The term "anti-Semitism" has traditionally referred to hatred of Jews and Judaism. Now, there is a campaign to redefine anti-Semitism to mean criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism. This campaign has as its goal the silencing of those who are critical of Israel's 50-year occupation of Palestinian trrritories and are engaged in activities such as support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Ironically, many of those holding such views are themselves Jewish.
The tactic of using the term "anti-Semitism" as a weapon against dissenters from Israeli policies is not new. Dorothy Thompsom, the distinguished journalist who was one of the earliest enemies of Nazism, found herself criticizing the policies of Israel shortly after its creation. Despite her valiant crusade against Hitler she, too, was subject to the charge of "anti-Semitism." In a letter to The Jewish Newsletter (April 6, 1951) she wrote: "Really, I think continued emphasis should be put upon the extreme damage to the Jewish community of branding people like myself as anti-Semitic...The State of Israel had got to learn to live in the same atmosphere of free criticism which every other state in the world must endure...There are many subjects on which writers in this country are, because of these pressures, becoming craven and mealy-mouthed. But people don't like to be craven and mealy-mouthed; every time one yields to such pressure, one is filled with self-contempt and this self-contempt works itself out in resentment of those who caused it."
A list of those who have falsely been accused of anti-Semitism because of their criticism of Israel would be a long one. In 2014, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick declared that Secretary of State John Kerry is "anti-Semitic." According to Glick, "Kerry is obsessed with Israel's economic success...The anti-Semitic undertones of Kerry's constant chatter about Jews and money are obvious." At the same time, Moti Yogev, a Knesset member of the governing coalition, said that Kerry's efforts at achieving a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians had "an undertone of anti-Semitism."
"Ridiculous, if not so vile"
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronoth, Cameron Kerry, a brother of the then-Secretary of State and formerly general counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce, declared that charges of "anti-Semitism" against his brother would be ridiculous if they were not so vile." Cameron Kerry, a convert to Judaism, recalled relatives who died in the Holocaust. The Kerrys' paternal grandparents were Jewish.
There is now an effort to pass legislation that would categorize criticism of Israel as a form of anti-Semitism. On November 7, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the proposed Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which would add criticism of Israel to the definition of anti-Semitism in Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The proposed legislation would adopt the State Department's definition of anti-Semitism, which includes delegitimizing Israel or applying a double standard to it.
Establishment Jewish organizations testified in behalf of this re-definition of anti-Semitism, arguing that colleges were experiencing mounting anti-Semitic acts. Bill supporters include the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Weisenthal Center. Testifying against the legislation was Professor Barry Trachtenberg, who teaches in the Jewish Studies Department at Wake Forest University. He told the committee that it was a "factual distortion" to suggest that colleges were "hotbeds" of anti-Semitism and said that a clear distinction should be made between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, which he said is not based on hatred of Jews and is part of healthy academic debate. In Trachtenberg's view, "Students who engage in speech critical of Israeli policy are largely motivated by their concern for Palestinian human rights. They are not motivated by anti-Semitic hate, but its opposite---a desire to end racial and religious discrimination of all kinds."
Under Title VI, federally-funded agencies, which include universities, are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color or national origin. These criteria are used by the Department of Education when evaluating claims of harassment on college campuses. In the past, the department has interpreted Title V1 to include a person's religious background when the discrimination. Is based on a person's "shared ancestry and ethnic characteristics." Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told the committee he wants anti-Semitism included because the designation includes efforts "demonize" or "delegitimizing" Israel.
How such a change in the law would endanger free speech and academic freedom can be seen in the activities of Kenneth Marcus, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education. Among other things, the office decides education-related discrimination complaints. At his confirmation hearing on December 5, 2017, senators from both parties ignored Marcus's record of trying to misuse the Civil Rights Act to stymie the campus BDS movement.
If his nomination is approved, writes Peter Van Buren in The American Conservstive (Dec. 13, 2017), "The head of the Office of Civil Rights will be a man who has devoted years of his life to stomping on the rights of university students...As head of his own Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, Marcus maintains that those who support the BDS movement are engaged in discriminatory, anti-Semitic activity...Marcus believes campus opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands violates the civil rights of Jewish students...Marcus believes that any campus that allows its students to voice opposition to the Israeli occupation should lose its federal funding...Every one of his Title VI complaints and suits has been thrown out, closed, denied or otherwise turned down. Both the Office of Civil Rights and the courts at various levels have maintained that the First Amendment rights of protestors far outweigh any possible discrimination. The dean of the school of law at Berkeley said, 'Any administrator in a public university who tried to follow Professor Marcus's approach would certainly be successfully sued for violating the First Amendment.'"
