Israeli medics tend to a wounded Palestinian woman, who according to Israeli police was shot after she was suspected by security guards and ignored calls to stop, at Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah on Feb. 27. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

Israel denies tourist visa to Human Rights Watch staffer


Israel has denied a tourist visa to an American employee of Human Rights Watch days after denying his application for a work visa, citing the NGO’s alleged anti-Israel bias.

Omar Shakir, the new Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, a leading nongovernmental organization, reported in an emailed statement Thursday and on Facebook that the Interior Ministry had denied his request to enter Israel on March 5 for a 10-day visit.

A letter from the Border Control Department of the Population and Immigration Authority noted the Foreign Ministry’s response when Shakir requested a work visa in denying the application: “For some time now, this organization’s public actions and reports have focused on politics in service of Palestinian propaganda while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights,’ and therefore recommended denying the application.”

Iain Levine, the program director for Human Rights Watch, said it was “deeply troubling that Israeli officials, despite promises to the contrary, have denied Human Rights Watch’s country director a visa to enter Israel.”

“Blocking access for human rights workers impedes our ability to document abuses by all sides and to engage the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and partners to improve the human rights situation for all,” he said.

After Shakir had been denied a work visa on Feb. 21, an Israeli official said he could apply for a tourist visa, implying that it would be granted. Shakir has 45 days to file an appeal.

Author of Black Lives Matter position on Israel defends ‘genocide’ claim


The co-author of the Black Lives Matter platform passage accusing Israel of “genocide” defended the term, saying Israel’s actions fit in its wider definition.

Ben Ndugga-Kabuye co-authored the statement along with Rachel Gilmer, the former board member of a Zionist youth group. Ndugga-Kabuye told JTA he understood why Jewish groups disagree with the statement, but was perplexed that it has received so much attention.

He compared it with the accusations of genocide that black activists have leveled at the United States and called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of many international conflicts U.S. black activists feel connected to.

“The way we look at it is, we take strong stances,” Ndugga-Kabuye, a New York City organizer for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told JTA. “The demand we’re making is we’re against the U.S. continuing funding and military aid to the government of Israel. These are all things that are going to be in debate.”

The platform, released Aug. 2 by The Movement for Black Lives coalition, is largely a statement of the goals of a movement that coalesced around police violence directed against black people in the United States, mass incarceration of African-Americans and other domestic issues.

But it also calls for ending U.S. military aid to Israel and accuses Israel of being an apartheid state. The platform includes a link to a website promoting the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel called BDS.

“The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people” reads the “Invest/Divest” section of “A Vision for Black Lives.”

A string of Jewish organizations, from the Anti-Defamation League to the Reform movement and National Council of Jewish Women, has condemned the genocide and apartheid language as well as the BDS endorsement. T’ruah, a rabbis’ human rights group that opposes Israel’s West Bank occupation, also criticized the document.

Most of the organizations took pains to note that they are sympathetic to other parts of the platform, many of which jibe with liberal Jewish positions on the criminal justice system, economic justice and immigration.

“While we are deeply concerned about the ongoing violence and the human rights violations directed at both Israelis and Palestinians, we believe the terms genocide and apartheid are inaccurate and inappropriate to describe the situation,” NCJW wrote in a statement. “Further, BDS is too often used to de-legitimize Israel’s right to exist.”

Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye Photo courtesy of Ndugga-Kabuye

Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS, was the rare Jewish group that endorsed the platform in its entirety.

Ndugga-Kabuye said state actions don’t need to rise to the level of the Holocaust or other historical genocides to deserve the term, which he said could connote unjust state killing of a disadvantaged group. He compared his usage of the word to We Charge Genocide, a group that opposes police violence in Chicago.

“We’re talking about a structure of violent deaths that are state sanctioned, that are without accountability, and that are ongoing,” he told JTA. “We can say this is what’s happening in Palestine and not equate it with what’s happening in South America. It doesn’t say it’s the same number of people being killed or the [same] manner of people being killed.”

Ndugga-Kabuye said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just one of many international issues the platform comments on — including the dangers African migrants face in crossing the Mediterranean Sea, or conflicts in Somalia, Colombia or Honduras. He said the passage on Israel is longer because “there’s a certain prominence to it, and that may require us to go a little more in detail.” But he said the statements about other conflicts, charging the United States with imperialist actions, are just as strong as the language condemning Israel.

“I don’t see it as a special connection,” Ndugga-Kabuye said about the link between the Movement for Black Lives and the Palestinian cause. “We stand in solidarity with Palestine, but it’s not any different than our connection with the Somali community. It’s not any different than our connection with the Colombian community.”

The vast majority of the platform addresses issues unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its six sections deal with physical, social, economic and political discrimination against black people. Among its list of demands is an end to capital punishment, free universal education and a universal basic income for black Americans, the demilitarization of police, a broad reform of the prison system and reparations for black Americans.

In addition to demanding an end to foreign aid for Israel and Egypt, the platform calls for divesting from the fossil fuel industry and reducing the U.S. defense budget.

The platform accuses the U.S. of subjecting black Americans to “food apartheid” and “educational apartheid.” In both cases, it claims the government has deprived black communities of access to the same resources enjoyed by white Americans.

Ndugga-Kabuye told JTA that his goal was “thinking about all the different ways American military policy impacts different black communities across the world and how that’s tied into what’s going on here domestically.”

“The main effort of a number of the sections in the platform is to connect the domestic Movement for Black Lives to the international movement for black lives in a number of different countries,” he said.

Gilmer, the co-author of the Invest/Divest section, told Haaretz her father is African-American and her mother is Jewish. She is a former board member of Young Judaea, a Zionist youth group, although she no longer identifies as Jewish, according to Haaretz, and has become an anti-Israel activist. Now she is the chief of strategy for Dream Defenders, a black community organizing group based in Florida.

(Gilmer did not respond to  email and Facebook messages from JTA seeking comment.)

Dream Defenders released a statement doubling down on the genocide language. The statement accused pro-Israel critics of being “wolves in sheep’s clothing” for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement only as long as it supports Israel. It asserted that Israel committed genocide during its 1948 War of Independence, as some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from Israel or fled and were prevented from returning.

Fighting Israeli “apartheid,” the statement said, is inseparable from fighting racism in America. It called on its allies to join the BDS campaign.

“As Black people fighting for our freedom, we are not thugs and our Palestinian brothers and sisters are not terrorists,” the statement said. “For the children who are met with tear gas and rubber bullets as they walk home from school, for the families of those we have lost to police violence, for the communities devastated by economic violence and apartheid walls, we fight.”

On Friday, Jewish Voice for Peace released a statement from a group called the Jews of Color Caucus backing the platform’s section on Israel.

“We call on the U.S. Jewish community to end its legitimization of anti-Black racism through its combined attacks on the Black Lives Matter Platform and U.S. Palestine solidarity,” the statement said. “We call on the U.S. Jewish groups that have engaged in this anti-Black violence to retract their racist and harmful statements.”

Mainstream Jewish groups rejected the notion that because they object to the use of the term “genocide” and the emphasis on Israel, they are opposed to the economic and social justice goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. The groups noted how difficult, if not impossible, it is for them to work with members of Black Lives Matter on common causes when the Israel language signals they are not welcome.

“JCRC cannot and will not align ourselves with organizations that falsely and maliciously assert that Israel is committing ‘genocide,'” wrote Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council in a statement on the platform. That being said, the statement continued, “As we dissociate ourselves from the Black Lives Matter platform and those BLM organizations that embrace it, we recommit ourselves unequivocally to the pursuit of justice for all Americans, and to working together with our friends and neighbors in the African-American community, whose experience of the criminal justice system is, far too often, determined by race.”

Ndugga-Kabuye said he understood that the genocide term could prevent some Jews from joining the Black Lives Matter movement, but said it was “something we have to consider, but it’s also something we have to accept.” He said negative Jewish reactions to the platform recalled the later years of the 1960s civil rights movement, when white and black allies split over tactics and ideology.

He rejected the idea that accusing Israel of genocide makes the movement anti-Semitic, saying the accusation is not connected to Israel’s Jewish character.

“Are you saying I’m committing genocide because of who I am, my identity?” Ndugga-Kabuye said, hypothetically placing himself in Israel’s role. “That would obviously be racist. But if you’re talking about a series of policies that are in place between one group over another, folks may argue we’re wrong, but the question of whether we’re anti-Semitic is another question altogether.”

Clinton supporters defeat ‘occupation’ language at platform committee meeting


Supporters of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic Party’s platform committee on Saturday rejected several proposals that would have undermined the party’s longstanding support for Israel.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) released a ” target=”_blank”> approved by the drafting committee in St. Louis a week earlier. “We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity,” the draft reads. “Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement. Palestinians should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.”

On the second day of the platform drafting committee’s two-day meeting in Orlando, Florida, supporters of Bernie Sanders proposed an amendment that would add “an end to occupation and illegal settlements so they may live in” to the original language. The proposal was voted down 95-73.

The rejection led to loud boos and one man was escorted out by an officer in the room after he shouted out that Democrats had “sold out to AIPAC,” according to CNN.

Before the vote, Dr. Cornel West urged the passage of the amendment, to roaring applause and a standing ovation from Sanders supporters.

“This is a moral issue. This is an issue of our time. It has spiritual and moral implications,” West said. “This is not just about politics, not just about the next election. Democratic Party, you’ve been in denial for too long. Palestinians ought to be free.”

The committee also rejected an amendment to “rebuild Gaza which the UN warns could be uninhabitable by 2020, and where poverty and hopelessness undermine peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis” (95 vs. 72). Another amendment to remove the military option from the Iran non-compliance language failed 67-98.

Bernie Sanders’ appointee to platform committee says ‘I’m not anti-Israel’


James Zogby, one of Bernie Sanders’ appointees to the the Democratic Party’s platform committee, said he had been unfairly typecast as an anti-Israel activist.

“I’ve just been cast as the anti-Israel guy,” Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, said in an interview published Friday in The Jerusalem Post. “People will type you.”

This view, which Zogby said does not reflect his views toward the Jewish state, “bothers me more than anything else that it fuels a simplistic, combative narrative,” he said.

As a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee,  Zogby has played a key role in attempt to include in the party’s platform language that recognizes Palestinian “dignity,” and against Israel’s “occupation” and “settlement activity” in what the proposed inclusions refer to as Palestinian lands, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The latest draft of the platform, which is set to be finalized in July, declares that achieving Palestinian statehood would provide “the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity,” whereas previous formulations referred to a two-state solution as benefitting only Israel. A proposed phrase calling on Israel to end “Israeli military occupation and illegal settlements” in the West Bank was defeated last week in an executive committee meeting in St. Louis.

Zogby supports the rights of Americans to boycott products produced in the settlements. He also told The Jerusalem Post that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “does more to delegitimize the State of Israel than the BDS movement ever has.”

But, “On the issue of delegitimizing Israel, I object to language that ultimately crosses the line into anti-Semitism,” he said. “That language is offensive, its anti-Semitic and its hurtful.”

The son of Maronite Catholic immigrants from Lebanon, Zogby has become one of the most prominent voices for the Arab-American community. He has a son who is married to a Muslim and a daughter married to a Jew, he said.

“When you type me and reduce me to one thing– which is some ‘hater of’ or ‘threat to’ or ‘danger to’ Israel – then there are crazy people out there who will decide to do things,” he complained. He said he has received death threats. The Post article did not specify as to the nature of these threats.

In the 1990s, then vice president Al Gore tapped Zogby to help promote business investment in the Palestinian territories, in a project known as Builders for Peace. President Barack Obama has twice appointed him to serve on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in 2013 and 2015.

According to the Post, Zogby’s views are aligned with those of J Street, the Jewish organization which supports increasing international pressure on Israel to speed negotiations toward a two-state solution, which J Street says will benefit both peoples. J Street defines itself as a pro-Israel organization.

Zogby said his attempt to include language that speaks of Israel occupation reflects mainstream views. “There isn’t a president in the last 30 or 40 years who doesn’t call it an occupation,” he said, noting that consecutive Republican and Democratic administrations have also condemned Israel’s continued settlement activity in the West Bank.

Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, named five of the platform committee’s members, including Zogby and two other frequent critics of Israeli policy, Cornel West, a philosopher and African-American social activist, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress.

On Israel Apartheid Week, some pro-Israel students find silence is best response


When Israel Apartheid Week came to Columbia University in early March, there was potential for great agitation at the heavily Jewish campus.

The local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the nation’s leading campus proponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, set up a mock “Israeli apartheid wall” in front of the steps leading up to the iconic Low Library. Across the way, a handful of students affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace manned a table promoting boycotts of the Jewish state.

A few pro-Israel counterprotesters mounted a 12-foot-tall inflatable Pinocchio doll one day that week to call out what they said were lies being propagated by anti-Israel students. But the doll had not explicitly been permitted by Columbia’s student government, and after an hour or so the students were told to take it down.

“We switched the conversation to talking about the Pinocchio,” said Rudy Rochman, the Columbia junior who is president of the local chapter of Students Supporting Israel, which organized the Pinocchio display. “That was really the goal of putting it up. We wanted our messaging to be louder than theirs and to destroy their message.”

