Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-Semitism

Obama Lobby Smear in Iran Deal Debate Cannot Go Unanswered

The debate over the Iran nuclear deal signed last week is just beginning but the willingness of the administration to smear its opponents is already clear. Both in his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh and then later on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama cast the divide on the issue as one between warmongers and peacemakers, linking opponents to the Iraq War. Having won the presidency twice by running against George W. Bush, it is hardly surprising that he would return to that familiar theme. Nor is it any shock that he would, as he has throughout a period in which he systematically abandoned his past stands on what a deal with Iran should look like, claimed that the only alternative to surrendering to Tehran’s demands was war. But there was one line in his softball interview with Stewart that should have set off alarm bells throughout the pro-Israel community, including among those who are loyal Democrats and inclined to support the White House on this and any other issue. By urging citizens to contact Congress to counteract the influence of “the money, the lobbyists,” Obama was smearing the pro-Israel community and AIPAC as seeking to involve the country in a war where “they would not going to be making sacrifices.” In doing so, he conjured up memories of both President George H.W. Bush’s controversial stand against AIPAC during the 1991 debate about loan guarantees to Israel but also writer Pat Buchanan’s claim that Jews were pushing for wars in which they wouldn’t fight.

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The debate over the Iran nuclear deal signed last week is just beginning but the willingness of the administration to smear its opponents is already clear. Both in his speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh and then later on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama cast the divide on the issue as one between warmongers and peacemakers, linking opponents to the Iraq War. Having won the presidency twice by running against George W. Bush, it is hardly surprising that he would return to that familiar theme. Nor is it any shock that he would, as he has throughout a period in which he systematically abandoned his past stands on what a deal with Iran should look like, claimed that the only alternative to surrendering to Tehran’s demands was war. But there was one line in his softball interview with Stewart that should have set off alarm bells throughout the pro-Israel community, including among those who are loyal Democrats and inclined to support the White House on this and any other issue. By urging citizens to contact Congress to counteract the influence of “the money, the lobbyists,” Obama was smearing the pro-Israel community and AIPAC as seeking to involve the country in a war where “they would not going to be making sacrifices.” In doing so, he conjured up memories of both President George H.W. Bush’s controversial stand against AIPAC during the 1991 debate about loan guarantees to Israel but also writer Pat Buchanan’s claim that Jews were pushing for wars in which they wouldn’t fight.

Obama’s claims that the only alternative to his appeasement of Iran would be war have always been a false choice. Having cornered Iran into negotiations after being forced by Congress to accept harsher sanctions than he wanted, Obama immediately discarded all the West’s political and military leverage by agreeing to Iranian demands about allowing them to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear infrastructure in secret talks in 2013. This came only a year after he had pledged in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney that any Iran deal would require them to give up their nuclear program. Over the course of the next two years, he systematically abandoned nearly every previous U.S. on the issue and eventually agreed to a pact that expired after ten years and even guaranteed the Iranians the right to continue nuclear research and with an inspections program that gave them 24 days notice. Having undermined the international consensus in favor of isolating Iran, he now accuses critics of wanting war. But all they have been asking for is the sort of tough diplomacy that would have avoided the kind of proliferation that his deal makes inevitable.

The analogies with Iraq and the invocation of the name of former Vice President Dick Cheney is a punch line, not a coherent argument. There is no comparison between a willingness to allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear state and to enrich the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. But it is an attempt to signal to Democrats that Obama sees Iran appeasement as a core partisan issue on which no dissent should be tolerated. And that is the context in which Obama’s cracks about money and lobbyists and who makes the sacrifices should be viewed.

In 1991, when the elder President Bush was seeking to undermine support for Israel, he let loose with a memorable rant to the White House press corps about being “one lonely little guy” fighting a big powerful AIPAC. That was a gross distortion of reality, especially since AIPAC’s power could not be compared to the influence of the oil industry and the pro-Arab lobby with which the president was apparently more comfortable. Pro-Israel and Jewish groups that saw him as invoking arguments that smacked of traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes rightly excoriated Bush. Buchanan was similarly criticized for the same kind of sleight of hand when he falsely tried to cast the argument about the first Gulf War as one in which Jews were pushing other Americans to fight a war they would sit out.

Though the case for the Iran deal is weak, it is one on which a civil debate is possible. But the administration’s line that opponents want war is not only misleading, it is an attempt to avoid rational debate and to demonize the president’s critics. Yet the fact that Obama is now using the same sort of language that once was clearly labeled as out of bounds when they were employed by Republicans is not only reprehensible. It is a challenge to pro-Israel and Jewish Democrats that they cannot ignore.

Jewish Republicans and other pro-Israel conservatives never forgave George H.W. Bush for his slur about AIPAC and he paid a heavy political price for it in his 1992 re-election bid. It is too late to hold Obama accountable in a similar manner but that does not relieve Jewish liberals and Democrats from warning Obama to stand down on his attempt to employ the same kinds of smears against supporters of Israel on the Iran deal. While Obama’s goal is to make Iran a partisan issue on which pro-Israel Democrats will choose loyalty to the president over principle, it does not excuse members of his party from their obligation to stand up against these sort of vile tactics. If they fail to speak out against the Obama lobby smear, they will not merely be acquiescing amid the marginalization of the pro-Israel community, they will be giving a seal of approval to the sort of behavior that they were quick to denounce when Republicans were the offenders.

