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.
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 Commentator draws our attention today to the fact that Britain’s Sunday Times celebrated the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz—the date that is observed outside of Israel and the United States as Holocaust Memorial Day—by publishing a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a hook-nosed thug cementing helpless Arab victims into a wall whose bricks are lined with blood rather than mortar. This is an apt reminder of just how low Europe’s intellectual elites have sunk and how deep the taint of anti-Semitism is baked into the political culture of the West these days. As the Commentator’s Raheem Kassam points out, in Britain as in many other places, the Holocaust is not a historical lesson of the product of 2,000 years of anti-Semitism and Jewish powerlessness as it is an excuse to depict Israel as a Nazi-like entity.
The cartoon will be defended as fair comment about Israel’s security fence that the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders depict as a war crime. That this strictly defensive measure was made necessary by the Palestinians’ campaign of suicide bombings that cost the lives of a thousand Jews in the last decade goes unmentioned. The willingness of Israel-bashers to appropriate the Holocaust to promote a new generation of anti-Semitic imagery is rooted in a worldview in which the actions of the Palestinians, or their consistent refusal to make peace, are irrelevant. If even a fence to keep out suicide bombers can be seen as criminal then it is obvious that no terrorist outrage or act of hateful incitement (such as the Egyptian president’s belief that Israelis are the “descendants of apes and pigs”) is worthy of censure so long as Israelis are standing up for themselves and refusing to be slaughtered as the Jews of Europe were 70 years ago.
The notion that Jewish opponents of Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from the right. But recently it has become a theme increasingly heard from the Jewish left. Back in January, the Forward’s Gal Beckerman asserted the preposterous notion that Newt Gingrich, a longtime and ardent supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, was making a “dog whistle” argument to anti-Semites because he spoke about the philosophy and influence of left-wing activist Saul Alinsky. Now Peter Beinart has gotten into the act with his rants about Rupert Murdoch’s criticisms of Jews who publish newspapers that are hostile to Israel. I wrote on Sunday about Beinart’s argument with Murdoch that falsely asserts that what he — and pro-Israel activists — wants is for Jewish journalists and publishers to abandon their integrity for Israel’s sake when what they really want is just the opposite: for Jews in the media as well as everybody else to stop going in the tank for Israel’s foes.
Beinart has now doubled down on this argument in a new piece posted at the Daily Beast. He criticizes my piece on the subject, as well as an insightful contribution from the New York Sun that recalled the troubled history of the New York Times’s Jewish owners and their hostility to Zionism and reporting about the Holocaust. Though he begins his piece by asserting that he doesn’t believe Murdoch to be an anti-Semite, he spends the rest of the article contradicting himself and attempting to prove just that. He concludes by writing:
I don’t think anti-Semitism is widespread on the American right, any more than it is widespread on the American left. But when expressed, it should be publicly condemned. Whether it masks itself as hostility to Israel or support for Israel should make no difference at all.
In other words, Murdoch is an anti-Semite who is covering up his hate for Jews by supporting the Jewish state against its critics. While Beinart wonders why conservatives are bothering to defend Murdoch, a better question would be to ask why he is resorting to such convoluted and contradictory arguments? The answer is, of course, that Beinart’s real problem with Murdoch isn’t the patently false charge of anti-Semitism but the fact that he’s critical of publications that attack Israel.
Last month I wrote about the letter signed by the leaders of a number of the most prominent Protestant denominations in the country asking Congress to cut off military aid to the state of Israel. The letter, which repeated various canards about Israel committing war crimes against the Palestinians, represented a new low point in the campaign of liberal Christian clerics to isolate and to strip Israel of its ability to defend its citizens against attacks by Palestinian terror groups. This initiative is the culmination of years of agitation by left-wing critics of Israel to use these churches as a platform from which they can undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance and demonize the Jewish state. It made a mockery of decades of work by Jewish groups to form interfaith alliances with liberal groups. Indeed, it should be the effective death knell of cooperation on any issue or project between mainstream Jewish groups and the churches that signed on to this demand.
