Friday, June 2, 2023 -
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The loathsome symbol

What a painful week. “The Times, They Are A-Changin’,” as the famous lyrics by Bob Dylan go. The ugly tentacles of anti-Semitism have been coming out from all directions. It feels like a turning point.

Before the news of Airbnb’s boycott of Jewish apartments in the West Bank, in Judea and Samaria, before the bloodcurdling, open chanting by hundreds at UCLA of “Intifada!” “Intifada!”, which is a call for murdering Jews in Israel — before all that, I came across a short video clip by the well known thinker and author, Yossi Klein Halevy. He’s been on a college campus tour this week, discussing his recent book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. A student at DePaul University in Chicago asked Halevy why “humanizing” Zionists was acceptable. He compared the humanizing of Zionists to asking African Americans to “humanize” members of the KKK.

Part of Halevy’s on-the-spot response to this student:

“Those who traffic in that kind of language are on very thin ice. My understanding of anti-Semitism is the following: Anti-Semitism is not simply hating the Other, the Jew as Other. Anti-Semitism works a little bit differently. What anti-Semitism does is turn the Jews, The Jew, into the symbol of whatever it is that a given civilization defines as its most loathsome qualities. And so, under Christianity before the Holocaust, and the Vatican too, The Jew was the Christ killer — his blood be upon our heads and upon our children’s heads. Under Communism, The Jew, was The Capitalist. Under Nazism, The Jew was the race polluter, the ultimate race polluter.

“Now we live in a different civilization, where the most loathsome qualities are: racism, colonialism, apartheid. And lo and behold, the greatest offender in the world today — with all the beautiful countries of the world — is the Jewish state. The Jewish state is THE symbol of the genocidal racist apartheid state. That’s Israel. That’s the Jewish state.

“An Israeli political philosopher, named Yaakov Talmon, once put it this way: ‘The state of the Jews has become The Jew of the State.’ What that means to me is, criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Criticism of Israel’s right to existence, denying Israel the right to exist, calling Israel ‘The Zionist Entity,’ that is anti-Semitism. That is a classical continuity of thousands of years of symbolizing ‘The Jew.’ So, using that kind of language can come today from the far left, it can come from white supremacists, it can come from Islamic extremists. It can come from many sources. But all of those groups converge on one idea: The Jew remains humanity’s great problem.”

Little did I know, that within 48 hours of hearing this sadly brilliant and pitch perfect definition of anti-Semitism, the news would prove it to be all too true.

Linda Sarsour’s message about American Jews not being loyal to America, but to Israel, hits the news. It’s the familiar anti-Semitic trope, playing on the idea of dual loyalty. Sarsour even accused Jewish liberal progressives, with whom she shares much, of their loyalty to Israel also trumping their loyalty to America. Now, as Dr. Afshine Emrani of California put it simply: “I’m loyal to both my mom and dad.”

Jews have always been deeply proud Americans; there’s no point in even addressing her pernicious accusation. American Jewish citizens should not have to prove their American bonafides, but nonetheless I will say, along with countless other fellow American Jews, my own grandfather served in the US military.

Wherever you turned, the news seemed to be telling another anti-Israel or anti-Semitic tale.

Seeing fervent shouts of “Intifada!” “Intifada!” on a mainstream American university campus; not in Gaza, not in Iran, not in Syria, but right here, is a turning point. It reflects the mainstreaming of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric that has become all too acceptable on American college campuses. The event in question here was led by people who are on record as saying or writing things such as: “We should just stone all the Zionists to death,” “#liestoldinschool the holocaust,” and “lol let’s stuff some Jews in the oven.” Where is the leadership at UCLA? Where?

Clearly the Airbnb boycott of singling out Jewish apartments only — not Palestinian Arab apartments, only Jewish ones — in the West Bank is horrendous for it’s out and out anti anti-Semitism. Apparently, Human Rights Watch is behind this, and apparently working on bringing Bookings on board with this misguided, unjust and racist policy.

