Antisemitism bill hearing reflects disagreement in Jewish community over dual loyalty

US Politics
on 23 Comments

On November 7, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings over the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, a bill that would broaden the definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israel. If passed, the legislation would instruct the Department of Education to consider the State Department’s definition of antisemitism when investigating educational institutions for discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimonies in support of the bill from individuals representing institutions such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Those who argued against the bill were Jewish Studies professors and representatives of advocacy groups.

During the question and answer portion of the hearing, an exchange between Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Barry Trachtenberg, the Chair of Jewish History at Wake Forest University, was revealing and rooted in American Jewish history. Trachtenberg argued that the State Department’s definition of antisemitism was deeply flawed because it defines all accusations of American Jewish dual-loyalty as inherently antisemitic. By these standards, the ideas of Theodor Herzl could be defined as antisemitic. Herzl argued that because Jews represent one people, it is useless for them to be loyal to any other state but the proposed Jewish State. Rabbi Cooper seemed to misunderstand the argument, reflexively accusing Trachtenberg of providing ”cannon fodder for antisemites”.

It is noteworthy that, in many ways, the exchange between Cooper and Trachtenberg mirrored the first time an American Jewish organization broached the topic of dual-loyalty after the establishment of Israel. The year 1949 marked United Jewish Appeal’s “ingathering of the exiles” campaign. This Zionist philanthropic effort aimed at supplying the new state of Israel with American Jewish immigrants. In response to these calls from American Zionists and Israeli leaders, the American Council for Judaism, a group of anti-Zionist German-American Reform Jews, stated that these calls could bring up the question of dual-loyalty among antisemites. In response, virtually every major American Jewish organization, acting through an umbrella organization called the National Community Relations Advisory Committee, accused the ACJ of fueling antisemitism. Virtually every major English and Yiddish language periodical in the American Jewish press ran the NCRAC condemnation of the ACJ. By 1950, the ACJ found itself blacklisted.

Why, after six years of relative tolerance of similar ACJ members’ statements, did American Jewish organizations react in such a way? I argue that during the height of the McCarthy era of American politics, the dual-loyalty charge took on added sensitivity for American Jews. Beyond the accusation’s traditional sensitivity, American Jews could then be seen as inherently loyal to a self-avowed socialist state. This accounts for the knee-jerk, defensive manner in which the NCRAC dealt with the charge. The NCRAC did not have any convincing evidence linking the ACJ to antisemitism at its disposal. During a period characterized by the blacklisting of those which McCarthists deemed un-American, American Jewish organizations stumbled upon antisemitism as a means to stifle potentially uncomfortable public debates among American Jews.

The issues of dual-loyalty and antisemitism get to the very precarious definitions of what it means to be simultaneously American, Jewish, and Zionist. Claims of gentile antisemitism were used by the UJA to urge American Jewish immigration to Israel in 1949. In contemporary times though, it is widely accepted that massive American Jewish immigration to Israel will not occur. Yet the Herzlian notion that antisemitism is ubiquitous remains necessary for many supporters of Israel. However, instead of urging for the mass emigration of American Jews, claims of endemic antisemitism are used to stifle debate about Israel’s long list of human rights abuses and illegal military occupation. The knee-jerk resort to charges and claims of antisemitism that began with the NCRAC in 1949 continue today.

About Kyle Stanton

Kyle Stanton is a history PhD student at the State University of New York at Albany. His dissertation research focuses on American Jewish critics and skeptics of Israel since 1948.

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23 Responses

  1. eljay
    November 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

    On November 7, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings over the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, a bill that would broaden the definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israel. …

    Every day, in every way, Zionists do their best to anti-Semitically conflate Israel with all Jews and all Jews with Israel. Why do Zionists insist on hating Jews so much?!

    • pabelmont
      November 15, 2017, 10:24 am

      eljay: Zionists hate Jews who refuse to become Israeli-Jews (and who thereby, presumably, become Zionists in every way). Israeli-Jews are a “new Jew” (not the supine Jew of Europe pre-1940s), macho, largely irreligious (at least in the early days), wholly separated from the old rabbinic ideas of making nice with your neighbors and those you live among. Israeli-Jews are strong, disdain international law, disdain what anyone else thinks, somewhat fascistic (that is, also disdain what other Israeli-Jews think if it disagrees with what they themselves think), etc.

