Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-Semitism

Obama: Just Because Iran Is Anti-Semitic Doesn’t Make It Irrational

At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

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At the bedrock of American nuclear doctrine is the concept of mutual deterrence. It is a principle that rests on the assumption that the actor you are attempting to deter has a rational interest in self-preservation. A subject that is suicidal or has a romantic attachment to the poetically redemptive aspects of self-immolation cannot be deterred. Quite the opposite, in fact; those irrational actors might be tempted to provoke their adversaries to engage in violence. There is no debate as to whether or not Iran should be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon for the very reason that the Islamic Republic is universally understood to be an irrational international actor. Both proponents and opponents of the framework nuclear accord with Iran share this fundamental assumption. This fact renders President Barack Obama’s most recent comments about the regime in Tehran not only uniquely insulting but also utterly perplexing.

In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, an interlocutor so highly regarded by this administration that he manages to coax incendiary quotes out of White House officials with near metronomic regularity, Obama appeared to let his guard down a bit. On the subject of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Goldberg noted that the president has in the past argued, “quite eloquently in fact,” that the Islamic Republic officially subscribes to a particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism. The destruction of the state of Israel is official Iranian policy. That is an end that Tehran works arduously toward as a state sponsor of terrorism, and it is a goal that it might achieve should it develop one or more fissionable devices.

“You have argued,” Goldberg queried, “that people who subscribe to an anti-Semitic worldview, who explain the world through the prism of anti-Semitic ideology, are not rational, are not built for success, are not grounded in a reality that you and I might understand. And yet, you’ve also argued that the regime in Tehran—a regime you’ve described as anti-Semitic, among other problems that they have—is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.”

The president’s amiable interrogator noted politely that he could not square these two entirely antithetical concepts. Goldberg then asked, with all due deference, if the president might help him to reconcile this contradiction. Obama’s unconvincing response demonstrated clearly that, if any party in this conversation suffered from some cognitive shortcomings, it was not Goldberg.

Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—

They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.

How callous.

First, and it’s not out of bounds to make note of this, but strict adherence to a prejudicial belief system like anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry is, at root, irrational. It is a weltanschauung that is unprincipled, unthinking, brutish, and serves as the basis for the contention that Iran’s messianic approach to geopolitics renders them an irresponsible international actor. The White House has in the past dismissed Iran’s anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism as propaganda products packaged for purely domestic consumption. This is classic projection bias; the president imagines that the anti-Semitic agitation of Iran’s ruling class is mere political positioning because he so often makes assertions he doesn’t truly believe.

Secondly, irrationality is not synonymous with insanity. Because the Islamic Republic’s leaders are effective governors of a state with a return address and they can engage in effete diplomatic courtesies with their Western counterparts in Lausanne does not mean that Tehran is incapable of making calculations that outside observers would find reckless. Irrationality is subjective. What Tehran might see the reasonable pressing of a perceived advantage the West might consider dangerous brinkmanship.

There is nothing illogical, for example, for the Islamic Republic’s leaders to believe that a preemptive terrorist attack on Israeli targets with weapons of mass destruction would consolidate their grip on power. Moreover, Tehran might see some upside in the inevitable defusing of the tensions between the region’s Sunni and Shiite powers in the wake of an Israeli retaliatory response. It would be irrational, it would spark a regional war characterized by weapons of horrible destructive power, but it is a misunderstanding of rationality to suggest this strategic approach is totally unhinged.

Barack Obama is most likely to get himself into trouble when he indulges his inner professor and waxes longwinded on subjects better suited to the classroom than the Oval Office. This self-indulgent intellectual exercise might have a place in an introductory international relations theory course, but it is terrifying to hear uttered from the commander of America’s armed forces. If the president’s strategic approach to Iran is founded on the fallacious assumption that they are just like him insofar as they don’t really mean what they say in public, the last 18 months of this administration are going to be particularly perilous.

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Denying Jews the Right to Define Judaism is Anti-Semitism

In honor of this week’s 5th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, I’d like to propose a new definition of the term: Anti-Semitism is when Jews, alone of all the world’s religions, are denied the right to decide for themselves what their religion’s core tenets actually are. Nobody would dream of telling Christians that, for instance, their religion really has nothing to do with Jesus. Nobody would dream of telling Muslims that their religion really has nothing to do with the Koran. Yet a growing number of people seem to feel they have a perfect right to tell Jews that their religion really has nothing to do with being part of a nation.

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In honor of this week’s 5th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, I’d like to propose a new definition of the term: Anti-Semitism is when Jews, alone of all the world’s religions, are denied the right to decide for themselves what their religion’s core tenets actually are. Nobody would dream of telling Christians that, for instance, their religion really has nothing to do with Jesus. Nobody would dream of telling Muslims that their religion really has nothing to do with the Koran. Yet a growing number of people seem to feel they have a perfect right to tell Jews that their religion really has nothing to do with being part of a nation.

Thus you get people like Jannine Salman, a member of the Columbia University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, blithely telling the New York Times last week that Jews have no call to feel their religion is under attack by strident anti-Zionists, because “There is a bifurcation: Zionism is a political identity, Judaism is a religious identity, and it does a disservice to both to blur the line.” And never mind that neither the Bible nor 4,000 years of Jewish tradition recognize any such bifurcation.

Indeed, the concept of Judaism as a religious identity devoid of any national component is so foreign to the Bible that nowhere in it are Jews ever referred to as adherents of a “religion.” Rather, the most common Biblical terms for the Jews are bnei yisrael, the children of Israel, and am yisrael, the nation of Israel. The rough modern equivalents would be kin-group and kin-state, though neither captures the Biblical imperative that this particular kin-group and kin-state be committed to a particular set of laws and ideals.

That’s also why the modern Hebrew word for religion, dat, is a Persian import originally meaning “law” that is found in the Bible only in books such as Esther and Daniel, which take place when the Jews were under Persian rule. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the man who revived Hebrew as a modern language, tried hard to base his modern lexicon on ancient Hebrew roots. But there simply isn’t any ancient Hebrew term remotely equivalent to the modern conception of religion.

And that’s also why the model for conversion to Judaism, unlike in most other religions, explicitly includes embracing a nationality as well as a creed. The rabbinic Jewish commentators don’t agree on much, but they do agree that the original source for conversion is the book of Ruth, and specifically one verse in it: Ruth’s promise to Naomi that “thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” In other words, simply adopting the Jewish God wasn’t enough. Ruth also had to adopt the Jewish nation.

Clearly, individual Jews are free to reject the national component of their identity, just as individual Christians and Muslims are free to reject various tenets of their religion. It might leave them with a very diluted religious identity (see, for instance, the 2013 Pew poll, where the number-one response to the question of what American Jews consider “essential” about being Jewish was remembering the Holocaust). But in the modern democratic West, nobody would deny their right to do so.

That position is, however, a very different matter from non-Jews telling Jews that they must reject the national component of their identity. When non-Jews start trying to dictate what Judaism does and doesn’t consist of, that’s anti-Semitism. When non-Jews insist they know better than Jews do what being Jewish entails, that’s anti-Semitism. When non-Jews demand that Jews reject the religious identity prescribed by both the Bible and a 4,000-year-old tradition, that’s anti-Semitism. And it’s about time we started calling it by its rightful name.

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Dark Days Ahead for the Jews of Russia?

The ultimate goal of state censorship is self-censorship among the citizenry. If you can get the people to police themselves, and each other, it takes part of the burden off the state and also makes people complicit in their own oppression. And so it’s disturbing to see things take this turn in Putin’s Russia. As the New York Times reports, Moscow bookstores removed from their shelves–voluntarily (sort of)–their copies of Maus, the pathbreaking graphic novel of Nazi crimes against the Jews. It’s the “voluntarily” part of this that stands out, and makes it clear that Putinism has not been, and will not be, good for the Jews of Russia.

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The ultimate goal of state censorship is self-censorship among the citizenry. If you can get the people to police themselves, and each other, it takes part of the burden off the state and also makes people complicit in their own oppression. And so it’s disturbing to see things take this turn in Putin’s Russia. As the New York Times reports, Moscow bookstores removed from their shelves–voluntarily (sort of)–their copies of Maus, the pathbreaking graphic novel of Nazi crimes against the Jews. It’s the “voluntarily” part of this that stands out, and makes it clear that Putinism has not been, and will not be, good for the Jews of Russia.

The story of Maus’s banishment from booksellers is the classic result of the mixture of fear and confusion. According to the Times:

The government’s plan was simple enough: Rid Moscow of swastikas or any other symbol of Nazism before Victory Day, the celebration of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Germany and the most important political holiday in Russia.

But in the frenzy to comply, bookstores aiming to please the censor found an unlikely victim: “Maus,” the Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel about a Jewish family during the Holocaust. Muscovites discovered this week that the book, which bears a swastika on its cover, had been quietly stripped from the shelves of the largest bookstores across the Russian capital.

The work of the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, the novel portrays Jews as mice and Germans as cats in an anti-fascist narrative about the horrors of Nazism and the concentration camps. But with concern over the dangers of fascism in Russia on the rise, the booksellers appeared to decide it was better to be safe than sorry.

Russians unfortunately know the value of “better safe than sorry.” And no matter how many times we point out–correctly–that Putin is not Stalin, I imagine that continues to be cold comfort to Russians who are trying to avoid running afoul of “anti-fascism” laws and the criminal offenses of, as the Times explains, posting symbols that “offend people’s religious feeling or question the national dignity of peoples.”

The murky quality of such laws and the actions they proscribe is a feature, not a bug, of authoritarian rule. It feeds the illusion that people have control over their own decisions. And any infractions are used as justifications for expanding such restrictions on liberty going forward, which are painted as logical reactions to a citizenry obviously unable to govern itself thus necessitating state action. Stalinism without Stalin is much like being a whiter shade of pale, and it was always the aim of Stalinism in the first place. It’s the dictatorial version of sustainability.

The Chinese writer Yu Hua remembers coming up with a laudatory phrase to honor Chairman Mao during his youth: “the people are Chairman Mao, and Chairman Mao is the people,” he’d say. Except it made everyone nervous, because they hadn’t heard that formulation before and therefore didn’t know if it was a specifically approved way of praising Mao. His parents “eyed me warily and told me in a roundabout way that they couldn’t see anything wrong with what I’d said but I still had better not say it again.”

