I was interviewed recently, on contemporary anti-Semitism and the role CiF Watch plays in combating it at the Guardian and Comment is Free, by Daniel Vahab, a freelance writer who’s currently conducting research for a book he’s writing on anti-Semitism.
He published an edited version of my response in his newsletter,
DV: What is CiF Watch?
AL: CiF Watch is a media monitor focused on monitoring and exposing anti-Semitism in the UK Guardian newspaper blog known as “Comment is Free” (commonly known as CiF). As CiF Watch has evolved, our mandate has expanded to more generally combat the assault on Israel’s legitimacy in both Comment is Free and in the Guardian’s online edition.
The Guardian newspaper and its blog, Comment is Free, are renowned for promulgating both anti-Semitic and anti-Israel narratives and have been singled out by the Community Security Trust (the ADL equivalent in the UK) as one of the major purveyors of anti-Semitic discourse in the UK.
As the only media monitor singularly focused on the Guardian’s assault on Israel’s legitimacy, since the nearly 2 years from its launch, CiF Watch has become the leading website combating delegitimization in the UK.
CiF Watch hired me as their managing editor in July, 2010. Professionally, my background included working for the ADL and NGO Monitor and an evolving expertise in anti-Semitism in the progressive mass media.
DV: Please describe some of the correlations you encountered with antisemitism. And do you see antisemitism as increasing?
AL: First, traditional correlations are often no longer valid. While most anti-Semites in the past in the US were on the Right, data demonstrates that today it is more prevalent on the Left. And, whereas conventional wisdom would suggest that those who are poorer and less educated would be more inclined to be anti-Semitic, today there is evidence to suggest that that also is no longer the case. Other than paleoconservatives (such as Pat Buchanan), the most popular anti-Semitic tropes in the US (such as the “injurious effects” of Jewish power and the “Dual Loyalty” charge) are more often found on the left: Popular leftwing bloggers such as Glenn Greenwald, who blogs at Salon.com, and Andrew Sullivan who blogs at Daily Dish.While in the UK, and much of Europe, you can, as in the US, easily find tropes about Jewish power and dual loyalty, the hostility toward Jews and Israel far exceeds what’s found in the US. One of the drivers of this phenomenon is the influence of Islamist anti-Semitism. The connection between Islamist anti-Semitism and liberal non-Muslim anti-Semitism is sometimes a complicated one. Islamists are often able to argue against Israel using the language of human rights, democracy, anti-imperialism, and anti-Colonialism.
However, it’s important to put American and European anti-Semitism in perspective. As such, there is simply no comparison between antisemitism in the US, or Europe, and antisemitism in Arab and Muslim countries. Credible empirical date demonstrates that, in much of the Middle East, Jew hatred is normative behavior.
To answer your question, anti-Semitism is increasing. Driven, in large measure, by hatred of Israel, anti-Semitism in Europe has indeed increased over the last 20 years. In the Arab world anti-Semitism has reached epidemic and dangerous proportions. In the US, though there are some worrying trends within the activist left, and intelligentsia, by and large anti-Semitism has clearly decreased over the last 20 years.
DV: For argument’s sake, if one compares Israel to Nazi Germany and Israelis to Nazis or to Apartheid South Africa, what can be said to counter those antisemitic statements?
AL: Comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany have been codified as anti-Semitic by the EU working definition of anti-Semitism.
When you compare Israel to Nazi Germany you’re saying, in effect, that, like Nazi Germany, Israel is morally beyond the pale and therefore has no moral legitimacy and no right to exist. It’s a way for those who seek her destruction to morally and politically justify their stance. Moreover, being asked to respond to such a hideous charge is not unlike asking the US to respond to charges by Iran that America is the great Satan.
In other words, such a charge against Israel is not a morally or intellectually serious argument, and it really shouldn’t be dignified as if it’s a serious charge. It’s simply abuse. The fact is that, by any measure (such as the annual country reports which are published by the highly reputable human rights monitoring organization, Freedom House), Israel is, by far, the nation with the best human rights record in the Middle East.
As far as the Apartheid slur, again, the main point of such a charge is to morally delegitimize Israel. The fact is that Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy full civil rights (in housing, education, voting, etc.) which South Africa’s blacks were denied. There are Arab Israelis in every sector of Israeli society—and their rights are protected by an independent judiciary.
In fact there is a Christian Arab on the Supreme Court, and Arab parties in the Knesset. In South Africa under Apartheid, Blacks weren’t permitted to live in White neighborhoods, go to White schools, or even date (or marry) Whites. There is no policy in Israel which even approaches such prohibitions.