      A recent book, “Jabotinsky’s Children” tells of the development of some macho and violent Jewry in Poland as a reaction to Polish antisemitism, and it was very fascistic, sometimes (in some strands) even claiming to be fascistic. In those days Mussolini was a great hero among weak peoples, including Jews in Poland. The Einstein letter points to fascist traditions carried on by Menachem Begin, he of Deir Yassin fame, and later Israeli PM.

      Israeli-Jews are definitely NOT dual loyalists–they care only for Jewish-Israel. IMO, American Jews who are still persuaded to support Jewish-Israel are to the extent of the strength of that support somewhat (or a lot) dual-loyal and are also conflicted in other ways such as being strong supporters of all civil rights and human rights, everywhere, except for Palestinians (or inside Israel). (The word hypocritical comes to mind.)

  2. Keith
    November 14, 2017, 4:58 pm

    “… a bill that would broaden the definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israel.”

    That such a bill is even considered rather than being ridiculed is an indication of just how corrupt our political economy has become.

  3. US Citizen
    November 14, 2017, 6:09 pm

    The one who owns you is the one you dare not criticize. Videotapes recording Jewish settlers throwing garbage on Hebron Palestinians does more to stereotype Israel to the World than the claims of the most hateful anti-Semites.

    With regard to Israel, the US Congress is united. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers often act in ways contrary to the interests of their own country, just to appease the Israeli government. This is no secret.

    However, the real danger is that such laws go beyond the traditional blind allegiance to Israel – into a whole level of acquiesce, where the government punishes people and organizations for the choices they make, the values they hold dear or the mere inquiry of information about an issue that they may find compelling.

    The ‘Israel Anti-Boycott Act’ and now this one ‘Anti-Semitism Awareness Act”, are the most egregious because they strike down the First Amendment, the very foundation of American democracy, by using America’s own lawmakers to carry out the terrible deed.

    We are supposed to be protected by our First Amendment right to free speech and freedom of expression. We cannot allow Zionists, be they Democrats or Republicans, to abrogate our constitutional rights and further shield Israel from accountability.

    Furthermore, every Congress member who signs onto this bill is sacrificing the rights of their own constituents and all Americans to the interests of a foreign government. This is the height of disloyalty – and a measure of just how much power AIPAC has. Every one of them should be removed from office.

    Everyone is in a tizzy about Russia interference when Israel has interfered more in US politics than any other country?

    Now, this? As a US citizen I’m going to be arrested for telling the truth about Israel? Oh hell no.

  4. Boomer
    November 14, 2017, 7:21 pm

    Depressing that this should even be debated.

    “The House Judiciary Committee heard testimonies in support of the bill from individuals representing institutions such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Those who argued against the bill were Jewish Studies professors and representatives of advocacy groups.”

    Americans who are not Jewish can only hope that our Jewish citizens and members of Congress will reach the right decision.

    • pabelmont
      November 15, 2017, 11:13 am

      Yes, evidently Congress buys the idea that no-one but Jews (and often only Zionist-Jews at that) can reliably say what anti-semitism is. I wonder if Congress believes that only Palestinians can reliably say what anti-Palestinian racism is.

  5. Marnie
    November 15, 2017, 12:29 am

    What could possibly be more frivolous than a hearing WRT making any criticism of the zionist state a criminal act? WTF people! Will there ever come a day when the people of the united states will stand up and demand elected officials’ loyalty to the united states and the americans they were hired to serve? Also, there are far more pressing, real life and death issues at hand such as the continued murder of black men, women and children by u.s. law enforcement and the pervasiveness of sexual predators in government – starting from the top down for these elected officials to be working on rather than to continue to dance and clown to the whim of the zionist state.

    • pabelmont
      November 15, 2017, 11:18 am

      Marnie: you’ve located the REAL dual-loyalty! Congrats! However, in what might seem a defense of congress, let me say that Congress has always listened to MONEY and Zionist money is (perhaps) merely an example of money rather than anything more special.