For the most part, however, pro-Israel students at the Ivy League school seemed to be laying low, and the week passed largely uneventfully. The anti-Israel groups hosted lectures, screened films and staged dance performances, while Columbia’s largest pro-Israel student group, Aryeh, hosted a lecture by anti-divestment law professor Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University that attracted about 80 people. The pro-Palestinian groups drew their loyalists, the pro-Israel students spoke to their constituents and the vast majority of Columbia students paid little attention to either.

That, say many pro-Israel activists on campus, is what success looks like when it comes to Israel Apartheid Week. As the annual event has become a fixture on college campuses, many pro-Israel activists say their most successful strategy is simply to ignore it.

“Being out there devolves this into color war; it makes both sides look crazy,” said Daniella Greenbaum, a Barnard junior and president of Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel. “We want to have elevated discourse on Israel. That’s why we’re not out there this year.”

Dozens of university campuses around the world now mark Israel Apartheid Week. Usually scheduled anytime from late February through early April, the weeklong series of student-organized events is meant to highlight alleged Israeli misdeeds and promote the BDS campaign. Anti-Israel speakers deliver lectures, students mount public demonstrations and guest columnists publish pro-BDS Op-Eds in campus newspapers.

At some campuses, the events prompt open conflict between anti- and pro-Israel students, and students on both sides have complained of being harassed.

During Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University, pro-Israel students countered anti-Israel displays with a 12-foot-tall Pinocchio doll meant to call attention to During Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University, pro-Israel students countered anti-Israel displays with a 12-foot-high Pinocchio doll meant to call attention to “lies about Israel,” March 1, 2016. Photo courtesy Students Supporting Israel – Columbia

“Our biggest fear and concern is that you have so much conflict that Jewish students don’t want to do anything Jewish because this becomes a conflict space,” said one Northeast Hillel director, who asked that his university not be named so as not to fuel anti-Israel agitation on campus. “Most college students are conflict averse. College is such a fun place. When you make a space a conflict space, our fear is that people won’t want to come in.”

The Hillel director says one of his main strategies to avoid being drawn into the conflict with the pro-Palestinian groups is to ignore them. Instead, he focuses on staging positive Israel events.

“It’s kind of a big nothing,” he said of Israel Apartheid Week.

At Columbia, Aryeh polled about 200 students a couple of years ago and found that Israel was very low on the list of issues that interested them. That’s why the group was against the decision by Students Supporting Israel to mount a counterdemonstration opposite the mock apartheid wall, Greenbaum said.

“We have found the days we’re not there people either don’t stop by the wall or don’t notice,” Greenbaum told JTA. “It’s best to avoid calling attention to the whole thing.”

At some campuses, conflict has become unavoidable, some Jewish students say. At the City University of New York, Jewish students at four campuses — Brooklyn College, Hunter College, the College of Staten Island and John Jay College — have complained of being harassed, slurred and silenced by hostile pro-Palestinian students.

On Feb. 16, students at Brooklyn College disrupted a faculty meeting to demand that “Zionists” leave campus and called one professor a “Zionist pig.”

Last week, at a panel discussion at Hunter held as part of Israel Apartheid Week and International Women’s Day, Students for Justice in Palestine student leader Nerdeen Kiswani accused Israel of using “mass rapes of Palestinian women” as part of a campaign to “perpetrate genocide” on the Palestinian people.

“Israel is a state that is built on murder and mass rape of Palestinian women,” said Kiswani, who also has called for an intifada, or Palestinian uprising, against Israel.

The panel was moderated Saadia Toor, an associate professor of sociology at CUNY. The accusation went unanswered and Kiswani was applauded for her remarks. About 65 people were present for the event.

On Feb. 24, the Zionist Organization of America sent CUNY Chancellor James Milliken a long letter detailing Jewish students’ complaints of anti-Semitism and warning that they violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which requires that federally funded universities ensure that Jewish students and others suffer no discrimination on campus.

CUNY launched an investigation into the allegations and the university says it is assembling a task force to promote a more respectful environment on campus.

The Anti-Defamation League also has highlighted alleged anti-Semitism at CUNY while applauding Milliken for his response. New York City Council members reportedly are drafting a bill that would require CUNY to report all campus bias incidents to the City Council.

For their part, SJP and pro-BDS activists say they are not anti-Semitic, and that pro-Israel groups are trying to muzzle them through efforts that amount to witch hunts that risk violating their free speech rights.

“Rather than protect students from bigotry,” a Jewish Voice for Peace spokeswoman said of the proposed New York City Council law, it “is intended to silence advocacy for Palestinian human rights, often by falsely conflating criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism.”

Though news headlines often make it seem like U.S. college campuses have become the sites of pitched battles between anti-Israel and pro-Israel students, many campus professionals – including at colleges where anti-Semitic incidents allegedly have occurred — say that’s simply not the case.

Nadya Drukker, the executive director of the Hillel chapter at Brooklyn College, said more than 30 student leaders on her campus are focused on organizing pro-Israel events. One of the events that took place this semester was even co-sponsored with the local chapter of the Muslim Students Association, which largely steers clear of the Israel-Arab conflict.

The event, which was also co-sponsored by a Christian student club, was a trivia game called “Getting to know each other’s religion.”

Anti-Israel UC Davis activists denounce Israel as a “liberal-democracy” – and they are right


George Deek is the child of Palestinian Christian refugees.  He is also a diplomat in the Israeli Foreign Service.  Superficially, this seems to be an impossible contradiction.  But, Deek refuses to be placed into categories of other people’s makings.  Last week he spoke at UC Davis when a band of about 30 anti-Israel hecklers disrupted his talk, chanted slogans including long live the Intifada, waved Palestinian flags and, after about 10 minutes, walked out shouting “Allahu Akbar!”  Afterwards, they released a statement accusing Israel of the horrible crime of being a “liberal-democracy.”

You read that correctly.  Israel is a shameful example of liberal-democracy.  

No doubt, most Israelis would proudly proclaim “guilty!”

Their statement, heavy with cliché-ridden revolutionary rhetoric, calls Deek “a self-identified Israeli born to a Palestinian family [who] perfectly embodies the project of zionist (sic) liberal-democracy, which seeks to assimilate Palestinians into non-existence.” The statement also accused Deek of being a “colonial collaborator” for essentially using his “Palestinian identity” to further Israeli interests. 

Let’s deconstruct this a bit to better understand the protesters’ angst.  First, they correctly identify Israel as a liberal and democratic society.  All Israelis, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, are entitled to the right to vote in a secret ballot for the parties of their choice, petition their government, hold peaceful demonstrations, run for elected office, and to freedoms of religion, expression, association, assembly, press.  They are also entitled, by right, to their own personal identity.

All citizens enjoy these rights. This includes the one-in-five Israelis who are Arabs.  According to a 2015 sociological study about one-third of Israeli Arabs identify as “Israeli,” one-third as “Palestinian,” and the other third as somewhere in between. The study observes that this “suggests a complex, multi-faceted divided identity with many nuances and sub-identities.”  In another study, fully 75% of Israeli Arabs stated that Israel has a right to exist as an independent state, and 48% that they could support its existence as a democratic, Jewish state.

Most people possess complex and nuanced identities.  George Deek does and clearly so do many of his fellow Israeli Arabs, many of whom – like Deek – have excelled.  Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli Beduoin, is also an Israeli diplomat and, like many other Bedouin, he was a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.  Major General Hussain Fares, a Druze, commands Israel’s Border Police, and Major Alaa Waheeb is the highest ranking Arab Muslim IDF soldier who is operations officer at a ground forces training base.  Justice Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab, sits on Israel’s Supreme Court.  Dr. Aziz Darawshe, a Muslim Arab, is Director of Emergency Medicine at Israel’s premier Hadassah University Medical Center.  Lucy Aharish, a Muslim Arab, is an anchor on Israeli Hebrew-language television.  Fr. Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest, leads a growing movement that redefines Arab Christians as “Arabic-speaking Arameans.”  As such, Naddaf is urging Christian Arabs to integrate more into mainstream Israeli society, including volunteering for the IDF.  Two years ago, Israel officially recognized the Aramean identity on a par with other communities. 

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs actively integrating into Israeli society and claiming full ownership of an Israeli identity undermines the UC Davis protestors’ radical ultra-nationalist dogma that delegitimizes Israel’s existence.  The reality of George Deek does not compute with their closed ideology, and competes with their monochromatic narrative they are promoting on campus.

In other words, the disrupters’ nationalist narrative is disrupted by Deek’s personal narrative.  This is what disturbs them.  Their rigid and intolerant worldview prevents them from processing the fact that modern human identities are multi-faceted and nuanced.  The only way they can understand Deek is by reducing him to a one dimensional caricature carrying the label “colonial collaborator.” 

This is why they focus their ire onto Israel’s open liberal-democratic society, which creates opportunities for Israeli Arabs to express and define freely their complex, nuanced multi-faceted identities beyond the predetermined, imposed and politicized identity dictated by Arab nationalist ideology. 

George Deek seeks peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.  He came to UC Davis to discuss the issues and open paths to dialogue.  But these “hear no evil” demonstrators wanted nothing of the sort.  Their approach is polarizing, hate-filled and a certain formula for perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades more.  Deek and others like him are attempting to show us a different way toward peace.  We’d be foolish not to follow it. 

Roz Rothstein is CEO and Yitzhak Santis is Senior Writer and Analyst for StandWithUs

Miami JCC cancels play criticized as anti-Israel


A Jewish community center theater in Miami has canceled performances of a play about Israel following complaints from some community members that its message was “inappropriate and troublesome.”

In a letter Tuesday explaining the decision to “suspend performances” after four showings of the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center’s Cultural Arts Theater production of “Crossing Jerusalem,” the JCC president said it was “in order to avoid any further pain and to engage in rigorous, vibrant conversation that advances our community.”

Responding in a Facebook post Tuesday, one of the play’s actors, Adam Schwartzbaum, described the decisionas a “heartbreaking capitulation to the forces of fear and ignorance.”

The controversy mirrors others faced by American JCCs over media perceived to be critical of Israel, notably in Washington and New York.

“Crossing Jerusalem,” which had been scheduled to run through Sunday, is about an Israeli family during the second intifada in March 2002. In an interview with the Florida Sun-Sentinel before the cancellation, director Michael Andron said the play “is not about the intifada, per se,” but the political situation “sets the stage for multiple families each confronting long-held ideas, shared realities, deep secrets and the discovery of what’s really important.”

However, Ralph Avi Goldwasser, a co-founder of the pro-Israel advocacy group The David Project, told the Sun-Sentinel the play can be “viewed as an explicit political work of art which, by design or otherwise, presents a false paradigm of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

The program notes included a message clarifying that the ideas expressed in the show do not reflect the views of the JCC.

In his Facebook response, Schwartzbaum described the play as a “powerful story about flawed and traumatized people living in a complex real-life situation.” He said the decision to cancel was an “act of cowardice” that “exemplifies how a minority of extreme voices is dominating the Jewish Community and using bully tactics to manipulate the conversation about Israel and the situation in the Middle East.”

Gary Bomzer, the JCC president, said in his letter that the vision of the theater was “to engage meaningfully with each other on Israel” and that “the last thing we wanted was to alienate members of our community or damage relationships.”

In 2014, a group of community members urged a boycott of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to protest its support for Theater J, a JCC company whose productions they considered anti-Israel. The theater fired its longtime artistic director Ari Roth, but the JCC denied the decision was related to politics.

Other activists have protested the JCC in Manhattan’s annual Other Israel Film Festival, which showcases films about Arabs and other minority populations in Israel.

Jewish students urged to think twice before applying to Toronto’s York U


Jewish students are being urged to think twice before applying to York University in Toronto following accusations that its faculty association was endorsing a “censorship campaign against Israel and the Jewish people.”

Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies said in a statement issued Tuesday that it was “concerned for the safety and security of [York’s] Jewish students and faculty,” and made the accusations against the faculty group. The association’s executive voted in favor of a campaign urging the university to divest from investments in weapons manufacturers, domestic or international.

Though the approved motion did not mention Israel, the Wiesenthal Centre group contended it was anti-Semitic because the divestment campaign is being led by the York chapter of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, which endorses the international Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment drive against Israel. The divestment of weapons are often for companies that supply the Israeli army for use in the West Bank.

“The campaign is initiated by Students Against Israeli Apartheid – an organization known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Israel positions,” said the statement issued Tuesday by the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

The group cautioned “Jewish students from choosing to attend York” should the vote be endorsed by the faculty union’s Stewards’ Council.

“What I’m asking for Jewish students who are considering going to York or putting in their application for the … 2016-2017 year, is to know what’s going on at York (and) to maybe take a pause until the final vote is in,” Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre President Avi Benlolo told the National Post daily newspaper.

In a letter to the faculty association’s president, the Wiesenthal Centre group said the union’s 51-member Stewards’ Council still has a chance to overturn the executive vote.

