September 30, 2002

CATHY YOUNG DEFENDS HARVARD PRESIDENT LARRY SUMMERS and notes the antisemitism that more and more marks the “peace” movement:

Anti-Israel commentary in Europe not only winks at this virulent anti-Semitism (and refuses to consider it as the context for Israel’s actions) but sometimes stoops to hateful language of its own. British poet and Oxford professor Tom Paulin has said that American-born Jewish settlers on the West Bank ”should be shot dead.” Sometimes, this rhetoric unabashedly substitutes the term ”Jews” for ”Israelis” or ”Zionists.”

Even on college campuses in the United States, the anti-Jewish ”blood libel” has resurfaced in posters of cans labeled ”Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license.” . . .

Whether anti-Semitism plays a central role in hostility toward Israel (especially in Europe) is a complicated question. Sympathy for the Palestinian struggle – even when it takes the form of violence targeting civilians – stems largely from the knee-jerk instinct to romanticize the ”wretched of the earth,” the ”oppressed” of the Third World. Perhaps, too, as Rosenbaum argues, demonizing Israel is partly a way to assuage Europe’s collective guilt over letting the Holocaust happen. And some may use Israel-bashing as a respectable smokescreen for socially unacceptable anti-Semitic bias.

But ultimately, motives matter less than consequences. ”Traditional” anti-Semitism, too, often involved motives other than simple hostility toward Jews as Jews – including anticapitalism, since the Jews were seen as the epitome of the money-grubbing bourgeoisie. For whatever reason, extremist anti-Israeli rhetoric today has become, all too often, a vehicle for the kind of Jew-bashing that one might have hoped was extinct in the civilized world. For drawing attention to this issue, Summers deserves praise.

Also writing in the Globe, Robert Leikind makes a similar point:

When the United Nations hosted the Third World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, last year, the world community had an opportunity to address the hatred that afflicts hundreds of millions of people. Instead, the conference focused almost exclusively on allegations of Israeli wrongdoing. When protesters compared Israelis to Nazis and called for the killing of Jews, the silence from all but a few delegates made it evident that anti-Semitism was losing its capacity to evoke outrage.

Since then, that dynamic has repeated itself many times. It has three elements. First, in the name of ”human rights” or ”justice,” advocates decry Israeli actions, while also depriving them of any context. In their view, Israelis are wanton occupiers, who violate Palestinians’ rights and impose cruel conditions on a subject population. The fact that the occupation is a product of a relentless, half-century campaign to destroy Israel, that Israelis have sustained thousands of casualties from terrorism and are involved in a desperate effort to save the lives of their citizens, or that the Palestinians and many of Israel’s other neighbors continue to foment a hatred of Israel and Jews that serves as a solid barrier against efforts to arrive at a just and lasting settlement, seldom enters into their narrative. It is this absence of balance, not the criticisms (which sometimes may be warranted), that has been so troubling. . . .

Evidence is mounting that demonization of Jews is gaining respectability and that the struggle in the Middle East is providing cover for the expression of such hatred. This does not justify reflexively labeling all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. It does, however, compel us to ask why some critics seem interested in investing all their moral capital in attacking embattled, democratic Israel. Asking this question is not intended to chill honest debate. It is intended to create it.

(Via Jay Fitzgerald).

UPDATE: Here’s more from the Harvard Crimson.