      Congress is “owned” not only by Zionists but also by the mil-ind-complex, big-pharma, big-banks, big-oil (still, despite GWCC) and many other BIGs. They are rarely seen to conflict, altho the Obama-Iran deal might suggest a conflict among the BIGs — assuming that there is no USA national interest other than that defined by the BIGs.

      • Marnie
        November 15, 2017, 11:58 am

        You’re right.

  6. Dan Walsh
    November 15, 2017, 5:29 am

    @ The Antisemitism Awareness Act

    In lexicography, the practice of compiling dictionaries, there are two kinds of definitions: descriptive and prescriptive. Understanding this key difference in how definitions are categorized is indispensible to comprehending the battle(s) that rage over the meaning of the term “antisemitism”.

    “Descriptive” definitions are just that: they describe how people actually use a word. For example:
    misogyny |məˈsäjənē| noun
    Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

    “Prescriptive” definitions are very specific and are often efforts to limit meaning. For example:
    Red: a color at the end of the spectrum next to orange and opposite violet.

    During the recent Congressional hearing on the Antisemitism Awareness Act Rabbi Andy Baker, the AJC’s director of International Jewish Affairs, said: “the definition of anti-Semitism changes “over time”

    Rabbi Baker is giving voice to a core Zionist principle reflected in a quote from Herzl’s diary: “Above all I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ antisemitism.”

    Herzl, and by extension, political Zionism embraced the belief that antisemitism was a universal and untreatable element of the human landscape which could appear anywhere in any guise.
    Herzl believed some form of antisemitism would perpetually threaten Jewish people and therefore they were justified in demanding a Jewish homeland.

    Any definition of antisemitism that is not elastic enough to uphold this foundational principle, by allowing it to “change over time”, puts the legitimacy of Israel in question.

    The definition of antisemitism adopted by Congress, the U.S. State Department, the IHRA and the EMCR is designed to serve bureaucrats, politicians and partisans rather than ordinary people:
    “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” ¬– Working Definition of Anti-Semitism by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EMCR)

    Is this a definition that could be used effectively in any U.S. high school or university? Or anywhere outside the halls of special interests?

    To that point lexicography addresses an issue called “lexicographic information cost” which includes comprehension costs, i.e., the efforts required by users to understand and interpret the data in dictionaries.

    The U.S. State Department definition has an extremely high comprehension cost because it completely ignores the interests and needs of ordinary people to understand the meaning of the term “antisemitism”. Congress could address this by calling for a panel composed of secular American educators, lexicographers, historians and others to provide a descriptive counter-argument.

    The U.S. State Department definition is artificially complex. We can do better. The definition listed above for “misogyny ” can serve as an excellent model:

    antisemitism noun
    Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against Jewish people.

    127 posters on the subject of Antisemitism/Judaeophobia/Nazi Propaganda/Anti-Jewish Racism

    http://www.palestineposterproject.org/special-collection/antisemitismjudaeophobianazi-propagandaanti-jewish-racism

    • MHughes976
      November 15, 2017, 9:01 am

      I think that any definition can be used anywhere. They are merely statements of how someone intends to use words, at least in that part of their use which depends on stipulated association with other words. If someone says ‘By anti-S I mean anti-Z’ that’s up to that person. If he intends to make anti-Z illegal he must at least show that anti-Z is wrong and he can’t do that, at least where there is any reason, simply by stipulating that the word be used in linkage with certain other words.
      The definition proposed by the Zionists here can be used with some intelligibility. I would argue that anti-Z is not a perception of Jews both because it does not depend on regarding Jews, by contrast with others, in any particular light and because, as a statement about human rights, it is not logically expressed by an emotion, such as hatred or, for that matter, love. I’m not an anti-Z because I love Palestinians or because I love the human race: I may not have that kind of beautiful soul. I just think Z is contrary to the ideas of right that I do accept.

    • JosephA
      November 15, 2017, 9:28 am

      Dan,

      Thank you for sharing your insight! I learned something new today.