“They may not realize that this boycott movement, couched in the language of human rights, is in reality a malicious campaign that targets and singles out the Jewish community as a collective; demonizes Israel and Israelis; applies unfair double standards to Israel at the exclusion of other nations in the Middle East; and rejects the legitimacy of Israel as the only Jewish State in the world – and therefore incites discrimination,” said the letter.

Richard Welland, president of the faculty association, said Students Against Israeli Apartheid is among several groups supporting the divestment campaign.

He also accused the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre of “bullying” him and other members of the executive.

“I’m Jewish (and) they’ve basically called me anti-Semitic,” he told the Post. “It’s distressing.”

The warning comes a month after Canadian media executive Paul Bronfman announced his decision to cut his company’s donations to the university over a pro-Palestinian mural hanging in the student center.

Canadian writers’ group rapped for inviting Israel critic Max Blumenthal to speak


PEN Canada, an arm of the international writers’ association, has come in for criticism from Jewish groups for inviting a vehement critic of Israel to speak at one of its events.

Max Blumenthal, a U.S. journalist and blogger, is slated to headline a Feb. 24 panel at the Toronto Public Library as part of Freedom to Read Week. The evening’s title is “Embattled Truths: Reporting on Gaza.”

Blumenthal, who has reported from Gaza, is the author of “The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza and Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.” Critics have described both books, as well as other works, as extreme in their anti-Israel tone, if not outright hatred of the Jewish state.

“Searching for truth within the fog of war is particularly consequential in dispatches from Israel’s occupied territories,” PEN Canada said on its website. “Depending on where we get our news, Gaza is either a terrorist haven and a legitimate military target, or a zone of unjustified violence against a captive civilian population.”

Blumenthal is “an odd choice,” Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs spokesman Martin Sampson told the Canadian Jewish News. “Why would they do that? Why would they put their reputation at risk by associating with Blumenthal?

“I think his extreme positions disqualify him from being a rational, reasonable contributor in the discourse about Israel.”

Blumenthal “represents the radical left’s extremist belief that Israel is the embodiment of all evil and has no right to exist,” Avi Benlolo, CEO of the Wiesenthal Center, told the Canadian Jewish News. Benlolo said Blumenthal’s books are popular on anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi and conspiracy theory websites.

“I’m not sure what PEN is trying to achieve by giving Blumenthal a podium from which to spew his hatred, but if its goal is to contribute to increasing anti-Semitism in Canada, then I guess they will succeed,” Benlolo said.

PEN spokesman Brendan de Caires told the newspaper his group’s mandate is to “raise difficult subjects” while not necessarily endorsing them.

“We are a free speech organization. We embrace an open exchange of ideas,” he said, adding that Blumenthal fits PEN’s topic. “The whole premise of our discussion is that this is a hot topic.”

Blumenthal is the son of Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state and now a Democratic candidate for president. The elder Blumenthal forwarded Clinton many of his son’s writings on the region, including several excoriations of Israel’s deadly raid of the Turkish flotilla that attempted to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010.

Jewish groups slam Ted Nugent for anti-Semitic gun control post


Right-wing rocker Ted Nugent came under fire from Jewish groups for an anti-Semitic Facebook post blaming prominent Jews for pushing gun control.

On Monday, Nugent shared a graphic featuring images of 12 Jews — including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer — branded with images of Israeli flags below the words: “So who is really behind gun control?”

Screenshot of the graphic posted on Ted Nugent’s Facebook page

Alongside the graphic, which has previously appeared on anti-Semitic websites, Nugent wrote:

“Know these punks. They hate freedom, they hate good over evil. They would deny us the basic human right to self defense & to KEEP AND BEAR ARMS while many of them have tax paid hired ARMED security! Know them well. Tell every1 you know how evil they are. Let us raise maximum hell to shut them down!”

Jewish organizations quickly condemned the post.

“Ted Nugent has a long history of being an equal opportunity offender. But his latest share on Facebook, making the outrageous suggestion that Jews are behind gun control, is nothing short of conspiratorial anti-Semitism,” said an Anti-Defamation League statement signed by CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement: “Ted Nugent has every right to advocate against gun control laws. However he won’t be getting a free pass for his anti-Semitic bigotry. There are Jews on both sides of the gun control controversy and Nugent knows it. He owes our community an apology. He can start by removing the offensive graphic and if he won’t we urge Facebook to do it for him.”

In the graphic on Facebook, the Jewish politicians and activists are labeled with descriptions, such as “Jew York City Mayor Mikey Bloomberg” and “Sen. Chucky boy Schumer.” Over Emanuel’s face, the text reads: “Served in Israel’s army during Gulf war.”

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, are also among those targeted.

Nugent, the voice of 1970s hits like “Stranglehold,” is an avid hunter, a board member of the National Rifle Association and a strong supporter of the Republican Party. He has a history of making inflammatory statements.

In response to the recently released Michael Bay film “13 Hours” about the highly politicized attack by Islamist militants on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, Nugent said President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should be “tried for treason and hung.”

Jewish Voice for Peace takes credit for fake anti-Israel New York Times


Jewish Voice for Peace took credit for distributing thousands of fake and anti-Israel versions of The New York Times in Manhattan and on social media.

The organization, which supports the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, said in a statement released Wednesday that it distributed 10,000 copies of the parody, which included such articles as “Congress to Debate US Aid to Israel” and “In the Footsteps of Mandela and King: A Non-Violent Movement Gains Ground Ten Years On,” as well as an editorial, “Our New Editorial Policy: Rethinking Israel-Palestine.”

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace New York and Jews Say No!, a New York City-based pro-Palestinian organization, created the paper to “point out how biased current reporting is on Israel and Palestine and to show what a paper that was fair and accurate could look like,” Just Say No! member Alan Levine, one of its writers, said in a statement.

The fake paper mimics the Times’ trademark fonts and formatting, and describes itself as “Rethinking Our 2015 Coverage on Israel-Palestine — A Supplement.” In addition to its “corrections” (“It has come to our attention that the vast majority of articles about violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories have failed to include the names of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.”) and articles, it includes fake ads, such as one for “TimeUp” watches with the motto “The Moment is Now: End U.S. Military Aid to Israel.”

The faux paper’s domain and Twitter account were suspended.

A New York Times spokesman reportedly said the newspaper objected to its brand being used to push a specific political stance.

Fake anti-Israel New York Times distributed in Manhattan


Activists distributed thousands of fake and anti-Israel versions of The New York Times in Manhattan and promoted an online version via social media.

The fake New York Times — which included such fictitious articles as “IDF Generals Blame Israeli Government for Recent Violence” and “Congress to Debate U.S. Aid to Israel” — was handed out Tuesday morning at several bustling commuter hubs, including Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. The organizations or individuals behind the campaign was not clear.

The fake paper mimics the Times’ trademark fonts and formatting, and describes itself as “Rethinking Our 2015 Coverage on Israel-Palestine — A Supplement.” In addition to its “corrections” (“It has come to our attention that the vast majority of articles about violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories have failed to include the names of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.”) and articles, it includes fake ads, such as one for “TimeUp” watches with the motto “The Moment is Now: End U.S. Military Aid to Israel.”

According to The Independent, a spokeswoman from The New York Times said in a statement: “We’re extremely protective of our brand and other intellectual property and object to this group (or any group’s) attempt to cloak their political views under the banner of The New York Times. We believe strongly that those advocating for political positions are best served by speaking openly, in their own voice.”

Some are speculating that the publication is the work of a group called The Yes Men that did a similar campaign in 2008.

In a statement, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said the “creators of the phony newspaper are entitled to their view that The Times is biased in Israel’s favor, and to disagree with critics of The Times, some of whom think The Times has a bias against Israel. However, to do it in a surreptitious manner, as they have done, is deceptive.”

Greenblatt also criticized the fake publication for being published anonymously and conveying “false facts and themes consistent with anti-Israel advocates and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”

“New Yorkers are sophisticated enough to see that this ‘news’ was not fit to print,” Greenblatt added, a reference to the Times’ slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

Crossing the line: When criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitic


In the wake of a protest against a reception featuring an Israeli community group at a recent LGBTQ conference, there has been widespread controversy. We have read blog posts and articles, watched videos of the protest, and heard from friends and allies who were present at the demonstration.

Yet, what was perhaps most painful for many of us is that we value and embrace much of the good work of these activists and organizers.  They are some of our nation’s leading advocates, working to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Often they stand as allies in our work for justice and equality.

Unfortunately, though, this fissure is not a new experience.  Since starting as the CEO of ADL last summer, I personally have heard from many college students that their Jewish faith renders them pariahs on their campuses – unless and until they affirmatively denounce Israel.

Campus Hillels and other Jewish organizations that have long worked with LGBTQ campus groups, student of color organizations, and other progressive clubs on campus to host film festivals, panels, and other events increasingly are being shut out, rejected from participating, even when Israel is not on the agenda. Where other students are not being subjected to a litmus test on their views on Israel, Jewish students have been singled out and questioned about their objectivity and position on the issue.

As racial tensions flared across the country the past few years, we heard anecdotes from Jewish racial justice advocates that they were called “kikes” or targeted with other anti-Jewish slurs. When they tried to address the epithets, they were told they need to understand that “it’s because of Israel.”

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not. It’s anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear. No government is immune from criticism. Surely neither the U.S. government nor the government of Israel nor any other.  Indeed, we have criticized policies and practices of Israeli leadership when we felt appropriate to do so. 

We recognize that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists will condemn Israel. That is a reality. That is their right. We disagree – vigorously – with their accusations of pinkwashing, with claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and with other efforts to demonize Israel.  And we will speak out, challenge their mischaracterizations, and dismantle their indictments with facts and truths, as is our right. 

But when that criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, we will condemn it. It is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated anywhere, especially not in social justice circles.

To be specific, when a person conflates Jews, Israelis, and the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When all Jews and all Israelis are held responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When Jews would be denied the right to self-determination accorded to all other peoples, it is anti-Semitic.  

And when protesters chant “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” it is appropriately interpreted by most people as a call for the erasure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic. Giving protestors the benefit of the doubt, it is unlikely that most intend their message to be anti-Semitic. However, regardless of the intent of the protest, the impact matters.

Yet, too often, when students, individuals, or organizations raise the specter of anti-Semitism it is quickly rejected, disregarded, or written off. Israel’s critics literally have written best-selling booksdecrying their so-called inability to criticize Israel. 

But President Obama himself noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise. And, as he eloquently reminded, “When any Jews anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond.. 'We are all Jews.' “

Indeed, we know that women are best positioned to define sexism, people of color to define racism, and LGBTQ people to define homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. But, does this mean that all women must reach consensus on what offends them? All people of color? Everyone in LGBTQ communities? Hardly. 

So too, we Jews are best situated to define anti-Semitism, even if all of us may not likely reach consensus on the definition. Our millennial experience with intolerance demands the same acknowledgement as other forms of bigotry. Indeed, it is the collective responsibility of activists and organizers across the ideological spectrum to stop and listen when someone says,  “You’ve crossed the line.” 

Standing up for rights of disempowered people is a job for us all. ADL has been doing it for more than 100 years. But marginalizing and wounding others in the process helps no one. Rather, it divides us and impedes our ability to find common ground in places where our collective strength could do so much good.

Jonathan Greenblatt is the National Director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

Questions for the European Left


Why don't we see demonstrations against Islamic dictatorships in London, Paris, Barcelona?

Or demonstrations against the Burmese dictatorship?

Why aren't there demonstrations against the enslavement of millions of women who live without any legal protection?

Why aren't there demonstrations against the use of children as human bombs where there is conflict with Islam?

Why has there been no leadership in support of the victims of Islamic dictatorship in Sudan ?

Why is there never any outrage against the acts of terrorism committed against Israel ?

Why is there no outcry by the European left against Islamic fanaticism?

Why don't they defend Israel's right to exist?

Why confuse support of the Palestinian cause with the defense of Palestinian terrorism?

And finally, the million dollar question: Why is the left in Europe and around the world obsessed with the two most solid democracies, the United States and Israel, and not with the worst dictatorships on the planet? The two most solid democracies, who have suffered the bloodiest attacks of terrorism, and the left doesn't care.

And then, to the concept of freedom. In every pro-Palestinian European forum I hear the left yelling with fervor: “We want freedom for the people!”

Not true. They are never concerned with freedom for the people of Syria or Yemen or Iran or Sudan, or other such nations. And they are never preoccupied when Hamas destroys freedom for the Palestinians. They are only concerned with using the concept of Palestinian freedom as a weapon against Israeli freedom. The resulting consequence of these ideological pathologies is the manipulation of the press.

The international press does major damage when reporting on the question of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. On this topic they don't inform, they propagandize.

When reporting about Israel, the majority of journalists forget the reporter code of ethics. And so, any Israeli act of self-defense becomes a massacre, and any confrontation, genocide. So many stupid things have been written about Israel that there aren't any accusations left to level against her.

At the same time, this press never discusses Syrian and Iranian interference in propagating violence against Israel, the indoctrination of children, and the corruption of the Palestinians. And when reporting about victims, every Palestinian casualty is reported as tragedy and every Israeli victim is camouflaged, hidden or reported about with disdain.