The letter earned the churches a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League as well as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs. But the controversy doesn’t end there. Reverend Peter Makari, an official of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ and the leader of the church group that organized the letter, was not satisfied with merely appealing to Congress. He has now taken his campaign to the public. But in doing so, he has betrayed the sinister motive that is underneath the seemingly high-minded rhetoric that the churches employ. As the blog of the media watchdog CAMERA reports, Makari gave an interview to the American Free Press, a virulently anti-Semitic publication that has engaged in Holocaust denial. Though Israel’s critics insist that it is wrong to associate anti-Zionists with anti-Semitism, Makari illustrated that in this case, it is a distinction without a difference.
Last year, I took issue with Forward cartoonist Eli Valley’s Halloween graphic in which he explained why Israel was inevitably heading toward absorption into a majority Palestinian state. That was a nasty piece of agitprop combining tastelessness with shameless distortions of history. But in comparison to this year’s edition, I have to admit it seems a bit more reasonable than I thought it was at the time. After all, arguing that Israel’s defenders are harming it may be unreasonable and disconnected from reality, but underneath Valley’s deliberate attempts to outrage Jewish and Zionist sensibilities there is an argument, even if it is a foolish one.
But that’s more than you can say for his disgusting “Scary Science Experiment” in which he depicts a Dr. Frankenstein-style Jewish scientist (“Dr. Lowenstein”) being commissioned in 1957 by David Ben Gurion to clone Anne Frank with some DNA from Judah Maccabee. The result is — get it? — Anne Frankenstein, a monster who escapes in 1967 and then madly spreads havoc and fear around the world and whose latest escapade is to warn about red lines about Iran in a lame spoof of Benjamin Netanyahu’s United Nations speech last month.
There will be those who will argue that this is merely satire–and Halloween-themed satire at that–and should be taken as merely an attempt to provoke thought about Jewish and Israeli sacred cows. No doubt the editors of the Forward who allowed their pages to be polluted by it told themselves that. Maybe they even believe it. Maybe they also think turning a symbol of the Holocaust into a metaphor for Zionism gone mad is clever, even if there’s nothing particularly funny about Valley’s screed. Perhaps it even reflects their own sensibilities about the reality of contemporary Israel in which they think its right-wing/religious majority doesn’t represent their values and is therefore unworthy of support or respect. But that they think Valley’s work is within even the most generous definition of reasonable comment ought to be a sign that it is they who have lost their way. When a Jewish publication begins to publish a cartoon that is firmly within the tradition of Nazi ideologue Julius Streicher’s anti-Semitic illustrations, it is time for those associated with the Forward to ponder whether they have lost touch with not just Jewish values but with those of responsible journalism.
Back in 2010, pro-Palestinian groups at the University of California-Berkeley staged a protest of Israel during which they set up checkpoints around certain parts of campus asking people if they were Jewish before deciding to let them through, and then watched as Jessica Felber, a Jewish pro-Israel student, was allegedly assaulted trying to participate in a counter-protest. To many, the incident typified an uncomfortable reality about pro-Israel students on campuses around the country, though it has been particularly hostile at UC schools.
The harassment—which, as in Felber’s case, can sometimes turn violent—has been all-too-common at universities, even (sometimes especially) at schools with a vibrant Jewish community. Anti-Israel activity doesn’t always take the form of physical intimidation; as Brooke Goldstein and Gabriel Latner revealed in COMMENTARY last year, it can take the form of university-funded events that raise money for groups that aid terrorists. But though the latter example presents a clear solution—don’t enable such fundraising—the question of what to do about harassment, especially nonviolent harassment, has been more difficult for universities, which often try to err on the side of free speech, to answer.
For mainstream American Jewish groups, it has long been an article of faith that strong alliances with liberal Protestant denominations with whom they shared a common agenda on domestic issues is integral to the safeguarding of the security and the rights of the Jewish community. That has been tested in recent years, as some of their liberal Christian partners debated supporting efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel. But the latest instance of liberal Christians attacking Israel ought to cut the cord completely.
As the Times of Israel and JTA report, the leaders of several of the leading American Protestant denominations and one small Catholic group have signed a letter calling for a congressional investigation whose purpose would be to end U.S. aid to Israel. The letter alleges that Israel is involved in crimes that violate U.S. law that should prevent the sending of aid or arms to the Jewish state. These charges are a tissue of deceptions, distortions and outright lies that are the product of Palestinian propaganda. (Though some of it is supported by radical leftist Jewish groups like B’Tselem, whose leaders own ambivalence toward Zionism has been documented in COMMENTARY.) The main focus of the letter is to delegitimize Israeli self-defense and to ignore the reality of Palestinian intransigence and opposition to peace. However, the reaction of Jewish groups to this latest development should not be ambivalent. To its credit, the Anti-Defamation League has said it will withdraw from a national Jewish-Christian dialogue event. They should not be the only Jewish group to do so.
