Yale anti-Semitism conference continues to make waves

on 12 Comments

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.

12 Responses

  1. potsherd
    September 8, 2010, 11:53 am

    Good job Salahi!

  2. David Samel
    September 8, 2010, 11:54 am

    It’s great to see such a brilliant mind at Yale Law. Schwartz’s letter repeats the same tired hasbara that we have been hearing for years, but Salahi’s evisceration seems fresh, insightful, and impossible to rebut. Free speech is a tricky issue, especially at a university, but the malicious and defamatory nature of this conference should be well publicized.

    • Avi
      September 8, 2010, 7:49 pm

      Schwartz’s letter repeats the same tired hasbara that we have been hearing for years

      You are aware of the distinction between “Settlement” and “Colony” and the implications of each in the context of political narrative (i.e. Hasbara), are you not?

      Professionally, I’m a political scientist so if you don’t quite see the distinction, feel free to ask. There’s no such thing as a “retarded” question in “common parlance”.

  3. marc b.
    September 8, 2010, 12:00 pm

    the ease with which messrs. ereikat and salahi rebut the yale president and others is striking. and so polite too, in the face of the juvenile debating style of their opponents.

    • RoHa
      September 8, 2010, 6:15 pm

      GWB was graduated from Yale.

      What more do you need to know?

  4. Keith
    September 8, 2010, 1:05 pm

    Both letters were quite good and made their points succinctly and eloquently. However, it is a pity that the larger issue was not addressed. Namely that yet another conference on anti-Semitism is totally unjustified on merit. What ethnic group suffers less negative discrimination, and enjoys more positive support? The reality is that Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism, the organized, well-funded demonization of “the other” for political/ideological objectives. In fact, the Yale conference seems to have been intended primarily as an exercise in Zionist propaganda.

  5. wondering jew
    September 8, 2010, 4:24 pm

    Mister Ereikat’s arguments may contain certain elements of validity but other elements are less than valid.

    Firstly on the “We’re semites, so if you smear us that makes you an anti Semite” argument. Recent arguments applying the term antiSemitism to describe anti Arab bias are interesting when they draw parallels between the Jew hatred of former years and current Arab hatred. But to label all hatred of Arabs as anti Semitism without drawing the historical parallels is just a rhetorical tool and is not worthy of being printed in a newspaper of any merit. It is as if someone from Venezuela is called anti American and is attacked for being anti American would then say, but I too am American, from Central America and to attack me is to be anti American as well. This is school yard street corner argumentation of the most puerile level. Anti Semitism was a word invented by Jew haters when hatred of Jews changed from a religious hatred to a racial hatred. If the speakers at the Yale conference smeared the Palestinian people call it anti Palestinian hatred or anti Arab hatred, to use phrase we are semites as well is just playing silly games.

    As far as Itamar Marcus is concerned. I am not familiar with the man nor his work and maybe the criticism is accurate. But the fact that he is a settler is certainly overly emphasized by Mr. Ereikat. It can count as a black mark against Mr. Marcus, but it certainly is insufficient to disqualify him if his work is valid.

    • Bumblebye
      September 8, 2010, 6:50 pm

      Let’s separate out Zionism for its own terms of love & hate – how about ziophilia & ziophobia (unless they belong to anything else already!)?

    • Keith
      September 8, 2010, 7:12 pm

      WONDERING JEW- Methinks you doth protest too much. The term “anti-Semitism” is a term overused by Zionists to smear critics of Israel. Maen Rashid Areikat’s comment regarding Palestinian Semiticism is merely to call attention to the absurd hypocrisy of non-Semitic European Jews labeling Semitic Palestinians as anti-Semitic. He never referred to the participants as anti-Semitic. Your misrepresentation of his four word comment says much more about you than him. As for Itamar Marcus, his status as a colonial occupier indicates that the conference was about Israel and the occupation, not anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, I might add, which is wildly exaggerated. The Jews are doing quite well. Regrettably, they appear to be at the forefront of efforts to demonize Muslims and promulgate Islamophobia. Shame on them! And shame on you for going along!

    • Donald
      September 8, 2010, 7:25 pm

      “If the speakers at the Yale conference smeared the Palestinian people call it anti Palestinian hatred or anti Arab hatred, to use phrase we are semites as well is just playing silly games.”

      I partly agree–“anti-semitism” is generally used to denote “hatred of Jews” and not “hatred of all semitic people, including Arabs”, whether that makes logical sense or not, and I don’t think it’s helpful to get too involved in semantic arguments of this sort. There are obviously some people who hate Jews and others who hate Arabs and some who hate both and maybe there should be a conference to decide once and for all what labels to attach to each.

      But that’s not the heart of Areikart’s letter–it’s just a throwaway line in a letter that deals with much more substantive issues. You’re making a bigger deal out of it than he is.

    • Chaos4700
      September 8, 2010, 7:40 pm

      I love it how notions of Jewish supremacy in Zionism are so extreme, that Arabs are excluded as Semites from “antisemitism.”

  6. yourstruly
    September 8, 2010, 5:56 pm

    The above exchange raises the question what is it to be a Jew. Is it lineage, DNA, having been either batmitzvad or barmitzvad, as well as following all the other rituals? Or is it something else, something very common among Jews (non-Jews too) that the history of our people down through the ages has brought forth; namely, our always siding with the slave, never with the slaveowner, even (better, especially) when the slaveowner supposedly is a co-religionist. Supposedly, that is, because siding with the slaveowner is bad enough, but to actually be a slaveowner, not possibly a Jew, not if being a Jew were to be based on the whose side you on, slave or slaveowner criterion. Contrariwise, by this same standard Yaman Salahi is a Jew, definitely so, it’s in his every word, his always identifying with the slave, never with the slaveowner, which hints at the possibility, perhaps, that siding with the slave might be a universal trait, present in some of us, absent (or unexpressed) in others. So strong a trait that, should opportunity and circumstances permit, one even may go beyond identifying with the slave to actually becoming that slave. How? By putting one’s life on the line for that slave, as 400 people recently did on the Mavi Marmara, and as several Jews did during the U.S. backed Israeli war upon Lebanon’82, one of whom, on two occasions just missed being blown to kingdom come by car bombs, and what an expeirence that was, “The shock was such that for what seemed like minutes, not a word was spoken. It was as if every person in the room was taking inventory – ‘Let’s see now, where and who am I, how many fingers, ears, and so on and so forth.'” Likewise, by the same “whose side you on” criterion, right here in the good ol U.S.A., many people,, Jews and non-Jews alike, each risking, if nothing else, possible identification as someone who supports peace and justice for Palestine. And by so doing each of us becomes a Palestinian, not by blood but in the spirit of the you are I, I am you, we are one.

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