Anti-Israel activism can be a confusing space for young impressionable college students who sincerely want to fight for social justice and be on the right side of history.
Unfortunately, the anti-Zionist Scholar-Activists have mastered the art of talking points. They have refined their sloganeering to the point where they sound as if they are making succinct statements built upon the foundations of solid scholarship, empiricism, and nuance. And with the greatest of ironies, they accuse their Zionist opponents of being “Hasbara-trolls”, purveyors of Israeli propaganda, working on behalf of an “Apartheid Jewish supremacist state” because ethnic supremacy matters more to Jews than justice for the Palestinians.
With that in mind, I offer this modest beginner’s guide to anti-Zionist Scholar-Activist Speak. This is hardly an exhaustive guide. Such a guide would be the size of the OED in tiny font, and require the magnification of an electron microscope, much as the imaginary pernicious global impact of Israeli war crimes requires an electron microscope when held up against China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and about 70 other massive states who oppress their populations, many of which are Muslim states who vow to wipe the sole Jewish state off the map.
But if you seek the truth, this handy guide should be sufficient to get you started.
Lest there be any confusion – and these are confusing times! – the talking points are followed by their actual meanings.
“Look, I don’t like Hamas, but…” – This one is a classic. What the social justice activists mean is that “terrorism is OK if Jewish civilians in Israel are the target.”
-Dr. Judith Butler legitimized this sentence-starter when she declared Hamas and Hezbollah to be part of the Global Left.
“That Hamas Charter is meaningless; they don’t follow it anymore” – “It’s OK to draft genocidal foundational principles so long as you don’t actually kill every Jew hiding behind every rock and every tree.”
-A rather fascinating take. I suppose Hitler set the bar rather high with Mein Kampf since the Nazis were one of the few groups in history that literally implemented every genocidal statement in their foundational documents.
Although Hamas writes that “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him” this has yet to happen. Though blown-up school busses, Passover Seders, and 4000 rockets launched at Jews suggest that the charter’s genocidal agenda is not off the table.
“No state has the right to exist” – “Palestine should replace Israel and the fate of the Jews living there is not the priority.”
-The right of a state to exist is certainly a point in international law worthy of exploration. Yet as always, context matters, and context here is lacking. Israel is the only state whose liquidation is demanded by American social justice activists, to be replaced by another state, called Palestine, which will be free “from the River to the Sea.” That the Jews may get chased into the sea, since they are “settler colonialists,” appears to be immaterial.
“Israel is an Apartheid state” – “We can ignore history, geopolitics, and nuance, because feelings are more important.”
-This is not the place to get into a discussion as to why the Apartheid model does not work for Israel. Plenty has been written on the topic. But to endorse it requires a complete disregard of the historical processes – including the multiple wars launched by Arabs to decimate the “Jewish European colonialists”, the Second Intifada, and the Arabs’ repeated rejection of two-state solution proposals – that allowed us to arrive at a situation where Israel retains control of the West Bank.
But the land’s ownership is contested, much like so many other territories in ethno-national conflicts around the world and the Palestinians do have a government that exercises control over its internal affairs.
This has zero to do with South Africa, where white Europeans with no ancestral claims to the land colonized and juridically oppressed the native population exclusively based on genetic inheritance and skin color.
“Ilhan Omar isn’t an antisemite, she just didn’t learn how to talk about Jews properly while growing up” – “Somalia’s Islamic culture is virulently antisemitic, but that’s fine, because of cultural relativism and because the Somalis are people of color who have been colonized by Europeans.”
-If Ilhan Omar was raised to despise Jews – which is very much the nature of education in quite a few Muslim countries – well I suppose we should grant her some leeway. Everyone has the right to overcome a racist childhood miseducation. But she has been a US citizen since 2000 and a member of Congress since 2017. Surely this has been ample time to learn that accusing Jews of dual loyalty and of using money to exert influence over American officialdom constitutes antisemitic tropes?
Unfortunately, we cannot raise this issue, because according to the logic of identity politics a Black Muslim immigrant cannot be branded a racist; if you do, you are guilty of being racist against Black Muslim immigrants. Identity politics dictate that we judge a person based on who they are, not what they say. To my ears, this in and of itself sounds racist. But as a (((White))) male, my ears don’t count.
Note that when Marjorie Taylor Greene makes similar antisemitic comments she is chastised by the anti-racist left. Could it be because she is a white Christian, unlike Ilhan Omar? I suspect Greene was not raised in the most pluralistic milieu either.
“The Zionist Hasbara Industrial Complex Brainwashes Innocent Jews” – “I had a lousy Jewish day school education growing up and I was bribed with a free trip to Israel on which I never saw Palestinian oppression.”
-Millennials love to kvetch about this one. A lousy Jewish day school education?! Join the club. I also had one. My ‘Jewish history” (sic) teacher, Mr. Danoch was an IDF commando who had no business teaching. But I decided to rectify this miseducation by pursuing a PhD and becoming a professor, learning nuance and critical inquiry; I did not consider endorsing the liquidation of the Jewish state because my school sucked and my teacher was part Sabr part Shmendrik. As far as your Birthright trip only showing you a good time in Israel, there are now programs that allow you to tour Palestinian tunnels and cement factories.
