Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-Zionism

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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Illustrating the Link Between Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

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.

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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.

In the face of slanders such as this cartoon about Netanyahu, the facts are almost beside the point. In order for it to be considered a defensible point of view about the Middle East, you’d have to believe the artist and the editors who condoned its publication know nothing of why Israel built a security fence or that the terrorist campaign that it was built to stop was preceded by repeated Israeli offers of a Palestinian state that were refused and answered with war. Can it be that no one at the Sunday Times is aware of the fact that the Palestinians again refused (or rather fled from it to avoid answering) an even more generous peace offer in 2008 and have consistently refused to return to the negotiating table since then despite an Israeli settlement freeze, Netanyahu’s acceptance of a two-state solution and pleas for them to talk without preconditions? Those are mere details to be ignored when the big picture you are trying to draw is of an evil Israel and its evil leader hurting the innocent.

While many have seized on the fact that Netanyahu didn’t do as well as originally expected in this last week’s election as somehow being proof that Israelis are rejecting his views about the Palestinians, this is nonsense. The point about the election is that Netanyahu’s basic views about the peace process are now so clearly endorsed by a broad consensus that encompasses not only the Israeli right but also the center and even some on the left that the election was decided on other issues. Though some would like it to be different, there’s actually very little to differentiate Netanyahu’s foreign policy views from those of Yair Lapid or even Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich or Tzipi Livni, who actually campaigned on a platform of reviving the peace process.

The point is most Israelis have long given up on the Palestinians, whom they rightly understand to be light years away from the sort of sea change that would allow them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. So, too, do they no longer listen to a Europe where blood libels like the Sunday Times cartoon are seen as commonplace and just a more sophisticated version of Morsi’s hate speech.

Israel is not perfect and its politicians can be criticized. But this commemoration of Europe’s Holocaust Memorial Day with such slanders shows the inability of those who believe Israel has no right to exist or to defend itself to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian dispute without resorting to imagery like that of the cartoon or Morsi’s imprecations. Though Israel-bashers claim labeling them as anti-Semites is unfair, their reflexive use of Nazi-like blood libels illustrates the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism better than any argument their opponents can muster.

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Liberals and False Charges of Anti-Semitism

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.

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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.

Let’s get one thing cleared up. The idea that it is anti-Semitic for a Jew or non-Jew to note that some Jewish-owned publications have a history of being uncomfortable with Jewish subjects and especially Israel is simply absurd. The history of the New York Times on this subject is well documented. To assert that Murdoch’s tweet, ill-considered as it was, was evidence of either latent or overt anti-Semitism is the worst kind of slur and is exactly the sort of thing that would send Beinart over the edge if a right-winger said it about someone on the left.

Beinart also says that it is “nuts” for anyone to speak of the New York Times as being consistently critical of Israel. It is true that the Times supports Israel’s right to exist. But it has spent the last few decades blaming it for all the problems of the Middle East and blasting its measures of self-defense. Not all of its reporting is biased, but enough of it has been tilted against Israel to make it clear that most of what it presents as news, especially on its front page, amount to nothing more than thinly veiled op-eds. Its opinion pages are also disproportionately skewed against pro-Israel voices.

Since Beinart is himself a consistent critic of Israel, it’s little wonder that he thinks there’s nothing wrong with this, but to claim that those who disagree are crazy says more about his own bias than that of anyone else. As I wrote, Murdoch would have done better to have avoided mentioning the Jewish owners of publications like the Times since the phrase is problematic and it’s far from clear that the current generation in charge there even considers themselves to be Jews.

But the real issue here isn’t whether or not the Times is biased against Israel. It’s whether it’s OK to label political opponents of the left, like Murdoch, as anti-Semitic even though he has a long record of philo-Semitism and support for Israel.

The reason why some conservatives have pushed back against this smear is not so much for Murdoch’s sake — the media mogul can take care of himself — but because the goal of the Jewish left is to brand all conservatives as closet Jew-haters. Doing so appeals to many Jews since it confirms their liberal political prejudices as well as conjures up memories of the past when the right in this country really was anti-Semitic while in our own day, and contrary to Beinart’s false moral equivalence, it is the left that is the natural home for many anti-Zionists and Jew-haters.

One should be careful about labeling people anti-Semites. There is a difference between someone who is merely critical of Israel like Beinart and, for example, liberal church groups that seek to promote BDS measures or to cut off military aid to the Jewish state and make common ground with open Jew-haters to promote this cause. Unfortunately that is a distinction that liberals like Beinart are prepared to ignore in order to score bogus political points against easy targets like Murdoch.