 

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Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism in South Africa

The student anti-Israel movement in South Africa is more extreme than most. In February, the student government at the Durban University of Technology called for the expulsion of Jewish students, particularly supporters of Israel. In March, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) responded to a protest in which the lives of Jews were threatened by denouncing the presence of the Community Security Organization, whose purpose is to protect Jews and who were cooperating with local police. The COSAS called the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, an organization that represents South Africa’s Jews, “the Jewish ISIS” that “threatens our sovereignty through, illegal [sic], mercenaries, militia and invasion.” They hastened to add that they had nothing against Jews, but only against those who have long represented them in South Africa, and concluded with this flourish: “Away racist Jewish deputies away!” Read More

The student anti-Israel movement in South Africa is more extreme than most. In February, the student government at the Durban University of Technology called for the expulsion of Jewish students, particularly supporters of Israel. In March, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) responded to a protest in which the lives of Jews were threatened by denouncing the presence of the Community Security Organization, whose purpose is to protect Jews and who were cooperating with local police. The COSAS called the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, an organization that represents South Africa’s Jews, “the Jewish ISIS” that “threatens our sovereignty through, illegal [sic], mercenaries, militia and invasion.” They hastened to add that they had nothing against Jews, but only against those who have long represented them in South Africa, and concluded with this flourish: “Away racist Jewish deputies away!”

It is, therefore, no surprise that the South African Students Congress (SASCO) has gotten into the act by suspending three student members for visiting Israel on a trip sponsored by the South Africa Israel forum. “We view an act by some of our members to visit Israel as crossing the picket line.” This move is more surprising than it seems. As offensive as boycotts like the one adopted by the American Studies Association are, no one there has proposed to discipline members who buck it. SASCO on the other hand, wishes “to state categorically that SASCO is a voluntary organization where members join and subordinate themselves to its constitution, its policies, and its resolutions. Therefore [they] urge all [their] members to respect, defend and advance all decisions of the organization without exception.” SASCO may be an extreme organization, officially aiming to “ensure the destruction of capitalist relations of production and the ushering of a socialist society.” But it is by no means marginal; Haaretz calls it the “biggest South African student organization.”

There is no adult in the room here. Obed Bapela, a deputy minister for Performance, Monitoring, and Evaluation in the President’s office, has said that the ruling African National Congress will investigate the students for bringing the ANC into “disrepute” Bapela, by the way was present at the February protest I mentioned, in which the crowd chanted, among other things, “You Jews do not belong here in South Africa.”  Bapela apparently had no problem with that, but did find time to complain of the “foreign force” brought in by the South African Board of Jewish Deputies, reminding the crowd that “South Africa is our country.”

Not all critics of Israel, even harsh critics, are anti-Semitic, but there can be no question about the running together of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in South Africa, a nation in which, according to the Anti-Defamation League, 50 percent of respondents to its survey on attitudes toward Jews agreed that “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” Let’s try to remember that the next time South Africa’s leaders try to school us on solidarity.

 

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Why Does Iran Want a Bomb?

A large part of the case against the recent Iran deal is the contention that Iranian leaders cannot be trusted to abide by the deal’s terms and will not, despite Barack Obama’s characterization, set apart their defining anti-Semitism to reap the benefits of an agreement with the West. To get a sense of the Khomeneists’ irrationality, it’s worth rereading Ze’ev Maghen’s “Eradicating The Little Satan,” from the January 2009 issue of COMMENTARY. Maghen argues that when Iranian leaders vow to destroy Israel, we’d do well to take them at their word. The piece offers some insight into the minds of those we now rely on to be reasonable partners. As Maghen notes: “the truly horrific atrocities in human history — the enslavements, the inquisitions, the terrorisms, the genocides — have been perpetrated not in hot blood but in cold: not as a result of urgent and immanent feeling but in the name of a transcendent ideology and as a result of painstaking indoctrination.” One should keep that in mind the next time they hear hopeful talk of the deal changing the nature of the regime. Click here to read the whole thing.

A large part of the case against the recent Iran deal is the contention that Iranian leaders cannot be trusted to abide by the deal’s terms and will not, despite Barack Obama’s characterization, set apart their defining anti-Semitism to reap the benefits of an agreement with the West. To get a sense of the Khomeneists’ irrationality, it’s worth rereading Ze’ev Maghen’s “Eradicating The Little Satan,” from the January 2009 issue of COMMENTARY. Maghen argues that when Iranian leaders vow to destroy Israel, we’d do well to take them at their word. The piece offers some insight into the minds of those we now rely on to be reasonable partners. As Maghen notes: “the truly horrific atrocities in human history — the enslavements, the inquisitions, the terrorisms, the genocides — have been perpetrated not in hot blood but in cold: not as a result of urgent and immanent feeling but in the name of a transcendent ideology and as a result of painstaking indoctrination.” One should keep that in mind the next time they hear hopeful talk of the deal changing the nature of the regime. Click here to read the whole thing.

