White Nationalists Threaten Jews, BDS Does Not

As we learn the details of the horrifying shootings at a Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, several pro-Israel commentators and tweeters have tried to link the shooting to rising support for a boycott of Israel and the BDS movement.  Max Blumenthal created a storify which details the ugly stuff here.  The offensive remarks by zealous Israel supporters reveal their shameless opportunism and poor taste, considering the gravity of the circumstances.  When our community is faced with a genuinely frightening event, the Israel-on-the-brain crowd continues to insist that BDS is the real enemy.  Seriously.

So, let me break it down for those who might be confusing things. The shooter is an antisemite. He is a real antisemite, not a human rights group or Nobel prize winner painted to look like an antisemite through use of tortured logic and redefinitions. This is someone who actually despises us and seeks to kill us because we are Jews.

This shooter clearly has no relationship whatsoever to BDS. Perhaps to the chagrin of Israel’s most ardent supporters, racist groups are explicitly unwelcome in that movement and have no place in its ranks.  Let’s take a look at some obvious distinctions: The BDS movement invokes the language of human rights and equal protection. It looks to international law and historic anti-colonial, anti-racist struggles to support and inspire its position. It has support and participation from Muslims, Christians, Jews, secular people, labor unions, student groups, artists, academics and others who don’t wish to invest in the violence of occupation. By contrast, Kansas shooter Frazier Glenn Miller is a former KKK member who invokes the language of white nationalism, which is antithetical to human rights and equal protection.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he organized the ‘White Patriot Party’ in the 1980s and eventually ran for Congress twice in 2006 and 2010. He has raged publicly about the threat Jewish/Christian intermarriage posed to the white European demographic; he has denigrated Jewish religion by claiming that Jews killed Christ; he has claimed that Jews control media, government and international institutions; and he has posited that Jews are lying about their suffering during the Holocaust to make white Europeans look bad, and that the Holocaust is a hoax.  In other words, far from an advocate for equality and human rights, Miller instead asserts that the United States should belong only to white European people.  I don’t hear arguments like his coming from supporters of BDS.  Although, I will admit they bear an uncanny resemblance to some arguments we hear in other circles of the debate, albeit in a slightly more polished and palatable form.

The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 by 180+ Palestinian civil society organizations.  These organizations wrote to the world and called upon it for help as peace negotiations led them nowhere and Israel further entrenched its occupation.  They decided to use a peaceful tactic, the boycott, to pressure Israel and to make the occupation harder and more consequential to maintain. This tactic has been used by social movements across the political spectrum historically as a means to effect social change.  Boycott has also been affirmed as a protected form of free expression by the United States Supreme Court.  Although Israel fanatics make wild accusations of antisemitism, the movement can claim a healthy amount of support from Jews in diaspora as well as Israel, including groups such as: Boycott from Within, The Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Jews for a Just Peace, Independent Jewish Voices and a number of Jewish identified groups in Europe.

Meanwhile, Israel fanatics like Pamela Geller raise money for openly racist groups like the English Defense LeagueDaniel Pipes defends Geert Wilders, who has made common cause with the French far right to form an anti-immigrant ‘trojan horse’ in the European Parliament.  David Horowitz publicizes the writing of Jared Taylor, an open white nationalist, who advocates the idea that blacks have a higher propensity to commit violent crime.  These groups hold viewpoints that decent people committed to democratic values should find abhorrent, yet Geller, Pipes, and Horowitz do not find themselves subject to accusations of bigotry from Israel’s ardent supporters. In most cases, they are still welcome inside the tent.

During a truly terrifying time for our Jewish community, the Israel zealots give real antisemites a free pass in favor of targeting advocates for Palestinian rights. The only plausible reason for this, in my opinion, is that the BDS movement has made tremendous strides around the world, finding allies in renowned artists, writers, scholars, and human rights leaders.  The connections this activism has forged between people of all faiths and backgrounds directly contradicts their extreme, hardline Zionist viewpoint, which relies on a hostile, incurably antisemitic world for its relevancy.

I believe that Jews have the capacity to discern those who endanger us from those who do not.  I only pray that we can cut through the fog and mirrors of an opportunistic political agenda that cedes vital ground to the white nationalists who truly imperil us and our natural allies.

The Jewish Community Should Not Embrace Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The fracas over Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis shows that Israel devotees cannot distinguish friend from foe. For obvious reasons, Jews should not count Islamophobes among our friends. 

