Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-Semitism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The “Flood Libel” Propagandists of 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Judicial Board Vacancy: Students from Hillel Need Not Apply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jewish Voice for Peace Takes Off Its Mask

Jewish Voice for Peace was a major force behind Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 2014 divestment from companies, like Caterpillar, said to profit from Israel’s activities in the West Bank. They provided a useful Jewish fig leaf for the Church, who could assert that some of divestment’s best friends are Jews. JVP has also eagerly made itself useful to Students for Justice in Palestine, which seeks to promote divestment, among stronger measures against Israel, at our colleges and universities.

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Jewish Voice for Peace was a major force behind Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 2014 divestment from companies, like Caterpillar, said to profit from Israel’s activities in the West Bank. They provided a useful Jewish fig leaf for the Church, who could assert that some of divestment’s best friends are Jews. JVP has also eagerly made itself useful to Students for Justice in Palestine, which seeks to promote divestment, among stronger measures against Israel, at our colleges and universities.

JVP’s position has always been merely tactical. As the organization explained in a 2005 statement, “we face a more hostile environment than our European comrades, and thus we cannot uncritically adopt” direct sanctions against Israel. In a 2011, statement, JVP again affirmed its preference for the tactic of selective divestment, but fully endorsed the overall goals of the BDS movement, including the right of return, or, in effect, the end of Israel as a Jewish state. JVP never really so much distanced itself from BDS as reluctantly concluded that only BDS-lite was possible in the U.S. for the time being. Yet in both the Presbyterian debate and the Stanford debate over divestment, at least some advocates insisted that a vote for divestment was not, in fact a vote for BDS.

It is therefore refreshing that JVP has finally come out and joined the BDS movement, openly endorsing not only the goals but also the strategy of that movement, complete isolation and demonization of Israel as an apartheid state.

The fact is, it’s not necessary to point to the right of return to show that BDS has never acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. Although one version of the BDS call asks, as JVP claims to be asking, only for an end to the Israeli presence in the territories disputed after 1967, the original call, never disavowed, distinguishes not at all between 1967 and 1948 Israel. The call condemns what Israel has done “since 1948” and demands an end to Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.” This studied ambiguity helps keep both those who merely would like Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and those who would like Israel to withdraw from the face of the Earth in the same camp.

That is the camp that Jewish Voice for Peace has always belonged to, and the camp it has at last openly joined. In joining up at this particular time, Jewish Voice for Peace also declares that it is ready to lead the charge to catch up with its “European comrades” who have contributed to the anti-Semitic environment that has many European Jews contemplating emigration. Perhaps JVP, which has now openly allied itself with a movement that refuses to concede their right to live in Israel, will help drive them into the sea.

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Will Britain Do the Right Thing on Boycotts?

There is something fundamentally Stalinist about the notion of a cultural boycott of Israel. The idea that even the free exchange of ideas and expression should be censored by the strictures of ideology is a total affront to all the usual virtues associated with the arts. And unlike the economic boycott of Israel, which can at least claim to have practical objectives—albeit completely indefensible ones—the cultural boycott appears to be aimed at doing nothing more than alienating and ostracizing Israelis by any means possible. So it’s deeply troubling that a group of British artists are now leading just such a new boycott initiative. And yet, there are also encouraging indications that mainstream British society will not stand for this.

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There is something fundamentally Stalinist about the notion of a cultural boycott of Israel. The idea that even the free exchange of ideas and expression should be censored by the strictures of ideology is a total affront to all the usual virtues associated with the arts. And unlike the economic boycott of Israel, which can at least claim to have practical objectives—albeit completely indefensible ones—the cultural boycott appears to be aimed at doing nothing more than alienating and ostracizing Israelis by any means possible. So it’s deeply troubling that a group of British artists are now leading just such a new boycott initiative. And yet, there are also encouraging indications that mainstream British society will not stand for this.

Around a hundred allegedly prominent cultural figures have released a letter pledging not to travel to Israel on an official invitation, nor to accept funding from Israel or organizations that are associated with the Israeli government. In addition, this campaign claims to have the supporting signatures of a further 700 artists (almost all entirely unknowns). And naturally along with a few celebrities who are now notorious for their obsession with bashing Israel—such as Roger Waters—there are also several notable Jewish individuals who have been pushed to the forefront of the campaign.

Two Jewish directors who have evidently played a particularly leading role in promoting this boycott are Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky. Their involvement gives a pretty clear indication of precisely what kind of movement this is. When asked about Gaza, Leigh once dismissively retorted “I don’t want to know about rockets. What I am concerned with is humanity.” Humanity? Then in what category does Leigh place the people the rockets are aimed at? And then there’s Kosminsky, a remarkable figure to be boycotting Israel when much of his own acclaimed television drama The Promise was shot in Haifa. That by the way was a British TV mini-series that was not only viciously anti-Zionist but in which Jewish characters were without exception either overtly unlikable or ultimately untrustworthy. The non-Jewish characters, through whose eyes Israel’s story was told, were repeatedly let down, manipulated, or betrayed by every single Jew they came across.

These are the luminaries leading the cultural boycott against Israel.

The website of the campaign is also particularly revealing. Most bizarre is the section in which the campaigners insist that they will not be censored. What is boycotting Israeli arts if not censorship? Indeed, the activists pledge their solidarity with London’s Tricycle Theatre, which last year announced that as part of an Israel boycott it would no longer host the Jewish Film Festival. So the last thing that these people can claim is principled opposition to censorship.

Then there is the part of the website that advises artists on how they should implement their boycott in practice. Tellingly, artists are assured that they should not let the boycott prohibit them from collaborating with Palestinian artists and organizations. When it comes to Israelis, however, it seems that exceptions might only be considered for those who support the Palestinian cause. So once again we see the boycott working along ethnic lines. No investigation into the politics of Palestinian artists, but when it comes to Jewish Israelis, they must pledge allegiance to the cause before being redeemed of the crime of being born an Israeli Jew.

The one glimmer of hope in all of this is that there does seem to be an increasing recognition of just what a dangerous turn BDS represents. On the whole senior British politicians, including Prime Minister Cameron, have stressed their opposition to boycotts. But it was particularly noteworthy that the Times of London ran an editorial on the Copenhagen attacks and rising anti-Semitism that stated plainly, “The egregious campaigns for a cultural boycott of Israel are stoking ugly, atavistic movements in Europe. These need to be confronted by civilised opinion.” More remarkable still was that even the Guardian (a paper usually transfixed by the business of attacking Israel) printed a whole series of letters condemning the boycotts under the heading “Peace Not Promoted by an Israel Boycott.”

One senses that Britain’s liberal establishment is suddenly catching itself and pulling back at the last moment from the precipice. They have seen Paris, they have seen Copenhagen, they have seen anti-Semitism go off the chart from Brussels to Malmo. They have seen where all of this is leading and are now reconsidering their own responsibilities.

Of course the British establishment can only be expected to correctly identify boycotts as a form of racial discrimination if the Jewish community is unequivocal on the subject. And it must indeed be the Jewish community, and not the boycotters, who determine what is and what isn’t anti-Semitic. As it happens, a survey on anti-Semitism released in January found that 84 percent of British Jews consider boycotts to be a form of intimidation. Laura Marks of the Board of Deputies (Anglo-Jewry’s primary representative body) has also stressed that such a cultural boycott of Israel is racist.

The anti-Israel artists-turned-activists insist they won’t be silenced. Very well. But then the rest of us cannot afford to stay silent either about the racism inherent in what these people are doing.

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Don’t Ignore Nonviolent Anti-Semitism

The debate over the future of European Jewry has centered on violent anti-Semitism, and for good reason. Without basic security for European Jews, the only question will be the rate at which they leave. But attacks on Jews don’t happen in a vacuum, and whether Jews feel welcome in their home countries will depend also on something not often given enough weight: nonviolent anti-Semitism.

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The debate over the future of European Jewry has centered on violent anti-Semitism, and for good reason. Without basic security for European Jews, the only question will be the rate at which they leave. But attacks on Jews don’t happen in a vacuum, and whether Jews feel welcome in their home countries will depend also on something not often given enough weight: nonviolent anti-Semitism.

As Joel Kotkin explains in a column for the Orange County Register, the global Jewish community is rapidly becoming a regional Jewish community. According to Kotkin, four out of every five Jews now lives in either Israel or the United States. In 1939, that number was one in four. Rising anti-Semitism throughout the world–and not just Western Europe–has combined with a dwindling birth rate to produce demographic decline in most of the world’s Jewish communities. Kotkin writes:

Overall, nearly 26,500 Europeans immigrated last year to Israel – a 32 percent increase from 2013. In Britain, a Jewish population of less than 300,000 has not grown for a generation. With recent polls showing close to half of all Britons holding some anti-Semitic views, a majority of British Jews now feel there is no future for them in Europe; one in four is considering emigration.

