Thursday, September 2, 2010

When A Conference on Jew-Hatred Turns Into Jew-Bashing – and One-Sided Scholarship

Organize a conference that invites virtually only hard-line Zionists (ranging in ideology from New Republic liberal hawks to Commentary neocons, with the occasional rightwinger settler) and you get the conference that Yale's Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism and the International Associations for the Study of Anti-Semitism sponsored last week.

Take a look at some of the plenary and keynote speakers: Irwin Cotler, Jeffrey Herf, Richard Landes, Deborah Lipstadt, Meir Litvak, Menahem Milson, Dina Porat, Milton Shain, Bassam Tibi (the token "good Muslim") and Ruth Wisse. Looks more like a conference sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America. Even one sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute would have better balance. Didn't see too many Jewish progressives invited (actually, I didn't see any.)

Do only hard-line Zionists care about anti-Semitism? No, not really. But the study of anti-Semitism has gravitated in that direction because it has been taken over by Israelis and Zionists, and is supported mostly by hard-line Zionist money. Sorry to be blunt, but I can think of no other explanation. Look at the comments by Israeli Foreign Ministry's Combating Anti-Semitism czar, Aviva Raz Shechter, one of the main keynote speakers at the conference, in an interview to the settler's radio station, Arutz Sheva:

I spoke of the new face of anti-Semitism which couches itself in the more trendy term known as anti-Zionism. College campuses are hotbeds for the apologists of terrorism who call themselves human rights activists. They reserve their harshest criticism for Israel, yet they remain silent in the face of Muslim human rights abuses that occur in such countries as the Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and other countries.
 
These same people are also in the forefront of organizing academic boycotts of Israeli professors, and sadly, some Jewish academics have played a major role in this. When I speak to government leaders, decision makers and these purported human rights activists, they tell me that if Israel would only "cease and desist in being an occupying power", then that would obviate the need for Israeli opposition groups. I respond by telling them that this is nonsense and haters will always come up with new reasons to hate Jews. 

So, if you are a "trendy" anti-Zionist (what about the old-fashioned sort?), or non-Zionist, or a Zionist who supports an academic boycott of Israel because of the Occupation, you are ipso facto an anti-Semite. Now, I doubt that all of the participants shared the views of Ms. Raz Schechter, only most. Some, no doubt, would have been more interested in the following plenary session:

Self-Hatred and Contemporary Anti-Semitism

Professor Doron Ben-Atar, Fordham University: "Without Ahavath Yisrael: Thoughts on Radical Anti-Zionism at Brandeis"

Professor Richard Landes: "Scourges and Their Audiences: What Drives Jews to Loathe Publicly and What to Do About It."

Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, "Beyond Criticism and Dissent: On the Jewish Contributions to the Deligitimation of Israel"

Labeling Jews who are consciously and conscientiously attempting to fulfill Jewish and universal ideals of justice as "self-hating" is, well, anti-Semitic.

Now, I don't agree with the views of many of the participants – I find some of them offensive – but so what? Academic conferences are supposed to feature experts in their field. Maybe the only people speaking about the "New Anti-Semitism" and "Palestinian Anti-Semitism" are of a certain ideological stripe?

Rubbish. I ask the organizers, and especially Charles Small, one simple question: Where were the other voices?

Where was the voice of Oxford Prof. Brian Klug, who has written of the Myth of the "New Anti-Semitism"?

Where was the voice of Mideast analyst Tony Klug, who has raised the question, whether Israel is responsible for the growth of global anti-Semitism?

Where was the voice of George Washington U. Prof. Nathan Brown, who has criticized the conclusions and methodology of Itamar Marcus's work on Palestinian textbooks. (Marcus spoke at the conference, "The Central Role of Anti-Semitism on Creating the Palestinian Identity" -- Note to Joel Migdal: How come you never put that in your book on Palestinian identity?)

And, dare I add, where was the voice of Norman Finkelstein, who has criticized Phyllis Chesler's book on the "New Anti-Semitism" in Beyond Chutzpah (Chesler was there.)

I suppose the answer of the organizers would be: If you don't agree with our understanding of anti-Semitism, you are probably an anti-Semite, and you don't invite "anti-Semites" to a conference on anti-Semitism. No, you invite Rabbi David Nessonoff who experienced anti-Semitism after he interviewed Helen Thomas to give a keynote talk.

By accepting the hard-line Zionist discourse on anti-Semitism, without even bothering to hear an alternative voice, Yale's Center has begged the question. Any academic conference that is so one-sided is bound not to be taken seriously, and, frankly, I see the time coming, if it has not already come, when the study of anti-Semitism will not be taken seriously by scholars without a Zionist act to grind. And that, dear readers, is the nub of the problem. There is anti-Semitism around the globe, and there should be serious scholarship of it. And those scholars who are serious should refuse invitations to conferences that are so extraordinarily one-sided.

When I was an undergrad at Yale, an irate alumnus wrote a letter to the Yale Alumni Magazine, complaining that because Yale admitted so many Jews, his son couldn't get accepted. The letter provoked many letters of outrage bemoaning the legacy of WASP anti-Semitism at Yale.

A more insidious form of Jew-hatred is now being peddled by the right-wingers who demonize progressive Jewish and non-Jewish voices. Sad to say, this sort of anti-Semitism was given a public forum at Yale. The PLO representative complained to Yale's president that the conference bashed Palestinians who are themselves Semites. Judging from some of the titles, there was good old fashioned anti-Semitism there as well. But most of all, we saw a conference that Zionist-ized, politicized, and ulimately, trivialized, anti-Semitism.

