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Jewish Scholars Unveil New Anti-Semitism Definition Saying BDS Isn’t Anti-Semitic

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March 26, 2021
Photo by Takver/Wikimedia Commons. This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 30 October 2010, 21:20 by Mohamed Ouda. On that date, it was confirmed to be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

More than 200 Jewish scholars released a new definition of anti-Semitism stating that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement isn’t anti-Semitic.

The scholars, under the umbrella of a group called the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism, wrote that BDS is not inherently anti-Semitic because “boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest.” It also states that criticizing Zionism or referring to Israel as an apartheid are not expressions of anti-Semitism. However, it does state that “denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually” is anti-Semitic, as is holding Jews responsible for the Israeli government’s actions.

The progressive Jewish group IfNotNow told The Forward that they support the Jerusalem Declaration because “it creates more room for organizing for Palestinian rights and limits bad-faith accusations of antisemitism that have tried to derail Palestinian rights organizing and have obscured the threat of violent right-wing anti-Semitism and white nationalism.” On the other hand, Joel Rubin, who heads the American Jewish Congress, told The Forward “that delegitimization of Israel and calls to boycott, sanction, divest and isolate it without the goal of peace between a state of Israel and Palestinians are in the antisemitic lane.”

Barry Trachtenberg, Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History at Wake Forest University, wrote in a March 26 Jewish Currents op-ed that he signed onto the declaration because it designates “antisemitism squarely as an ideology of hatred that is equivalent to and as pernicious as racism.” This, Trachtenberg argued, “pushes back against the misguided belief about antisemitism that it is a unique and unparalleled form of hatred” which essentially “gives rise to the notion that antisemitism is a permanent, almost natural, feature of our world and thus cannot be undone.”

He added that by excluding BDS and opposition to Zionism as anti-Semitism, the declaration “opens up space for Palestinians to speak about their oppression and to confront their oppressors.”

However, Liora Rez, director of the Stop Antisemitism.org watchdog, said in a statement to the Journal that the fact that radical fringe groups” are supporting a definition that excludes “the boycotts of Jewish owned business as the Nazis did, we can’t help but laugh at its seriousness. Like dozens of countries around the world, including America, we define antisemitism according to IHRA and stand firmly by it.”

Jack Saltzberg, president and founder of the anti-BDS organization The Israel Group, similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “It is not ironic that right before Passover, a segment of Jews unleashed a declaration that essentially calls for the end of the Jewish State.” “Denying Jews the right of self-determination,” he said, “is antisemitic and the exact definition of Zionophobia.”

Judea Pearl, chancellor professor of computer science at UCLA, National Academy of Sciences member and Daniel Pearl Foundation president, said in a statement to the Journal, “History will not remember these 200 ‘scholars’ for the substance of their declaration, nor for the sophistry of their arguments. They will be remembered for undermining their students’ plight for protection on college campuses. And for handing BDS propagandists another weapon with which to assault Zionism, the heart and soul of Jewish peoplehood.

“The slippery logic of the ‘Jerusalem Declaration of Anti-Semitism’ may exonerate some Zionophobic racists from the charge of anti-Semitism, but will not exonerate its authors from the charge of thoughtlessness. ‘The thoughtless 200’ will be judged by
the jarring consequences of this ‘Declaration.’”

This article has been updated.

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