This is the fear that such societies were supposed to have thrown off. Yet now in Moscow an anti-Nazi book is taken off the shelf lest someone get the wrong idea. And here’s Putin’s spokesman on the matter: “I have no exact position on this, but it’s clear that everything needs to be within measure.” Feel better?

Books on the Jewish suffering in the Holocaust being removed from the shelves is only one of the various ways Putinism portends bad days ahead for Russia’s Jews. Putin’s re-marriage of the state and the Orthodox Church, combined with laws outlawing giving religious offense, is another. And so is Putin’s alignment with Israel’s enemies, especially Iran.

Putin’s war on Ukraine scattered the remaining Jewish community in the war zone. His explicitly militaristic nationalism feeds a state-sponsored xenophobia that always has and always will mark Jews as outsiders and a “nation apart.” And of course, “fascist” is in the eye of the beholder; as Paul Goble reported in late March:

Even as Moscow denounces anything it views as a manifestation of fascism abroad and prepares to mark the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, the Russian authorities are hosting tomorrow a meeting of Europe’s neo-Nazis, extreme nationalists, and anti-Semites who share one thing in common – their unqualified support for Vladimir Putin.

Such cultivation and tolerance of hateful anti-Semitic ideologues is par for the course in Putin’s Russia. He isn’t an anti-fascist; he’s merely against the wrong kind of “fascists”–who are often not fascists at all. It’s a catchall term for Putin’s enemies.

And it fools too many people, especially those who want to be fooled. But the Jews of Russia and its near-abroad cannot afford to let themselves be fooled. They probably don’t need to be reminded that the trajectory of Putinist nationalism has an all-too-familiar feel to it. And Putin shows no indication of changing direction.

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The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

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Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

But first, one quibble. Pfeffer writes that the West would of course have noticed Netanyahu’s comment about Arab voters being bussed to the polls, and should have expected backlash. But in this lies a crucial point: it’s understandable to have been irked by the comment, but look at the double standard. When Iranian leaders make extreme comments the Obama administration dismisses them as intended for a domestic political audience, nothing more. The press isn’t exactly blameless here either. In fact, it should be central to the discussion.

When we talk about historical analogies and the Nazis, we often stress the comparison between regimes more than the comparison between reactions to the regimes by gullible Westerners. It’s not that we ignore the latter–we don’t–it’s just that we tend to focus on the evil party asserting its genocidal intent.

But what lessons have Westerners learned from their own history? Here, it’s instructive to glance at Andrew Nagorski’s book Hitlerland. One of the stories he tells is of Chicago Daily News reporter Edgar Mowrer, who was reporting on Germany in the 1930s and even wrote an early book on the emergence of the Hitler era. Nagorski writes:

Yet even Mowrer wasn’t quiet sure what Hitler represented–and what to expect if he took power. “Did he believe all that he said?” he asked. “The question is inapplicable to this sort of personality. Subjectively Adolf Hitler was, in my opinion, entirely sincere even in his self-contradictions. For his is a humorless mind that simply excludes the need for consistency that might distress more intellectual types. To an actor the truth is anything that lies in its effect: if it makes the right impression it is true.” …

As for the true intentions of his anti-Semitic campaign, Mowrer sounded alarmed in some moments but uncertain in others. “A suspicion arises that Adolf Hitler himself accepted anti-Semitism with his characteristic mixture of emotionalism and political cunning,” he wrote. “Many doubted if he really desired pogroms.”

Well, we know how that story ends. The point is, proper historical reflection takes into account not only whether and how the current Iranian regime is animated by common principles with Nazi Germany but also whether we can really say we’ve learned the proper lessons from the past if we’re still dismissing unhinged rhetoric as play-acting for a domestic crowd. (We also should ask if play-acting for a domestic crowd is, in light of history, really as harmless as we sometimes make it out to be.)

Nonetheless, Pfeffer’s larger point about how the Jews have been welcomed in certain corners of the West–America being the shining example–is well taken. So is his point about America’s staunch pro-Israel policies.

Yet there is a difference between treating victims a certain way and preventing others from becoming victims. This is where, I think, many critics are coming from.

Pfeffer’s column has the bad luck to be timed just as the release of hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents, reported first by Colum Lynch yesterday at Foreign Policy, draws new attention to Western inaction during the Rwandan genocide. It’s a long story, and it doesn’t necessarily change the underlying dynamics all that much, though it does shift some more of the weight of the Clinton administration’s bystander role to Richard Clarke and Susan Rice.

Rice’s inclusion there should not be shocking. She is, after all, the official once quoted as cautioning Bill Clinton against recognizing the genocide for what it was because of the effect that could have on the Democratic Party’s electoral fortunes in the congressional midterms. Here’s Lynch introducing the revelation:

But the recently declassified documents — which include more than 200 pages of internal memos and handwritten notes from Rice and other key White House players — provide a far more granular account of how the White House sought to limit U.N. action. They fill a major gap in the historical record, providing the most detailed chronicle to date of policy instructions and actions taken by White House staffers, particularly Clarke and Rice, who appear to have exercised greater influence over U.S. policy on Rwanda than the White House’s Africa hands.

Just as relevant here is the sentence that comes next: “The National Security Archive and the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide obtained the documents during a two-and-a-half-year effort to amass long-secret records of internal deliberations by the United States, the U.N., and other foreign governments.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was a driving force in getting these documents released. That’s no coincidence. And Rwanda’s far from the only case of Western inaction. Not every mass killing amounts to genocide, but we’re seeing campaigns of ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing across the Middle East and Africa. The most recent example is the Yazidis of Iraq, which ISIS tried to exterminate. But the general treatment of Christians–Copts in Egypt, various Christian groups in Nigeria–suggests we are, unfortunately, far from seeing the end of such campaigns.

So has the West learned its lessons from the Holocaust? The honest answer is: some of them. It would be grossly unfair to claim they’ve learned nothing. But it would be wishful thinking to suggest they’ve learned everything.

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BDS Drops Its Veil: Campus Anti-Semitism

The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

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The most telling comment about the story of a Stanford University student who was quizzed about her Jewish faith when she tried to run for office came from her friend and campaign manager. Molly Horwitz, a Stanford junior, was running for the Student Senate and her campaign manager and friend Miriam Pollock told her what she had to do. According to the New York Times, Pollock advised Horwitz to “scrub” her personal Facebook page and remove anything that related to Israel or her support for the Jewish state. But that didn’t stop the Students of Color Coalition from demanding to know whether Horwitz’s “Jewish identity” impacted her stand on divestment—the economic war being waged against Israel. The episode in which some black and Latino students now think it is acceptable to treat Judaism as a disqualifying characteristic is a horrifying example of the way anti-Semitism—thinly disguised as anti-Zionism—has established a secure foothold on American college campuses.

Horwitz may have removed Israel from her Facebook persona but couldn’t escape being classified as a Jew and was therefore suspect in the eyes of those who have come to treat support for the war on Zionism as a litmus test of liberal bona fides. But the significance of the incident lies not so much in the snub of a Hispanic student (she was adopted from Paraguay and considers herself both a South American and a Jew) by a coalition that is supposed to exist to support such persons simply because she is also Jewish and unwilling to disavow Israel under questioning. Rather, it is the insouciance with which the members of the student group—including the chapter president of the NAACP—regarded the inquisition of a Jewish student about her faith as being not only acceptable but something that should be expected.

Horwitz has demanded a public apology, but she shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for it. Nor should she expect much comfort from the university that has also been asked to investigate what happened. The reason is that so long as support for a movement that singles out the one Jewish state in the world and its supporters for discriminatory treatment and opprobrium is not merely tolerated as an opinion but treated as a reasonable point of view about which decent people may differ, we can’t be surprised that Jew hatred is being normalized.

Had the coalition merely asked Horwitz about her stand about divestment without connecting it to her faith, that might pass the anti-Semitism smell test even if it would still be troubling that blacks and Hispanics have adopted the attack on Zionism as their own cause. But by linking this issue to Judaism they have acknowledged the fact that the divestment cause is not merely a political criticism of Israel’s government or its policies but primarily focused on singling out Jews for biased treatment.

Stanford’s Student Senate has already endorsed divestment from Israel, a move that places all supporters of the Jewish state on the defensive. But in the course of the battle over this attack on Israel, it’s clear that advocates of divestment have ceased being careful about trying to separate their campaign against the right of the Jews to have a state in their ancient homeland—a concept that is not denied to any other people on the planet—from one against anyone who openly identifies as a Jew. The Stanford Review has reported that the Students of Color has asked candidates for student offices to pledge not to affiliate with Jewish groups. In doing so, and in quizzing students about their Jewish faith, such persons are not merely advocating for a discriminatory practice—divestment—but making it clear that any Jew who chooses not to join the gang attack on the Jewish state will be stigmatized.

This is not the first time students at a major university have been caught practicing anti-Semitism. Earlier this year, a Jewish student at UCLA was similarly interrogated by a student committee interviewing candidates for a campus judicial committee and was asked if her Judaism would impact their conduct. That case was caught on film, making it easier to call out the offenders–something that didn’t happen at Stanford, thus allowing Horwitz’s inquisitors to claim they were misinterpreted.

The Anti-Defamation League is calling the Stanford incident “an important teaching moment” in which the “university needs to make it clear to students and student groups that singling out identity and questioning on those kind of issues is discriminatory.” They’re right about that, but the problem won’t be dealt with by ignoring the clear connection between the worldwide BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement and anti-Semitism. That’s a stand that many supporters of Israel have refused to take believing that crying anti-Semitism will cloud the issue and make it harder to advocate for Israel. But divestment advocates are making it increasingly obvious they have no scruples about the link between Jew hatred and treating Israel as a pariah state. BDS isn’t about a political dispute within Israel, its borders, or sympathy for the Palestinians. It’s a war on Jews.

So long as an ideology that is aimed solely at discriminating against the Jewish state is treated as acceptable opinion and not one rooted in bias, these incidents will not only keep popping up; they will spread and become the norm on campuses and in those parts of society where elite academic opinion has influence.