As former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren put it: “Airbnb blacklists Jewish apartments in Judea and Samaria, not Palestinian apartments, not apartments in Turkish occupied Cyprus, in Moroccan occupied Sahara, not in Tibet or the Crimea. Airbnbpolicy is the very definition of anti-Semitism.”

There are many conflicts areas in the world. For some mysterious reason, Airbnb or Human Rights Watch does not take a stand on any of them. Only the Jewish territorial conflict is singled out. Remember what Halevy said about The Jew being singled out for symbolizing the most loathsome qualities in society.

Never mind that the West Bank is a complex area of contested land with different sections of it representing different internationally legal definitions. Never mind that under the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority accepts Israeli authority in parts of the area. Never mind that should a Palestinian state rise, huge swaths of this territory would become legally within the boundaries of Israel. Never mind all those pesky complexities and realities on the ground about the territory. Airbnb has just chosen to label so simplistically and hatefully.

But if Airbnb is such a proponent of human rights, I ask, why are apartments in the Palestinian Authority (or most Muslim countries) part of Airbnb? A Jew cannot rent an Airbnb in all those locales without fear of their very lives being taken. These Muslim areas are Judenrein!

If a company is going to stand on a human rights platform, be consistent. Otherwise, this decision to boycott only Jewish owned businesses, is in fact, anti-Semitism, pure and simple. Airbnb functioning in the Judenrein PA territory cannot be deemed OK while Airbnb functioning in the West Bank is deemed problematic. This is the ultimate, hypocritical double standard.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that Airbnb shut down business for Arab Palestinians. I’m happy for them to have a way to make a dignified living. I’m just calling out Airbnb’s hypocrisy and injustice.

The 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht was just the other week. On that fateful night, Jewish shop windows were literally shattered to smithereens. Today’s current method, instead of shattering windowpanes, is to leverage BDS to shatter Jewish businesses. It becomes one and the same.

A world willing to divide up Israel into what are deemed to be Israel’s correct boundaries, be they the green line or the Oslo-designated areas A, B or C or something else, is not how peace will come. It is not how a viable Palestinian state will rise. Most Israelis are weary of this method of outsiders superimposing this kind of pressure.

Israelis are still, 13 years later, living with dire and painful terrorist consequences, born of the disengagement from Gaza — an exodus or an exile, depending on how you look at it — that was executed in the name of bringing about the inception of a Palestinian state.

I think it best that Airbnb not get involved in a complex conflict it clearly doesn’t know too much about or understand too well. This is not about painting Israel as flawless nor about demonizing Palestinians or vice versa. It is a painful complex conflict with its own internal process that, despite many good faith attempts by Israel, has sadly still not been resolved.

As a side note, as is well known, the word Jew itself stems from the word Judea. We Jews the direct descendants of the the original, ancient Judeans, the residents of what is today known as the West Bank, the territory that Airbnb is boycotting. Airbnb doesn’t care, even with the financial hit it must have known in advance it would be taking. This new, veiled anti-Semitism is dressed up in the name of taking a so called principled human rights stand. This is disturbing, in some ways harder to idntify than a uniformed Nazi with a swastika.

Granted, the modern West Bank is a swath of territory that will be a part of future negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, but change starts with Palestinian leadership. Only then can negotiations continue with Israeli leadership. The West Bank is a currently an unresolved political issue, just as is in Cyprus, Ukraine, the Sahara and other places. So unless Aribnb plans navigating international conflicts, please, just stay out of it.

Meanwhile, despite all of this, and remarkably, the news coming out of Israel this week is about the continuing humanitarian aid Israel sends to Gaza; about a promising cure for an aggressive form of brain cancer; about IsraAid, whose well honed emergency response is traveling to California to help in the aftermath of the fires.

While unfortunately, some in the world might always pin on Jews and on Israel the most loathsome qualities, that doesn’t change the truth of who we are and continue to be as a people, whether in America, Israel or anywhere else. As painful as this week has been, especially because of the future isolation it portends, I am so proud to be part of this people, the Nation of Israel. G-d Bless America and Am Yisrael, chai ve-kayyam.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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