The Tone-Deaf Israeli Reactions to the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Interesting account of the gap between Israeli and American Jews:

For Jews around the world, now is a time to mourn and come together, as the dead from the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue are buried. And yet it also reveals how far apart we are.

To be sure, most responses to the massacre were sincere and uncontroversial. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as all of Israel’s leading politicians, issued heartfelt and apolitical responses to the massacre.

But not all.

In an interview with an Israeli religious newspaper, Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi (a governmental position), declined to call Tree of Life Synagogue a synagogue, describing it instead as “a place with a profound Jewish flavor.” Other ultra-Orthodox newspapers have followed suit, referring to it as a “Jewish center.”

To American Jews who care about Israel, that’s a painful reminder that Reform, Conservative, and other non-Orthodox Jewish denominations are not recognized by the Jewish state. The state does not recognize conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. And plans for a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall have been floated and canceled for a generation now—most recently by Netanyahu, who flatly broke his promise to American Jewish leaders to create one last year.

Nor is the tone-deafness exclusively on the right. Israel’s opposition leader, Avi Gabbay, said the attack should inspire “the Jews of the United States to immigrate more and more to Israel, because this is their home.”

Meanwhile, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett headed to Pittsburgh to offer condolences, saying, in part, “our hearts go out to the families of those killed, and we pray for the swift recovery of the injured, as we pray this is the last such event. Jewish blood is not free.”

First, sending the ultranationalist Bennett to “comfort” mostly liberal American Jews rubs salt in the wound. Bennett, perhaps more than any other Israeli politician, has legitimized open racism against Arabs, sworn his opposition to a two-state solution with Palestinians, and moved the “Overton window” of Israeli nationalism far to the right. Thanks to his party, Jewish Home, comments that would have been too racist for polite conversation a decade ago are now routinely made on the floor of the Knesset.

Second, Bennett’s line about “Jewish blood” is both creepily blood-nationalist and a common justification for harsh military responses against terrorists, their families, their neighbors, and even their whole villages.

What revenge is Bennett planning to take against Robert Bowers, anyway? Bennett’s rhetoric is tone-deaf, alienating to most American Jews, and part of the very hypernationalist crisis that brought this tragedy into being in the first place.

These and other comments point to a vast and growing gap between Israel and the majority of American Jews.

Take the nationalist populism of President Trump. Among American Jews, Trump’s approval rating hovers around 21 percent. Mostly liberal American Jews are appalled by his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-media, and anti-science rhetoric. In Israel, however, 69 percent of Israelis express confidence in Trump’s leadership. If you assume that hardly any Israeli Arabs (21 percent of the population) share that confidence, that’s a roughly 85 percent approval rating among Israeli Jews.

There are many reasons for that widespread support. Trump has shifted the United States from being an “honest broker” for Middle East peace to being an unapologetic partisan for Israel, symbolized by the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (the status of which is still disputed under international law). Trump’s broadsides against Muslims and his anti-Obama birtherism resonate with the prejudices of many Israeli Jews, many of whom believe they are surrounded by hostile, uncivilized enemies.

“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” in the words of pro-Israel extremist Pamela Geller.

Most important, though, right-wing Israelis, together with the majority of Orthodox, right-wing Jews in America, have a fundamentally different understanding of Judaism than the majority of American Jews, whose experiences are colored by American liberalism and the immigrant experience.

For the former, Judaism is Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel, a source of patriotism and allegiance. For the latter, Judaism may be a culture, or a religion, or a nation, but it is defined not by blood and loyalty, but by ideals of justice, fairness, and compassion. When those ideals are transgressed, liberal Jews see Judaism betrayed. Whereas, for many on the right, you’re either for us or against us, and if you’re against us, you’re anti-Semitic and that’s that.

“Pittsburgh is why most American Jews oppose Trump. Israeli leaders seem not to understand that.”

For the former, the lesson of the Holocaust is that Jews must always be strong and defend themselves. For the latter, the lesson of the Holocaust is that baseless hatred is wrong and leads to tragedy.

For the former, Jews everywhere exist in solidarity with each other. But progressive American Jews may find more in common with other oppressed minorities than with right-wing Jews, who oppress minorities themselves.

For the former, Muslims and Arabs, often confused with each other, are the implacable enemy of the Jewish people. For the latter, violent rejectionists—be they Muslim, Jewish, or Trump-loving-Christian—are the enemy.

For the former, supporting Israel means supporting the Israeli right’s vision of a strong ethno-state triumphant over its enemies. For the latter, supporting Israel means helping calmer, more rational voices prevail so that peace and justice can be achieved for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Each side has biblical proof-texts, Jewish history, and plenty of emotional appeals they can make. We all have our friends or relatives who have died at the hands of terrorists, anti-Semites, or enemy soldiers. No one ever wins this argument. (We are Jews, after all.)

But the results are profoundly different conceptions of what it means to be a Jew.

When most American Jews hear Trump bash “media elites,” Muslims, Mexicans, Democrats, or victims of sexual assault, we see our deepest values transgressed, and we see ourselves in the crosshairs next, because we, too, are an often despised minority.

But when right-wing Israelis and American Jews hear Trump bash Israel’s enemies, they are encouraged and emboldened. They say anti-Semitism, which Trump has condemned, is totally separable from the white-nationalism, Islamophobia, transphobia, racism, and populism that he has tolerated or encouraged. They say Trump is on our side.

And yet it’s not just he said/she said. There are still facts. And the facts are that the alt-right’s most ardent members, people like Cesar Sayoc Jr. and Robert Bowers, do not separate anti-Semitism from their hatred of immigrants, Muslims, people of color, gays, liberals, and journalists. They say so quite clearly, in words and deeds.

In short, Pittsburgh is why most American Jews oppose Trump. Israeli leaders seem not to understand that.