One of the most encouraging developments in Jewish life over the course of the last century is the way the Catholic Church has evolved from a position of open hostility toward Jews to one that repudiated anti-Semitism and recognized the legitimacy of Zionism and the state of Israel. The work of the Second Vatican Council and popes such as John XXIII and John Paul II have largely erased a lamentable legacy of hate and replaced it with one that is based on mutual respect. But as is the case with the secular left, some precincts of the Catholic left remain infected with the virus of anti-Zionism.
A prime example of this sort of thinking is found at Commonweal, a liberal Catholic publication where Margaret O’Brien Steinfels blogs. Steinfels has been waging a steady campaign against Israel at the dotCommonweal blog whose central theme as been to oppose pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program as well as support for the efforts of rabid anti-Zionist extremists like Mondoweiss editor Phillip Weiss and turncoat Israel critic M.J. Rosenberg. While Stenfels mocks those who consider Weiss’ absurd rants as well as her own jibes to be anti-Semitic, any time spent perusing her posts makes it clear that despite Commonweal’s supposed liberalism, what is produced on their blog sounds a lot more like the work of a latter day Father Charles Coughlin than any of the recent popes.
Anyone who follows the criticism of the “Israel Lobby” hears the constant refrain that the worst thing about these pro-Israel groups is that they supposedly seek to silence their critics, hurt them financially, and ruin their careers. Longtime Israel critic and former Media Matters staffer M.J. Rosenberg is one such complainant, who took the accusation far enough to compare the Jewish Federations of North America—a philanthropic group primarily concerned with getting food and medicine to Jews in need here and around the world—to the worst tendencies of Joe McCarthy.
But it turns out that Rosenberg is actually a full-throated supporter of using people’s political opinions to render them silenced and unemployed–as long as it’s not anyone Rosenberg is friends with. Rosenberg has initiated a movement to get the Guardian to fire new columnist Josh Treviño before Treviño’s first column appears. (The Guardian’s decision to hire Treviño in the first place was one of the smartest decisions the paper has made.) That is, Rosenberg disagrees with Treviño’s views (more on that in a moment), and would like to be responsible for doing to Treviño what he has always regarded as reprehensible and undemocratic (Rosenberg usually uses slightly less diplomatic language, of course). This morning, Rosenberg tweeted this:
PROTEST Guardian hiring of White Supremacist Josh Treviño. Email woman who hired him. email@example.com
Now, Treviño is Hispanic, a vocal supporter of Latino immigration to the U.S., a critic of anti-immigration politicians, and was recently vice president of communications at a free-market-oriented think tank, so it’s safe to say he has worked pretty hard make the conservative movement more—not less—open to and inclusive toward racial minorities. So the casual smear from Rosenberg is quite clearly the opposite of the truth. (Treviño’s only geographical bias, as anyone who follows him on Twitter is aware, is in favor of the great state of Texas.)
Last month, MoveOn.org joined a chorus of liberals and Democrats pleading with New York Democrats not to nominate Charles Barron for a safe New York City congressional seat. MoveOn sent out an email blast aimed at the radical candidate. Barron, a vicious anti-Zionist and radical supporter of dictators like Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, was political poison for the Democrats, and his defeat by the more centrist Hakeem Jeffries caused the entire party to heave a sigh of relief. But according to one of the group’s top leaders, the decision to draw a line between its activities and a hatemonger was a terrible mistake.
As JTA reports, Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, apologized for the email blast at Barron. Calling the group’s condemnation of Barron — a candidate who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke — “offensive and inflammatory,” Ruben walked back MoveOn’s involvement in the race saying:
The email was all too reminiscent of the kind of attacks that have been used by our opponents to divide progressives over and over again — white folks from African Americans, Jews from non-Jews, recent immigrants from descendants of immigrants, etc.
Why would anyone regret being part of an effort to save the Democrats from the humiliation of nominating someone who has become the poster child for the radicalization of their party? The answer is simple. Ruben’s walk back of the attack on Barron is consistent with the group’s origins and its basic purpose.