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The Holocaust, White Privilege, and American Jewry

This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.

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This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.

The column, by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, was titled “The Holocaust Doesn’t Discount Jewish White Privilege Today” (it appears to have been changed at some point to “Does the Holocaust Discount Jewish White Privilege?”) and is specifically responding to two points in a recent Tablet column by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The general thrust of the piece was about being pro-Israel in liberal environments and how some Jews in such situations feel safer closeting their Zionism. Bovy’s critique of it is an exercise in missing the point.

The first point Bovy is responding to is Brodesser-Akner’s assertion that many pro-Israel Jews suffer in silence: “My DM boxes on Twitter and Facebook are filled with people like me—liberals, culture reporters, economics reporters—baffled and sad at the way the cause of Jews avoiding another attempt at our genocide has gone from a liberal one to a capital-c Conservative one.”

Bovy’s response is to find fault in the imputation of achdus:

When it comes to Israeli policy especially, it seems not just inaccurate but dangerous to suggest that the American Jews who aren’t, say, rah-rah for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in public are thus in private. It would play into stereotypes of Jews having dual loyalties, or all holding the same (far-right) views when it comes to Israel.

You’ll notice Bovy got everything in that excerpt wrong, from Brodesser-Akner’s intended point, to its implications, to conflating support for Israel with loyalty to Israel’s government, and even to the mistaken characterization of the views in question.

The second point Bovy is responding to, and which is relevant to the question of the Holocaust, is the following tweet, which Brodesser-Akner sent out recently and expounded on in her essay:

Bovy then does what all helpful leftists do: declare someone else’s privilege and minimize their suffering. Here’s the crux of her case against Brodesser-Akner:

It’s entirely possible for a Jew whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust to benefit from certain aspects of (for lack of a better term) white privilege. That the Nazis wouldn’t have considered you white doesn’t mean that store clerks, taxi drivers, prospective employers, and others in the contemporary United States won’t accord you the unearned advantages white people, Jewish and otherwise, enjoy. That your ancestors were victims of genocide in a different place and at a different time doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the victimizing caste in your own society, any more than having had impoverished forbears means that you can’t have been born into money. (Not, to be clear, that all Jews are!)

Again, talk about missing the point. But what I think many of Bovy’s critics are missing is that her argument, crucially, fails on her own terms too, and those of the social-justice warriors of the left. If you think “white privilege” can be reduced to the ability to get a taxi, then sure, Brodesser-Akner is probably privileged. Bovy is making what seems like an obvious point: if you’re one of the many Jews who don’t wear identifying garments, you can make white America think you’re one of them.

Bovy is also surely not the first to tell Brodesser-Akner that her ancestors might have been victims but she can also “be part of the victimizing caste in [her] own society”–this is the accusation leveled at Israel and its supporters every day, though in far uglier ways than this. More interesting is that the arguments of the social-justice left have become so rote and mechanized that they no longer seem to understand them as intellectual concepts, just bumper-sticker slogans to be deployed as trump cards.

And understanding a fuller picture of what is usually meant by white privilege–beyond benefiting from the supposed casual racism of cab drivers–is helpful here. One of the better pieces on white privilege in recent months was Reihan Salam’s column in Slate back in December. He was writing after the controversial grand jury decisions, in Ferguson and New York, not to indict police officers who killed a black man while on duty. Salam noted that white privilege was not just about law enforcement, but that there was an economic element to it as well.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but here is the part that jumps out at me in the context of Bovy’s Holocaust remark:

Even white Americans of modest means are more likely to have inherited something, in the form of housing wealth or useful professional connections, than the descendants of slaves. In his influential 2005 book When Affirmative Action Was White, Ira Katznelson recounts in fascinating detail the various ways in which the New Deal and Fair Deal social programs of the 1930s and 1940s expanded economic opportunities for whites while doing so unevenly at best for blacks, particularly in the segregated South. Many rural whites who had known nothing but the direst poverty saw their lives transformed as everything from rural electrification to generous educational benefits for veterans allowed them to build human capital, earn higher incomes, and accumulate savings. This legacy, in ways large and small, continues to enrich the children and grandchildren of the whites of that era. This is the stuff of white privilege.

He also points out that “all kinds of valuable social goods are transmitted through social networks.” How is this relevant to Brodesser-Akner? Well, if you’re an American Jew in Brodesser-Akner’s age range you probably descend from parents or grandparents who were less the beneficiaries of white affirmative action and more the targets of anti-Semitism, in their professional lives at least, that greatly reduced your family’s share of the wealth and access that could be passed to future generations. You are, in other words, on the outside of white privilege looking in.

And specifically, someone with few surviving relatives due to the Holocaust is someone who might not have the extended network–familial and otherwise–that would facilitate economic advancement, especially for someone dealing with the generational legacy of past discrimination.

Of course, Jews have been quite good at building networks, a skill picked up in response to societal exclusion. In this, they have much more in common with other recent immigrant groups than with “the victimizing caste” in white America.

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Steven Salaita at the University of Washington

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” By and large organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) have encouraged that way of dealing with offensive speech. So, for example, when Steven Salaita, then of Virginia Tech, tweeted his wish that “all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing” as a desperate search was underway for three kidnapped Jewish teens already feared dead, a principled defender of academic freedom could reasonably think that Salaita’s words were despicable but protected. If you thought, as I do not, that Steven Salaita had a binding contract with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, you might also think that the University violated Salaita’s academic freedom when it decided not to go through with hiring him for a tenured position there.

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“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” By and large organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) have encouraged that way of dealing with offensive speech. So, for example, when Steven Salaita, then of Virginia Tech, tweeted his wish that “all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing” as a desperate search was underway for three kidnapped Jewish teens already feared dead, a principled defender of academic freedom could reasonably think that Salaita’s words were despicable but protected. If you thought, as I do not, that Steven Salaita had a binding contract with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, you might also think that the University violated Salaita’s academic freedom when it decided not to go through with hiring him for a tenured position there.

Supporters of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement have gone much further than that, as I have reported here, hosting Salaita at venue after venue as if he were a hero. That is not surprising, since, despite their official nonviolent stance, BDS supporters have been known to stand with figures and organizations who preach and sometimes practice violence against Israeli civilians.

What is surprising is that one local branch of the AAUP, at the University of Washington, has also decided to fete Salaita. To be more precise, they are co-sponsoring an April 6 lecture by Salaita. This lecture takes place just a little more than a month after BDS leader Omar Bhargouti’s appearance, which I wrote about here.

The University of Washington AAUP insists that it is not endorsing Salaita’s views but merely taking a position that both the national AAUP and FIRE have taken: that the University of Illinois did Salaita wrong. Sponsoring Salaita is simply signaling UW-AAUP’s “unwavering support of the core principles of our profession and the academy.” This defense is, of course, preposterous. The AAUP and FIRE defend all kinds of people who say terrible things. Presumably UW-AAUP would not sponsor a talk by a person who had been fired for uttering racial slurs or denying the Holocaust, even if its members considered the firing unwarranted. Even a child can tell the difference between sponsoring an advocate of academic freedom who thinks that even neo-Nazi speeches and writings require protection, and sponsoring a neo-Nazi.

If this distinction is lost on this particular AAUP chapter, that may have something to do with the anti-Israel views of some of its members. As is par for the course of anti-Israel efforts in academia, these members have attempted to use the AAUP to attack Israel, even though the mission of the organization has absolutely nothing to do with the Middle East conflict.

In April 2013, the UW-AAUP circulated a resolution urging TIAA-CREF, which handles retirement funds for many colleges and universities, to drop four companies from its “social choice” fund. These companies, according to the resolution, produce military equipment used to “oppress the Palestinian people.” In other words, UW-AAUP was urging a divestment action directed solely against Israeli policies. Although some members questioned “the focus on Israel,” a vote went ahead, and the resolution just barely failed to gain a majority, with six votes for and six votes against.

Also in 2013, Robert Wood, professor of atmospheric science, president of UW-AAUP, and amateur Middle East policy maker signed a letter denouncing Caterpillar Inc. for selling to the Israel military.

Professor Wood is, of course, entitled to his opinions, but dues paying members of UW-AAUP should be asking why their organization is being used to prop up Salaita, whose comments have been called “loathsome,” “incendiary,” “violent,” and “racist” even by those inclined to defend his academic freedom. I’m afraid this kind of thing is unlikely to end until people start withholding their dues.

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Will ‘The Daily Show’ Be Doomed by Political Tone Deafness or Prejudice?

If the naming of a new host on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show yesterday was treated as bigger news than a comparable switch on a broadcast news show, it’s no surprise. The Daily Show may have more influence on the nation’s political discourse than most traditional journalism outlets. Indeed, as crazy as it may sound, it could be that those looking for an event comparable to Trevor Noah’s succeeding Jon Stewart might have to go back to Dan Rather following in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite on CBS in 1981. But with such outsized influence comes the same level of scrutiny. Within hours of his appointment being publicized, observers were rightly wondering how a South African with little knowledge of American politics could replace Stewart. Just as important, an examination of Noah’s tweets revealed him to be someone who traffics in bad jokes at the expense of women and Jews as well as showing signs of the anti-Israel prejudices so prevalent in his country. All of which shows that The Daily Show’s odd reign at the center of American political life may be coming to an end.

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If the naming of a new host on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show yesterday was treated as bigger news than a comparable switch on a broadcast news show, it’s no surprise. The Daily Show may have more influence on the nation’s political discourse than most traditional journalism outlets. Indeed, as crazy as it may sound, it could be that those looking for an event comparable to Trevor Noah’s succeeding Jon Stewart might have to go back to Dan Rather following in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite on CBS in 1981. But with such outsized influence comes the same level of scrutiny. Within hours of his appointment being publicized, observers were rightly wondering how a South African with little knowledge of American politics could replace Stewart. Just as important, an examination of Noah’s tweets revealed him to be someone who traffics in bad jokes at the expense of women and Jews as well as showing signs of the anti-Israel prejudices so prevalent in his country. All of which shows that The Daily Show’s odd reign at the center of American political life may be coming to an end.

