There has been considerable pushback from many in the chattering classes–and some public officials, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–to those who have stood up to the BDS campaign against Israel. As I wrote earlier in the week, the mayor thinks we should pipe down when it comes to complaints about Brooklyn College or other institutions of higher learning hosting conferences devoted to supporting the effort to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Others have denigrated the position we’ve taken, on the necessity for Jewish groups to refuse to work together or co-sponsor events with BDS campaigners, as both intolerant and extremist. But this issue is not about academic freedom or the Jewish establishment repressing idealistic dissent against unpopular policies of the Israeli government. It is about hate speech and anti-Semitism.
That is a hard sell for many American Jews who think anti-Semites only come in one package. They think anti-Semites are only neo-Nazi troglodytes or conservative Christians (a terrible slander since the overwhelming majority of evangelicals and other conservative Christians in this country are fervent supporters of Israel and friends of the Jewish people). They refuse to believe that academics and students that couch their rhetoric in the language of human rights and the cause of the downtrodden and oppressed Palestinian people are acting from prejudice and promoting hatred. But they are wrong. And it is nice to know that the American group that is tasked with the responsibility of monitoring anti-Semitism is willing to say so. That’s why we must applaud the Anti-Defamation League for its ad in today’s New York Times refuting Bloomberg and calling the BDS movement by its right name. The ad, an essay by ADL national director Abraham Foxman, framed the issue in the same manner as I have done here at Contentions:
The BDS movement is not merely advocating boycotts of Israel, which in our mind is hateful on its own, but in its support for the “right of return” of refugees, they are advocating something even more hateful, the destruction of the Jewish state through demography. Anyone who is serious about the survival of Israel knows what this is about.
So we are talking here about hate, not mere criticism. The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic.
Today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg became the latest to weigh in on the issue of allowing college campuses to be used as venues for promotion of the BDS campaign against Israel. Bloomberg, who touts himself as one of the greatest supporters of Israel in New York, claimed that those who condemned the decision of the political science department at the city’s Brooklyn College were, in effect, enemies of free speech. According to the New York Observer, Bloomberg said the following:
“I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS,” Mr. Bloomberg explained. “As you know, I’m a big supporter of Israel–as big of a one as I think you can find in the city. But I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”
But contrary to the mayor’s typically highhanded formulation, this is not a free speech issue. Using a public university to promote hate speech in which the one Jewish state in the world is hypocritically singled out for isolation and destruction is not a matter of tolerating a diversity of views. What is so frustrating about the debate about BDS is the willingness of even those who do not support it to treat as a merely one among many defensible views about the Middle East or, as the New York Times referred to it in an editorial on the subject yesterday, a question of academic freedom whose advocates do not deserve to be spoken of harshly. As I wrote last week about a related controversy at Harvard, the BDS movement is not motivated by disagreement with specific Israeli policies or the issue of West Bank settlements. It is an economic war waged to destroy the Jewish state and is morally indistinguishable from more traditional forms of anti-Semitism that do not disguise themselves in the fancy dress of academic discourse.
Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.
First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:
“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”
Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:
[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”
Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.
So far, so bold.
Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel. Read More
Friends of Israel have been able to take some satisfaction in the fact that Peter Beinart’s intellectually vapid attempt to promote what he has the temerity to call “Zionist BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Jewish state has been panned by liberals as well as conservatives across the political spectrum. Few outside of the far left have been convinced by his call for a boycott of Jews who live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem so as to save Israel from itself and bring about Middle East peace. Unlike the foolish Beinart, most Americans — like the overwhelming majority of Israelis — understand the obstacle to a resolution to the conflict comes from the Palestinians’ inability to make peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
All this eludes Beinart, but the writer, who has assumed the pose of the self-appointed conscience of American Jewry, also misses another key point. He fails to comprehend that his distinction between boycotts of the settlements and of the rest of the country inside the green line (which he tells us he loves passionately) is not one that the rest of the world is necessarily going to respect. As Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson proved this week, efforts to stigmatize West Bank Jews have a curious habit of morphing into boycotts of other Israelis, including those who, like Beinart, are not part of the settlement project.