Does Anti-Semitism Threaten American Jews?

The following article by LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus is distributed via JNS.org.

JNS.org — In a recent issue of Time magazine, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, writes that anti-Semitism is “not a threat to American Jews.” He could not be more wrong.

Let us start with the obvious. Any threat to world Jewry is a threat to American Jews.

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) important newstudy, there are now one billion adult anti-Semites in the world. As Rabbi Yoffie acknowledges, this is fully a quarter of the world’s adult population. Can American Jewry shrug this off?

One can quibble with the ADL’s methodology, but it is not far-fetched. ADL considers a person to be anti-Semitic if they give a positive response to six out of 11 survey questions like these: “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars,” “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave,” and “Jews have too much control over the United States government.”

Consider the magnitude of this finding. In 2012, according to the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, there were 686 reported incidents of physical violence, direct threats, and major acts of vandalism against Jews and Jewish institutions worldwide. This is bad enough on its own, representing an increase of approximately 30 percent over the prior year.

Worse, these figures understate the problem. According to the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, 64 percent of European Jews who have experienced physical violence or threats do not report even the most serious incident.  If this holds true for Jews elsewhere, the actual incident rate is approximately three times higher than reported, reaching 2,000 serious incidents annually.

But it gets worse. Even the adjusted figures suggest that Jews and Jewish institutions are enduring only one serious anti-Semitic incident per 500,000 anti-Semites annually. This means that in any given year, the overwhelming majority of anti-Semites are not acting on their aversions. Their reasons may be lack of opportunity, want of courage, fear of consequence, or adherence to convention. Economists call this “pent-up demand.”

As the post-Holocaust taboo against anti-Semitism erodes, the ramifications are troubling. Suppose that one in ten thousand anti-Semites should physically harm or threaten Jews or Jewish institutions in a given year. Under this scenario, serious anti-Semitic incidents would increase to 100,000 per year, even if anti-Semitic attitudes remain constant. In other words, things can get much worse.

ANTI-SEMITIC PRIDE AND PREJUDICE IN TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY CULTURE

The twenty-first century is providing fertile ground for the “artistic” transmission of anti-Semitism on two levels. For mass consumption, Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), modernized the medieval passion play to which the Nazis had continued to pay homage at Oberammergau.

With a powerful flair for violent filmmaking in the tradition of Sam Peckinpah, Gibson could have limited his film to portraying the core New Testament story—whose redemption narrative certainly had sufficient wrenching violence for him to tap. The result would have been theologically anti-Judaic and uncomfortable to Jewish sensibilities, but it need not have been radically anti-Semitic. Instead, Gibson followed the gospels but drew his real inspiration from the passion plays which he updated by portraying Jews opposed to Jesus as literally demonic and by using bizarre costumes and even facial disfigurements to personify the Temple priesthood.

Evangelical Christians flocked to see Gibson’s “The Passion,” but not necessarily to imbibe his Jew hatred. Fortunately, most according to polling watched his film through philo-Semitic glasses, embracing it as a way to satisfy their hunger for the “pro-Christian” themed entertainment denied them for many decades by secular Hollywood.

Anti-Semitism was calibrated for “high culture” in John Adams’ 1991 opera about the Achille Lauro hijacking, ”The Death of Klinghoffer,” which had its New York premier at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in 2003 when it was also released on DVD. Now, Adams’ opera is being resurrected by New York’s Metropolitan Opera following a 2009 Juilliard performance, defended by Julliard President Joseph W. Polisi on, among other grounds, that he has made ballyhooed visits to Israel to receive awards—or, to translate, that some of his favorite travel agent friends are Jewish.

Following the 9/11 attacks, when the Boston Symphony cancelled a performance of selections from “Klinghoffer” and Richard Taruskin in the pages of the “New York Times” criticized Adams’ opera as a bromance with terrorists, Adams defended himself by accusing Turaskin and other critics of the ultimate sin of being in bed politically with George W. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft. Compared to such egregious guilt by association with Bushites, the anti-Semitism of Adams’ “Klinghoffer”—at least in Adams’ eyes—needed no denial.