And let me add on the topic of the Spanish left. Many are the examples that illustrate the anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli sentiments that define the Spanish left. For example, one of the leftist parties in Spain has just expelled one of its members for creating a pro-Israel website. I quote from the expulsion document: “Our friends are the people of Iran, Libya and Venezuela, oppressed by imperialism, and not a Nazi state like Israel.”

In another example, the socialist mayor of Campozuelos changed Shoah Day, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, with Palestinian Nabka Day, which mourns the establishment of the State of Israel, thus showing contempt for the six million European Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Or in my native city of Barcelona, the city council decided to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, by having a Week of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Thus, they invited Leila Khaled, a noted terrorist from the 70's and current leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist organization so described by the European Union, which promotes the use of bombs against Israel .

This politically correct way of thinking has even polluted the speeches of President Zapatero. His foreign policy falls within the lunatic left, and on issues of the Middle East, he is unequivocally pro-Arab. I can assure you that in private, Zapatero places on Israel the blame for the conflict in the Middle East, and the policies of Foreign Minister Moratinos reflect this. The fact that Zapatero chose to wear a kafiah in the midst of the Lebanon conflict is no coincidence; it's a symbol.

Spain has suffered the worst terrorist attack in Europe and it is in the crosshairs of every Islamic terrorist organization. As I wrote before, they kill us with cell phones hooked to satellites connected to the Middle Ages. And yet the Spanish left is the most anti-Israeli in the world.

And then it says it is anti-Israeli because of solidarity. This is the madness I want to denounce in this conference.

Conclusion:

I am not Jewish. Ideologically I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not anti-Israeli like my colleagues? Because as a non-Jew I have the historical responsibility to fight against Jewish hatred and currently against the hatred for their historic homeland, Israel. To fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of the Jews, it is the duty of the non-Jews.

As a journalist it is my duty to search for the truth beyond prejudice, lies and manipulations. The truth about Israel is not told. As a person from the left who loves progress, I am obligated to defend liberty, culture, civic education for children, coexistence and the laws that the Tablets of the Covenant made into universal principles.

Principles that Islamic fundamentalism systematically destroys. That is to say, that as a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too.

The struggle of Israel, even if the world doesn't want to accept it, is the struggle of the world.

Munich marks this Kristallnacht by making room for boycotters of the Jewish State


The worldwide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement is the twenty-first century’s highest profile anti-Israel global campaign that meets the “three D” ( Double standard, Deligitimization, and Demonization) litmus test for crossing the line between legitimate criticism of the Jewish state and toxic anti-Semitism: Never designed to help a single Palestinian, BDS singles out Israel exclusively for criticism, ignoring the major human rights abusers around the world, while distorting the Jewish state’s actions to defend herself from terrorist attacks by means of false and malicious comparisons with Nazi Germany and South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

So it is almost beyond belief that the city government of Munich is allowing a BDS event to be held in the Gasteig Building, a tax-payer funded city building, as part of Munich’s “cultural program.” German Jews are especially appalled by the effrontery that such an event would be scheduled on November 9, the same day that Kristallnacht commemorations are being held to remember country-wide November, 1938 Nazi pogroms that burned German synagogues, attacked and sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps.

Charlotte Knobloch, is a Holocaust survivor who heads the 9,500-members of the Jewish community of Munich, the city where the Nazi movement was originally organized.

Knobloch has warned that: “The BDS campaign disguises the socially unacceptable ’Don’t buy from Jews!’ as a modernized form of Nazi jargon by demanding ‘Don’t buy from the Jewish State’.”

Knobloch denounced the event as “a continued effort to defame, delegitimize, ostracize Israel under the cloak of allegedly legitimate criticism” and launching pad for “a comprehensive boycott against Israel will be announced aimed at hurting economics, science, culture and all areas of life.”

German authorities refused to join her denunciation. The spokesman for Munich’s Social Democratic Mayor Dieter Reiter said he “could not judge” whether the Social Democratic mayor opposes or supports a boycott of Israel. One local politician, Richard Quaas, a Munich city councilman from the Christian Social Union, did call on the city to cancel the rental agreement with the BDS group.

As Germans debate how they will deal with the influx of up to 1 million Muslims, it would also be a good time to remember how their nation dealt with the Jewish minority in the last century. Nazi newspapers started calling for boycotts of Jewish businesses after World War I, despite the outstanding record of the over 100,000 Germany Jews who served in the German Army. As Hitler rose in political popularity in 1930, SA Stormtroopers or Brown Shirts began a sporadic terror campaign including harassment, vandalism, and kidnapping Jewish judges, lawyers, doctors, and anti-Nazi activists.

Following Hitler’s coming to power on January 30, 1933, the Nazi leadership decided on an organized boycott of Jewish businesses. On April 1, the first nationwide boycott was ordered, with Berlin’s 50,000 Jewish businesses in the crosshairs. In broken store windows, signs were posted “Jews Are Our Misfortune!” and “Go back to Palestine!”

The Nazis inspired similar boycotts elsewhere, including Austria. In Poland, the head of the Catholic Church and Polish Prime Minister called for boycotts against Jews. In Hungary, the government passed laws limiting Jewish economic activity from 1938 onwards. In Palestine, the first anti-Jewish boycotts coincided with bloody anti-Jewish riots whose battle cry was “O Arab! Remember that the Jew is your strongest enemy of your ancestors since olden times.”

North America was not immune. In Quebec, French-Canadian nationalists organized boycotts of Jews in the thirties. In the U.S., the Nazi anti-Jewish boycott had defenders in distinguished academic circles, just as anti-Israel BDS campaign thrives on many university campuses today. At a time when Ivy League schools imposed discriminatory admission quotas on Jewish students, Harvard Professor S. B. Fay blamed German suffering during the Depression on anti-Hitler protestors.  Fay told the Harvard Crimson student newspaper that Germany’s affairs were “none of any other country's business.”

Cloaked in the rhetoric of nonviolent resistance, the BDS Movement today is nothing like the nonviolent Montgomery Bus Boycott protest campaign of the 1950s—which invoked Christian love against white racism. BDSers habitually cross the line, deploying historically toxic language demonizing the Jewish State and Jews everywhere.

BDS’ publicly-stated goal is to “end occupation in the territories.” Under siege by terrorists today, Israel had already unilaterally withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 and is committed to a two-state solution if only it had a willing peace partner ready to accept a Jewish neighbor. Instead, as Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) confirmed to Palestinian students, the BDS Movement is really a public relations stunt designed to prepare the ground for the ultimate goal of the destruction of Israel.

As Germany welcomes twenty-first century refugees, they must not endanger the lives of descendants millions of Jews who were stripped of their rights, cast out as refugees in the 1930s, ghettoized, gunned down or gassed by the German Third Reich in the 1940s. In 2015, German leaders including those in Munich have a historic and moral obligation never to embrace those who aid and abet forces that would destroy the State of Israel—home to 6 million Jews.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center 

Historian Dr. Harold Brackman is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Matisyahu, the Iran deal and the college campus


Do we need to have a definition of anti-Semitism?  Most people think they already know what it means.

And sometimes the answer is obvious. Think, for example, about the vandals who recently scrawled the words “Yids out” on the fence of a girls’ primary day school in London.

Or consider Matisyahu. What else can you call it when Spain’s annual reggae music festival, Rototom Sunsplash, cancelled a scheduled appearance by this Jewish American singer.  Organizers argued that the rapper is a “Zionist” and supports the practice of “apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”

You don’t need a Ph.D. in anti-Semitology to know what that was about.

Often, though, there is room for disagreement.  When Israel’s critics use double standards, are they just being advocates, or have they crossed a line? For that matter, when some who support President Obama’s proposed Iran deal speak of their opponents’ “money” and “lobbyists,” are they mobilizing anti-Jewish sentiment or just being “realistic”?
            
Consider how some of the Iran deal’s supporters lambaste Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the president’s top Senate allies, for opposing the deal. The Daily Kos ran a cartoon showing Schumer with an Israeli flag, calling him a “traitor.” MoveOn.org lumped Schumer together with another famous Jewish Democrat, saying, “our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate.” These organizations clearly crossed a line.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone who supports the Iran deal is an anti-Semite. Nor is it anti-Semitic merely to disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s view of the world.

Definitions are like fences. They wall some things in and others out. It is not just that we need to be clearer about what should be condemned as anti-Semitic.  We also need to be clearer about what is not anti-Semitic and should not be unjustly maligned.

Unfortunately, our best definitions are now under attack. Earlier this year, Jewish Voice for Peace assailed the U.S. State Department’s authoritative definition of anti-Semitism.  The State Department definition is important because it embodies Natan Sharansky’s “3-D Test.” Many criticisms of Israel are not anti-Semitic. But they may enter that territory when they Demonize the Jewish state, Delegitimize Israel, or apply Double standards.

Anti-Israel activists are incensed that the State Department’s definition includes “demonizing,” “delegitimizing,” and “applying a double-standard” to Israel. They want to redefine anti-Semitism so that extreme anti-Israel activism will no longer be considered anti-Semitic.

Fortunately, the State Department rebuffed their efforts. In an important August letter, Special Envoy Ira Forman, the Obama administration’s point man on global anti-Semitism, explained that his department’s definition is important to his work and has not led to any encroachments on free speech.

Although Israel’s critics targeted the State Department, the real battle is over higher education. In response to a rash of anti-Semitic incidents, several student governments and advocacy groups, including the Louis D. Brandeis Center, have urged broader use of State Department standards in higher education.

Several months ago, a report jointly issued by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Trinity College demonstrated that over 50% of Jewish college students reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism during the 2013-2014 academic year. Earlier this summer, nearly three quarters of Jewish students responding to a Brandeis University study reported having been exposed to at least one of six anti-Semitic statements, such as claims that Jews have too much power and that Israelis behave “like Nazis.” Jewish students have reported being punched in the face, called derogatory epithets, and harassed in many ways.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not yet apply the State Department’s definition to American colleges.  If a French university were to tolerate a hostile environment for Jewish students, based on behavior that demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state, the State Department would understand when a line is crossed.  But if the same thing happens in California, New York, or Florida, the U.S. government would not be able to say whether the conduct was anti-Semitic, because domestic agencies are not coordinating with State.  Obviously this problem must be fixed.

At the same time, university leaders should educate their communities about the lines between legitimate political discourse and anti-Semitic intolerance.  This doesn’t mean censorship.  It does mean that universities should take their educative function seriously.  In September, the University of California Regents, the University’s governing board, is expected to discuss adopting a statement of principles on intolerance.  This would be an excellent opportunity for the Regents to assert leadership by taking a well-defined stand against prejudice.

Marcus is President of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (www.brandeiscenter.com) and former Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Oxford University Press will publish his new book on The Definition of Anti-Semitism in September.

BDS is not pro-Palestinian, it’s anti-Semitic


You probably heard about the storm over reggae singer Matisyahu’s on, off, and then on again invitation to sing at the Rototom Sunsplash music festival in Spain last weekend. Matisyahu is a talented Jewish reggae singer from Los Angeles, whose 2006 song ‘Jerusalem’ and 2008 song ‘One Day’ captured the hearts of millions of teenagers across the globe. In those days Matisyahu was hasidic in lifestyle and appearance, although since then the beard and peyot have come off. The invitation for him to perform at this obscure Spanish reggae festival would hardly have been newsworthy had it not been for the interference of the BDS movement.

Just in case you are wondering if you misread that last sentence, let me confirm that, yes, the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, whose stated aim is ‘to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to [ensure] the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees’, applied pressure on a bunch of Spanish music lovers to either force an apolitical American Jewish singer to sign a declaration in favor of their non-music related political agenda, or face protest demonstrations and a coordinated boycott. Matisyahu understandably refused to sign any such declaration, so the festival organizers decided to disinvite him rather than deal with the bad publicity.

But rather than prevent bad publicity, the move backfired badly and attracted international condemnation. Following phenomenal pressure from multiple sources, including various governments, European Jewish leaders, and ELNET, which is a European version of AIPAC, the festival decided to re-invite him, and Matisyahu performed in front of an enthusiastic audience. Meanwhile the local BDS group that precipitated this outrage was unrepentant, claiming spuriously that the gentle singer was someone who was guilty of ‘incitement to racial hatred and connections to extremist and violent fundamentalist groups.’ More incredibly, the group accused the media of misrepresenting the incident ‘as part of the global BDS movement’, which compelled them to make clear that their efforts were ‘outside the remit of the cultural boycott of Israel.’

It is this last statement that I would like to focus on, because it exposes BDS activists for what they are – virulent anti-Semites who target Jews, even though that is not officially part of their agenda. And not just Israeli Jews, but all Jews. American Jews. British Jews. Spanish Jews. If you are a Jew, know that you are a BDS target. You are assumed to support every aspect of Israel’s policies and military strategy. Your only ‘get out of jail’ card is to publicly sign up to the repugnant BDS campaign, an agenda that hides under a musk of humanitarian concern for Palestinian Arab suffering, but which is in fact intent on destroying the State of Israel by creating one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and repatriating any Arab descended from Arabs who became refugees in 1948. In other words, BDS is not interested in a peaceful solution or prosperity for Palestinian Arabs, only in ensuring that Jewish statehood is no longer viable. Even if the Jewish State complied with every ridiculous UN resolution, they would still hate it – because it is Jewish, and it exists.

