The American Jewish Committee, America’s oldest, most established, and, in some ways, most influential Jewish organization, has gone on the offense against the progressive Jewish community, recently publishing a paper entitled “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and The New Anti-Semitism,” which aims to illustrate the dangerous connections between post- and anti-Zionist thinking on the Jewish Left and various manifestations of antisemitism.
In it, Prof. Alvin H. Rosenfeld, director of the Institute for Jewish Culture and the Arts at Indiana University, tilts at an array of Leftists who happen to be Jewish and Jews who happen to be Leftists, including Tony Judt, Michael Neumann, Noam Chomsky, Joel Kovel, Adrienne Rich, Douglas Rushkoff and Ora Wise, who he identifies as helping to facilitate the eradication of Israel, and thusly, the extermination of the Jewish people.
Rosenfeld first asks, “What, if anything, is new about the ‘new’ anti-Semitism?”
He begins to explore this issue by running through a list of manifestations of antisemitism in the Muslim and European communities. However, he does not venture to explore the causes of antisemitism in these communities, nor their relationship to economics or geopolitics. Rather, Rosenfeld seems content accepting that it is simply age-old irrational Jew-hatred. This, despite our thorough knowledge of antisemitism’s historic use as a political device.
Nonchalantly sandwiched between mentions of Jews being beaten in France and the pervasiveness of Jewish conspiracy theories in the Former Soviet Union, Rosenfeld inserts references to London mayor Ken Livingstone’s condemnations of Israel, as well as a brief history of the British divestiture movement. Yet Rosenfeld does not demonstrate why either criticizing Israel or divesting from Israeli businesses are antisemitic acts. He simply lumps them in with varied acts of antisemitic violence and paranoia without meaningfully connecting them.
Rosenfeld concludes that the “new” characteristics of antisemitism are marked by its globalized nature (thank you, Internets), its evolving nature (yesterday it was poisoning wells, today it’s subterranean nukes), its predominance among Muslims rather than Christians, and finally, its primary manifestation in anti-Zionism. According to Rosenfeld, opposing Jewish statehood is simply the modern manifestation of desiring the Jewish people’s extermination:
Some of the most impassioned charges leveled against the Jews today involve vicious accusations against the Jewish state. Anti-Zionism, in fact, is the form that much of today’s anti-Semitism takes, so much so that some now see earlier attempts to rid the world of Jews finding a parallel in present day desires to get rid of the Jewish state.
At this point, Rosenfeld adds the oft repeated caveat, “Criticizing [Israeli] policies and actions is, in itself, not anti-Semitic.” Of course, to claim otherwise would be to condemn a majority of the Israeli public, if not the entire world Jewish population. Rosenfeld then draws what he perceives to be the line between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of Israel — the tone of the critique, or more specifically yet, the invocation of specific analogies: “To call Israel a Nazi state […] as is commonly done today, or to accuse it of fostering South African-style apartheid rule or engaging in ethnic cleansing or wholesale genocide goes well beyond legitimate criticism.”
But waging a purportedly illegitimate criticism of Israel and engaging in antisemitism are still not the same thing. Many of these Nazi analogies, for example, derive from Palestinian and pro-Palestinian sources. However the motivation behind Palestinian comparisons of Jews to Nazis rests in the Palestinian experience of Israeli occupation. While it is indeed true that a large segment of the Palestinian population harbors deeply troubling antisemitic beliefs, the comparison of one’s perceived oppressors to Nazis cannot be so easily reduced to an irrational outburst of antisemitism. The former are based in traditional, mythical canards, the latter in one’s own experience of suffering. In other words, calling the soldier who bulldozes your home a Nazi is not the same as believing he is part of a conspiracy to manipulate the world economy. Thus while such analogies may ultimately be used as slurs with which to tarnish the State of Israel, they are not necessarily antisemitic in nature. Rather, they are emotional appeals.
Further, though Israel is not systematically murdering Palestinians, one might be inclined towards such exaggerations as “genocide,” while noticing that at least one Palestinain civilian is killed every few days by the IDF, on some days that number growing as high as 18 (a rare but not altogether infrequent result of Israeli “attackcidents”). While they’re certainly not evidence of genocide, such incidents do not make for a positive impression of Israel, and lend themselves instead to hyperbole.