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UNESCO Crosses the Line Into Anti-Semitism

For decades, the United Nations has built an unsavory reputation as a cesspool of hatred for Israel that has often crossed the line into outright anti-Semitism. But anyone who thinks this behavior is limited to speeches at the General Assembly or even the hyper-political Human Rights Council that concentrates almost all of its attention on alleged infractions by democratic Israel while ignoring wholesale slaughters by Arab and Muslim tyrannies. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO is often treated as an apolitical agency but its efforts to delegitimize Israel have been every been as vicious as the actions of any other UN group. Its latest outrage came this week when its World Heritage Committee adopted a resolution that condemned Israel for allegedly conducting “illegal excavations” in the Old City; causing damage to structures on the Temple Mount; impeding restoration work on the Temple Mount; and damaging the “visual integrity” of the Old City by building the Jerusalem light rail system. These charges are a perversion of the truth. But by voting for a resolution that treats Jerusalem as a Muslim shrine as if Jewish history, either ancient or contemporary, didn’t exist, UNESCO isn’t just engaging in Jew-hatred, it’s also denying Christian ties to the holy city.

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For decades, the United Nations has built an unsavory reputation as a cesspool of hatred for Israel that has often crossed the line into outright anti-Semitism. But anyone who thinks this behavior is limited to speeches at the General Assembly or even the hyper-political Human Rights Council that concentrates almost all of its attention on alleged infractions by democratic Israel while ignoring wholesale slaughters by Arab and Muslim tyrannies. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO is often treated as an apolitical agency but its efforts to delegitimize Israel have been every been as vicious as the actions of any other UN group. Its latest outrage came this week when its World Heritage Committee adopted a resolution that condemned Israel for allegedly conducting “illegal excavations” in the Old City; causing damage to structures on the Temple Mount; impeding restoration work on the Temple Mount; and damaging the “visual integrity” of the Old City by building the Jerusalem light rail system. These charges are a perversion of the truth. But by voting for a resolution that treats Jerusalem as a Muslim shrine as if Jewish history, either ancient or contemporary, didn’t exist, UNESCO isn’t just engaging in Jew-hatred, it’s also denying Christian ties to the holy city.

Interestingly, the UNESCO move comes only a week after CNN published an article on its website that treated Jerusalem as the first item on a list of 25 most endangered historical sites in the world. That the list omitted any mention of the actual destruction of ancient buildings and artifacts by ISIS terrorists in Palmyra, Syria exposed the network to ridicule. But CNN’s decision to lead with false information about Jerusalem showed the influence of UNESCO, which has kept Israel’s capital on a list of such endangered sites since 1982.

But the rationale for its inclusion on such a list is purely political. As I noted earlier this week when writing about CNN’s piece, it is only due to Israel’s efforts since the city’s unification during the Six Day War that much of the city’s ancient and holy sites have been preserved and cleaned up. After 19 years of vandalism by Jordan, which illegally occupied parts of the city until 1967, Israel restored the ramparts of the Old City walls and restored the ancient Jewish quarter as well as the Western Wall, which had treated as a garage dump by the Jordanians. Only under Israeli rule has there been free access for all faiths to the holy sites after many centuries in which both Christians and Jews have suffered restrictions. The only exception to that rule is on the Temple Mount, which remains under the authority of a Muslim Wakf and where Jewish prayers are banned.

It is comical to even address the complaints lodged against Israel, but let’s briefly note that the charge of undermining the structural integrity of the Temple Mount is simply a lie. What the members who voted for this lie are doing is seeking to stigmatize Israel for work in the area of the Western Wall that has opened up the tunnels as well as an archeological park. The not-so-secret agenda here is to deny Jewish history and the ties of the Jewish people to their ancient capital. If there is any destruction going on in Jerusalem it is the work of the Wakf which has conducted excavations that have trashed ancient sites and treated artifacts that predate the 7th century arrival of Muslim conquerors as trash to be discarded.

Just as telling is the fact that this UN resolution refers to the Western Wall only as the “Buraq Plaza,” a Muslim term. It also references the Temple Mount — the holiest site in Judaism — as only a “Muslim holy site of worship.” Nor is there any reference in the text to the city’s ties to Christianity.

As for the building of the Light Rail, the creation of a system of mass transit was a vital necessity for what is a living city and serves Arab neighborhoods as well as Jewish ones. Built to blend in with its surroundings, it in no way affects the “visual integrity” of the city. But, like every other evidence of the revival of Jewish life, it is seen as inherently offensive to those who think the Jews have no right to live in their ancient homeland, even in territory controlled by Israel before 1967.

