Peter Beinart – who supports boycotts of Israeli settlements – wrote in Haaretz about how he was recently invited by JStreet to speak at Vassar College in New York, whose student association just passed a motion supporting a boycott of Israel. He was interested to see what the situation on campus is like for Jews, and so asked about 12 Jewish students whether they thought anti-Semitism was prevalent:
They all said no, but admitted that they sometimes feel uncomfortable. When I asked what made them uncomfortable, they cited the intensely anti-Zionist climate.
Beinart then highlights some disturbing incidents, such as when a Professor gave a speech accusing Israel of harvesting dead Palestinians’ organs, which Beinart dismisses as anti-Zionism. If that is just anti-Zionism, then it’s no wonder that the Jews he spoke to don’t see much anti-Semitism – because they might not even know what it is anymore. Demonizing Israel while justifying Hamas and Palestinian terrorists and portraying them as victims, in an attempt to remove Israel’s right to self-defense. Denying Israel’s right to exist. Ignoring all human rights violators and leveling false accusations only against Israel. All of these might be accepted as ‘only’ anti-Zionist, as Beinart evidently mistakenly believes that as long as the word ‘Jew’ is not used, anything and everything can be said about Israel and it can’t be called anti-Semitism.
The students he spoke to “were reluctant to equate Vassar’s anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. One big reason: Many of the loudest anti-Zionists at Vassar are other Jews.”
First of all – of course they were reluctant. How many times are people’s concerns dismissed as simply playing the anti-Semitism card? Meanwhile today’s anti-Semites have a built-in defense against accusations as long as they’re careful always to say Israeli and Zionist, never Jew. They can then claim that they are the victims of discrimination and intimidation – and not those who are actual victims of anti-Semitism.
Secondly, it seems Beinart is making the incorrect assumption that it is not possible for Jewish anti-Zionists to also be anti-Semitic. It makes you wonder, if Beinart was faced with an out-and-out anti-Semite who spewed all the same libels that are usually about Israel, but in this case were specifically about Jews – organ harvesting, for example – and then it turned out that this anti-Semite was Jewish… well, how would Beinart cope with this information?
Beinart points out that in Vassar one of the most prominent BDS activists sits on the board of its Jewish Student Union, and cites Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, who “in recent years has seen striking growth in the number of Jewish students involved in the BDS movement.” To Beinart, this explains why the Jewish students he spoke to “described the campus struggle over Zionism less as an anti-Semitic assault than an intra-Jewish civil war.”
He makes the disappointing observation that on most university campuses, “the intra-Jewish debate isn’t about the legitimacy of criticizing Israel. It’s about the legitimacy of a Jewish state.” This is because these Jews see a contradiction between “Jewishness as universal morality and Jewishness as communal loyalty,” between “Jewish ethical ideals” and “Jewish solidarity” – in other words, their sense of morality dictates that Israel must be boycotted, and that Zionism is immoral.
Beinart opines “The millions of dollars currently being spent to fight BDS will prove useless against these kids,” because he says the way to win back these Jewish students is recognizing that they pose an intellectual challenge, not political, as the Israeli government and American Jewish Establishment see it.
But he is conflating two different issues:
- The fight against BDS as a fight for truth and for Israel’s image
- The need to re-instill Zionism and pride of Israel in the young Jews who are losing it because they have been led to believe that it is incompatible with ethics and morality; they have been told the same things over and over again until they take the anti-Israel charges at face value.
People use the term self-hatred when describing Jews who adopt the views of their enemies, but it’s more than that – it’s self-harm.
The intellectual challenge Beinart refers to means “taking anti-Zionist arguments seriously”, not calling them anti-Semitic in an attempt to shut down the discussion. In a sense he is absolutely correct, but he also seems to see this as stemming from a problem with Zionism itself.
So it is an intellectual challenge, but not the kind he means. The challenge – and the way to resolve this ‘Jewish civil war’, is by re-educating young Jews, both in the diaspora and in Israel, reminding them what Zionism actually is in the first place, on its inextricable link with Judaism, why it is needed – and that rather than being something to try to reinterpret or meekly justify, it should be a source of unabashed pride.