In an era in which humor seems to be more important than analysis or reporting, Stewart became the king of commentary. Throughout his long run, Stewart amassed a huge audience, many of whom relied on his often vulgar and consistently left-leaning rants and “reports” consisting of heavily edited interviews with leading figures for their news. Indeed, Stewart’s impact on American politics was greater than his audience since clips of his routines on leading issues of the day were widely distributed via social media. Liberals relied upon him to confirm their prejudices about the right while conservatives would seize upon those moments when he would skewer the left as indications of when their opponents had gone too far.

But while his takes on the news were more often wrong-headed than insightful, they were also the product of a clear command of American politics. While Noah can certainly pander to the same liberal biases that Stewart reflected, it’s difficult to see how his sensibilities can possibly have the same outsized influence of Stewart. Since the show’s producers know this, perhaps what they want is more of an international feel to the show and less American political knowhow. But it is precisely this tilt to international prejudices as opposed to domestic liberal angst that is the source of the growing concern about Noah.

Taking issue with political satire is a fool’s errand. Stewart’s barbs are not intended to be sober commentary or analysis. They are polemical broadsides meant to confirm the views of most of his left-leaning audience and to offend those on the other side of the issues. Though his lapses into pure empty-headed liberal prejudice and attacks on Israel are indefensible, he generally knew that there was a line that had to be drawn between his satire and more rabid, prejudicial material. That is precisely why Noah’s tweets about Israeli belligerence or Jewish stereotypes are so troubling. For all of his obvious shortcomings and the dubious nature of his authoritative position, he rarely if ever sank as low as to make jokes about overweight women or Jews in the manner that Noah seems to have employed.

There’s a huge audience for this kind of thing in the entertainment marketplace. In comedy, the only thing that counts is funny and if Noah generates laughs on the same scale as his predecessor, he will succeed.

But even in the world of cable comedy playing off the news, the cracks about Jews and women are not likely to strike the same chord as Stewart’s jibes. Even if Noah’s politics are roughly similar, by tapping someone with very different sensibilities than those of Stewart, it remains to be seen as to how Noah’s approach can possibly maintain The Daily Show’s position as the arbiter of liberal political cool. Though his coronation as the new host was a huge deal, the betting here is that his eventual replacement will not be considered quite as important. The ascendancy of this program illustrates the changing nature of the media and American politics. But if Noah flops, whether through tone deafness about American politics or by letting slip the crude anti-Semitism that comes through in his tweets, it can change just as quickly again.

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An Unconscionable Smear: Israel, Race, and the American Left

If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.

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If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.

Juan Williams’s column in The Hill changes the attack in two ways. The first is that he joins some of his more doltish peers in the new belief that congressional Republicans are now responsible for Netanyahu’s words and actions. This is merely an escalation of the Democrats’ recent campaign to turn Israel into a partisan issue and demand the left break with Israel to show appropriate loyalty to Barack Obama. In doing so Williams and others are now pawning Israel off on the Republicans: they don’t even want to deal with the Jewish state except to periodically upbraid it.

This is toxic, but it pales in comparison to Williams’s next trick. Once he’s assigned Republicans blame for Bibi, he then transfers the left’s racial grievances to Netanyahu as well. And he thereby threatens not only to rewrite recent Israeli history but to do so in a way that attacks the history of black-Jewish relations in the U.S. and agitates for the crumbling of African-American support for Israel in the future, all in a deeply dishonest way.

It should be noted that while reasonable people can disagree about Netanyahu’s Facebook comments about Arabs voting “in droves,” it’s perfectly understandable to object to them. In truth, the comments, while inartful, were aimed more at the fact that foreign groups, including American-funded anti-Bibi efforts, were busing leftist voters in to improve turnout, thus raising the vote count a party like Likud would need in order to keep pace with its share of the overall vote.

That was lost on many, and that’s not a surprise. But Williams goes completely off the rails:

Obama’s spokesman condemned the use of such noxious rhetoric as a “cynical” tactic. But there has been no comment from Boehner or other top Republicans.

There is a terrible history of race-based political appeals in the United States. As a civil rights historian, I know the sharp edges of racial politics as revealed in coded campaign language, gerrymandering, voter suppression and even today’s strong black-white split when it comes to views of how police deal with poor black communities.

But both major American political parties reject having their candidates directly and openly play on racial tensions for short-term political gain.

It is dangerous politics, at odds with maintaining a socially and economically stable nation of many different races, as well as a rising number of immigrants. It is also not in keeping with America’s democratic values, specifically the Declaration of Independence’s promise that “All men are created equal.”

To overlook Netanyahu’s racial politics is to send a troubling message to Americans at a time when blacks and Hispanics are overwhelmingly Democrats and the Republican Party is almost all white.

And thus does Juan Williams, in a fit of rancid political sour grapes, connect Benjamin Netanyahu with America’s civil-rights era racial politics and voter suppression. When you are a liberal hammer, every problem is a nail with Bull Connor’s face on it.

First, some facts. There was no voter suppression of Arabs in Israel’s election. The joint Arab list won the third-most seats in the Knesset, behind the two major parties. Arab turnout was the highest it’s been since at least 1999, and among the highest it’s been in decades. Bibi did nothing to derail Arab voting, nor was he even trying to scare voters to the polls in a traditional sense. He wanted Israelis who were already planning on voting and who supported Israel’s right wing to vote Likud instead of a minor party further to the right, because the increased turnout on the left meant the right needed a stronger anchor party to be able to build a coalition around.

Additionally, as Evelyn Gordon wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Israel doesn’t have a law banning minarets, as Switzerland does, or a law barring civil servants from wearing headscarves, as France does; nor does it deny citizenship to Arabs just because they can’t speak the majority’s language, as Latvia does to some 300,000 ethnic Russians born and bred there. But over the past two decades, successive Israeli governments have invested heavily in trying to create de facto as well as de jure equality.”

Statistics on Arab education have improved dramatically. Employment in the high-tech sector “almost sextupled from 2009 to 2014”–and who was prime minister during that time? Arab consumption patterns are improving, integration is on the rise, and all without increasing anti-Arab prejudice, despite what some in the media would like to believe.

That’s not to solely credit Bibi or any one single politician, but Netanyahu’s time in office has undoubtedly been good for Israel’s Arabs. Even if you choose to believe the worst interpretation of Netanyahu’s Facebook comment (for which he apologized), the picture Williams paints of Likud’s relationship with Israeli Arabs is so distorted as to be unrecognizable as the reality of modern Israel.

But Williams has another purpose: not only to falsely explain the present and the past but also the future. The tension between the Jewish and black communities is a source of great tsuris to the Jews, who felt called by God to stand with African-Americans in their times of trouble and to march with them to assert their inalienable rights which were denied for so long. But too many influential black leaders–think Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton (who was at the forefront of the closest thing America ever had to a pogrom), and even Jeremiah Wright, whose church guided our current president for so long–have sought to discourage such solidarity, and resorted to anti-Semitism to do so.

I imagine this greatly pains Williams. He spends some time in his column recounting the lack of support for Israel among America’s minorities, principally African-Americans and Hispanics, and he seems fairly unhappy about it. But he notes, correctly, that the Democratic drift away from Israel threatens to be even more profound among these minority communities. And so he blames Bibi:

This disagreement among American racial groups is reflected in the split between Republicans and Democrats over Israel. …

These divisions are likely even deeper now, after Netanyahu’s racial political appeal.

Going forward, it will now be gentler on the consciences of Democrats like Williams if support for Israel deteriorates among minority communities. From here on out, they’ll say it was inevitable after this election. That’s much simpler than taking on the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the Wrights, and the president whose ear they have had.

And it’s much simpler than swimming against the tide of leftist hostility to Israel. It’s the easy way out, and there’s nothing principled or noble about it.

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Time for Lawyers to Take a Stand Against BDS

​When a United Nations Commission singles out Israel and Israel alone for violating the rights of women, it barely registers. The U.N., when it comes to Israel, has long been a joke. When the American Studies Association singled out Israel and Israel alone to boycott, people were shocked, but only because they were unaware that the obscure American Studies Association had long been populated by academics who saw Israel as an accessory to America’s racist and imperialistic crimes.

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​When a United Nations Commission singles out Israel and Israel alone for violating the rights of women, it barely registers. The U.N., when it comes to Israel, has long been a joke. When the American Studies Association singled out Israel and Israel alone to boycott, people were shocked, but only because they were unaware that the obscure American Studies Association had long been populated by academics who saw Israel as an accessory to America’s racist and imperialistic crimes.

​But I have to admit that I was taken aback when I learned from David Bernstein of George Mason University that the Virginia State Bar has canceled a conference in Israel citing “some unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security.” A “state agency,” president Kevin E. Martingayle sniffs, has to be concerned with “maximum inclusion and equality.”

​As Bernstein points out, this is not about border-security practices. At the Modern Language Association last year, academics who favored the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel went with what they thought they might be able to get: a resolution calling on the State Department to denounce Israel’s visa policies. Max Eden of AEI was right at the time to call the resolution “a savvy and deeply hypocritical opening gambit,” designed to secure any propaganda victory that could be secured. Bernstein may well be right that Martingayle and his colleagues “can’t be so naive and out-of-touch to think that the concerns raised are not part of the broader divestment, sanctions, and boycott movement meant to delegitimize Israel.”

It doesn’t inspire confidence that, as Bernstein also notes, the pro-boycott site the Electronic Intifada evidently had a copy of President Martingayle’s letter to members before members did.

​Bernstein calls on Bar members to boycott the Virginia State Bar, avoiding whatever alternative site is chosen for the conference, and limiting ties to the VSB as much as is consistent with fulfilling one’s professional responsibilities.

Perhaps still more can be done. BDS supporters may have overplayed their hand. There was apparently no public discussion of the move to cancel the conference. Instead, the leadership was evidently moved by a petition signed by just 34 people. One doubts they represent Virginia’s lawyers. We have here a classic example of how an organization consisting of numerous but marginally involved members can be influenced by a small, determined group. Members of the Virginia State Bar should demand a statement dissociating the VSB from the boycott movement, and members of other state bars and bar associations should protect themselves by insisting on similar statements, whether dissociating themselves from the actions of the VSB or from the boycott movement in general.