    • Dan Walsh
      November 15, 2017, 11:25 am

      @ MHughes

      Yes, anyone can use any definition of any term for any reason anywhere in the world at any time. Its the wild west out there.

      However, random definitions crafted by unknown/anonymous people for opaque/unknowable/particular reasons do not find themselves onto the pages of reliable dictionaries. There, hopefully, actual rationales and research have gone into the definitions and are substanciated with references, footnotes, elaboratons, examples, etc.

      What is at play here is an “official” definition that institutions of social control can refer to to justify actions/inactions relative to Zionism/Israel/Palestine. So long as a policy or law or restriction can be said to fall within the parameters of the “official” definition then that agent/agency will be said to be in compliance irrespective of reality. The actual content of the definition matters less than its “officialness”. Consider the bizarreness of the U.S. State Department’s definition: it actually says that antisemitism is “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish OR NON-Jewish individuals and/or their property”. WTF? Non-Jewish people can be victims of antisemitism? As in Mennonites? Buddhists? Wiccans? One can be guilty of antisemitism if one is biased against … Episcopalians? How does that work, exactly? Is antisemitism a transferrable phenomenon?

      • eljay
        November 15, 2017, 12:24 pm

        || Dan Walsh: … Consider the bizarreness of the U.S. State Department’s definition: it actually says that antisemitism is “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish OR NON-Jewish individuals and/or their property”. WTF? Non-Jewish people can be victims of antisemitism? … How does that work, exactly? … ||

        I take it to mean that words or deeds can be deemed to be anti-Semitic even if directed at non-Jewish people or things. E.g.:
        – a swastika spray-painted on a secular building or structure;
        – anti-Semitic slurs hurled at a non-Jewish person.

  7. James Canning
    November 15, 2017, 1:18 pm

    Fanatical elements of the ISRAEL LOBBY continue their efforts to suppress free speech in the US. Grotesque!

  8. amigo
    November 15, 2017, 1:38 pm

    “U.S. State Department’s definition: it actually says that antisemitism is “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish OR NON-Jewish individuals and/or their property””

    This bill seeks to equate all Jews with all non Jews .It denies the uniqueness of the Jewish people and and denies them their special privileges as the chosen ones.It robs them of their unique victim-hood.

    It hasn,t a hope in hell of passing.

  9. Dan Walsh
    November 16, 2017, 1:55 pm

    @ eljay

    “I take it to mean that words or deeds can be deemed to be anti-Semitic even if directed at non-Jewish people or things. E.g.:
    – a swastika spray-painted on a secular building or structure;
    – anti-Semitic slurs hurled at a non-Jewish person.”

    1) You say “I take it to mean” … this is a sign that a definition is weak/problematic. Good/strong/rational definitions are not open to interpretation. “Taking it to mean” signifies that anyone/everyone will be free to interpret meaning. Not helpful.

    2) “Deemed to be antisemitic”…by whom, exactly?

    3) “… even if directed at non-Jewish people or things. E.g.:
    – a swastika spray-painted on a secular building or structure;
    – anti-Semitic slurs hurled at a non-Jewish person.”

    How does that work, exactly? Are the protesters who givie the Nazi salute when Trump passes by signaling antisemitism?

    Did the critics of Pinochet’s regime who spray painted swastikas on government buildings/vehicles (at great risk to themselves) do so because they wanted to attack Jewish people?

    Please provide some empirical examples to support your response.

    • eljay
      November 16, 2017, 3:30 pm

      || Dan Walsh: … Are the protesters who givie the Nazi salute when Trump passes by signaling antisemitism?

      Did the critics of Pinochet’s regime who spray painted swastikas on government buildings/vehicles (at great risk to themselves) do so because they wanted to attack Jewish people? … ||

      I don’t know. But if, as you pointed out, anti-Semitism is defined as “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish OR NON-Jewish individuals and/or their property”, then the examples you provided fit that definition. Which is the answer to your question “How does that work, exactly?”

  10. Dan Walsh
    November 17, 2017, 4:26 am

    @ eljay

    ???