“Jews are complicit in white supremacy” – “We are embarrassed that we Jews have overcome discrimination and succeeded whereas other minorities have not.”
-Jews have undoubtedly benefited from American racialized slavery and its legacy. But the anti-Zionist left today contends that the rapid rise of the Jewish people to the middle class in the 1950s was a product of their complicity in Black oppression.
This requires ignorance of an inconvenient historical fact: Jews in Europe also overcame discrimination and achieved staggering mobility in a short timeframe. And guess what? There were no Black people in Europe – indeed one could argue that the Jews were the Black people of Europe, an idea made all to real by the Holocaust.
But American social justice warriors are deeply Americano-centric; they are ignorant of global history, which is why some have contended that the Jews are merely a religious community, not a race, and the Holocaust was an instance of “white on white crime”.
“That’s whataboutism” – “There is nothing wrong with singling out Israel even though at least 80 states in this world are far more repressive.”
-Israeli oppression of Palestinians apparently exists in a vacuum. When Israel is attacked with the alacrity and zeal of religious fundamentalists, a logical response is to point out the far worse repressive political violence of approximately half the states in the world. But apparently that is not relevant; why? Because bringing up China, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, means you want to deny Israel’s crimes.
Yet Israel is a rather small middle eastern state, and somehow its crimes are not only worse than neighboring Syrian genocide, Saudi Arabia’s oppression of every woman in its country in the name of Islam, and Turkey and Iraq’s combined decimation of the Kurdish nation. This is a double standard.
If children bully one classmate for smelling bad, even though 80% of the class smells bad, why is it wrong to say, “what about the other kids who smell bad?” Simple. Because that’s “whataboutism”. Social justice dictates that the Jews who smell bad must be handled first.
“That’s Islamophobic!” – “Criticizing a non-European ethno-cultural community is impermissible because the West has been engaging in genocidal imperialism since Homer and Herodotus.”
-According to the left the crimes of “white supremacist Europe” are eternal. They go back to the Neolithic era if not the Triassic one (did you notice all the (((white))) people in Jurassic Park – but I digress). White Europeans are by definition the agents of destruction, and it follows that their victims lack historical agency. The colonized are not responsible for their actions or any repressive cultural practices.
And somehow the Jews have been implicated into these crimes, notwithstanding centuries of Jew-hatred – from both the Christian and Islamic world – that long predate European imperialism. Non-European victims get a pass, and to suggest otherwise – especially with respect to entities like Iran and Hamas who want to wipe Israel off the map in the name of Islam – constitutes Islamophobia.
“As professional scholars of Jewish studies, we know full well that…” – “My PhD in Yemenite liturgical music makes me an expert on antisemitism.”
-There is a profound misconception propagated by scholars in the humanities and social sciences that a PhD makes one an authority on everything. We can blame Chomsky. Or Judith Butler. This is true with Jewish studies as well, only more so.
An examination of the statements issued by Jewish studies experts condemning Israel suggests that few of the signatories are trained in Israeli-Palestinian history. The number of Rashi and Hegelian Phenomenology scholars who know “Palestine” better than people with PhDs in Israeli history is remarkable. But that’s identity politics: it’s an extension of the As-A-Jew™ identity to an As-A-Jew-Jewish-Scholar™ identity where one gets to promote one’s feelings shrouded in a thin veneer of feigned expertise.
“Ending antisemitism is bound up with fighting all forms of discrimination” – “Jews don’t count.”
-It has proved to be impossible for the left to issue a statement condemning antisemitism without naming every group that’s ever been oppressed, from the Albanians to the Zulus.
“We believe in social justice” – “Jews don’t count.”
-The Movement for Justice has established a binary in public discourse: Israeli is to Palestinian as good is to evil, as colonizer is to colonized. Accordingly, “social justice” is code for not respecting the identity and security of any Jew remotely connected to Zionism because they are a threat to the liberation of those who lack privilege. If Palestinians are the universal victims then Zionists – read: Jews – are the universal oppressors.
“We believe in freedom of speech” – “A Zionist is being criticized on social media by proponents in social justice.”
-The left believes in freedom of speech, for some at least.
“That person is racist, and they need to be cancelled” – “A Palestinian activist is being harassed and trolled on Twitter by Zionists.”
-The left does not believe in freedom of speech, for some at least.
“Palestine will be Free from the River to the Sea” – “Jews know how to swim, and Cyprus isn’t that far.”
-Cyprus is only 293 miles from Israel. That it took the ancient Israelites 40 years to cross 12 miles of Sinai desert and it resulted in the death of an entire generation is immaterial. With any luck, someone will part the waters.
And that’s all folks. I know it is quite a bit to digest. Just remember one thing: when you hear someone begin a sentence with “Look, I don’t like Hamas, but…” you will inexorably be treated to an earful of why Jews don’t count.