Tuesday, March 27, 2007


New York Jewish Week, 3-23-07

So far this year, Iran continues threatening Israel and America while seeking nuclear weapons. Palestinian terrorists temporarily stopped fighting each other in Gaza to murder Israelis in Eilat and plan other crimes the Israeli army thwarted. The Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan endorsed one book alleging Jews controlled the slave trade, one book claiming Jews control America 's banks, and Jimmy Carter's bestseller falsely accusing Israel of "Apartheid." And, across the Arab world, numerous cartoons criticizing Israel 's Mugrahbi Gate repairs in Jerusalem depicted Jews as hooked-nose demons.

Amid all this, what outraged many Progressive Jews, prompting denunciations in the New York Times, the New Republic, the Boston Globe, and the Forward? Professor Alvin Rosenfeld's short American Jewish Committee (AJC) pamphlet: "Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism." This brouhaha over a careful scholar's attempt to define when disparaging Israel and Zionism goes "well beyond legitimate criticism" to feed modern anti-Semitism illustrates the techniques too many of these Progressives - not all - use when anyone dares criticize them.

The New York Times' January 31 article which triggered the controversy began by incorrectly calling the AJC a "conservative advocacy group." This signaled to the Times' overwhelmingly liberal readership that the AJC approach to anti-Semitism would be a McCarthyite hatchet job. The Times eventually issued a correction that the AJC's "stance on issues ranges across the political spectrum." This vague correction preserved the impression that the AJC takes conservative positions - like what, opposing anti-Semitism and terrorism? When did opposing anti-Semitism become conservative?

Beyond demonizing, a second technique is to caricature. Thus a Boston Globe op-ed proclaimed: "All Critics of Israel Aren't Anti-Semites." Professor Rosenfeld made that point in his essay. At the Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism held in Jerusalem that week, Israel 's Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni - and almost every other speaker - distinguished between legitimate criticism and anti-Semitism too. Still, these nuanced stands did not prevent the charge that Rosenfeld and the AJC were demonizing "all" critics.

Finally, rather than treating the essay as an honest analysis of a painful, complex issue, critics accused the AJC of stifling the debate. Such hysteria makes intellectuals look spoiled, thin-skinned and brittle. Best-selling authors like Noam Chomsky or billionaires like George Soros ritualistically applaud their own bravery and pretend they are lonely voices when joining the trendy intellectual pile-on against Israel . How it is that people who viciously criticize Israel and Zionism, who lecture the Jewish world about tolerating diverse opinions, suddenly cannot stomach vigorous debate when they ar criticized? Nothing in the AJC essay advocates hate laws, suppressing free speech, shunning, or any other intimidation. Professor Rosenfeld did what thinkers are supposed to do - identify, catalogue, analyze, explain, and challenge.

Israel's supporters are used to being criticized for criticizing critics. Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident, has argued that disproportionate, demonizing language, judging Israel by a double-standard and singularly delegitimizing Israel, crosses a red line, feeding anti-Semitism not "just" anti-Zionism. The question is one of proportionality and judgment: it is bizarre to feel more threatened by Alvin Rosenfeld than by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just as it is disreputable to compare Israelis to Nazis while ignoring Palestinian terrorism, Arab anti-Semitism, Iranian calls to genocide.

Unfortunately, too many Progressives have been silent about modern anti-Semitism, just as many of those same Progressives have been strangely silent in the fight against the broader Jihadist agenda. The New York Times recently quoted a New York area Hillel rabbi foolishly claiming that "The question about radical Islam and how do we fight it is unproductive. The question is how to break down the stereotypes facing the two religions." Not everything can be solved with diversity training. Progressives lose credibility when they domesticate the lethal Jihadist threat by reducing it to an all-American problem of group dynamics.

Here, then, is a way out of the impasse. Israel's critics could confuse the issue constructively, if they denounced modern anti-Semitism as vehemently as they object to any suggestions that their words might encourage the Jihadists. Let these Progressive critics spend some of the political capital they earned in criticizing Israel to demand that Palestinian textbooks no longer incorporate libels from the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," that Arab cartoons and television programs avoid ugly Nazi stereotypes of devilish, money-hungry Jews, that international bodies sanction Iran's president for threatening to "wipe out" a legitimate member of the United Nations. And let these critics take a page from their own Progressive Jewish movement, which has repudiated Israeli policy with the powerful phrase: "Not In My Name." We need Israel 's critics, Jewish and non-Jewish, proclaiming to anti-Semites far and wide: "Not In My Name," demanding, "do not take my criticism of Israel policies to be used to target Jews or question's Israel 's legitimacy."

The necessary fight against anti-Semitism should not be misconstrued as endorsing Israeli policies, just as you need not love George W. Bush to hate Islamicism. The fight against anti-Semitism, like the fight against Islamicism, must not be imprisoned in our usual left-right paradigm. A broad-based condemnation of anti-Semitism and eliminationist Anti-Zionism should be a positive first step in reinvigorating a wide coalition for freedom and against bigotry.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of "Why I Am A Zionist: Israel , Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today."

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