Chilling Free Expression
Even if he loses in court, Marcus and those who seek to silence criticism of Israel by calling it "anti-Semitism," can still succeed in stifling free speech. "Despite his perfect record of losses," writes Van Buren, "Marcus has done much damage, because winning against him comes at a price. Faced with the possibility of an expensive defense, some schools appear to have chilled anti-Israel free expression as a thrifty expedient...Marcus knows how well this chilling effect works." In fact, Msrcus wrote in The Jerusalem Post, "These cases---even when rejected---expose administrators to bad publicity. Israel haters now publicly complain that these cases make it harder for them to recruit new adherents. If a university shows a failure to treat initial complaints seriously, it hurts it with donors, faculty, political leaders and prospective students."
Beyond this is the question of whether the ADL and other Jewish groups are correct in saying that the term anti-Semitism must be redefined because Jewish students feel unsafe because of an alleged rise in such prejudice. To discover whether Jewish students felt as the ADL suggested, Stanford University's Research Group in Education and Jewish Studies did a study about Jewish life on campus. It was based on interviews with students from five California campuses: UCLA, UCIrvine, UCBerkeley, San Francisco State University and Stanford.
One of the researchers, Stanford Asdociate Professor of Education and Jewish Studies Ari Kelman, told Tablet Magazine that, "We had two major findings. Number one, we didn't find Jewish students who felt themselves under threat or in hostile conditions. We didn't find students who characterized their campuses as anti-Semitic. And the other finding is that with respect to the Israel/Palestine conflict, we found that students chose to put themselves on the sidelines of the debate. They are turned off by the tone of that debate on both sides. They find it vociferous and strident in a way that doesn't capture their pretty complicated understanding of the issue."
Turned Off By Idea That Jews Automatically Support Israel
These students, reports Kelman, "...are turned off by the expectation from people who are critical of Israel that Jews are responsible for the actions of the state of Israel. And they're similarly turned off by the assumption of people in the Jewish community that all Jews will get behind the actions of the state of Israel. Unwilling to be conscripted into both sides of that fight, and not,liking how that fight goes down on campus, they often choose to walk away...'Most Jewish,students on campus are not very involved in Jewish student organizations of any kind. And so we really strove to get to students whose voices represented the vast majority of Jewish students on campus."
While a number of Jewish organizations, as part of their campaign to redefine anti-Semitism, have put out material casting college campuses as hotbeds of anti-Semitism, there is no evidence to sustain this charge. Professor Kelman explains that, "Not only do I teach (at Stanford) but I actually live on campus. I live in a dorm with 100 freshmen. I eat dinner in a dining hall that seats 400-500 students. I talk with undergrads all the time..It (the idea of widespread anti-Semitism) didn't accord with my image and when I talked with colleagues on other campuses, it didn't accord with theirs. So I said, let's go talk to students and see what their account is. Let's see their experience. That was really the idea. And if they said, 'Yes, it's as bad as they say,' we'd have reported that, but that's not at all what we heard."
At the same time, more than 20 states have adopted measures to restrict the BDS movement and Congress is considering the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would impose fines on companies that support boycotts. The Act has 266 supporters, both Republicans and Democrats, in the House, and 50 in the Senate.
One of those pushing these anti-BDS laws most strenuously is Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul. Adelson is a figure whose loyalties seem ambiguous. He once declared that while he served in the U.S. Army, he wished it had been the Israeli Army. Adelson has said there is no such thing as the Palestinian people and has long opposed the Camp David Accords and a two-state solution. He gave more than $80 million to Republicans in 2016, and has poured more than $200 million into Israel Hayom, the Israeli give-away tabloid he founded in 2007---which is now Israel's largest newspaper, and a strong supporter of Israel's right-wing and the settler movement. In financing the parties in power in both Israel and the U.S. some believe that he has become the arbiter of Middle East policy in two countries. Attempting to make support for the BDS movement illegal is one of his current priorities.