But UNESCO’s embrace of these canards isn’t harmless or merely an offense to Jewish sensibilities. By parroting Palestinian propaganda in this manner, the UN agency is feeding into efforts to foment hatred against Jews. Throughout the last century, Arab leaders have whipped up anti-Semitic sentiment by spreading lies about the Jews plotting to do damage to the mosques on the Temple Mount. These efforts led to pogroms in 1921, 1929 and 1936 and inspired terror attacks during the last year. Seen in that light, this resolution isn’t merely just another instance of UN prejudice against Israel. By endorsing incitement and denying Jewish history, it is a UN endorsement of anti-Semitism.

If not rescinded, this resolution should be justification, in and of itself, for a U.S. decision to completely pull out of UNESCO (funding has already been cut off) and to raise the ante by threatening funding for the UN itself. It is long past time for both the U.S. and other democracies to stop participating in a hate group masquerading as a force for world peace. So long as UNESCO behaves in this fashion, it no longer deserves the presence of an American delegate.

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Kirchner’s Jew Hatred Casts Cloud on Argentina

In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has made much of Europe a hostile place for Jews. But the resurgence of Jew-hatred has not been limited to that continent. As Ben Cohen noted in the April issue of COMMENTARY, the specter of anti-Semitism has loomed over the investigation of the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, an Argentinean prosecutor who had been probing Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that took the lives of 85 people. Integral to the controversy over the attempt by officials to label what appears to be foul play as suicide is the fact that Nisman had been about to issue an arrest warrant for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other top members of her government. Nisman believed he had proof that Kirchner had negotiated a deal with Tehran that would swap Iranian oil for Argentine grain and the exoneration of those Iranian agents involved in the bombing. But as Cohen wrote, that atrocity and the subsequent cover-up did not take place in a vacuum. An anti-Semitic atmosphere in the country contributed mightily. Now Kirchner who reaction to criticism of her faltering government over the Nisman case by blaming her troubles on Jews in a series of Twitter rants, has added to the problem by again going dark on social media by telling students to read the anti-Semitic play Merchant of Venice to understand her country’s debt crisis.

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In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has made much of Europe a hostile place for Jews. But the resurgence of Jew-hatred has not been limited to that continent. As Ben Cohen noted in the April issue of COMMENTARY, the specter of anti-Semitism has loomed over the investigation of the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, an Argentinean prosecutor who had been probing Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that took the lives of 85 people. Integral to the controversy over the attempt by officials to label what appears to be foul play as suicide is the fact that Nisman had been about to issue an arrest warrant for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other top members of her government. Nisman believed he had proof that Kirchner had negotiated a deal with Tehran that would swap Iranian oil for Argentine grain and the exoneration of those Iranian agents involved in the bombing. But as Cohen wrote, that atrocity and the subsequent cover-up did not take place in a vacuum. An anti-Semitic atmosphere in the country contributed mightily. Now Kirchner who reaction to criticism of her faltering government over the Nisman case by blaming her troubles on Jews in a series of Twitter rants, has added to the problem by again going dark on social media by telling students to read the anti-Semitic play Merchant of Venice to understand her country’s debt crisis.

According to the Times of Israel, the incident revolves around a presidential visit to a Buenos Aires school:

In one tweet, Kirchner recounted how she had asked students she met which Shakespeare play they were studying. When they told the president they were studying Romeo and Juliet, Kirchner said she responded, “I said, ‘Have you read The Merchant of Venice to understand the vulture funds?’ They all laughed.

“No, don’t laugh. Usury and the bloodsuckers were immortalized by the best literature for centuries,” she then tweeted to her two million twitter followers.

Argentine Jews have responded with outrage at the obvious inference that the country’s economic woes are the fault of the Jews. In response, Kirchner pointed to the fact that Habima; Israel’s national theater has produced Merchant in the past.

Does that get her off the hook from the charge of anti-Semitism? Not at all.

Let’s concede that many actors and critics have defended the play from the charge of anti-Semitism by pointing to the multi-dimensional nature of Shylock, the play’s bloodthirsty Jewish villain. As he did with all of his characters, Shakespeare paints Shylock as a real human being with understandable motivations rather than a stock figure of villainy. The play is a brilliant creation filled with great writing and drama. But is also standing proof that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s claim that great art could not be anti-Semitic is false. Shylock may be a human being but he is also an archetype of the Jewish moneylender who exploits and victimizes innocent Christians. Shylock is not merely bested and humiliated by his Christian opponents who outwit him in his quest to gain a pound of Christian flesh in payment for a defaulted debt. He is also forced to endure the desertion of his beloved daughter who marries a Christian and is ultimately condemned and forced to accept conversion to Christianity. For all of Shakespeare’s great artistry, the play is drenched with Jew hatred and libels that have been used against Jews for many centuries. The Merchant of Venice is rightly seen as a symbol of the West’s lamentable heritage of anti-Semitism.

It is one thing for a theater company to attempt, as many have, to stage the play in such a manner as to challenge the anti-Semitic assumptions at its core though many observers contend any such effort is bound to fail in that purpose. But it is quite another for a national leader to point to Merchant as the model for understanding economics. In that content there is no escaping the conclusion that Kirchner’s only possible motive was to spread Jew hatred in the crudest possible manner.