Source: The Tone-Deaf Israeli Reactions to the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Dina Porat, Netanyahu’s secret agent in his war on the ‘new anti-Semitism’

Knowing both Dina Porat and Yehuda Bauer from my time as Canadian delegate to IRHA, found this story particularly of interest. Agree with Bauer:

A public outcry and a media storm have raged in recent months over a joint declarationissued by the prime ministers of Poland and Israel and read by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last June. The statement praised Polish resistance to the Nazis. It came on the heels of Poland passing a controversial law akin to Holocaust-denial that banned implicating Poles for crimes committed during the Holocaust, an offense punishable by a three-year prison sentence. When Netanyahu read the declaration, many criticized him over reaching a faustian detente with Poland.

Professor Yehuda Bauer, Israel Prize laureate and one of the world’s leading Holocaust scholars, deemed the joint statement “betrayal.”

In an interview on Israeli public radio, Bauer said that Israel had accepted the Polish narrative of the Holocaust. “The Poles have deceived us, they have us wrapped around the finger, and we agreed to this, because the State of Israel finds the economic-political-military relations with Poland more important that such a small business, the Holocaust,” he said.

Senior officials in the Netanyahu government, including Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education and Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice, also criticized the declaration.

The statement was drafted far from the public eye with support from a secret delegation of Netanyahu allies and former appointees, Yaakov Nagel and Yossi Ciechanover. According to reports by Israeli media, a meeting between the delegations was held at the Mossad offices. It came about in spite that this kind of historic declaration should be made after deep discussion involving experts and the public.

After the statement was made, Netanyahu revealed that “Professor Dina Porat, the chief historian of Yad Vashem was involved the drafting of the declaration.” However, Yad Vashem had already published their own unprecedented and sharp condemnation of the statement. It said the joint Israeli-Polish declaration contained “historical distortions” and was written without Yad Vashem’s involvement.

Porat would have liked to have some sections corrected, she explained in an interview with Kan radio and reported by Ynet. Yet, taken as a whole, she said “We can definitely live with it,” Porat clarified she was not paid for consulting on the declaration. “I was asked to give personal and discreet advice, I did not act as the chief historian [of Yad Vashem],” she said.

How was it possible that Porat acted behind the backs of both Yad Vashem and the Israeli public? Do political ends (such as bolstering Netanyahu’s attempt to have more embassies moved to Jerusalem) justify the means? Does that include the desecration of the memory of the Holocaust? Prima facie, Porat’s conduct was no fluke but a matter of worldview and priorities.

What is anti-Semitism? Depends on what’s in the Israeli government’s self-interest

“New anti-Semitism,” a vague term promoted by the Israeli government and its partners, regards the BDS movement and criticism of Israeli occupation policies as a form of anti-Semitism. While the Israeli right-wing often mocks the “peace industry,” it has formed its own industry under the assumption that new anti-Semitism is real and spreading. The government calls this fighting the “de-legitimization of Israel.” It is spearheaded by politicians who strive to gain personal capital, organizations on the right and extremist groups. This industry offers lucrative jobs and huge budgets.

While sporadic anti-Semitic elements in the boycott movement do occur and should not be tolerated, it makes no sense to sweepingly label this global, diverse movement as innately “anti-Semitic.” Many Jews in Israel and across the world support a full boycott of the State of Israel, or a boycott of Israeli settlements and those who profit from the occupation.

In spite of strenuous efforts by the Netanyahu government, a boycott of the State of Israel is still considered an integral part of the civil right to freedom of speech and conscience in many countries, even if the local governments oppose the boycott or do not support it. In reality, the Netanyahu government has used the fight against the “new anti-Semitism” to silence criticism of the occupation and its policies in the occupied Palestinian territories, to persecute left-wing and human rights groups, and to shrink the democratic sphere in Israel.

It comes as no surprise that the Netanyahu government’s fight against the boycott movement and the “new anti-Semitism” shifted gears in 2015, against the backdrop of the international nuclear agreement with Iran. A new existential enemy had to be found, around which the public in Israel could be rallied. To manufacture a public consensus as to the current “existential threat,” the Netanyahu government could not rely just on the fringe right wing. In this context, Porat became an important asset to the Netanyahu government by joining the campaign. For example, the Kantor Center at the Tel Aviv University, headed by Porat, publishes an annual report (of which she is the editor) on the status of anti-Semitism throughout the world. These reports pay close attention to the boycott movement and groups which campaign against Israeli policies. The reports also regard the labeling of Israel as “an apartheid state” as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. At ahearing of the Knesset’s Immigration and Absorption Committee in May 2015, Porat stated that “It’s obvious that anti-Israeliness and anti-Zionism are acquiring an increasingly anti-Semitic tone.” This means that in her view, anti-Zionism may amount to anti-Semitism.

When it comes to the “old anti-Semitism,” Porat seems more pragmatic. This was evident not just in her (professed) clandestine participation in the preparation of the joint declaration with the Polish government, but also in her approach to other regimes with a serious anti-Semitism problem. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has been waging a racist and anti-Semitic campaign for years, and has even expressed his personal support of Miklós Horthy, the country’s ruler during WWII who was directly responsible for the extermination of Hungary’s Jews. While the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has condemned Orban sharply, and Elie Wiesel returned a medal he had received from the Hungarian government due to its whitewashing of the country’s Nazi past, we have not heard Porat’s criticism of this grave anti-Semitism in Orban’s party and government. In fact, the opposite is true – Orban visited Yad Vashem recently. It comes as no coincidence that Hungary is being coaxed by Netanyahu to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem.