ACLU Files Suit
A look at the law which went into effect in Kansas in July, 2017 is instructive. It directs the state "to require written certification from all individuals and companies with which it enters into contracts" that they "are not engaged in a boycott of Israel." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit in behalf of a Kansas public school teacher who was asked to disavow a boycott of Israel as a condition of maintaining her position as a contractor with the Kansas Department of Education's Math and Science Partnership Program.
The teacher, Esther Koontz, is a Mennonite and is married to a Mennonite minister. She is committed to following the church's July 2017 resolution "to avoid economic support for the military occupation of Palestinian territories." The resolution also called on Mennonites "to examine the legacy of anti-Semitism in their own history and life." Similar divestment and boycott motions have been adopted by the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.
ACLU attorney Brian Hauss says that, "The First Amendment prohibits the government from using its financial leverage to impose an ideological litmus test. The law is an unconstitutional attempt by the government to silence one side of a public debate by coercing people not to express their beliefs, including through participation in a political boycott."
A 9-year veteran of Wichita Public Schools, Koontz, a math teacher, now develops school curricula and trains teachers. She was asked to sign an anti-boycott certification as part of her engagement with the Kansas Department of Education's Math and Science Partnership Program. "You don't need to share my beliefs or agree with my decisions to understand that this law violates my free speech rights," says Koontz. "The state should not be telling people which causes they can or can't support. I'm disappointed that I can't be a math trainer for the state of Kansas because of my political views about human rights across the globe. I am convinced that this boycott could bring about an end to the Israeli government's occupation in the same way those tactics helped dismantle apartheid in South Africa."
Violates The First Amendment
The ACLU declares that the Kansas law violates the First Amendment: "It compels speech regarding protected political beliefs, associations and expression; restricts the political expression and association of government contractors, and discriminates against protected expression based on its content viewpoint."
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, ACLU attorney Brian Hauss declares: "From the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the campaign to divest from South Africa, political boycotts have been a proud part of this country's tradition."
The drive against the BDS movement is supported by the Israeli government, and is being promoted by a variety of American Jewish organizations, including StandWithUs, the Zionist Organization of America, the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Israel American Council and the ADL. The Israeli magazine 972 reports that, "The drive is supported, in part, by the Israeli government, which has committed millions of dollars to marketing products targeted by the boycott, including those produced on illegal settlements in the West Bank." This appears to be massive interference in domestic American political life by a foreign government.
In January, Israel announced that it was banning members of 20 organizations which support the BDS movement from entering the country. The list includes five American groups: Jewish Voice for Peace, American Friends Service Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, Code Pink, National Students for Justice in Palestine, and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
The ban is widely seen as Israel's increasingly illiberal approach to free speech and dissent. This ban is "of a piece" with what Israel has done before in response to BDS, said Tamara Cofman Witted, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Indtitution. But that doesn't mean it will be effective, she says: "In general, democratic states know well that you don't remove ideas by just suppressing them. Do I think this ban on entry is going to have some concrete impact in suppressing the BDS movement? No, not at all."
Many have pointed to the fact that one of the group's banned from Israel is the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker organization founded 101 years ago as an anti-war advocate. During World War ll, AFSC helped to rescue Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe and received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work. AFSC is honored at Israel's Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem with these words: "Relief organization established in 1917 by the Quakers...as a forum for doing service to humanity in a moral fashion....After the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938, the AFSC opened a refugee division, which provided services for European refugees who immigrated to the U.S...The Foreign Service section of the AFSC did even more than the Regugee division. Cooperating with Jewish relief agencies, in 1939 the organization sent a delegation to Germany to check on the situation of Jews and Christians and provide relief if necessary...Among other activities, they fed and saved children in France, assisted Jews who had reached Portugal and organized the activities of relief agencies in Spain."
In an article with the title "Israel Banned The Organization That Saved My Family," Tzvia Falkenburg writes in Jewish Currents: "Almost 80 years ago, members of one of those newly banned organizations saved a member of my family. In the late 1930s, my great-grandparents did what any parents would---they tried to protect their children. My grandfather, a young man,of military age, had little choice but to stay in Germany...His sister, not yet 10, could barely remember a time before Hitler. she had not been raised Jewish, so when she returned from school one day in 1938 to ask her mother, 'What are Jews?' she was surprised to learn that her grandfather was one---and, according to the Nazis, so was she. Her mother searched in desperation for any way to get her out of Germany. A connection with a British Quaker gave my great-aunt the chance she needed; 9 years old and sworn to secrecy, she took a train alone to Hamburg, where another Quaker helped her board a cargo ship for London."