We don’t have to learn more about Kirchner’s literary tastes to understand the depth of her prejudices against Jews. Her dealings with Iran and previous comments on social media are enough to damn her as a vicious anti-Semite. But this latest incident solidifies her stance in a way that no objective observer could possibly misinterpret.

Given the willingness of the Argentine government to make crooked deals with Iran and to cover up involvement in terrorism and perhaps even murder of Nisman, there may not be any way to hold Kirchner accountable for her actions. But foreign governments should draw the right conclusions from Kirchner’s Jew hatred and act accordingly. She may be untouchable at home but no decent foreign government should ever receive her as a leader. Until a person not tainted by the virus of anti-Semitism leads Argentina, it should get a cold shoulder from the United States as well as other nations on all issues.

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Don’t Lose any Sleep Over United Church of Christ Divestment

As I just reported, the Mennonite and Episcopal churches voted to reject or table divestment resolutions this week. But, at its 2015 Synod, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies said to “profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The vote took place on Tuesday. On the same day, a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state failed, but only because it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. That a narrow majority of delegates voted for even this latter resolution is astounding, not least because its preamble treats as an act of aggression  Israel’s War of Independence, in which Israel repulsed the attack of Palestinian Arabs and of five Arab armies, joined in a determination not to see the British Mandate in Palestine divided between Jews and Arabs. But then, UCC leaders are evidently prepared to be swayed by the church’s Palestine-Israel network which, as I have documented here, directs those who wish to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to a site that publishes such gems as “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews.” One cannot escape the conclusion that the majority of the UCC delegates are either very radical or very ignorant; or perhaps one needn’t choose. Read More

As I just reported, the Mennonite and Episcopal churches voted to reject or table divestment resolutions this week. But, at its 2015 Synod, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies said to “profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” The vote took place on Tuesday. On the same day, a resolution declaring Israel an apartheid state failed, but only because it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. That a narrow majority of delegates voted for even this latter resolution is astounding, not least because its preamble treats as an act of aggression  Israel’s War of Independence, in which Israel repulsed the attack of Palestinian Arabs and of five Arab armies, joined in a determination not to see the British Mandate in Palestine divided between Jews and Arabs. But then, UCC leaders are evidently prepared to be swayed by the church’s Palestine-Israel network which, as I have documented here, directs those who wish to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to a site that publishes such gems as “Why the World Should Not Be Controlled by the Zionist Jews.” One cannot escape the conclusion that the majority of the UCC delegates are either very radical or very ignorant; or perhaps one needn’t choose.

Although one cannot deny that this turn of events is a victory for the movement to boycott Israel, I doubt it is a significant one. First, as Jonathan Rynhold has explained in his recent The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture, hostility toward Israel is a great mainline Protestant tradition. Henry Van Dusen, no fringe figure he, was more provocative than but not unrepresentative of elite mainline opinion when he described Israel’s actions in the Six Day Way as “the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler’s blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the summer of 1940, aiming not at victory but at annihilation.”

Second, as the reference to mainline “elite” opinion is meant to suggest, there is no reason to think that the actions of the delegates, any more than the divestment actions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) last year, represent the opinion of mainline rank and file. An April 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of white mainline Protestants sympathized with Israel more than the Palestinians, compared to just 11 percent who sympathized more with the Palestinians. That is not much different from the U.S. average. Similarly, although the delegates at the Synod plainly think that even the Obama administration is not hostile enough to Israel, the poll finds that a plurality of white mainline Protestants (42 percent) think the Obama administration’s level of support is right. Twenty-four percent think President Obama supports the Palestinians too much and only 7 percent think he supports Israel too much. Again, this is hardly different from all Americans polled. A February 2015 poll, also conducted by Pew, found that 43 percent of white mainline Protestants held a favorable view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared to 24 percent who held an unfavorable opinion. That’s slightly better than Netanyahu fared with the U.S. adult population overall. In short, mainline leadership appears far, indeed, from mainline non-elites on Israel.

Third and finally, the UCC is small and getting smaller, presently accounting for four-tenths of one percent of the adult U.S. population. Between 2000 and 2010, the UCC lost over 300,000 members, an astronomical loss for a group that, in fall 2014, put its membership at less than a million. Of those who remain, 67% are 50 or over.

No one should be losing any sleep over this.

 

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The Nation Smears David Blatt For Being A Proud Jew

The toxic mix of sports and politics, especially when it came to the treatment of Israel, soured me on the Olympics a long time ago. But even in professional sports where teams are often composed of athletes from around the globe there is no immunity to the virus of hate. While the success of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavalier’s first-year coach David Blatt has been cheered by Israelis, supporters of efforts to deprive that nation of its right to self-defense have a different take. Those who can’t stand the idea of a proud and patriotic Jew being willing to associate himself with his adopted country are bombarding Blatt with abuse because he served his country and is reportedly on speaking terms with Israel’s prime minister. When you consider that NBA players have over the years represented a variety of nations, not all of which everyone loves, without being subjected to political litmus tests, the decision of The Nation to launch a full-scale attack on Blatt for embracing Israeli identity is outrageous. In doing so, the left-wing magazine is demonstrating that the line that supposedly divides anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism is a myth.