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Church Leader Shows Where Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic Merge

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.

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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.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center describes AFP in this manner:

American Free Press (AFP) is regarded as the successor to the now defunct Liberty Lobby’s Spotlight. Willis Carto, one of America’s most notorious racists, is a founder of both. Carto is also the founder of the Holocaust-denying Institute For Historical Review. Some of the books that have been offered for sale by the AFP include The Judas Goats: The Enemy Within (details governmental infiltration of the American nationalist movement at the behest of “the alien force of international political Zionism”), The Conspiracy of the Six-Pointed Star, El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, and March of the Titans: A History of the White Race. The AFP site includes this quote in one of their essays: “Israel…is contributing to the unification and activation of the colored world for war against the colonial and other outsiders.”

The interview, which can be listened to here, can only be described as friendly and one in which the AFP and the church official are reading from the same hymnal. In it Makari, following the lead of his interviewer, seeks not only to demonize Israel but to delegitimize the efforts of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups as well as Jewish organizations that called them to account for their slanders of Israel.

The point here goes beyond the misleading arguments put forward by the letter. The intent there was to demonize Israeli self-defense and to set up a mechanism by which the Jewish state can be deprived of the means by which it defends itself. These are dangerous arguments, especially in the current context of the Hamas missile offensive in which millions of Israelis are being terrorized and threatened.

But by seeking to make common cause with a stronghold of Jew-hatred, Makari is outing himself, the church that employs him, and all the groups that signed on to his effort.

This is a point at which the leadership of these churches ought to rethink their willingness to be co-opted by anti-Israel activists. They now find themselves in bed with anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers.

As I wrote last month, the decision of these churches–the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., the American Friends Service Committee, and other groups, including the Catholic Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns–to attack Israel does not reflect the views of most of the rank and file members of these denominations or of most of the pastors of these congregations.

However, by allowing their good names to be associated with efforts to isolate and boycott Israel and now to join forces with vicious anti-Semites, these churches and their members have been compromised to the point where no Jewish group or, indeed, any decent person, should have anything to do with them.

Repairing this terrible problem will require a thorough change on the part of all of these churches and a determination not to allow their institutions to be part of an anti-Israel campaign. But the first step toward such a change must come with the firing of Makari by the United Church of Christ. Until that happens, the church must understand that it will be thought of as a partner of anti-Zionists and anti-Semites.

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Crossing the Line Between Satire and Hate

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.

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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.

Let’s be clear about what Valley has done in this cartoon. This is not just the usual leftist argument about self-destructive right-wingers, but a full-blown attempt to depict Israel as a monster, built on the ashes of the Holocaust but instead replicating its horrors. This is not just hostility to Zionism masquerading as an attempt to save it from the Zionists, but propaganda illustrated in the language of hate. The problem here is not just that using Anne Frank in this manner is tasteless and calculated to offend Holocaust survivors and any Jew who cares about the subject, though it is all those things. It is that by doing so in this manner, Valley has stepped across the divide between fair comment and political satire into the realm of anti-Semitic invective.

To have expected the editors of the Forward to say that this was something that should be considered beyond the pale in their pages is not to try to impose conservative sensibilities on them or to make them conform to a standard by which the Holocaust should be treated as a religious theme never to be offended by sacrilege. One needn’t advocate a rule in which the toes of important Jewish constituencies are never trodden upon to understand that there are some lines that should not be crossed. Even on Halloween, that pagan tradition that is so popular today that it has even begun to challenge Christmas as America’s favorite holiday, depicting Israel as an Anne Frankenstein monster is the sort of thing that should have been seen as vile rather than clever. It is one thing to claim that we shouldn’t take the threats to Israel’s existence from Palestinians and Iran seriously or to depict fears of anti-Semitism as exaggerated. It is quite another to draw modern Israel as a Holocaust-inspired monster.

Valley went too far this time, yet somehow those in charge of the Forward are too much the prisoners of their own prejudices about Israeli politics and their own conceit about their role in Jewish intellectual life to see it. Instead of congratulating them for their capacity to generate outrage, those who fund the Forward need to do some soul-searching about how far the paper has sunk from its mandate to stand up against anti-Semitism and where it is going.

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Protect Free Speech on Campus–For Jewish Students Too

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.

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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.