Furthermore, we have not heard Porat’s critique as to Ukrainian legislation which, similarly to the Polish one, bans criticism of Nazi Germany’s Ukrainian henchmen during WWII. Nor have we heard her public voice regarding the integration of a neo-Nazi Militia, Azov, which uses Nazi insignia, into the national Ukrainian security forces. Once again, the converse is true: The Prime Minister of Ukraine visited Yad Vashem in May 2017, and metIsraeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman to discuss arms deals. By contrast, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has campaigned against the militia’s efforts to recruit new members, and the United States Memorial Museum has strongly condemned the Ukrainian legislation. Nor have we heard Porat’s critique as to the recent visit by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is responsible for the extrajudicial killing of thousands of suspected drug dealers and addicts. Duterte has also compared himself to Hitler and said he would gladly slaughter three million drug addicts similarly to Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews.

A dangerous stamp of approval

Porat published in Haaretz a response to an article by the Israeli writer Amos Oz, in which he claimed that Israel would not resolve its conflict with the Palestinians by using its military might, but only through negotiation, including with the Hamas terror organization. Porat criticized Oz strongly and cited an excerpt from his book “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” in which the guard from Kibbutz Hulda  says: “It’s not because they are a nation of murderers that we will shoot them (if they show up to shoot us), but only for the simple reason that we too are allowed to live and for the simple reason that we too are allowed to have a country, not just they.” Porat of all people should have known that the logic of this sentence has served to justify crimes against humanity and genocide in Guatemala, Rwanda, Bosnia, South Sudan, Burma and other countries.

Accordingly, we did not hear Porat’s voice when the Chairman of the South Sudanese Parliament, Mr. Anthony Lino Makana, visited Yad Vashem in December 2017, as crimes against humanity were being committed in South Sudan by the government’s security forces and allied militias, and the UN warned that the situation could escalate to a full genocide. Nor did we hear Porat’s voice when the head of the Burmese military regimevisited Yad Vashem in September 2015, although the Burmese security forces under his command are responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Porat should have noted reports by the United States Holocaust Museum, regarding the minority Muslim Rohingya population, as to grave violations of human rights taking place in the country, with a serious threat of genocide. Israel has sold weapons to the above-mentioned states, and visits to Yad Vashem have been a part of the package deal.

Porat is surely not responsible for the decades-long policies of the Israeli government and Yad Vashem. But her stamp of approval to the Netanyahu government’s foreign policy illustrates the danger of politicizing the memory of the Holocaust and the Israeli right-wing’s cynicism. It seems that the more she deals with the “new anti-Semitism” bogeyman, the less she addresses the “old anti-Semitism.” If Porat is really more concerned with support for BDS in Ireland, which has enacted a law banning settlement products, than with Hungary, whose government erects statues honoring those who assisted in the elimination of Jews, and a senior extreme right-wing figure calls for the compilation of a “Jewish list” for national security reasons – She would do wisely in letting someone more qualified assume her position at Yad Vashem. Indeed, Porat has offered her resignation, but reportedly Yad Vashem did not accept it. If she does leave her post, she will be free to advise Netanyahu as personally and publicly as she wishes.

Source: Dina Porat, Netanyahu’s secret agent in his war on the ‘new anti-Semitism’

If you want a fair definition of Zionism, it’s best to ask a Palestinian

Interesting and provocative column on the IHRA definition of antisemitism and its use:

There are lots of good reasons to think the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, now adopted “in full” by Labour’s national committee and by Labour MPs, is, well, a bit rubbish.

  • The actual definition of anti-Semitism is not up to much
  • The illustrations are a legal mess
  • It appears to be having no impact on anti-Semitism in the (few) countries which have endorsed it
  • And it’s already being used to prevent open debate on university campuses

A recent article by Tony Lerman gathers together all of these points and more.

It was short-term political expediency which drove this week’s decision-making, necessitated by an ongoing high-stakes campaign of vilification that takes no prisoners.

The Liberal Democrat Party has also fallen into line, no doubt realising that attempting to conduct a rational discussion over the merits of the IHRA burns up too much political capital. And now we read that the Church of England wants to adopt it too. The sanctification of this document is going ecumenical.

But there’s a further problem which should be reason enough to dump the whole IHRA definition, and its illustrations, in the rubbish bin. And it goes beyond the need to guarantee freedom of speech.

The truth of the matter is, the Jewish community can no longer define “Zionism,” or indeed “anti-Semitism,” without the help of Palestinians.

The right to define

I know what some people will be thinking.

Surely, it’s for the Jewish community, through its leadership, to determine what anti-Semitism is? What Zionism is? Surely, an oppressed people should have the right to define the nature of the oppression perpetrated against them? Hence the insistence that the Labour Party adopt, in full and without amendments or caveats, the IHRA definition and illustrations.

That’s what the Board of Deputies of British Jews has asked for. So surely, that’s what it should get?

It’s become a politically difficult task, if not impossible, to challenge this assertion of the right to define what’s perceived as exclusively Jewish experience and terminology, especially at a time when identity politics rules our daily discourse.

The President of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, provided a good example of the accepted parameters of the debate in her statement welcoming the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) decision.

“It is very long overdue and regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to Jews what constitutes offense against us.”

Similarly, the NEC’s addition of a one-sentence free speech caveat was characterized by Simon Johnson, CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, as driving “a coach and horses” through the anti-Semitism definition:

“It is clearly more important to the Labour leader to protect the free speech of those who hate Israel than it is to protect the Jewish community from the real threats that it faces.”

Devoid of context

But this is a perspective devoid of historical context. It just doesn’t work for the situation in which we as a Jewish community now find ourselves, and which our leaders have done so much to create.

If defining “anti-Semitism” has become, to a considerable extent, what can and can’t be said about Israel and Zionism, then how can it be a question which only (some) Jews get to answer?

And if this is really all about the right to define your own oppression, then why does this rule not apply to the Palestinians?

It’s a bit like trying to define “British colonialism” by only asking the opinion of a 19th-century British diplomat. Or praising “American freedom and values” without acknowledging the experience of Native Americans or African Americans. It makes no sense because you only get half the story, half the lived experience (at most). The language and the ideas in question have more than one owner.