Other historically significant Jewish communities, such as that in Argentina, also are losing population. The number of Jews in the South American republic has fallen from roughly 300,000 in the 1960s to 250,000 today. This demographic decline will likely be accelerated now that the current Peronista regime has been accused of collaborating with Iranian terrorists implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded more than 300. The government is widely suspected of complicity in the murder last month of the prosecutor investigating the bombing.

Argentina and France aren’t the only nations with formerly large, now-shrinking Jewish communities. In 1948, Iran was home to 100,000 Jews; now it’s a tenth of that number. In South Africa, the population reached 119,000 at the end of apartheid but since has dropped by roughly half. The largest numerical losses were in the former Soviet Union, where, in 1980, there were some 1.7 million Jews; now, as few as 250,000 remain. Most have resettled in Israel or the United States.

Still, France emerges as the canary in the coal mine–if, after the 20th century, the Jews of Europe need such a canary at all. It’s the largest European Jewish community, and it saw 7,000 of its Jews make aliyah last year alone. The numbers keep climbing, however. And there’s a reason beyond the violence.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher terror attacks in Paris, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivered a beautiful speech on what French Jewry means to the French state. He spoke out forcefully against resurgent French anti-Semitism and accused his country of historical blindness. And he was clear on France’s responsibility to the Jewish community.

And yet, there is a lingering sense that the endemic anti-Semitism in France has already reached a point of no return. I wrote in response that although Valls’s speech was laudatory and, at times, even inspiring, his framing of the issue left a bad taste. He spoke of France as the “land of emancipation of the Jews,” but that calls into question whether non-secular Jews will ever feel at home there again. I wrote: “A Frenchman who happens to be a Jew at home cannot be the only Jew who feels at home in France.”

A video making the rounds today demonstrates my point. A Jewish reporter for the Israeli news outlet NRG put on a yarmulke, untucked his tzitzit fringes, and walked around various neighborhoods of Paris for ten hours filmed by a hidden camera (and flanked by an undercover bodyguard). Here is what he encountered in more heavily Muslim neighborhoods of Paris:

Walking into a public housing neighborhood, we came across a little boy and his hijab-clad mother, who were clearly shocked to see us. “What is he doing here Mommy? Doesn’t he know he will be killed?” the boy asked.

Walking by a school in one of Paris’ neighborhoods, a boy shouted “Viva Palestine” at me. Moments later, passing by a group of teens, one of the girls remarked, “Look at that – it’s the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing.”

Walking down another neighborhood, a driver stopped his car and approached us. “We’ve been made,” I thought. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “We’ve had reports that you were walking around our neighborhood – you’re not from around here.”

In one of the mostly-Muslim neighborhoods, we walked into an enclosed marketplace. “Look at him! He should be ashamed of himself. What is he doing walking in here wearing a kippa?!” one Muslim merchant yelled. “What do you care? He can do whatever he wants,” another, seemingly unfazed merchant, answered. Over at a nearby street I was lambasted with expletives, mostly telling me to “go f*** from the front and the back.”

At a nearby [café], fingers were pointed at us, and moments later two thugs were waiting for us on the street corner. They swore at me, yelled “Jew” and spat at me. “I think we’ve been made,” the photographer whispered at me. Two youths were waiting for us on the next street corner, as they had apparently heard that a Jew was walking around their neighborhood.

They made it clear to us that we had better get out of there, and we took their advice.

The video also suggests there was a fair amount of spitting in their direction throughout the day. The reporter, Zvika Klein, was spared violence by adhering to threats that were probably not empty. But even without violence, what you see in the video is a pervasive sense of almost distaste for a Jew wearing a kippah. I received similar stares at the airport in Paris once when I thought I could use the time before my flight to don my tallis and tefillin. I was not received warmly (by the Frenchmen nearby, that is; the other non-French tourists were fine with it).

But I don’t live there. What does Manuel Valls plan to do about his country’s obvious, pervasive, rank anti-Semitism? Staging security forces or police outside Jewish schools is all well and good, but they’re there for a reason. They won’t make French society less anti-Semitic, and they won’t make Jews feel more at home in a place where being identifiably Jewish has become not an expression of French multiculturalism but an act of defiance that requires a bodyguard.

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ISIS Is a Zionist-American Organization, Says BDS Heroine

Last month, I drew attention to Leila Khaled’s tour of South Africa under the sponsorship of BDS-South Africa. Khaled is a member of the “Political Bureau” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP has claimed credit for murdering four worshippers and a policeman at the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem in November. Khaled, who made her name as a hijacker and remains an advocate of violent resistance, is out raising money for the supposedly nonviolent boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against Israel.

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Last month, I drew attention to Leila Khaled’s tour of South Africa under the sponsorship of BDS-South Africa. Khaled is a member of the “Political Bureau” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP has claimed credit for murdering four worshippers and a policeman at the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem in November. Khaled, who made her name as a hijacker and remains an advocate of violent resistance, is out raising money for the supposedly nonviolent boycott, divestment, sanctions movement against Israel.

So far, the trip is going quite well. Khaled has been welcomed by the ruling African National Congress, scoring a seat at President Zuma’s State of the Nation Address. People seem to be responding to her pitch. For example, as I wrote last week, the student government of the Durban University of Technology, a day after a visit from Khaled, called for the expulsion of Jews (the student government has since apologized: “oops, by ‘Jews’ we meant ‘people funded by the Israeli government.’”). BDS South Africa has proudly reported on the tour, including its finale in Soweto. Rebecca Hodes, who was on the scene in Soweto, gives this remarkable description of Khaled’s remarks.

According to Hodes, toward the end of her speech, Khaled said: “ISIS, I tell you, is a Zionist, American organization. Boko Haram is another Netanyahu. [Its leaders] are more Zionist than the Zionists… Beware the imperialists. They are vicious and they are collaborating with the Zionists to control the whole world….”

You may think that BDS-South Africa, just for the sake of damage control, would distance itself from Khaled’s remarks, or at least avoid mentioning them. Instead, they repeated them on Twitter. After the speech, Khaled “was presented with a gift as dozens of audience members vied for a decent angle for a cell phone snap.” But not before the crowd sang “one more revolutionary song” for, as BDS-South Africa put it, the “freedom fighter.”

Although Khaled has made similar statements in the course of her tour, not one supporter of BDS, as far as I know, has seen fit to distance himself from her. Wouldn’t want to alienate the base.

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The Copenhagen Attacks and Zionism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”

Part of the pushback against Netanyahu’s statements and actions after both the Paris attacks and last night’s fatal shooting of a Jew guarding a Copenhagen synagogue stems from personal resentment of the prime minister who happens to be in the fight for his political life in the Knesset election that will be held next month. Here in the United States, supporters of President Obama and his effort to appease Iran have been bashing him relentlessly. In particular, the left-wing J Street lobby has initiated a campaign seeking to delegitimize Netanyahu, urging Jews to say that he “doesn’t speak” for them. Their stand is not only misguided on the issue of Iran; it also seeks to undermine the ability of the democratically-elected leader of the Jewish state to voice concerns about Jewish security in a way that only the person who holds that office can (something they won’t tolerate from the right if Netanyahu is replaced by someone from the left).

But Danish Chief Rabbi Yair Melchior was not engaging in that sort of attack. Rather, he seemed to view Netanyahu’s statement about the need for Jews to leave Europe as an attack on his community. As others said after the Hyper Cacher attack in Paris, the rabbi seems to believe that if Jews flee, the terrorists as well as the growing ranks of European anti-Semites win.

As the Times of Israel reported:

Rabbi Yair Melchior said, in response: “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. But not because of terrorism.”

“If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island,” Melchior said.

There is some truth to Melchior’s argument. Certainly Jews who immigrate to Israel from the United States are not fleeing injustice but are rather embracing Israel and Zionism. But does he really think the decline in the population of European Jews and the vast increase in aliyah in recent years is a statistical anomaly? As the Pew Research Center’s latest data reports, Jews are fleeing Europe. That is not just because of the alarming increase in violence against Jews but a product of the way anti-Semitism has once again become mainstream in European culture after decades of being marginalized, or at least kept under wraps, after the Holocaust.

Moreover, it is a plain fact that those who have made up every great wave of immigration to the Jewish homeland have been primarily motivated by necessity rather than an ideological commitment to Zionism. The logic of Zionism is not so much the very real appeal of its efforts to reconstitute a national Jewish culture and language but the need of the Jews for a refuge from the potent virus of anti-Semitism.

It would be nice to believe that in the enlightened Western Europe of our own day the fears about mobs crying “Death to the Jews” that motivated Theodor Herzl to write The Jewish State and found modern Zionism would no longer apply. But a Europe where the Jew-hatred of the Arab and Muslim world that was imported by Middle Eastern immigrants mixes with the contempt for Jewish identity and Israel that has become conventional wisdom among European intellectual elites is not a place where Jews can live safely.

