Can we stop being so polite about anti-Semitism?

This is a cross post by Professor Gil Troy from the Jerusalem Post Blogs

On Wednesday, 490 parliamentarians, diplomats, government officials, activists, academics, community leaders and clerics from 50 countries gathered at the Knesset for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ two-day Global Forum against Anti-Semitism.
While unhappy about missing two days of Hanukkah vacation with my kids, having attended two previous Forums I know I am going to enjoy myself. I will meet interesting, insightful idealists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who care about fighting injustice. I will reunite with friends from the earlier conferences. We will eat lavish dinners, listen to compelling presentations, and hopefully make useful suggestions. Still, I will feel guilty. Fighting anti-Semitism should neither be so much fun nor so routine.
I understand that an event hosting dignitaries must be elegant, and the Foreign Ministry under the leadership of Aviva Raz-Shechter and her under-funded Department for Combating Anti-Semitism do a great job hosting. But as we politely follow academic and diplomatic protocols at our sessions and cocktails, I will occasionally think of a beheaded Daniel Pearl, a tortured Ilan Halimi, rotting in their graves.
Daniel Pearl, a 39-year-old, Stanford educated Wall Street Journal reporter, was kidnapped and slaughtered, his head cut off and his body hacked into ten pieces by Islamists in Pakistan in February 2002. Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old French salesman, was kidnapped in January 2006 by an anti-Semitic gang, tortured for three weeks, then dumped with burns on 80 percent of his body, which he did not survive. I will also remember the hundreds of Israelis murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers perverted by the torrent of harsh anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli images emanating from Palestinian mosques, Palestinian leaders and the Arab media. And I will recall Elie Wiesel’s teaching during the Palestinian terror wave that sometimes, the most rational response to evil is anger.
Anger is the active ingredient in the success of movements, be it Civil Rights, feminism, gay liberation, anti-Communism, Soviet Jewry or Zionism itself. When successfully channeled, anger can put oppressors and moral slobs on the defensive, adjust common language patterns, heighten people’s sensitivities and change history.
For starters, we should shake up and wake up the Jewish community, teaching that fighting the New Anti-Semitism requires going beyond business as usual. The Jewish world has been stymied because too many feel guilty about the false charge that Jews squelch criticism of Israel by crying “anti-Semitism.” This charge is particularly ludicrous considering the intense criticism leveled against Israel in Israel, the Jewish world and the world over, along with the stunning lack of self-criticism within the Arab world. One rarely hears criticism of the lack of Arab or Muslim self-criticism while Jews and Israelis are constantly criticizing themselves, while also criticizing themselves and being criticized for not being critical enough.
The New Anti-Semites go far beyond reasonable criticism of Israel. The BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement is guilty of Exclusivity – meaning singling Israel out – and Essentialism – meaning attacking Israel’s existence, not Israeli policy. Both are marks of bigotry. Nevertheless, recently the Board of the San Francisco Jewish Federation could not bring itself to approve this resolution:

The S.F. Jewish Federation will not support events or organizations that defame Israel. Nor will it support organizations that partner in their events with individuals or groups that call for boycotts, divestment or sanctions (BDS) against Israel.”

In fairness, the Board condemned the BDS movement (what the Toronto Federation has rechristened the blacklist, demonize and slander movement), but this clearer resolution failed.
Nevertheless, this resolution should be tabled at every major Jewish organization as part of a broad campaign repudiating BDS. And we should be clear. This is not a “Free speech” question or an attempt to muzzle debate over Israel. The resolution opposes subsidized speech, using Jewish community dollars, which like all charitable funds are sacred, to finance harsh blacklist proponents attending Jewish film festivals or mounting borderline-anti-Semitic plays.
Second, the fight against anti-Semitism, against blacklisting and for Israel begins at home, in the homeland. Israelis can be the most effective ambassadors in the fight against BDS – this fight for survival should transcend most political divisions and harness the kind of ingenuity Israelis bring to more conventional battlefields. Israelis must understand that, despite their “Start-up Nation” Hi Tech inventiveness, if the European Union boycotts Israel, the economic impact would be devastating. The threat is real – but is dismissed and usually seen, unfortunately, through a left-right prism.
Moreover, Israeli critics of Israeli policy must understand that in an age of instant communication, what they say “within the family,” echoes throughout the world. Israel’s harshest critics quote Israelis incessantly. No Israelis should be forced to change their politics, no matter what opponents would choose to do. But ALL Israelis should watch their language, understanding that false Nazi/Apartheid/Racism analogies feed Israel’s enemies, who wish to exterminate the state. There is a rich bank of historical analogies and words Israeli critics can use to criticize Israel. They must learn how harmful the Nazi and Apartheid analogies are and how they are used against Israel’s right to exist.
Third, we need a “Let Israel Live” anti-BDS campaign, built on the style of the Soviet Jewry movement, mounting a legal but in-your-face grassroots attempt to delegitimize Israel’s delegitimizers. We should shout down Iranian diplomats for representing a country with genocidal designs on Israel. We must confront Saudi, Egyptian and Palestinian diplomats when their official news organs spread harsh anti-Semitic caricatures. We should put left-wing BDSers on the defensive, showing how Essentialism and Exclusivity perpetuate prejudice, particularly traditional anti-Semitic patterns.
Last week, in Ottawa, during a break in testimony at the hearings of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, I confronted some pro-boycott union officials. I asked why they attacked what one of their resolutions called (ungrammatically) “the apartheid nature of the Israel state” rather than making specific criticisms of Israeli labor policy in the territories, as the union president had done during testimony. One of the activists admitted they were distancing themselves from the apartheid formulation because “it wasn’t effective.” Not “effective” means generating too much pushback.
Pushing back isn’t polite and it isn’t always nice. For all our justifiable anger, it should be channeled strategically, constructively. And, yes, when necessary, we should put on suits, eat nice meals, and build coalitions with dignitaries. But while networking, let’s remember the ugly realities that demand fixing not because “the Jews” demand it but because justice does.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest bookThe Reagan Revolution:  A Very Short Introduction, was recently published by Oxford University Press.

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