Dismantling Anti-Semitism or Dismissing It? A JVP Panel

The anti-Semitism discussed by the panel appeared to be a much more isolated problem.
December 18, 2020
U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Peter Beinart and Dr. Barbara Ransby

On the sixth night of Hanukkah, the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) hosted an online discussion called “Dismantling Antisemitism, Winning Justice.”

The panel members had all been heavily criticized beforehand, with reactions ranging from skepticism to outrage. Only one panelist was Jewish, but all were noted opponents of Israel. The host, JVP, had recently come under fire for a now-deleted tweet proclaiming “L’chaim Intifada” and comparing it to resistance against Nazis. Two panelists had been accused of anti-Semitism in the past: U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Temple University professor Dr. Marc Lamont Hill (who prerecorded his responses). They were joined by writer and professor of history and political science Peter Beinart — editor-at-large at Jewish Currents — and history professor and activist Dr. Barbara Ransby. While lacking expertise in anti-Semitism, Hill, Tlaib and Ransby are known for their work on racism.

The event began with panelists sharing personal recollections of how they discovered anti-Semitism. These were heartfelt and diverse stories. “The fight against anti-Semitism is as urgent as any other struggle here in the U.S. and around the world,” Hill said.

The panel was moderated by JVP’s Rabbi Alissa Wise, who explained her anti-Zionism in the context of anti-Semitism. Wise spoke of the Holocaust and how, from her education, “When we needed allies, they failed us. So I was taught that when, inevitably, Jews are at risk of genocide again, we would need somewhere to go, and that’s why there must be Israel.” Wise disagreed, arguing, “I want so much for the Jewish community to release, even trust fall, into that feeling of safety and solidarity.”

The panel never strayed into the anti-Semitism denial that critics had predicted. There was very little on the specifics of anti-Semitism today. More attention was given to denunciations of Israel and to the commonalities of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.

When the panelists did address anti-Semitism, they argued it was about President Donald Trump and white supremacists. Ransby said, “It’s very important that we name the thing [true examples of anti-Semitism]. So we don’t get distracted.” Ransby ran off a list of white supremacist attacks and crimes against Jews in recent years.

But despite the panel’s focus on anti-Semitism, Ransby failed to mention Hamas’ calls for Jewish genocide when she spoke of her visit to the Palestinian territories and their litany of injustices at the hand of Israel. The wave of attacks terrorizing Jews in New York one year ago, which were not white supremacist, were also ignored. Tlaib described the trauma of her young son thinking he might have to hide his Muslim identity due to racism, but she didn’t address that almost half of young European Jews are afraid to identify as Jewish in public due in large part to violence from Muslim extremists.

Ransby said, “Those of us who advocate for BDS are not the enemy,” but the panelists did not address the anti-Semitism incontrovertibly within the BDS movement nor the abuse of British Jews over the last two years. As a result, the anti-Semitism discussed by the panel appeared to be a much more isolated problem.

The anti-Semitism discussed by the panel appeared to be a much more isolated problem.

Dr. Hill spoke about how he challenged Ice Cube’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Twitter. “When I saw Ice Cube tweet a cartoon, for me, it was an urgent matter that I must speak out against.” Hill took abuse from Ice Cube’s online supporters, who accused him of selling out Blacks to the Jews. Hill stood by his comments, but that episode did not lead him to share his firsthand experience of anti-Semitism outside of white supremacists.

When the panelists turned to Israel, Hill spoke of self-determination as a right of all people, including Jews. This statement was at odds with his demand for a Palestine “from the river to the sea” at the UN. And in her introductory remarks to the panel, JVP’s Academic Program Manager Tallie Ben Daniel alleged that the widely used International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism was created as a weapon against Palestinians. She said, “This definition was developed specifically to be so broad, it is basically meaningless, and therefore anything can be deemed anti-Semitic… the true targets of the campaign are Palestinians, and the second target is the solidarity we engage in.”

Towards the end of the program, Beinart said that “while the primary anti-Semitic threat is white nationalists, it’s on the left as well…. [we must] show a great concern to make sure that progressive movements are never tainted by anti-Semitism.” He added that “Zionist Jews should not be excluded from progressive spaces.” The panelists did not elaborate beyond that statement.

In his closing remarks, Beinart preemptively pushed against critics, stating, “Listen to the folks on the panel and what they said — do they sound like people who hate Jews to you?” “If you have not found that,” he continued, “then let this be the beginning of the process of listening.” Tlaib echoed Beinart, stating, “I don’t hate you [Jews]. I absolutely love you.”

But those who disagreed with Beinart’s conception of “hate” as the measure of anti-Semitism thought differently of the event. Ben Freeman, a globally recognized educator on anti-Semitism, did not mince words. “The JVP panel … was a joke. Not only does JVP itself incite anti-Semitism through its obsessive anti-Zionism, but the choice of participants was laughable. First of all, it was made up of a majority of non-Jewish people, with one token anti-Zionist Jew,” he said to Jewish Journal. “Secondly, these specific people include Rashida Tlaib and Marc Lamont Hill, two well-known anti-Semites. The fact that they had the audacity to sit on this panel shows just how far they are willing to go to troll the Jewish people.”

David Sachs is an author and political commentator. He has been a communications specialist on campaigns for four Canadian cabinet ministers.

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