Under these conditions, it is the duty of any prime minister of Israel to remind the world, as well as those faced with such a difficult decision, that Jews are no longer a homeless people that can be abused with impunity. The rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel not only gave the Jews a refuge that would have saved millions during the Holocaust. It also gave every Jew around the world, whether Zionist or non-Zionist, religious or non-religious, a reason to stand a little taller. Jews may choose to stay where they are, whether in an increasingly dangerous Europe or a place like the United States where, despite the existence of anti-Semitism, they can live in unprecedented freedom, acceptance, and security. But the existence of a home for Jews helps make them more secure. Anti-Semitism is, as we noted in our editorial, “a disease for which there is no cure.” But after Copenhagen, our conclusion is just as true: “The existential necessity of Zionism after Paris is not only a fact. It is a charge for the future.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu is right to note this fact. His critics, both in Europe and on the American left, should cease carping and seek to help him strengthen Israel against its enemies.

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Nothing ‘Random’ About Copenhagen Attacks

Many media accounts are referring to last night’s shootings in Copenhagen as a “copycat” episode in which the perpetrator sought to emulate the atrocities committed by Islamists last month in Paris. But whether or not the Copenhagen shooter was specifically motivated by the ones who committed the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher market, this crime must be understood as being one more example of the twin trends of Islamist violence and anti-Semitism that have spread across Europe. Even more importantly, it demonstrates the folly of the mindset of the Obama administration that continues to be resolute in its unwillingness to confront the sources of terrorism and the reality of its role in violent Jew-hatred.

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Many media accounts are referring to last night’s shootings in Copenhagen as a “copycat” episode in which the perpetrator sought to emulate the atrocities committed by Islamists last month in Paris. But whether or not the Copenhagen shooter was specifically motivated by the ones who committed the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher market, this crime must be understood as being one more example of the twin trends of Islamist violence and anti-Semitism that have spread across Europe. Even more importantly, it demonstrates the folly of the mindset of the Obama administration that continues to be resolute in its unwillingness to confront the sources of terrorism and the reality of its role in violent Jew-hatred.

The Copenhagen shootings provide important context for the interview of President Obama published last week in Vox. In it, he acknowledged that it was legitimate for people to be concerned about terrorism, but he spoke of it as a secondary concern that gained headlines merely because of the lurid nature of the crimes committed by those involved. Likening his job to that of a “big city mayor” who needs to keep crime rates low, he spoke of terrorism as merely one more problem on his plate and not the most serious one. Obama not only refuses to acknowledge that the spread of ISIS in the Middle East is fueled by a form of religious fundamentalism that has strong support in the Muslim world; he also quite deliberately refused to label what happened in Paris last month an act of anti-Semitism, a stand that was echoed by the press spokespersons for both the White House and the State Department last week.

I wrote last week that, contrary to Obama, there was nothing “random” about an attack on a kosher market in Paris: the assailants were clearly seeking out a place where they could kill Jews and succeeded in that respect. The same is true of the Copenhagen shooter’s decision to attack a synagogue after spraying bullets at a café where a cartoonist who had drawn images of the Prophet Muhammad was speaking. One person was killed at the café and a Jewish voluntary security guard at the synagogue (who was there protecting the celebrants at a bat mitzvah being held at the time).

The Copenhagen attacks are one more reminder that the debate about whether there is such a thing as Islamist terrorism or if attacks on Jews are “random” isn’t about semantics. The refusal to address the religious sources of terrorism—a point on which some Arab leaders have begun to be heard—inevitably renders American efforts to do something about the problem ineffective. Just as importantly, denying the connection between this form of Islam and anti-Semitism seems to be causing the administration to also refuse to acknowledge that Jews in Europe are being targeted because of their identity and not simply due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If the U.S. were to begin to tell the truth about the Islamist roots of terror and the connection with anti-Semitism, that might be the start of a re-examination of mistaken policies that have, albeit unwittingly, led to the rise of ISIS as well as a determination to retreat from the Middle East. The administration’s obsession with creating a new détente with Iran is not merely about pulling back from a confrontation with Tehran about their nuclear-weapons program. It is part of a mindset that mistakenly views the Islamist regime’s bid for regional hegemony as no threat to the West. At the same time it also seems to regard worries about the defense of Jews, whether in an Israel threatened with extinction by Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian terror groups, or in Europe, as complications that need to be either argued down or ignored.

The West needs the sort of moral leadership from the White House that would galvanize world opinion against Islamists, whether in the form of ISIS barbarians in Syria and Iraq, Islamist tyrants in Tehran, or murderers bent on suppressing free speech and killing Jews in European cities. Instead, it has a man who provides misleading and inaccurate analogies between Islamist crimes and the history of the West while seeing himself as beset by demands to address issues of terror and anti-Semitism that don’t hold his interest. When the leader of the free world isn’t terribly interested in the need to defeat freedom’s enemies, the world must tremble.

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BDS Youth Speak Out: “Expel the Jews”

The campus boycott, divestment, sanctions movement depends on two myths of purity. One concerns South Africa. Ignoring South Africa’s alliance with human-rights violators like Russia and China, the BDS movement draws at every opportunity on statements of support from South Africa to demonstrate its bona fides: these people know a little something about apartheid, they suggest, so our assertions that Israel is an apartheid state must also be taken seriously.

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The campus boycott, divestment, sanctions movement depends on two myths of purity. One concerns South Africa. Ignoring South Africa’s alliance with human-rights violators like Russia and China, the BDS movement draws at every opportunity on statements of support from South Africa to demonstrate its bona fides: these people know a little something about apartheid, they suggest, so our assertions that Israel is an apartheid state must also be taken seriously.

The second concerns students. Ignoring signs that young people are at least as capable of prejudice and stupidity as their elders, the BDS movement suggests that the young are on “the right side of history” and that, consequently, BDS’s occasional successes at colleges and universities demonstrate the essential rightness of their cause. As the anti-Israel activist Anna Balzer has put it, BDS will benefit from “a generational shift, driven by young people, who have become allies to the cause even as their parents repeat the same tired arguments.”

So you would think that in South Africa’s students, you might find the quintessence of the boycott movement’s forward-looking strategy. Indeed. As InsideHigherEd reports today, the “student government of the Durban University of Technology, in South Africa, has called on the institution to expel Jewish students.” They have also asked for more financial aid. They are joined in their demands by the Progressive Youth Alliance (I am not making this up).

When I read the headline, I admit that, in spite of my experience with BDS, I assumed it must be an exaggeration. On the contrary, the secretary of the student government, rather than taking the opportunity to issue a denial, said “We had a meeting and analyzed international politics. We took the decision that Jewish students, especially those who do not support the Palestinian struggle, should deregister.” The vice-chancellor of the university has acknowledged receiving a memorandum from student protesters demanding the “deregistration of Jewish students” and has firmly rejected it. But Mr. Vice-Chancellor, they “analyzed international politics”!

Charmingly, according to the Daily Vox, a South African site that features young journalists, “students that desisted from the strike were explicitly threatened.” It is no doubt a coincidence that Leila Khaled, under the sponsorship of BDS-South Africa, had visited campus the day before the memorandum was issued. I have written about Khaled’s advocacy of violence here.

So far, I haven’t seen any coverage of this incident from those who favor BDS. That makes sense. It wouldn’t do to criticize the moral center of one’s movement.

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European Anti-Semitism Starts from the Top

The Obama administration’s inexplicable denial that last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris could possibly be anti-Semitic overshadowed yesterday’s other interesting tidbit from the anti-Semitism front: German Jewish organizations are furious because a blue-ribbon panel set up by the German government to advise it on fighting anti-Semitism doesn’t include a single Jew. It’s hard to imagine that a panel on, say, prejudice against Muslims or blacks would exclude representatives of the targeted community. But the more serious concern is that a panel without Jews will ignore one of the main manifestations of modern anti-Semitism, as exemplified by another German decision just last week: a judicial ruling that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about torching a synagogue to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.

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The Obama administration’s inexplicable denial that last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris could possibly be anti-Semitic overshadowed yesterday’s other interesting tidbit from the anti-Semitism front: German Jewish organizations are furious because a blue-ribbon panel set up by the German government to advise it on fighting anti-Semitism doesn’t include a single Jew. It’s hard to imagine that a panel on, say, prejudice against Muslims or blacks would exclude representatives of the targeted community. But the more serious concern is that a panel without Jews will ignore one of the main manifestations of modern anti-Semitism, as exemplified by another German decision just last week: a judicial ruling that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about torching a synagogue to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.