The Horror of Holocaust Denial

Over the last few weeks, the Holocaust has appeared surprisingly often in the news.  In most cases, the reason has been the surprising degree of ignorance or denial that so many people have about this cataclysmic event.  The most disheartening reports have addressed the role of educators in spreading misinformation.  Worse, they have illustrated that Holocaust denial is not just an ordinary form of ignorance but rather a modern cloak for the return of old-fashioned anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League’s much-heralded ADL Global 100 survey showed that 35% of adults worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust.  Of those who have heard of it, 21% think it was a myth or exaggeration.  One may quibble about the ADL survey’s methodology,  but this study presents the best available evidence that we have about global attitudes.  This revelation has been accompanied by three disturbing recent stories over the last few weeks.

First came news that the Rialto California school district had assigned 2,000 eighth-graders at five middle schools in the Rialto Unified School District east of Los Angeles to compose an essay on whether or not they believe the Holocaust was “an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme.”  The district thought this to be an appropriate assignment to teach “critical thinking” skills.

Although the district has subsequently apologized, its apology reflects little understanding of why the assignment was so obscenely inappropriate.  People who debate the Holocaust are not merely foolish or ignorant, like those who insist that the earth is flat.  Rather, Holocaust denial is a particular form of bigotry.  In order to deny anything as vast and well-documented as the Nazi Holocaust, one must assume that the world’s peoples have been victimized by a hoax of extraordinary proportions.  Such a hoax could only be perpetrated by an enormously powerful and malevolent group of deeply crooked people who are able to control global media for their own sinister purposes.  Unsurprisingly, these outlandish claims perfectly correspond with traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes.  In encouraging students to debate this topic, as if it were merely a difference of opinion, Rialto gave credence not merely to absurd misinformation but also to virulent ant-Semitic defamations of precisely the sort that led to the Holocaust in the first place.

Next came reports that Temple Adjunct Professor Alessio Lerro was arguing that Jews are exaggerating the extent of the Holocaust to obtain policitcal advantages.  In the course of supporting the Modern Langue Association’s new anti-Israel resolution, Lerro wrote this about the Holocaust:  “6 million? Mh … we all know [ or should know] that the counting of Jews is a bit controversial.””  Lerro is a reportedly a gamer, and CBS Local’s Don Giordamo reports that “mh is internet slang for map hack, a term meaning cheating to gain an advantage. In other words, Lerro is arguing that Jews are “gaming” the Holocaust numbers in order to gain a political advantage in public debates.  Lerro also reportedly accused “Jewish scholars” of manipulating academia and charged that it is “time that Zionists are asked to finally account for their support to the illegal occupation of Palestine since 1967.” Here we have a fine example of the ugly stereotypes that underlie Holocaust denial and Holocaust minimization.  It is highly disturbing to finds these stereotypes circulated by a university professor.

Brandeis Center Presses Vassar College to Hold Student Group Accountable

 

The Brandeis Center has urged Vassar College President Catherine Bond Hill to take penalizing action against the college’s chapter of SJP, Students for Justice in Palestine. In a letter to Vassar President Catherine Bond Hill on May 19th, 2014, “We believe that this incident may raise serious issues concerning federal civil rights law.” SJP recently posted a Nazi propaganda poster on their Tumblr page.

The posters are German from 1944 and they portray a monster in a Star of David loincloth with many hands, wearing a KKK (Ku Klux Klan) mask, holding a little man grasping a moneybag, and attached to an American plane wing while it destroys a European town. It is entitled “Liberators.” The Brandeis Center urges Vassar President Bond Hill to take swift action against this group.

The Center made it clear to President Bond Hill that this incident at her school is a step backwards in the fight for respectful discussion, saying, “More broadly, this incident is deeply offensive and antithetical to basic notions of civil discourse.”  Brandeis Center lawyers added, “we urge you to take additional prompt and effective action to address this problem including taking strong disciplinary action against SJP.”

This incident at Vassar comes just days after its chapter of SJP Vassar posted other material on its Tumblr page concerning the Holocaust and the UN’s response. This cartoon shows major powers during the creation of Israel. It shows the Jews moving Palestinians in 1948; upset, the Palestinians ask why the Jews can do that, and the major powers respond with “Holocaust, Holocaust indeed.” This is propaganda to suggest that any so-called “illegal action” by Israel is justified by the Holocaust.

