Netroots and Anti-Semitism

T-Shirt sold at Netroots Nation calling for people to “Resist Racism, Sexism, Zionism, …”

The Netroots conference has met annually since 2006, and serves as a think-tank for progressive political activists and bloggers especially from the Daily Kos for which the conference was originally known as Yearly Kos. Last week was the first time it was held in Philadelphia, so I decide to give it a try and connect with fellow progressives, strategize on issues of common interest, and learn about various Presidential candidates. Instead, I was frustrated by the idealogical purity required by many participants.

Judaism has informed my progressive values such as standing up to hate, welcoming the oppressed, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and protecting the environment. Moreover, in foreign policy I see Israel as an example (albeit imperfect) of these values and the only true democracy in the Middle East.

I know that there are many on Daily Kos and elsewhere on left who do not share my views of Israel, and I was a bit worried when I browsed the biographies of the Netroots speakers and the attendees and found that all of the references to “Israel” were parts of references to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) and related groups.

Nevertheless, I was heartened to see a panel scheduled entitled How We Fight Anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, it would have been more accurately entitled “How we fight accusations of Anti-Semitism.”

The moderator and panelists spoke well about the threat of anti-Semtism on the right. Trump may not have invented racism or anti-Semitism, but he has certainly given cover to racists and anti-Semites. Anti-Semtism is now more socially acceptable, and what was once said in whispers or dog-whistles is now overt. GOP leaders spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. If even a small number of people are influenced by these memes and come to believe that George Soros and the Jews hate America and are organizing an invasion of illegal immigrants from the South to take our jobs, spread disease, commit crimes and engage in terrorism, then attacks like those at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue are not surprising.

However, the panelists went too far when they claimed that anti-Semitism on the left is entirely a fiction devised by the right in order to divide and conquer the Democrats.

There is some truth to what the panelists said about the Republicans. For example, the GOP accused Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Holocaust denial when she used the term “concentration camp” to describe the detention facilities which the Trump administration uses to hold refugee children. This is an accurate use of the term “concentration camp,” that is, a place where undesired people are collected in overcrowded conditions. Often life in these places are unhealthy, difficult and dangerous. Perhaps some of those who object to AOC’s terminology do not understand the distinction between concentration camps and death camps. However, the true purpose of these accusations was to divide the Democrats and distract from criticism of the President and his immigration policies.

In contrast, when Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar says support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” it is unknown whether her comments stemmed more from ignorance or from anti-Semitism. Either way she deserved to be corrected. Indeed, the Democratic leadership were right when they condemned her.

But we must not bury our heads in the sand and deny every accusation of anti-Semitism. The Republicans do not have a monopoly on anti-Semitism. Nor must we defend ourselves with “what-about-ism.” Even if White Nationalism is a greater threat, we are hypocrites if we white-wash any anti-Semitism on the left. In fact, we probably have more influence over our allies than over our opponents, so attention to lesser transgressions of our allies is worthwhile.

In Judaism, we have the notion of Tocheichah (constructive criticism). I hope that this article is read in this spirit. I do not point out fault in order debase my friends but rather to help them understand how we can all do better.

Doc Jess attended the panel with me and she had a similar reaction to mine, and walked out. (See the Democratic Convention Watch website for more about her experience at Netroots Nation.)

I stayed behind and waited until the end in order to ask a question about the reality of a certain amount of anti-Semitism on the left. I hoped to describe my frustration when I would happen to join a political rally for a progressive cause only to find that it had been co-opted by an anti-Zionist group.

The panel ended without an opportunity to ask this question, so I continued on to the next event on my agenda — a rally on Arch Street against the mass incarceration of children on the border. There was a large crowd and I was glad to hold a sign high and help protect the rights of these children.

However, soon the crowd was led in a chant repeating the refrain “No Walls Anywhere: Not America, Not Israel.”

All of a sudden, as a supporter of Israel, I no longer felt welcome.

I believe in freedom of speech. If the person with the megaphone wanted to hold a rally in favor of the BDS movement, then he is certainly welcome to do so. But please do it one block away, or an hour earlier or later. If you think your cause is right, then advertise it and like-minded people will come and support you. But you should not take a rally intended to support immigrants and refugees at the US boarder and turn it into a rally about Israel. Either you are co-opting the crowd which someone else organized, or you are engaging in bait-and-switch and tricking people like me into seeming to rally in favor of a cause they would not otherwise support.