The case involved two German-Palestinian adults who threw Molotov cocktails at the Wuppertal synagogue in July, causing 800 euros worth of damage. The court decided the attack wasn’t anti-Semitic and therefore let them off with suspended jail sentences and community service. And why wasn’t it anti-Semitic? Because, said the court, the perpetrators were simply trying to bring “attention to the Gaza conflict” then raging between Hamas and Israel. And of course there’s nothing anti-Semitic about attacking Jews in one country to “bring attention” to acts by other Jews in another country; they’re all Jews, aren’t they? Doubtless the court would be equally understanding if Israelis torched a German church to “bring attention to” this abhorrent ruling.

Nor is the ruling an aberration; it’s quite representative of elite German thought. Last year, Prof. Monika Schwarz-Friesel of the Technical University of Berlin published a study that analyzed 10 years’ worth of hate mail sent to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin. To her surprise, only 3 percent came from right-wing extremists, while over 60 percent came from educated members of “the social mainstream.” And these letters weren’t mere “Israel criticism”; they contained classic anti-Semitic statements like “It is possible that the murder of innocent children suits your long tradition” or “For the last 2,000 years, you’ve been stealing land and committing genocide.”

Needless to say, educated elites in other European countries aren’t much better. Last month, for instance, a BCC reporter drew fire for implying that the kosher supermarket attack in Paris was somehow justified because “Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.” And just last week, Britain’s Sky News “apologized” for showing footage from the Gaza war above a strip saying “Auschwitz remembered” during a Holocaust Memorial Day interview with Britain’s chief rabbi; the “apology” defended the original decision as “logical” even while admitting that in retrospect, it was “unfortunate.” After all, what could be more logical than implicitly comparing a war that killed some 2,100 Palestinians (and 72 Israelis) to the deliberate extermination of six million Jews?

Indeed, this comparison is so “logical” to many educated Westerners that during the Gaza war, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum felt the need to publish a special FAQs section on its website explaining why the war wasn’t comparable to the Holocaust, why Palestinians aren’t victims of genocide, and why Gaza isn’t a ghetto. You’d think this would be self-evident, but in a world where 35 percent of Germans say Israel treats Palestinians just like the Nazis treated Jews, and where Britons loathe Israel more than any other country except North Korea, it clearly isn’t.

In short, modern anti-Semitism can’t be fought without addressing a problem that too many members of Europe’s educated elites refuse to see: The propagators of today’s anti-Semitism come primarily from their own Israel-obsessed ranks, not from the far-right fringes. And one can’t help wondering whether Jews were left off Germany’s blue-ribbon panel precisely because they might have the temerity to point this out.

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We Have to Talk About Obama’s Ignorance

In the wake of the controversy over President Obama’s offensive labeling of anti-Semitic violence as “random,” it became clear that regardless of whether he chose his words carefully, he certainly chose his audience carefully. He was not challenged by his interviewer at Vox for his undeniably false characterization of the Paris attacks. And now, having given an interview to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he has continued exposing his own ignorance in the hope that he would continue not to be called on it by his interviewers. He was in luck yet again.

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In the wake of the controversy over President Obama’s offensive labeling of anti-Semitic violence as “random,” it became clear that regardless of whether he chose his words carefully, he certainly chose his audience carefully. He was not challenged by his interviewer at Vox for his undeniably false characterization of the Paris attacks. And now, having given an interview to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he has continued exposing his own ignorance in the hope that he would continue not to be called on it by his interviewers. He was in luck yet again.

BuzzFeed has posted the transcript of the interview, and when the subject turns to Russia, Obama said this:

You know, I don’t want to psychoanalyze Mr. Putin. I will say that he has a foot very much in the Soviet past. That’s how he came of age. He ran the KGB. Those were his formative experiences. So I think he looks at problems through this Cold War lens, and, as a consequence, I think he’s missed some opportunities for Russia to diversify its economy, to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors, to represent something different than the old Soviet-style aggression. You know, I continue to hold out the prospect of Russia taking a diplomatic offering from what they’ve done in Ukraine. I think, to their credit, they’ve been able to compartmentalize and continue to work with us on issues like Iran’s nuclear program.

As people pointed out immediately, Obama is wrong about Putin and the KGB. Ben Judah, a journalist who recently wrote a book on Putin’s Russia, responded: “The interesting and informative thing about Obama’s view on Putin is how uninsightful and uniformed it is.”

Putin ran the FSB–the successor agency to the KGB–and the difference matters. But what also matters is the emerging pattern for Obama’s view of the world: he has no idea what he’s talking about. The president, as Sam Cooke sang, don’t know much about history. And it’s evident in each major area of conflict the president seeks to solve and ends up only exacerbating.

It is not my intention to run down a list of all Obama’s flubs. Everybody makes mistakes, and any politician whose words are as scrutinized as the president’s is going to have their share of slip-ups. Yes, Obama is a clumsy public speaker; but that’s not the problem, nor is it worth spending much time on.

The problem is that Obama tends to make mistakes that stem from a worldview often at odds with reality. Russia is a good example. Does it matter that Obama doesn’t know the basics of Vladimir Putin’s biography and the transition of post-Soviet state security? Yes, it does, because Obama’s habit of misreading Putin has been at the center of his administration’s failed Russia policy. And it matters with regard not only to Russia but to his broader foreign policy because Obama has a habit of not listening to anyone not named Jarrett. Obama appointed among the most qualified American ambassadors ever to represent the U.S. abroad in sending Michael McFaul to Moscow. But with or without McFaul, Obama let his own naïveté guide him.

Obama has also run into some trouble with history in the Middle East, where history is both exceedingly important and practically weaponized. The legitimacy of the Jewish state is of particular relevance to the conflict. So Obama was criticized widely for undermining that legitimacy in his famous 2009 Cairo speech, puzzling even Israel’s strident leftists. The speech was harder to defend than either his remarks to BuzzFeed or Vox because such speeches are not off the cuff; they are carefully scrutinized by the administration. When Obama could say exactly what he meant to say, in other words, this is what he chose to say.

It wasn’t the only time Obama revealed his ignorance of the Middle East and especially Israeli history, of course. And that ignorance has had consequences. Obama has learned nothing from the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fact which was reflected quite clearly in his disastrous mishandling of the negotiations and their bloody aftermath. He didn’t understand Palestinian intentions, Israeli political reality, or the lessons from when the U.S. has played a beneficial role in the conflict in the past. The president can simply move on, but Israelis and Palestinians have to pay the price for his learning curve.

And the Vox errors echo throughout the president’s mishandling of the other great security challenge: Islamic terrorism. Such terrorism has contributed a great deal to the undoing of many of the gains in Iraq and the international state system. Here, for example, is a map tweeted out last week by Ian Bremmer, which shows, in his words, “Statelessness overlapping with radical Islam.” We can certainly argue over the chicken-or-egg quality to such an overlap, but the threat radical Islamic violence poses to global order is fairly obvious.

Yet it’s not just the history of Islam and of anti-Semitism that the president gets wrong when trying to spin away the threat of Islamist terror. He also created a firestorm with his faux history of the Crusades in order to draw a false moral equivalence that only obscures the threat.

In other words, it’s a comprehensive historical ignorance. And on matters of great significance–the major world religions, the Middle East, Russia. And the president’s unwillingness to grasp the past certainly gives reason for concern with Iran as well–a country whose government has used the façade of negotiations to its own anti-American ends for long enough to see the pattern.

They’re not just minor gaffes or verbal blunders. They serve as a window into the mind of a president who acts as if a history of the world before yesterday could fit on a postcard. We talk a lot about the defects of the president’s ideology, but not about his ignorance. The two are related, but the latter is lately the one causing a disproportionate amount of damage.

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An Administration With a Blind Spot About Anti-Semitism

President Obama’s recent interview with Vox included an astonishing characterization of one of the most notorious recent terror attacks. As he did in his initial reaction to the assault on a kosher deli in Paris, the president did not call it an act of anti-Semitism or say that those slaughtered were singled out for murder because they were Jews. Even worse, he told Vox that those responsible for the attack on the Hyper Cacher had decided to “randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a Paris deli.” The day after such a glaring misstatement of fact, one might expect the White House to walk back this remark in some way. But, instead, both White House spokesman Josh Earnest and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki doubled down on the president’s tortured logic in a stunning display of Orwellian doubletalk. Instead of just a president with a blind spot about anti-Semitism that comes out when he is interviewed, it is now clear that the United States has an administration with a blind spot about anti-Semitism.

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President Obama’s recent interview with Vox included an astonishing characterization of one of the most notorious recent terror attacks. As he did in his initial reaction to the assault on a kosher deli in Paris, the president did not call it an act of anti-Semitism or say that those slaughtered were singled out for murder because they were Jews. Even worse, he told Vox that those responsible for the attack on the Hyper Cacher had decided to “randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a Paris deli.” The day after such a glaring misstatement of fact, one might expect the White House to walk back this remark in some way. But, instead, both White House spokesman Josh Earnest and State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki doubled down on the president’s tortured logic in a stunning display of Orwellian doubletalk. Instead of just a president with a blind spot about anti-Semitism that comes out when he is interviewed, it is now clear that the United States has an administration with a blind spot about anti-Semitism.