I am going to say something now that may shock you, but it is important to put it on the record. If you support Israel and are against BDS, please please stop defending Israel to BDS supporters. You are wasting your time. No one in the BDS camp is interested in complex defenses of Israel’s right to exist and right to defend itself. Because they are anti-Semites. I don’t care if they are Jews or non-Jews – they are anti-Semites. If Jews irrationally hate other Jews, they are anti-Semites, pure and simple. We must stop using the definition ‘self-hating Jew’. It is meaningless to the wider world. If a former Catholic criticizes the Pope, no one calls him a self-hating Catholic, they call him an anti-Catholic. If someone born a Jew hates other Jews for being proud of their heritage and their history, and demands that they reject that heritage and history in order to be accepted, they are not self-hating Jews, they are anti-Semites. It’s that simple.

Now that BDS has been exposed – correction: has exposed itself – as a group that targets all Jews, it is obviously pointless to discuss or debate with them on the issues. If they are blackmailing music festivals to boycott American Jewish singers with loose connections to Israel and no political history, then we need to start calling them what they are: anti-Semites and racists. BDS is no different than the Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s who created a myth that all Jews were guilty of insidious crimes against the international community, and were intent on world domination. When people spread malicious lies about you, don’t waste time refuting their lies – expose them for what they are: vicious liars motivated by hatred.

The Torah portion this week ends with the famous commandment to destroy Amalek, the nation that attempted to exterminate the nascent Jewish nation as it emerged from Egypt. The instruction from Moshe is unequivocal: תִמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַחַת הַשָמָיִם לֹא תִשְכָח – ‘never forget your duty to obliterate any memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.’ If it is a choice between them or us, make sure it is them, not us. My friends, our battle with BDS is a fight for the survival of the Jewish nation, not a gentlemanly discussion over coffee about the rights and wrongs of Israel’s actions and policies. BDS is a relentless and vicious campaign against Jews. That this makes you a target – in Los Angeles, or in New York, or in London – is not an accident. BDS must be uprooted and destroyed. Your life could depend on it.


Rabbi Pini Dunner is the Senior Rabbi at Beverly Hills Synagogue, a member of the Young Israel family of synagogues.

Concern for UC Jewish students: An open letter to the Regents


Dear Honorable Members of the University of California Board of Regents,

We are 32 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of supporters who are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of Jewish students at the University of California. In light of the alarming increase in antisemitic activity on UC campuses, we urge you to take substantive measures to address this serious problem, first and foremost by adopting the current U.S. State Department definition of antisemitism at your upcoming Regents meeting.
 
As you know, campus debate on Israel is increasingly slipping into antisemitism.  On UC campuses where divisive Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaigns have been promoted, antisemitic behavior has dramatically increased and the campus climate has become hostile for many Jewish students.  For example: 
 
  • At UC Berkeley, “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was scrawled on a bathroom wall in the wake of a contentious BDS campaign. 
  • At UC Los Angeles, a candidate for student government’s eligibility was questioned by BDS-activists simply because she was Jewish. The four student senators who challenged the candidate for the judicial board based on her Jewishness and Jewish affiliations were authors, sponsors and supporters of the most recent anti-Israel divestment bill at UCLA. 
  • At UC Santa Cruz, anti-Israel faculty and students used threats and intimidation to try to shut down a Hillel-sponsored LGBT event.
  • At UC Santa Barbara, after years of divisive BDS campaigns, flyers blaming Jews for 9/11 were posted on campus. 
  • At UC Davis, only days before and after a recent bitter BDS vote, the university’s Hillel House was defaced with “grout out the Jews,” and a Jewish fraternity was spray-painted with swastikas.
 
Jewish students on UC campuses have reported feeling targeted, harassed and unsafe as a result of anti-Israel activity:
 
  • At a recent UC Santa Barbara student senate meeting a Jewish student stated, “For the first time in my life, I felt that my identity, an unchangeable part of who I am, was under attack… I don’t wear that star of David necklace anymore. I don’t tell most people that I’m Jewish, and I definitely don’t tell them that I’m pro-Israel…I’m scared for my safety.”
  • A Jewish student leader at UCLA recently shared: “People say that being anti-Israel is not the same as being anti-Semitic. The problem is the anti-Israel culture in which we are singling out only the Jewish state creates an environment where it is ok to single out Jewish students.”
 
The State Department definition of antisemitism addresses the unique nature of contemporary Jew hatred by recognizing that language or behavior which demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state or denies its right to exist may cross the line into antisemitism.  Such a definition is essential for adequately understanding and identifying antisemitism as experienced by Jewish students today.
 
There are those who would falsely claim that the State Department definition violates free speech. But defining antisemitism simply allows for its proper identification; it does not prescribe shutting down speech or taking any other disciplinary measures, nor are we in any way advocating that the definition should be used to restrict expression protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, antisemitic rhetoric is not against the law, but it is bigotry, and it should be identified and called out with the same promptness and vigor as all other forms of racial, ethnic and gender bigotry. Furthermore, any suggestion that the UC Regents may not adopt principled viewpoints on matters of important social and political issues such as this, violates Supreme Court precedent.
 
The State Department’s understanding of antisemitism has been widely embraced by the Jewish community. In 2011, the leaders of 61 national Jewish organizations across the religious and political spectrum signed a statement affirming: “We, the undersigned members of the Jewish community…recognize and accept that individuals and groups may have legitimate criticism of Israel 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.”
 
The State Department definition also has the widespread support of UC stakeholders. The student senates at UCLAUC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara have each unanimously approved resolutions condemning antisemitism based on the State Department's definition, and 17 student organizations from various UC campuses, including AEPi, Hillel and Chabad, have asked President Napolitano to make these resolutions official UC policy. In addition, thousands of UC faculty, alumni, parents, donors and California taxpayers have urged the University of California to adopt the State Department definition and to use it in identifying and addressing antisemitic behavior.
 
Our organizations join UC stakeholders in asking you to adopt the State Department definition of antisemitism and to afford Jewish students the same protections as all other students at the University of California.   
 
Sincerely,
 
Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity (AEPi)
Alums for Campus Fairness
AMCHA Initiative
American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists
Americans for Peace and Tolerance
BEAR: Bias Education, Advocacy & Resources
Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
CUFI on Campus
David Horowitz Freedom Center
Declare Your Freedom
Eagles Wings
Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)
Fuel For Truth
Hasbara Fellowships
Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel
Iranian American Jewish Federation
Israeli-American Council (IAC)
Jerusalem U
National Conference on Jewish Affairs
NCSY
Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN)
Proclaiming Justice to the Nations   
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East 
Simon Wiesenthal Center  
StandWithUs
Students and Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism
The Israel Christian Nexus
The Israel Group
The Lawfare Project
Training and Education About the Middle East (T.E.A.M.)
Zionist Organization of America

The effective way to combat anti-Israel activity on campus: Public relations


There has been an incredible growth of anti-Semitism on college campuses in North America. Too often anti-Israel sentiment is simply a veiled and more culturally appropriate form of anti-Semitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses in the United States increased by 21 percent in 2014 when compared to incidents in 2013.

This past October, swastikas were painted on the Jewish fraternity house at Emory University in Atlanta, just one day after Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish day of the year. In May 2014, it was discovered that professors at Temple University were participating in a listserv that contained anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including a denial of the Holocaust. And this March, a student at UCLA was initially rejected from applying to the Student Council’s Judicial Board because she was Jewish.

Much of this anti-Semitism stems from anti-Israel sentiment — or possibly vice versa; regardless, people feel emboldened these days to express anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views. But American Jews are not helpless; we can fight back. American Jewry needs to start valuing public relations to combat effectively anti-Israel bigotry and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement on college campuses.

Unfortunately the activities of anti-Israel forces on campuses are only growing. According to Raphael Shore of Jerusalem University, after Operation Protective Edge during the summer of 2014, anti-Israel activity rose on college campuses in the 2014 fall semester alone by 46 percent. Nationally, sponsorship of anti-Israel events by university departments increased by 142 percent.

As Israel continues to be isolated and maligned in many press outlets, we can expect this trajectory to continue upward. The BDS and Students for Justice in Palestine movements have also grown, as well as their anti-Semitic tactics for expressing their views.

Anti-Israel advocates often use deception to prove their point. I know firsthand how this works. Last year, organizers of National Apartheid Week, an anti-Israel event, corrupted footage to make it seem as if I were agreeing with anti-Israel sentiment. That had not been the case. I was disgusted. But, rather than shrug and say, “What can I do?” — I fought back. I blitzed them with an all-out media campaign and within a few days they had discretely removed the video from YouTube. I had won one battle in this media relations war, and you can, too.

These groups’ tactics of deception need to be exposed, but, more importantly, we need to amplify the voices of young pro-Israel activists on college campuses across the country, making their voices heard. If we do this, the truth, too, will be heard and the misperceptions and falsehoods perpetuated by the opposition will be effectively combated.

To ensure that students are exposed to the truth, we need to develop an effective communications strategy. To address these issues, young pro-Israel activists need a platform and an audience. And it cannot be an audience solely comprised of like-minded individuals, but rather those who are not yet sure where they stand on the issues. We should reach out through the media.

Representation of young pro-Israel activists in the global broadcast media is sorely lacking in today’s pro-Israel advocacy efforts. We need to educate pro-Israel college students on how to address biased or downright false reporting in the media, and how to respond when student organizations hold votes to have their universities divest from Israel. We must educate them on how to use public relations effectively to ensure the deceptions that form the basis of the BDS Movement are exposed.

Today, pro-Israel students can use social and digital media as platforms to disseminate accurate information about Israel and combat the mistruths being propagated. Corporate boardrooms, many run by American Jews, utilize public relations as it pertains to minimizing the impact of crises in Israel; for whatever reason, however, when it comes to the crisis that is escalating on college campuses across North America as the BDS movement gains traction, we are not investing enough resources in public realtions to combat the trend.

That is not to say there is no progress being made. Chabad and Birthright should be commended for their efforts to instill Jewish pride in students who might shy away from it due to the current unfavorable climate toward Israel’s actions. The collaboration between the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity in developing CombatHateU, an app providing a platform for students to report anti-Semitic incidents instantaneously, is yet another example of innovation being used to assist Jewish students in this situation.

But we need to stop speaking to each other and start speaking to our peers who are not sure of their position yet. Do not leave people standing on the sidelines: Give them the facts, both through oratory and the media, and stand up to the false “facts” currently being spread.

Josh Nass is a public relations strategist and a frequent contributor to Fox News.

War on campus


The spring semester on American campuses is beginning. On some campuses anti-Israel groups will be preparing for another round of the so-called Israel Apartheid Week, which will unfold as the aftershocks of this past summer’s Israel-Hamas war are still being felt. 

Back in August and September, as the fighting in Israel and Gaza was winding down, the fighting between student groups on some campuses was picking up. At Ohio University, student senate president Megan Marzec, nominated by her school’s president to take the ALS “ice bucket challenge,” poured fake blood on her head instead of ice, to protest the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza. In response she got death threats. At a meeting of the student senate shortly thereafter, some pro-Israel students were arrested after Marzec called in the campus police, because they were allegedly being disruptive. At this point Marzec, standing atop a table, reportedly said she would “never apologize for the people of Palestine,” nor would she ever “stand up for fascists.” The Hillel rabbi described the scene as “explosive.”

At Temple University a pro-Israel student got into an argument with pro-Palestinian students. Hateful words were said, and the pro-Israel student was allegedly assaulted. 

Recriminations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students at John Jay College in New York made news in October.

Tensions were so high at UCLA in November that rather than contest an anti-Israel resolution before the student government (which ultimately passed), the pro-Israel students decided to sit out the fight.

And at Wellesley College, Students for Justice In Palestine (who had put up a poster asking “What Does Zionism mean to you?” on which students wrote “genocide,” “murder,” “apartheid”) refused to meet with their Jewish counterparts, because to do so would violate an “anti-normalization” policy.

Events such as these may be repeated on other campuses this spring, as tensions remain high, and some student groups promote petitions and referenda calling for their universities to divest from companies with ties to Israel, or in support of a boycott (really a blacklist) of Israeli academics. 

Universities are supposed to be places where ideas are held in esteem, and knowledge and truth emerge from rigorous examination and discussion. But we are seeing vilification and hate, instead of discourse.

Debate over the Israel-Palestine conflict is often disabled because few can step back and examine the historical, political, religious, and legal issues dispassionately, let alone compare this conflict to others. Instead, passions on both sides are intensified with self-righteousness.  When injustices are at stake, dispassionate analysis may strike advocates as inappropriate, even sacrilegious. A cool head persuades some you do not really care.

