Freedom of speech faces a massive assault by a foreign power and their domestic allies on America’s college campuses.
The war in the First Amendment is being waged on behalf of an increasingly belligerent and isolated foreign power which has forged an alliance with the same forces of the radical right which had traditionally been dangerous foes of its inhabitants.
That foreign power is, of course Israel, a nation which has in the course of a few decades become the tail wagging the American dog.
And now an right wing Israeli politician is literally altering American foreign and domestic policy to comply with his imperial ambitions by redefining a social evil into a bludgeon to beat those who decry the Israeli imperial ambitions.
I believe that we can apply a simple test – I call it the “3D” test – to help us distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism.
The first “D” is the test of demonization. When the Jewish state is being demonized; when Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz – this is anti- Semitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.
The second “D” is the test of double standards. When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored; when Israel’s Magen David Adom, alone among the world’s ambulance services, is denied admission to the International Red Cross – this is anti-Semitism.
The third “D” is the test of delegitimization: when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among all peoples in the world – this too is anti-Semitism.
That the standards are riddled with logical fallacies should be self evident, but let us give a few examples.
Comparison of Israeli policies to those of the Nazis can be perfectly legitimate, as in Hitler’s sequential gobbling up of territory, declaring each annexation the last, right up until. . . Likewise, comparison the inaction of Nazi troops to the lethal beatings of dozens of Jews by native antisemites in Kaunas, Lithuania, during the earliest days of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union is 1941 to the 1982 massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinians and Shiites in Lebanese Sabra and Shatila refugee campaigns by Christian militiamen as Israeli troops stood by and watched. Likewise, both Nazi Germany and Israeli engaged in campaigns for Lebensraum [one state seeking a Großdeutschland, the other a Greater Israel], and both states were self-defined ultimate havens for those of an elect and exclusive identity. While, unlike the Nazis, the Israelis haven’t engaged in a campaign of unrelenting genocide, they have, like the Nazis, created a a state with dual class of citizens. So some comparisons are perfectly, just as are some notable events in the history of the United States, as many African Americans and Native Americans can testify.
As for double standards, consider the Israeli government’s ruthless pursuit of critics of its own policies while simultaneously adopting policies with Apartheid-era South Africa and the ruthlessly repressive Saudi regime. And consider America’s own double standard toward Israel, one that Sharansky and his political bedfellows don’t condemn: The refusal of the U.S. to demand that Israel comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Equating deligitimation of Israel with antisemitism is to declare that Jews don’t exist apart from a geographical entity, a argument that, on its face, negates nearly two millennia of Jewish history.
Real antisemitism is essentialism, the claim that Jews qua Jews are fundamentally different, and as such are to be excluded or annihilated, or barring those extremes, penalized simply for existing. Prior to the Enlightenment, antisemitism was more theological than essential, and while European Jews were reviled as accursed Christ-killers, confined to ghettos, and forced to wear distinguished garb, hats, or badges [the Nazis weren’t the first to mandate the wearing of stars], Jews could escape Christian antisemitism to a significant degree simply by converting. Racial antisemitism of the sort practiced by the Nazis allowed for no escape, and Germans whose Jewish parents had converted long before they were born were marked for death as surely as the most observant of the Orthodox.
Make no mistake: Real antisemitism is despicable. But Sharansky’s redefinition is simply a justification of ethnic imperialism.
Nonetheless, relentless pressure from Israel and its political machinery in the U.S., epitomized by not limited to AIPAC, has led to the adoption of Sharanky’s potted definition by the U.S. Department of State.
And now that definition msy be coming to the University of California, as Glenn Greenwald notes at The Intercept:
One of the most dangerous threats to campus free speech has been emerging at the highest levels of the University of California system, the sprawling collection of 10 campuses that includes UCLA and UC Berkeley. The university’s governing Board of Regents, with the support of University President Janet Napolitano and egged on by the state’s legislature, has been attempting to adopt new speech codes that — in the name of combating “anti-Semitism” — would formally ban various forms of Israel criticism and anti-Israel activism.
Under the most stringent such regulations, students found to be in violation of these codes would face suspension or expulsion. In July, it appeared that the Regents were poised to enact the most extreme version, but decided instead to push the decision off until September, when they instead would adopt non-binding guidelines to define “hate speech” and “intolerance.”
One of the Regents most vocally advocating for the most stringent version of the speech code is Richard Blum, the multi-millionaire defense contractor who is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. At a Regents meeting last week, reported the Los Angeles Times, Blum expressly threatened that Feinstein would publicly denounce the university if it failed to adopt far more stringent standards than the ones it appeared to be considering, and specifically demanded they be binding and contain punishments for students found to be in violation.
The University of California is merely the latest front in the battle for free speech on America’s college campuses in the face of an onslaught of pressure from Israel and its powerful allies, notes UC Berkeley’s Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, in a discussion with Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestinian Legal (formerly Palestine Solidarity Legal Support) and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Sharmini Peries of The Real News Network:
Reports Expose Zionists Stifling Dissent on US Campuses
From the transcript:
PERIES: Judith, the Stifling Dissent, the report done by Jewish Voices for Peace, what are the types of incidences or suppression here that are, you know, categorically that led you to issue such a report?
JUDITH BUTLER: Yes, well, first let me just say that I think Jewish Voices for Peace is enormously pleased to be publishing its report at the same time that Palestine Legal publishes its, its report. And I think these two reports should be read together, and they should–they should be understood as an indication of a, of a, of a growing indignation on the part of many people concerned with campus politics and academic freedom.
With these tactics of intimidation, and in my view and the view of the report, really, there are kind of four general areas of concern. One is intimidation, the intimidation of students, undergraduates, graduates. Intimidation of faculty, especially contingent faculty and nontenured faculty. Censorship of intervention into the curriculum we teach them, books we, we teach, and sometimes also not allowing faculty or activists to speak on campus when their views don’t coincide with mainstream Zionist understandings of the state of Israel and Palestine.
I think there’s also, in addition to intimidation and censorship, there is another way to limit debate, which is simply to say, as Hillel does, any speaker who doesn’t actually defend the same view of Zionism that they hold to is not welcome at Hillel. So those students, mainly Jewish students who come to Hillel to understand their world and to understand Jewish values, are not allowed to actually hear a variety of viewpoints about Zionism at, at Hillel itself. Why, why–why wouldn’t Hillel be a place that invites an open and robust debate? So what we’ve seen is the production of Open Hillel, a group of students who had to, to break off from Hillel because it limited debate so severely.
And lastly, of course, we’re also seeing forms of retaliation. Some of them are implicit. Young faculty members or graduate students who take certain kinds of critical positions on the state of Israel are being threatened with the loss of job, we did see that in the Steven Salaita case. They’re being threatened with, with, with professional devastation and limitation. And also some state assemblies are now under pressure trying to pass alws that retaliate against individuals or institutions that have supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. All of, all of these are, are issues of great concern.
And if all this sound like a familiar issue to your friendly neighborhood blogger, it is.