To have made such a statement once might be just a gaffe. To do it twice revealed that the president has a blind spot about anti-Semitism that somehow prevents him from either admitting that the incident was anti-Semitic or condemning it as an incident in which Jews were targeted. But today we learned that this is not just a rhetorical tic. It is now official U.S. policy to claim that when Islamist murderers go into a kosher deli looking for Jews to kill, they are not targeting Jews or acting out of religious bias.

Earnest ‘s insistence that the Hyper Cacher was not chosen by the terrorists because of the likelihood that it would be filled with Jews shopping for the Sabbath is mind-boggling. So, too, is Psaki’s belief that calling it an act of anti-Semitism is a question so complex that only the local French authorities investigating the crime can know for sure.

Why the adamant refusal to label an unambiguous act of anti-Semitism what it is?

One reason is the natural resistance on the part of this administration to admit mistakes especially when the president commits them. President Obama is a notoriously thin-skinned individual who clings to the conceit that he understands every issue better than his critics. Few administrations like to concede they have erred but this one is particularly allergic to that type of transparency.

But this problem goes deeper than that.

This is an administration that is loath to say that Islamist terrorists represent a significant minority of adherents of their faith. Indeed, as I noted yesterday, this understandable desire to avoid casting the conflict as one of the West against Muslims has been exaggerated to the extent that the president now poses as the pope and claims that he has the authority to determine who does or does not reflect the true version of that faith.

But now apparently this reluctance to admit that Islamists terrorists are Muslims extends to refusing to say that Jewish victims were Jewish or that the killers were trying to kill Jews. In doing so, the administration seems to think that denying that it was an act of anti-Semitism will absolve it of any responsibility to speak up against Jew hatred or to acknowledge the way the virus of anti-Semitism has spread among Muslims.

It goes without saying that this controversy and the embarrassing lengths to which Obama’s whims required Earnest and Psaki to foreswear both logic and honesty were entirely unnecessary. Acknowledging the obvious anti-Semitic nature of the Hyper Cacher attack has no real policy implications. No one expects the administration to do anything about anti-Semitism except to condemn it. In fact any mention of the attack is not a trick question. It is a layup for the president who could easily pose as a defender of Jewish interests and an opponent of hate by merely saying he is appalled by the targeting of Jews in France or anywhere else. Obama and his mouthpieces could have done this easily without being roped into unwanted action or even expressing sympathy for Israel as a refuge against anti-Semitism. But though speaking out against anti-Semitism is a cost-free way of demonstrating both sensitivity and a zealous defense of human rights, it is apparently too much to ask of a president who feels free in his last two years in the White House to say and do as he likes.

But there is a cost attached to Obama’s refusal to speak about anti-Semitism and his firm orders to underlings to copy his oblivious stand. By that I do not refer to a political cost for Obama who will never again have to face an electorate, including an American Jewish community that gave him the lion’s share of their votes despite his obvious hostility to Israel. Instead it is the Jews of Europe, who continue to be targeted because of their faith amid what even Obama’s State Department termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism,” who will pay the price for his refusal to speak the truth about violent Jew hatred.

Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors in Iran will not be slow to pick up on this signal from Washington that the Jews are on their own. If the president and his spin masters won’t speak about anti-Semitism, you can be sure that those ginning up these attacks and engaging in the most vile forms of delegitimization will interpret it as a sign that the U.S. isn’t interested in the fate of the Jews.

Were the president prepared to speak responsibly about terrorism he would do more than acknowledge that the Hyper Cacher was singled out because it was filled with Jews. He would, instead, connect the dots between these acts of terror and the hate spread by an Iranian regime that he is pursuing with offers of détente. But it is hardly surprising that a president who treats Israeli acts of self-defense against terror as an obstacle to his foreign policy goals would treat the siege of the Jews of Europe as beneath his notice.

An administration with a blind spot about anti-Semitism is one that is not only encouraging more such attacks. It is also demonstrating that is unready to defend anyone against an Islamist scourge that this president dares not call by its right name.

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Obama’s Blind Spot About Anti-Semitism

There has been a great deal of justified criticism about President Obama’s unwillingness to respond to terrorist outrages with the sort of moral leadership that can rally the West to fight back. His comments at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast in which he sought to create a false moral equivalency between ISIS’s horrific burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot and the Christian West’s past sins during the Inquisition and even the Crusades have been rightly blasted for his tone-deaf approach to terrorism. The president seems so mired in his deep ambivalence about the West’s role in world history that he is unable to play his part as leader of the free world in what is, like it or not, a life-and-death struggle against truly evil forces. It is also revealed in his administration’s refusal to call Islamist terrorism by that name. But just as troubling is his unwillingness to address one of the primary characteristics of this brand of terror: anti-Semitism. In an interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, he described the terror attack on a Paris kosher market as a “random” event rather than an act of murder motivated by Jew hatred. Though it won’t get the same attention as his outrageous speech last week, it gives us just as much insight into the president’s foreign-policy mindset.

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There has been a great deal of justified criticism about President Obama’s unwillingness to respond to terrorist outrages with the sort of moral leadership that can rally the West to fight back. His comments at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast in which he sought to create a false moral equivalency between ISIS’s horrific burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot and the Christian West’s past sins during the Inquisition and even the Crusades have been rightly blasted for his tone-deaf approach to terrorism. The president seems so mired in his deep ambivalence about the West’s role in world history that he is unable to play his part as leader of the free world in what is, like it or not, a life-and-death struggle against truly evil forces. It is also revealed in his administration’s refusal to call Islamist terrorism by that name. But just as troubling is his unwillingness to address one of the primary characteristics of this brand of terror: anti-Semitism. In an interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, he described the terror attack on a Paris kosher market as a “random” event rather than an act of murder motivated by Jew hatred. Though it won’t get the same attention as his outrageous speech last week, it gives us just as much insight into the president’s foreign-policy mindset.

It should be recalled that in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at the Hyper Cacher market by killers associated with those who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo massacre days earlier, President Obama also refused to call it an act of anti-Semitism. That was, in its own way, as shocking as the president’s decision to not send any high-ranking U.S. official to the Paris unity march that took place to protest the murders or to go himself as did many other Western leaders.

But official American statements that did mention anti-Semitism and the subsequent rally boycott overtook this controversy. The kerfuffle over that initial comment was soon forgotten. But the president’s return to this topic has brought that statement back to mind.

His Vox comments are, in fact, far worse than his initial reaction which was more a matter of omission than a conscious twisting of events. Here’s what the president said in response to a question about whether the media is blowing terrorist incidents out of proportion:

It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.

Let’s first note that his characterization of the assailants again omits their Islamist loyalties and the fact that religion was the motivating factor for their crime. This is consistent with administration policy that seeks to cleanse ISIS, al-Qaeda, or other Islamists of any connection with the Muslim faith. This is absurd not just because it is wrong. It also puts Obama in the position of trying to play the pope of Islam who can decide who is or is not a real Muslim, a responsibility that no American president should try to usurp.

But it is also significant that once again the president chooses to treat a deliberate targeting of a Jewish business filled with Jewish customers as something that is random rather than an overt act of anti-Semitism. Doing so once might be excused as an oversight. The second time makes it a pattern that can’t be ignored.

This is a peculiar talking point especially since the increase of anti-Semitism in Europe with violent incidents going up every year is something that even the Obama State Department has dubbed a “rising tide” of hate.

Why does the president have such a blind spot when it comes to anti-Semitism? His critics will jump to conclusions that will tell us more about their views of Obama than about his thinking. But suffice it to say that this is a president who finds it hard to focus on the siege of Jews in Europe or of the State of Israel in the Middle East. Nor can it be entirely coincidental that a president who treats Israeli self-defense and concerns for its security as a bothersome irritant to his foreign policy or seeks to blame the Jewish state’s leaders for obstructing a peace process that was actually blown up by the Palestinians would have a blind spot about anti-Semitism.

To address the spread of violent anti-Semitism in Europe would require the administration to connect the dots between slaughters such as the ones that took place at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher and the hate spread by the Islamists of Iran with whom Obama is so keen on negotiating a new détente. To put these awful events in a context that properly labels them an outbreak of violent Muslim Jew-hatred would require the administration to rethink its policies toward Israel as well as Iran. And that is something this president has no intention of doing.

You can’t defeat an enemy that you refuse to call by his right name. That’s why ignoring Islamism and calling ISIS and the Paris killers mere “zealots” or “extremists” not only misses the point but also hampers the West’s ability to resist them. By the same token, the omission of any discussion of anti-Semitism about an event that was an unambiguous act of Jew hatred similarly undermines the effort to strike back at such atrocities. When a president calls one of the more egregious acts of anti-Semitism in recent years a mere “random” shooting, it trivializes the victims and places the U.S. on the wrong side of the moral divide. In doing so, Obama does the nation and the cause of freedom a grave disservice.

