Image of Hate

The photo you see to the left was found by Jewish Voice for Peace on the Facebook page (since removed) of a group that named itself

"Hating Arabs Isn't revenge--it's values." Hashtag reads Israel Demands Revenge!"

“Hating Arabs Isn’t revenge–it’s values.” Hashtag reads Israel Demands Revenge!”

“Am Yisrael Doreshet Nekama,” in English, “The People of Israel Demand Revenge.” The hashtag on the sign is similar, though with an important difference–the word “Am” is removed and it is “Israel Demands Revenge.”

The photo has since gone viral, though not as its creators may have hoped. It has become a Twitter and Facebook symbol for Israeli racism. For me, personally, it is important that the hashtag removes the word “Am” because “Am Yisrael” commonly means the Jewish People, while “Israel” alone more commonly refers to the country.

But what’s really important that people understand in the image is the driving force behind Israeli policy. Yes, these girls or young women may not yet even be old enough to vote or to serve in the IDF. But it doesn’t take a very hard look to understand that they are not fanatical settlers. These are not orthodox young women, and just judging by their appearance and dress (which, it should be noted, is not conclusive), they are probably quite secular, mainstream Israelis, very much of the Tel Aviv culture.  Continue reading

An FAQ: How To Respond To Common Defenses of Opposition to PCUSA Resolution

There are very legitimate arguments about different kinds of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanction (BDS). Indeed, I have made many

Would you want to be investing in this?

Would you want to be investing in this?

of them myself. This is why I do not consider myself personally connected to the so-called “BDS Movement.” But since the late 1990s I have been advocating for public, economic pressures on Israel to change its policies, because without such pressure it has no reason to do so. Like any other country, Israel makes difficult policy shifts only when the cost of the current policy clearly and unarguably outweighs the risk of change.

For these reasons, among others, I have been a strong advocate, for most of this century, for what become known as “selective divestment,” although it can encompass other actions as well. Targeted actions, rather than sweeping calls to boycott anything and everything Israeli are, in my view, both more effective and more just. I had once hoped that this strategy would take broader hold, because I feared that otherwise, the entire notion of economic action would come to be identified with one segment of the pro-Palestinian/anti-occupation crowd—the more radical and anti-Zionist strain. While BDS is employed and supported by many anti-occupation activists, including not a few who consider themselves liberal or left-wing Zionists, my fear of how BDS would be identified has indeed come to pass. That sad event can be laid at the feet both of over-zealous BDS activists and at some ostensibly anti-occupation people and groups who really should know better. Continue reading

White Supremacy, Anti-Semitism and How to Fight Back

A white supremacist in Kansas went on a shooting spree targeting Jews. He killed three people, but none of them were Jewish.

This tells us a good deal about right-wing racism in the United States. Frazier Miller, a 73-year old, twenty year army veteran, was a leading figure among white supremacists. When he lived in North Carolina, he headed the White Patriot Party, the local KKK chapter. He even ran for the Senate in Missouri as recently as 2010, after having failed to secure much support in a couple of other races in Missouri and North Carolina.

Miller can be heard in his own words demonstrating amply the stereotype of the ignorant, white racist. For many in the US, he is a relic from the past, one which is dying out in the 21st century. Unfortunately, despite the decline of white supremacist ideology over the past century, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. In fact, the diversity of hate groups in the United States makes their ongoing activity somewhat more subtle and easy for the public to miss. This stands in contrast to Europe where fewer but considerably larger white supremacist groups are visibly rising to power in a number of countries.

There are good reasons why we might become complacent about anti-Semitism and about white supremacy. Racism in the United States has receded as a political force, though few are naïve enough to think it has disappeared. Jews have established a solid place in US culture, but there are also real causes for concern.

Bigotry in general and anti-Semitism in particular have historically flourished during times of economic crisis. Despite positive indicators on Wall Street and in other national measures, most US citizens are continuing to see their economic situation decline, whether it is the poor getting poorer or the middle class struggling more to make ends meet. In Europe, we’ve seen the results of declining economies and rising xenophobia in the escalation of radical right-wing, fascist political parties. It’s been milder in the United States, but classical conservatives of the Eisenhower/Goldwater/Nixon type have lost the Republican party to radical right-wing forces. While those forces have not manifested anything like the overt racism of some of the far-right parties in Europe, their anti-immigrant language is similar and, in general, they have made radical right-wingers feel more at home than they have been for a long time in a major US party.