It’s Pesach again and our people still aren’t quite getting the holiday’s lessons, especially this one: ואהבתם את-הגר  כי-גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים

After students, faculty and civil rights groups expressed objection, Brandeis University rescinded an invitation to anti-Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali who was to receive an honorary degree at its spring commencement. Citing its commitment to the free exchange of ideas, Brandeis invited Hirsi Ali to speak at a later date in a forum that would not endorse her view. Predictably, this did not stop Hirsi Ali and her defenders on the extreme right from crying foul and declaring that she had been “silenced.” More astonishing, however, was the reaction from Tablet Magazine, a Jewish publication. Tablet obsequiously offered Hirsi Ali their first ever, impromptu “Moses award” and stated that while some of her statements “ought to be challenged” Brandeis should not have rescinded her award. The magazine also said the university subjected an “outspoken dissident…to public pillory.”

Well, let’s pretend that a prominent university scheduled an antisemitic public figure to speak and receive an award. I’m not talking about a critic of Israel or Zionism, but someone who openly opines that being Jewish is incompatible with Western values. Let’s pretend that the antisemitic speaker is himself of Jewish origins, who claims to denigrate our religion, community, and ancestry from a place of painful personal experience. Say this individual had called Judaism “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” and had advocated for the closure of all Jewish day schools in the United States. Wouldn’t it be more than justifiable for a Jewish organization or two to have something to say about it? I sure hope so.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Jewish organizations were to decide collectively that our antisemitic speaker should speak. Say that Jewish groups were to affirm that our community is tough enough and savvy enough to handle a rabid antisemite in a public setting. Say the Jewish organizations were to invoke the famous words of Justice Brandeis: “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Would the Jewish organizations be at all justified in taking exception to the university offering our antisemitic speaker an award? I think they would be.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali claims (and her family disputes her account) that she was subjected to various forms of abuse as a girl growing up Muslim, including female genital cutting. She has stated that the abuse she allegedly endured is religious in its origin and that this kind of abuse is endemic to Islam, a religion which she claims has no moderate voice. Despite calling herself an atheist and a critic of all religions, Hirsi Ali singles out Islam for special opprobrium. In an interview with Reason Magazine, she states: “I accept that there are multitudes seeking God, seeking meaning, and so on, but if they reject atheism, I would rather they became modern-day Catholics or Jews than that they became Muslims.” She goes on to state that she believes Islam should “be defeated.” When the interviewer asks her if she meant radical Islam, she states “No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.” In other words, Hirsi Ali believes that Islam is incompatible with free societies and believes that pious Muslims are more loyal to their faith and their own kind than to the countries in which they live. Shouldn’t this sound at least a little familiar and a little troubling to Jews?

At Tablet, it seems not to be troubling at all. I think this can only be due to the fact that the debate on Israel has completely blurred our moral sense and our ability to empathize with the people some want to characterize as our ‘enemies’. Even though Palestinians and their armed organizations have Christian, Muslim, and secular members, right-wing Israel fanatics seem to find it easier to perpetuate the most pigheaded, unsophisticated stereotypes about Islam. How they think this solves Israel’s many problems in the world, I don’t know. But it seems to make them feel pretty righteous and it wouldn’t surprise me if it generates some money. Tablet claims that it condemned equally the cancellation of Rashid Khalidi’s talk at the Ramaz School, but these two instances can hardly be compared. Khalidi is a well-credentialed professor, a Palestinian, and a thoughtful critic of Israel. He is not merely a ‘controversial speaker.’ He has also never claimed that being Jewish is somehow illegitimate or suspect, the way Hirsi Ali does about being Muslim. He does not say that Jews should stop being Jewish.  He is a participant in a debate about policy, he does not take issue with our communal identity or creed. The fact that Tablet’s editors would draw such a comparison is cause for concern because it indicates that the crazed tenor of the Israel debate encourages us to conflate a political adversary with someone who intends harm to Jews. It also seems that there is a section of the community that believes that casting Muslims and Islam in a negative light somehow adequately rebuts questions about Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians.  This is obviously very silly and avoids the issues we must confront in order to achieve peace.

The Brandeis community and Muslim organizations did the right thing in challenging Hirsi Ali’s award and the university did the right thing in inviting her to speak in a neutral forum. It is sad that a Jewish publication is offering this woman an award in response when we should be the ones speaking out the loudest against her Islamophobia. This woman is not our friend. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For more on this topic, check out Ali Gharib’s excellent opinion piece in the Jewish Daily Forward

And thinkprogress’ roundup of the issue