Justice for Palestinians, who have been under Israeli occupation for nearly 50 years is set against respect for the rights of Jews, like other peoples, to have national self-expression in their historic homeland. Campus advocates identify with these narratives, and each side paints the other as unjust, racist, or both. Or in Marzec’s words, “fascist.”  This dynamic makes it impossible to conduct meaningful conversations.  Winning counts for more than learning. Each side rightly notes that one would not have a civil discussion with a neo-Nazi or a Holocaust denier. If that’s how they see each other, engagement becomes impossible. Everyone therefore has to reduce the amount of anti-racist “justice” they invest in their position in order to talk. Otherwise, rather than classmates engaged in dialogue, you see racists, idiots, and enemies.

Add to this the relatively new fashion of some anti-Israel groups opposing “normalization” on campus. It is bad enough that many BDS proponents insist that Israelis should be treated as pariahs (much like Nazis and Apartheid-advocates). It is doubly troubling when such hateful stances are adopted toward classmates, either because of their ethnicity or their political position. It is dangerous when abstract allegiances to people in battles thousands of miles away supersede the respect one ought to exhibit toward fellow students who are neighbors, classmates, and friends.

We sympathize with the students who say they are being forced to “choose sides,” when they insist they want to be both pro-Israel AND pro-Palestinian, but there is little space for them on campus. These students have a capacity for empathy. It helps   them hold more than one set of thoughts at the same time, and to seek knowledge that challenges, rather than confirms, their beliefs. They see the humanity and suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike. They reject the hatred that defines each people as mere roadblocks to the other’s aspirations. At best, they are passionate about compassion. And they think backward from the goal (peace and national self-expression for both peoples in their own lands), and focus on how to get there, rather than on how to be extreme advocates for one side or the other.

Zealots on both sides dismiss empathy, because each says the other doesn’t deserve it. South African Apartheid leaders were human too, and no responsible person should express empathy for them, so how can one have empathy for similar folk today—those who are seen as responsible for Palestinian or Jewish suffering?

But there were very few Apartheid advocates on campus when South Africa was a lighting rod for activism, whereas today there are two camps, each of which can claim justice is on its side. 

In this environment, learning requires academic leaders—administrators, faculty, and students alike—to display a capacity for empathy. What would it be like to be a Palestinian in Gaza? An Israeli in Sderot? Can you imagine either, both? Can you construct an argument that is logical, comparative, historically and evidence-based that takes a position opposite to your political beliefs?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be ideal for demonstrating critical thinking skills—if the environment allowed for thinking rather than slogans, propaganda, hate, self-righteousness, threats, and violence. Our view is that faculty in particular have to work much harder to demonstrate what reasoned discourse means.

Cary Nelson is co-chair, and Ken Stern is an executive committee member, of the newly formed 120+ member Alliance for Academic Freedom, a project to protect academic freedom and promote empathy around the Israeli-Palestinian debate. Nelson is coeditor of the recently released The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel. Stern is the Executive Director of the Justus and Karin Rosenberg Foundation (jkrfoundation.org).

Historians on Israel


According to Voltaire, history “is nothing but a pack of tricks we play upon the dead.” I’m more concerned about tricks that historians play upon the living.

In some ways, the past year was fertile ground for mischievous historical trickeration (a favorite Louis Farrakhanism) at Israel’s expense.

Some months ago, recovering leftist historian Ronald Radosh called the anti-Israel petition signed by hundreds of historians in the U.S., with an added list of “international” fellow travelers, “Historians for Hamas.”

I recognized only about ten names, but I’m no longer as plugged into the organized profession as I once was. I don’t doubt that the signers were representative of a broader swathe of opinion. My alma mater, UCLA, was a petition hotbed more than Berkeley.

I would guestimate that of the signers, 10 percent were African American, 30 percent were  Arab or Muslim, and 40 percent were Jews who hate Israel.

I agree with Radosh’s characterization of the petition as a modern instance of what Julien Benda in the 1930s called the “trahison des clercs”—the intellectual betrayal of freedom by totalitarian-leaning intellectuals. In this case, the signers’ criticisms of Israel were  mostly indistinguishable from apologetics for Hamas’ barbarities, although the petition signatories lacked the honesty to admit it.

The publicizing of this  petition followed  the unanimous decision by the 20-Member National Council of The American Studies Association (ASA) to join the academic boycott of Israel.  Throwing in everything including the kitchen sink, the ASA’s blunderbuss resolution cited: “US military and other support for Israel”; “Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions”—perish the thought they mention Iran’s violations of UN uranium enrichment bans for which it is now being rewarded; “the documented impact on Palestinian scholars and students”—no mention of 75 years of Arab and Muslim boycotts of Jewish institutions;  Israeli universities’ complicity in “state policies that violate human rights”—no specifics provided; and “the support of such a resolution by many members of the 5,000-member ASA”—how “many” was not indicated.

Fortunately, the ASA’s academic big brother—the American Historical Association (AHA)—has now implicitly rebuked anti-Israel  know nothingism about the Middle East of the American Studiers’ leadership.

Meeting about a year after the ASA’s late 2013 resolution, the AHA has  refused to suspend normal procedures to put current or future resolutions condemning Israel to a membership vote. The vote was 144 to 54.  One defeated motion claimed that Israel commits “violence and intimidation” against Palestinian academics and archives, damaging “Palestinians’ sense of historical identity as well as the historical record itself.” Of course, it failed to mention Palestinian defacement of West Bank Jewish historical sites and threats to topple the Western Wall  or the Palestinian Authority’s claim that neither King David nor the Second Jewish Temple ever existed.

Twenty years ago, the AHA also struck a blow  against bigotry-posing-as-history by issuing a statement debunking the anonymously-authored The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, the product of the anonymous “Historical Research Department” of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.  Volume 1 of The Secret Relationship argued that a handful of Jewish merchants “dominated” the Atlantic slave trade. Volume 2’s subtitle is: “How Jews Gained Control of the Black American Economy.”

Combine the AHA’s record with the tepid reception for John Judis’ revisionist Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict—all the major claims of which have been  refuted by Ronald and Allis Radosh’s A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel—and 2014 has not been such a bad year  after all for mainstream historians in relation to Mideast history.


Historian Brackman, a Simon Wiesenthal Center consultant, is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, forthcoming).

Programmers at CNES saw no reason to counter Israel criticism


After the holidays, when Congress prepares to reauthorize Title VI of the Higher Education Act, legislators should take a cold, hard look at the case of UCLA’s Center for Near East Studies (CNES), a recipient of millions of dollars of federal funding under Title VI, and ask if such programs truly serve our national security interests.  Or, are they rather serving the selfish interests of politically motivated faculty and enabling them to promote their anti-Israel activism at the taxpayer’s expense?

UCLA’s Center for Near East Studies has a long history of presenting biased, unambiguously anti-Israel positions that go far beyond criticism of specific government policies into characterizations of Israel as inherently evil and unjustified in its existence.  Such programming is in flagrant violation of Congress’s intent.

In 2008, Congress amended the language of Title VI in direct response to the notorious political bias, suppression of dissenting viewpoints and blatant antisemitism of many Title VI-funded Middle East studies programs like CNES. Congress understood that rampant anti-Israel and anti-America bias in these programs was thwarting the whole purpose of Title VI funding, namely, to provide a solid knowledge base and well-trained scholars to serve our national security interests.  Therefore, since 2008 all Title VI-funded programs have been required to demonstrate that their funded activities provide “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views.”

Yet, in January 2009, CNES sponsored a symposium entitled “Gaza and Human Rights,” which featured three University of California professors – Gabriel Piterberg (UCLA, History), Lisa Hajjar (UC Santa Barbara, Sociology) and Saree Makdisi (UCLA, English) – and former UC visiting professor Richard Falk (UCSB, Global and International Studies).  Well-known for their outspoken anti-Israel activism, all four academics delivered presentations at the symposium that some audience members characterized as “an academic lynching” and “one-sided witch hunt” of Israel. Piterberg accused Israel of “wanton violence and carnage”; Hajjar argued that nations which act like Israel are “enemies of all mankind”; Falk said Israel’s incursion into Gaza was of a “savagely criminal nature”; and Makdisi argued that the only just solution to the conflict would be the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. 

Despite the unambiguously anti-Israel positions taken by all four of the panelists at the event, then CNES director Susan Slyomovics, who had introduced the symposium by claiming that its purpose was to present the “truth” about human rights abuses in Gaza, responded to queries from audience members who were outraged by the one-sidedness of the panel, saying that she had no intention of presenting future CNES events with perspectives less biased against Israel. 

Slyomovics’s statement was an arrogant admission that she knowingly planned to violate the “diverse perspectives” requirement of the federal statute which provided the majority of the Center’s funding. Nevertheless, hardly a month after the egregiously anti-Israel event, Slyomovics put forward a grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Education Title VI funding for approximately $2 million for 2010 – 2014.  In accordance with the requirement that applicants demonstrate that the activities funded by the grant “reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views,” the CNES proposal hypocritically contained the following language:

“CNES recognizes that many points of view exist on any given topic when bringing together varied audiences to analyze and discuss the past, present, and future of the Middle East and North Africa. A high value is placed in hearing and understanding multiple points of view and examining questions fundamental to diverse perspectives on controversial issues…Diverse perspectives facilitate thinking and professional competency on behalf of future education professionals and global citizens.”

While this statement rings hollow in light of Slyomovic’s earlier admission that she had no intention of presenting unbiased programming about Israel, it approaches fraudulence in light of the egregious lack of “diverse perspectives” in  CNES’s Israel-related programming in the subsequent years for which funding was requested.  Indeed, in a comprehensive study tracking anti-Israel bias and antisemitic discourse in Israel-related public events sponsored by CNES 2010 – 2013, which was undertaken by our organization, AMCHA Initiative, we found that 93% of the Israel-related events recorded by the Center had a clear anti-Israel bias, and 75% were so biased as to be considered antisemitic according to the U.S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism.

The extreme anti-Israel bias of CNES’s programming is not surprising considering who was directing the program.  Despite the Center’s federally mandated mission to maintain linkages with institutes of higher education in the Middle East, including Israel, Slyomovics,and her successors, Gabriel Piterberg and Sondra Hale all signed petitions endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities and scholars, and Hale is even a founder of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  And despite directing a program intended to encourage study abroad to countries in the Middle East, including Israel, all three directors publicly opposed University of California's Israel Abroad Program by signing a petition which Hale herself had written and circulated.

What is startling is the brazen and public refusal by the CNES directors to abide by the requirement of the Title VI statute.  In response to critics, including AMCHA Initiative, an official CNES statement recently released said that “those responsible for programming at CNES saw no reason to ‘balance’ the criticism (of Israel)…no reason to bring in speakers who would defend it.”  In other words, Slyomovics, Hale and Piterberg did not just fail to live up to the “diverse perspectives” requirement of the federal grant which CNES asked for and received, but they never intended to honor it.

While it is not unexpected that a program directed by three professors well-known for their anti-Israel animus would host events that lack “diverse perspectives” and are biased against the Jewish state, it is astonishing that UCLA administrators would choose them as directors of CNES, and then turn a blind eye to their flagrant and potentially fraudulent abuse of federal funds.

Rossman-Benjamin is a lecturer at University of California Santa Cruz and the co-founder of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization that combats anti-Semitism on college campuses across the United States.

Beckwith is an emeritus professor at the University of California Los Angeles and the co-founder of AMCHA Initiative.

Human Rights Tragedies and Distortions


December 10 is known as International Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948.  The Declaration stresses equality before the law; due process rights; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and the right to earn a livelihood. Although it is non-binding, the declaration has spawned a host of human rights treaties and greater attention to civil equality, labor rights, and environment-related rights. 

Sadly, the universality envisioned by the Declaration has not been achieved. In all too many parts of the world, human rights are nonexistent.

Moreover, as concern for human rights has grown, rights-based language has been hijacked or “weaponized”: Many political advocates exploit human rights principles and terminology to advance narrow political goals and attack ideological adversaries, abandoning the universality of human rights. These campaigns, unsurprisingly, result in fewer human rights protections.

This troubling phenomenon is a visible part of the Arab-Israeli conflict. A powerful network of NGOs uses human rights and related concepts of international law to demonize Israel and advance campaigns of isolation and sanctions.  While ostensibly aimed at promoting the human rights of Palestinians, these actions often weaken Palestinian rights while completely ignoring the rights of Israelis. 

Amnesty International, one of the largest and most powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim a focus on human rights, with an annual budget approaching $100 million, is a case in point. Instead of confronting abuses by ISIS or Boko Haram, groups that torment women and minorities in unspeakable ways, this week Amnesty will mark International Human Rights Day by yet again accusing Israel of “war crimes” for its efforts to stop Hamas rocket and tunnel attacks on Israeli civilians.

In its publication, Amnesty levies unsupported allegations that, amidst the fighting in Gaza this summer, Israel deliberately destroyed “landmark buildings” and targeted civilians. This is the second such major document in as many months attacking Israel on relatively minor aspects of the Gaza conflict; a November publication, despite lacking evidence, also accused Israel of exacting a “devastating toll on civilians and civilian property.”

