Pro-Palestinian activists hold a banner reading ‘Boycott Israel’ in Paris in 2010. / Getty Images
Score this one in the victory column for BDS supporters and, much more broadly, for anyone who believes we should use language accurately — especially when we’re dealing with loaded terms like “anti-Semitism.”
EBSCO Information Services, a major provider of library resources and online research databases, raised eyebrows when it initially classified articles about BDS — the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — under the heading “Anti-Jewish Boycotts.” After some sharp-eyed EBSCO users took to Twitter on Sunday and Monday to complain about the classification, the company acknowledged its mistake and changed the indexing to “Boycotts.”
Finally submitted a complaint to EBSCO to get them to stop using “Anti-Jewish Boycotts” to describe articles about BDS/boycotts of Israel.ampmdash; Informed Agitation (@InfAgit) March 9, 2014
@edrabinski Yeah, and then I found an article about actual anti-Jewish boycotting (Nazi-era), and it didn't have that descriptor.ampmdash; Informed Agitation (@InfAgit) March 9, 2014
It’s not hard to see why people were upset to discover that an American research database was defining BDS as “anti-Jewish.” That definition buys into the popular but deeply flawed rhetoric that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has grown fond of promoting, and that other Israeli politicians and American Jewish leaders have grown fond of parroting. It’s a definition that assumes all Israel boycotts are inherently anti-Semitic — a logical fallacy that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
French far-right Front National party leader Marine Le Pen / Getty Images
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s right-wing Front National party, is well known for her Islamophobic statements. This is a woman who has compared the presence of four million Muslims in her country to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.
And yet, fully one third of the French population says it supports her ideas. Front National is expected to do very well in municipal elections this month and in EU parliamentary elections in May.
But what’s most worrying in all of this is that a growing number of French citizens see Le Pen’s ideas as acceptable, even if they don’t support the Front National. According to a poll released last month by Le Monde newspaper, 46% of the French population views the Front National as “the face of patriotic conservatives, with traditional values,” rather than as a party of the “nationalistic, xenophobic extreme right.” Only half the population thinks the party “poses a threat to French democracy,” while in the 1990s as much as 75% thought it did.
Le Pen’s party is now considered part of the democratic landscape; she has, in Le Monde’s words, a “normalized image.” Of course, what this really means is that Islamophobia is going mainstream. And that is — or should be — very disturbing from a Jewish perspective.
Anti-Semitism in Europe is, once again, making headlines. In Paris, crowds sang, “Jews, France is not yours” at an anti-government protest last month. In Rome, a right-wing extremist mailed three pig heads to major Jewish sites, and Italy had its own anti-government protest — complete with anti-Semitic slogans — a couple of months ago. Plus, a recently released survey conducted in seven EU countries suggests that the perception of anti-Semitism is on the rise among European Jews.
As anti-Jewish hatred gains ground, some Jewish communities are growing more insular in response. In certain Jewish circles, there’s a growing perception of living “under attack” — a siege mentality that results at times in self-segregation. But resorting to self-segregation may just be another way of falling victim to anti-Semitism.
Milan — Today, many European countries — including Germany, Italy and the UK — are observing the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day. What makes this particular Holocaust Remembrance Day peculiar in Italy is the fact that quite a few public intellectuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have called for its abolition. Well, that and the fact that three pig heads have just been sent to three major Jewish sites in Rome, in an apparent mafia-style attempt at intimidation.
Among the public figures explicitly calling for the abolition of Holocaust Remembrance Day are Elena Loewenthal, a renowned Jewish writer who just published the pamphlet Contro il Giorno Della Memoria (Against the Day of Memory), and Giuliano Ferrara, a devoutly Catholic conservative pundit who wrote a much discussed editorial on the topic last month.
