Friday, June 5, 2020 -
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The right and the wrong way to counter anti-Semitism

ADL reports an increase in anti-Semitic incidents. CNN and the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency report high levels of anti-Semitism in Europe. This is all the more reason to proceed judiciously when accusing someone of anti-Semitism. We must have our evidential ducks in order; otherwise, ironically, we run the risk of feeding the fodder of anti-Semites. They like nothing better than catching Jews, rightly concerned about sheer hatred, in an exaggeration or misstep.

Several recent missteps concern us.

1. The Women’s March

Certainly, in the case of the Women’s March, there is evidence that members of its top leadership support a known anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan. Tablet, an online magazine, this week published a lengthy piece exploring the origins of the accusations of anti-Semitism within the Women’s March inception and leadership. The article quotes at length various activists whose concerns have grown since the group was first founded in 2016. Tablet also does an excellent job of investigating the fiscal relationships that Women’s March has with other organizations, some of which have established relationships with the Nation of Islam.

However, something not strictly evidential may prevent readers from getting deep enough into this valuable article to see its mountain of evidence. Unfortunately, many may begin to read the piece but then discount it because one of its most sensational accusations — that the Women’s March propagated the Nation of Islam conspiracy theory that Jews masterminded the slave trade — is based only on a “close secondhand source.”

Now, a “close secondhand source” is no different from gossip, rumor or hearsay. Such a “source” can take down the entire argument, no matter how well founded the rest of it is. A charge of anti-Semitism must stick to a verifiable source, which can include an anonymous source — whose identity is known to the journalist, whereas a secondhand source was never directly witness to what he or she is relaying. It is disconcerting to see the charge of anti-Semitism in the leadership of the Women’s March undermined by unsubstantiated research.

2. Israeli-Palestinian conflict

It is true that the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has become blurred to the point where there is of ten little — if any — distinction between them. Two recent examples: A flyer for a Kristallnacht commemoration in London is defaced with pro-Palestinian graffiti. What does a pogrom against European Jews in 1938 have to do with the current Arab-Israel conflict?

Another example: A petition calling for Marc Lamont Hill’s reinstatement at CNN — circulated by Hollywood royalty, no less — referred to pressure from the “Jewish establishment.” But recall: Hill was fired for his call at the UN for a single Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — i.e., for the destruction of Israel. To say that the “Jewish establishment” forced his firing is  to resummon the type of canard that goes right back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

All this notwithstanding, it is possible not to support Israel and also not to be anti-Semitic. Take the case of Rashida Tlaib, the newly elected congresswoman from Michigan. She is pro-BDS. She is certainly not pro-Israel. But is she anti-Semitic?

One of the reasons anti-Zionism has come to be equated with anti-Semitism is because of the disproportionate interest of anti-Zionists in the Arab-Israel conflict. Many of them are not particularly active in any other conflicts in the world. The perfect example of this disproportion is the UN itself, which issues a slew of anti-Israel resolutions every year, yet remains relatively quiet on the slaughter of Syrians, the Rohingya and Uighur — not to mention the slaughter of innocent Israelis by Hamas.

Cong.-elect Tlaib is Palestinian-American. Much of her family still lives in the West Bank. For her, it is logical to care deeply about the Arab-Israeli conflict. She is someone with an understandable reason to place this conflict at the top of her list — unlike, say, Marc Lamont Hill, who is neither an expert nor a long-time activist in this area, and whose ignorance and bias were belied in his recent statement.

While no Jewish group that we know of has accused Tlaib of anti-Semitism, her trial by social media is underway. Perhaps fact-based advocacy on behalf of Israel has a chance of altering her anti-Israel stance, but not if she is charged with anti-Semitism, short of evidence thereof. We know of no such evidence.

3. Anti-Semitic ‘tropes’

Alas, anti-Semitism in Europe  is thriving, both in the form of new anti-Semitism manifested primarily in anti-Israel activism as well as in the traditional race and religion-based anti-Semitism of right-wing extremists and some Muslim communities. We reel at the recent record of murderous anti-Semitic attacks in France alone.

But is it accurate to paint any accusation against a Jewish person as anti-Semitic? If a Jewish person’s or organization’s record may be criminal, is it anti-Semitic to point this out?

In Hungary, a recent magazine cover was accused of being anti-Semitic because it depicted a Jewish community leader surrounded by money. The article was about accusations of major financial mismanagement, in the billions of forints (the Hungarian currency) by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (“Mazsihisz”). Both the American Jewish Committee and World Jewish Congress condemned the cover. The WJC’s Ron Lauder called the image “one of the oldest and vilest caricatures of the Jewish people.”

The image, in fact, may have not been a caricature but a true likeness. Is it anti-Semitic to illustrate an article about money with money?

Hungary’s official Jewish community, Mazsihisz, also condemned the image as anti-Semitic. However, it is its leadership and organization that are being investigated for gross financial mismanagement, so the Mazsihisz’s motivation may not be pure. It is dangerous to the cause of defeating anti-Semitism to invoke it as a smokescreen for hiding possible wrongdoing within a Jewish community, even if the community denies it. Let the community organization be exonerated before launching claims of anti-Semitism. If the community organization is not exonerated, well then, how is its incompetent or criminal leadership supposed to be portrayed?

In his statement, Lauder mentions growing anti-Semitism in Hungary and presumably his concern is that such an image, and such an article, may heighten anti-Semitic activity. Perhaps the magazine has a history of right-wing extremism or anti-Semitism. Perhaps the magazine couldn’t care less about Jews or journalistic fairness. However, no such context or concern is expressed in either Lauder’s or the AJC’s statements. More context and nuance is essential for an outsider seeking to understand what these two organizations are condemning as anti-Semitic, rather than, ironically, reflexively invoking an anti-Semitic trope.

The Intermountain Jewish News reached out to both WJC and AJC for a deeper explanation of the evidence behind their statements. As of this writing, they have offered none.

Bernie Madoff was Jewish. He also ran the greatest Ponzi scheme in history. It is not anti-Semitic to pursue Jews for financial crimes, nor to investigate them, nor to publicize them. No one should be above the law.

Accusations of anti-Semitism must be meted out with care. Clear evidence must be presented. Anti-Semites — whether from the left or the right — wait for any opportunity, any inconsistency, any exaggeration, to further their anti-Jewish cause. Not that anti-Semites need Jewish missteps to motivate them, but with perverse happiness anti-Semites seize upon them.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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