​There is a model for this. When the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israel, well over 200 college and university presidents issued statements distancing themselves from and sometimes condemning in the harshest terms the ASA’s move. What looked like a victory for the BDS movement was turned into an embarrassing defeat.

​College presidents, perhaps unfairly, are not noted for stiffness of spine. Let’s see if the lawyers can show the same backbone.

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New York Times Whitewashes Iran’s Religious Oppression

My oh my. The New York Times published an interview with Thomas Erdbrink, its man in Tehran, about life in Iran. Here’s what he had to say about religious minorities:

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My oh my. The New York Times published an interview with Thomas Erdbrink, its man in Tehran, about life in Iran. Here’s what he had to say about religious minorities:

Is there a Sunni population there or other minorities? How are they treated? – Phelps Shepard; Monmouth, Ore.

My mother-in-law, who taught me to speak Persian, is an Iranian Kurd. She is a proud and strong woman, loves Iranian Kurdistan just as much as she loves Iran. Kurds are Sunni, but not like Arab Sunnis. Her husband is Shia. They have been happily married for almost 38 years.

Now while there are issues for religious minorities, such as Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, they are in much better positions compared with minorities in other countries in the region.

In Iran, those minorities have their own members of Parliament and are granted their places of worship. There are dozens of synagogues in Tehran, and thousands of Jews here — the most in the region after Israel.

The minority that has serious problems in Iran are the Baha’i, who are not allowed to attend universities or have houses of worship. Iran’s Shiite clerics do not accept the Baha’i belief that their prophet came after Mohammad, who the Muslims say is the final prophet. — T.E.

Where to begin? Firstly, Iran boasted a Jewish community of more than 100,000 before the Islamic Revolution. Today, it has just one-fifth that. When a community loses 80 percent of its population in a generation or two, that’s hardly evidence of religious and sectarian tolerance. The numbers Erdbrink cites have been cited as conventional wisdom for almost two decades. How sad it is that the paper for which Erdbrink works hasn’t seen fit to actually check the facts it takes at face value.

Nor for that matter are there dozens of synagogues in Tehran: There are a dozen, perhaps 13, many of which stand nearly empty. Does Iran boast more Jews than any other country in the region besides Israel? Hard to say any longer: Turkey may have more. But in a race to the bottom, second place isn’t necessarily a good sign.

Is there a seat in parliament reserved for a Jew? Yes. When I would attend synagogue in Isfahan and Tehran, however, congregants treated that parliamentarian with disdain. Nor did Jews feel free to speak openly inside synagogue; instead, they would hold certain conversations only outside walking along busy streets or against the backdrop of overwhelming noise to defeat the regime’s invisible ears.

Are the Baha’is the only minority to suffer serious problems? No. Sunnis constitute perhaps ten percent of Iran’s population, and are discriminated against hugely. There may be synagogues and churches in Tehran and, indeed, there is an Armenian cathedral in the center of town, but a Sunni mosque in a city of 14 million even though Sunnis number perhaps nine million in Iran? Good luck. Likewise, while Armenians might be tolerated, Protestant churches frequently run into trouble. Christians have disappeared and been murdered, as the State Department human-rights reports have chronicled over the years. How sad it is that Erdbrink doesn’t see fit to mention Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American imprisoned because of his Christian faith.

When it comes to religious freedom, there is no whitewashing Iranian repression. Unless, of course, one works for the New York Times. All the news that’s fit to print, indeed.

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Iran’s Existential Threat to Israel Not Exaggerated

As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rush to a nuclear deal that addresses few of the original issues that have sparked international concern with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, it may be useful to consider just why Israel has come to view a nuclear capable Islamic Republic of Iran as an existential threat. While there is much to criticize in the technicalities of the agreement, the consistency and frequency of Iranian threats against the Jewish state, as well as the prestige within Iran of those who have made such threats, are too often ignored.

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As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rush to a nuclear deal that addresses few of the original issues that have sparked international concern with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, it may be useful to consider just why Israel has come to view a nuclear capable Islamic Republic of Iran as an existential threat. While there is much to criticize in the technicalities of the agreement, the consistency and frequency of Iranian threats against the Jewish state, as well as the prestige within Iran of those who have made such threats, are too often ignored.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was an unabashed racist and anti-Semite. He began his seminal essay on Islamic government—the exegesis that underlays the Islamic Revolution and Islamic Republic—by cursing the Jews. “From the very beginning, the historical movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present,” he declared.

Then, of course, there have been the repeated declarations about Israel’s destruction. Iranian authorities have declared the last Friday in Ramadan to be “Qods [Jerusalem] Day” and have reserved it for the most vitriolic sermons and threats. It was on Qods Day in 2001 that Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and one of the most influential regime figures, declared, “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Hassan Rouhani was, of course, Supreme National Security Council chairman at the time. He applauded. Has he changed? No. One of his first actions as president was to underscore the importance of the annual Qods Day rally.

Other Iranian figures appointed by the supreme leader have also threatened to eradicate Israel by means of nuclear weapons. Why Western diplomats believe the assurances they receive in English when the supreme leader’s inner circle says quite the opposite in Persian is something someone might want to ask America’s nuclear negotiators. Likewise, while Obama seems to embrace the pre-World War I notion of secret treaties, there is no reason why the supreme leader’s fatwa against nuclear weapons should remain secret unless, of course, the assurance which Obama so often cites simply does not exist. Certainly, if the backbone of newfound trust in Iran is such a fatwa, the White House could provide its text. That it chooses not to do so again amplifies concerns that Obama has become Khamenei’s useful idiot.

Underlying concerns about Iran’s intentions have been frequent statements by Iranian officials attesting to Iran’s genocidal intent. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that “Israel must be wiped off the face of the map,” academic apologists for Iran ran interference. Here, for example, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole suggested that the New York Times had mistranslated Ahmadinejad’s quote of Khomeini, and suggested the phrase he used was perhaps drawn from medieval poetry and had nothing to do with tanks. Of course, this is belied by the Iranian regime itself, which in bilingual posters made clear its intent and which tended to repeat its declaration not in poetry slams but rather in military parades.

And while Obama and Kerry put their head in the sand with regard to Iran’s nuclear intentions, those within range of Iran’s missiles remember the last will and testament of Maj.-Gen. Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam, the overseer of Iran’s missile program, who died in an explosion in 2011. While not published in English, the Iranian press highlighted how Moghadam had asked that his epitaph read, “Write on my tombstone: This is the grave of someone who wanted to annihilate Israel.”

Perhaps Obama and Kerry wish to ignore the frequency of Iranian statements seeking an end to Israel’s existence. They may see it as rhetorical excess only, but never bother to ask why a regime would embrace such rhetoric in the first place. Make no mistake: Anti-Zionism may be the cool new trend in Western Europe and in American universities, but wishing Israel out of existence is akin to seeking the eradication of the people who populate the country. And the Iranian regime, which has been a charter member of the “eradicate Israel” camp will, thanks to Obama and Kerry, soon have the means to fulfill their dream. The deal Obama now strikes is analogous to trusting Hutus in early 1990s Rwanda to manufacture and use machetes for agricultural purposes only despite their rhetoric to cut Tutsis to pieces.

Yes, Israel must take Iran at its word and recognize that the nightmare of an Iranian regime able to back its rhetoric with substance will soon be its new reality. Under such circumstances, the Israelis would be foolish to respond to the threat with inaction.

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Open Hillel: Two Can Play the Shame Game

Last December I wrote about Open Hillel, a movement founded in 2012 to oppose Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. Hillel International is the most prominent campus Jewish organization, with over 500 college and university affiliates. Their standards for sponsoring speakers or cooperating with organizations, though imperfect, protect Hillel’s foundational principles, which include a commitment to Zionism understood in the broad sense in which nearly all Jews of the left, right, and center, endorse it, namely the belief in the legitimacy and desirability of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This principle has led Hillel to say that it will not sponsor speakers or cooperate with groups who promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. That movement has, since 2005 sought to turn Israel into a pariah state comparable to apartheid era South Africa or even Nazi Germany. It is in the context set on campuses by BDS, which has included the targeting not simply of Zionists or Israel but of Jewish people and organizations altogether, that Hillel adopted its standards. As I have written here concerning Swarthmore College’s decision to disaffiliate with Hillel, when Open Hillel assails Hillel International for sticking to its standards of partnership, it assails it for sticking to rather than abandoning its fundamentally decent principles.

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Last December I wrote about Open Hillel, a movement founded in 2012 to oppose Hillel’s Standards of Partnership. Hillel International is the most prominent campus Jewish organization, with over 500 college and university affiliates. Their standards for sponsoring speakers or cooperating with organizations, though imperfect, protect Hillel’s foundational principles, which include a commitment to Zionism understood in the broad sense in which nearly all Jews of the left, right, and center, endorse it, namely the belief in the legitimacy and desirability of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This principle has led Hillel to say that it will not sponsor speakers or cooperate with groups who promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. That movement has, since 2005 sought to turn Israel into a pariah state comparable to apartheid era South Africa or even Nazi Germany. It is in the context set on campuses by BDS, which has included the targeting not simply of Zionists or Israel but of Jewish people and organizations altogether, that Hillel adopted its standards. As I have written here concerning Swarthmore College’s decision to disaffiliate with Hillel, when Open Hillel assails Hillel International for sticking to its standards of partnership, it assails it for sticking to rather than abandoning its fundamentally decent principles.

But this year, Open Hillel has been running a campaign to force Hillel International to abandon its principles. It is, one must admit, clever. Four Jewish veterans of the American civil rights movement are touring the country to discuss what they see as the connection between their civil rights work and their Israel-Palestine activism. Two support BDS. The campaign is quite explicit that its intent is to break Hillel’s standards of partnership. As Open Hillel says of the activists, who appeared at Open Hillel’s conference in October, they “discussed their work in the South fifty years ago and the role Judaism played in shaping that work. They tackled issues that are banned by Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership. They made connections between their work in the Jim Crow south and activism around Israel-Palestine today.” I call the campaign clever because if Hillel rejects these speakers—two of whom can be expected to proselytize for BDS—they will appear to reject that most American of causes, the civil rights movement. But if they accept the speakers they put their name on the Zionism is racism obscenity, not at all well disguised in the program’s coupling of Jim Crow to Israel.

