Criticizing Israel can be anti-Semitic
By: Richard L. Cravatts
In yet another tendentious display of virtue-signaling from a group of self-professed “scholars specializing in Antisemitism, Holocaust Studies, Modern Jewish History and related fields,” 128 academics cautioned the UN against adopting a tool for addressing anti-Semitism.
In a letter published in EU observer on November 3rd entitled, “Don’t trap the United Nations in a vague and weaponised [sic] definition of antisemitism,” these woke scholars claimed to have “witness[ed] with growing concern politically motivated efforts to instrumentalize the fight against antisemitism at and against the United Nations. How, according to this group, was that occurring? In their delusional view, “Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan has spearheaded . . . efforts . . . to undercut the Palestinians and” of paramount importance to these scholars, “to shield the Israeli government from international criticism,”
Ambassador Erdan had pointed out that the UN itself has been a perennial hotbed of fanatical anti-Israelism, something which apparently offended this group who claimed that Erdan “has gone so far as to denounce the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) as ‘anti-Semitic’.” But the group’s primary concern was that “Mr. Erdan now seeks to fundamentally change the rules of the game by pressing the UN to adopt the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA WDA).”
As the 2016 Internal Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism continues to be adopted by organizations and universities who find it useful as a way of identifying instances of anti-Semitism—and especially the “new anti-Semitism” which couches itself as criticism of Israel—predictably, though unsurprisingly, groups that wish to continue to slander and libel the Jewish state, such as this group, have come out in opposition to it. What bothers these indignant individuals? Possibly the section of the IHRA definition that suggests that “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is anti-Semitic.
Unsurprisingly, the individuals and groups who have most strongly discredited the IHRA definition are the very people responsible for perpetrating versions of this “new anti-Semitism,” so the notion that they themselves can be accused of anti-Semitic expression as part of their cognitive war against Israel is an understandable barrier to expressing their unrestrained and unrelenting loathing of the Jewish state.
The IHRA definition is very precise in suggesting that some criticism of Israel, when it disproportionately targets the Jewish state and holds it to moral and legal standards not expected of other countries might be considered an instance of anti-Semitism. Not measured and thoughtful criticism of the politics of Israel; not academic debate about negotiations with the Palestinians about borders, statehood, land swaps, and peace treaties; not good-faith debate about how the long conflict can be resolved.
But so-called “criticism” of Israel that attacks Zionism as a racist, fundamentally evil, and malignant ideology; that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state because it was allegedly created unlawfully and illegally; that justifies terrorism against Israeli citizens as a reasonable and expected response to occupation; and denunciation, boycotts, and other calumnies continually heaped on Israel in the halls of the UN, from NGOs, and in university classrooms and quads around the world—those are the types of expression and sentiment that would be considered anti-Semitic by the IHRA definition.
But these scholars will have none of it because, as they repeat a half dozen times in this short letter, their theory is that the IHRA definition is simply a tool by which defenders of Israel shield the Jewish state from any and all criticism. They claim, for example, that the definition will somehow magically “shield the Israeli government from international criticism,” that the examples of possible anti-Semitism in the definition are “being weaponized to discredit and silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies as antisemitism,” that the definition is a “politicized definition that is instrumentalized to deter free speech and to shield the Israeli government from accountability for its actions,” and which would be of obvious concern to this group, “organizations challenging Israel’s violations would be fully exposed to smear campaigns based on bad-faith allegations of antisemitism. [emphasis added.]”
Only in the inverted reality of academia could a group of Jewish professors denounce a tool that has as its core purpose to identify and define current-day instances of anti-Semitism, preferring, instead, to stand in solidarity with Israel’s ideological enemies, the same individuals who are largely responsible for the present tsunami of Jew-hatred or campuses, disguised as “criticism of Israel.” In fact, as supporters of the IHRA definition have urged universities to adopt it, the very people who object to its use are the ones complicit in propagating the bigotry it was created to address, as is the case here.
Why should professors, and especially professors teaching in academic disciplines involving Jews, care more about supporting the right of pro-Palestinians to voice their loathsome views concerning Zionism, Israel, and Jewish self-determination than they do about protecting Jewish students and faculty from anti-Semitic bigotry that frequently intrudes on the periphery of the Israel/Palestinian debate?
What would make them wish to proudly stand in solidarity with the ideological and existential enemies of the Jewish state and protect their supposed right to freely spew forth libels, slanders, and lies about Israel in an incessant, singularly-focused campaign that holds Israel to a double standard when judging other nations and omits comparable critiquing of any other nation on earth—both instances that the IHRA definition suggests can be an example of anti-Semitism? What is so noble and virtuous about Palestinian self-determination that would compel these Jewish professors to want to protect its articulation more than they wish to suppress anti-Semitism?
A casual scan of some of the 128 signatories of this feckless letter provides an answer to some of those questions. Included in the list is Brown University’s Omer Bartov, a long-time virulent critic of Israel who wrote in a Haaretz column that the “effort by the Israeli government and its supporters” is “to stifle any biting criticism of Israel and its policies” and that “The Israeli government and its supporters have a keen interest in blurring the distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism, in order to paint any substantive, harsh criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as antisemitic.”
Another signatory, Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and professor of Middle East history at Stanford University, is a rabid anti-Zionist who singles out Israel for criticism of its varied and frequent transgressions, all the while excusing the social and political defects of the neighboring Arab states who surround it and blaming the pathologies of the Middle East on Western imperialism and the continuing colonial impact of the U.S.’s proxy in the Levant, Israel
Beinin’s intent, as it is for Israel-haters worldwide, is to make any defensive actions on the part of Israel seem an overreaction, regardless of how many of its citizens have been murdered or how many threats against its very existence have been proclaimed. Israel, then, is always the bully and the Palestinians, regardless of their behavior and deeds, are always the victims. “According to both Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon,” Beinin wrote, dismissively, “Israel is engaged in a war despite the spectacularly unequal military balance in the conflict,” as if a nation reacting to unprovoked attacks on its citizens is compelled to insure that its enemy is equally armed and that the fight will be fair—something only a college professor, from the comfort and safety of his Stanford office, could possibly consider.
A third signer of the letter, University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick, is an inveterate critic of Israel, even to the point of promoting the idea of a “one-state solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; that is, a bi-national state in which millions of hostile Arabs folded into a new state would irrevocably erase and threaten the Jewish character and democratic nature of Israel—in essence, Israel would be destroyed, exactly what its enemies have long wished for. Lustick excuses the genocidal impulses of Israel’s primary enemy—Hamas—suggesting in a delusional column that the terror group, whose charter, incidentally, still commits the group to the murder of Jews wherever they are, “is mainly popular because one of the things it is trusted to do is probably be ready to live with Israel, even if not officially, for a very long time.” That would come as surprise to the residents of southern Israeli towns who, since 2005 when Israel disengaged from Gaza, have been showered by some 25,000 rockets and mortars launched by Hamas to murder Jews in their sleep.
But that is precisely why the IHRA definition dwells disproportionately on items involving Israel: because contemporary cases of anti-Semitism most frequently occur and manifest themselves in the debate around Israel and the Palestinians. Critics of the IHRA have been adamant, of course, in their belief that anti-Zionism is completely disconnected from anti-Semitism, and that even venomous, vile, and out of proportion criticism of Israel is never, never an example of anti-Semitism, even though the IHRA definition has determined that, in some contexts, it often is.
It is obvious why anti-Semites, and those who apologize for or are complicit in this bigotry, would seek to ignore a definition of anti-Semitism that calls reveals them as being anti-Semitic, exactly why this particular group of scholars and other groups and individuals have ignored the IHRA tool or worked to debase it. Because they resent not being able to continue their vile activism and destructive campaign against Israel, this group can only see the IHRA definition as “a vague and divisive definition that has been hijacked to shield the Israeli government.”
Since the IHRA definition can be used to identify instances of anti-Semitism and other speech that crosses the line from mere criticism of Israel to what frequently manifests itself on campuses around the world: Jew-hatred masked as political debate and solidarity with the perennial innocent victims of Israel’s malign behavior—the Palestinians.