Dir. of Legislative Affairs Op-ed in the Algemeiner: Cultural Trends and Jewish Academics Give New Lifeline to Antisemitism
The recent struggle to remove antisemitic and anti-Israel content from a California ethnic studies curriculum demonstrated the formidable challenge posed by the academic doctrines of Critical Race Theory and “intersectionality.”
To the extent that Israel is depicted as a white colonial occupation project and the pro-Palestinian cause as a proxy for racial equity in the United States, the Jewish state will be stigmatized and Jewish individuals and institutions will suffer.
The fight to overhaul earlier drafts of the California curriculum opened a window into the difficulty of the Jewish predicament.
Jews are frequently portrayed as part of the privileged dominant class, while their status as targeted victims is often ignored Israel is seen as a European, colonial outpost, while the fact that most of its Jewish population is descended from communities that lived for centuries in the Arab and Muslim world before their expulsion from those countries, is hopelessly obscured.
In other words, Jews are losing further control of the public narrative about them. This point is underscored by the incursion of antisemitic violence into racial justice protests in the US and Europe. The death of George Floyd was followed by attacks on synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in a number of cities, most recently three Israeli restaurants in Portland, Oregon, in January. The frequent appearance of the slogan “Free Palestine” in graffiti on Jewish targets showed the popular tendency to register discontent with the Jewish state by harming Jews in the Diaspora. An anti-racism rally in Place de la Republique, in Paris, featured signs with directives such as “Stop collaboration with Israeli State terrorism” as the crowd chanted “dirty Jews.”
Enter into this demoralizing picture two new proposed definitions of antisemitism, one offered by Jewish academics on behalf of the Nexus Task Force; the second, titled the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, presented by a group of progressive Jews under the aegis of the Van Leer Institute. Both documents profess to serve the cause of confronting antisemitism by identifying its contemporary manifestations — unless, of course, those manifestations take the form of anti-Israel demagoguery.
Why would Jewish critics of Israel feel the need to offer these re-imagined definitions of antisemitism?
B’nai B’rith has long advocated for broad usage of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which is steadily gaining acceptance around the globe. The IHRA definition illustrates how criticism of Israel can (and all too frequently does) cross the line from legitimate policy debate into antisemitic hatred.
Demonizing Israel by calling it a racist or Nazi-like state, or simply denying Israel’s right to exist, would be examples of antisemitism under the IHRA definition, because such language is intended to undermine Jewish self-determination and relegate the Jewish state to pariah status, thereby gravely threatening its national security.
Such limitations, however, cause Israel’s most vociferous critics to bristle.
Those who see a basis for comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa no longer wish to feel inhibited about drawing those analogies by a definition originally adopted in 2016 by the IHRA — an international organization comprised of 34 member countries — and since then, by many individual governments around the world. Instead, they would prefer to say, as the Jerusalem Declaration does, that nearly any criticism of Israel is fair game, and is not per se a form of antisemitism.
Both the Nexus Task Force definition and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) open the door for abuse toward Israel, but the latter does this with a disturbing level of specificity.
What’s acceptable under the expansive JDA definition? “Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism.” In other words, Jews are the only people, one could argue without being accused of antisemitism, who are not entitled to a homeland or national movement of their own.
The JDA further tells us that “it is not anti-Semitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.” Meaning, hurling the most insidious possible allegations against Israel, as its critics frequently do in an attempt to challenge the Jewish state’s basis for existing, is not antisemitic. And so on.
According to the JDA, anti-Israel boycotts “are not, in and of themselves, anti-Semitic,” even though the stated intention of the BDS movement’s founders is to eliminate the Jewish state. Nor is imposing a double standard on Israel an act of antisemitism: “In general, the line between anti-Semitic and non-anti-Semitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.” Thus, Israel’s critics need not be “reasonable” to wave their free pass when charges of antisemitism surface.
The timing of these two alternative definitions of antisemitism is highly lamentable. With Jews already losing the rhetorical war around social hatreds, the authors are handing out newly minted permission slips to Israel’s harshest critics, as though anyone whose goal is the demonization or outright elimination of the Jewish state would ever strive to be reasonable.
Grotesque distortion of Israel in school curricula is, by the new logic, not antisemitic. Nor is BDS, or incendiary anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and other international fora.
Anti-Israel hatred that finds expression in the public square or on university campuses, whether such venom explicitly holds Jews accountable for Israel’s actions or not, too often is simply hatred of Jews in another guise. This sinister strategy of using Israel or Zionism as a proxy for Jews has just been infused with new vitality by two new antisemitism definitions that may purport to identify and combat antisemitism, but in truth help facilitate it.
Read Fusfield's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (often referred to as “the Special Committee” or SCIIHRP) is one of the most anachronistic and absurd anti-Israel entities that still exists at the United Nations, spreading unsubstantiated charges against Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, and wasting valuable U.N. resources.