I would also like to add that to accuse Israel of engaging in ethnic cleansing and/or fostering an apartheid-like regime can not justly be deemed as illegitimate. That is because Israel can be seen as engaging in ethnic cleansing and adopting apartheid-like policies. By its own admission, Israel is participating in demographic warfare and considers the systematic dispossession and forcible relocation of Palestinians part of its strategy to maintain a Jewish majority. This process has involved the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank, the Judaization of The Old City and East Jerusalem, numerous land grabs associated with the erection of the security barrier, hundreds of house demolitions unrelated to demonstrable security concerns, and the employment of practices not unlike those employed under South African apartheid (such as barring marriage between Israelis and Palestinians, denying reentry to the territories by Palestinians who have been traveling abroad, restricting travel between Palestinian villages, denying work permits to residents of the territories, and confining Palestinian settlement to predefined areas). These policies have culminated in the “The Convergence Plan,” which is intended to unilaterally draw the borders of a future Palestinian state, ultimately forcing the Palestinians into a marginal territory surrounded on all perimeters by the Israeli army, with internal jurisdiction granted to a Palestinian government with limited autonomy. This configuration is hardly distinct from the South African Bantustan system.
Thus, these supposed “tarrings” of Israel cannot be justly conflated with antisemitism. It is not accurate to compare Israel to Nazi Germany nor to claim that Israel is committing genocide. However, it is not necessarily antisemitic to do so either. Neither is it antisemitic nor even inaccurate to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa, though it is certainly unflattering and contrary to Israel’s projected self-image.
With this already glaringly problematic conception of anti-Zionism in mind, Rosenfeld moves on to his next question: “In what ways might Jews themselves, especially so-called ‘progressive’ Jews, be contributing to the intellectual and political climate that helps to foster [modern anti-Semitism], especially in its anti-Zionist forms?”
Rosenfeld begins to identify individuals whom he considers to be representative of the progressive Jewish community, and goes on to attack what he views as their negativity, their general hostility, and the inaccuracy of their information.
Here I could spend much time nitpicking and disputing Rosenfeld’s characterizations and purported facts.
- Contrary to Rosenfeld’s claims, it has routinely served Zionist interests to tap into Jewish religious impulses such as messianism in order to bolster their efforts.
- Jacqueline Rose’s claim that Israel is in “decline” and “in danger of destroying itself” is not just a view held by anti-Zionists, as implied by Rosenfeld, but one also shared by 67% of participants polled at this week’s World Zionist Youth Congress.
- With regards to the claim that the razing of Jenin is an “outright fabrication,” on May 31, 2002, concerning the operations there, IDF soldier Moshe Nissim told Yediot Ahranot, “I had no mercy for anybody. I would erase anyone with the D-9, just so that our soldiers won’t expose themselves to danger. […] I didn’t give a damn about demolishing all the houses I’ve demolished — and I have demolished plenty. By the end, I built the ‘Teddy’ football stadium there.”
- Concerning the claim that only “rigorously observant Jews associated with Neturei Karta and other extreme Orthodox groups have regarded the idea of a Jewish state established before the days of messianic redemption as blasphemous,” it was not just groups affiliated with Neturei Karta. Rather, the predominant view in Orthodox Judaism in-and-of itself was that Zionism was illegitimate — a view which was held up until the Shoah and is still in the back of most Orthodox people’s minds.
- Binationalism was never “properly discredited and discarded.” Rather, its chief proponents were assassinated. Chaim Arlozoroff and Yaakov Yisrael De Hann are just two names of men who were killed for trying to actualize a binational vision. Support for their cause diminished because of fears of physical reprisal. It became dangerous to simply promote the idea of binationalism, let alone make steps towards accomplishing it. Evidence of this notion’s impossibility was only retroactively provided once the Arabs began their armed resistance to Zionist colonization. De Hann was killed by the Haganah five years before the Hebron riots even took place.
Yet none of these factual disputes cut to the heart of Rosenfeld’s position, which is primarily focused on examining the hostility of Jewish anti-Zionist rhetoric. These Jewish anti-Zionists, claims Rosenfeld, are “not driven by anything remotely like reasoned historical analysis, but rather by a complex tangle of psychological as well as political motives that subvert reason and replace it with something akin to hysteria.”
