Media Analysis

Falsely accusing Palestinians of anti-Semitism is malicious

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Note: On May 18, Rabbi Jill Jacobs published an essay in the Washington Post purporting to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and “anti-Semitism.”  In the essay, she posted two of my tweets to suggest that I am anti-Semitic [spoiler: I am not].  Since August, 2014, the Washington Post has run numerous articles similarly impugning my character.  The paper has never offered me space to write in my own voice, despite numerous inquiries.  I submitted an essay to the Post’s Outlook section responding to the issues raised in Jacobs’ piece, but the paper declined to run it.  That essay, as submitted, follows.

When Israeli soldiers open fire on unarmed demonstrators, as they have been doing for over a month in the Gaza Strip, Americans are implicated in the violence, for the United States arms and funds those soldiers.  Yet liberal supporters of Israel insist on complicating this straightforward proposition.

They often do so by accusing Israel’s critics of anti-Semitism.  On the one hand, Israel’s liberal champions brand themselves allies of Palestine; but on the other hand, they defame and sabotage Palestinians.  It is no longer tenable to have it both ways.

I was shocked to find myself implicated as anti-Semitic in a recent article by Rabbi Jill Jacobs—not the first time she’s made the claim.  A little history serves to illustrate why the accusation is so troublesome.

In 2014, I was fired from a tenured academic position because pro-Israel groups deemed some of my tweets deploring the bombing of Gaza to be anti-Semitic.  The case erupted into a national controversy, during which observers of various ideological leanings showed that claims of anti-Semitism were false and manipulative.  The problem is widespread.  Numerous Palestinians lose jobs or cannot find work because of outside pressure.  Accusations like Jacobs’s, then, have serious repercussions.  They deter inquiry and dissent.  At times, that seems to be their purpose.

Tone-policing Palestinians mortified by what is happening in their homeland is unethical.  It’s a classic form of punching down and ensures that criticism of Israel will be limited to clichés and platitudes.  It contributes to acrimony against people of Arab and Muslim origin.  And it relies on bad-faith interpretations that register opposition to Zionism as racial acrimony.  For those who profess an interest in justice, there’s nothing helpful about it.  The Israeli state is its only beneficiary.

Jacobs objects to the following tweet:  “Support for Israel . . . exists in sites of authority, often an omnipresent but invisible accoutrement to swivel chairs, mineral water, and mahogany tables.”  Only a person actively seeking a reason to complain will find it in this comment.

I was offering the simple observation that Zionism enjoys support among the powerful, which is obvious to the point of banality.  Jacobs, however, decided to read the triteness as sinister.  This happened, remember, just after Israel killed 58 demonstrators in a single day.  Old tweets from an unemployed academic somehow became our main priority, as opposed to concern for the people of Gaza.  The shift from Israeli war crimes to Arab incivility hardly seems accidental.

What does support of Zionism among the powerful look like?  It looks like the Senate (including Bernie Sanders) voting 90-0 to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  It looks like increasing the $38 billion defense aid package to Israel.  It looks like enjoying bipartisan support no matter how aggressive the behavior.

And it looks like having enough social capital to falsely accuse blacklisted professors of anti-Semitism in a national publication, which in effect reinforces the blacklisting.  The self-denial and sanctimony would be amusing if they weren’t so harmful.

Let’s look at things a different way.  Support of Israel requires deference to legal discrimination, inequitable models of citizenship, and massive displacement based on ethnic background.  Can’t Zionists, then, rightly be accused of racism?  We never get to ask that question.  They occupy a normative position in American political discourses and so their civility is guaranteed.

Palestinians are tired of conversations about our barbarism and irrationality.  We’re trying to survive exclusion and privation.  We have no time to beg Zionists for approval.  And we have no desire to appease disingenuous anxieties.  We too have a right to live.  We too should enjoy the pleasures of dignity.  I cannot appeal to the conscience of my accusers because they refuse to listen, another benefit of power.  I can only hope that readers whose sense of humanity transcends the narrow interests of a nation-state will reject this culture of defamation.

Sloppy accusations of anti-Semitism betray visceral attachment to a country performing violence rather than empathy for those on its receiving end.  The sloppiness is therefore doubly toxic.  But it won’t deter us.  Indeed, it serves as fuel to work even harder so that we might one day enjoy the same freedom as those who appoint themselves chaperones of our anger.

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Beautifully stated, Prof. Salaita. It’s a crime that this rebuttal wasn’t accepted by the Washington Post, but not a surprise. The Post sometimes pretends to be superior to the NYT, but on Israel it’s just as venal as the Times or any other mainstream news outlet.

I would say that calling someone antisemitic/antisemitism is as hateful as calling anybody an inflammatory, derogatory name. People like Alan Dershowitz and ‘rabbi’ schmuely b. should be made examples of and sued for defamation at least, but maybe it should be taken farther, as a zionist/zionist apologist most certainly would and label this as a hate crime. Jane Fonda went mute on the topic of palestinians when she showed she cared back in 2009 and… Read more »

I can’t read the wapo article because of the paywall, but tried to suss out Jill Jacobs’ views of the Gaza protests on twitter. Retweets: “Israel has right to defend itself. Every nation does. I pray the government will use non-fatal measures with protestors. Too much Israeli blood. Too much Palestinian blood. Too many grieving. Too many tears.” “More Naomi Paiss Retweeted Sarah Leah Whitson More specifically, shooting unarmed Hamas members is like saying it’s… Read more »

I know Prof. Salaita. I have read his books. With a few exceptions, those who call him an anti-Semite do so disingenuously–they call anyone who criticizes Israeli policy an anti-Semite. The few exceptions include the people who, like Rabbi Jacobs, oppose Israeli policy but believe Israeli propaganda (hasbara) just enough to assume an ill will that ought not to be assumed in those who criticize Israeli policy but who aren’t Jewish. Steven Salaita is no… Read more »

Another thing – its this kind of rhetoric that the zionist state uses against palestinians to keep them from discussing their grievances and speaking to the world about their occupation. Dareen Tatour has been a prisoner in her home for over 2 years for a fucking poem about resistance. Go back to one of the worst eras in american history during reconstruction, jim crow, segregation and now and all it took was a white man… Read more »