Quakers and thE Kindertransport
Falkenburg says that, "I know I am lucky that my grandfather, my great-aunt and their parents survived the Holocaust...But my story is not unique---Quaker leaders and their Jewish counterparts were instrumental in organizing the Kindertransport, which brought 10,000 German-Jewish children to safety in Britain in 1938 and 1939. For this work and more, British Quaker organizations and the AFSC won the Nobel Peace Prize together in 1947....I cannot accept that we, as an international Jewish community, should now turn our back on those allies and organizations, those moral leaders, who saved many of our lives and actively resisted the annihilation of our people not even a century ago." Tevia Falkenburg identifies herself as an organizer and a leader of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community's support for Israel's 50-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In banning the AFSC, Israel is, in effect saying that the group's efforts in behalf of oppressed Palestinians, similar to those in which it engaged in behalf of oppressed Jews, somehow makes it "anti-Semitic." It is clear that such a formulation indicates that the effort to redefine "anti-Semitism" to mean criticism of Israeli policies is irrational at best and more realistically an effort to silence criticism of any kind, something totalitarian states, not democracies, are accustomed to doing.
Responding to Israel's ban, the AFSC's Mike Merryman-Lutze said that, "We will continue to stand up for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine regardless of the recent Israeli announcement...Our response to the Palestinian BDS call is in line with our similar support for divestment from apartheid South Africa and boycotts during the civil rights era. Our work is motivated by Quaker belief in the worth and dignity of all people, and it is that belief that has led us to support and join in nonviolent resistance to violence and oppression around the world, including the Palestinian BDS call, for a hundred years."
Recapitulating The History of the Jews
Discussing Israel's ban of the AFSC, Philip Weiss provides this assessment in Mondoweiss: "This story feeds my spiritual understanding that Palestinians are being forced by Israel to recapitulate the history of the Jews. What we experienced in Europe, Palestinians must experience in Israel and Palestine. This time around we play the guys with the jackboots! Of course, there is a big arc in that story; the group goes from being humiliated outsiders to people granted prestige by the world for their suffering. Palestinians are gaining prestige by the moment. AFSC is surely,proud of being named."
In another response to Israel's ban, Medea Benjamin, a leader of Codepink: Women for Peace, wrote an article in The Guardian (Jan. 15, 2018), "I am American, Jewish and Banned From Israel For My Activism." She writes: "I first went to Israel 50 years ago, right after the June 1967 war. I was 16 years old and spent the summer living on the kibbutz Ein Gedis...I loved the kibbutz, where I learned about farming, communal living and socialism...I also learned, however, about the contempt and racism many Jews exhibited toward Palestinians and other Arabs...I made friends with Arabs who taught me how the Jewish state had dispossessed Palestinians from their lands during Israel's establishment; created millions of refugees who were not allowed to return and denied basic rights to Palestinians who remained as second-class citizens. Over the years, I have stood in solidarity with both Palestinians and Israelis trying to build a truly democratic nation."
The new ban, she notes. "...comes on the heels of arrests and prosecutions of nonviolent Palestinian activists who face long jail sentences. It is clear that Israel...is increasing its repression of human rights activists and critics. This tactic, however, will only continue to make a pariah of the Israeli government. As former South African government minister Ronnie Kadril said: 'Attempts by the former South African apartheid government to discredit and threaten the BDS movement failed and backfired, only intensifying international protest which assisted in bringing down that unjust regime. Apartheid Israel is following that path.'...In the face of Israel's increasingly draconian attempts to suppress nonviolent activists at home and abroad, we will strengthen our principled work in support of freedom and justice for all people in Israel/Palestine."
Time For Uncomfortable Conversations
Another target of Israel's ban is Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Writing in Haaretz, Rebecca Vilkomerson of JVP provided this analysis: "Seventy years into the ongoing dispossession and displacement of Palestinians, 50 years into Israel's military occupation, and 10 years into the siege of Gaza, we think it is time for American Jewish communities to have some really uncomfortable conversations...Challenging anti-Semitism requires us to distinguish between anti-Jewish ideas or actions and legitimate criticisms of the human rights abuses of the Israeli state and of Jewish institutions which aid in supporting or justifying the domination of another people."