To make this case, Rosenfeld relies heavily on the use of Nazi analogies by the “progressive” Jews he includes in his survey.
One such was the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who felt no reservations in talking about the “Nazification” of Israeli society and was fond of using the epithet “Judeo-Nazi” in referring to the Israeli army. And Leibowitz was hardly alone in employing such corrosive language.
Indeed, the members of Israel’s parliament were known for much worse. The phenomenon of MKs likening one another to Nazis was so rampant that a law was passed banning the use of Nazi analogies on the Knesset floor! In fact, everyone in Israel uses Nazi analogies.
- Hareidim frequently call the Zionists Nazis while rioting and burning dumpsters in Mea Shearim.
- Settlers wore orange “yellow” stars during the disengagement and took out newspaper ads comparing the withdrawal to a Nazi atrocity.
- Israeli Leftists throw the word around as if it were an innocuous synonym for anyone who disagrees with their politics.
- The Mizrachim refer to the Ashkenazim at Ashkenatzim, due to the discrimination they suffered at the hands of Israel’s once white European majority.
- Nazi analogies are even invoked by the mainstream Right: “It’s 1933 and Iran is Nazi Germany.”
- Come to think of it, Rosenfeld himself is putting Left-wing Jews in league with Nazis.
The Nazi charge thus bears a certain irresistability for Jews, precisely because it’s so incendiary. Those who invoke it want you to share their outrage. However, the tactic consistently fails, whereas the outrage instead becomes focused on the use of the Nazi analogy itself.
Perhaps the employment of such incendiary language and imagery is more rooted in a general Jewish propensity towards hyperbole and extremism more so than any particular political ideology. This tendency might explain, for example, Rosenfeld’s outrageous claim that Jewish “progressives” are just barely concealing their “murderous fantasies” towards their fellow Jews.
And therein lies the true heart of the matter — that which ultimately accounts more for the inflammatory remarks of these “progressives” than any explanation Rosenfeld offers.
All such behavior is no more than a reflection of the fact that there is no safe space for legitimate criticism of Israel within the Jewish community itself. Those who question Israeli policies are hastily isolated, demonized, marginalized and excluded. The resentment of this treatment frequently results in movement towards the farthest fringes of the discourse and the adoption of a tarnished impression of the Jewish community.
It would seem that the more Jewish activists seek to bring troubling matters to attention, the more vociferously they are ostracized. I can only assume that these authors, like so many others, had been dealt with harshly by their Zionist counterparts for criticizing Israel’s behavior, and were thusly driven towards the fringe. It should thus be no surprise that this group might employ hostile rhetoric, or even come to identify with and/or borrow from antisemites (such as the case with Israel Shahak and Gilad Atzmon). They are cowed into this position. From my own experience, I can say that the completely abhorrent and downright nasty way in which staunch Zionists often respond to challenges to their views can result in antipathy towards one’s fellow Jew. As a result, the hostility of Israel’s defenders soon becomes seen as part and parcel of the entire Zionist enterprise and the underlying intentionality with which that enterprise was embarked upon. It is here that legitimate concerns about Israel and Zionism become entangled with anti-Jewish platitudes that are neither helpful to one’s argument nor conducive towards finding a just resolution to the conflict.
Perhaps, in that respect, Rosenfeld is correct that such behavior is hysterical.
The facts on the ground — our very experiences of Israel — are simply inconsistent with the picture Israel’s defenders seek to project. Yet the response of this group to that assessment is to cover their ears and, instead, smear concerned Jewish voices as antisemitic, as this paper does, claiming that “the cumulative effect of these hostile ideas, which have been moving steadily from the margins to the mainstream of ‘progressive’ opinion, has been to reenergize ugly ideas and aggressive passions long considered to be dormant, if not dead.”
Yet we’re pleading with you, dying for you notice that something is very wrong here. We’re begging you to please, please, snap out of it and take a step back. And you’re telling us, shut up, you’re making a shonde fur der goyim.
At a time when the delegitimization and, ultimately, the eradication of Israel is a goal being voiced with mounting fervor by the enemies of the Jewish state, it is more than disheartening to see Jews themselves adding to the vilification. That some do so in the name of Judaism itself makes the nature of their assault all the more grotesque.
To not be taken seriously, but rather to be responded to with such degrading rhetoric, is enough to drive anyone insane.