I tried to be heard, but to no avail. I saw other people in the crowd who seemed similarly distressed by the turn which the rally had just taken. I then separated myself from the group and returned alone through the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

One of the panelists from that morning recognized me and expressed her regret that insufficient time had been allotted for questions and I had been unable to ask mine. I took the opportunity to tell her what concerned me about the panel and how the rally I had just left was a perfect case in point. She was surprised that I do not support BDS and told me that if I do not support BDS then they have no need for me at a rally of any kind.

I do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with the candidates I support on every issue, but there is a saying in politics, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist!”

Similarly, if we adopt a narrow view of politics and shun the support on a given issue of anyone who does not support us on another issue, then we are doing ourselves harm. We should embrace a wide tent and welcome the support of anyone who is generally supportive of many of our goals. That is the way to build a majority and win elections. Similarly, in Congress, we should seek common ground and create alliances and co-sponsor bills even with legislators that diametrically oppose us on other issues. [Editor’s Note: Former President Obama recently made a speech against rigidity among Progressives: “you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues, and when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens.” Also, an article about Black Lives Matter adding criticism of Israel to their agenda.]

There is much to do, but we can make progress one issue at a time. If instead we shun those who lack ideological purity, then we will accomplish nothing.

Does Temple University Condone Historical Revisionism?

By Melissa Landa, Ph.D.

Temple University professor Marc Lamont-Hill has spent the last three weeks sparring in-person and on-line with a group of Zionists who are no longer willing to sit idly by as he defames the Jewish people and promotes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel. On May 4, six members of the organization, Alliance for Israel—including Jews from South Africa and the former Soviet Union— attended and videotaped his participation on a panel at the University of Massachusetts where he refused to denounce the Hamas missiles that were landing in civilian areas in Israel as he spoke. We sat and watched in dismay as an Israeli among us was asked by Vijay Prashad, the moderator, to leave the auditorium after breaking down in tears and shouting that his friend in Israel had been killed in a terror attack, and we continued to listen in disbelief as Lamont-Hill argued that we need to reevaluate what constitutes terrorism.

Despite Lamont-Hill’s 2015 Huffington Post essay called, “Why Every Black Activist Should Stand With Rasmea Odeh,” in which he celebrated the convicted terrorist and murderer of two university students in a grocery store in Israel in1969, watching him condone terrorism was a moment I will not soon forget.

Three days later, when Alliance for Israel alerted the public about his behavior at the University of Massachusetts in a Twitter message, Lamont-Hill issued the unequivocal denial, “I literally did the opposite of everything you just said.”

Undeterred, as if engaging in a hazing process to earn himself a secure position among the leaders of the BDS campaign, on May 20, Lamont-Hill contradicted an autobiographical ethnography written by Hen Mazzig, an Israeli Mizrahi Jew, and an Alliance for Israel Advisory Board member. In response to Mazzig’s article in the Los Angeles Times that described his family’s violent oppression and expulsion from Iraq and their migration to safe haven in Israel, Lamont-Hill challenged Mazzig with the following outrageous claim about the origin of the Mizrahi Jews: “The racial and political project that transformed Palestinian Jews (who lived peacefully with other Palestinians) into the 20th century identity category of ‘Mizrahi’ as a means of detaching them from Palestinian identity.”

At best, Lamont-Hill has exposed his lack of historical and cultural knowledge of the Middle East and of the Jewish people. At worst, he is deliberately engaging in historical revisionism to facilitate his personal crusade against Israel, falsely portraying the Jewish state as a European colonial project, thus, justifying terrorism against innocent Israelis as noble Palestinian “resistance.” Regardless, Lamont-Hill’s actions warrant immediate attention from all Temple University stakeholders.

Temple University administrators should and must take disciplinary action against Lamont-Hill based on his failure to demonstrate intellectual and scholarly honesty and integrity as articulated by the American Association of University Professors. It would also behoove the administration to recall the 2014 incident when a member of Students for Justice (SJP) in Palestine punched a Jewish student in the face on the campus of Temple University and recognize that SJP is the official student arm of the BDS campaign that Lamont-Hill promotes.