To its credit, Hillel has refused to sponsor the “From Mississippi to Jerusalem” event. So the civil rights veterans involved are expressing shock and outrage that Hillel won’t sponsor their campaign against Hillel. Their piece is entitled—one hopes not by them—“Shame on Hillel for Shunning Civil Rights Veterans.

If you are looking to inspire shame, though, it helps to start by being honest. Our civil rights veterans write that they “are honored that since the [Open Hillel] conference, Hillel students around the country, from Boston to Chicago to North Carolina, have invited us to continue these conversations in their Jewish communities on campus.” What they don’t say, here, or anywhere else in the 900 plus word article, is that they are part of the campaign I just described, publicized and partially funded by the Open Hillel movement, to break Hillel’s standards of partnership.

Our civil rights veterans say that one of them, the pro-BDS activist Dorothy Zellner, spoke in February “on an interfaith panel at Harvard Hillel, where she discussed both her work organizing for racial justice in the United States and her work organizing for Palestinian human rights in Israel/Palestine.” This event was well received, but “to our great dismay, Hillel International, the parent organization for Jewish students on campus, has blocked us from coming to every subsequent campus Hillel where students have invited us to speak.” What they don’t say is that Hillel International was willing to have its name associated with the Harvard event because it did not focus on Israel and Palestine, and that they have indicated—in a letter to Swarthmore—their willingness to have chapters sponsor similar events featuring these very civil rights veterans. So no, Hillel did not shun any civil rights veterans. But they won’t sponsor programs for speakers to “present or proselytize their known anti-Israel and pro-BDS agenda.” The campaign in which these civil rights veterans have been engaged is, unlike the Harvard event, designed precisely so that BDS can be preached under the Hillel banner, and it was because Hillel took a principled stand on that matter that Hillel supposedly should feel ashamed.

Finally, the civil rights veterans think that Hillel should be ashamed for trying to “censor what Hillel students can hear.” In fact, there is no shortage of anti-Israel or BDS speech for Hillel students to hear on the campuses that have declared themselves Open Hillels and, if anything, speech in favor of Israel is suppressed.

Unlike our civil rights veterans, I am no expert on what people should be ashamed of. But people who use their civil rights records to cover for a movement as ugly as BDS, then publicly misrepresent their own actions and Hillel’s, should probably not be wagging their fingers at others.

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“Away with Racist Jewish Deputies Away!”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies represents South Africa’s Jewish community. In that capacity it has been at the forefront of resistance to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement that is popular in that country. For doing that work, the board has been targeted, not by lone anti-Semitic lunatics but by major South African organizations.

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The South African Jewish Board of Deputies represents South Africa’s Jewish community. In that capacity it has been at the forefront of resistance to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement that is popular in that country. For doing that work, the board has been targeted, not by lone anti-Semitic lunatics but by major South African organizations.

Last year, Tony Ehrenreich, regional secretary of the Western Cape region of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), issued a press release on behalf of his group. The release declared that “if the Jewish Board of Deputies wants to advance a Zionist agenda, they should leave South Africa and go advance their agenda elsewhere.” Referring to the Gaza offensive, the release went on, “to let these funders of a war against a defenseless people act with impunity in South Africa, is against South Africa’s commitment to the people of Palestine. The Jewish Board of Deputies must be advised in no uncertain terms that if they are not part of the solution then they are part of the problem.” On his personal Facebook account, Ehrenreich went from condoning exile to condoning murder: “The time has come to say very clearly that if a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish board of deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the People of SA with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.” Yair Rosenberg has more here.

I have written here about the visit of Leila Kahled, former hijacker and present advocate of violence against Israel, to South Africa on behalf of BDS, and here about the demand, made by the student government of the Durban University of Technology, that Jewish students be expelled. The Board of Deputies has drawn attention to these incidents and others, including a Johannesburg protest, in which “nonviolent” BDS supporters shouted, among other things, “You think this is Israel, we are going to kill you!” BDS South Africa denied everything, but the Board of Deputies has video that appears to back its account up.

Now the Congress of South African Students, a national organization, has gotten into the act, complaining that the Community Security Organization (CSO), a private security agency that protects synagogues, Jewish schools, and communal events in South Africa, is an “armed” and “foreign militia.” The CSO was present at the Johannesburg protest, cooperating with local police. After lodging a variety of complaints against CSO, to whose substance I cannot speak, CSAS concludes: “Truly the SA Jewish Board of Deputies is the Jewish ISIS and threatens our sovereignty through, illegal, mercenaries, militia and invasion.” And “away with racist Jewish Deputies away!”

​The Jewish ISIS. Leila Khaled recently asserted in South Africa that ISIS is a “Zionist-American industry.” Now South African students have gone their teacher one better.

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Can Americans Tell European Jews to Leave for Israel?

Actor Michael Douglas came face to face with European anti-Semitism recently and didn’t like the experience. Neither have many of the European Jews interviewed by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg for his feature, whose headline poses the main question about the upsurge in hatred and violence against them: “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Douglas writes about the abuse directed at his son because the boy was wearing a Star of David while staying in what was likely a posh hotel in “southern Europe,” in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times. He has plenty of commendable outrage but nothing other than an anodyne call for an ecumenical stand against hatred to offer in response to a trend that can’t be ignored. Goldberg delves deeper into the motivations of the haters and the responses of the Jews but seems ambivalent about what conclusions to draw from it all. But the answer remains obvious even if it is easier for American Jews, who live in a country where anti-Semitism touches few lives, to ignore it: Israel remains the only logical answer to the question that his article poses.

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Actor Michael Douglas came face to face with European anti-Semitism recently and didn’t like the experience. Neither have many of the European Jews interviewed by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg for his feature, whose headline poses the main question about the upsurge in hatred and violence against them: “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Douglas writes about the abuse directed at his son because the boy was wearing a Star of David while staying in what was likely a posh hotel in “southern Europe,” in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times. He has plenty of commendable outrage but nothing other than an anodyne call for an ecumenical stand against hatred to offer in response to a trend that can’t be ignored. Goldberg delves deeper into the motivations of the haters and the responses of the Jews but seems ambivalent about what conclusions to draw from it all. But the answer remains obvious even if it is easier for American Jews, who live in a country where anti-Semitism touches few lives, to ignore it: Israel remains the only logical answer to the question that his article poses.

Douglas’s piece was noteworthy because he lends his celebrity status to the effort to draw attention to what even the U.S. State Department has described as a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism in Europe. Goldberg offers a far more comprehensive triptych through Europe, describing the dilemma of Jews in places as diverse as France and Sweden and everywhere finding the same thing: it is increasingly impossible for Jews to live openly Jewish lives in nations that were long assumed to be bastions of Western freedom. But while the two pieces together help establish the importance of the issue, they also show how hard it is for American Jews to speak out on this issue in way that offers any clarity about the choices facing their European brethren.

Goldberg concludes his piece with the following puzzling paragraph:

I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly. But I am also predisposed to think this because I am an American Jew—which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.

Is Goldberg telling us that Jews must make “a run for it” in Europe in order to assure their safety? Or is he making a point that American Jews, who live in a very different environment, lack the standing to tell Europeans what to do?

If the latter, there is a point to be made on that score. No one can stand in judgment on the willingness of Jews in France, Sweden, and other countries to put up with insults and violence while seeking to conceal their Jewish identity in public. Leaving a home where you have history, jobs, family, and connections is very difficult. As a general rule, most people only do so when they feel they have little to lose by leaving or are motivated by ideology. Certainly American Jews, who are not likely to leave their homes for Israel, are in no position to demand that European Jews wake up and depart. Nor are we in a position to assure them asylum here at a time when a broken immigration system has left so many waiting to get in while millions live here illegally, albeit with the promise of amnesty from President Obama.

But it is possible for American Jews to look at the situation in Europe and to cease pretending that scattered gestures of goodwill or appropriate statements of concern from European leaders is any kind of an answer. As Goldberg’s report makes plain, the problem is too widespread, the roots of anti-Semitism run too deep in European culture, and the hate brought with them by Muslim immigrants to the continent far too embedded in their religion and culture to be talked out of existence. If Jews fear to wear Stars of David in public in some of the most enlightened capitals of the world, then it must be conceded that they not only have no future, but not much of a present.

Nor should American Jews think this situation has nothing to do with them.

It is true that American exceptionalism renders even the most virulent anti-Semitism less dangerous on these shores. Despite a history that includes many instances of Jew hatred, unlike every European and Asian country, America is a place where there is no real history of government-sponsored discrimination against them. Moreover, unlike Europe, where Israel’s existence is considered a vestige of the original sin of imperialism, support for Zionism is embedded in the political DNA of America. Religious Christians are ardent supporters of Israel and opponents of anti-Semitism. So are the overwhelming majority of Americans of all faiths.

But the trends that Goldberg discusses in Europe have established beachheads here on university campuses where Israel is a constant object of hate speech and boycott movements are part of the mainstream of academic culture. Last month’s incident at UCLA where a Jewish student was initially disqualified for a student government post was just the tip of the iceberg of a growing problem of prejudice. So is the ability of BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movements to demonize supporters of Israel and to legitimize anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish rights on many campuses.

The difference is that American Jews are in a position to stand up against these disturbing trends while European Jews find themselves isolated and at risk. Though attacks on Jews still vastly outnumber those on Muslims (despite the incessant harping of the media on the myth of Islamophobia), Jews know they are at home in America in a way they can never be in places where they have already experienced expulsion and extermination.

But as we wrote in our February editorial on “The Existential Necessity of Zionism,” after the attack on the Hyper Cacher market, like the subsequent attack on a Danish synagogue and a host of other examples in recent years, it is no longer possible to treat anti-Semitic violence as if it were an isolated phenomenon.