From a certain perspective, this parade of publications on Israel and Gaza is to be expected.  Amnesty played a primary role in the Goldstone process following the 2009 Gaza war, providing the list of incidents that Judge Goldstone discussed in his discredited report (none involved Hamas). Amnesty also campaigned publically in support of the mission and its skewed conclusions. With the Schabas Report (aka Goldstone 2) forthcoming in March 2015, Amnesty is actively working to construct a false narrative of Israeli guilt.

In contrast, Amnesty has issued no such detailed reports on Hamas attacks against Israel civilians or on its war strategy of operating out of residential areas to maximize Palestinian civilian damage. As previous rounds of conflicts and condemnations have shown, by ignoring Hamas abuses, Amnesty encourages the terrorist organization to operate from homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals – making future violations of Palestinian rights more likely.

Unfortunately, Amnesty is not alone in the damage caused by the exploitation of rights rhetoric for narrow political agendas.

Human rights distortions are also present in the boycott campaign against SodaStream, a company that manufactures home carbonation systems. It has six manufacturing facilities, with one production plant located in the West Bank. Because SodaStream is a popular product and ran high-profile ads during the Super Bowl, anti-Israel NGO activists target the company. The political objective, to punish private business activity allegedly connected to the “occupation,” is obvious. 

However, from a human rights perspective, the targeting of SodaStream is perplexing. The company employs hundreds of Palestinians at a good wage and in respectable labor conditions. Its reusable product is more environmentally friendly than bottled soft drink options. Seeking to cause the company economic damage could result in the loss of thousands of jobs. Closing the plant in the West Bank, specifically, will deprive nearly 1,000 Palestinians and their families of livelihoods.

NGO campaigners cannot explain why they ignore these aspects or how their dogmatic political goals justifies the violation of the economic, social, labor, and environmental rights caused by their activism. 

In another situation, anti-Israel boycott activists and the Dutch government targeted the company Royal Haskoning DHV, pushing it to cancel its involvement in constructing a sewage treatment facility in East Jerusalem. The plant would have significantly remediated the severely polluted Kidron Valley, home to many Palestinian villages. Yet, the NGO activists and Dutch officials were obsessed with the location of the plant and completely ignored the rights of Palestinians and Israelis regarding health, clean water, and a pollution-free environment. 

As these examples demonstrate, actualizing rights in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict is complex, and cannot be reduced to slogans and advocacy campaigns.

However, for narrow-minded actors, including many NGOs, political abstractions are far more important than the concrete realization of human rights. Too often, their political considerations and agendas trump human rights and cause the very damage they claim to combat.

And that is a tragedy.

Naftali Balanson and Anne Herzberg are the managing editor and legal advisor, respectively, at NGO Monitor (www.ngo-monitor.org), a Jerusalem-based research institute. 

Stop reckless sponsorship of anti-Israelism


I never imagined that a day would come when some of the world’s leading corporations would fund calls for Israel’s destruction, let alone at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. But that is exactly what happened last week at Harvard.

My invitation to “Harvard Arab Weekend” promised to provide a “mosaic of perspectives and insights on the most pressing issues in the Arab world.” Many of the panels appeared worthy of the conference’s corporate support from McKinsey & Co, The Boston Consulting Group, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bank Audi, Strategy& and the energy giant Shell. Yet featured prominently on the conference agenda was a panel devoted to the destruction of Israel: “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement: Accomplishments, Tactics and Lessons.”

The panel’s moderator, Ahmed Alkhateeb, began by noting that a primary goal of the BDS movement is “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties” in what today is Israel. As President Obama pointed out in 2008, this goal stands in opposition to a “two-state solution” and “would extinguish Israel as a Jewish state.” And in an Op-Ed published in Al Akhbar newspaper, Cal State professor As’ad AbuKhalil, an outspoken advocate of the BDS movement, affirmed that “the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel.” This is the “unambiguous goal … [and] there should not be an equivocation on the subject.”

He’s right. While Jews are the majority in the democratic state of Israel today, the BDS movement imagines and seeks a state in which Jews would ultimately become the minority, implying the end of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Of course, students have a right to speak their minds freely, and corporate sponsors have a right to donate their money and institutional backing to any political view. But is it appropriate for Harvard University to lend its facilities to a group of activists who are working to eradicate the one Jewish state?

Not everyone at Harvard thinks so. Former Harvard president and current professor Lawrence Summers spoke out in 2002 against calls for Harvard to divest from Israel. When I asked him about last week’s panel, he told me that “promoting BDS is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when I warned years ago about actions that were anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent.”

“Avoiding censorship, which is right, should not equal sponsorship, which is wrong,” Summers explained. “I am sorry that Harvard, not for the first time, has allowed its good name to be associated with calls to delegitimize Israel.”

The panel at Harvard was not a debate about the goals and merits of BDS — it was an endorsement. Panelists included a vocal supporter of BDS who frequently accuses Israel of “apartheid,” a professor who initiated the American Studies Association academic and cultural boycott and a Presbyterian minister who led the church’s boycott of Israel, as well as MIT professor Noam Chomsky.

Student organizers of the panel told me that Chomsky would provide the “anti-BDS” perspective, and he was introduced as the only voice on the panel to be critical of BDS “tactics.” But Chomsky would have none of it, saying: “It’s interesting that I’m introduced as someone that has criticized BDS tactics; actually I have strongly advocated for BDS.”

Chomsky also encouraged anti-Israel activists to take a phased approach toward the annihilation of Israel as a Jewish state.

“The one-state option is a good idea in the long run,” he said,” but there’s only one way that I can imagine we can reach it, and that’s in stages.”

The panel discussion left me with an overwhelming sense of sadness. I was sad to see firsthand how BDS encourages Palestinians to reject compromise in pursuit of the destruction of Israel; sad that the student organizers of the conference were unwilling to create a panel of diverse, honest views that would have led to true dialogue; sad that Harvard administrators allowed an event promoting an end to the national existence of the Jewish people to take place under Harvard’s auspices; and said that the names and institutional prestige of major corporations were used to give legitimacy to the BDS campaign.

I sent inquiries to senior executives at every sponsor company before the conference, but the panel went on. After the conference, a senior McKinsey spokesman wrote to me to apologize for the firm’s involvement with the conference: “The firm does not knowingly associate its name with political issues and debates.”

I believe it is likely that the other corporate sponsors also did not intend to have their funds used to promote the BDS movement.

Corporations and universities should not lend mainstream legitimacy to such a radical and odious movement, nor should they provide funding or resources to events that demonize Israel as this one did.

I hope Harvard and the corporations that sponsored Harvard Arab Weekend — and in doing so sponsored the BDS panel — will publicly pledge to be more vigilant in the future and never again associate their names or provide funding to any movement that seeks to destroy Israel.

Sara K. Greenberg is a joint master’s degree student at the Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. This piece first appeared in the Harvard Crimson. 

 

ASA conference revisits the boycott of Israeli institutions


Nancy Koppelman, an American Studies professor at The Evergreen State College in Washington, is well aware of how passionate things can get on college campuses over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The late pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003, had been a student at Evergreen. 

Last week, at the American Studies Association’s (ASA) annual meeting in Los Angeles, Koppelman addressed another aspect of this heightened tension that more directly involved her peers. She chaired “The Party’s Over: A Panel and Open Discussion on the Aftermath of the ASA’s Boycott Resolution,” examining the ASA’s 2013 controversial vote to forbid academic partnerships with Israeli universities. 

The criticism lobbed against the organization dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history in the aftermath of the vote came from both scholars and organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League. (The ASA is the second U.S. academic organization, after the Association for Asian American Studies, to endorse such a boycott, according to insidehighered.com.)

“The symbolic boycott harnessed the ASA to a highly partisan goal, and then its advocates tried to drive it where they wanted it to go,” Koppelman, who voted against the boycott, said during the Nov. 6 panel. “But symbols are not like streetcars  — you can’t control them by turning the wheel or slamming on the brakes; once unleashed, symbols have lives of their own.”

The panel at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel was attended by 30 people and also featured Michael Aaron Rockland, a professor of American Studies at Rutgers University; Mohammed Wattad, a legal scholar and assistant professor at the Zefat Academic College School of Law in Israel; and Lisa Armony, director of the Rose Project and community outreach at the Jewish Federation and Family Services in Orange County. 

Rockland, who helped Koppelman organize the panel, described himself as a lifelong member of the ASA. Wattad joined the organization less than one year ago, so he could present at last week’s conference. So did Armony.

Only one-fourth of the ASA’s 5,000 members — many of whom are university professors — took part in the December 2013 vote to ratify the boycott. Two-thirds of the 1,250 votes cast supported the boycott, insidehighered.com reported. 

Over the course of the conference, which took place Nov. 6-9, several panels spotlighted the boycott issue. They included “Scholars Under Attack,” “Students Under Attack,” “I Want My ASA” and “Black Radicalism, Insurgency in Israel/Palestine and the Idea of Solidarity.”

The panels were created to “help bring into sharper relief the vibrant intersection of fun and fury in relation to local and global contexts,” the conference program materials explain. “Of particular interest in the program will be the wide-ranging responses to the ASA membership’s vote to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” 

Conference presenters who were critical of the boycott were few and far between, Koppelman said.

Matthew Jacobson, former president of the ASA and a professor of African-American Studies, history and American Studies at Yale, explained to the Journal that American aid to Israel makes what happens in the Jewish state an American Studies issue. He voted last year in support of the boycott.

“I thought it was a meaningful, symbolic way to raise protest against Israeli policy and also against U.S. policies that enable it,” he said. “I wish this year had been easier both for me and the organization, but I feel it is the right thing to do.”

More than 2,250 individuals registered for the conference, according to ASA Executive Director John Stephens. The conference was titled “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century.”

Stephens also acknowledged that tensions over the event were high. “My job is to hold this thing together, to make sure voices get heard and that we have a community,” he said, heading to the open bar at the close of late-afternoon sessions. “I’m a healer.”  

The majority of the panels had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — exploring gender studies and depictions of slavery in popular culture, for example — but there were plenty of conference attendees who had strong opinions on the matter. 

Eric Sandeen, University of Wyoming director of American Studies, seemed to have a hard time holding his tongue during the Q-and-A portion of “The Party’s Over.” 

“Oh boy, I got something to say,” Sandeen said while leaning against a conference room wall. “I don’t deny there are people out there who want to make a statement about the situation in the Middle East, but I don’t think an academic organization is the place to do it. I think something like a political action committee, which [the ASA] has kind of turned into, is the place to do it.”

University of Michigan professor June Howard, whose area of expertise is 19th- and 20th-century American literature and culture, disagreed. 

“It feels as if the pushback is as coercive as anything you are [speaking out against],” she told the panelists. 

Howard pointed to the mistreatment and marginalization of Arab-Americans in her area of southeast Michigan — a region heavily populated by Arab-Americans — as one example of how the conflict, despite being overseas, has an impact inside the U.S. 

Koppelman, for her part, also offered ideas for how critics of the boycott may proceed, including forming a caucus within the ASA that would focus on nurturing relationships with Israeli and Palestinian academics. Or, she said, she and her supporters could form an entirely new organization. 

“But, I’m kind of busy next week,” she said, “[and] that’s a very large order, and I am sure there are other possibilities and you may have some ideas. So we are here to get that conversation started.” 

Jewish donors leaving Britain’s Labor Party over Miliband’s anti-Israel stance


Jewish donors and supporters are deserting Britain’s Labor party over party leader Ed Miliband’s anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian stance.

Miliband has been warned of the loss of Jewish support, the U.K. Independent reported Sunday.

Miliband, the son of Holocaust refugees, last month ordered all party lawmakers to vote in favor of a nonbinding motion to recognize the state of Palestine.

The party reportedly also is having problem raising funds for next year’s elections.

Donations from the Jewish community in the past have been worth hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to the Labor Party, according to the newspaper, which reported that several previous supporters said that they and others are now very unlikely to support the party.

Last week, popular British actress Maureen Lipman announced that she would stop supporting the party after 50 years.

Miliband publicly and strongly criticized Israel for its 50-day operation in Gaza last summer.

 

At a landmark Berlin rally, Merkel vows to fight anti-Semitism


Germany will do all it can to fight anti-Semitism, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech on Sunday, following a surge of abuse against Jews and spreading anti-Israeli sentiment aroused by the Gaza conflict.

Merkel made her pledge to thousands at a landmark rally protesting a rise in anti-Semitism that authorities and Jewish leaders blame mainly on Muslim extremists and young immigrants, saying anyone who attacks Jews is attacking all of Germany.

“That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their Jewish appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we won't accept,” Merkel said. “It's our national and civic duty to fight anti-Semitism.”

Merkel only rarely attends demonstrations, but she joined German President Joachim Gauck and Jewish community leaders for the rally at the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin.

“Anyone who hits someone wearing a skullcap is hitting us all. Anyone who damages a Jewish gravestone is disgracing our culture. Anyone who attacks a synagogue is attacking the foundations of our free society.”

The rally itself, organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, was extraordinary. Jews in Germany generally keep a low profile, but community leaders have said Jews were feeling threatened by anti-Semitism after the Gaza conflict.