Inextricably linked

For more than 100 years, the history of the Palestinians and the Jews has been inextricably linked. Neither of us can understand our past or present condition without reference to the other. Neither people’s story is complete without the other.

Of course, our interlinked relationship is not one of equality. Our story is shared but the consequences of our entanglement are vastly different.

One side has rights and national self-determination. The other side is denied those same things in the name of Jewish security and Jewish national sovereignty. In short, one side has been empowered by dispossessing the other.

The Palestinians have even become caught up in the telling of the Holocaust. Successive generations of young Jews have been taught to see Israel, as it’s currently constituted, as the only rational response to our 20th-century catastrophe. The Palestinians are seen as attempting to thwart that response.

It’s this entanglement of narratives and the need to defend Israel’s legitimacy that have led to the muddle, the confusion and the deliberate politicization of “anti-Semitism” as a concept. And, by contrast, it’s led to the spiritualization of “Zionism” so it has become not a political project but an expression of Jewish faith.All of this has forfeited our right to independently define our oppression without consulting the victims of our new faith in Jewish nationalism. The meaning of “anti-Semitism” and “Zionism” is no longer ours to determine alone. These words, and most importantly the experiences they bring with them, now belong to the Palestinian people too.

To get beyond this, we as a Jewish community, need to confront Zionism’s past and present. We need to rethink Jewish security in a post-Holocaust world. We need to build broad coalitions to tackle all forms of discrimination. That must include antisemitism from the left, and more often the right, which uses anti-Jewish myths and prejudices to promote hatred of Jews for being Jews. And that includes those who use anti-Jewish tropes to critique Israel.

Above all the though, if we want to be serious, rather than tribal, about a fair definition of Zionism, we need to ask the Palestinian people what they think and believe and feel about it. And if they tell us “Zionism is a racist endeavor” we’d better pay attention.

Reflection and repentance

The Jewish High Holidays are coming up. They are a time for reflection and repentance as an individual Jew and as part of a Jewish community. I doubt we’ll see much sign of reflection or repentance on the question of Israel/Palestine. The denial is too deep. The fear of “the other” is too great. The emotional layers of self-preservation are too many.

Not all Jews can or should be held responsible for what’s done in the name of Zionism or the actions of the State of Israel. That’s anti-Semitism. But all Jews ought to feel obligated to speak out against the discrimination, ill-treatment, and racism carried out in the name of protecting Israel. To me, that’s Judaism. And if you don’t see the discrimination, ill-treatment and racism – then read more books, listen to more Palestinian voices, open your heart.

But whether we choose to face into it or not, our relationship with the Palestinian people will remain the single most important issue facing Jews and Judaism in the 21st century.

To my Jewish readers, Shana Tova! A good New Year! May our names be written in a Book of Life that is filled with love and justice for all who call the Holy Land home.

Postscript

Ten questions to the President of the Board of Deputies

For those not following me on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve been asked to reproduce the ten questions I put earlier this week to Marie van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. No response forthcoming so far.

In a critical week for Labour and the Jewish community in Britian, here’s my ten questions to the president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl.

1. Why are you ignoring the Jewish academic experts, notably: David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism; Dr. Brian Klug of Oxford University; and Tony Lerman, the former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, who have all made critical studies of the IHRA document and found it inadequate and unhelpful in numerous ways?

2. Why are you ignoring the concerns expressed by the original drafter of the IHRA definition and its illustrations, Kenneth Stern, who has said the document is already being used around the world to chill free speech?

3. Why are you ignoring the legal opinions of the document provided by Sir Stephen Sedley, Hugh Tomlinson QC and Geoffrey Robertson QC, who have drawn out its failings in detail?

4. Why do you defend Jewish rights to determine antisemitism but support a document which will deny the Palestinian people their right to define their experience of racism caused by Zionism?

5. Can you explain why you think that Israel’s 51-year occupation of the West Bank does not meet the international definition of Apartheid?

6. Will you acknowledge the findings of the 2016 Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism which noted that “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”?

7. Are you able to provide evidence that antisemitism is “rife” among the Labour Party’s half a million members?

8. Can you explain why the Board chose to pursue its campaign against the Labour Party only after Jeremy Corbyn became its leader and despite a YouGov survey indicating a fall in anti-Semitism among Labour voters since 2015?

9. Are you at all concerned that the Board’s campaign against Jeremy Corbyn is creating an environment of fear within the Jewish community in Britain which is unjustified and disproportionate?

10. Having stated your commitment “to being a leader for the entire community,” when do you plan to meet formally with Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewdas, Jewish Voice for Labour, or Na’amod – British Jews Against Occupation?

Source: If you want a fair definition of Zionism, it’s best to ask a Palestinian

HARPER: Corbyn’s antisemitism is a threat to all of us

Consistent with the Harper government’s position and focus on antisemitism (and, IMO, relative neglect of other forms of xenophobia and discrimination):

The rise in antisemitism across Europe should be alarming to all of us, and not just for moral reasons. History shows that the mindset which embraces antisemitism rarely restricts its hatred to the Jewish minority.

Today’s threats against Europe’s Jewish populations are both different and more diverse than those in the past. Far-right extremism is still with us, but now represents only one slice of the problem. Radical, jihadist Islam is now the much larger threat. However, the far-left has also become a substantial source of antisemitism.

Today’s hard-left exhibits a particularly pernicious form of antisemitism – one couched in anti-racism rhetoric to make it socially acceptable in polite company. It is not the Jews, they claim, who are uniquely evil among the nations. It just happens to be Israel, the Jewish state, that is the source of such malevolence.

And so we arrive at the sorry phenomenon that is Britain’s Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn – a man who lays wreaths at the graves of anti-Semitic terrorists, and then thinly papers over his actions with nonsensical hair-splitting. Mr Corbyn’s comfort in the company of anti-Semites and other extremists whom he calls “friends” speaks for itself. While he claims to embrace such individuals in the name of “peace,” it is a peace that only ever involves the enemies of the West generally and of the Jewish people specifically.

