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.
An eight-member B’nai B’rith International delegation participated in meetings of the Zionist General Council that convened this week in Hadera, Israel under the title “Building One Nation.”
The meeting was launched in the Druze village of Hurfeish with a salute to the Druze minority for its contributions to the state, and included the adoption of wide-ranging constitutional amendments and discussion of the significance of the Declaration of Independence and new Jewish State Law for the future of the State of Israel.
Incoming Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog addressed the body, noting: “The Jewish people are on brink of a disaster; simple mathematics show that in two generations, only a fraction of the current Jewish population of the United States will remain Jewish.”
Herzog argued that to confront the crisis in Jewish identify, the gates that have made access to Judaism arduous should be opened, warning that separation between Israeli and American Jewry would be a disaster for the Jewish people.
The meetings also included panel discussions on Israel-Diaspora relation with Members of Knesset and with chairman of the Zionist Federations, among them Honorary B’nai B’rith President Richard Heideman, who is chairman of the American Zionist Movement.
Heideman called for a less vociferous discourse when representatives of the various political parties and organizations that make up the World Zionist Organization convene at meetings of the Zionist General Council. Members of the B’nai B’rith Delegation included B’nai B’rith International Executive Board of Directors member Ira Bartfield; B’nai B’rith Europe Board member Valerie Achache; B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Board Member Dr. Baruch Levy; B’nai B’rith Israel mentor Michael Natan; B’nai B’rith Israel President Dani Gratz; former Young Leadership Network Chair Elana Heideman; Batsheva Schwartz, young delegation member; and B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider, who coordinates B’nai B’rith activities at the National institutions (WZO, JAFI and KKL).
During his remarks, Herzog also congratulated B’nai B’rith International on its 175th anniversary.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, click here.
Over two years of planning and hard work culminated on the evening of Nov. 7 when a whole-day program at the Knesset to mark the adoption of the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2, 1917 ended on a note of success. The B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem — leading an initiative on behalf of the Balfour Centenary Committee — was the first to raise the specter of the impending, but still distant, historic milestone with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at a meeting in his bureau back in 2014 — but not before pro-Palestinian organizations had already started their campaign to pressure the British government to rescind the Declaration. This petty stunt got zero traction with Prime Minister Theresa May who declared that Her Majesty’s government would “mark the centenary with pride”— which it in fact did, both in Israel and in the UK.
Our committee felt that the right place in Israel to reflect on the various aspects of the historic event and on the current state of UK-Israel relations was the Knesset, and were pleased to receive immediate support from Edelstein who endorsed a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, an international conference and a Knesset plenary session all dedicated to the Balfour Centenary.
While the excitement around the centenary was somewhat eclipsed just a month later when U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and adopted a new global strategy that no longer sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the main cause of Middle East turmoil, the positive buzz left by these events persists: that Israel’s legitimacy, while constantly challenged, is firmly anchored in diplomatic convention going back 100 years and in the profound Jewish cultural-religious connection to this land going back thousands of years. These sentiments were borne out in many of the presentations made on Nov. 7.
The scope of this blog does not allow me to summarize all the many excellent speeches made during the day by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Head of the Opposition Isaac Herzog, Lord Jacob Rothschild and others. I would though like to share some of the poignant remarks made in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the most restricted of the sessions held that day.
Committee Head MK Avi Dichter opened the hearing, noting that the principal statement in the Declaration — that “His Majesty’s Government view with farvour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” — represented the beginning of modern Jewish history.
Lord Stuart Polak recalled the rarely-remembered end of the Declaration that states: “…nothing shall be done which may prejudice the …rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Polak argued that while some 170 U.N. resolutions, 13 U.N. agencies and billions of dollars have supported the Palestinian cause since 1948, nothing has been done in support of the 850,000 Jews forced out of Muslim lands after Israel’s creation who should have been protected under the terms of the Declaration that were later incorporated into international law.
Labour MK Joan Ryan, chair of Labor Friends of Israel, said she believed that in light of Israel’s progressive values and international humanitarian aid “Labour’s founding fathers would have felt their support for Zionism more than justified.”
Lord Jonathan Kestenbaum, chair of the Balfour 100 Committee in Britain, said that despite apprehensions the Balfour Centenary events in Britain were successful because it brought back to life the sense of shared purpose that Great Britain and the Zionist movement enjoyed 100 years ago, during the First World War period and shed light on the shared value, shared purpose and shared language that bind the two counties today.
Celebrated British historian professor Simon Schama interjected a more cautionary tone, noting that on the American and British campuses he teaches at, “Zionist is a title of honor one has to fight for.” He argued that in the context of Jewish history the “public knows only about the Shoah and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but has no sense of the richness of Jewish history, its complexity and above all its connection to some of the great epic moral dramas of the history of the world — particularly the epic of homelessness and not just about the decency and virtue of our political position and the right to our defense.” He argued that the Balfour Declaration succeeded in part, because there was an “educated sympathy” by its protagonists toward the destiny of the Jewish people. “That sympathy is under siege today and we have to think creatively how to fill the world with the story of the Jews.”
B’nai B’rith International CEO and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin expressed regret at the ongoing campaigns to erase both the intent and promise of the Balfour Declaration that prevail at the U.N., with that body’s 1975 “Zionism Equals Racism” resolution only the tip of the iceberg. Restating B’nai B’rith’s passionate support and devoted partnership with the State of Israel, Mariaschin said that “As we commemorate the Balfour Declaration as a monumental act of decency whose purpose was to recognize the injustices of the past and the legitimate right of the Jewish people to live in peace and dignity in its own nation, there are those who engage in global campaigns to turn the clock back in order to deny our people that right.”
The Balfour Declaration has engendered one hundred years of debate around the motivation, timing, relationships and interests that led to the decision taken by the British Government led by former Prime Minister Lloyd George. The policy shift taken by Trump will also inevitably be the source of vociferous debate into the future. In both cases, the responsibility lies with the leaders of the Jewish people and the State of Israel to make the most of these declarations and work with friends to ensure they will provide their intended benefits.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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