The U.N. General Assembly established this Committee in 1968, in the aftermath of the 1967 war (a war of self-defense in which Israel had to fight against the armies of three Arab states sworn to its destruction: Egypt, Jordan and Syria). After miraculously winning the war, the anti-Israel forces at the U.N. sought to “punish” the Jewish state by establishing this committee, with the mandate to investigate alleged human rights violations by Israel in the territories occupied as a result of the war.
The Committee is formed by the representatives of three member states, who have themselves very poor human rights records: Malaysia, Senegal and Sri Lanka. From its inception, it was not an impartial body but a highly tendentious one, tasked with finding Israel guilty first and looking for the evidence later, while ignoring gross human rights violations, not committed by Israel, on that same territory. And so, with good reason, Israel has refused to participate in its inquiries.
The Special Committee is one of the entities that comprise the powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that operates out of the United Nations building in New York. The other two entities are the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division for Palestinian Rights of the U.N. Secretariat (DPR). In addition to treating Israel as an illegitimate entity and a “racist” state, the three entities advocate for the “right of return” of the millions of descendants of the original refugees from Israel’s 1948 war of independence to what is now the state of Israel. The implementation of the right of return would destroy Israel as a majority-Jewish state, creating yet another Arab state — “from the river to the sea”— and effectively killing the two-state solution that the U.N. claims to support.
The report that the Special Committee issues every year is so biased against Israel that it could not pass any serious scrutiny. The 2020 report, for example, which was submitted to the General Assembly last August, includes the claim that Israel is “legally responsible” for ensuring the right to health for all Palestinians in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is, of course, not true, as the Oslo Accords, which governs Israeli-Palestinian relations, clearly establishes that all responsibilities in the sphere of health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip belong to the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, the Palestinians, who preferred to make their own arrangements, repeatedly rejected Israel’s overtures for cooperation. Despite this, Israeli hospitals were always available to Palestinian COVID-19 victims and Israel quietly provided vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in the months after this report was issued, even as reports came out about the corruption in the handling of the COVID-19 crisis by the Palestinian Authority, and despite the continuous practice of the Palestinian Authority to pay millions to the families of terrorists who killed Israelis.
The Special Committee 2020 report goes as far as to blame Israel for the increase in “domestic violence against women” in the West Bank and Gaza, suggesting an absurd linkage between the “prolonged occupation” and the violence committed by local Palestinians against Palestinian women.
None of the egregious human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or by Hamas in Gaza (which, according to the State Department’s 2020 Human Rights Report, include arbitrary killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, forced child labor, etc.) are mentioned. And Israel is repeatedly condemned for its “occupation” of the Golan Heights, without any mention of the atrocities that the Syrian regime is still perpetrating against its own people or the fact that, at the height of the Syrian civil war, Israel provided invaluable humanitarian aid to thousands of Syrians in need, including unaccompanied children.
The resolution that renews the mandate and the funding authorization for this committee is put to a vote every year at the U.N. General Assembly. The U.S. State Department has for years included this resolution on its short list of important resolutions, particularly because of its very detrimental impact. And, when explaining its vote against this committee last year, the U.S. representative stated the following:
“…The resolution on “The Work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories,” (SCIIHRP) for instance, makes no mention of human rights violations by Hamas. There is no reference to a Gaza court that convicted three Palestinian peace activists on the charge “weakening revolutionary spirit” for the simple act of Skyping with Israeli peace activists. None of these resolutions address what human rights organizations identify as Hamas’ persecution of journalists, opponents and activists who do not toe the Hamas party line.
These anti-Israel resolutions recycle the tired, habitual rhetoric that only lock both sides into the same intractable conflict. They presuppose the outcome of final status issues that can be resolved only through negotiations between the parties. They also damage U.N. credibility, casting into doubt the impartiality of the U.N. These resolutions also waste limited U.N. resources better devoted to international priorities. This one-sided approach only undermines trust between the parties and fails to create the kind of positive international environment critical to achieving peace. It also rewards the obstructionism that continues to impede real progress toward peace. As the United States has repeatedly made clear, this dynamic is unacceptable…”
Even though an increasing number of states are realizing the detrimental nature of the Special Committee, the resolution authorizing its continuous operation still gets approved. This is so because of the large number of abstentions, which are, unfortunately, not counted at the General Assembly. Last year, only 76 countries voted in favor — far less than half of the total membership of the General Assembly (which has 193 states). This is why it is so important for responsible, peace-loving nations to start voting against this anachronistic and highly counterproductive body.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American and U.N. Affairs, and Deputy Director of AJIRI-BBI (the American Jewish International Relations Institute, an affiliate of B’nai B’rith). A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
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