Anti-Israel speakers and Jewish self-hatred

The global center of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is, when you think about it, South Africa. BDS, as an attempt to sound more reasonable and less hateful, rarely compares Israel to Nazi Germany, the way, say, arch-anti-Semite Roger Waters of Pink Floyd does. No, BDS argues that Israel practices apartheid the way  pre-Nelson Mandela South Africa did.

You can imagine, therefore, that it’s not all that easy being a proud lover of Israel in South Africa. That the Jewish community here pulls it off, remaining staunch Zionists, is impressive. But there are fissures in the support. Israel is under constant assault by some  African National Congress (ANC) ministers who make the false and erroneous comparison of Israel’s existential war against Islamic terrorists to the ANC’s struggle against white apartheid rule. 

It’s impossible for world Jewry to be the brunt of so much hatred, and to constantly be on the defensive about Israel, without some of that bile and poison seeping in. The constant attacks start playing with your head. Maybe there is something wrong with us Jews. Christianity has been declaring that Jesus is loving and the God of the Old Testament is vengeful for 2,000 years — maybe Judaism is too rigid. Maybe we’re overdoing it in Israel. With the Palestinians saying they’re humiliated by checkpoints, perhaps Israel is purposely trying to degrade them as opposed to instituting security measures to stop buses filled with children from being blown up. And maybe, just maybe, we Jews who live outside of Israel are simply giving Israel too much mindless support.

I remember twice visiting Dakar, Senegal, one of the poorest countries on Earth, and being struck by the advertisements for skin-bleaching agents all over the city. But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Gorée Island is where millions of African slaves departed through “the gate of no return” to a life of chains in the Americas and the Caribbean. When you’re brutalized with that kind of hatred just for the color of your skin, you don’t always see beauty when you peer in the mirror.

The gradual trickle of self-hatred into the Jewish soul is evidenced in the growing American-Jewish call for Israel-hating speakers to be hosted by Jewish organizations at Jewish venues in order to demonstrate our open-mindedness. We first saw this with Swarthmore Hillel, when it bizarrely announced its “Open Hillel” policy, opening its doors to anti-Zionist speakers. To ask people who wish to destroy Israel to come and address Jewish audiences — and make no mistake about it, BDS is only about destroying Israel — is the equivalent of the ANC inviting white bigots to argue that apartheid should be reinstated. I am all for inviting Israel’s opponents to open, rules-based debates, where they are forced to rationally defend their positions in the marketplace of ideas, But what fool would allow poisonous, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic propaganda to be offered to impressionable Jewish minds without a retort? To invite people who want to malign and defame Israel to address Jewish audiences is proof of the old adage that there is no hatred like Jewish self-hatred.

The latest example of this was a group of Ramaz High School students in New York inviting author and Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi to give a lecture. Khalidi is a respected academic, but in the PBS documentary “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” he throws out a blood libel against Israel, accusing it of “killing children and old people.” He does not mention that Israel has lost thousands of civilians to Palestinian terror attacks. He also makes the absurd claim that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will end the virulent anti-Semitism so often seen in the Islamic world. One can only surmise that Iran’s calls for the extermination of Israel and its Holocaust denial will magically cease just as soon as Israel signs away Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Although the invitation has since been rescinded by head of school Paul Shaviv, the students’ eagerness to host Khalidi as a lecturer is troubling.  The New York Times reported that Khalidi had been suggested to the students by Peter Beinart, which did not surprise me. Beinart, whom I was kind to and have hosted several times at the University of Oxford, has become the Jewish legitimizer of BDS. Beinart feels he can get away with joining the calls for boycotts against Israel because, he says, he only wants to boycott goods from Judea and Samaria in the West Bank. Of course, this would destroy mainstream Israeli companies that provide jobs for thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, such as SodaStream, Ahava cosmetics and even Victoria’s Secret, to name but a few. Beinart claims to be a Zionist, but as a leader of those seeking to destroy Israel economically, he is clearly pushing the term to its absolute limit.

Martin Solomon pointed out that in a 2006 appearance on PBS’ “NewsHour With Margaret Warner,” Khalidi claimed that neither Hezbollah nor Hamas is a “direct threat to the United States.” This was an astonishing claim given Hezbollah’s 1983 Beirut bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American servicemen. Khalidi seemed to believe that U.S. peacekeeping forces, as an army of occupation, were fair game.

Of Khalidi’s book “The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood,” The New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman wrote, “When he talks about repressive Israeli measures having been ‘sometimes imposed on the pretext of security,’ critics are bound to ask: What pretext? How many suicide bombings of cafes and pizza shops does it take before a country has a right to end them by any method that seems to work?”

But while Khalidi’s opposition to Israel is not appropriate for high school students, it is perfectly appropriate for a debate we will conduct in New York on March 31, including Beinart, as well, to which I publicly invited him and where I can assure him he will be treated with the respect and courtesy he deserves.