More than half a million Jews lived in Germany when the Nazis took power in 1933. That number was reduced to about 30,000 by the Holocaust. The population has since grown to about 200,000 – a source of pride for Merkel and many Germans.

The German government said 131 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in July and 53 in June. That was up from a total of 159 in the second quarter. Merkel said authorities would use all means at hand to fight anti-Semitism.

“That far more than 100,000 Jews are now living in Germany is something of a miracle,” Merkel said in an unusually personal speech. “It's a gift and it fills me with a deepest gratitude.

“Jewish life is part of our identity and culture. It hurts me when I hear that young Jewish parents are asking if it's safe to raise their children here or elderly ask if it was right to stay here.”

The Gaza conflict between Palestine and Israel has caused tension to flare between local Muslim and Jewish populations across Europe. Anti-Semitic chants and threats marred pro-Palestinian protests in France, Germany, and Italy in July.

European leaders rushed to reassure local Jewish communities of their safety.

In France, the French office of the American Jewish Committee said last week that French Interior Ministry figures showed there had been a 91 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents to 527 from January 1 to July 31.

In Britain, anti-Semitic incidents rose to a near-record level after an Israeli assault on the Palestinian enclave of Gaza began in July, the Community Security Trust, a Jewish advisory body, said that month.

The Trust said there were 304 anti-Semitic incidents between January and June, a 36 percent rise compared with a year earlier.

Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, praised Germany's efforts to fight anti-Semitism at the rally.

“There are some places where I'd expect to see this,” Lauder said. “But not in Germany. Since the end of the war Germany, has strongly supported the Jewish rebirth. So why has all this good work been darkened by the stain of anti-Semitism?”

In July, petrol bombs were thrown at a synagogue in the western town of Wuppertal and a man wearing a skullcap was beaten up on a street corner in Berlin.

British Jew forced from home after criticizing Israel’s Gaza op


An Orthodox Jewish man was forced to leave his home in England after criticizing Israel’s Gaza operation at a protest rally.

The Greater Manchester home was vandalized twice with eggs and graffiti and smashed windows, and his car was sprayed with red paint, the Manchester Evening News reported Sunday.

The man moved out after he was attacked by a mob of up to 30 people, according to the newspaper.

Police are investigating the incidents and are treating them as hate crimes, the Jewish News website reported Sunday. The vandalism started at the end of July, while the operation was ongoing. Israel and Hamas have since agreed to a cease-fire.

The man reportedly spoke out against Israel’s bombing of Gaza in Manchester city center, where pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests have been held, and also discussed his views in the community.

“I have lived here for many years and I have never known a situation where the Jewish community turned on each other,” a neighbor told the Manchester Evening News.

Protesting Israel, Rabbi Brant Rosen quits congregation


A prominent rabbi whose outspoken criticism of Israel become too divisive for his congregation announced this week that he is resigning his pulpit.

Brant Rosen, rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill., made the announcement Tuesday. Aside from his pulpit position, which he has held for 17 years, Rosen is also the founder and co-chair of the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that promotes boycotts of Israel and has been listed by the Anti-Defamation League as one of the top 10 anti-Israel organizations in the United States.

Rosen said the synagogue board did not force him to step down; rather, the decision was driven by his concern for his own and the congregation’s well-being.

“It’s become clear to me very recently that the atmosphere in the congregation is becoming more divisive,” Rosen told JTA this week. “It’s clear that I am the lightning rod for that division, so I made the decision about 10 days ago to step down.”

Rosen’s departure, and the turmoil that led to it, highlight the deep and emotional fissures in the American Jewish community over Israel and its conflict over the Palestinians. The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation highlights diversity and progressive values, and its board consistently had backed Rosen’s right to speak his mind on the Middle East, according to Rosen and board president David Tabak.

But Rosen’s controversial outspokenness began to destroy the community.

Frustrated by Israel’s Gaza campaign in 2008, Operation Cast Lead, Rosen began publicizing his strident criticism of Israel and strong support for the Palestinians in late 2008 on his personal blog, Shalom Rav.

“We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass,” he wrote. “What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage.”

Rosen subsequently became co-chair of the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace. The organization has made strident criticism of Israel its focus, promoting the BDS campaign to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel; heckling Israeli officials in public speeches and organizing anti-Israel demonstrations in numerous U.S. cities during this summer’s Gaza war.

At his shul Rosen was careful mostly to separate his activism on Israel from his role as the congregation’s rabbi, according to Tabak, rarely speaking about the issue from the pulpit.

But his advocacy polarized many members, with some openly hostile to Rosen’s point of view and others vigorously supportive of it. That polarization and the arguments that grew out of it began to destroy the community’s cohesion, Tabak said.

“The dichotomy of opinion did not bother me — even the strenuous adherence to these beliefs did not bother me,” Tabak told JTA. “What I found really disturbing is that a very warm and welcoming and accepting congregation really did have schisms developing.”

The congregation struggled to bridge the divides by encouraging members to organize events, but those, too, quickly broke down into a left-right divide. Some 20 members of the congregation accompanied Rosen on a trip to visit Palestinian activists in the West Bank. Others, including longtime members, began to circulate letters and emails criticizing Rosen. Some left the congregation altogether, citing Rosen’s views on Israel as the cause.

Throughout, the board stood behind Rosen.

Then, in June, Rosen traveled to Detroit with members of Jewish Voice for Peace to encourage the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to pass a resolution on divesting from three companies that do business with Israeli security services in the West Bank. When the conflict in Gaza began, he marched in pro-Palestinian solidarity rallies in Chicago.

Those were, Rosen says, “the final straws.” Yet another letter circulated, this one accusing Rosen of neglecting his duties to the congregation. Rosen said the emotional toll, and the awareness of the pain his views were causing members, became too much.

“I didn’t feel I could give my all to my job anymore,” he said.

“I don’t know that he would have lasted anywhere near as long as he did at any other congregation,” said Joseph Aaron, editor and publisher of the Chicago Jewish News. “I think it says something good about the synagogue, because for a very long time they allowed him to espouse points of view that most synagogues wouldn’t have tolerated.”

Rosen will remain at his congregation for another six months. He said he plans to move professionally into activism rather than seeking another pulpit. The congregation is searching for another rabbi and relaunching its Israel programming with a greater emphasis on balance, Tabak said. It will take a wider view of Israel beyond politics to include culture, history and face-to-face interaction.

The rabbi’s departure is good and bad, Tabak added.

“For the congregation, in some ways it is good in the sense that it gives us a chance to repair some of the relationships that have split here in the past,” Tabak said. “In other ways, he’s been with us for 17 years. He bat-mitzvahed my eldest daughter, but he won’t be available for the youngest. He’s been a fixture of our lives.”

 

Whether you fire him or not, condemn Salaita’s words


For the past month or so, the academic world in this country has been abuzz with impassioned debate about Professor Steven Salaita, whose proposed appointment as a tenured professor in American Indian studies at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana was rejected by Chancellor Phyllis Wise on August 1.   The key issue in this case is Salaita’s anti-Israeli and, some say, anti-Semitic speech, which Chancellor Wise characterized as “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

Supporters of Professor Salaita have seen the decision to withdraw the offer made by the UI’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a gross violation of the principle of academic freedom that stands at the heart of the American university system.   The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the central policy-making body for American academics, has made clear in its 1940 Statement of Principles that freedom of expression in research and teaching is essential to the proper functioning and success of universities. http://www.aaup.org/report/1940-statement-principles-academic-freedom-and-tenure.  Drawing on the AAUP principles, Cornell law professor Michael Dorf asserts, without endorsing Salaita’ words, that the case is an easy one: “Academic freedom and freedom of speech protect all viewpoints, even those that are hostile to academic freedom or freedom of speech.”

Meanwhile, those who endorse the University’s decision to retract its offer note that Salaita’s case is actually different from instances in which an institution attempts to fire a current faculty member for offensive speech.  Such a case would be an unmistakable deviation from the bedrock principle of free speech.  Rather, supporters of the retraction such as UI professor Cary Nelson, a former president of the AAUP, note that Salaita’s appointment was never given final approval by either the University of Illinois’ Chancellor of its Board of Trustees. 

This may seem confounding to the outsider.  Either Salaita was offered an appointment or he wasn’t.  In fact, academic institutions of the size of the University of Illinois are large and labyrinthine bureaucracies with many layers of scrutiny for academic appointments.  One may receive the endorsement of a home department, the dean, and the provost, but without the final authorization of the chancellor or president and board of trustees, the appointment is not final.  Salaita’s case is one of the rare instances in which a university CEO has overturned the affirmative decision of the lower reviewing bodies.  The more cautious among academic appointees would never resign their positions at previous institutions until they received final approval from the chancellor and board, as Steven Salaita did from Virginia Tech. 

The question of whether we can meaningfully distinguish between firing a professor already in the employ of a university and withdrawing an offer to one who is awaiting the last sign-off from the chancellor is a difficult one.  It is especially difficult because of the importance of creating a safe, inclusive, and welcoming campus climate for all.  Do we want to welcome as members of our campus community those who extend beyond acceptable bounds of civil speech and conduct?  It is a very tricky call.  I must confess that I am not certain where I stand in balancing the right to free speech vs. the right to exclude from one’s campus community those whose speech is disrespectful.  Indeed, I think a decent case could be made for either side.  As a result of my own uncertainty, I have sat on this piece for weeks.

But there is something that must be said without equivocation.  It is stunning to behold the near-total silence of Salaita’s supporters about the content of his speech.  Petitions that excoriate the University of Illinois for its decision have garnered thousands of signatures with passing reference only to the controversy around Salaita’s speech.  Letter writers extol Salaita without any mention of his offensive words. In the few cases where his harsh speech is discussed, his defenders dismiss those who take Salaita’s words at face value by insisting that the real issue is the behavior of Israel. 

Let me be clear.  What is objectionable here is not criticism of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.  Many of us have joined in calling Israel to task for the trail of destruction it has inflicted, most recently in Gaza.  It is the sophomoric, intemperate and, dare I say, hateful quality of Salaita’s speech.  Even if one shares Salaita’s passionate commitment to the Palestinian cause and believes fervently in his right to free speech, it is imperative to call out his irresponsible words.

To what am I referring? It is a series of recent Twitter postings during the unfolding Gaza conflict that reveals an almost compulsive tendency to suggest that Zionism not only induces, but justifies anti-Semitism.  To wit, his most infamous tweet from July 19 declares that Zionism bears responsibility for “transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible into something honorable.”  Supporters of Salaita have tried to parse this sentence to argue that by placing “antisemitism” in quotes, he was indicating his distance from the concept.   Really?  One can argue that Israeli behavior toward Palestinians has provoked antisemitic responses.  But what possibly could be “honorable” about such responses?  When is antisemitism ever honorable?

Would we accept any analogous assertions about other groups?  That the actions of Hamas justify Islamophobia?  I doubt it.  Salaita, with pyromaniacal persistence, seems incapable of avoiding the fire of antisemitism.  In another tweet from July 19, he offers this: “If it’s ‘antisemitic’ to deplore colonization, land theft, and child murder, then what choice does any person of conscience have?”  Here again, some will argue that the use of quotes insulates Salaita from the phenomenon itself–that he’s referring to the tendency of Israel’s supporters to tarnish any and all critics with the designation “antisemitic.” But if he’s not saying that “any person of conscience” must ultimately choose antisemitism, he certainly comes close.  At a minimum, he’s guilty of extraordinarily sloppy locution that can lead reasonable people to assume that he sees antisemitism as an unavoidable and justifiable outcome of Zionism—and therefore an acceptable and “honorable” consequence of the fight for justice for Palestinians.

One also wonders about his tweet from July 14: “Zionist uplift in America.  Every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime.”  Defenders will say that he simply seeks to point to the impact of Zionist ideology on the organized Jewish community in this country.  But the language he uses rests on the troubling elision between  Zionist and Jew—and the ascription of culpability for all of Israel’s and Zionism’s actions to Jews as a collective.  Whether or not Salaita’s intent here was antisemitic, I can’t say. What is clear is that the Zionist/Jewish elision is a common antisemitic move. 

Also unnerving is his claim that “the sequence of letters” in the word Israel—the word “Israel” itself–should read “child murder” or that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wears “a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children.”  This kind of language eerily echoes the medieval blood libel directed against Jews.  The blood libel assumed many forms, most of which focused on the claim that Jews killed Christian children in order to use their blood for ritual purposes (or to poison wells).  Perhaps the resonance is unwitting, but the effect to anyone who knows the history of antisemitism is chilling.   

I have no idea what is in Steven Salaita’s heart.  Maybe he is a well-intentioned critic of Israel and supporter of the right of the Palestinian people to justice and self-determination.  His choice of language suggests otherwise.  Indeed, his lack of modulation and sound judgment seems to fail the standard laid out by the AAUP in 1940 for university faculty members: “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.” 

Salaita’s speech is far from respectful.  I honestly don’t know whether his disrespectful speech trumps the principle of free speech on which the great American university system rests.  But at a minimum, and it is indeed a minimal response, we must condemn Salaita’s offensive words.  The failure to do so is itself a failure of courage, discernment, and intellectual integrity.  

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA.