Israel is marching down a road well-trodden in Europe, the notion of a state composed of an elite destined to create a Greater State by driving out or eliminating the Other, those defined in terms that increasingly echo those uttered decades earlier in Europe.
But to accomplish this, the State of Israel needs to define those who oppose its policies as not anti-Israel but as racist.
Now certainly there are a fair number of folks who oppose the Israeli government who are racists, some of them with murderous intent.
But there are also a goodly number of Jews, especially in the United States, who don’t share the eliminationist sentiments of many in the Israel government.
One of the most effective measures used in recent decades to oppose oppressive governments has been the creation of boycotts and movements calling for divestment of investments in that state, along with official governmental sanctions.
A white minority government in South Africa brutally repressing black South Africans was brought to heel by similar movements after actions by Africans, some of them violent, failed to end the Apartheid regime.
Most nations of the world oppose the brutal repression and occasional open and overwhelming warfare used by the Israeli state to continue to suppress the people from whom that land that comprises the Israel state was seized by force of arms.
But Ziocons, the conservative Zionists who have come to dominate the argument in the United States, in part because of their influence with both major parties, have sought to criminalize and otherwise sanction legitimate actions of opposition to Israeli policies by American citizens and non-citizen residents.
Their goal is nothing less than creating a statutory equivalence between active, nonviolent opposition to the Israeli government and the loathesome antisemitism of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
The most recent convert to this form of extremism is the Board of Regents of the University of California., voting last month to declare anti-Zionism unacceptable on college campuses.
But support for the measure had been dwarfed by opposition before the measure was enacted, as the Los Angeles Times reported a weak earlier:
One letter signed by more than 130 UC faculty members supported naming anti-Zionism as an expression of anti-Semitism, saying students need guidance on “when healthy political debate crosses the line into anti-Jewish hatred, bigotry and discrimination, and when legitimate criticism of Israel devolves into denying Israel’s right to exist.”
But another letter from more than 250 UC professors expressed fear that the proposed statement would restrict free speech and academic freedom to teach, debate and research about the complex and tumultuous history of Israel and the Zionist movement.
In a 23 March post for the Intercept, Robert Mackey described the rationale for adoption voiced by one of the Regents:
Before the vote on Wednesday, Bonnie Reiss, the vice chairwoman of the Board of Regents, argued that students opposed to Israeli policies, and those questioning the state’s unequal treatment of non-Jews, had fostered a dangerous environment for Jewish students by supporting the effort to pressure Israel to change its policies through a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, known as BDS.
It was necessary for the university to address anti-Semitism, Resiss said, because “members of the Muslim Student Association or Palestinians for Justice groups… that are anti-Israel have brought BDS resolutions” which have “created emotional debates.”
“Anti-Semitic acts against many in our Jewish community have resulted from the emotions over the debates over the BDS-Israel resolutions,” she insisted, without citing evidence of the linkage.
That the backlash against Israel on college campuses might be caused not by unreasoning hatred but by Israeli actions — like the ongoing blockade of Gaza, punctuated by three rounds of punishing airstrikes in the past seven years, the building of illegal, Jewish-only settlements across the occupied West Bank, or the refusal to recognize the rights of Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948 to ever return — seems not to have occurred to students, faculty or politicians whose support for the Jewish state is unquestioning.
But not all Jews agree with the equivalence, as with journalist and author Max Blumenthal, interviewed here by Nadia Kanji for The Real News Network:
The Israel Lobby’s Growing Assault on Free Speech
From the transcript:
KANJI: So I wanted to ask you about this, because in the US, First Amendment free speech rights are one of the strongest in the world. In Canada there are hate speech laws which make it a sort of different ball game. So is there precedent for how they could go about attacking BDS by calling it hate speech, sort of like they’re trying to do in Canada right now?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, the precedent lies in other countries that have less protection for free speech, which really reveals the pro-Israel lobby as the greatest threat to free speech in the West. They’ve already triumphed in France through the Alliot memorandum, named after the former French justice minister, which is still enforced and has resulted in scores of pro-BDS organizers being brought to trial for their speech, for organizing in support of Palestinian equal rights. In the UK you’re seeing the conservative Cameron government attempt to pressure local town counsels, actually to forbid local town counsels from exercising their democratic right to divest from companies who do business in occupied Palestinian territory, and weapons companies. They’re basically attempting to prevent them from enacting other progressive measures.And you can see the smears of Jeremy Corbyn, and how Israel is being instrumentalized to break down progressive social movements across the West. In Canada, where you mentioned that there are hate speech laws, the government of Liberal Justin Trudeau has joined with the Conservatives to condemn BDS in an official resolution, condemning it as a form of anti-Semitic hate speech. [crosstalk] And so
KANJI: [interceding]Yeah, well he actually called it the new form of anti-semitism.
BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. Which is just, as I’ve said before, it’s absolutely disgusting, because they’re actually setting parameters on who can be a Jew. Now, what they’re doing in the US to limit speech and to create a free speech exception around Palestine is to force, attempt to force universities and even state houses to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that does away with traditional definitions of anti-Semitism which define it as discrimination against Jews as Jews, and re-orient it into discrimination against Israel, which is held up as the sole representative of world Jewry, according to this definition. It’s been conceived by an Israeli politician of the Likud party who’s a supporter of the settlement enterprise named Natan Sharansky, and he calls it the three-Ds definition, which is delegitimization and demonization of Israel. If you criticize Israel you’re an anti-Semite, according to this definition, and the pro-Israel lobby in the US has already forced the State Department to adopt this definition, and the University of California’s regents have just adopted the same definition, defining anti-Semitism as, defining anti-Zionism, a political perspective which is gaining in popularity among many Jews, I’m an anti-Zionist, as a form of anti-Semitism.So if an anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, then who is a Jew? According to this definition a Jew is necessarily a supporter of Israel, and anyone who stands outside those narrow ideological confines is not a Jew. So Gentile authorities, under pressure from the pro-Israel lobby, are defining what it means to be a Jew. That’s how dangerous it is. Beyond the free speech implications it has implications for the future of Jewish political organizing, and I think we’re going to see this division among Jews in the US grow much more stark, in a much more stark direction.