Fight or flight? CiF Watch, David Yehuda Stern & Ben White

David Yehuda Stern

I have no doubt that David Yehuda Stern is a decent, honorable, committed activist and proponent of social justice.  

Nor, based on his resume and a quick search of his writing, is there any question that he’s passionate about both his Jewish identity and Israel.

However, though I’ve only just come across Stern’s blog (Cartoon Kippah: The voice of animated British Jewry), there’s something in the title of his latest post alone which gets to the heart of the skewed political reasoning which informs the views of many well-intended leftist Jews regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Here’s the title of Stern’s latest blog entry.

Words that destroy, words that build: CiF Watch and Ben White

Stern opens his post thusly:

For those of you not familiar, CIF Watch is an online blog, “Combating the assault on Israel’s legitimacy in the UK Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ blog.”

On an altogether different mission is writer and activist Ben White, who has dedicated his professional life to advancing the rights of Palestinians.

Both CIF Watch and Ben White have admirable goals but it is their aggressive, often intimidating rhetoric, that disengages the majority of the public from their important messages leaving all but the bitter taste of hate in the mouths of many who come into contact with their work.

So, immediately, there’s a suggestion that  CiF Watch and Ben White are both pursuing admirable goals but are compromised by hyperbolic rhetoric.

Perhaps Stern can be forgiven for such a comparison, as he’s evidently not aware of White’s record

So, here’s a snapshot.

White is the author of the book “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide”, an obsessive anti-Zionist and supporter of the one-state solution. He also routinely accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, and has even used language suggesting parallels between Nazi Germany and Zionism.

White also recommended an essay by a prominent Holocaust denier.

Further, in an article entitled Is It ‘Possible’ to Understand the Rise in ‘Anti-Semitism’?, for the radical anti-Zionist site CounterPunch, White stated, “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are”.

He then linked the rise of antisemitism with “the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media”.

Stern, in his blog post, writes:

Ben White’s attitude to the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict may be the mirror opposite to that of CiF Watch but his tone is practically identical. Like CiF Watch his tweets present only one side of a very complicated situation, resulting in the dehumanization of Israeli citizens and Israel’s supporters.

He then concludes:

Legitimate frustration seems to fuel both CiF Watch and Ben White’s aggressive tones and they certainly have the freedom to tweet as they see fit. But will their current approach best serve their causes? I think not.

And, herein lies the heart of the matter.

While Stern admirably condemns White’s dehumanizing vitriol towards Israelis, he suggests that employing passionate, uncompromising rhetoric to combat such moral assaults on Jews is out-of-bounds.

As an Israeli citizen, I’d really like to know how I’m supposed to civilly respond to those, like White, who don’t think my nation deserves the right to exist under any circumstances – within any borders.

And, similarly, I’m at a lost to understand how to calmly, respectfully exchange views with those who find antisemtism an understandable reaction to Israeli behavior.

The degree to which CiF Watch aggressively refutes anti-Zionist and antisemitic commentary – both by posts on our blog, and within the necessarily less expansive rhetorical parameters of social media such as Twitter – is informed by a quite sober understanding of Jewish history, and an intimate familiarity with the limits of reasonableness and the assumption of good intentions.

This blog certainly believes in what’s known as “Big Tent Zionism”, and we’ll certainly continue to civilly debate those who don’t necessarily share our views on how best to defend against the assaults on Israel’s legitimacy – and, similarly, how most effectively to fight antisemitism – but, of course, the key word in the phrase “Big Tent Zionism” is, “Zionism”.

I won’t engage in a calm tête-à-tête with those who defend, rationalize or excuse antisemitism, nor those who find my nation’s existence morally abhorrent, not worth fighting for, or in any way expendable.

In psychology there’s a phrase called “fight or flight response”, which refers to the human capacity, or lack thereof, to accurately identify threats and respond accordingly.

There is a time for compromise and a time to fight.

Jewish history – indeed world history – is replete with the injurious effects of the failure of just, sensitive souls to discern the former from the latter.

Jews – especially Israeli Jews – simply do not have the luxury of making such mistakes again.

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