Hat tip to Mondoweiss, my favorite global watcher of rightwing anti-Semitism

19 comments:

Elli Schorr said...

Isn't there something ironically redundant about an "anti-semitism czar"?

Jerry Haber said...

Touche, Elli!

Actually, I can't take credit for that; I think it was first used for the State Department position now occupied by Hannah Rosenthal.

Peter Schwartz said...

Elli...

I'd call it Bi-czar.

lone_voice_of_reason said...

great post Jerry please keep up the great work you are doing!

fwiw here was my recent take on this http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3876897,00.html

and I love the idea of an anti-semitism czar - may God keep him far away from us;-)

Shana tova

Anonymous said...

I think the saddest thing about equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is that in the long run, its simply delegitimizing real anti-Semitism: anti-semitism that lead to the death of millions of people. It's an insult to those people and what they died for.

anshl said...

It's totally inappropriate to speak of "antisemitism" when concerning Arabs, Palestinians or other semitic languages speaking populations. The word has a very clear meaning since his appearance.

Jerry Haber said...
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bacci40 said...
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anshl said...
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Jerry Haber said...

By mistake I removed the content of the last comments. I was given an alternative "Delete" or "Remove Content?" I won't do anything next time.

Sorry

Anonymous said...

"Take a look at some of the plenary and keynote speakers: Irwin Cotler, Jeffrey Herf, Richard Landes, Deborah Lipstadt, Meir Litvak, Menahem Milson, Dina Porat, Milton Shain, Bassam Tibi (the token "good Muslim") and Ruth Wisse. Looks more like a conference sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America. "

And then you dare to promote Finkelstein who encourages Hizbullah to go to war with Israel. What a shameful post. Your extremism is a wonder to behold. It's a good thing Yom Kippur is upon us because it gives you an opportunity to beg for forgiveness.

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous,

Your comment is abusive and irrelevant to my post. Why did I publish it? Just to show you what I mean by "abusive and irrelevant"

Irrelevant, because it has nothing to do with the question of balance at an anti-Semitism conference. So what if Finkelstein expressed support for Hizbollah? What does that have to do with the subject of my post? Much of what is called "The New Anti-Semitism" is neither new nor anti-Semitic. Wouldn't it make sense to hear that thesis discussed?

Abusive...well, maybe you are used to worse abuse and don't think so. I'll let others judge

Anonymous said...

It is abusive to label your views extremist? Or to claim that you should beg forgiveness from those you slander?

My comment is right on point. Your post states, "A more insidious form of Jew-hatred is now being peddled by the right-wingers who demonize progressive Jewish and non-Jewish voices." It is actually the opposite here, isn't it? You are peddling Jew-hatred of individuals whose views are decent and centrist. Irwin Cotler? Are you serious? Deborah Lipstadt? Who is demonizing whom? Who is serving on a platter to real anti-semites the very recipe with which to attack Jews and Israel?

Have you seen Finkelstein speak to a crowd? I have. He feeds hatred of Israel and of Israel's supporters to a degree that makes you look like Menachem Begin. His book about the so-called Holocaust "industry" is a repugnant tome that feeds into hatred of Jews spectacularly. And yet, in a post about a conference regarding Jew bashing, you not only bash decent Jews but you recommend one who has made his life's work one long screed against the vast majority of Jews.

Of course, if I had explained all of this in the first place, then you would have called my comment "long-winded."

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous you wrote,

My comment is right on point. Your post states, "A more insidious form of Jew-hatred is now being peddled by the right-wingers who demonize progressive Jewish and non-Jewish voices." It is actually the opposite here, isn't it? You are peddling Jew-hatred of individuals whose views are decent and centrist. Irwin Cotler? Are you serious? Deborah Lipstadt?

Uh, you seem to have a reading problem my friend. The fact that I mentioned Deborah Lipstadt and Irwin Cotler earlier in the post didn't have anything to do with the line you quoted. I was not at all implying that they are "right-wingers who demonize progressive Jewish and non-Jewish voices". In fact, I didn't mention any of those by name. (You seem to fit the bill, but how could I have known that?)

Anyway, I certainly wasn't claiming that all or even most of the participants at the conference were "right wing demonizers". All I said of them was that the ones I recognize had politics running from liberal hawk to neocons, with a sprinkling of settlers. I suppose that hit 80% of the Jews in the group. I didn't see progressive voices among the speakers.

As for Finkelstein, I assure what Israel does on an ordinary day in the West Bank feeds Jews hatred infinitely more than a hundred books written by Finkelstein, who hasn't a drop of anti-Semitism in his blood. Needless to say, in both instances, both parties are doing what they think is right. This "feeding anti-Semitism" business is for the birds.

Have a happy Sukkot!

benjamin said...

You seem to be confusing "academic" wth "inclusive." Academic writing is a method and to a certain extent a style. An academic conference presents papers that have been written using this method. It is not required to present all political views on the matter. You're objections here are simply irrelevant.

Jerry Haber said...

benjamin, the conference was not on academic writing. I have no idea where you get your ideas from. One of the main goals of the academy is the search for truth. Academic writing with footnotes in the service of crackpot and tendentious theories is indeed possible, but it is a violation of the spirit and the principles of the academy.

Had YIISA called its conference, "Right-Wing and Zionist Views on Anti-Semitism Today" I would have had less a problem. But I still would have had a problem