In March, an Islamist gunman in Toulouse, France, murdered three Jewish children as well as one of their fathers in a shooting spree outside of a school. The crime was widely condemned (especially when at first it was thought to be the work of a neo-Nazi rather than a Muslim), but the link between this outbreak of deadly violence and the rising tide of anti-Semitic incitement throughout Europe was clear. Yet, rather than the murders signaling a turning point in the battle against Jew-hatred in France and Western Europe, it may have been just an indication that anti-Semitic incidents are becoming commonplace, a conclusion that has been reinforced by a shocking increase in attacks on French Jews since March.
Nevertheless, the latest indication of the dark climate in France is all the more painful because it involves the same school that was targeted by the Toulouse shooter. As the European Jewish Press reports, on Wednesday night, a 17-year-old student from the same Ozar HaTorah school that was the site of the March murders was attacked in a Lyon train station. The student, who was wearing “identifiable religious symbols” was set upon and beaten and subjected to insults. The teenager reported the attack and the assailants were caught, but the message from the incident is clear: it is open season in France on Jews who publicly identify themselves in this manner. If even after the shock over what happened in Toulouse violence against Jews is going up, it is no longer possible to put it down to the actions of isolated individuals. The incessant drumbeat of anti-Semitism— often rooted in anti-Zionist prejudice against Israel and all who publicly identify with the Jewish state and Jewish identity — throughout Europe is inciting violence that can no longer be ignored.
By the narrowest of margins, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA defeated a resolution calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel’s security forces. The 333-331 vote was the closest the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement has come to getting a major American Christian denomination to endorse such a measure. The close vote is a victory of sorts for the Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) that lobbied hard to defeat the motion. But the narrow margin is a virtual guarantee that divestment advocates will be back next year with expectations of victory at the Presbyterian conclave as well as at other gatherings of mainline Protestant groups.
Though there is little support for Israel divestment among the rank and file members of Presbyterian congregations, there is no denying the growing appeal among church activists for BDS proposals. The defeat of BDS this week may show that a narrow majority of Presbyterian delegates still understands that a vote for such a resolution involves the church in what amounts to an economic war against the Jewish state and a potential break in relations with American Jews. But the close call may indicate that support for anti-Zionism among liberal Protestant groups such as the Presbyterians is on the rise and it may only be a matter of time before they prevail.
Yes, fine — it’s not really fair to attack New York congressional candidate Charles Barron directly for this, because as far as we know, he didn’t solicit David Duke’s endorsement. But it’s still worth mentioning because of a) The PR disaster this is going to unleash all over the closely watched Barron campaign, and the impact it has on the race; and b) The confounding mystery about how a former KKK Grand Wizard and vocal southern white supremacist could ever bring himself to endorse a pro-Black Panther, pro-reparations black man from New York City (Spoiler alert: it involves the Jews).
Former KKK Grand Wizard and member of the Louisiana Legislature David Duke released a video yesterday endorsing Charles Barron in his race for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district against Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. Mr. Barron, a member of the City Council and former member of the Black Panther Party who, over the years, has made a series of controversial statements against Israel and in support of African dictator Muammar Qaddafi. He would seem to be an odd choice for a self-described “white nationalist” like Mr. Duke, but in the video, Mr. Duke explains that he thinks Mr. Jeffries has “sold his soul to the international Zio-bankers” while Mr. Barron’s strong past criticisms of Israel outweigh their other differences.
“In a race for Congress between an anti-Zionist black activist and a black activist who is a bought and paid for Zionist Uncle Tom, I’ll take the anti-Zionist any day,” Mr. Duke says in the video. “In this election of limited choices, I believe that Charles Barron is the best choice. Why? Because I think there’s no greater danger facing the United States of America and facing the world than the unbridled power of Zionist globalism. … Charles Barron stands against that power. If I lived in New York City, I would certainly vote for Charles Barron.”
Mr. Duke begins his video by noting that Mr. Barron has been labeled the “David Duke of New York City” by his political opponents.
As unhinged as David Duke is, you would think he’d still realize that his endorsements do the exact opposite of what endorsements are typically intended to do. Hakeem Jeffries, Barron’s opponent, is already out front denouncing Duke’s cartoonish rant about Zionist treason, Jewish-controlled media, etc.