The related charge that Israel “ethnically cleanses” its Palestinian/Arab/ethnic minority population are easily contradicted by population growth of every major religious/ethnic minority, both in Israel proper, and in the disputed territories.
DV: What are the best ways to combat antisemitism? What can the average person, Jew and non-Jew, do to combat antisemitism–that is, aside from becoming an activist?
AL: The best way for someone not involved in professional advocacy to fight anti-Semitism is to speak out against it online—on Facebook, Twitter, and in comment threads of online newspapers/blogs. In other words, what the average person should do who is committed to fighting anti-Semitism is not that dissimilar to what we do. The social media is a place best suited to waging this war as it involves one’s own community (or virtual community).
Further, for those who don’t wish to have their name associated with a particular position regarding Israel, but still wish to defend Israel and speak out against anti-Semitism, the talkback threads at online publications allow users to remain anonymous by using user names (monikers) which have no similarity to their email address or real name.
Also, those committed to fighting anti-Semitism and defending Israel should spend time reading up on the issues. With the internet there’s no shortage of free sites with contain information on Israel, Israeli history, Jews, Jewish history, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. While there are way too many to cite here, the one I would highly recommend as a great all around reference is Jewish Virtual Library.
DV: What are some of the ways Cif Watch combats antisemitism?
AL: CiF Watch has become a leading innovator in combating delegitimization. CiF Watch’s unofficial mantra is to delegitimize the delegitimizers and that the best form of defense is offense. This manifests itself in the following ways: publishing multiple exposes on specific anti-Israel writers (which, among other things, results in impacting Google searches on these writers that are targeted), utilizing Twitter to directly engage and attack Guardian writers, producing YouTube videos focused on delegitimizing anti-Israel writers and the Guardian, initiating a Press Complaints Commission complaint against a Guardian anti-Israel writer, publishing anti-Israel comments of Guardian readers to demonstrate the kind of discourse that is being generated, and publishing articles which arm CiF Watch readers in waging the battle of ideas against the delegitmizers.
-CiF Watch highlights the anti-Semitic discourse dressed up as “anti-Zionism” of certain anti-Israel writers that is published on Comment is Free. The accusation of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry is one of the most potent weapons at our disposal. Since most of the Guardian writers are left-leaning, they pride themselves on being anti-racist and therefore the accusation of anti-Semitism is something which they take a strong exception to and vigorously refute. At the same time, the anti-Semitism of the type engaged in by these writers is much more sophisticated in that it is often dressed up in anti-Zionism to shield the writer from accusations of anti-Semitism.
-CiF Watch ridicules the Guardian. The Guardian is more than just a passive actor – it commissions articles from anti-Semites providing them with a mainstream media platform to spew their bigotry; it focuses a disproportionate amount of editorial space to the subjects of the Israel/Arab conflict, anti-Semitism, and Judaism, with the vast majority of articles carrying an anti-Israel or anti-Jewish bias; it knowingly encourages flame wars in its comment threads on Israel-related subject matter in order to generate internet traffic, and it uses its position of influence to deflect any criticism of the Guardian by employing the so-called “Livingstone formulation” (the Jews use the charge of anti-Semitism to suppress valid criticism of Israel).
DV: What are some of the things CiF Watch accomplished so far?
AL: Demonstrable reduction in anti-Israel output of the Guardian. While the Guardian continues to adopt an anti-Israel stance, the number of anti-Israel articles in Comment is Free has reduced by over half when comparing 2010 to 2009. Regular anti-Israel columnists have disappeared from the Guardian which we attribute to our campaigns to name and shame and publicly expose the anti-Israel animus.
-Improved comment moderation at the Guardian. As a result of CiF Watch’s exposure of anti-Israel hate in comment threads of Israel related articles during 2010 the Guardian limited below-the-line commenting of Israel related articles from 9-6pm UK time so as to ensure full-time moderation. It is notable that comment threads of non-Israel related material are open 24 hours a day.
- On anti-Semites and their enablers: Guardian editorial defends radical anti-Semitic preacher, Raed Salah (cifwatch.com)
- Professor Robert Wistrich: “The Guardian is second to none when it comes to the delegitimization of Israel” (cifwatch.com)
- Haneen Zoabi defends anti-Semitic Islamist preacher: Accuses UK Zionist lobby of controlling British politics (cifwatch.com)
- The Guardian and “powerful” Jews (cifwatch.com)
- Raed Salah Week continues at the Guardian, offering the sage analysis of Noam Chomsky (cifwatch.com)
- Survey on anti-Semitism (cifwatch.com)
- What the Guardian won’t report: Notorious anti-Semite, Gilad Atzmon, a featured speaker at flotilla fundraiser (cifwatch.com)