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Campus Incitement Proves Anti-Zionism Still Equals Anti-Semitism

Supporters of the effort to isolate Israel have tried to argue that their BDS—boycott, divest, and sanction—campaign is aimed only at the State of Israel and not Jews. But just as the demonstrations throughout Europe protesting Israel’s efforts to defend itself against Hamas terrorism were conducted in a manner that is indistinguishable from traditional anti-Semitic incitement so, too, have the pro-BDS crowd at universities and colleges often quickly descended into expressions of Jew-hatred. This unfortunate truth was demonstrated again last week at the University of California, Davis when a debate about a BDS resolution led to anti-Semitic activity.

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Supporters of the effort to isolate Israel have tried to argue that their BDS—boycott, divest, and sanction—campaign is aimed only at the State of Israel and not Jews. But just as the demonstrations throughout Europe protesting Israel’s efforts to defend itself against Hamas terrorism were conducted in a manner that is indistinguishable from traditional anti-Semitic incitement so, too, have the pro-BDS crowd at universities and colleges often quickly descended into expressions of Jew-hatred. This unfortunate truth was demonstrated again last week at the University of California, Davis when a debate about a BDS resolution led to anti-Semitic activity.

On January 29, the UC Davis student government voted to recommend the school’s Board of Regents divest from companies that “aid in the illegal occupation of Palestine,” which is to say, by the Palestinians’ own definition, all of Israel. This prejudicial measure, aimed at seeking the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet, passed by an 8-2 vote.

It is to be hoped that the school’s board will reject this specious argument as almost every other major institution of higher learning in the country already has done. But the really significant aspect of this event was what happened during the debate prior to the vote.

As the Washington Free Beacon reported, when pro-Israel students tried to speak, pro-Palestinian and Arab students did their best to shout them down. As a tape of the event shows, the anti-Israel mob chanted “Allahu Akbar” when divestment opponents had the floor. No action was taken by the school to prevent this incitement or to allow speakers to be heard.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Days later, students at the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity awoke the following Saturday to discover that swastikas had been spray painted on their house.

Taken together these incidents illustrated that the campaign for divestment had created what can only be described as a hostile environment for Jewish students on campus. A place where students cannot speak up in defense of Israel without fear of being heckled and shouted down by Islamist chants or of having anti-Semitic vandalism committed is not a place where Jews can feel safe to study or to live.

Nor is this an isolated incident. A study of the problem issued by the Israeli government last month showed a marked rise in anti-Semitic activity on American campuses in the past year. This was particularly true during Israel’s most recent war with Hamas as terrorist missiles rained down on the Jewish state’s cities. During this period there was a 400-percent increase in anti-Semitic activity over the previous year. In the majority of those cases where violence was reported, the perpetrators were identified as being of Muslim or Arab descent.

The point here is not to silence those critical of Israel or to outlaw BDS. Those who seek to wage rhetorical war on Israel in the United States have the same rights of free speech as its defenders. But when, as invariably happens, their actions cross over from criticism of Israeli policies to overt acts of anti-Semitism, the pretense that their anti-Zionist agitation is not an act of prejudice against Jews cannot be sustained.

Those who would deny to the Jews the same rights of sovereignty and self-defense that are never questioned anywhere else on earth are not merely engaged in politics. Treating Israel in a way that no other country is treated and ignoring real human-rights abuses elsewhere shows they are engaged in an act of bias. Bias against Jews is called anti-Semitism and it is long past time for all decent persons, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, to call BDS by its right name: hate speech.

The line that supposedly exists between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is an imaginary one. As events at UC Davis proved, this debate has ceased to be theoretical. Those who claim to oppose anti-Semitism must no longer treat BDS as merely an issue on which reasonable persons can agree to disagree. Those who are neutral about BDS or who treat it as a merely a difference of opinion are not promoting a fair debate about a topical issue. They are aiding and abetting hate.

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UKIP’s Selective Democracy and the Jews

A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

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A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

UKIP (the UK Independence Party) is actually far more moderate than its reputation would suggest. And unlike in France, it’s conceivable that an anti-EU party in Britain could pull the UK away from the union. That’s because Britain isn’t in the union with both feet. And it’s also because mainstream parties like the Conservatives have a strong and eloquent faction of Euroskeptics among them.

UKIP, in other words, gets a bad rap. Unfortunately, they’re starting to live up to it.

What’s concerning about the rise of the French far right is that a militant anti-Muslim posture, aside from being animated by discriminatory ideas, will do no good for non-Muslims either. You can’t have religious freedom for only some of your citizens and still be free.

UKIP is demonstrating this with its new anti-halal campaign.

The latest controversy started with the revelations that hidden cameras in a halal slaughterhouse had captured “horrifying” abuse of the animals before and during the slaughter. Muslims have been fighting against the government’s preference that animals be stunned before being slaughtered, and this appears to have turned public opinion back against them.

UKIP responded by calling for a ban on any slaughter in which the animal isn’t stunned first, in essence simply removing the religious exemption. As other similar bans have shown, this would outlaw the kosher shechita process as well. UKIP’s attempt at reassurance to Britain’s Jewish Chronicle sounded as though a Tory plant had dressed as a UKIP minister and set about sabotaging the group’s standing:

A senior Ukip member has claimed that the party’s ban on non-stun slaughter, announced today, was against his wishes.

MEP Stuart Agnew, the party’s agricultural spokesman, said: “We are a democratic party and I couldn’t get enough support. They didn’t like my tolerance of non-stunning.

“They have decided to override me on this occasion. I’m not going to say they were wrong.”

But Mr Agnew said the policy was not meant to target shechita.

“This isn’t aimed at you – it’s aimed elsewhere – it’s aimed at others.

“You’ve been caught in the crossfire; collateral damage. You know what I mean.”

Yes, we know what you mean. And that statement is a bumbling masterpiece.

First, the UKIP spokesman said that he was forced to go along with the outlawing of basic tenets of Judaism and Islam because they “are a democratic party.” I don’t know if he appreciated the irony of defending the proposal that the government stomp on individual rights in the name of democracy, but it’s not comforting.

His second part of the “defense” of the UKIP vote was more honest. The Jews are simply “collateral damage.” It’s possible he meant this in a positive way too, something like: You folks are usually the target of populist authoritarianism, so in a way you’ve graduated.

He might be comparing Britain to France here. Maybe UKIP thinks that because they’re not threatening violence, outlawing Jewish practice in this way is not the really bad kind of authoritarian nationalism. But in fact it’s not really fully accurate to say they’re not threatening violence, is it? After all, such laws are backed up by the force of the state, so we’re not talking about simply peer pressure here.

We’ve seen similar efforts in the U.S. get struck down by the courts, if they even get that far. For a while “anti-Sharia” laws were all the rage, but they often amounted to unconscionable infringements on religious liberty. (In one case an anti-Sharia law raised fears it would, as written, outlaw Jewish divorce.)

In Britain’s case, UKIP’s selective democracy works against the Jews twice over. Not only must Jews’ religious liberty be eroded because UKIP votes on its asinine schemes, but Jews are also not present in high enough numbers to make UKIP pay at the ballot box–or, at least, not in high enough numbers to stop a ritual slaughter ban from being a net-gain for UKIP:

Mr Agnew said he believed that the policy was put forward to win votes ahead of the general election.

He said: “There are more votes to be gained, and I expect that’s what they were looking for.

“We’ll have lost the Jewish vote for sure, they won’t support us now for sure – we won’t get any now.

“But we might gain votes elsewhere – and that’s what they’re after, general election votes.”

This is a perfect example of what a glorious document our Constitution, with its attendant amendments, is. Britain has a tradition of freedom and republicanism from which we get our own. But that tradition here was, wisely, codified and made explicit. UKIP’s members like to think of themselves as a party geared toward liberty. But it’s clear they don’t know the meaning of the word.

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Friedman Spreads Anti-Semitic Libels About Netanyahu Speech

The stakes are growing in the debate about the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran. Though the argument can be viewed as just one more spat promoted by an administration with an axe to grind against Netanyahu, with the talk of Democrats, even Vice President Biden, prepared to boycott the event because they see it an as an effort to aid Republican efforts to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy, the potential for real damage is no longer theoretical. But the most troubling development is not the ongoing arguments about whether the prime minister has committed a blunder. Rather, it is the willingness by some to use it to stoke anti-Israel libels. That’s the upshot of the latest column from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman who claims Netanyahu’s speech will be seen as an attempt to force the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is not only a gross distortion of the truth but also a not-so-subtle effort to plant the seeds of an anti-Semitic libel.

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The stakes are growing in the debate about the wisdom of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to address a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran. Though the argument can be viewed as just one more spat promoted by an administration with an axe to grind against Netanyahu, with the talk of Democrats, even Vice President Biden, prepared to boycott the event because they see it an as an effort to aid Republican efforts to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy, the potential for real damage is no longer theoretical. But the most troubling development is not the ongoing arguments about whether the prime minister has committed a blunder. Rather, it is the willingness by some to use it to stoke anti-Israel libels. That’s the upshot of the latest column from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman who claims Netanyahu’s speech will be seen as an attempt to force the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is not only a gross distortion of the truth but also a not-so-subtle effort to plant the seeds of an anti-Semitic libel.

Supporters of the speech, such as Wall Street Journal columnist and COMMENTARY contributor Bret Stephens, argue that Congress needs an “unvarnished account of the choice to which Mr. Obama proposes to put Israel: either accede to continued diplomacy with Iran, and therefore its de facto nuclearization; or strike Iran militarily in defiance of the U.S. and Mr. Obama’s concordat with Tehran.” I don’t disagree, but as I have written in the last two weeks, I think the decision to give the speech was a grave tactical error on Netanyahu’s part. Congress was in no doubt about Israel’s position and the prime minister could have reached out to members in the same way that British Prime Minister David Cameron has used to back up the president. But by parachuting directly into the debate on Iran sanctions that is taking place in Congress, he ran the risk of being seen as trying to upstage the president in a way that was bound to ruffle the feathers of many pro-Israel Democrats, even those that agree with Netanyahu on the issue. The proposed speech also provided Obama with a heaven-sent chance to divert attention from the administration’s indefensible opposition to strengthening their hand in the nuclear talks with Iran. The prime minister’s alleged chutzpah became the focus of the discussion instead of the president’s clear desire for détente with the Islamist regime, dealing sanctions proponents a clear setback.

But Friedman, who is at least smart enough to seem to harbor some doubts about whether Obama’s diplomacy can succeed, isn’t satisfied with asserting that Netanyahu is making the mistake. Instead, he uses this controversy to return to one of his favorite hobbyhorses: the way pro-Israel political donors, such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson, are trying to buy Congress in a way that runs contrary to U.S. interests. Claiming, without backing the charge up with reporting, that Adelson hatched the idea is one thing. He even says someone should have told Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer “anti-Semites, who claim Israel controls Washington, will have a field day.” The fact that it is Friedman who has floated this charge in the Times when he complained about the ovations Netanyahu earned the last time he addressed Congress is unmentioned in the column.

Even worse, Friedman then goes on to write that if diplomacy fails and the U.S. is forced to use force to address the Iranian threat, the Netanyahu speech will serve as a smoking gun proving that it was Israel that manipulated America into what might prove to be another disastrous war.

Of course, Friedman frames this as helpful advice intended as advocacy for what is in Israel’s best interests. But by raising the specter of anti-Semitism as well as of what must be considered nothing short of a potential blood libel, Friedman is tipping his own hand.

One can agree with President Obama’s absurd belief that Iran must be appeased on the nuclear issue in order to help it “get right with the world” without raising the specious charge that opponents of this policy who think it will endanger the West as well as Israel are being bought by Jewish money. One can also envision what is at this late date a highly unlikely scenario in which Iran’s refusal to accept Obama’s offers—which would effectively give a Western seal of approval to the Islamist regime becoming a nuclear threshold state—might lead to armed conflict without dropping the hint that the Jews will be the ones who started it.

Yet Friedman can’t avoid those temptations and injects the virus of anti-Semitism into a debate about whether the president is really interested in carrying out his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. By writing of anti-Semitism when virtually no one outside of the fever swamps of the far left and far right are doing so, Friedman is, once again, seeking to tilt the discussion in ways that do exactly what he claims he wishes to avoid.

Though President Obama has sought to paint advocates of more sanctions as warmongers, the truth is just the opposite. More sanctions that would actually press Iran to give up its nuclear toys are, in fact, the only path to successful effort to halt the threat from Tehran by measures short of war. Though it is hard to imagine a president so intent on normalizing relations with Iran ever considering the use of force, if that ever happened in this administration or his successor, it would be the result of the Islamists courting such a conflict, not Israeli political maneuvering. Iran’s ballistic missile program also means stopping it from going nuclear is as much a matter of U.S. security as the safety of Israel.

Anti-Semites need no prompting from Tom Friedman to promote libels against the Jewish state. But by seeking to frame the argument about Netanyahu as one that would justify their ravings, Friedman has crossed a line that no responsible journalist should even approach. Neither Netanyahu nor the pro-Israel community should hesitate to speak up for fear of giving anti-Semites ammunition. The prime minister’s plan to speak may be a tactical blunder but it is the willingness of Friedman to engage in this sort of incitement that is the real disgrace.

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Harvard’s Moment of Veritas

Last week, Lawrence H. Summers, the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and president emeritus of Harvard University, and former Secretary of the treasury, delivered a lecture on “Academic Freedom and Anti-Semitism” at Columbia University. He recalled that in 2002, when a petition circulated among the Harvard and MIT faculty and students, calling on universities to divest from companies doing business in Israel, he labeled the initiative “anti-Semitic in effect if not intent.” Last week, he said his 2002 assertion “seems to me to have stood up rather well,” and warned that the situation has gotten even worse: “It is my impression that there are more grounds for concern today than at any point since the Second World War”:

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Last week, Lawrence H. Summers, the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and president emeritus of Harvard University, and former Secretary of the treasury, delivered a lecture on “Academic Freedom and Anti-Semitism” at Columbia University. He recalled that in 2002, when a petition circulated among the Harvard and MIT faculty and students, calling on universities to divest from companies doing business in Israel, he labeled the initiative “anti-Semitic in effect if not intent.” Last week, he said his 2002 assertion “seems to me to have stood up rather well,” and warned that the situation has gotten even worse: “It is my impression that there are more grounds for concern today than at any point since the Second World War”:

We live in a world where there are nations in which the penalty for homosexuality is death, in which women are stoned for adultery, in which torture is pervasive, in which governments are killing tens of thousands of their own people each year. But the proponents of Israeli boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions do not favor any form of pressure against countries other than Israel.

Summers asserted that the recent boycott of Israel by the American Studies Association (ASA) was “anti-Semitic in effect and quite likely in intent” (emphasis added), since it applied only to Israel, sought to demonize the Jewish state, and was “unrelated to the expertise” of the ASA. When you reach out, beyond your area of competence, to delegitimize the Jewish state–and none other–both the effect and intent of the action seem reasonably clear. Summers said that university presidents should have responded to the ASA by saying something like this:

“The decision of the American Studies Association supported by a majority of its membership to single out Israeli institutions and Israeli scholars for selective boycott is abhorrent. The University believes it is very dangerous for scholarly associations to insert themselves into political issues outside of their range of competence. While individual members of the faculty are free to do as they wish, the University is withdrawing its institutional membership in the ASA. We will withdraw from any scholarly association that engages in similar boycotts with respect to Israel or any other country.”

Summers also wrote an op-ed published in yesterday’s Harvard Crimson, expressing his growing concern about what he has seen at Harvard. Unlike many universities that withdrew from the ASA in response to its boycott, Harvard remains an institutional member. Summers’ concluding paragraph suggests that this is a moment of truth for Harvard, whose official motto is Veritas:

Harvard’s example has never been more important. If Harvard is to lead on academic freedom it is essential that we all feel free to assert our views but that our University protect with ferocity its reputation by preventing views demonizing Israel or any other country from being bestowed with its good name.

More than a decade ago, Summers’ description of advocates of divestment as “anti-Semitic in effect if not intent” generated more controversy than any other academic freedom issue during his entire five-year Harvard presidency. In 2015, it is not clear whether his Columbia lecture and Crimson op-ed will elicit any response at all from Harvard’s administration.

What does it bode for the future if things have declined so far that America’s oldest university (and once deemed its most prestigious) not only fails to lead, but chooses not even to follow the example set by other educational institutions–and continues to lend its imprimatur and prestige to an academic association whose action was not only anti-Semitic in effect but likely in intent as well?

(Hat tip: Ira Stoll, editor, Future of Capitalism.)

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Anti-Israel Feeling in Britain Reaching Dangerous Levels

Beyond Europe, the only country the British now dislike more than Israel is North Korea. That is the finding of a new survey by the foreign policy institute Chatham House. Even Iran is viewed more favorably than Israel. These findings come amidst a fraught debate over whether or not Britain is becoming more anti-Semitic. But because much of the British establishment and even significant sections of Britain’s Jewish community refuse to view anti-Israel feeling as synonymous with anti-Semitism, people are not taking this phenomenon nearly as seriously as they might one day wish they had.