Israel’s treatment on campus is a perpetual concern of a broad swath of American Jews, and rightly so. The very idea of a Jewish state, to say nothing of the policies that state’s citizens elect to follow, regularly receives there unwarranted criticisms that might play in the European mainstream, but have little currency in the United States off the quad.
The anxiety consequently produced nevertheless often manages to miss the true nature of the challenge on campus, as well as the reality of Jewish life there. A couple of articles published in the past few days offer refreshing windows into what things look like at ground level.
Kenneth L. Marcus, the president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, wrote in eJewishPhilanthropy of the divide in the Jewish community between “quietists” and “alarmists,” the former being those who deny that there is any anti-Semitism on campus, and the latter being those who “see danger behind every corner.”
Neither camp, Marcus notes, is entirely correct. The alarmists too often ignore the extraordinary richness of opportunities for Jewish life on campus along with the demise of an institutional anti-Semitism that once barred Jews from entry or made their lives difficult while there. The quietists see those opportunities perhaps too well, ignoring troubling undertones in the discussion of Jews and the Jewish state.
The head of the CRIF, the head of the umbrella group representing French Jewry, is coming under criticism for saying a victory for Socialist Party presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a potential disaster for Israel. Richard Prasquier stated in an opinion column published last week in Haaretz that anti-Israel elements within the Socialist Party will be able to exert disproportionate influence in a Hollande administration.
While Prasquier said Hollande had expressed friendship for Israel, he left little doubt that the strong ties between the Jewish community and incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy left some Jews worried about the consequences if the polls are right and the Socialist wins on Sunday. Of special concern was the fact that while Sarkozy has been the most ardent European opponent of a nuclear Iran, Hollande is untested on the issue and will govern with the support of leftist foes of Israel who will play a large role in his government.
As I wrote earlier, there is a disreputable modern American Jewish tradition of attempting to use Jewish liturgy and especially the Passover seder as an excuse to promote non-Jewish political issues. When Arthur Waskow created his “Freedom Seder” to make the holiday about American civil rights rather than the Exodus one could at least say it was an attempt to use Judaism to promote a good cause rather than a bad one. Other such attempts to make Haggadahs about immigration, the Labor movement or any other left-wing cause are less defensible. And using Passover to play partisan politics is simply pathetic. But the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has now gone completely beyond the pale with a new version of Passover in which Israel is transformed into Egypt and the Palestinians have become the Jews.
This Haggadah, which was brought to our attention by the Anti-Defamation League, isn’t merely an expression of dissent against the policies of the Israeli government about which Israelis and Americans may differ. By appropriating the symbolism of the Festival of Freedom to promote a cause whose purpose is to deny the Jewish people their rights and liberty, the group is committing an act of spiritual vandalism. Identifying Israel with Pharaoh and Egyptians is an effort at delegitimization that crosses the boundary from bad taste to anti-Semitic invective.
Friends of Israel have been able to take some satisfaction in the fact that Peter Beinart’s intellectually vapid attempt to promote what he has the temerity to call “Zionist BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Jewish state has been panned by liberals as well as conservatives across the political spectrum. Few outside of the far left have been convinced by his call for a boycott of Jews who live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem so as to save Israel from itself and bring about Middle East peace. Unlike the foolish Beinart, most Americans — like the overwhelming majority of Israelis — understand the obstacle to a resolution to the conflict comes from the Palestinians’ inability to make peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
All this eludes Beinart, but the writer, who has assumed the pose of the self-appointed conscience of American Jewry, also misses another key point. He fails to comprehend that his distinction between boycotts of the settlements and of the rest of the country inside the green line (which he tells us he loves passionately) is not one that the rest of the world is necessarily going to respect. As Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson proved this week, efforts to stigmatize West Bank Jews have a curious habit of morphing into boycotts of other Israelis, including those who, like Beinart, are not part of the settlement project.
Many probably think, but fewer have the arrogance to write, that the recent shooting deaths of at least four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France are Israel’s fault. The thinking goes that Jews inevitably are associated with the self-declared Jewish state, whose alleged crimes enrage its supposed victims, who then lash out at the Jews close by, which are often those living in smaller diaspora communities. Because it shoulders the blame, Israel should also therefore take responsibility for the danger it poses to worldwide Jewry by properly amending its policies or even dissolving itself, thereby curing the world of its desire to hunt Jews.
Even if we accept the questionable assumptions behind this view, it represents a stunning endorsement of Jewish cowardice.