Yale anti-Semitism conference continues to make waves

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We’ve been following the ongoing debate over the disgraceful anti-Semitism conference held at Yale University that seemed more interested in ending criticism of Israel than challenging anti-Jewish sentiment. Earlier we posted the exchange between US PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat and Yale President Richard Levin’s office. Areikat has a letter today in the Yale Daily News addressing the controversy:

Regarding my letter to President Levin last week, we do not object to Yale hosting a conference on anti-Semitism, undeniably an important field of study. We object to the clear political agenda behind a number of the conference’s presentations and the attempt to conflate Palestinian identity and criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

In addition to defaming Palestinians, the conference also took aim at Jews deemed insufficiently loyal to Israel with presentations like “Beyond Criticism and Dissent: On Jewish Contributions to the Delegitimation of Israel,” “Self Hatred and Contemporary Antisemitism,” and “Scourges and Their Audiences: What Drives Jews to Loathe Israel Publicly and What To Do About It?”

Itamar Marcus’ participation was particularly troubling. Marcus lives in the Jewish-only West Bank colony of Efrat located on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law. In addition, he heads a propaganda outfit known as Palestinian Media Watch and is also closely tied to the New York-based Central Fund of Israel, which supports some of the most extreme and violent elements of Israel’s settler movement.

Finally, Marcus has spent much of the past two decades producing dubious reports claiming to document Palestinian incitement against Israel. As a colonist living on stolen land, he has a vested interest in demonizing Palestinians and preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. As such, Marcus and the views that he represents pose a threat not only to the lives, rights and property of Palestinians, but also to the official policy of the American government.

By giving questionable characters like Itamar Marcus a platform from which to smear Palestinians — who are Semites themselves — and critics of Israel as anti-Semitic, conference organizers debase the term, much to the dismay of those truly concerned with combating bigotry and prejudice in all its forms.

Yale Law School student Yaman Salahi, who also challenged the conference in the pages of the Yale Daily News, continues to press the issue, now in response to a charge from the vice president of Yale Friends of Israel that Salahi’s desire to hold Israel to "extreme double-standards" constitutes anti-Semitism. From Salahi’s responds on his blog:

[Vice president of Yale Friends of Israel, Yishai] Schwartz’ suggestion that a holistic criticism of Israel is illegitimate is really a declaration that Palestinians should not possess the political, social, and human rights that all other people in the world can claim. No interest — academic, intellectual, or moral — is served by such a deliberate blindness to the logic of Israeli state ideology, except Israel’s interest in escaping fair scrutiny.

Schwartz’ letter is based on a number of problematic themes. First amongst these is the idea that criticism of Israel is based on double standards, and that no other country in the world is criticized for the same reasons. That is blatantly false. Many groups at the forefront of holding Israel accountable — like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross — regularly publish reports and perform research on human rights violators all around the world. They make no special exceptions for Israel — rightly. The fact that some critics of Israel may be motivated by anti-Semitism does not disqualify others from making fair claims.

As a related point, Schwartz makes the very strange claim that people who criticize Israel’s attacks on Gaza — which killed over 1,400 Palestinians and prompted a UN Report by Judge Richard Goldstone that found evidence of war crimes — are hypocrites for not criticizing “NATO operations in Afghanistan.” Does Schwartz live under a rock? Civilian deaths in Afghanistan are flying through the roof. Activists and human rights organizations around the world vociferously criticize those attacks including the legitimacy of the US-led war and occupation itself. Many of those are the same people monitoring Israeli human rights violations. The existence of great injustice in the world outside of Israel should motivate us to more action both in and out of Israel, not less action.

Through all this, it apparently does not strike Schwarz as hypocritical to invoke “every other nation’s right to self-determination” when defending Israel, which for decades has actively thwarted the realization of Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

The second main logical error animating Schwarz’ letter is his equivocation between Israel — a modern nation state represented by institutions like a parliament, government ministries, a police and a military — and “the Jewish people.” Of course, Israel does not belong to the Jewish people. One need not even invoke the legitimate claims of expelled Palestinian refugees to make this point, for 20% of Israel’s population by citizenship is not Jewish, but rather Arab Palestinians of Christian or Muslim background. By any contemporary notion of legitimate governance, no one ethnic or religious group can or should ever claim ownership of a state that is home to a diverse population. Additionally, it should not be necessary to state that not all Jews around the world are citizens of Israel. It is therefore not at all true that an attack on the Israeli government, no matter how hypocritical, no matter how unrestrained, is an attack on “the Jewish people.” It is in most cases nothing more than an attack on a powerful political entity that has birthed far too much injustice for the world to remain silent. (And one can–must–say that even while unequivocally rejecting any anti-Semitic or bigoted sentiments that some critics may harbor).

Wrongly and without any basis whatsoever, Schwartz attributes to me a number of views that I do not hold (including, for example, the idea that the rights of Jewish Arabs should not be recognized by Arab governments — or the regrettable implication that violation of the rights of Jewish Arabs by non-Palestinian Arab governments “cancels out” the rights of Palestinian refugees who were not responsible for such violations in the first place). The overall thrust of the letter completely ignores my column’s point, that it is impossible to fight one form of hatred (anti-Semitism) by promoting anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States, or by refusing to criticize anti-Palestinian racism in Israel. Indeed, Schwartz’ silence on Israel’s entrenched institutional racism against Palestinians, even as he criticizes those who try to point it out, tells the whole story. It is unfortunate he had to accuse me of anti-Semitism, something I have always opposed, in order to make his point.

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