From the highest levels to the foot soldiers of Corbyn’s Momentum, not a day goes by without another vile display of antisemitism, darkly hinting about an omnipresent Jewish cabal, controlling the media and conspiring for their comrade-leader’s downfall. In the meantime, Mr Corbyn cannot even pretend to take the issue of antisemitism seriously, all the while claiming to be “a life-long anti-racist.”

The naked reality underlying Labour’s refusal to accept the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is that Mr Corbyn and his allies have no intention of stopping their overt attacks on the Jewish state. Perhaps the growing political pressure will force them to do so, but either way their views are now plainly evident.

It is the far-left’s obsession with Israel that concerns us most specifically. Our organization is premised on a simple demand: A fair debate about that country, on the same terms which we extend to debates on all other countries. Today’s antisemitism all too often manifests itself in the singling out of Israel, depicted as a uniquely horrific place, responsible for all the ills of the Middle East, if not the world.

A fair examination would show that nothing could be further from the truth. Israel grapples with some of the most acute challenges the West faces in defending ourselves against jihadist aggression while maintaining modern, open societies. Israel carries this burden admirably, sustained by a democratic polity and a civil judiciary that, in some instances, surpass our own practices. It does this despite having been repeatedly tested under fire in ways our own citizens would simply not tolerate.

It is time to strip away all the rhetoric and rationalizations. Mr. Corbyn and his allies hate Israel uniquely and obsessively. Under his leadership, Israel – and thus any Jew daring to identify with it – will face relentless slander. He, and those who share such malignant views, must be exposed and opposed at every opportunity.

Source: https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/harper-corbyns-anti-semitism-is-a-threat-to-all-of-us

Haidt’s Theory Vindicated at MIT

Further to yesterday’s post (Heterodoxy Academy: Encouraging diversity of thought), this example of interest.

One could likely just as easily find an example of “free market U” driven by ideologies of the right, with comparable blind spots and biases:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology deserves some sort of research prize for confirming NYU professor Jonathan Haidt’s theory that the social sciences suffer from a deficit of viewpoint diversity.

Last Monday, several social scientists from prestigious universities gathered in a state-of-the-art theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts for MIT’s conference on Israel’s 70th anniversary. While enjoying trays of free cookies and drinks, the mostly upper middle-class audience got to hear speaker after speaker complain about the Jewish state.

Of the six academic speakers who were invited to participate, not one depicted the creation of Israel as anything other than a moral calamity. Only MIT professor Stephen Van Evera dared to criticize Yasser Arafat for turning down a generous deal put together by Bill Clinton in 2000. All the rest of the panelists seemed to agree with University of Massachusetts professor Leila Farsakh’s assertion that peace negotiations failed—and continue to fail—because of “Israeli intransigence.”

The near uniformity of opinion was a powerful instantiation of Haidt’s theory that the “American Academy has–arguably–become a politically orthodox and quasi-religious institution,” where “people compete for status as victims or as defenders of victims.”

Participants in the conference also lent credence to Haidt’s other big idea: that two incompatible “sacred” values are currently colliding on university campuses. One sacred value goes back to John Stuart Mill’s famous maxim, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that”; the other sacred value is rooted in Karl Marx’s injunction that intellectuals shouldn’t just interpret the world but seek to change it.

These two pedagogical visions, Haidt believes, are at loggerheads on college campuses because they aim at different goals. “Marx is the patron saint of what I’ll call ‘Social Justice U,’ which is oriented around changing the world in part by overthrowing power structures and privilege,” Haidt argues. “It sees political diversity as an obstacle to action. Mill is the patron saint of what I’ll call ‘Truth U,’ which sees truth as a process in which flawed individuals challenge each other’s biased and incomplete reasoning. In the process, all become smarter. Truth U dies when it becomes intellectually uniform or politically orthodox.”

Viewpoint diversity is, nevertheless, widely valued in broader American society. So much so that even dogmatic political activists must pretend to embrace it. Before MIT’s Israel conference, for example, the organizers felt the need to market the event as if it would offer a Millsian “array of narratives” by bringing together “Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans to discuss and debate the history, the politics, and the current critical moment.”

But it was false advertising. The conference was squarely in the “Social Justice U” camp. Tellingly, one of the conference organizers, Israeli philosopher Anat Biletzki, argued fervently for the elimination of the world’s only Jewish-majority country. That might explain why her selection of voices on the panel seemed deliberately intended to convey the notion that Israel’s existence was a historical blunder and that the Arabs were wholly innocent victims of it. None of the social scientists raised any uncomfortable truths that might challenge that storyline—truths such as Palestinian Arab collaboration with the Nazis; Islamist aspects of the 1948 war to destroy Israel; historic persecution of Jews in Muslim-majority lands, culminating in the almost total ethnic cleansing of indigenous Jewish communities across the Middle East and North Africa.

Echoes of Marx’s injunction to change the world could also be heard at the conference. Activist-historian Irene Gendzier, a BDS supporter, seemed to channel the spirit of Marx when she claimed that history only matters if “in some way it paves the way for changing not only the perception of the present but the future.” Her own historical publications, presumably, therefore have an a prioripolitical agenda. If not, her thinking suggests, why study the past?

She also said: “although we are consigned to talking about the past, it seems to me that we here [at the MIT conference] are really talking in disguise about what we would like to see for a different future.” Judging by the overall message of this conference, that future involves the Jewish state’s paying in some way for the crime of its existence.

Source: Haidt’s Theory Vindicated at MIT

Israel agrees to halt deportations of Canada-bound asylum-seekers

Good:

Ottawa has reached a last-minute deal with Israel to suspend the deportation of asylum-seekers who currently are waiting for resettlement to Canada.