The term "anti-Semitism" is increasingly being used in Israel to attack Israeli Jewish critics of government policy and the occupation. One such target is Professor Neve Gordon of Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Not long after the eruption of the Second Intifada in September 2000, he became active in a Jewish-Palestinian political movement called Ta'ayush, which conducts nonviolent direct action against Israel's military siege of the West Bank and Gaza. He also wrote about such activities for the local and international press. His articles caught the eye of a professor at the University of Haifa who wrote a series of articles accusing him first of being a traitor and a supporter of terrorism, then later a "Judenrat wannabe" and an anti-Semite. The charges circulated on right-wing websites and Gordon began to receive hate messages and death threats. Administrators at his university received letters from large donors demanding that he be fired.
Writing about what he calls, "The 'New Anti-Semitism'," in The London Review of Books (Jan. 4, 2018), he notes that, "The new 'anti-Semitism,' we are told, "takes the form of criticism of Zionism and of the actions and policies of Israel and is manifested in campaigns holding the Israeli government accountable to international law, a recent instance being the BDS movement. In this it is different from 'traditional' anti-Semitism, understood as hatred of Jews per se. The new anti-Semitism also differs from the traditional form in the political affinities of its alleged culprits: where we are used to thinking that anti-Semites come from the political right, the new anti-Semites are, in the eyes of the accusers, primarily on the political left."
Zionism Not The Same as Jewishness
The logic of the "new anti-Semitism," Gordon argues, can be formulated in a syllogism: (I) anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews; (ii) to be Jewish is to be Zionist; (iii) therefore anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The error in this formulation, Gordon points out, has to do with the second proposition: "The claim that Zionism is identical to Jewishness, or that a seamless equation can be made between the state of Israel and the Jewish people, are false. Many Jews are not Zionists. And Zionism has many traits that are in no way embedded in or characteristic of Jewishness, but rather emerged from nationalist settler colonial ideologies over the last 300 years. Criticism of Zionism or Israel is not necessarily the product of an animus toward Jews; conversely hatred of Jews does does not necessarily entail anti-Zionism."
Increasingly, Israeli policies of building an ethnocentric state and its continuing occupation of Palestinian territory has been embraced by right-wing political.parties in France, Austria. Hungary and other European countries, some with pro-Nazi antecedents, as well as with racist alt-right groups in the U.S.
Professor Gordon makes the point that, "It is possible to be both a Zionist and an anti-Semite. Evidence of this is supplied by the statements of white supremacists in the U.S. and extreme right-wing politicians across Europe. Richard Spencer, a leading figure in the American alt-right, has no trouble characterizing himself as a 'white Zionist'. ('I want us (whites) to have a secure homeland for ourselves, just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.') while also believing that 'Jews are vastly over-represented in what you would call.tye establishment.' Gianfranco Fini of the Italian National Alliance and Geert Wilder, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, have professed their admiration of Zionism and the 'white' ethnocracy of the state of Israel, while on other occaions making their anti-Semitism plain..If Zionism and anti-Semitism can coincide, then---according to the law of contradiction---anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not reducible one to the other."
What the Israeli government---and its American supporters---have done, in Gordon's view, is to "weaponize" anti-Semitism, "not,only to stifle speech...but also to suppress a politics of liberation. The nonviolent BDS campaign against Israel's colonial project and rights abuses is labelled anti-Semitism not because proponents of BDS hate Jews, but because it denounces the subjugation of the Palestinian people...the charge of 'anti-Semitism' is used to defend racism and to,sustain a regime that implements racist policies."
Zionism itself was viewed as anti-Semitic when it emerged in the 19th century, and was opposed by most Jewish leaders. In England, in 1917, most prominent Jews opposed the Balfour Declaration, which called for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. They argued that the proponents of a Jewish state in Palestine were, in fact, "anti-Semitic." Rabbi Claude Montefiore, president of the Anglo-Jewish Association, opposed the idea of special privileges for his co-religionists in Palestine. He asked rhetorically in The Edinburgh Review for April 1917, "How can a man belong to two nations at once?" No man, he declared, could belong to two nations. One who tried opened himself to the charge of divided loyalties. "No wonder," he declared, "that all anti-Semites are enthusiastic Zionists?"
A Jewish member of Lloyd George's cabinet, Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu, insisted that Jews be considered as a religious community. He argued that English Jews were British citizens and differed from their Catholic and Protestant fellow citizens only in their religious affiliation. In a memorandum circulated to other Cabinet members, Montagu used the term "anti-Semitism" to characterize the sponsors of the Balfour Declaration. The document of August 13, 1917 was titled "The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government."
