The IHRA issue has jumped the Atlantic. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism that entails saying Israel is a racist endeavor and that has roiled the British Labour Party is now the Education Department’s standard.
On that basis Kenneth Marcus, the longtime Israel advocate who now heads the office of civil rights at Trump’s Education Department, is reopening a case that the Obama administration dismissed, of alleged anti-semitism on the part of Palestinian solidarity activists at Rutgers in 2011.
The BDS campaign, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, is at the heart of the case, as in so many claims of anti-Semitism under the IHRA standard. Pro-BDS activists were alleged to have discriminated against Jewish students by charging a fee to attend an event on the Nakba after scores of pro-Israel students showed up to protest the event. The Zionist Organization of America then filed a complaint under Title VI saying that the pro-Israel students experienced a “hostile environment” at the school on the basis of their ethnicity as Jews. The organizers of the event said they requested a fee from everyone attending the event to cover venue and security costs stemming from the controversy over it.
The supposed smoking gun in the case was an email from an organizer saying that “150 Zionists” had shown up at the event. Kenneth Marcus says that when the activist saw Zionists, the activist was actually seeing Jews. He wrote a letter to the ZOA reopening the case and said:
“[T]he visual perception of the presence of ‘150 Zionists’ referenced in the email could have been rooted in a perception of Jewish ancestry or ethnic characteristics common to the group…In cases such as this, it is important to determine whether terms such as ‘Zionist’ are actually code for ‘Jewish.’”
Anti-Zionism is at the core of the new definition. If you deny the right of Jews for self-determination in historical Palestine or apply a double standard to Israel’s actions and those of other nations or demonize Israel by comparing its policies to Nazi policies, you meet the definition of anti-Semitism.
In effect, Arab-American activists say, the government is declaring the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.
Then in the Times comment section, we noted a self-described liberal who agreed with Marcus and some other pro-Israel writer who said that anti-semites like the BDS movement should have free speech. This is the mealymouthed liberal anti-Trump position (evident in the Cynthia Nixon controversy too).
Don’t defend BDS, the campaign for Palestinian equal rights, and for goodness sake don’t even think that Marcus and his allies might be expressing racism against Palestinians by supporting a Jim Crow system built upon an ethnically-cleansed territory. There is always only anti-semitism. No other form of bigotry could exist and so the cowardly sort of liberal will only defend free speech, and may take a few potshots at BDS along the way.
The case demonstrates the sheer arrogance of the Trump-Netanyahu axis. They are going for broke. And the liberals who obsess about Putin’s supposed control seem unable to spot which groups really have influence on Trump.
Imagine a definition designed for Palestinians. If “Denying the Jewish people their right to selfdetermination, and denying Israel the right to exist” is antisemitism, then shouldn’t “Denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination, and denying Palestine the right to exist” be anti-Palestinianism? Would they then ask administrators to police and possibly punish campus events by pro-Israel groups who oppose the two state solution, or claim the Palestinian people are a myth?
Yes imagine a discrimination standard for anti-Palestinianism, one that would define hateful statements about Palestinians as civil rights violations.
The BDS movement has shown its importance because it has provoked Kenneth Marcus’s overreaction. This case has the potential to get people to start to realize the sheer ugliness of how false charges of antisemitism are used to support a racist cause. But that’s not going to happen if people only play defense.