Israel is set to begin deporting some 37,000 asylum-seekers, the majority of them Sudanese and Eritreans, in April after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government issued them expulsion notices.

The asylum-seekers, most of them deemed by Israel to be economic migrants rather than refugees in need of protection, can either leave voluntarily for a “safe” African country and receive $3,500 and a plane ticket, or face imprisonment.

The Canadian government is under the gun to resettle 1,845 of the African refugees whose sponsorship applications are currently in process, some for years.

“Canada does not support policies of mass deportations of asylum-seekers. The rights of asylum-seekers and refugees are laid out in the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, of which Israel is a signatory,” said Adam Austen, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“As the country that resettles the highest number of African asylum-seekers from Israel, we are in direct contact with the Government of Israel to convey Canada’s concerns about the situation.”

A spokesperson for Immigration Canada confirmed it has reached an agreement with Israeli authorities to allow the Canada-bound asylum-seekers to remain in the country and not be jailed until their sponsorships are finalized.

“We ask that sponsors advise the department should any of their applicants be issued deportation or detention notices,” said Faith St. John. “Our office in Tel Aviv has dedicated resources to deal with the applications.”

Italy Tavor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa, said the country recognizes the significance of the current “migration situation” and has allocated dozens of new staff positions to streamline and expedite the asylum determination process.

“Israel does not hesitate to grant refugee status when required, and follows a procedure consistent with the criteria and standards of international law, laid down by the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” said Tavor in an email to the Star.

“With that said, the data about the migrants who have entered Israel illegally indicates that 70 to 80 per cent of the migrants are of working age (19-40 years old) and that there are about five times more men than women. These numbers are consistent with a population that is composed mostly of economic migrants.”

Jenny Miedema of the Dufferin County’s Compass Community Church, which is sponsoring 14 African refugees through Tel Aviv, said sending asylum-seekers to third countries — namely Rwanda and Uganda, according to Israeli media reports — remains an issue of concern.

“They will be dropped off at a brand new country, with a brand new language, with no legal status,” said Miedema. “These countries are no safe haven. By sending them there, it becomes somebody else’s problem.”

Joanne Beach, director of justice and compassion for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, which has a sponsorship agreement with Ottawa, said Canada must do its utmost to expedite the resettlement of refugees.

“The alliance is still concerned for the welfare of those at risk of deportation in Israel who do not have applications currently in process. We are appealing to churches to consider entering into a sponsorship agreement or partnering with a Canadian Jewish organization to help those at imminent risk of deportation from Israel,” said Beach.

“We pray that sufficient resources are put in place (by Ottawa) to reduce backlogs and processing times.”

via Israel agrees to halt deportations of Canada-bound asylum-seekers | Toronto Star

Israel’s Immigration Crisis Is a Lesson for Trump – Bloomberg

Interesting take on Israel’s experience with walls:

In his first State of the Union message on Tuesday, President Donald Trump again made his controversial case for building a wall along the southern border of the U.S. Back in 2016, his opponents scoffed at the feasibility of such a grandiose project, he had. But when asked about it by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto he was ready for the question. “Look at Israel,” was his response, “Bibi Netanyahu told me the wall works.”

It does. In 2006, thousands of penniless, undocumented Sudanese and Eritreans, most of them young men, began crossing Israel’s border with Egypt. Bedouin coyotes led them on a harrowing journey through the Sinai desert and dropped them off. The migrants made their way to the working class neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, where they found cheap housing and off-the-books jobs.
Work was plentiful. Word spread. Soon Israel found itself facing what looked like an unstoppable flow of undocumented migrants. Employers were happy to hire cheap manual workers. Slumlords made a killing from renting overcrowded apartments. But most citizens, especially in Tel Aviv’s working-class neighborhoods, were unhappy with the influx of rootless foreign migrants.

Bringing the Jewish diaspora back to the Holy Land is the essence of Zionism. In Israel’s 70 years of independence it has welcomed Holocaust refugees, embattled Jewish communities from the Muslim Middle East and, more recently, over a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

But these latest newcomers from Sudan and Eritrea were different. They were, to put it simply, not Jews. They fell outside Israel’s mission statement. Increasingly, the public came to see them as a problem.

Israel is a problem-solving country. In the fall of 2010, it began building a wall along its 152-mile border with Egypt. It was completed within four years. Built mostly of steel, the wall reaches a height of 25 feet in some places, and is equipped with state-of-the-art electronic sensors, cameras and detection technologies. The whole project came in at less than half a billion dollars. The border is now virtually impassable to undocumented workers as well as smugglers and drug traffickers.

But, once you have sealed off the border, Israelis learned, you are still left with the illegal immigrants who are already on your side of it. This is an issue the U.S. will have to contend with if and when it builds its wall. Israel is dealing with it now.

There are an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Sudanese and Eritreans in the country, mostly in the Tel Aviv area. Until now they have been allowed to stay on renewable two-month visas. But they are now being notified that these permits will not be renewed. On April 1, they will face three choices: They can return to their countries of origin. They can go to prison. Or they can accept resettlement in a third country.

Those who take option number three will receive a $3,500 stipend and a one-way ticket. In the past, most voluntary deportees have been gone to Ghana or Rwanda. So far those countries — which are paid $5,000 per capita by Israel — have not publicly agreed to take more migrants. Still, some Israeli officials are confident that Rwanda, at least, is on board.

Not everyone will be deported. About 10,000 children and their parents will be exempt. They are the Israeli version of the U.S. Dreamers, although their future status is unclear. Some 2,000 bona fide humanitarian refugees from Darfur are also staying. But single men of working age who are presumed to be economic migrants — an estimated 65 percent to 70 percent of the Sudanese and Eritrean community — have two months to decide their next destination.

Those two months promise to be turbulent. Left-wing political parties and activists — with the moral and financial support of “progressive” American Jewish organizations — have been mobilizing. Demonstrations are already taking place. Some of the protestors have deployed the “hands-up-don’t-shoot” gesture, an American import. Others have been clad in chains. This is a campaign designed for television.