So the University of California school system dispatched a task force to its campuses to interview students and try to get a sense of how bad things truly are for Jewish students. They found that things were just fine for liberal Jewish students who openly criticized Israel, but far less comfortable for Jewish students who supported Israel openly and even for those who refused to join in the routine condemnation of Israel found around campus and in classrooms. (More on this task force in a moment.)

But the issue is now somewhat out of the university’s hands, as the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office announced this month that it has opened an investigation into whether the school is fostering a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students by permitting anti-Semitism to thrive on campus. This has led to some well-founded concerns about whether free speech is in jeopardy at institutions of higher learning. Wendy Kaminer offers a welcome defense of free speech and incivility, but completely misrepresents the students’ complaints to the task force and displays her own snide hostility to the Jewish groups bringing the complaint. Kaminer writes:

But combine popular support for restricting hate speech with ardent Zionism, and you have a recipe for categorically equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and restricting anti-Zionist protests in order to protect Jewish students from “harassment” and “intimidation.”

But the story isn’t about “ardent” Zionists on the march. The issue is about Jewish students who are the targets of repeated displays of anti-Semitism. That may be protected speech, but to paint the young Jews here as the true threat turns the case upside-down. And since violence was deployed against a Jewish counter-protester, isn’t Kaminer at all concerned that the Jewish groups’ free speech rights are at risk? Also, Kaminer never explains why “ardent” Zionism is a potent ingredient in the threat to free speech. And what makes Zionism “ardent”–bringing a law suit after being physically assaulted for being Jewish? Kaminer continues:

Still the U.C. fact finders’ recommendations are worth noting: They recommend vigorous regulations of political speech, partly to deter “bigoted harassment,” yet their fact finding mission apparently uncovered no instances of serious harassment or intimidation: “No students indicated feeling physically unsafe on U.C. campuses,” they report. I guess they didn’t interview the students whose complaint sparked the current Department of Education investigation, for whom vitriolic anti-Zionist protests were the equivalent of Nazi propaganda, threatening incitement of violence against Jews, if not another Holocaust.

Put aside the absurdity of regarding Jews in post 9/11 America, who’ve been embraced by right wing Christian Zionists, as more at risk than Muslims.

First of all, Kaminer must be kidding about the supposed invulnerability of Jews compared to Muslims. As the FBI has made clear, Jews are far more often the targets of hate crimes than Muslims are. That doesn’t mean Muslims aren’t also at risk, but they are, statistically, at far less risk than Jews.

More importantly, Kaminer is misleading her audience about that fact-finding task force and the complaints of the students. UC’s Jewish students claim a double standard: they believe that free speech rights have been granted to only some groups, or some criticisms. The students also said that the university has been less than accommodating when it comes to the religious needs and observance of its Orthodox students. Thus, there is an issue of religious freedom here as well.

Additionally, the Jewish students raised an objection to what they see as a consistent use of university resources and university-sponsored offices or activities that promote bigotry against Jews. That’s not about nasty students, but an institutional bias against Jews. And finally, Jewish UC students feel they’ve been excluded from working for campus groups specifically because of their views on Israel or religious affiliation.

Kaminer is right to defend free speech, but she should do so without distorting the facts of the case and railing against “ardent” Zionists and “right wing” Christians.

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Attack on Israel Must End Interfaith Sham

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.

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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.

The point here is that the letter, as well as the divestment activities of some of these churches, is nothing less than a declaration of war on the Jewish state. So long as these religious groups dedicate themselves to promoting libels against Israel, denouncing the security fence that has saved countless lives from Palestinian terrorism and seeks to isolate Israel and cut it off from its only ally and source of military aid, business as usual between them and American Jewry must end.

Some Jews see such dialogue efforts as an end in itself, but this is a fallacy. Any interfaith program must be based on mutual respect and any church group that aligns itself with Israel’s enemies lacks respect for Jewish life. Dialogue on those terms is a sham.

That these church groups couch their letter in language that seeks to portray their efforts as those of “peacemakers” is all the more offensive. Far from promoting peace, these anti-Zionist clerics are actually fomenting violence by undermining Israeli defensive measures and thereby encouraging Palestinians to think they can succeed in isolating Israel.

The letter, signed by, among others, the leaders of the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., the American Friends Service Committee, and other groups, including the Catholic Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, is also particularly vile since it seeks to extend the BDS movement from church investments to the instruments of American foreign policy. It is nothing less than a manifesto seeking to sever the U.S.-Israel alliance and therefore cast the still-besieged Jewish state adrift in a hostile region bent on its destruction.