The utility and raison d’être of Holocaust Remembrance Day have often been questioned since it was established in the early 2000s. Allow me to sum up the main arguments most commonly presented against this day, in an effort to better explain why, no matter how flawed it may be, I’m still convinced that Europe needs Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Nicolas Anelka, center, celebrates a goal before flashing the anti-Semitic ‘quenelle.’ / Getty Images
It has been almost three weeks since West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated scoring two goals against West Ham United by doing the quenelle, the reverse Nazi salute popularized in France by comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
Yet Anelka remains unpunished. He continues to play, in fact. Albion’s then-head coach Keith Downing refrained from condemning him immediately after the soccer match, and in the days that followed the club itself held back as well. Albion instead released a clumsy statement, which acknowledged that the quenelle “has caused offense in some quarters.” Albion “asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again.”
But for the Jewish community — including the owner of the club’s shirt sponsor Zoopla — in the United Kingdom, it is the lack of response from the Football Association (FA) and anti-racism campaign organizations like Kick It Out that has disappointed and caused upset.
The former Jewish ghetto on the banks of the Tiber in central Rome. / Getty Images
Should Jews living in the Diaspora feel ashamed of being, well, Jews living in the Diaspora? A growing number of European Jews, it seems, believe the answer is yes. But when did we start buying into this narrative?
I’ve been asking myself this question lately because of a debate that’s going on here in Italy. It has to do with the opportunity to build a Holocaust museum. A very well known conservative pundit, Giuliano Ferrara, recently criticized the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna, who dared to protest the fact that Italy doesn’t have such a museum. Ferrara suggested Jews worry less about “the anti-Semitism of the past” and focus on more urgent issues, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
What struck me most was the reaction I saw in the Italian Jewish press and online forums. A number of people sided with the right-wing commentator, claiming that building a memorial for the Holocaust would actually be inappropriate. Why? Because it would promote a Diasporic idea of Judaism!
Emanuele Segre Amar, a Jewish leader who serves as deputy chair of the Jewish community of Turin, went so far as to claim that Holocaust memorials “promote the stereotype of the Jew as victim, docile, weak, assimilated and Diasporic.”
A swastika symbol painted on the wall of a synagogue in Petah Tikva, Israel. / Getty Images
Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted for a bill yesterday that, if it passes three readings in the Knesset, would impose penalties on those who use the term “Nazi” as a comparison, employ Nazi symbols, or call in some way for the work the Nazis began (killing the Jews) to be finished. Those who break the law could face a 100,000 shekel fine and six months in prison. But while Nazi comparisons are abhorrent, the law itself is dangerous and anti-democratic.
The bill — a second effort after a similar bill was proposed in 2012 — has broad backing for now. It was sponsored by Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, and Hatnua, while some members in Labor have in the past expressed support. And we can easily discern worthy motives behind it. Settlers fighting forced evacuation by the state have used Nazi symbols to claim the government is as evil as Hitler. In 2011, to protest the Haredi draft, several Orthodox demonstrators dressed in uniforms that resembled concentration camp clothing, complete with yellow star. Civil dialogue is difficult under these conditions, to say nothing of the deadly atmosphere that can be created when these accusations are carried too far — for example, the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.
And yes, comparing people you disagree with to Nazis is ridiculous and immoral. There simply hasn’t been any group or regime like the Nazis, who didn’t just torture and murder millions of people, but created the most efficient systems and organizations for doing so. The Holocaust isn’t the only case of mass killing in human history, but it is unique.
Moreover, because the term is associated with such horrific and sadistic acts of violence, calling your enemies or opponents “Nazis” obscures the real issues at stake, because of the emotional reactions and overly-sensationalist assumptions the name evokes. This, in turn, makes it that much harder to construct policies to resolve the problem or conflict at hand.
But Nazi comparisons are not for the Israeli state to forbid. Doing so only serves as a restriction on what citizens can say about their country and opens the door to further limitations on their freedom of expression.
Menachem Stark’s death and the media’s inflammatory response to it highlight a particular kind of anti-Semitism: the kind that can emerge as a result of the religious Jewish community’s involvement in real estate and the horrible living conditions in many of those buildings.
As a tenant organizer at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, I work alongside tenants citywide to form tenant associations and improve building conditions. I was shocked by the headlines describing Stark’s murder, but not surprised, unfortunately, by the shady business practices or lack of upkeep on the large stock of rent-stabilized buildings he was connected to in Brooklyn. That’s something I see all too often.