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Beyond Europe, the only country the British now dislike more than Israel is North Korea. That is the finding of a new survey by the foreign policy institute Chatham House. Even Iran is viewed more favorably than Israel. These findings come amidst a fraught debate over whether or not Britain is becoming more anti-Semitic. But because much of the British establishment and even significant sections of Britain’s Jewish community refuse to view anti-Israel feeling as synonymous with anti-Semitism, people are not taking this phenomenon nearly as seriously as they might one day wish they had.

In all, 35 percent said they viewed Israel unfavorably, as opposed to 33 percent who felt negatively toward Iran (down from 45 percent in the previous survey), 21 percent for Saudi Arabia, 9 percent for Egypt, and 2 percent for Indonesia. These other figures are an indication of just how warped attitudes toward the Jewish state have become.

What relation, if any, this has with rising anti-Semitism is now a fiercely debated subject. Indeed, there are plenty who dispute the premise that anti-Semitism even is rising in Britain. Something of the confusion was recently expressed by Michael Portillo—formerly a senior Conservative party figure—who told the BBC that while he thought anti-Semitism had diminished in Britain, Jews were still being identified with the policies of Israel. And Israel, Portillo noted, is becoming increasingly unpopular, something which he also stressed he didn’t believe to be justified. But there we have the contradiction. People hating Jews because of an unjustified loathing of Israel is the new anti-Semitism.

Besides, mounting evidence shows direct anti-Semitism is indeed on the rise. By the middle of 2014, British Jews had witnessed a 400 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents compared to the previous year. And then there are the opinion surveys. One carried out at the beginning of this year by the European Jewish Congress found that 15 percent of young Brits approved of the idea that Jews should be forced to carry special identification and that Jewish businesses should be marked. A similar number said they needed more evidence to be convinced the Holocaust had happened. Another survey, this one commissioned by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, found that half of British people agreed with at least one of several anti-Semitic statements put before them.

There has been some recognition of this problem by the government—which has stepped up policing in Jewish areas—as well as by the media, even while no shortage of Jewish voices loudly insist that what is plainly happening in fact isn’t. But there are also other voices who would blame the Jewish state for causing this growing hostility toward British Jews. On Holocaust Memorial Day (no less) Britain’s chief rabbi was asked three times by Sky News reporter Adam Boulton whether Israeli policy was contributing to anti-Semitism in the UK. It is lost on people like Boulton that in a previous era they would have been asking the rabbi if it was not Jewish dishonesty in business, or their disloyalty to the host nation, that was in fact contributing to anti-Semitism.

Today Britain seems to be full of people who in one breath insist they oppose anti-Semitism wholeheartedly, only to then demonize Israel mercilessly in the next. One wonders if in 1930s Germany it was possible to find people who maintained they didn’t wish to see Jews mistreated, but endorsed the Nuremburg Race Laws nonetheless. During this week’s House of Lords debate on Palestinian statehood the now infamous Baroness Jenny Tonge complained that “critics” of Israel such as herself are often labelled anti-Semitic. However, the baroness swiftly proceeded to make a number of anti-Semitic assertions in the very same speech. Not only did she claim that injustices against Palestinians “sowed the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism” so putting all of us at risk, but she also urged Jewish leaders to condemn Israel so as to spare their community from suffering the same hatred Israel now receives. And what if they don’t? What if they continue to support Israel? Is the implication then that they deserve everything they get?

The more of this discourse one listens to the more apparent it becomes that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have not only become inseparably tangled, but worse still the two are perpetuating one another. As a result, 45 percent of British Jews say they fear Jews don’t have a future in Britain. Among those who say they are considering leaving is the actress Maureen Lipmann, yet some in her own community have labelled her an alarmist. Indeed, Jewish talk show host Esther Rantzen and the Guardian writer David Conn have even suggested that British Jews are being ungrateful with all their talk of anti-Semitism and thoughts of leaving.

To be sure, Britain is not France. Not yet, at least. But to avoid that, those who care must start saying unequivocally that demonization of Israel is the most dangerous form of anti-Semitism in the world today. Furthermore, it is time to recognize that Israel advocacy in Britain and Europe has failed. The only thing left to be done is to stop apologizing for Israel defending herself and to instead put those doing the attacking under the spotlight. If exposed to the full horror of Israel’s Islamist enemies, there are still many fair-minded people in Britain who could be persuaded to see things differently.

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Steven Salaita Sues

I have written here before about the case of Steven Salaita. The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign withdrew its offer of a tenured position in American Indian Studies to Salaita, an offer that had always been contingent on the approval of the Board of Trustees. That happened in August, after a series of disgusting public statements by Salaita, including one that wished Jewish settlers dead, came to the attention of the administration and the board. Salaita has now, not surprisingly, sued, hoping to compel the university to hire him. The university has announced that it will defend itself against Salaita’s “meritless claims” and has restated its position that “Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.”

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I have written here before about the case of Steven Salaita. The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign withdrew its offer of a tenured position in American Indian Studies to Salaita, an offer that had always been contingent on the approval of the Board of Trustees. That happened in August, after a series of disgusting public statements by Salaita, including one that wished Jewish settlers dead, came to the attention of the administration and the board. Salaita has now, not surprisingly, sued, hoping to compel the university to hire him. The university has announced that it will defend itself against Salaita’s “meritless claims” and has restated its position that “Dr. Salaita lacks the judgment, temperament and thoughtfulness to serve as a member of our faculty in any capacity, but particularly to teach courses related to the Middle East.”

It is a legitimate matter of controversy whether the University of Illinois, for which trustee approval of faculty appointments is so routine that it frequently occurs after the prospective hire has already started teaching, is liable, as a matter of contract law, for some of the losses Salaita suffered as a result of U of I’s actions. But Salaita is not just suing the University of Illinois. He is also suing unnamed donors to the University of Illinois.

It has long been a contention of Salaita’s supporters that he was undone not by his own recklessness but by wealthy (read: Jewish) donors who pressured the university to dump him. There is no question that a few people claiming to be large donors, along with many other students and alums, objected strenuously in writing to the hire of Salaita. Those few also suggested that they would stop supporting the university if it persisted in hiring Salaita. Chancellor Phyllis Wise also met with at least two donors who wanted to discuss Salaita with her. The complaint, however, offers no evidence that donor influence was decisive. Indeed, team Salaita’s smoking gun is a meeting that took place between a donor and Wise the day Wise issued a letter to Salaita informing him that she would not be sending his appointment to the board. But, as the complaint acknowledges, the board had already decided to “support a decision to terminate Salaita’s appointment” a full week before the meeting in question.

From these letters and meetings Salaita’s lawyers make out a complaint that the donors and administrators “conspired to accomplish an unlawful purpose by unlawful means.” Moreover, the complaint charges that the donors, who “had knowledge of the university’s contract with Professor Salaita and their commitment to complete his appointment,” are liable, under Illinois law, for “tortious interference with contractual and business relations.”

I am not a lawyer, but it does not take a lawyer to see that these charges are baseless. To prove the conspiracy charge, Salaita’s lawyers would have to show that the donor and administrator defendants reached an agreement and acted in concert to deprive Salaita of his rights. Though the complaint alleges precisely this, it does not even attempt to present evidence of agreement or concerted action. It is preposterous to describe the donors who complained about Salaita and the administrators and trustees who ultimately decided to part ways with him as engaged in a conspiracy. As for tortious interference, with contractual relations, the plaintiffs under Illinois law would presumably have to show, among other things, “(1) the existence of a valid and enforceable contract between the plaintiff and another; (2) the defendant’s awareness of the contractual relationship; (3) the defendant’s intentional and unjustified inducement of a breach of the contract; (4) a subsequent breach by the other caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct.” But in this case, whether Salaita had an enforceable contract at all, in the absence of approval by the Board of Trustees, is a matter of dispute among legal experts.

Even in the case of tortious interference with business relations, on which the lawyers do not focus, the plaintiff would have to establish that the interference was independently wrongful conduct. Although Salaita’s lawyers would like to establish that threatening to stop providing charitable contributions to an organization is intimidation under the law, it hardly seems likely that they will be able to do so.

Presumably, Salaita’s lawyers want to send a message to donors; don’t demand anything of the colleges and universities to which you donate. Even someone who thinks, as I do, that colleges and universities should not allow donor pressure to influence their decisions on curricular or personnel matters, cannot but be struck by the audacity of Salaita and his radical supporters. It is as if they are saying not only to colleges and universities, where they rightly enjoy academic freedom, but also to society at large: “I loathe you and seek to destroy you. Now pay me.”

Perhaps philosophy and law professor Brian Leiter is right that the Salaita team is counting on the fact that even weaker elements of the complaint, if they survive the expected motion to dismiss, will allow discovery, requiring the university to disclose things about its interactions with donors it would rather not disclose. That prospect may induce U of I to settle with Salaita on more favorable terms than it is presently willing to offer him. May the court put a stop to it.

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