Nor are the arguments of Israel’s critics, such as those recounted in Goldberg’s piece, even minimally persuasive. The State of Israel faces a nuclear threat from Iran and an ongoing siege of terror from Palestinians and other Islamists. But it has the capability and the will to defend itself and it can be counted on to do so no matter who is running its government. Israel will retain its Jewish identity and it will do what it must to preserve itself even if that means, as it has so often in the past, forfeiting the applause of Europeans who are indifferent to the rise of anti-Semitism in their backyards.

The only possible answer to what Michael Douglas and Jeffrey Goldberg witnessed in Europe is an effort to help those Jews who wish to leave Europe to do so. And it should remind all Jews and non-Jews that the need for a Jewish state is just as much of an imperative as it was in the late 19th century where the Dreyfus case convinced Theodor Herzl of the need for one or as it was during and after the Holocaust. Any response to anti-Semitism that seeks an answer that ignores the Zionist imperative is part of the problem, not its solution. And American Jews, who are for the most part, as Goldberg pointed out, descendants of people who had the smarts to leave Europe while the getting was good, should not be shy about saying so.

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Southampton U. to Host Three Days of Hate

The announcement that Southampton University in England is to host a conference delegitimizing Israel’s basic right to exist is just one more reminder of how warped the conversation about Israel has become in the academic world. The conference has drawn criticism from a handful of British politicians, but not nearly as many as would have spoken up if the fundamental rights of just about any other people were being called into question in this way. Naturally, the university has gone on the defensive and is invoking arguments about academic freedom. Of course, the university has every right to hold such a conference if it wishes, but that still doesn’t make the decision to do so a decent one. And a glance over some of the names attending this conference reveals that this event has nothing to do with free or credible academic inquiry.

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The announcement that Southampton University in England is to host a conference delegitimizing Israel’s basic right to exist is just one more reminder of how warped the conversation about Israel has become in the academic world. The conference has drawn criticism from a handful of British politicians, but not nearly as many as would have spoken up if the fundamental rights of just about any other people were being called into question in this way. Naturally, the university has gone on the defensive and is invoking arguments about academic freedom. Of course, the university has every right to hold such a conference if it wishes, but that still doesn’t make the decision to do so a decent one. And a glance over some of the names attending this conference reveals that this event has nothing to do with free or credible academic inquiry.

It should be said at the outset that even if the organizers could demonstrate that they are structuring the sessions and speakers for this conference in a balanced manner, to put Israel’s right to exist up for question is itself far beyond the pale. It’s not as if debating the existence of the world’s other nation-states is a routine practice. Unless Southampton University can provide a serious list of other countries that have been subjected this kind of treatment—a three-day-long extravaganza of condemnation and delegitimization—then we are left with no choice but to conclude that this institution just doesn’t mind playing host to bigotry.

Of course, the whole undertaking is not only profoundly offensive; it is also utterly absurd. The conference is being hosted by the college’s law faculty, and claims that it will be exploring the question of Israel’s right to exist with regard to international law. But as Israel is one of the few states in the world that was actually established by specific instructions by both the League of Nations and the United Nations, there are simply no plausible grounds for inquiry here.

Similarly, the university’s website defends the conference as being part of the effort to establish an “enduring peace.” But what kind of genuine peace process involves telling one side that it doesn’t have any rights, not even to so much as exist?

It comes as no surprise then to discover that one of the key speakers billed to appear at this event is Richard Falk. This is a man who is a notorious 9/11 truther, who has likened the Jewish state to Nazi Germany, and who has used his personal blog to promote anti-Semitic cartoons and conspiracies. That Falk has issued a stream of anti-Semitic comments is not only the opinion of groups such as the ADL; even the British mission to the UN has explicitly called Falk out for his anti-Semitism.

The attendance of Richard Falk, astonishing as it is, becomes less surprising once one takes a look at who the conference’s primary organizer is. Southampton’s Professor Oren Ben-Dor—who is behind this conference—is not simply an ex-Israeli wildly hostile to his own country of origin; he is also a defender of Gilad Atzmon, a known anti-Semite. That fact alone ought to be enough to set the conference far beyond the realms of credibility.

As crazy as this whole affair is, it is important to stress that this does matter and should be taken very seriously. Not because Southampton University is regarded as particularly prestigious among British universities—indeed another institution might have sidestepped arguments about intellectual freedom and simply shut down this conference on the grounds that this undertaking lacks any serious academic rigor. But rather, it is important because events like this one must not be allowed to become accepted as a normal part of the academic scene.

The conference boasts of being the “first of its kind,” ”ground-breaking,” and “historic.” No doubt it is the first of its kind, but the activist academics behind it also hope that it will not be the last. We must disappoint them. As it is, one or two genuinely pro-Israel speakers do appear to have accepted the invitation to attend, no doubt with the best intentions of fighting the good fight. But there are occasions when it is better just to not give these things the veneer of acceptability.

Southampton’s Vice Chancellor Don Nutbeam has defended the university’s right to hold the conference. As mentioned, it is true that they do have every right. But Nutbeam and his institution should just know that if they go ahead with hosting such conferences, they will be directly complicit in furthering the rising and harrowing tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, a phenomenon that has already got a number of innocent people murdered.

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The Speech and Friedman’s Recycled Slurs

The Obama administration is determined to treat Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran as a non-event. As negotiations with Iran continued, the White House and its apologists in both Congress and the press dismissed Netanyahu’s pointed criticisms of the nuclear deal President Obama is offering the Islamist regime and acted as if he hadn’t proposed a sensible alternative to his policy of appeasement and acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear power and, in the long run, one with weapons capacity. But that isn’t enough for some of Obama’s partisans in the media who aren’t satisfied merely to see the administration continue on its path to disaster but wish to use this controversy to delegitimize the entire pro-Israel coalition in Washington. Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is at the head of the pack in this regard but his column about the speech was a triumph of incoherence and specious arguments even by the debased standards by which he has operated on the Grey Lady’s op-ed page. Worse than that, the speech gave the writer an excuse to recycle anti-Semitic slurs he floated the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress.

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The Obama administration is determined to treat Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran as a non-event. As negotiations with Iran continued, the White House and its apologists in both Congress and the press dismissed Netanyahu’s pointed criticisms of the nuclear deal President Obama is offering the Islamist regime and acted as if he hadn’t proposed a sensible alternative to his policy of appeasement and acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear power and, in the long run, one with weapons capacity. But that isn’t enough for some of Obama’s partisans in the media who aren’t satisfied merely to see the administration continue on its path to disaster but wish to use this controversy to delegitimize the entire pro-Israel coalition in Washington. Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is at the head of the pack in this regard but his column about the speech was a triumph of incoherence and specious arguments even by the debased standards by which he has operated on the Grey Lady’s op-ed page. Worse than that, the speech gave the writer an excuse to recycle anti-Semitic slurs he floated the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress.

Friedman didn’t claim that Netanyahu misrepresented the facts about the proposed Iran deal or even dispute the danger that an Iranian bomb would represent. His problem is with what is to him an even more dangerous idea: that the security interests of Israel and the United States might overlap. He asserts that a weak deal that might prevent Iran from getting a bomb for ten years would be perfectly adequate as far as defending American security even if, as he seems to be implying, it might not be what is good for Israel or the Arab nations in the region that are every bit as upset with the administration policy as the Jewish state. Demands that Iran give up its nuclear infrastructure, something that President Obama promised in his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney would be integral to any deal struck by the United States, are simply unrealistic and therefore must be dismissed even if that’s what most Israelis and Arabs think is necessary for their security.

Friedman’s right about one thing. A nuclear deal with Iran would only work if the regime changed its nature and was ready to “get right with the rest of the world,” as President Obama put it. But though he likes to pose as a tough-minded analyst, he leaves unsaid the fact that no serious person thinks Iran is moderating under its current government. Nor is logical to believe that it would do so if that tyrannical, terror-supporting, anti-Semitic regime were to get the major economic boost and political prestige that would it get from a nuclear deal with the United States.

But by the end of his column, Friedman runs out of ideas or even the energy to try and square his prejudices with the facts and simply lets loose with an anti-Netanyahu rant. He argues that if Netanyahu really wanted support for his position on Iran, he’d make concessions to the Palestinians even though he knows very well that those wouldn’t bring the region one inch closer to peace. In fact, Netanyahu has the tacit support of most of the Arab world for his speech. It’s only the Obama administration and others obsessed with the idea that détente with Iran is possible that didn’t like it.

Friedman concludes his piece by saying that it “rubs me the wrong way” to see a foreign leader pointing out the mistakes of an American president in front of Congress. But in that paragraph he lets us on to his real problem with the speech and the entire discussion about Iran: the existence of a solid pro-Israel coalition in Congress that thinks Netanyahu’s concerns are worth a hearing. Friedman says, “I have a problem with my own Congress howling in support of a flawed foreign leader.”

With this phrase he reminds us of his reaction to Netanyahu’s last speech to Congress in 2011. At that time, Friedman couldn’t restrain his bile and claimed that the ovations the prime minister received were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” a smear that was reminiscent of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis about a vast Jewish conspiracy controlling U.S. foreign policy to benefit Israel. The point of that thinly disguised piece of anti-Semitic invective was to delegitimize supporters of Israel who had the temerity to back Netanyahu against the Obama administration’s assault on the alliance between the two democracies.

Friedman didn’t go quite as far as that sort of libel this time though his contempt for a Congress “howling” in support of Netanyahu betrayed his animus. But he did let down his hair a bit in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2. Friedman claimed the only reason Netanyahu received tumultuous applause for his brilliant speech was that he was speaking in “Sheldon’s world” a reference to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a leading Jewish philanthropist and pro-Israel political donor.

Whatever you may think of Adelson’s politics, the point of that comment is to reintroduce Friedman’s 2011 slur about Congress being purchased by a ruthless Jewish minority. This is a classic anti-Semitic trope in which Jews are accused of using money to insinuate themselves into power and subverting the interests of the nation in favor of their own agenda. It is, of course, pure tripe, since support for Israel is overwhelming throughout the country and undiminished by either the media barrage against Netanyahu or the efforts of the administration to distance itself from the Jewish state.