UC Officials Condemn Actions By SJP

Recently, there have been disturbing developments at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, has been making moves to block pro-Israel, Jewish groups groups from getting a fair voice in campus policy-making.   What is even more surprising, and maybe even sickening, is that no other groups are being targeted.

That is right, folks. Student activists, for the recent past election, were asking candidates running for student positions in campus government to sign a pledge essentially saying that they have not and will not go to Israel on a trip sponsored by the following three groups: American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and Hasbara Fellowships. Students who don’t sign the pledge are subject to ridicule, humiliation, and harassment by their peers.

We here at the Brandeis Center hold the right to free speech very dear to our hearts. Therefore, we acknowledge that student groups have the right to say what they wish, so long as no harm is dealt to other students or staff members, and so long as no one else’s rights are infringed upon. The problem with this situation is that by imposing this pledge on the political process, those with pro-Israel views, or even someone has simply travelled to the great state of Israel, have their political views silenced and put down. “Freedom of speech is essential on university campuses”, says Brandeis Center President Kenneth L. Marcus, “But what we are seeing at UCLA is antithetical to healthy, civil dialogue.”

LDB President to Deliver Keynote Address Blasting BDS Movement

This evening in Tel Aviv, LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus will deliver an important keynote address at an important conference on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.    The IAM conference, entitled “BDS Campaign Against Israel: On Campusand Beyond,”  will take tonight at 6 p.m. in Tel Aviv University, Max Webb Hall 1.  LDB President Marcus, a former Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, will address “What is Anti-Semitic About the BDS Movement?”  In his keynote address, Mr. Marcus will explain why the BDS movement must be considered anti-Semitic even if some of its advocates deny harboring conscious anti-Semitic intent.  Marcus will also discuss legal tools that can be used to address some of the more extreme abuses of the movement.  Other conference speakers will include historian Richard Landes, political scientist Ofira Seliktar, and journalist Ben-Dror Yemini.  Details on the event are as follows:

The public is invited to the IAM event on “BDS Campaign Against Israel: On Campus and Beyond”  – Wednesday May 14, 2014 at 6pm in Tel Aviv University, Max Webb hall 1.

Entrance from gates 1 and 8, paid parking available.

Speakers bio and lectures

Lecture 1- Keynote speaker: Kenneth L. Marcus

What is Anti-Semitic About the Movement to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel?

“Supporters of the BDS movement argue that their campaign is a political response to human rights violations. Accusations of anti-Semitism, they often insist, are a bad-faith effort to limit debate on a legitimate topic of moral and political concern.  Kenneth L. Marcus, a human rights expert who formerly directed the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, explains why they are wrong.  In fact, anti-Jewish campaigns have frequently used the rhetoric of their times to justify anti-Jewish bigotry.  The BDS movement, Marcus shows, continues a long-standing effort to marginalize and delegitimize the Jewish people.  Some BDS supporters are consciously anti-Semitic, while others are not.  The essential feature of the movement however is its assault on the State of Israel as the collective Jew.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, President & General Counsel, The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

Pro-Palestinian Anti-Semitism at Vassar

Vassar College, which describes itself as “a highly selective, residential, coeducational liberal arts college,” has recently attracted a lot of attention because of the energetic activism of so-called “pro-Palestinian” groups like Vassar’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) who were apparently supported by dozens of faculty members.  As I noted in a related post a…

The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project Urge NYU to Discipline Students Who Shoved Inflammatory Fliers into Students’ Dorm Rooms

This morning, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law and The Lawfare Project urged New York University President John Sexton and his administration to “firmly and forcefully” discipline the students who shoved inflammatory materials into students’ private rooms at two New York University dormitories on April 24. 

The two independent national civil rights organizations had been approached by New York University undergraduate students who are concerned about an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment in which mock eviction notices were pushed under the dormitory room doors and into the dormitory rooms of Jewish and non-Jewish students.  These flyers contain inflammatory and false accusations and were placed in a manner that created understandable anguish and alarm among the students.

