheering every sign of disarray in its society have come to believe in this notion with a faith that is as pure as that of any religious believer. Perhaps to those who believe everything that radical anti-Zionist columnists write in a left-wing newspaper like Haaretz, Israel’s destruction is not only possible but also inevitable. But the disconnect between that newspaper and the majority of Israelis is far greater than the gap between the visions of the liberals who edit the New York Times and the views of most Americans.

Unlike the nations of the past to which he compares Israel, the Jewish state has grown in strength, both economic and military, in recent decades. It continues to be assailed by an unreasoning hate that is rooted in anti-Semitism rather than petty disputes about borders or settlements. But unlike Western audiences who are insensible to the events of the last 20 years, during which the Jewish state has tried to trade land for peace and instead wound up trading land for terror, most Israelis have been paying attention to these facts. Though they have more than their share of problems, are weary of war and eager for peace, they have no intention of giving up. Why should they since the history of the last century has shown that in spite of obstacles that would have daunted far more powerful peoples from even trying to persist, Zionism has gone from strength to strength as Israel today is a regional military superpower and economic giant?

They also understand just how dishonest Lustick’s vision of a post-Zionist Middle East is. The professor claims Israel’s collapse will lead to an alliance between secular Palestinians and post-Zionist Jews (those Haaretz columnists) and others to build a secular democracy. He thinks the large percentage of Israelis whose families fled or were thrown out of Arab and Muslim countries (a refugee population that no one thinks to compensate for their losses) will come to think of themselves as Arabs. He also posits an alliance between anti-Zionist Haredim and Islamists. He claims Jews who want to live in the West Bank can be accommodated in the post-Zionist world. All this is nonsense.

Israeli Jews know the fate of non-Muslim minorities in the Arab and Muslim world. If Israel acknowledges that all Jews would be evacuated from a putative Palestinian state it is not because they agree with the Arab vision of a Judenrein entity but because even those on the left know the Jews there would last as long as the greenhouses left behind in Gaza in 2005. Those “Arab Jews” that Lustick thinks will be at home in the Greater Palestine he envisages know exactly what fate awaits them in a world where they are not protected by a Jewish army.

The problem with Lustick’s anti-Zionism is not just that it is built on such blatantly misleading proposals. It is that his determination to ignore the nature of Palestinian intolerance for Jews causes him not only to misunderstand why peace efforts have failed but also to be blind to the certainty that the end of Israel would lead to bloodshed and horror.

Much as it may disappoint the legion of Israel-haters and anti-Semites, as President Obama reminded them during his visit to the Jewish state earlier this year, the State of Israel “isn’t going anywhere.” As difficult as their plight may be in some respects, Israelis understand that they have no choice but to survive and to wait as long as it takes for the Palestinians to give up on dreams of their destruction. Unfortunately, that day is not brought closer by the decision of a prominent organ such as the Times to give such prominent placement to dishonest pieces that serve only to feed those noxious fantasies of Israel’s destruction.

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Can the Left Stand Up Against Anti-Semites?

We don’t normally pay much attention to what is published in Tikkun magazine, let alone what its editor Michael Lerner disseminates through his email list. But occasionally Lerner’s tirades shine a light on the positions of the far left that illustrate exactly where some of Israel’s critics stand in a way that makes clear how they have made common cause with those who seek the Jewish state’s destruction.

In his latest email to readers, Lerner highlights what he claims is the latest instance of pro-Israel activists seeking to suppress free speech in both academia and the Jewish community. The Tikkun guru cites the protest against the decision of San Jose State University to have an Iranian professor who is a bitter opponent of Israel’s existence to teach a seminar on “Israel/Palestine.” According to Lerner, the attempt to stop Professor Persis Karim from being the sole person in charge of teaching on this subject was unfair since he claims her only goal was to help students see both sides of the issue. But even a cursory examination of the record, which Lerner helpfully provided by including the protest letter organized by the Amcha Initiative, shows that Karim is an advocate for Israel’s destruction and supports the exclusion of Israelis from academic forums as well as the boycott of Israel. Lerner’s backing of Karim gives the lie to his effort to pose as merely a liberal supporter of the Jewish state.

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We don’t normally pay much attention to what is published in Tikkun magazine, let alone what its editor Michael Lerner disseminates through his email list. But occasionally Lerner’s tirades shine a light on the positions of the far left that illustrate exactly where some of Israel’s critics stand in a way that makes clear how they have made common cause with those who seek the Jewish state’s destruction.

In his latest email to readers, Lerner highlights what he claims is the latest instance of pro-Israel activists seeking to suppress free speech in both academia and the Jewish community. The Tikkun guru cites the protest against the decision of San Jose State University to have an Iranian professor who is a bitter opponent of Israel’s existence to teach a seminar on “Israel/Palestine.” According to Lerner, the attempt to stop Professor Persis Karim from being the sole person in charge of teaching on this subject was unfair since he claims her only goal was to help students see both sides of the issue. But even a cursory examination of the record, which Lerner helpfully provided by including the protest letter organized by the Amcha Initiative, shows that Karim is an advocate for Israel’s destruction and supports the exclusion of Israelis from academic forums as well as the boycott of Israel. Lerner’s backing of Karim gives the lie to his effort to pose as merely a liberal supporter of the Jewish state.

