Duke Student Newspaper Under Fire for AIPAC Editorial

February 20, 2019
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Duke University’s student newspaper, The Duke Chronicle, is being criticized for a Feb. 15 editorial regarding AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) that critics say crossed the line into anti-Semitism.

The editorial argued that while Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) Feb. 10 tweets on AIPAC featured “ill-conceived wording,” she is correct that “AIPAC has a considerable influence over American politicians and legislation.”

“The firestorm of events surrounding Omar’s correct assertion that a powerful lobbying group hold sway over politicians is indicative of just how difficult it is to have substantive conversations about Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” the editorial states. “The representative didn’t even delve into how AIPAC has ensured that Israel remains one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid without having to answer for the 295 Palestinians killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces in 2018. Nor did she demand attention be paid to multiple reported war crimes committed by the settler state.”

The editorial also said it was “dangerous” for people to conflate anti-Semitism “with critiques of Israel’s settler colonial practices.”

“This false binary hinges on an anti-Semitic conflation of Judaism with Zionist settler colonialism and it negates the possibility of important conversations that are long overdue, given the hostility that student groups who advocate for Palestinians are met with,” the editorial states. “It also erases the radical activism of many Jews around the world who have bravely stood against both Israel’s settler colonialism and the U.S.’s imperial policies, like Jewish Voices for Peace.”

The editorial said it was “imperative” to show “solidarity” with the Palestinians by “participating in local divestment efforts.”

Since then, there have been three op-eds published in the Chronicle lambasting the paper’s editorial board, two of which directly accused the editorial of being anti-Semitic. In a Feb. 16 op-ed, students Max Cherman and Ezra Loeb, both of whom are members of Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee (DIPAC), said the editorial “embodies 21st century anti-Semitism.”

“While criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, the Editorial Board, nevertheless, engages in hurtful anti-Semitic tropes,” Cherman and Loeb wrote. “By labeling Israel a ‘settler colonialist project,’ the Editorial Board denies the right for a Jewish State to exist and crosses the line into anti-Semitism. The label of ‘settler colonialism’ disregards Jewish history, including the fact that Jews have had a continuous presence in the Land of Israel and the Middle East for two thousand years.”

Cherman and Loeb also criticized the editorial for “falsely accusing Israel of genocide,” arguing that the editorial didn’t mention that “while Israel goes to great lengths to avoid civilian death, Israel’s enemies actively target civilians.” They also noted that AIPAC does not donate money to politicians or work on behalf of the Israel government, the organization reflects the majority of Americans’ support for Israel.

“The notion that AIPAC’s role in politics is ‘outsized and damaging’ further engages in anti-Semitic tropes,” Cherman and Loeb wrote. “The trope of ‘Jewish power’ has been used for millennia to ‘punch upwards’ against Jewish bankers, store owners, and ‘racial infiltrators,’ and has led to some of history’s worst instances of oppression.”

Duke student Davin Bialow similarly noted in a Feb. 19 op-ed that the editorial demonstrated how anti-Zionism can be “a veil for underlying sentiments of anti-Semitism.”

“The characterization of Israeli policies toward Palestinians as “settler colonialist” is inflammatory and historically problematic in its own right,” Bialow wrote. “On the other hand, invoking characterizations of Israeli policy as “murderous” and ‘genocidal,’ along with the article’s blatant implication that Israel is somehow responsible for contributing to racism and murder of black people in America, is beyond offensive. It is anti-Semitic propaganda that is unworthy of this university and its wonderfully diverse student body.”

Bialow added that it was “problematic” that none of the members of the Chronicle’s editorial board are Jewish.

“It is totally illegitimate for a group of non-Jewish individuals to define anti-Semitism for the rest of us,” Bialow wrote. “It is shameful and offensive that the board believes it has the right to decide what does and does not constitute anti-Semitism. I hope everyone, regardless of religion or ideology, can recognize why it is entirely inappropriate and unacceptable for a group that has never been subjected to anti-Semitism to dictate the terms of Jewish suffering. “

Max Labaton, a managing editor for the Chronicle, did not directly accuse the editorial of anti-Semitism in a Feb. 18 op-ed but argued that “we can criticize Israel without delegimitizing the Jewish state.”

“Calling Israel a ‘settler-colonial’ state trivializes the painful history of Jewish persecution and ignores the fact that Jews lived in Israel before being expelled by the Babylonians and then the Romans,” Labaton wrote. “For 2,000 years, the Jewish people lacked a state. Jews immigrated to Israel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because they were persecuted in Europe. During this time, America offered only limited safe haven to persecuted Jews. In the mid 20th century, Arab governments, such as those in Egypt and Iraq, expelled local Jewish populations. Jews did not arrive in Israel to colonize Palestinians; they came to flee persecution.”

Labaton also argued that anti-Zionists “believe that centuries of persecution and the lack of a secure homeland still do not justify the creation of a Jewish state in the land where Jews had lived for thousands of years.”

“Anti-Zionism means holding Israel to different standards than other countries. This pernicious ideology goes beyond reasonable critiques of Israeli policy, to suggest that Israel should not exist as a state for the Jewish people,” Labaton wrote. “Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are inseparable.”

Labaton concluded his op-ed by stating, “Our community should move on from relying on tired anti-Semitic tropes that seek to delegitimize Israel to a more constructive debate about how activism can promote an end to seven decades of conflict and ensure that Israelis and Palestinians can peacefully coexist.”

The Chronicle did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment as of publication time.

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