If they are unwilling or unable to dismiss Lamont-Hill given their policies on promotion and tenure, the administration certainly should pursue other disciplinary actions, including denying him sabbatical and preventing him from advising doctoral students. In concert, Temple University alumni should begin to exercise their influence by withholding financial donations to their alma mater until the administration acts in accordance with the standards expected of an accredited American institution of higher education. Finally, Jewish students, prospective and current, should give serious thought to whether Temple University is an institution that will ensure their safety or a university that recognizes and respects their history and identity.

With three months before the start of the next academic year, Temple University has ample time to determine the nature of its affiliation with Professor Lamont-Hill and, in turn, with the American Jewish community.

Photo credit:Joe Piette https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

Anti-Semitism in Europe Today and What it Means for America

Photo by OsamaK https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:OsamaK

Eldad Beck is a multilingual, Sorbonne-educated Israeli journalist based in Europe. He has spent the past several years walking about the streets of Berlin, Paris, Budapest, and other cities listening to the people. According to him, anti-Semitism is alive and well in the hearts and minds of regular Europeans. The trends in Europe may be a roadmap for the Jewish community in the United States.

Since he covers the whole continent, he spoke of the situation in several countries. For the sake of brevity, we will focus on his experience in Germany.

Mr. Beck was curious about what young Germans think about Jews these days. Do they know what anti-Semitism is, and if it exists in Germany? Why is Israel so negatively seen in Germany?

He asked a class of college students about the news media. What do the reports say, and how does that make them feel? The students analyzed all the major German newspapers. They discovered that whether they were politically to the left or to the right, regardless of the other conflicts in the Middle East, all of the publications have an anti-Israel slant.

Mr. Beck wondered how Germany arrived at this place. He asked the students why they think Jews are negatively portrayed. The students shared three reasons that German gentiles don’t like Jews.

The first is that they feel like there are many Jews in Germany. Mr. Beck asked them how many Jews they thought live in Germany. They thought the community numbers one million. In reality, the Jewish population of Germany is two hundred thousand.

The second reason Germans don’t like Jews is that they think that there are many Jews in politics, with an outsize influence. The truth is that there is not a single Jewish politician serving in the Bundestag.

The third reason the students gave is that there are many Jews in the media. There are very few Jews in the German media.

How did these German college students come to have these beliefs?

They never learned about anti-Semitism. These young Germans were never taught about the process in Germany that led up to the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is only one part of the hatred of Jews. It is possible to have anti-Semitism in places where there are no Jews.

The hatred of Jews started as a religious hatred. The issue was over who has the true religion. When Jews were faced with a choice of life or death, they could change their religion in order to save their lives. This is what occurred during the Inquisition.

The Inquisition was the root of the second type of hatred of Jews, a hatred of a race. Jews who converted to Catholicism, or “New Christians,” were not really considered clean by the Old Christians.

“Semite” replaced the word for “Jews” in Europe. Historically, anti-Semitism was hatred of Jews, and of no other Semites.

The State of Israel was founded after the Holocaust. Zionism was not a response to Nazism. It had originated much earlier, in the late 1890s, with Theodor Herzl.

Anti-Zionism is the political hatred of Jews. According to the anti-Zionists, Jews are not allowed to have their own state. In Europe, the word “Zionist” is a curse.

Germany has a double crisis. There is a revolt against the elites and a conflict between “old” Europeans and “new” immigrants and refugees. The one point of agreement between all these people is their hatred of Jews. This engenders all sorts of conspiracy theories.

One such theory is that Angela Merkel is a Jew. Mrs. Merkel supports Israel. She promotes good relations between Israel and Germany. Some Germans compare what the Nazis did to the Jews with what Israelis do to the Palestinians. This is a way for them to clean their conscience and memory from the Holocaust.

Germany has allowed so many Muslim immigrants into the country that the Germans now feel threatened by them. The German authorities refuse to acknowledge Muslim anti-Semitism. When anti-Semitic attacks occur, the police are afraid of interfering and escalating the situation. In 2014, three men of Palestinian descent threw a Molotov cocktail at the Wuppertal Synagogue near Dusseldorf. A German court ruled that this is considered a legitimate expression of anger at Israel.