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The toxic mix of sports and politics, especially when it came to the treatment of Israel, soured me on the Olympics a long time ago. But even in professional sports where teams are often composed of athletes from around the globe there is no immunity to the virus of hate. While the success of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavalier’s first-year coach David Blatt has been cheered by Israelis, supporters of efforts to deprive that nation of its right to self-defense have a different take. Those who can’t stand the idea of a proud and patriotic Jew being willing to associate himself with his adopted country are bombarding Blatt with abuse because he served his country and is reportedly on speaking terms with Israel’s prime minister. When you consider that NBA players have over the years represented a variety of nations, not all of which everyone loves, without being subjected to political litmus tests, the decision of The Nation to launch a full-scale attack on Blatt for embracing Israeli identity is outrageous. In doing so, the left-wing magazine is demonstrating that the line that supposedly divides anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism is a myth.

Ironically, the New York Times, whose sports pages have often been used by its editors to pursue political causes (the paper bore a great deal of the responsibility for promoting a false and racially-tinged narrative about a rape hoax that led to the Duke Lacrosse team being temporarily disbanded) treated the story about the differing paths to the NBA finals taken by the two coaches both fairly and honestly. The connection between Blatt and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is that both have ties to the Middle East. Kerr’s father Malcolm was president of the American University of Beirut before he was kidnapped and murdered by the Islamic Jihad terror group. Kerr, who speaks Arabic, was born in Lebanon and lived in the Middle East with his family before going back to the United States to play both college and professional basketball. He wanted to hire Blatt as his assistant before the man who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to championships was lured to Cleveland. The juxtaposition of their connections to the region and their nearly being on the same side makes for an interesting sports story.

But The Nation’s Dave Zirin considers their backgrounds an excuse for a rehearsal of the left’s vicious slanders against Israel and its government. In his reading, Malcolm Kerr is a hero who is rightly honored by the Middle East Studies Association, a blatantly biased academic group that promotes boycotts against both Israel and Israelis. On the other, he considers Blatt reprehensible because he is a Zionist who believes in the right of the Jews to their own country and served in the Israeli Army defending it against Arab terrorists. Even worse in his eyes is that Blatt is reportedly on a first-name basis with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom The Nation blasts as a racist.

Let’s leave aside the distortions about Netanyahu as well as the foolishness involved in blaming a celebrity for saying that he knows his country’s leader. Zirin’s real beef with Blatt isn’t the Bibi connection; it’s for being a Zionist and saying this about last summer’s war with Hamas terrorists:

“In my opinion, this war is Israel’s most justified war I can remember in recent years. I’m really sorry about what’s happening in Gaza, but there’s no doubt that we had to act there, so that Israel will have quiet there once and for all.”

Blatt was right, but for Zirin this is outrageous because of the number of Palestinian civilian casualties who were being used as human shields by Hamas terrorists. Zirin forgets to include in his account of the fighting the fact that Hamas and its Islamic Jihad allies launched several thousand rockets at Israeli cities and towns and used tunnels dug under the border to facilitate attempts to kidnap and kill Jews.

He contrasts Blatt’s Israeli patriotism and belief in his country’s people to live without being subjected to constant, deadly terrorism to some quotes from Steve Kerr in which he rightly says not all Arabs or Muslims should be blamed for terrorism before making some less defensible comments about Americans needing to ask why the terrorists hate us.

Kerr grew up in an atmosphere in which such views were mainstream and though I find them worrisome, like almost all sports fans, I’m not any more interested in his politics than I am in Blatt’s affiliations. Both should be seen as sports figures, not politicians, and accordingly cheered or jeered on the work of their teams on the court and nothing else.

But, of course, that spirit of fair competition is of no interest to sports columnists like Zirin who, in the grand tradition of Marxist journalism, uses athletics as an excuse to ride political hobbyhorses. But in the case of Blatt and his unabashed Zionism, Zirin goes farther than merely putting a political slant on a feel-good story of an American who found coaching success abroad before coming home to triumph in the NBA. For left-wing anti-Zionists, Blatt needs to be singled out for opprobrium in a way that no other coach or player from a foreign country has ever been because of what he sees as the unique villainy of Israel. No player from China who had his picture taken with his country’s tyrants has gotten this kind of treatment. Nor has any other NBA player. Only a Jew who says the Jews deserve a country and ought not to be slaughtered by terrorists must be smeared.

Whatever his sympathies in the Middle East conflict might be, Kerr understands the cost of terrorism on a personal basis. So do all too many Israelis who have suffered as he did as a result of attacks by Islamic Jihad and other Islamist and Palestinian groups. The death of Malcolm Kerr ought to be held as an example of what happens when groups like Hamas are granted impunity by their foreign cheerleaders like Dave Zinn. But what Zirin, who cannot use his Jewish origin as a defense, is doing is judging Israelis and Jews by a different standard than any other people. Though he may admit to anti-Zionism, the more accurate term for his brand of bias is anti-Semitism.