It should be conceded that within the ranks of the far left universe in which he travels, Lerner has always been treated as somewhat suspect because of his refusal to join with those who explicitly call for Israel’s destruction and engage in anti-Semitic agitation. This is a point on which he takes great pride and he has often engaged in disputes with comrades who have sought to merge opposition to American foreign policy initiatives or hyper-liberal domestic causes with explicit anti-Zionism, if not open anti-Semitism. But even if we give him a bit of credit for that, the Karim protest exposes just how ridiculous his attempt to differentiate his brand of criticism of Israel from that of its open enemies has become.

As the Amcha Initiative’s letter to the president of San Jose State University protesting Karim states:

She signed a letter to President Obama falsely accusing Israel of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times” and supporting the elimination of the Jewish state.

She signed a statement by international writers and scholars endorsing an academic boycott of Israel, which U.S. State Department’s former Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal has declared to be “anti-Semitic.”

She endorsed a petition to have an Israeli scholar ejected from an academic conference in Los Angeles, in solidarity with the academic boycott of Israel.  

In other words, the university is putting someone in charge of discussion of the Middle East completely committed to Israel’s destruction and a supporter of anti-Semitic measures that discriminate against Jews. The notion that such a person is capable of creating a space for open discussion is absurd. Far from promoting free and fair debate or scholarly inquiry, Karim’s appointment is a threat to academic freedom as well as a development that can be fairly construed as creating a hostile environment for Jewish students.

The pages of Tikkun have hosted debates about whether it is appropriate for liberal critics of Israeli policies to support boycotts of the Jewish state. Such a discussion treats the idea of waging economic warfare as a reasonable measure even though its purpose is to suppress Israeli democracy and to force it to bow to the demands of Islamist and terrorist foes that are seeking its destruction.

That Lerner considers Karim a reasonable authority on the Middle East speaks volumes about how divorced his worldview is from reality. But more than that, it demonstrates that the left-wing narrative about the right’s alleged “persecution” of liberal voices that Lerner and others claim has “silenced” Jewish critics of Israel is absurd.

There is nothing wrong with a diversity of views on Israeli policies. It is true the debate about Israel is often divisive and angry, though I would contend that stems more from the decision of some on the left to try to impose their views on Israelis as well as their unconscionable support of foreign pressure on its democratically elected government. Anyone who is aware of the left-leaning dynamic of American Jewish life knows the notion that Israel’s critics cower in fear against the tyranny of the right is comical. They are the darlings of the mainstream press and are more likely to be lionized by the media for their faux courage in joining the pack hounding Israel than ostracized.

But what is at stake here is not a dispute about where Israel’s borders should be, the wisdom of settlements or whether you like the people Israeli voters have put in office. It is whether the Jewish community is willing to stand up against those who wish to ostracize Jews, demonize Israel and wage war on it. Karim’s anti-Zionism is not a benign idea about which we can agree to disagree; it is a blatant form of discrimination against Jews with real life consequences. That Lerner, who has a long record of radical stands, has chosen to back this position ought to place him and those who agree with him beyond the pale. To do so is not an attack on free speech—since he is free to spout his bile in his magazine to his heart’s content—but a defense of the rights of Jews and Israel.

Contrary to Lerner’s claim, there is no way to support boycotts of Israelis or the campaign to wage economic war on it or to support its destruction without being co-opted into the ranks of such anti-Semites. This struggle is not a conservative cause but one that should unite the entire Jewish community across the board from right to left. No decent person, be they Jewish or non-Jewish, should be willing to defend, let alone make common cause with, the likes of Karim–who are, sadly, all too common in academia. 

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How British Justice Failed Ronnie Fraser

On Monday night, as Jews around the world sat down for the first seder of the Passover holiday, anti-Zionists in the United Kingdom and elsewhere held a very different celebration to mark the comprehensive dismissal of a discrimination case brought by Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish math teacher, to an employment tribunal in London.

As I reported back in November, Fraser’s courageous battle against anti-Semitism in the labor union to which he belongs, the University and College Union (UCU), propelled him into a courtroom showdown with the advocates of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. Fraser’s argument rested on the contention that the union’s obsessive pursuit of a boycott negatively impacted its Jewish members. A series of ugly episodes–among them the posting of a claim, on a private listserv run by the UCU, that millions of dollars from the failed Lehman Brothers’ bank were transferred to Israel, as well as the address given by a leading South African anti-Semite, Bongani Masuku, to a UCU conference–convinced both Fraser and his lawyer, the prominent scholar of anti-Semitism Anthony Julius, that the union had become institutionally anti-Semitic and was therefore in violation of British laws protecting religious and ethnic minorities.