Through my work, I do a great deal of research to try and untangle the mess of who owns what property and who’s connected to whom in the real estate industry. And it’s not easy. Take 199 Lee Avenue, an address in the religious Jewish part of Williamsburg. It’s connected to literally hundreds and hundreds of distressed buildings. Entities with an address at 199 Lee touch all sides of any real estate deal — as owners, mortgagers, brokers — and it’s nearly impossible to connect the address to an actual person.
Stark’s death, and the resulting uproar, comes at a particularly interesting time for my coworkers and me, since we’re in the midst of planning a tenant-driven rally in Borough Park, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn. The rally is targeting a group of Jewish investors who are trying to flip two horribly distressed rent-stabilized buildings in Crown Heights. Like at 199 Lee Avenue, the investors are nameless — associated only with a P.O. Box in Borough Park that is associated with many other distressed properties in Brooklyn and Queens.
The disappearance of Caleb Jacoby — who was found, thankfully, safe and sound in New York last night — brought out the best in many people in the Jewish (and general) blogosphere and Twittersphere. And it brought out the worst in others. As the news that Caleb had been found hit social media, people shed the self-restraint they’d been exercising while the boy was still missing, and ignited fresh Twitter wars.
Mira Sucharov noted in these pages a couple of days ago that journalists, bloggers and tweeters had united in an effort to publicize the search for the missing boy. She also calmly noted that Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, “perhaps took the low road” when he tweeted about Caleb’s father Jeff Jacoby, the conservative Boston Globe columnist: “Jeff Jacoby is a hateful fanatic, but I very much hope his son is quickly found safe and sound.” After many people took Ibish to task online, he apologized, acknowledging that his initial tweet was “uncivil and unnecessary” as well as inappropriately timed, since now was not the moment to be airing his political differences with Jacoby, Sr.
I think those who've calmly pointed out that there was a degree of incivility in my first tweet are correct, and for that I do apologize.ampmdash; Hussein Ibish (@Ibishblog) January 9, 2014
But that apology — which was brought about, it’s worth noting, by calm interventions delivered in reasonable tones — didn’t stop the blogosphere and Twittersphere from continuing to hurl invective at him. It was the kind of invective that’s so offensive and ridiculously over-the-top that it makes the people meting it out look way worse than the person on the receiving end.
News that drunken revelers had, on New Year’s Eve, used Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as a urinal came shortly after The New York Times published an op-ed by Yascha Mounk on the conflicts of being a German Jew.
Together, these items create an image of a Germany not at ease with itself, of a nation that still hasn’t come to terms with its past and found a place in its social fabric for Jews or the memory of Jews. Mounk suggests Germany has swung between “a bout of philo-Semitism” and “a new mood of ‘enough is enough’” when it comes to processing the Second World War, adding:
Clearly, there was something artificial about the ritualistic displays of historical contrition that had long been central to public life in Germany. But to assert that the time had come to move beyond the past, once and for all, was no less artificial. Normality cannot be decreed by fiat.
Mounk is right, on the one hand, to suggest that after the Shoah, things can never be normal again, neither for Germany as a whole or German Jews in particular. “Increasingly, I realized that the mere mention of my heritage erected an invisible wall between my classmates and me,” Mounk writes. “I realized that even my most well-intentioned compatriots saw me as a Jew first, and a German second.”
But to suggest that Germany’s public struggle to come to terms with the past is in some form artificial does a disservice to what Germany has achieved since the end of the Second World War in this regard.
Recognized for its contribution over the course of six decades “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday. There has been the usual carping from the reliably reactionary elements in the American commentariat – “The once-significant award has become the self-esteem builder for undeserving underachievers, a sort of gold star for grown-ups”, states Jennifer Rubin. But one would be hard pressed to find a supranational institution which has done more to foster “fraternity between nations” than the EU and its predecessors.
The Nobel Committee was explicit in its intent when it awarded the Prize to the EU. With Europe “currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest”, they wished for the continent’s leaders to recommit themselves to “the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights”.
An excellent idea indeed, and to that end, it is necessary to recognise that while the peoples of Europe have never been closer – thanks to the absence of barriers on the movement of goods, services, capital, and people – the dual problems of racism and anti-Semitism which have long plagued Europe have not been entirely vanquished. In fact, in spite of our best efforts, during this period of austerity and turmoil, tensions between classes and communities have only increased, including incitements against European Jewry.
In his latest column, Philologos correctly parses the linguistic problems with Yitzhak Santis and Gerald M. Steinberg’s invented term, “Jew-washing.” His political analysis, alas, fails miserably.
Philologos has it completely wrong when he speaks of the “anti-Semitism in boycotts of Israel.” To begin with, Santis and Steinberg did not use the term “Jew-washing” in reference to a boycott of Israel as a whole, but rather to a resolution recently brought to the Pittsburgh General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that called for divestment of their pension funds from three specific companies that profit from Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of the West Bank.
Regardless, it is highly disingenuous for Philologos to accuse the Presbyterian Church of anti-Semitism. Our Christian friends’ response to the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), reflects their deeply held commitment to justice in a land their tradition also considers holy.
If history does act with cunning, as Hegel claimed, recent events involving Hungary’s extreme right wing Jobbik remind us that it does not always keep a straight face when doing so.
A better Hungary, according to Jobbik, the country’s third largest party, is a Hungary emptied of its Roma and Jewish communities. As a result, when a Jobbik deputy underwent genetic testing last month to prove his racial purity, the only surprise was that a scientific laboratory lent its name to the bogus enterprise.
Equally unsurprising, though for different reasons, was yesterday’s news that another Jobbik dignitary discovered that there was no need to undergo such testing. Csanad Szegedi, who serves as a Jobbik deputy in the European Parliament, was at a loss for words when he learned his parents were of Jewish origin. Worried that the discovery would crimp the anti-Semitic rants that had made him popular, Szegedi suggested that what made for a true Hungarian was not “racial purity” but “the way one behaves as a Hungarian.”
Among the many ways to behave as a Hungarian are the models offered by Nicholas Horthy and Ferenc Szalasi. As leader of wartime Hungary, Admiral Horthy behaved as a traditional anti-Semite, grounding his worldview in his Catholic faith; as leader of the fascist Arrow Cross, Szalasi behaved as a modern anti-Semite, persuaded that the Jew (and Roma) were racially inferior to the Magyar.
While Csanad Szegedi frantically tacks between these two exemplars, we should keep in mind a third way to behave as a Hungarian: as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. His ruling Fidesz Party has long sought to whitewash Hungary’s wartime behavior and repair the image of Admiral Horthy. Orbán has remained silent over the behavior of Jobbik’s gentile and Jewish anti-Semites — a silence as resistant to reality as Horthy’s title of admiral after Hungary became a landlocked nation.
A few weeks ago, we ran an op-ed by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a professor at the University of California Santa Cruz who has filed a Title VI complaint to the government’s office of civil rights. She cites a number of instances in which she believes Jewish students were discriminated against as the targets of anti-Israel advocacy. The case, as with all these recent Title VI cases, raises a number of challenging questions about the limits of free speech and what exactly constitutes anti-Semitism.
As part of our ongoing attempt to grapple with these questions, we present here unfiltered a piece written by a Shani Chabansky, a senior at UC Santa Cruz, which is appearing concurrently in New Voices Magazine. Last year, the author wrote a longer article, originally published by the Leviathan Jewish Journal, detailing the ongoing struggle over Title VI at her university, which can be read at New Voices.
Last spring the United States Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism at my school, University of California, Santa Cruz. The investigation was prompted by a Title VI complaint filed by my own Hebrew teacher, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. She complains that UCSC has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because it has failed to address what she alleges to be university-sponsored anti-Semitism. The investigation is a waste of time — but worse than that, it’s also damaging UCSC’s Jewish community. I have seen friendships fall apart during arguments over the investigation as this situation has turned Jew against Jew. So as a Jew and a Zionist, one of the very students Rossman-Benjamin claims to protect, I have a few complaints of my own.
I’m a Jewish Studies major and the editor-in-chief of the Leviathan Jewish Journal — UCSC’s long-running undergraduate Jewish publication. As such, I have a bit of personal experience in what it means to be a Jewish student at UCSC. In my three and a half years at UCSC, I have not been discriminated against for being Jewish.
A new, Washington DC-based organization will advocate for the rights of Jewish students under federal civil rights law.
Led by Kenneth Marcus, the former staff director at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, Inc. will focus on research, advocacy, and education on anti-Semitism and the law, and will also litigate on behalf of Jewish students at public institutions claiming discrimination.
“The goal is to eliminate anti-Semitism in higher education, to change the culture, and make it unacceptable to engage in anti-Semitic behavior,” said Marcus.
Marcus’s organization — which is pending 501(c)(3) status — enters the fray at a time when the Jewish community is split over the application of civil rights law in the combat against anti-Israel activity on campus.
In March 2010, a dozen Jewish organizations banded together to ask Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to alter the definition of Title VI of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act to effectively cover Jewish students. Duncan reinterpreted Title VI to protect members of religious groups on the basis of shared ethnic characteristics; religion is still not a protected category under the law.
Since then, a handful of Title VI anti-Semitism cases have been filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. There are currently outstanding cases at Rutgers University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley.
Those who came to hear Judea Pearl speak last night at an event sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center‘s Museum of Tolerance might have expected to be offered an array of numbers, shown detailed charts or even be given a sense of whether anti-Semitism was getting better or worse. Instead, he handed them something else entirely.
Pearl, father of slain reporter Daniel Pearl, used the annual lecture on the “state of anti-Semitism” to upend conventional thinking, and argue that anti-Zionism is a strain of hate that is far more dangerous to Jews than anti-Semitism.
He called anti-Zionism, which he defined as the denial of Israel’s right to exist in the family of nations, as “the worst form of racism.” Unlike anti-Semitism, he said, it carries a measure of social acceptance, and it “hides itself in the cloak of political debate.”
Those who think anti-Semitism, especially as it colors debate about Israel in the United States, is the greater danger are mistaken, Pearl told the crowd in his opening address on Monday night. Jews, he said, have become experts at fighting anti-Semitism, likening it to a disease in which “the antibodies are known.”
“Anti-Zionism is worse. It is harder to fight. It comes in a camouflage that allows it to penetrate vital tissue undetected,” he said. Then he paused briefly and added, “Like at our universities.”
The Republican upset victory in the Brooklyn-Queens special election to replace ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner is obviously bad news for Democrats. But it has more far-reaching ramifications, most of them bad, according to this take by Haaretz’s new New York bureau chief, former CNN commentator and onetime Forward Jerusalem correspondent Chemi Shalev.
Shalev thinks there are plenty of reasons for Democrat David Weprin’s loss, including anger at Obama over the miserable economy and especially the influence of social issues among the district’s many conservative Catholics and Orthodox Jews. But Republicans are certain to package it big time the way former mayor Ed Koch pitched it, as a “message” to President Obama about his policies toward Israel. (Here’s what the Republican Jewish Coalition is saying the morning after.) And that could cause a heap of very real collateral trouble, Shalev says.
For one thing, there’s going to be a negative impact on Jews and pro-Israel advocacy within the larger American body politic.
Emboldened by their astonishing achievement in a district held by the rival Democrats throughout the past 88 years, the Republicans are bound to try and exploit their newly-found “wedge issue” in order to pry the proverbial “Jewish vote” away from its historic Democratic tilt. In the process, many Jewish leaders fear, the Republicans may irreparably erode the bedrock of bipartisanship that has characterized U.S. support for Israel for many decades. And by appealing to the Jews to “vote Israel” at the expense of all other considerations, they maintain, the Republicans may also be lending credence, albeit inadvertently, to the age-old canard of “dual loyalty” leveled at American Jews by their detractors.
Beyond that, it’s likely to increase tensions in the Middle East. Here’s where Shalev, for years one of Israel’s most respected diplomatic writers, gets most subtle and alarming: