(December 3, 2015 / JNS)
I was telling a friend this week that of all the topics I write about, the global campaign against Israel’s very existence is the one that just won’t go away, no matter how much I might wish otherwise.
After all, it’s an issue that’s consumed a good deal of my attention for more than a decade now. Anyone who writes about a particular subject for that length of time faces the prospect of becoming inured to it, not to mention bored. (Take it from me; anti-Zionists are, on top of everything else, deeply boring folks who repeat the same discredited tropes over and over again.)
But give credit where it’s due. There are some anti-Zionists appalling enough in their statements and actions to persuade me that I haven’t seen everything quite yet.
Here are two egregious examples of what I mean, both of which I encountered within a few days of each other.
The first concerned Dr. Marsha Levine, a former Cambridge University (U.K.) academic whose discipline is archaeology and whose area of expertise concerns the breeding and use of horses by human beings in antiquity. Dr. Levine received an email from a 13-year-old girl in Israel, Shachar Rabinovitch, asking for advice with a school project. “I know you are a very important person and I’ve read your article about horses (Domestication, Breed Diversification and Early History of the Horse) and I love horses very much,” wrote Shachar endearingly. “It will be an honor if you will answer my question.”
Dr. Levine’s answer was shocking. “I’ll answer your questions when there is peace and justice for Palestinians in Palestine,” she wrote back. “I am a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. I support Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. You might be a child, but if you are old enough to write to me, you are old enough to learn about Israeli history and how it has impacted on the lives of Palestinian people. Maybe your family has the same views as I do, but I doubt it.”
It was shocking not because of the lack of emotional intelligence on display here. There was something more profound involved. Dr. Levine’s response was an utter violation ofthe values of a liberal and free society. In such a society, we don’t hold children accountable for the political misdeeds of their elders—whether real or imagined—for any reason. Nor do we dehumanize entire groups: Levine replied not to Shachar as a person, but to the nation of which she is a citizen, thereby stripping her of her individuality.
This is exactly the mindset fostered by totalitarian regimes.
Ironically—and here we come to my second example—“dehumanizing” is exactly what anti-Zionists like Levine accuse Israel of doing to the Palestinians. On the website of the London School of Economics (my alma mater, incidentally) there’s an article by Sandra Nasr constructed entirely from a conversation she had with a young Palestinian in Ramallah, who asked her, “Why…does the world think I’m not human?”
Far from challenging this ludicrous assumption, Nasr indulged it by providing the following answer. “Zionism, the ideological project to secure a Jewish homeland, relies upon notions of separateness, superiority and entitlement…The narratives present in the Torah—and, indeed throughout the Tanakh (Torah, Prophets, and Writings)—not only raise the Israelites to special status (‘a people apart’ above all other peoples of the Earth, but legitimizes—and even requires—the ethnic cleansing of non-Israelites from the land of Canaan…Notions of ‘racial’ superiority are contained in Jewish scriptures and Rabbinical pronouncements have the effect of relegating ‘the other’ to a standard which is sub-human.”
And so on and so forth and so on. If this half-baked garbage sounds familiar to older readers, it’s probably because the Soviets were putting out much the same tropes from the late 1960s onwards, publishing endless pamphlets which depicted Judaism as a faith based on racial supremacy, with Zionism as its political expression. The Soviets did all this to justify the odious persecution of their Jewish minority. Now these same themes are being recycled by a university which prides itself on academic excellence, and no-one seems to realize, or care about, their provenance.
So what’s my point here? Yes, you can get angry, and rightly so: not content with attacking Israel, these people are now attacking Judaism itself. And yes, you can point out the sickening hypocrisy of calling the Palestinians “dehumanized” in a region where jihadis blow up churches and mosques and take minorities like the Yazidis as their slaves. A region where Iran treats its Baha’i minority much as the Nazis did the Jews during the period of the Nuremburg Laws. A region where Western allies like Qatar are given free license to use slave labor to build glittering skyscrapers and World Cup soccer stadiums.
But this is the conversation I’ve been having for, as I said earlier, more than a decade. I’m sure the same applies to many of you. That’s why it gives me great pleasure to close this week’s column with a shout-out to IsrAction Day, which falls this year on Dec. 13.
What is IsrAction Day? You can find out more by visiting their page on Facebook, but in essence, it’s a day that combines action against the boycott with social activism. This being the season of goodwill, what you should do on Dec. 13 is this: purchase some Israeli food products, take them to a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen, drop them off with a message of support, snap a photo, and email it to the good people running IsrAction Day.
Launched in Britain last year, this year IsrAction Day is going global, with activists in France, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and other countries participating. As my friend Winston Pickett, who runs communications for IsrAction Day, pointed out to me, the beauty of this initiative is that you don’t have to belong to an organization or pay membership fees to get involved. Simply do what I outlined above and you’re a part of it.
We do have to carry on combating the lies of people like Marsha Levine and Sandra Nasr. But that shouldn’t be the sole purpose of Israel advocacy. IsrAction Day is an opportunity to celebrate Israel and the Jewish tradition of social justice and tzedakah (charity) on our own terms. A welcome relief, I hope you will agree, from the bigotry that defames the Jewish state as the root of all the evil in the world.
Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).