Jewish Voice for Peace advertised its panel, “Dismantling Antisemitism, Winning Justice” on Twitter, by saying, “Come hear Rashida Tlaib, Peter Beinart, Barbara Ransby and Marc Lamont Hill discuss how to fight antisemitism – and how to fight back against false charges of antisemitism that seek to undermine progressive movements for justice.” I saw this and stopped in my tracks. For a number of reasons.
Let’s start with “false charges of antisemitism.” The progressive left has been charged with antisemitism for two reasons that I am aware of. One has to do with Israel. Anti-Zionism is by definition, antisemitic, whether they like it or not. Here, the International working definition of antisemitism is important to read and understand (see especially page 2). I’d also add that mis-defining Zionism is part of the issue, and it is surmountable. When progressive groups are clearly anti-Israel, this is not a false charge of antisemitism.
The second reason that the cry of “false charges” is deliberately misleading is that among those that champion progressive values are people who engage in the centuries-old antisemitic tropes that are a hallmark of those who hate Jews. I blogged about how Ilhan Omar’s “It’s the Benjamins!” tweet spoke to the trope of Jews controlling others with money. And just this weekend, Rashida Tlaib chose to attack the incoming Jewish Secretary of State, accusing him of dual loyalty, another antisemitic trope. Let us not forget that the progressive Labour party in England was so rife with antisemitism and did nothing about it, that Jeremy Corbyn was actually suspended…albeit for only 19 days.
The hypocrisy is clear, especially considering Tlaib is on the panel for this event.
Now, let’s move onto the phrase “undermine progressive movements for justice.” I’ve written in the past why Linda Sarsour’s claim that no one who supports Israel can be considered progressive is wrong. But beyond that, not every group which engages in social justice is anti-Israel or, for the matter, is accused of antisemitism. So, which groups do they mean? I would assume their co-sponsoring organizations. These are groups which purport to be concerned about Palestinians but do not actively seek paths to peaceful coexistence. How many of the sponsors have ever partnered with Roots/Judur/Shoreshim, Tech2Peace or Combatants for Peace, all of which actively try to bring people together and break down walls? It is also worth noting that none of these have been accused of antisemitism. This panel’s contention isn’t about all progressive groups, just the ones that choose to demonize and delegitimize Israel.
Let’s take it one step further. Here is a list of Jewish LGBTQ groups and resources – how many of these have been accused of antisemitism or felt they’ve been undermined? I’d wager very few. But strikingly, Jewish activists have been the subject of discrimination in these same progressive spaces. Have we forgotten how Jews flying the Jewish pride flag (a Jewish star against a background of rainbow stripes) were expelled from the Chicago Pride Parade in 2017 and barred from the D.C. Dyke March in 2019?
In addition to this panel’s misleading call about false claims and undermining progressive efforts, it is the make-up of the panel itself that is objectionable. Of the four, only one is Jewish. That is akin to holding a conference about women’s reproductive health featuring almost entirely men. Or having white people lead a session on dismantling racism. No progressive space would stand for that. We know that. And the organizers of this event should know better.
Representation matters. But not if your agenda is narrow.
Are American Jews being represented by Peter Beinart, the sole Jewish panelist? I would say not. In fact, 80% of American Jews support Israel. Beinart’s anti-Israel stance speaks for very few. It is also worth taking a few minutes to understand how his premises are based on faulty thinking (this piece by Shany Mor is excellent).
In fact, each of the panelists is known to be very anti-Israel. Unfortunately, they also conflate their pro-Palestinian stances with entirely unnecessary and unproductive anti-Israeli positions. As I’ve written in the past, in Thoughts on the Israeli Palestinian Stalemate, one can want Palestinians to be the masters of their own destiny while also wanting the same for the Jewish people. But this kind of nuanced thinking also requires recognizing the obstacles to peace that Palestinian leaders have erected for themselves. And that also asks for an understanding of how the definitions of Zionism and anti-Zionism matter, especially if the goal is to have an actual conversation about how to get to a better place.
The moderator for this misguided panel, Rabbi Alissa Wise, tweeted a request for suggestions of questions to ask the panel. While I could not reply, I did respond with a retweet. My questions are ones that ought to be asked:
What are these panelists trying to do? They are seeking to exclude anti-Zionism from their definition of antisemitism. This is a panel not about dismantling antisemitism, but about dismantling charges of antisemitism.
Why? Because it will allow them free reign to be antisemitic and deny it at the same time.
Progressive Mexican American Jewish Representative-elect Alma Hernandez (D-Arizona) understands the danger of what this panel is doing and tweeted in response; she also called out Representative Rashida Tlaib’s hypocritical attack on incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken. But she should not stand alone. We need to hear a chorus of voices. Not just pro-Israel ones. Not just Jewish ones. But all progressive voices have to recognize the danger behind holding this event and what it may lead to. I’ve written about the dangers of not calling out hate when it emanates from “your side.” It is dangerous. And this panel is opening the door to that kind of hate.
If “Dismantling Antisemitism, Winning Justice” succeeds in persuading people that anti-Zionism is an acceptable form of antisemitism, then 80% of American Jews will now have an even larger target on their back than all Jews already have. Is that justice?