Miller is representative of the pure form of anti-Semitic ideology, and it is also the enduring form. Connections between anti-Semitism and the Israel-Palestine conflict globally, and especially with the Israel lobby here in the US have garnered a lot of focus in recent years. In that regard, there is a sort of anti-Semitic duality. On one hand, Israel and its supporters have tried to paint supporters of the Palestinian cause as anti-Semitic by definition, and some have even mixed this tactic with their own Islamophoba to paint an image of a so-called “new anti-Semitism.” Yet, on the other hand, some actual anti-Semites, most notably David Duke, have tried to cloak their hatred of Jews as anti-Zionism.

Both of these are not just morally wrong, but also factually so. In Europe, for example, where some of the ugliest incidents of violence against Jews have indeed been perpetrated by Muslims immigrants, the far-right campaign of hate melds anti-Muslim xenophobia with classical anti-Semitism. As Miller makes clear, white supremacists in the US target Jews first and then they move on to anyone else they can find.

So, what does all of this mean? Anti-Semitism matters, even today when it is at a historically low level, especially in the West. It remains a manifestation of hate that galvanizes a host of bigotries. At the same time, anti-Semitism is not the main reason Israeli policies are opposed, or the reason Israel is held to and is recognized in much of the world as failing to live up to Western standards of human rights. If there is one concept that influences public thinking in the United States that has to change, it’s the notion that criticism of Israel equals anti-Semitism.

But that is not going to change as long as advocates for a change in US policy toward Israel fail to recognize the very real concerns of anti-Semitism. It is far too easy, and even glib, for people to look at the current condition of Jews in the US and say that anti-Semitism is no longer a threat. That belief was prevalent in the Europe of the 1920s and in 15th century Iberia, but events on the ground didn’t work out that way. There are powerful indications that this belief is flawed today, too.

Distorting the notion of anti-Semitism, both by hyping it and minimizing it, hurts all the wrong people. Hyping the claim that all criticism of Israel is rooted in anti-Semitic bias hurts the Palestinian cause, most obviously, but also Jews, because it not only elides the real victims of anti-Semitism and subsumes them to another agenda, it also creates a mindset among Jews all over the world that reinforces our view (I am Jewish) of ourselves as eternal victims; permanent others.

Anti-Semitism in general must be put in its proper perspective, neither minimized nor hyped. Part of that process involves understanding the Jewish drive for self-determination even while we insist that such a need does not justify dispossessing and occupying another people. Being willing to stand up to both anti-Semitism and to the propaganda that tries to use the long and tragic history of Jewish suffering for political ends comprises the other part. And, when it comes to US policy, there should be zero tolerance for any sort of bigotry. As we saw in Overland Park this week, the victims of anti-Semitic hate don’t have to be Jewish. Frazier Glenn Miller killed three Christians while targeting Jews. It’s too easy to simply pass him off as just another lunatic with a gun.

Will the Israel lobby nominate the next US Secretary of Defense?

Many of you may have seen my piece for Jewish Voice for Peace’s Muzzlewatch blog last week, analyzing the hateful campaign against the potential nomination of Chuck jvplogo (2)Hagel. Well, today, JVP put out an action alert on this issue. Please take a moment to take this action and send a message to President Obama that you are tired of AIPAC and its fellow travelers having such undue and disproportionate influence over US political and diplomatic appointments and, indeed, over our policy in general. Here is the alert:

Continue reading

Israel’s Worst Nightmare

Happy New Year, everyone. I begin 2013 by reaffirming my point that the right-wing, one-state forces in Israel are taking leadership to frame the conversation in a post-Oslo world. Now it is Naftali Bennett and his HaBayit HaYehudi party leading the way. Bennett, though a zealous nationalist and an orthodox Jew, presents a much more reasonable face which he puts on his outrageous plan for endless occupation and permanent apartheid. And, while we can critique his ideas, we need also to recognize that this sort of thinking is making its way into the political arena–it’s in Israel now, which means it will soon be in Congress and parts of the European right. An alternative needs to be developed and politicized; peace activists need to stop wasting time in the misguided effort to raise Oslo from the dead.