In a letter to President Sexton and Vice Chancellor Linda Mills, the Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project emphasized that the mock eviction notices raised “serious issues under federal civil rights law.”  Specifically, the groups reminded President Sexton and Vice Chancellor Mills that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs that receive federal funds.  “More broadly,” the two organizations wrote, the infractions “raise questions about respect, civility, and mutual understanding and about sensitivity for the reasonable concerns of Jewish students.”

At approximately 3:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 24, 2014, mock eviction notices spreading anti-Israel sentiment had been distributed throughout New York University’s Palladium and Lafayette dormitories by members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).  The eviction notices state, “Palestinian homes are destroyed as part of the state of Israel’s ongoing attempts to ethnically cleanse the region of its Arab inhabitants and maintain an exclusively Jewish character of the state.  By destroying Palestinian homes, the state makes room for illegal Israeli settlements.  The Israeli government itself describes this process as Judaization.”  Not only is this grossly inaccurate, but it reinforces pernicious stereotypes and defamations about the Jewish people.

The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project explained to Sexton and Mill that “dormitory rooms are virtually the opposite of public forums for speech and debate.  Rather, they are spaces in which students are most vulnerable.  There is no part of a university campus in which is it more crucial to protect student safety, security, and privacy.  This is particularly true during late hours of the night.”  New York University, like many other institutions, has instituted reasonable, content-neutral rules prohibiting the kind of infractions that were committed here.  The civil rights groups insisted that it is “absolutely imperative” that NYU “fully and firmly enforce these rules against the perpetrators immediately, taking fully into consideration the invasiveness of the behavior and the foreseeable harms to dormitory students.”

The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project also urged NYU to take into proper consideration that the offensiveness of the perpetrators’ actions was heightened by their selection of a dormitory that is well known to house an unusually high concentration of Jewish students.  “As you are no doubt aware,” they wrote, “Palladium is the only dormitory building at New York University that has a Shabbat elevator.  A university spokesman has argued that the elevator was installed at this location for reasons that are unrelated to the building’s high concentration of Jewish residents.  This is entirely beside the point.  Regardless of the reason for which the elevator was initially installed, your students have made clear to us that its existence is one of the reasons that so many prominent Jewish students are known to live there.  If Palladium was targeted in any part because of its concentration of Jewish students, then this factor must be considered in determining the nature and severity of the infraction.  Either way, however, the perpetrators’ choice of this particular building has aggravated the impact of the infractions.”

Ali Abunimah’s Orwellian Definition of Anti-Semitism

Veteran anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah is currently touring US campuses to hawk his recently published book “The Battle for Justice in Palestine.” As anyone even vaguely familiar with Abunimah’s prolific writings at his Electronic Intifada blog will know, his idea of “justice in Palestine” requires doing away with the world’s only Jewish state, and the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns against Israel that he champions so tirelessly are designed to help achieve this goal.

Among those who have enthusiastically endorsed Abunimah’s new book is Columbia University professor Joseph Massad, who also introduced Abunimah at one of his recent book tour events at Columbia University. In case anyone in the audience was concerned that Abunimah’s agenda and activism is ultimately anti-Semitic, Massad was ostensibly eager to allay such concerns: as a student attending the event highlighted on Twitter, Massad described Abunimah as “a fighter against antisemitism.” Given the fact that some of Massad’s own writings on Israel echo ideas and language that can be found on racist and neo-Nazi sites such as David Duke or Stormfront, it is downright preposterous for Massad to claim any expertise on anti-Semitism except as an avid practitioner.

Needless to say, Massad would firmly reject this accusation. However, he would do so primarily on the basis of the bizarre notion that anti-Israel activists are entitled to their very own self-serving definition of anti-Semitism – a notion that Ali Abunimah fully supports.

Already years ago, Abunimah made it abundantly clear that he not only regarded Zionism as “one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today,” but that he also equated Zionism with Nazism.

Abunimah Zionism AntiSemitism

Abunimah Zionism Nazism

At the end of 2012, Abunimah eventually decided that it was time to formalize his views on anti-Semitism and have his fellow anti-Israel activists adopt a truly Orwellian declaration that pretends to reject “any form of racism or bigotry […] including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Zionism” and that denounces at the same time “the cynical and baseless use of the term anti-Semitism as a tool for stifling criticism of Israel or opposition to Zionism.”