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Dual Loyalty Question About Anti-Semitism, Not Bernie

Underdog presidential candidates need all the publicity they can get, but the attention directed at Senator Bernie Sanders as a result of his interview yesterday with NPR’s Diane Rehm wasn’t exactly what he was expecting. Sanders was, no doubt, hoping for a little boost for his challenge to Hillary Clinton from an appearance on a Washington, D.C.-based show with a liberal host and audience. But what he got instead was a bizarre question from Rehm about whether he held dual citizenship with Israel. The Vermont senator indignantly denied the preposterous query and said he didn’t know when she then pressed him whether other members of Congress might be Israeli citizens. Rehm later apologized, and much of the discussion about the flap has centered on the radio host’s ignorance and the way myths circulate on the Internet. But the problem here isn’t just one incompetent radio show host who was subsequently subjected to mockery on Twitter. The real concern is the way insidious tropes about the dual loyalty of American Jews are working their way into mainstream conversation as a result of the invective being hurled against the Jewish state and its friends. The problem is anti-Semitism, not Facebook.

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Underdog presidential candidates need all the publicity they can get, but the attention directed at Senator Bernie Sanders as a result of his interview yesterday with NPR’s Diane Rehm wasn’t exactly what he was expecting. Sanders was, no doubt, hoping for a little boost for his challenge to Hillary Clinton from an appearance on a Washington, D.C.-based show with a liberal host and audience. But what he got instead was a bizarre question from Rehm about whether he held dual citizenship with Israel. The Vermont senator indignantly denied the preposterous query and said he didn’t know when she then pressed him whether other members of Congress might be Israeli citizens. Rehm later apologized, and much of the discussion about the flap has centered on the radio host’s ignorance and the way myths circulate on the Internet. But the problem here isn’t just one incompetent radio show host who was subsequently subjected to mockery on Twitter. The real concern is the way insidious tropes about the dual loyalty of American Jews are working their way into mainstream conversation as a result of the invective being hurled against the Jewish state and its friends. The problem is anti-Semitism, not Facebook.

In an apology she issued later, Rehm claimed that she got the idea that Sanders was a dual citizen from a comment on Facebook that she incorrectly stated as a fact. She then compounded her fault by saying, “I am glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest.” That is utterly  disingenuous since this “rumor” was being ignored by most of the human race until she chose to air it out, something that despite her apology and the opprobrium directed at her will only give it new life.

Yet the issue isn’t just the way some people who should know better believe what they read on the Internet and re-circulate it without checking. I’m sure there are plenty of goofy posts on Facebook that Rehm sees without taking them seriously, let alone using the “information” as fodder for questions to guests. Rather, Rehm’s question is the product of a growing current of anti-Israel invective that seeks not merely to slander the Jewish state and Zionism but to delegitimize its supporters.

The dual loyalty smear was key to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that sought to portray Israel’s supporters as suborning the best interests of the United States to those of its sole democratic ally in the Middle East. Concocting lies about members of the House and the Senate who are Jewish as being Israeli citizens is merely a corollary of this effort to brand any and all Jews as suspect and disloyal to America. Such claims are an insult to generations of Jews who have fought and died for the United States, as well as the proud service of so many others who work in our government as well as the defense and intelligence sectors.

The point of these attacks is to make anyone who has visited or has ties to Israel suspect. Sanders has been to Israel including a youthful stay on a kibbutz. But he never immigrated to the country, which is what would be necessary for an American Jew to gain Israeli citizenship.

While Sanders is not Israel’s most fervent defender in the Senate nor unwilling to criticize it from the left, neither has he sought to disassociate himself from it. And he has spoken up against anti-Israel smears from some of his fellow leftists. To his credit, Sanders immediately shot Rehm down but the problem with such lies, whether from Holocaust deniers or 9/11 truthers is that the facts are irrelevant to their assertions and their willingness to keep promoting them.

It would be one thing for such anti-Semitic slurs to persist on the margins of society or in the fever swamps of the far right and far left, but what is most troubling is that they are now gradually worming their way into the conversation on seemingly respectable venues. The rising tide of anti-Semitism that has swept through Europe is now achieving toeholds on American shores. Supporters of the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement against Israel have taken to conducting inquisitions targeting Jewish students aimed at forcing them to renounce Israel or branding them as unworthy if they refuse to do so.

Such questions were a clear sign that the thin veil between BDSers anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism was slipping. Rehm’s comments, even though they were retracted, is another that the tropes of traditional anti-Semitism, whether in terms of Jewish money buying Congress (a libel that has been circulated by none other than the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman as well as scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer) and the noxious notion that Jews can’t be trusted to be loyal to America.

Other people at major media outlets have lost their jobs or been suspended for much less than what Rehm did. But her fate doesn’t particularly interest me. What does scare me is how a liberal talking head found a question about Jewish dual loyalty to Israel be a reasonable idea in the first place. The impulse to target Jews, even those on the left, if they are not willing to attack Israel, illustrates the way anti-Semitism is gaining ground even in the supposedly sane liberal world of NPR.