Rallying Ground For Anti-Semites
He said: "I wish to.place on record my view that the policy of His Majesty's Government is anti-Semitic in result and will.prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world...I assert that there is not a Jewish nation...It is no more true to say that a Christian Englishman and a Christian Frenchman are of the same nation...I deny that Palestine is today associated with the Jews. It is quite true that Palestine plays a large part in Jewish history, but so it does in Mohammedan history, and after the time of the Jews, surely it plays a larger part than any other country in Christian history. The Government should be prepared to do everything in their power to obtain for Jews in Palestine complete Liberty of settlement and life on an equality with the inhabitants of that country who profess other religious beliefs. I would ask that the Government should go no further."
Uri Avnery, the respected Israeli peace activist, makes the case that, "Zionism is an anti-Semitic creed." Writing,in Salon (Dec.2, 2017), he argues that, "It was so right from the beginning. Already the founding father, Theodor Herzl, a Viennese writer, penned some,pieces with a clear anti-Semitic slant. For him, Zionism was not just a geographic transplantation, but also a means of turning the despicable commercial Jew of the Diaspora into an upright. Industrious human being...Herzl.traveled to Russia in order to win the support of their anti-Semitic pogrom-inciting leaders for his project, promising to take Jews off their hands. Indeed, it was always a main plank of Zionist propaganda that only in the future Jewish state will Jews be able to live a normal life."
The anti-Semites, Avnery points out, "...always preferred the Zionists to other Jews. Adolph Eichmann famously declared that he preferred to deal with the Zionists because they were more 'biologically valuable.' Even today, Jew-haters everywhere loudly applaud the state of Israel as evidence that they are not anti-Semites. Israeli diplomats are not averse to utilizing their support. They love the alt-right...The entire relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews is built on a lie: the belief that they are the same people. They are not. Reality separated them long ago. The sooner the two.sides recognize this officially, the better it is for both. American Jews can support Israel, as, say, Irish-Americans can support Ireland, bit it's up to them. They don't owe allegiance to.Israel and are not obliged to pay tribute."
Campaign Promoted By Israel
The idea the the BDS movement is "anti-Semitic" was not original with the American Jewish groups now engaged in the campaign to redefine anti-Semitism. On February 14, 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem. He told his audience: "There is a new campaign against us. Having failed to dislodge us with terrorists, with weapons, with armies, with rockets, with missiles, they now think that they will dislodge us with boycotts...and I think the most eerie thing, the most disgraceful thing, is to have people on the soil of Europe talking about the boycott of Jews. I think that's an outrage...In the past anti-Semites boycotted Jewish businesses and today they call for a boycott of the Jewish state."
Netanyahu, who repeatedly confuses "Jews" and "Israelis"---and who is not content to speak for his own citizens but, with no mandate to do so, speaks on behalf of "the Jewish people," millions of whom.are citizens of other countries---repeatedly evokes the horror of Nazi Grrmany. He gave the American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem their marching orders: "It's time to delegitimize the delegitimizers. And it's time that we fight back. I know all of you participate in this."
The ADL appears to be coordinating its assault on BDS and use of the term "anti-Semitic" with the Israeli government. ADL national director Jonathan Greenblatt spoke at a 2016 meeting hosted by the Israeli Mission to the United Nations. He said: "We need to expose the extremists and anti-Semites who are behind BDS. BDS is an,anti-Semitic movement...a continuation, a modern version, if you,will, of an irrational hatred of the Jewish people...Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism."
Israelis Practice Boycott
While American Jewish leaders seem.prepared to do Netanyahu's bidding, there are many in Israel who will not. Those who oppose the occupation and the mistreatment of Palestinians have long boycotted products from the West Bank settlements. The leader of the Israeli party Meretz said she practiced a boycott of settlement products and supports the European Union policy to not invest over the Green Line. "I haven't bought products from the settlements for years," said Zahara Gal-On. "For many years, nobody succeeded in convincing the Israeli public that the occupation had a price, and I think that the occupation---which is a moral issue also---has a financial price that the state is paying. The country's leaders need to understand that it has a price."