    So many distortions/illogical aspects to your response I hardly know where to begin but let’s try…

    1) “But if, as you pointed out, anti-Semitism is defined….”. I did not “point out” that definition. I “pointed out” that that definition is promoted by the U.S. State Department. I pointed out that that definition is utterly preposterous and irrational. Please don’t try to make it sound as though I endorse that puppy. I do not.

    2) In response to my post you said “I don’t know”. That is a fair reply and if you had left it there all would have been clear. Instead, you said: “E.g.:
    – a swastika spray-painted on a secular building or structure;
    – anti-Semitic slurs hurled at a non-Jewish person.” In response, I provided a few historical examples (there are innumerable others as well) of the use of Nazi symbols as political props that had nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism/Israel/Zionism which you then said WERE antisemitic BECAUSE THEY QUALIFY ACCORDING TO THE STATE DEPARTMENT DEFINITION.

    Are you paying attention? That definition is flawed. Wrong. Unserviceable. Incorrect. Risible.

    Unrelated political activity cannot be appropriately labeled as antisemitic via the State Department definition via mere fiat. You need facts and empiricism and reason. The definition in question relies on political power to categorize things as antisemitic: this will not work because that is not how words and terms become accepted and normalized.

    3) So, yes, as you said: “then the examples you provided fit that definition.” which does nothing, repeat nothing answer the question “How does that work, exactly?”.

    Would you like to try again?

    • eljay
      November 17, 2017, 8:46 am

      || Dan Walsh: @ eljay

      ???

      So many distortions/illogical aspects to your response I hardly know where to begin but let’s try… ||

      Not sure why you’ve got your panties in such a knot but, sure, let’s try.

      || … 1) “But if, as you pointed out, anti-Semitism is defined….”. I did not “point out” that definition. I “pointed out” that that definition is promoted by the U.S. State Department. … ||

      That’s right – you pointed out that definition on November 15 @ 5:29 am.
      Prior to that, no-one had pointed it out.

      || … I pointed out that that definition is utterly preposterous and irrational. Please don’t try to make it sound as though I endorse that puppy. I do not. … ||

      Nowhere did I try to make it sound as though you endorse that definition – which you pointed out – because it was (and is) pretty clear that you don’t endorse it. Neither do I.

      || … 2) In response to my post you said “I don’t know”. That is a fair reply and if you had left it there all would have been clear. Instead, you said: “E.g.:
      – a swastika spray-painted on a secular building or structure;
      – anti-Semitic slurs hurled at a non-Jewish person.” In response, I provided a few historical examples (there are innumerable others as well) of the use of Nazi symbols as political props that had nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism/Israel/Zionism which you then said WERE antisemitic BECAUSE THEY QUALIFY ACCORDING TO THE STATE DEPARTMENT DEFINITION. … ||

      Correct. According to the S.D. definition – which you pointed out – they are anti-Semitic. Remember when you asked “How does that work, exactly?” Well, that’s how it works.

      || … Are you paying attention? That definition is flawed. Wrong. Unserviceable. Incorrect. Risible. … ||

      I am paying attention. I agree that the definition is flawed. You asked “How does it work, exactly?” and I responded to your question. Please pay attention.

      || … Would you like to try again? ||

      No need. The fails are entirely yours.

    • MHughes976
      November 17, 2017, 10:10 am

      I think that it’s important to separate descriptions, which can be right or wrong, and definitions, which can’t be right or wrong, though they can a) be clear or obscure b) close to or far from any definition in common use. If I say ‘the cat is on the mat’ then I am right or wrong according to where the relevant cat actually is and I can’t make what I say true by fiat. But if I say ‘by Cat I mean adorable animal with retractable claws’ that’s up to me. I would have to accept that no unpopular animal is, by my standards, a cat.

  11. Dan Walsh
    November 18, 2017, 4:18 pm

    @ eljay

    Your eloquence, erudition and clarity have overwhelmed me.

    You win.

    Farewell.

  12. Qualtrough
    November 19, 2017, 3:15 am

    It has been pointed out here before, but I think it’s important to note that we really aren’t even talking about dual loyalty here because for many Zionists their only loyalty is to Israel.

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