Friedman then claimed that had Netanyahu spoken to the real America, rather than the Congress that is supposedly owned by the Jews, he would have gotten a different response. His example of a real American venue is the University of Wisconsin. It’s true that if Netanyahu or any friend of Israel were to speak at a leftist enclave such as the one in Madison, they would not be cheered. But who, other than Friedman, actually thinks that opinion there is representative of anything but the prejudices of liberal academics.

But the truth is, as a poll suggest, most Americans agree with Netanyahu on Iran, not Obama or Friedman. That’s why Friedman’s canard about Congress, Adelson and the “Israel lobby” is a lie. But like Obama’s Iran policy, Friedman is as undaunted by the prospect of repeating untruths about Israel as his newspaper is unashamed about printing them.

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If European Jews Must Live in Fear, Why Was Netanyahu Wrong?

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

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Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

A new Pew Research Center study shows that Jews were harassed or oppressed by their governments in 77 of the 198 countries covered by the survey. That includes a frightening total of 34 out of 45 countries in Europe. Yet the problem with accepting the reality of European anti-Semitism arises from a reluctance to place the blame for this prejudice on the haters rather than the victims.

One example came this week from “Science Guy” Bill Nye, the popular science educator and television star. On Bill Maher’s HBO show Real TimeNye said that the problems of European Jews stem from their reluctance to make friends with those who hated them. Attacking Netanyahu’s Zionist stand, Nye said the answer was that Jews should do more “to get to know their neighbors,” as if the roots of centuries of European anti-Semitism was the unwillingness of the victims to undertake outreach to anti-Semites.

That was offensive enough, but an even better example of the mentality that tolerates this new wave of anti-Semitism came from a British Jews. Harry Potter Actress Miriam Margolyes told the Guardian, “I don’t think people like Jews” but blamed the current outbreak on Israel since it gave Britons an excuse to vent their true feelings because of anger about the Gaza war. Like most British artists Margolyes blamed Israel for defending itself against Hamas terrorism and said the backlash against Jews was therefore somehow understandable, if deplorable. Her stance was both uninformed and illogical but it reflects the attitudes of English and other European elites who have, in a strange confluence of opinion, come to share the prejudices of Muslim immigrants who have helped revive traditional Jew hatred on the continent.

Blaming the Jews for being clannish (the conceit of Nye’s bizarre comments) sounds more like 19th century anti-Semitism, but even if we only focus on the way anti-Zionism has allowed traditional hatred to undergo a revival, there is no longer much doubt about the fact that it is becoming open season on Jews on the streets of Europe. A viral video of a Jewish journalist strolling through Paris wearing a kippah being abused by passersby is one more confirmation of a trend that can only be denied by those with ulterior motives.

European Jews may still prefer to think of themselves as safe, free, and prosperous and the political leaders of their countries may often say the right thing about anti-Semitism. But if Jews can no longer walk the streets of Europe’s capitals while identifying themselves with their faith or fear to speak out in defense of Israel lest they face opprobrium, then they cannot pretend to be truly free. The choice whether to stay or to go is personal, and it is difficult for anyone to pick up and leave their homes even under duress. But, as it did throughout the 20th century, history continues to vindicate the cause of Zionism. The Jews of Europe cannot pretend to be secure or to be confident that worse is not in store for them. Netanyahu was right to speak up about them having a haven where they will be able to defend themselves. Those inclined to denigrate his remarks should stroll about Europe’s streets while identifying themselves as Jews before they speak.

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The “Flood Libel” Propagandists of 2015

The proliferation of online news outlets has democratized newsgathering, but it’s also updated the famous adage that “there’s a sucker born every minute” for the Internet age. And no circus attracts the suckers quite like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only will people believe anything about Israel; their editors will let them write it. And as we learned yesterday, pretty much every year someone will fall for the impossibly preposterous accusation known as the “flood libel.”

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The proliferation of online news outlets has democratized newsgathering, but it’s also updated the famous adage that “there’s a sucker born every minute” for the Internet age. And no circus attracts the suckers quite like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only will people believe anything about Israel; their editors will let them write it. And as we learned yesterday, pretty much every year someone will fall for the impossibly preposterous accusation known as the “flood libel.”

There are moments when biased coverage of Israel goes beyond mere opinion. Last year, the good folks at Vox, a notoriously error-ridden site, declared the existence of a bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza. It was not a maddening mistake; it was, rather, kind of endearing. It was adorable, in its own way. But that such a bridge does not exist is an easily verifiable fact.

Same goes for New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s claim in 2012 that prospective Jewish construction in the West Bank would bisect the West Bank and make physical contiguity impossible. As was subsequently pointed out (and corrected accordingly), this was not even close to being true and Rudoren would have known as much had she glanced at a map.

And this week we were treated to another version of this story, though it’s one we hear often enough. It’s a bit of a hazing ritual: the Palestinians find someone they haven’t yet sold this particular lie to and watch the magic unfold. The lie is this: that flooding in Gaza was caused by Israel opening dams in the South. Easily the most important part of this story is the fact that there are no such dams. They are the Gaza-West Bank bridge of this story. And yet, the story just keeps appearing because the Palestinians never run out of Western suckers.

One of the suckers this year was Vice News. To try to hide its ignorance, Vice offered up several paragraphs of false accusations from the Palestinians followed by this attempt at “balance”: “Israeli officials categorically denied they were to blame while speaking to VICE News on Monday.”

Other outlets were more honest and ethical in the aftermath of publishing the flood libel. As HonestReporting notes, the Daily Mail went with a bit of false balance but also, crucially, added a straight correction and admission of error: “An earlier version of this article stated that Israel had opened river dams in the south of the country, causing flooding in the Gaza strip. In fact, there are no dams in southern Israel and the flooding was caused by rain and drainage issues. We are happy to clarify this.”

According to HonestReporting, the Daily Mail piece also contained the following amazing sentence: “The flooding was today compounded after an Israeli power company cut electricity to two of Gaza’s major West Bank cities.”

And according to CAMERA, both Agence France Presse and Al Jazeera (shocking, I know) passed along the flood libel. AFP pulled its video, and Al Jazeera went the Vice route by pretending the existence of magical dams is somehow in dispute.

The flood libel is proof that sometimes people refuse to learn from others’ mistakes. See this post from Jonathan Tobin in December 2013 for a reminder that the flood libel is neither new nor surprising. IDF spokeswoman Libby Weiss understandably would rather news organizations first locate their unicorns before blaming those unicorns for goring the neighbor’s ox:

So why does this keep happening? Part of the frustration with reporters stems from their absolute laziness. The Internet has put so much information within arm’s reach, and yet reporters are taught that when it comes to Israel, the facts are optional. And that’s because the facts favor Israel.

If you were to draw a map of Israel, using Western news organizations’ reporting, you’d have one that showed Israel bisecting the West Bank while connecting it to Gaza via a bridge and holding parliamentary meetings in its capital of Tel Aviv. None of that is true, but that’s the picture that emerges from the media’s “reporting.”

There also appears to be a kind of modified Stockholm Syndrome at work. These reporters and the outlets they represent are constantly made to look like fools by Palestinian propaganda. But they also seem not to mind, because they sympathize so strongly with what the propagandists and terrorists are telling them.

If what I’m describing to you sounds an awful lot like an activist, not a journalist, well–that’s about right. And such activists play a key role in disseminating grist for the anti-Semitic mill. The first headline is the one that makes waves, especially in the Arab world and in Europe. If the follow-up is not a full retraction or correction, but rather a “balanced” piece in which Israel is permitted to deny the existence of things that plainly don’t exist, then it casts the Israeli government as a powerful entity engaged in a cover-up.

It would be bad enough if we were forced to admit that our media just can’t get the story right. But that’s naïve. The truth is, much of the time our media just won’t get it right. And that’s why the flood libel returns, year after year.

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Judicial Board Vacancy: Students from Hillel Need Not Apply

If supporters of campus campaigns for divestment from Israel want to convince people that these campaigns do not foster a hostile environment for Jewish students, they will need to rein in the student leaders they have swayed. Having been fed a steady diet of demonizing rhetoric, these leaders are having a hard time distinguishing the Israelis they accuse of committing human-rights violations from Jews as such.

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If supporters of campus campaigns for divestment from Israel want to convince people that these campaigns do not foster a hostile environment for Jewish students, they will need to rein in the student leaders they have swayed. Having been fed a steady diet of demonizing rhetoric, these leaders are having a hard time distinguishing the Israelis they accuse of committing human-rights violations from Jews as such.

Consider UCLA, which passed a divestment resolution in November. The College Fix reports that, at an Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting, members debated whether Rachel Beyda should be confirmed as a member of the Judicial Board. Beyda, a candidate whom everyone present agreed was more than qualified for the position, had one strike against her: she is, as one council member put it, “a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community.” How then, could she be expected to rule fairly on student government matters of concern to that community? Although the president of the council objected to the line of questioning, some council members not only pursued it but, even more remarkably, were convinced by the argument that affiliates of campus Jewish organizations should be disqualified from serving on campus judicial boards. Beyda is an officer in UCLA’s Hillel and in a Jewish sorority. As another council member mused: “For some reason, I’m not 100% comfortable. I don’t know why. I’ll go through her application again — I’ve been going through it constantly, but I can see that she’s qualified for sure… but I just worry about her political affiliations.”

This is nothing new at UCLA. As Jonathan Tobin has reported, after the failure of an earlier divestment resolution before the Council, divestment supporters took two members before the Judicial Board, seeking to have their votes disqualified. These council members had gone to Israel under the sponsorship of the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Although that action failed, the pro-divestment crowd sought to make refusing to go to Israel on trips funded by pro-Israel organizations a litmus test for being elected to student government. Unruffled by the insanity of making a student government election about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a number of candidates, dutifully, shamefully, “signed a pledge not to take such trips.”

The Council, at first deadlocked on the question of Beyda’s confirmation, came around to a unanimous vote in her favor only after “much discussion and the intervention of administrators.” Perhaps because the whole discussion was captured on video (warning: it’s very difficult to hear), the council members who raised questions about Beyda’s Jewish affiliations felt compelled to issue a public apology.

Perhaps when UCLA’s student government is done making foreign-policy pronouncements it will turn to the question of how to deal with anti-Semitism on its own campus.

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