Here is a clever but repellent variation of hasbara, or propaganda for Israel: New York Times columnist Bret Stephens equates Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) with white nationalists.
In “Steve Bannon Is Bad for the Jews,” Stephens sets out to condemn the Zionist Organization of America for welcoming Steve Bannon to its gala the other night. Why? Because Bannon is an anti-Semite… just like JVP. Here’s Stephens’s logic:
[W]hen a far-left group such as Jewish Voice for Peace makes common cause with someone like Linda Sarsour — the Palestinian-American activist who advocates the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state and publicly praised a convicted terrorist — it disqualifies itself as an advocate of any Jewish interest save its own. To deny Israel’s right to exist, as U.N. Secretary General António Guterres noted in April, is “a form of modern anti-Semitism.”
It also means that when a right-wing Jewish group such as the ZOA chooses to overlook Bannon’s well-documented links to anti-Semitic white nationalists, it puts itself on a moral par with JVP
Notice the sequence. Stephens says that JVP’s support for Sarsour is the same as Steve Bannon’s support for white nationalist Richard Spencer. So if you think Palestinians are human beings with equal rights to live in their own homeland, you are the same as neo-Nazis. That is racist.
It is also brilliant, PR-wise. You frame JVP as so bad that when you say white nationalists are bad, you say they are as bad as JVP. So JVP becomes the standard of badness against which to measure just how bad neo-Nazis are. While many commenters at the Times criticize Israel in the comments, nobody mentions this unfair jab at JVP.
And Bret Stephens gets away with it. Why? Because he is in the New York Times op-ed stable (along with many other Zionists, some of them liberal). The Times would never dream of publishing an anti-Zionist, say Ali Abunimah, or Marc Ellis, or Jonathan Ofir, on a regular basis, to point out how badly Zionism has worked out for non-Jews in Palestine.
Sadly, Stephens has good company in his assertion that denying “Israel’s right to exist” is anti-Semitic. This claim is repeated everywhere in mainstream forums. It would be OK if people meant it the way that Norman Finkelstein does: Israel has the same legal right to exist as any other state. But the phrase elides the question of its right to exist as a Jewish state, which is what Israel supporters mean when they say, “deny Israel’s right to exist.” And what that entails is that Israel had the right to expel the Palestinians, and has a right to maintain a Jewish majority today by limiting the freedom of Palestinians.
We probably need a social revolution for people to recognize the nakedly-racist claptrap they are echoing when they use the phrase “Israel’s right to exist.” This includes well-intentioned people who really don’t mean something evil by asserting the rightness of “Israel’s right to exist”, but have never given two seconds of thought to its implications.
Stephens’s aim here is to maintain establishment support for Israel. This is getting to be a hard job. He has to discredit the greatest threat to that bipartisanship, the surging view inside the Democratic Party that Zionism is a problematic ideology– which has gained currency in part because of Richard Spencer’s assertion that white nationalists only want what Zionists achieved for the Jews. Stephens warns:
If Israel is going to retain mainstream political support, it cannot allow itself to become the pet cause of right-wing bigots and conspiracy theorists.
So he needs to take out two threats to that mainstream support: “the woke-left” and “the alt-right.” This is a new twist on classic hasbara, explaining Israel to the U.S. But it is the same old story in the end: Palestinians don’t deserve equal rights.