That the groups should have sent the letter only days after Iran repeated its latest slanders and threats is ironic but no coincidence. Despite their protestations of a desire for peace and non-violence, these churches have been remarkably silent about the religious persecution going on in Iran. It is only little, democratic Israel that is beset by enemies seeking its destruction that attracts their passionate opposition.

It should be specified that in most cases, these positions are largely the work of a small group of left-wing activists that dominate the public affairs policy work of their churches. Most rank-and-file members of Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist churches are, like most Americans, strong supporters of Israel and have little idea that this assault on Israel is being done in their name. But it is incumbent on them as well as other decent church leaders to denounce this letter and other BDS activities. Until they do, no American Jewish group should have any dealings with the signatories or the groups involved in this letter.

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Left-Wing Catholics Find Common Ground With Right-Wingers: Hatred of Israel

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.

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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.

While Steinfels is a knee-jerk Israel-hater (her idea of a joke is to suggest that Republicans move the capital of the United States to Jerusalem), her main interest these days is similar to other foes of Israel: stopping Israel or, more to the point, pro-Israel Americans from taking action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. She even wrote with approval of the statement of support for Iran nukes of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement that held its recent meeting in Tehran. She also wrote with sympathy about Iran’s historical grievances against the United States and the deaths of Iranian scientists who are working on creating a bomb that could make good on the regime’s threats to wipe Israel off the map.

Some of Steinfels’ recent work is merely all-purpose Israel bashing such as a post highlighting the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacre of Palestinians. The massacre was a failure on Israel’s part, but nowhere in her piece titled “Our Closest Ally,” does she mention that the militiamen who killed the Palestinians were actually Catholics. Her mention of it in this matter brings to mind the belief on the part of many Israelis at the time that this lamentable episode from the Lebanese Civil War (which was, alas, a case of the Catholics revenging themselves on the Palestinians for past massacres) was a blood libel against Jews. Indeed, what motive other than delegitimizing Jewish contemporary self-defense could there be in resurrecting an incident from a war that was prompted by Lebanon allowing terrorists to use its southern region to be a base for attacks on Israelis?

Commonweal’s liberal agenda on domestic issues is well known. So is its edgy attitude toward the Vatican. One isn’t surprised to find anyone on the left lacking enthusiasm or even sympathy for Israel’s struggle for survival. But I find the willingness of this prominent liberal Catholic publication to get into bed with apologists for the Iranian regime and rabid anti-Zionists is, to say the least, curious. Yet when left-wing Catholics become indistinguishable from right-wing Catholics like Pat Buchanan, you know there is only one explanation: Jew-hatred has a way of bringing all sorts of nasty people together.

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The Casual Smearing of a Conservative

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. janine.gibson@guardian.co.uk

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.)

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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. janine.gibson@guardian.co.uk

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.)

Rosenberg also tweeted this: “Treviño is every Jew’s nightmare.Protest to Guardian. Creepy white racist.” In fact, one of the reasons people like Rosenberg and some of his more viciously anti-Zionist allies in this crusade against Treviño—like Ali Abunimah, whose site has gleefully compared Jews to Nazis—is that Treviño is not only an admirer, though not a practitioner, of the Jewish faith, but he’s also a staunch, unapologetic defender of Israel. And here we get to the crux of the “fire Treviño” bandwagon.

Treviño was among the vast majority of Americans to stand up for Israel’s right of self-defense against the “flotilla” movement seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Since the first such flotilla included a terrorist-funded boat full of armed extremists who tried to kill Israeli soldiers, Treviño was on fairly solid ground here—and most Americans felt the same way.

You can agree or disagree with Israel’s blockade—which even the United Nations declared was legal—but Treviño held a majority opinion (at least in the United States) and has nothing to apologize for. The totalitarian-minded mob that wants Treviño blacklisted for expressing conservative views on politics and broadly mainstream views on Israel has been gaining steam on Twitter and other social media platforms.

It is a movement that seeks to do harm to the Guardian and its reputation by bullying one of the most widely read newspapers in the world into submission. The Guardian, one hopes, will stand on principle even if they do not agree with all of Treviño’s views. That is the purpose of a free press in a free society. Based on the overall reaction to Treviño’s addition to the Guardian, the paper has already earned many new readers simply by signaling it would be a more inclusive newspaper with a wider range of opinion. As for Rosenberg and Co., they have finally unmasked themselves not as McCarthy’s foils, but as his heirs.

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