The reaction to the Presbyterian study guide, "Zionism Unsettled," issued in 2014 by the Israel/Palestine Mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA), was vitriolic. The Anti-Defamation League claimed the study guide "may be the most anti-Semitic document to come out of a mainline church in recent memory." J Street, which promotes itself as a more moderate pro-Israel lobbying group than AIPAC, was almost as harsh. It said that the church document promotes "polarization" and "intolerance." Saying it was "deeply offended," J,Street asserted that "one has to question the...motives in publishing this 'resource.'"
In fact, the church document, which examines the role of Zionism and Christian Zionism in shaping attitudes and events in Palestine and the region, devotes extensive space to a discussion---and harsh criticism---of anti-Semitism within Christianity and its influence in the rise of Nazism. It rejects racism and religious bigotry in all its forms. And it has many strong Jewish supporters. Rabbi Brant Rosen, author of "Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi's Path to Palestinian Solidarity," notes that, "As a Jew, I'm especially appreciative that while (the study guide) is strongly critical.of Zionism, it doesn't flinch from extensive Christian self-criticism."
Why So Little Outrage From Jews About Human Rights Abuses?
Perhaps the organized Jewish community was so exercised by this Presbyterian study guide because it asks a question they cannot---or will not---answer: "Given the liberal values shared by many American Jews and the long,,proud tradition of Jewish participation in the struggle for human rights worldwide, why has there been so little outrage expressed at Israel's human rights abuses of Palestinians in the decades since Israel's founding?"
One need not agree with the BDS movement, the Presbyterian study, or other critics of Israel's occupation policies to recognize that false charges of "anti-Semitism" are simply a way to silence and intimidate criticism. Jewish and other critics of Zionism have shown that such false charges of "anti-Semitism" will hardly stop the growing debate. As Professor Judith Butler of the University of California, Berkeley, an outspoken Jewish critic, explains: "If one can't voice an objection to violence done by Israel without attracting a charge of anti-Semitism, then that charge works to circumscribe the publicly acceptable domain of speech, and immunize Israeli violence against criticism. One is threatened with the label 'anti-Semie' in the same way one is threatened with being called a 'traitor' if one opposed the most recent U.S. War (in Iraq). Such threats aim to define the limits of the public sphere by setting limits on the speakable. The world of public discourse would then be one from which critical perspective would be excluded, and the public would come to understand itself as one that does not speak out in the face of obvious and illegitimate violence."
To define "anti-Zionism" as "anti-Semitism" is completely ahistorical, since Zionism has been opposed by many---if not most---Jews from the beginning. In 1885, Reform rabbis meeting in Pittsburgh wrote an eight point platform which emphasized that Reform Judaism rejected nationalism of any variety. In 1897, the Central Conference of Amrrican Rabbis adopted a resolution disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution declared: "Zion was a precious possession of the past...as such it is a holy memory, but it is not our hope for the future. America is our Zion." In 1904, "The American Israelite" noted, "There is not one solitary prominent native Jewish American who is an advocate of Zionism."
Zionism Is A Break With Judaism
In his book, "What Is Modern Israel?," Professor Yakov Rabkin of the University of Montreal, an Orthodox Jew, shows that Zionism was conceived as a clear break with Judaism and the Jewish religious tradition. In his view, it must be seen in the context of European ethnic nationalism, colonial expansion and geopolitical interests rather than as an incarnation of Biblical prophecies or a culmination,of Jewish history. The religious idea of a Jewish return to Palestine had nothing to do with the political enterprise of Zionism. "Jewish tradition," writes Rabkin, "holds that the idea of return must be part of a messianic project rather than the human initiative of migration to the Holy Land...There was little room for Jewish tradition in the Zionism scheme...It is not the physical geography of the Biblical land of Israel which is essential for Jews but the obligation to follow the commandments of the Torah."
Those who have now embarked upon a campaign to redefine opposition to Zionism or Israel's occupation policies as "anti-Semitism," have no legitimate historical basis for doing so. Their purpose in promoting such a view, apparently at the behest of the government of Israel, is simple and transparent: to silence criticism of Israel and its policies. In this, they are failing and their failure is most dramatic among Jews who are increasingly outspoken in their dismay at those who violate Judaism's moral and ethical values in their name.
While efforts to intimidate free speech with false charges of "anti-Semitism" are growing, this tactic of intimidation is clearly failing. Real problems must be addressed with real discussion and debate. Only those who have something to lose by open debate would use the tactics we have seen deployed by Israel and its most fervent American supporters.
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and is editor of ISSUES, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President.