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The Pope is Right: Anti-Israel Does Equal Anti-Semite

Last week, a controversy erupted after a meeting between Pope Francis and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. The encounter came during a celebration of the canonization of two new Palestinian Arab saints and shortly after a treaty in which the Vatican recognized the PA as a state was announced. But whether or not it was due to a misunderstanding on the part of the few journalists present, the Pope was widely quoted as calling Abbas “an angel of peace.” That bit of hyperbole seemed to symbolize Israel’s growing isolation in Europe even if it granted a Holocaust denier and someone who has repeatedly refused to make peace, far more credit than he deserves. But after a week in which the Vatican vacillated about what the pope had really said while not seeking to anger the Palestinians and their backers, Pope Francis has issued not only a clarification indicating that he was misquoted about Abbas but delivering a stinging rebuke to Israel’s foes.

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Last week, a controversy erupted after a meeting between Pope Francis and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. The encounter came during a celebration of the canonization of two new Palestinian Arab saints and shortly after a treaty in which the Vatican recognized the PA as a state was announced. But whether or not it was due to a misunderstanding on the part of the few journalists present, the Pope was widely quoted as calling Abbas “an angel of peace.” That bit of hyperbole seemed to symbolize Israel’s growing isolation in Europe even if it granted a Holocaust denier and someone who has repeatedly refused to make peace, far more credit than he deserves. But after a week in which the Vatican vacillated about what the pope had really said while not seeking to anger the Palestinians and their backers, Pope Francis has issued not only a clarification indicating that he was misquoted about Abbas but delivering a stinging rebuke to Israel’s foes.

As the Times of Israel reports:

In comments made to veteran Portuguese-Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman Thursday, Francis was quoted as saying that “anyone who does not recognize the Jewish people and the State of Israel — and their right to exist — is guilty of anti-Semitism.”

Francis was also said to have backtracked on statements he was reportedly heard making earlier this month designating the visiting Abbas “a bit an angel of peace.”

The pope recalled telling Abbas in Italian that he hopes the Palestinian chief might one day become an angel of peace in the future, according to Cymerman — although ostensibly he has not yet reached that level.

This resolves any doubts about whether the New York Times, Agence France Presse and the Associated Press misquoted the pontiff. He says they did, and that ought to be enough to have them issued corrections rather than further articles rationalizing their mistake.

But the pope’s comments about anti-Semitism are far more important than his evaluation of the corrupt and undemocratic head of the Palestinian kleptocracy in the West Bank.

Israel haters have long claimed that their anti-Zionism should not be confused with anti-Semitism. They claim they have no problems with Jews in general, just with those who assert sovereignty in their ancient homeland.

But this formulation is and always has been a false and utterly misleading distinction.

Those who would deny to Jews the same rights of self-determination and self-defense that they would never think to deny any other people on the planet are practicing a form of discrimination. Anti-Zionists assert that Jews are uniquely unworthy of a homeland or any of the other normal attributes of identity. While it is true that Judaism is a combination of faith and national identity, the fact remains that denying the Jews a right to a state that is specifically Jewish singles them out for treatment not given the practitioners of other faiths or peoples. Since the term by which we refer to acts of bias against Jews is anti-Semitism, the claim that anti-Zionism is not a form of prejudice is simply a great lie.

This is a vital point because anti-Zionists aren’t so much protesting specific Israeli actions or making a point about where they think its borders should be located. Rather, they seek to deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, which is to say they want it to be destroyed.

That’s the reason why groups that espouse BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — programs aimed at Israel are practicing hate, not merely putting forward criticisms of the country’s policies. One needn’t support everything any Israeli government does or agree with its prime minister on the issues. But those who say that Israel shouldn’t be a Jewish state and that it has no right to be one should be treated as bigots.

This is a message that Palestinians should heed. Abbas has consistently refused to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Indeed, even if he wanted to do so, which is doubtful, his people cling to a political culture in which violence against Jews is treated as laudable rather than shameful. The two-state solution to the Middle East conflict that the pope and many others champion will only be possible once the Palestinians stop trying to replace the Jewish state and start learning to live with it in peace. Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat repeatedly rejected offers of statehood in which they would be given control of almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem but refused each time because they could not come to terms with Israel’s existence. Rather than beating up on Israel as the world community continues to do, those who want peace need to take the pope’s message to the Palestinians.

The Vatican did nothing to help end the conflict by recognizing the PA as a state without first requiring it to make peace with Israel as it was required to do by its Oslo Accords commitments. In doing so the Church seemed to be joining the crowd putting unfair pressure on Israel thus betraying the ecumenical legacy of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II who did so much to reverse centuries of Catholic prejudice against Jews. But Pope Francis has now made up for those mistakes with a statement that ought to resonate throughout the world and in history. Let all those who wish to undermine the Jewish state while still pretending to be unprejudiced and all those who excuse or apologize for their hatred pay heed to what he has said and end the charade by which these anti-Semites are treated as decent members of the community. As the pope has now taught us, anti-Zionist will always really mean anti-Semite.

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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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