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On Monday night, as Jews around the world sat down for the first seder of the Passover holiday, anti-Zionists in the United Kingdom and elsewhere held a very different celebration to mark the comprehensive dismissal of a discrimination case brought by Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish math teacher, to an employment tribunal in London.

As I reported back in November, Fraser’s courageous battle against anti-Semitism in the labor union to which he belongs, the University and College Union (UCU), propelled him into a courtroom showdown with the advocates of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. Fraser’s argument rested on the contention that the union’s obsessive pursuit of a boycott negatively impacted its Jewish members. A series of ugly episodes–among them the posting of a claim, on a private listserv run by the UCU, that millions of dollars from the failed Lehman Brothers’ bank were transferred to Israel, as well as the address given by a leading South African anti-Semite, Bongani Masuku, to a UCU conference–convinced both Fraser and his lawyer, the prominent scholar of anti-Semitism Anthony Julius, that the union had become institutionally anti-Semitic and was therefore in violation of British laws protecting religious and ethnic minorities.

The tribunal’s judges, however, didn’t agree, issuing what London’s Jewish Chronicle described as a “blistering rejection” of the entire case. As the news spread, anti-Semites on the far left and extreme right crowed that the verdict was a “crushing defeat” for the “Israel lobby” (in the words of the Electronic Intifada) and the just deserts of a “whiny Jew” (in the inimitable phrase of the neo-Nazi bulletin board, Stormfront). The miniscule Jewish anti-Zionist organization Jews for Justice for Palestinians dutifully lined up behind this chorus, declaring that Fraser’s “mission” to prove himself a “victim” had failed.

Why did the Fraser case collapse in such spectacular fashion? In part, the problems were technical and procedural; several passages in the verdict argued that the UCU’s officers were not themselves responsible for the specific instances of anti-Semitism Fraser’s complaints highlighted, while another lazily bemoaned the “gargantuan scale” of the case, asserting that it was wrong of Julius and Fraser to abuse the “limited resources” of the “hard-pressed public service” that is a British employment tribunal. The verdict also contained extraordinary personal attacks on the integrity of Fraser’s witnesses, among them Jewish communal leader Jeremy Newmark and Labor Party parliamentarian John Mann, and even insinuated that the plain-speaking Fraser was unwittingly being used as a vassal by the articulate and florid Julius!

Ultimately, though, highly partisan political considerations decided the outcome. After dismissing all 10 of Fraser’s complaints as an “impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litiginous means,” the honorable judges then leveled some acutely politicized accusations of their own. Fraser and his supporters were accused of showing a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression.” Their broader conclusion, that it “would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated,” is clearly designed to discourage other potential plaintiffs from pursuing complaints against the UCU.

Most disturbing of all is paragraph 150 of the verdict, which will doubtless become shorthand for one of the most insidious attempts to redefine anti-Semitism ever devised. After accepting that British law does protect “Jewishness” as a characteristic of individuals, the judges went on to say that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic.”

This excerpt of the verdict should not be understood as protecting the rights of anti-Zionists to free speech. It is, rather, about protecting anti-Zionists from accusations of anti-Semitism by arguing that anti-Zionism is, by definition, not anti-Semitic.

Of course, elsewhere in the verdict, opposition to Zionism is conflated with “criticism of Israel,” which has the neat effect of making Fraser and those who think like him–as Julius pointed out, a clear majority of Jews–appear radically intolerant. But when the core themes of anti-Zionism are unmasked–the denial, uniquely to the Jews, of the right of self-determination, the portrayal of Israel as a racist, and therefore illegitimate, state, the presentation of the Palestinians as victims of a second Holocaust, and the use of the term “Zionist” as a codeword for “Jew”–we move far beyond the domain of permissible policy criticism into open defamation.

More fundamentally, the verdict denies Jews the right to determine those elements that comprise their identity and leaves the definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism to (often hostile) non-Jews. (As I argued in a February 2012 COMMENTARY essay, that has been the case ever since the term was first coined in the 1870s.) As Fraser himself noted in a statement emailed after the verdict was delivered, “[F]or the court to say that, as Jews, we do not have an attachment to Israel is disappointing, considering we have been yearning for Israel for 2000 years and it has been in our prayers all that time.” Fraser added that the verdict “highlighted the need for Anglo-Jewry to urgently adopt and publicize its own definition of antisemitism.” 

The lesson of the Fraser debacle is simply this: a single employment tribunal in the United Kingdom has created a precedent which will be invoked by every Jew-baiter around the globe; namely, that when Jews raise the question of anti-Semitism in the context of visceral hostility toward Israel, they do so in bad faith. That such a bigoted principle can be established in a democracy famed for its enlightened judicial methods is, perhaps, the most shocking realization of all.

So, yes, Ronnie Fraser was defeated. But so too was British justice and fair play.

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