(April 7, 2021 / JNS) In the latest installment of Jews are our own worst enemies, a group of 211 professors have decided they should redefine anti-Semitism because they are not happy with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition. To justify their need for doing so, they have built a series of straw men, speciously contending the IHRA limits freedom of speech, while giving Jewish cover to anti-Semites.
The biggest red herring in the ocean is that critics of Israel are silenced. The signatories of the “Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism” (JDA) include some of Israel’s most vitriolic critics, who have expressed themselves unfettered for years. Several have been so persecuted for their views they hold endowed chairs. Many have tenure and could not be fired even if they were unapologetic anti-Semites. Peter Beinart has been muzzled by being given a column in The New York Times.
The goal of the JDA appears to be to define anti-Semitism in such a way that it excludes anything the signatories have said or might say. For example, the new definition excludes the IHRA’s example of “drawing comparison of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” That allows Richard Falk to get away with writing, “Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.” He went on to warn of a possible “Palestinian holocaust.”
The preamble of the JDA gives some clues of where the group is coming from and how it differs from the non-political, nonpartisan IHRA. It acknowledges “antisemitism has certain distinctive features,” but reverts to the intersectionality argument of the anti-Semites who want to wrap bigotry towards Jews into “the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and gender discrimination.”
Three signatories explained, “Though we do not underestimate the perniciousness of antisemitism from the left, it is clear that the most dangerous threat to Jews today comes from the extreme right and populist groups.” Really? What about Arab and radical Islamic anti-Semitism? What about the normalization of anti-Semitism by mainstream Democrats and Republicans who tolerate members of Congress like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)? What about the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement and Louis Farrakhan?
What really upsets the professors is that the IHRA definition includes seven examples of anti-Semitism related to Israel. They want to “protect a space for an open debate about the vexed question of the future of Israel/Palestine.” Setting aside that “Palestine” has not existed since 1948 and use of the word illustrates their bias, the idea that there is a limit on discussion of the Palestinian issue is laughable and an indication of the intellectual dishonesty of the declaration. If anything, the problem is the one-sidedness of the debate, which, on college campuses, is typically anti-Israel.
Another straw man is their statement that “evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state” is not “on the face of it” anti-Semitic. No one says that it is. The problem is the veracity and quality of the evidence such as the case of the professor who speciously claimed Israelis intentionally maim Palestinians. In the same paragraph they say, “It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination.” Yes, it is, if you can’t prove it.
Why even mention this accusation? Most likely to justify comparing Israel to Afrikaner South Africa, a meritless charge meant to demonize Israel, which is anti-Semitic.
The declaration is also designed to defend proponents of BDS, including several signatories. This is manna from heaven for the anti-Semitic BDS movement. By declaring that BDS “are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest,” they disingenuously ignore that the campaign calls for the destruction of the only Jewish state.
The writers also ignore how BDS represents the antithesis of their platform since it is the BDS movement that seeks to silence Jews and supporters of Israel and deny them academic freedom to engage with Israeli scholars and institutions. Thanks to the JDA’s “useful idiots,” BDS advocates can say, “even Jews acknowledge we’re not anti-Semites.”
Not surprisingly, the BDS national committee said, the statement “can be instrumental in the fight against the anti-Palestinian McCarthyism and repression” of IHRA proponents. They still were unhappy it didn’t go far enough to endorse the Palestinian narrative; nevertheless, when the anti-Semites cheer you, it should be a clue that you’ve got a problem.
Unlike this unrepresentative group of self-appointed defenders of the anti-Semitic BDS movement, 136 international Jewish organizations from across the political and religious spectrum, representing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Jews, signed a statement that “academic, cultural and commercial boycotts, divestments and sanctions of Israel are: Counterproductive to the goal of peace, antithetical to freedom of speech, and part of a greater effort to undermine the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their homeland, Israel.”
The JDA does not even consider double standards to be anti-Semitic, granting a license to those who believe Jews can be treated differently than others and excusing the unwillingness of critics of Israel to care for the human and civil-rights abuses perpetrated by Palestinians. The IHRA does not deny anyone the right to support the Palestinian cause while the new lexicographers put their fingers on the scale of the debate by suggesting Palestinian demands are “encapsulated in international law,” by which they mean politically driven interpretations endorsing the Palestinian narrative, whereas Jewish demands for their “political, national, civil and human rights” are apparently frivolous.
The JDA definition is itself anti-Semitic because it denies Jews the same rights they ascribe to others. This is amplified by their support of BDS, which insists Palestinians have a right to self-determination, but Jews do not.
Giving a hechsher to anti-Zionists is equally problematic. To mask their anti-Semitism, many people claim they only hate Zionists, not Jews. Beinart has asserted, “Anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitic.”
Zionism is the belief the Jewish people are a nation entitled to self-determination in their homeland that is Israel. How is denying that not anti-Semitic?
As Alyza Lewin, president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, explained, “just as it is anti-Semitic to attack, harass or discriminate against Jews on the basis of their Sabbath or kashrut observance, so, too, is it anti-Semitic to attack, harass or marginalize Jews who advocate, express or support the Zionist part of their Jewish identity.”
The JDA conflates anti-Zionism with criticism of the Israeli government, another straw man, as the IHRA states “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
The JDA says, “Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable.” It is doubtful they would apply that formula to bigoted speech directed at gays, women, Blacks, Hispanics, or other non-Jewish constituencies. Regardless, contrary to the insinuation, the IHRA definition does not deny anyone freedom of speech.
As Lewin noted, “the First Amendment protects your right to express yourself as a bigot” but does not “insulate and prevent those who make racist or anti-Semitic comments from being labeled as racists and anti-Semites.”
Similarly, the statement by the 136 international Jewish groups says, “We recognize and accept that individuals and groups may have legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. Criticism becomes anti-Semitism, however, when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.”
So far, the IHRA definition has been adopted or endorsed by 27 governments, including the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain. They represent millions of people. By contrast the “Jerusalem Declaration” represents the views of 211 individuals, many of whom are far from the mainstream of the Jewish community.
What makes this statement particularly galling is that, historically, Jewish professors have not stood up for Israel or for Jewish students or against anti-Semitism on college campuses. There are rare exceptions like Alan Dershowitz, Judea Pearl and Deborah Lipstadt, but when have you read a letter signed by 200 Jewish professors condemning anti-Semitism on campus? The JDA professors seem more worried that they might be labeled anti-Semites than in fighting anti-Semitism.
They courageously stand up for BDS proponents, but where are they when Jewish students are under attack on campus? How many of these defenders of free speech have protested when pro-Israel speakers are shouted down? How many have written op-eds in the local or school newspaper protesting the toxic environment created by BDS proponents? How many have called out their peers for academic malpractice when they abuse their power to indoctrinate students with anti-Israel propaganda? How many have protested the inaction of their administration when Jewish students are under attack?
Adoption of the IHRA definition worldwide and on college campuses is long overdue. The wisdom and clarity of that definition should not be replaced by the preferences of a handful of Jewish professors with an agenda that undermines the meaning of anti-Semitism and comforts Jew-haters.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”
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