The pictures won’t look good, especially if the police use force to disperse angry crowds. Israel — which has long been accused of apartheid by Palestinian propagandists — is sensitive to charges of racism. In their defense, officials cite the fact that in recent years, Israel has deported more illegals from the former Soviet Union than from Eritrea and Sudan. They argue that Rwanda is a safe destination where the United Nations is active in overseeing refugees.  And they contend that the $3,500 stipend the deportees receive is generous enough to cover two years of living expenses.

This rebuttal may be true, but it doesn’t change the likelihood that Israel’s image will take a hit. Prime Minister Netanyahu is highly attuned to foreign public relations, but his first concern is the opinion of voters, who strongly support Israel’s right to control its own borders and to remove illegals. This sentiment is not limited to members of his Likud party or religious nationalists. Last month, Tel Aviv University released the results of a two-year survey on the willingness of Europeans to give asylum to foreign refugees. Israel (counted as a European country in the survey) placed second-to-last, above only the Czech Republic.

American opinion seems to be hardening as well. In Tuesday’s speech, Trump proposed allowing Dreamers to remain in the US, but insisted on ending the visa lottery and closing down so-called chain immigration — positions that have strong public support according to a Harvard-Harris pollpublished in late January (That poll also revealed a majority want to decrease legal immigration and give preference to those with qualifications that can contribute to the economy.) Significantly, the president did not tell Congress what he proposes to do with the many millions of undocumented non-Dreamers in the U.S.

Some will be deported, as they have been all along. In 2017, federal immigration officers removed 226,000 people in the country illegally, down slightly from the last year of the Barack Obama administration. Israel’s planned operation pales in comparison, but it will provide a real-life example of a post-wall removal policy. The scale, sensitivities and complexities are completely different, of course, but Trump has proven to be a close student of all things Bibi. Presumably he will be watching.

via Israel’s Immigration Crisis Is a Lesson for Trump – Bloomberg

Over a quarter of British people ‘hold anti-Semitic attitudes’, study finds – BBC News

Despite the headline, a more nuanced poll and study than most on antisemitism or other forms of racism and prejudice:

More than a quarter of British people hold at least one anti-Semitic view, according to a study of attitudes to Jewish people.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research said the finding came from the largest and most detailed survey of attitudes towards Jews and Israel ever conducted in Britain.

But it said the study did not mean that British people were anti-Semitic.

Researchers also found a correlation in anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attitudes.

The study found a relatively small number of British adults – 2.4% – expressed multiple anti-Semitic attitudes “readily and confidently”.

But when questioned about whether they agreed with a number of statements, including “Jews think they are better than other people”, and “Jews exploit holocaust victimhood for their own purposes”, 30% agreed with at least one statement.

Despite this, the researchers said they found that levels of anti-Semitism in Great Britain were among the lowest in the world.

A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, which has recorded high levels anti-Semitic crime, said: “We believe the new findings, data and nuance in this study will help us to work even more effectively with partners inside and outside the Jewish community to tackle this problem.”

The report said about 70% of the population of Britain had a favourable opinion of Jews and did not hold any anti-Semitic ideas or views.

Muslim views

The IJPR’s researchers questioned 5,466 people face-to-face and online in the winter of 2016/17 – 995 of these were Muslims, although a smaller number of Muslims were included in the statisticians’ nationally representative sample.

They found more than half of Muslims (55%) held at least one anti-Semitic attitude.

Dr Jonathan Boyd, director of the IJPR, said: “Our intention here was not to make any broad generalisations about the Muslim population and their attitudes towards Jews.

“There does seem to be some relationship between levels of religiosity in the Muslim population and anti-Semitism.”

The institute said it wanted to promote an “elastic view”, making a distinction between people who are clearly anti-Semites, and ideas that are perceived by Jews as anti-Semitic.

In December 2016 the government adopted an internationally recognised definition of anti-Semitism: “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews”.

Questions on Israel

The researchers also questioned people about their views on statements about Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Their report said fewer than one in five people questioned (17%) had a favourable opinion of Israel, whereas about one in three (33%) held an unfavourable view.

The report said: “The position of the British population towards Israel can be characterised as one of uncertainty or indifference, but among those who hold a view, people with sympathies towards the Palestinians are numerically dominant.”

Dr Boyd said: “Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish views exist both together and in isolation.

“The higher the level of anti-Israel attitudes measured, the more likely they are to hold anti-Semitic views as well.”

The study also revealed that anti-Semitic attitudes were higher than normal among people who classified their politics as “very right-wing”.

Among this group they were two to four times higher than among the general population.

The researchers said the prevalence was considerably higher among right-wingers than on the left.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, from the Liberal Judaism movement, said: “The report is important for helping us understand where the anxiety comes from within the community at large and for understanding why anti-semitism seems to be the prevailing discourse within the community.

“We must be really careful that it does not come to define us and that we celebrate the positive interactions with society at large.

“What is arguably more important … is to educate and interact, to be more outward facing and open to discussion than inward facing.”

Source: Over a quarter of British people ‘hold anti-Semitic attitudes’, study finds – BBC News

Israeli decision to shelve mixed-prayer space draws Canadian anger

Some unfordable parallels with other orthodox or fundamentalist elements within different religions:

A decision by Israel’s government to scrap plans for a mixed-gender prayer area at Jerusalem’s Western Wall has left a senior leader of Canada’s Jewish community “disappointed” but determined to fight the move.

Men and women are segregated as they approach the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

The men’s section of the Western Wall is also considerably larger than the women’s section.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to a compromise deal last year that would recognize a prayer space where women and men could pray together.

But under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition government, Netanyahu and his cabinet shelved that agreement on Sunday, leading to a firestorm of criticism from some Jewish leaders who say the relationship between the Jewish State and Jews who live outside of the Israel is now at risk.

