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VIDEO: Combating Anti-Zionist Antisemitism

VIDEO: Combating Anti-Zionist Antisemitism

A New Teaching Guide for Combating Anti-Zionist Extremism

On Sunday, July 31, 2016, I drove down to Ithaca, NY to give a talk titled “Hate Speech and the New Antisemitism: Why Anti-Zionist Extremism is on the Rise and What We Can Do to Stop It”.

The lecture was sponsored by the Ithaca Area United Jewish Community (IAUJC).

The Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East (ICUCME), a local grassroots anti-racism organization, assisted with the event logistics and publicity.

A video of my 60 minute lecture is now available on You Tube (full embed lower in the post).

Below I highlight its main themes, breaking the hour-long lecture into segments so that readers can click on to those portions of the talk that are of most interest.

I also summarize several small-group discussion exercises that I moderated after the lecture with the nearly 70 people who attended the event.

Relevant images and hyperlinks to the sources cited in the video have been added to this post. References to prior Legal Insurrection posts that offer background information are also included.

The video and accompanying materials are geared for those with limited prior knowledge about the global anti-Israel movement or BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign. The target audiences are university students, college-bound high school students, and community members affiliated with faith-based or civic organizations.

Poster of ithaca event

Educators and community organizers who would like to use the accompanying PowerPoint slide show or documents in their curricula or for a group event can contact me for copies at [email protected]

1. Introduction

Despite some major recent setbacks, anti-Israel activists continue to aggressively promote boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS).

As we’ve noted in hundreds of LI posts, an army of activists committed to delegitimizing Israel have been working overtime to embed themselves within America’s college campuses and mainline churches.

BDS has managed to insinuate itself into a cluster of progressive causes—from environmentalism to feminism to gay rights and Black Lives Matter.

BDS-sponsored programming is also beginning to make some headway in the curricula of U.S. high schools and even American Jewish day schools.

My video, its accompanying slide show, and the post-lecture discussion materials build on several videos (see LI posts here and here) that we’ve recently featured, which also offer teaching tools for combating the BDS anti-Israel movement.

In those prior videos, we focused on how to facilitate a robust and constructive conversation relating to Israel without resorting to antisemitism and the sorts of vicious tropes that have sustained Jew-hatred across the millennia.

Specifically, we addressed how legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line into hate speech when it portrays Israel’s leaders or people in ways similar to classic Jewish stereotypes.

My latest video-taped lecture complements these earlier presentations. It too discusses the “new antisemitism” and the BDS assault on Jewish identity.

But it also takes this discussion one step further by highlighting how such a demonizing anti-Zionism has taken root in the progressive Left—an intellectual space which should be inherently unwelcoming to discrimination and racism in all its forms.

2. Video Guide

0:00-2:33: Overview of Rising Antisemitism on America’s College Campuses

To begin the lecture, I note the dramatic rise in antisemitism on America’s college and university campuses.

campus BDS 3

There is a strong correlation between virulent anti-Zionist expression and conduct that harms Jewish students.

At schools where BDS is being actively promoted by one or more faculty and by anti-Zionist student groups, Jewish students are also being physically and verbally assaulted, vilified on social media, intimidated into silence, and discriminated against.

I highlight a new report released last week by the AMCHA Initiative, which shows an alarming spike in campus antisemitism during the first half of 2016, when comparing the data to the same time period in 2015.

The study also documents how Jewish students engaging in activities that have nothing to do with Israel now report fearing for their safety and wellbeing.

2:34-6:31: Defining Antisemitism as it Relates to Israel

Contemporary antisemitism is defined as the denial to Jews as a distinctive people the right to self-government in the land of their origins.

Judea Pearl and Jewish identity

Anti-Zionists are engaged in a type of racist endeavor. But they’re also attempting to roll back an internationally-recognized right.

Here, I reflect on the recent anniversary of the League of Nation’s adoption of the British Mandate for Palestine and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ plan to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration.

Abbas and the BDS movement are engaged in a similar effort to retroactively revoke the Jewish people’s right to statehood—the very essence of discrimination.

Simply put: there’s no conceivable sense in which attempts to strip Jews—and only Jews—of fundamental rights can be seen as anything other than antisemitic.

6:32-7:59: BDS as an Assault on Jewish Identity

In this section of the video, I point out that anti-Zionist activists don’t hide their ultimate goals and true intentions. BDS leaders openly call for the abolition of the Jewish homeland—not Palestine alongside Israel, but Palestine instead of Israel.

BDS Leader

8:00-10:55: BDS Puts Jews in Harm’s Way

Political Zionism views Jewish self-determination as the answer to millennia of Jew-hated and persecution.

But as I suggest in this part of the video, anti-Zionists tend not to see Jews as insecure or vulnerable.

This callous insensitivity to the Jewish people’s fears and concerns for their own basic security is an unambiguously racist stance.

Jews vulnerable, Jamie Palmer

10:56-16:22: Anti-Zionism and Classic Antisemitic Tropes

Criticism of Israel morphs into antisemitism not when it’s uncouth or uncivil, but when it expresses an utter hostility to Jewish peoplehood or when it projects the negative stereotype of the Jew (e.g., sinister, bloodthirsty, clannish, disloyal, rootless, parasitic, cunning, money-grubbing, and power-grabbing) onto the Jewish-majority state.

Negative stereotype of the Jew

Here are some recent examples from the neo-Nazi far-right that I presented at the event:

Faces of Journalists Yair Rosenberg and Jeffrey Goldberg are Inserted into this Image

Faces of Journalists Yair Rosenberg and Jeffrey Goldberg are Inserted into this Image

Alt-right neonazi pics

Classic antisemitic tropes can be found on the Left too. I note that it’s now fashionable to say that Jews are white, privileged, and identified with an imperialist, exploitative, colonial state. Debating whether Jews control the media and the banks has become a permissible form of discourse about power and privilege.