Mr. Beck concluded that the difference between today and the past is the existence of the State of Israel. Jews all over the world have a country they can go to. Standing by Israel is one of the best guarantees against all forms of hatred of Jews. The fight against hatred must not stop. The battle today is against the existence of the State of Israel. Those who oppose Israel want the Jews to be weak and dependent on them. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is not a boycott movement. It is a movement to annihilate the Jewish State. The political slogan chanted by members of the BDS, “Palestine from the river to the sea,” means all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This means the destruction of the State of Israel.

There are 1.6 million Jews in the European Union. 38% of these Jews are considering immigration. 80% will not wear external Jewish symbols such as a Star of David or yarmulke, or go to Jewish public events. If the Jewish community in the United States does not open its eyes to the threats against it, it will inevitably face the same situation.

Who Asked You To Boycott?

“Who asked you to boycott Israeli companies?” questions Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist. It may be surprising to those unfamiliar with the on-the-ground economic conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank to hear him say, “We Palestinians are not boycotting them, so what do we need you to boycott them for?”

Bassem Eid was born in the Jordanian controlled part of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1958, and grew up in the Shuafat refugee camp. He became a journalist, and worked for B’Tselem, an Israeli non-profit organization whose goal was to document Israel’s human rights violations in the West Bank. In 1996, he founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, whose mission is to monitor human rights violations by both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. Bassem Eid has spent twenty-six years studying the United Nations organization that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. He told me that his family’s experience was “of Arab leaders promising Palestinians short-term suffering for long-term benefit, since 1948. All we saw was long-term suffering. Everybody is using the Palestinians for their own gain. The United Nations, the Palestinian Authority, and others all make money by keeping us poor and dependent. For them, we are a business.” Mr. Eid is a vocal critic of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. About the BDS activists he observed, “They are trying to survive on the conflict, attaching themselves to it in order to remain relevant. Most of them have no idea what the conflict is about, how Palestinians live with Israelis, or about coexistence.” He has come to believe that economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, even where it involves Israeli-owned enterprises in the West bank, is a key to improving the economic situation of Palestinians and of forging the bonds of economic inter-dependence and trust required the create peace.

Eid’s emphasis on improving the economic conditions of Palestinians, and his willingness to see Palestinians partner with Israelis to achieve this, is exemplified by his current speaking tour. Eid is on a tour of the United States, sponsored by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel solidarity group, with Erez Zadok. Zadok, the Israeli CEO of Aviv Fund Management, invests in Israeli factories that employ Palestinians. Like Mr. Eid, he wonders why the BDS movement would want to deprive Palestinians of their livelihoods.

Erez Zadok, Israeli investor

Erez Zadok, Israeli investor

Erez Zadok invested in SodaStream three years ago. The company’s mission, through its location in the West Bank, was “to make peace, and to also make soda.” Israeli companies located in the West Bank must comply with Israeli law. “Palestinians working for Israeli companies in this region earn five times more than the Palestinians who work for Palestinians’ factories,” he explained. “This money enters the Palestinian economy and goes to private consumption, to buy food, clothes, shoes and other needs. These Palestinians support their families and other circles of Palestinians working to provide them with the goods and services they need,” he added.

Last September, SodaStream shut down its West Bank factory due to pressure from the BDS movement. It relocated to a new factory in the Negev, next to the Bedouin city of Rahat. Three hundred Bedouins now work for SodaStream. The Palestinians who lost those jobs will have a hard time finding a new source of livelihood in a region with 23% unemployment.

Soda Stream Seltzer Maker

Soda Stream Seltzer Maker

The new SodaStream factory is within Israel’s 1948 borders. The BDS movement is still promoting a boycott of its products. When SodaStream was in the West Bank, Palestinians and Israelis worked together under the same conditions, receiving the same benefits, and the same opportunities. Some of them befriended each other, trusted each other, and respected each other. According to Mr. Zadok, “SodaStream manufactured peace, co-existence and normalization between the peoples.”

Bassem Eid and Erez Zadok are working together to achieve peace. They don’t believe that boycotting Israel is the way to get there. Bassem Eid is finding a very receptive audience in the United States. “People are thirsty for first hand information,” he said. “My message is probably upsetting and provoking to many of them.” From his perspective, it’s time to stop blaming Israel for the problems of the Palestinians. “Refugees from every other country have rebuilt their lives after one generation. It’s time for the Palestinians to also pull themselves up and develop,” he concluded.