Linda Kislowicz, the president of the Jewish Federations of Canada, said Netanyahu’s decision to back down on the deal “doesn’t make me happy.”

“I’m not sure it really reflects what [Netanyahu] really believes,” Kislowicz told CBC News. “And I think that enough pressure and enough people are going to impress upon him that this was a miscalculation.”

‘We will not stop lobbying’

Kislowicz, who lives in Toronto, is in Israel this week for a series of meetings with Israeli officials. She said those discussions quickly became focused on Sunday’s decision to cancel the plans for the mixed-prayer space. She spent several hours meeting Israeli politicians on Tuesday at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

‘We will not stop lobbying and influencing and pressuring,” until the deal to recognize the egalitarian prayer space is reinstated, she said.

Still, the relationship between Canada’s Jewish community and Israel has taken a hit, she concedes.

“The damage is deep. But I hope temporary. I think that we shouldn’t underestimate the fragmentation, the fracture, the disappointment, the anger even,” Kislowicz said.

There about 400,000 Jews in Canada. It’s believed that the number of Reform or Conservative Jewish Canadians — who hold more liberal beliefs than the ultra-Orthodox — is proportionally lower in Canada compared to the United States, where Reform and Conservative rabbis have reacted with anger to Netanyahu’s decision.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s Foreign Ministry was preparing its diplomats in the United States to deal with the “crisis” over the Western Wall decision. There was no mention of the talking points being distributed to Israel’s embassy in Ottawa.

On the forefront of the battle for prayer equality in Israel is a group known as Women of the Wall, who have spent years seeking equal rights to worship.

The group’s early-morning prayer gatherings often turned into protests that sometimes became violent, with clashes between supporters and the police.

Source: Israeli decision to shelve mixed-prayer space draws Canadian anger – World – CBC News

Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

Fasten one’s seatbelts (again):

CNN reports that top White House adviser Stephen Miller is drafting the speech on Islam that President Trump is slated to deliver in Saudi Arabia later this week. As you may recall, Miller was also at the center of crafting and defending the administration’s controversial immigration ban, which has been blocked by the courts because it unconstitutionally bars people from entering the country based on their religion.

Miller’s role perfectly captures the problem with this speech: Trump and his top advisers captivated his base by engaging in the worst Islamophobic rhetoric, perpetuating slurs about Muslims in the United States and around the world. But if Trump uses this speech to make amends for his past statements, he’ll alienate the very base of supporters who were the targets of this anti-Muslim strategy.

The administration is suggesting that he will, in fact, try to make such amends. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who is also helping to write the speech, told reporters that it will be “an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world.” McMaster further promised that the speech will “unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization” and “demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners.”

But experts I spoke with today warned that this speech is so fraught with pitfalls that they are surprised Trump is even attempting it. They say handling such a nuanced topic as religion is a challenge even for the most learned minds and skilled orators. Yet Trump faces that problem and the additional challenge of striking a balance that is unique to his political situation.

Should Trump deliver the speech McMaster promises, it might briefly please his Muslim audience in Riyadh, but anger his right-wing base at home — something Trump seems unlikely to risk given his current precarious political and legal circumstances. On the other hand, if he were to say something to irk his Muslim audience that might satisfy his domestic base, he could sabotage the purpose of the trip and the speech itself: to solidify cooperative partnerships between the United States and Muslim countries to jointly combat terrorism.

“I would shy away from giving a talk like this in this country, much less in Riyadh,” McCants added.

Trump faces all manner of pitfalls. His first test will be whether he says or does anything to erroneously suggest that Saudi Arabia, a repressive regime that enforces Wahhabism, an extreme version of Islam, is representative of the faith. “Much of what Saudi Arabia encourages as proper Islam is not what many Muslims in the West would accept,” said Daniel Byman, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a terrorism expert.

The risks are heightened for Trump not just because of his unpredictability, but also because of his — and his inner circle’s — anti-Muslim track record. It’s hard to imagine that Trump would back away from a posture that earned him so much adoration from his base, or from his defense of his immigration ban, in which he has invested substantial domestic political capital.

“I don’t see President Trump as someone who’s going to walk away from that, “said John Espisito, director of the Bridge Initiative, a project at Georgetown University that studies Islamophobia. “He’s not someone who says ‘I got it wrong.’”

But even if Trump were to try to backpedal from his anti-Muslim rhetoric, it still might not necessarily be credible to his audience in Riyadh. As Espisito pointed out, the Trump team’s Islamophobia runs very deep: His top advisers have claimed that Islam is not a religion, but rather a dangerous political ideology. Trump himself has said, “I think Islam hates us” and that the Koran “teaches some negative vibe.” Top strategist Stephen K. Bannon has compared Islam to Nazism, communism and fascism. Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka has refused to say whether Trump himself thinks Islam is a religion.

Beyond this, Trump would have to actually reverse policy — for example, by dropping his immigration ban— to render any possible conciliatory rhetoric even remotely credible. “If the president extends an olive branch but then doesn’t implement any policy changes,” said Byman, “that’s going to send a louder message than a speech.”

Indeed, the risk is that Trump’s speech could make things worse. Byman warned that if Trump commits an accidental misstep or, perhaps worse, is derogatory— which can hardly be ruled out — his speech could potentially further a widespread perception in the Muslim world that the United States is “hostile to Islam.”

Most crucially, said McCants, Trump’s speech could undermine the United States’ relationship with the countries that have agreed to partner with it in combating terrorism. “He doesn’t have to say happy things about Islam to sell them on the partnership,” said McCants. But if he says anything to alienate Muslims, it could “make it harder for Muslim countries to partner with us.”

And that, in the end, could make it harder to achieve Trump’s own stated goal of defeating what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism” than if he had not given a speech on Islam at all.

Source: Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post