Mar 17, 2011
“When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews; you are talking anti-Semitism” – attributed to Martin Luther King Jr., Harvard, 1968
Finally a belated realization is beginning to dawn on the nation. The pace is still far too slow, the scale far too small, and one can only hope that it will not turn out to be “too little too late.” But at least some semblance of awareness is beginning to emerge that decades of delegitimization as the nation-state of the Jews comprise the gravest strategic danger Israel faces.
In his column “Yes to prosecuting subversion, no to McCarthyism” (January 13), Isi Leibler gave an commendably accurate diagnosis of the malaise and its roots: “We largely have ourselves to blame for enabling our adversaries to succeed in embedding their false narrative in the consciousness of the world.” Aptly, he added: “Our failure has been augmented by the small but influential far left post-Zionist factions which systematically promote the Arab narrative and distort our position in our own media and universities.” Perhaps the only defect in Leibler’s analysis it that he understates the numbers and diversity of the malefactors.
For this perilous predicament has been precipitated not only by a small core of dedicated post/anti-Zionist zealots. It has been greatly facilitated by the complicity of a much larger allegedly pro-Zionist layer of Israeli society and pro-Israel Jewry – either passively through benign neglect, intellectual indolence and/or a lack of stomach for confrontation; or actively by providing the zealots with platforms, prestige and position to promulgate their poisonous – and arguably perfidious – political agendas.
Indeed, without such tacit cooperation (or craven capitulation), this kernel of radicals would be severely curtailed in its capacity to propagate anti-Israel malevolence. This has at least two consequences: It provides a license for the abuse of academic freedom, essentially lending it a veil of legitimacy for the perversion – rather than the pursuit – of truth.
And it fuels not only the growing drive for delegitimization of the Jewish state, but fans the hatred against the Jewish people. The howls of protest that inevitably arise at the mere mention of these effects are generally of two kinds. Both must be summarily dismissed as either invalid or irrelevant or both.
The first kind of protest typically holds that any discussion of such things constitutes a dire danger to freedom of expression, and an intolerable infringement of the autonomy of intellectual inquiry, the sine qua non for vibrant democracy.
In fact, in the context of Israeli academe, the contrary is true. It is the complacency/complicity/capitulation of the academic mainstream visà- vis the radical leftists that has constricted the freedom of expression and the scope of “permissible” opinions and/or research. This is undeniable in light of the almost total absence – certainly the gross underrepresentation – of pro-Zionist perspectives, and certainly of robustly hawkish ones, across the entire spectrum of the nation’s faculties of social sciences and humanities (including law).
This wildly disproportionate dearth is even more remarkable – and revealing – given that over the past two decades, the dominant dovish paradigms have been refuted by reality – apparently demonstrating that such “intellectual inbreeding” has severely degraded the quality of academic output.
The second such Pavlovian-like protest is that Israel is not – and should not be – immune to criticism, and such criticism cannot and should not be dismissed as anti-Semitism, nor should anti-Semitism be invoked as grounds for muffling it.
While Israel is obviously not without blemish, and not every expression of disapproval can – or should – be construed as motivated by anti-Semitic impulses, this is only one aspect of a more complex truth. For it cannot be denied that the persistent and pervasive application of double standards to the conduct of the nation-state of the Jews, and the endemic distortion of realities in it – make anti-Semitism an increasingly plausible explanation for the unparalleled and unrelenting assault on nearly every position and action taken by Israel.
NOR CAN it be ignored that a growing body of opinion holds an increasingly seamless nexus between anti-Israeli vilification and anti-Jewish bigotry. Indeed, a significant number of pundits have identified anti-Zionism as the new channel through which a major portion of today’s anti- Semitic sentiments are flowing. In effect, Israel has become a “lighting rod” that attracts hatred and enmity toward Jews, in a manner that provides these emotions with an aura of acceptability and political correctness that overt anti-Semitism could not.
Thus anti-Zionism has become a convenient surrogate for anti-Semitism, with hatred for Jews as individuals (Jews as people) being replaced by hatred for Jews as a collective (Jews as a people).
Accordingly, accounts of Israel and its actions, which cast unwarranted aspersions on the country and its policies, or present it in a one-sided, biased distorted, misleading, not to mention outright mendacious light, contribute considerably to fueling the flames of Judeo-phobic passions and validating Judeo-phobic prejudices.
Clearly then, pronouncements made by Israeli and/or Jewish individuals or organizations have special value for the country’s detractors – frequently used to validate their anti-Zionist condemnations and “authoritatively” discrediting any rebuttals. Whether intentionally on not, such pronouncements reinforce the insidious invective and the demonic imagery used to portray Israel today.
The problem extends far beyond the explicitly post/anti-Zionists who propose annulling the country’s status as a Jewish state and transforming it into a “state of all its citizens,” and/or openly condemn it as an ethnocratic apartheid regime, meriting not only international censure but sanction.
Oren Yiftachel, for example, depicts Israel (on both sides of the Green Line) as a “colonialist ethnocracy,” and Neve Gordon has explicitly called for a boycott of the country because of its “apartheid policies.”
It extends to purportedly pro-Zionists who allegedly endorse the existence of Israel as the nation-state of Jews, but provide – hopefully unwittingly – anti- Semites with material and opportunity to promote their Judeo-phobic agenda. This group includes figures such as Aeyal Gross, who has described Israel as “a society where shooting at children of the ‘other’ is the norm” and which “is in fact indifferent or worse to Israel’s widespread killing of Palestinian youth” and Fania Oz-Salzberger, who in the wake of the Gaza flotilla episode proclaimed in a Daily Beast article that she was “ashamed of my country”– presumably because young commandos were compelled to use lethal force to extricate themselves from the clutches of a brutal lynch mob – a mob who, shortly before the incident, had called for the Jews to “go back to Auschwitz.”
PERHAPS MORE significantly, it includes the bodies that provide institutional support for the aforementioned individuals, and which facilitate the propagation of their condemnation – purposeful or otherwise – furnishing them with promotional platforms to mindfully endorse – or mindlessly enhance – the process of delegitimization. These include universities such as Ben-Gurion University, which promote individuals like Neve Gordon to department heads, whose duties presumably entail setting programs for seminars and conferences, contacts with other institutions of higher learning, influencing the choice of faculty and so on.
It includes Jewish benefactors who set up Israel studies chairs/programs and ensconce in them figures who provide – at best – a distorted portrayal and – at worse – a demonized image.
It also includes major Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, which invited Peter Beinart as key speaker at its 2011 Global Forum. For not only has Beinart expressed views (in his misleading 5,000- word piece in the New York Review of Books in 2010 which catapulted him to celebrity status) that totally negate AJC executive director David Harris’s eminently sensible defense of Israel’s democratic credentials, but has publicly suggested that US Jewry ought to apply the same value judgments to Israeli measures vis-à-vis the Palestinians as they do to events “in Bosnia, the former Soviet Union and Darfur.”
The net result of all this is that such individuals, armed with the prestige of their formal positions, become the prisms through which the wider public comes to view Israel and to evaluate its essence and ethical foundations. Unless these developments are urgently addressed – and arrested – their tragic consequences are not difficult to predict. Perhaps the best way to initiate such a corrective process is to inform the public and foreign donors of the ongoing absurdity of these self-destructive phenomena, and urge them to consider if this is really the best way to use their tax shekels and dollar donations.