Scholar Eve Garrard calls this “rich-Jew anti-Semitism”. Jews are cast as “anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood”.

Stanford U. student, questioning Jewish power

16:23-21:57: The Anti-Zionist Movement’s Bigotry Toward Palestinians

In this section of the video, I discuss how the obsessive focus on Israel’s alleged misdeeds does a grave disservice to the millions of women, gays, Christians and other Middle East minorities who are being ruthlessly slaughtered and persecuted by brutal dictators and Islamist fanatics and are desperate for the West’s support.

I also note that BDS hasn’t delivered a single tangible benefit to the Palestinians, the people that it claims to care so much about.

In 2014, the SodaStream factory relocated to the Negev following BDS pressure

In 2014, the SodaStream factory relocated to the Negev following BDS pressure

BDS activists routinely harass and bully Palestinian peace activists, human rights and coexistence advocates.

As I highlight in a recent LI post, the intimidation is on account of the fact that BDS isn’t just about boycotts—it’s about preventing Israelis and Palestinians from having any ‘normal interactions’, keeping Israelis from engaging with Arabs, and forcing Arabs to stay away from Jews.

BDS and anti-normalization

Hug Event violence, May 2015

In the remainder of this section of the video, I review the BDS movement’s astonishingly condescending and patronizing stance toward the Palestinians.

It’s actually a soft form of bigotry.

Palestinians are viewed as lacking any agency, and as being incapable of moral responsibility.

So Israel’s supposed wrongdoings are picked over relentlessly (not least because of the access afforded by Israel’s open society and free press), but the corruption, repression, and abuses of Palestinian governing authorities is either ignored—or blamed on Israel.

21:58-25:37: Selective Outrage: the Hypocrisy of BDS

In this section of the video, I note that the accusations raised against Israel are rarely directed against any other states—including those that have committed far more, and far worse, human rights violations.

The silence from BDS to the ongoing state-wide purge of political opponents in Turkey is a case in point.

In the last several weeks, many have questioned (see here and here) why Turkey isn’t also coming in for an academic boycott.

Basically, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is carrying out policies in higher education—and has been for some time—that BDS supporters falsely accuse Israel of adopting.

As I mentioned to the audience, I’m not a fan of academic boycotts.

Even in the case of Turkey, where most scholars will soon be Erdogan’s lackeys, we should still seek out avenues to interact with them.

But it’s telling that BDS won’t turn its attention to Turkey. It reflects the moral impoverishment of this movement.

25:38-28:16: Cognitive Biases of the BDS Movement

In this section of the lecture, I highlight the accusation of pinkwashing.

As we’ve noted in prior posts (see here and here), it’s the ludicrous charge that the extraordinary freedoms and rights that Israel affords to its gay citizens are merely a deceitful ploy to deflect attention from its horrendous abuse of the Palestinians.

Most of the audience had never heard of the term, or the crazy way Israel is defamed these days for its remarkable support of gay rights:

28:17-34:56: Intersectionality: Accounting for the Success of BDS

This section of the video focuses on how BDS has interjected itself into other unrelated causes, often very worthy ones, by relying on a perspective that sees various forms of oppression (like racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia) as inter-woven and connected.

Called intersectionality, it’s an intellectual theory about how social forces are linked and associated with each other.

But it’s also a comprehensive community relations strategy. It’s all about networking and building alliances.

Basically, intersectionality rests on the insane idea that if you see your group as oppressed then you should see Israel as part of the dominant white, male, heterosexual power structure that’s doing the oppressing—and you must therefore join forces and stand in solidarity with the BDS movement.

In my lecture I offer a variety of examples, but concentrate primarily on the BDS hijack of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

As we’ve noted in many posts (for a partial list see here), it’s been a gradual convergence.

But now the alliance appears to have firmly jelled.

These days BLM activists routinely describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle between white supremacist colonialists (Israeli Jews) and an oppressed dark skinned racial group (the Palestinians).

Credit: Telesur

Credit: Telesur

That false narrative now features prominently in BLM’s long-awaited platform, released this past week.

As I note in the talk, it manages to both erase any Jewish connection to the Holy Land and deny the existence of Sephardic, Mizrachi and Ethiopian Jews who make up nearly half of Israel’s Jewish citizenry. Many of them are the descendants of refugees from Arab lands who, forced out of their ancient communities there, found safe harbor in Israel.

So BLM is failing to live up to its foundational principles—those that Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders espoused. It’s a betrayal of their message and legacy.

Dumisani MLK not BDS

And it’s only getting worse: BLM now champions terrorists, like Rasmea Odeh, as role models.

As we’ve noted in many prior posts (for a listing, see here), Odeh orchestrated the death of 2 Hebrew University college students some 40 years ago. She was convicted in 1969, and served time in an Israeli prison before being released in a prisoner exchange. She eventually became a U.S. citizen, but failed to disclose her past history on immigration forms.

Hebrew University students murdered in 1969

Hebrew University students murdered in 1969

Odeh is entitled to due process and to challenge her 2014 conviction for immigration fraud. But BLM leaders aren’t merely insisting that Odeh have her day in court. They’re also championing her as their hero, and encouraging American college kids to hold rallies in support for this unrepentant murderer.

Rasema Odeh and Angela Davis poster

Judging from the audible gasps of many in the audience, despite all the publicity surrounding Odeh, this shameful and “sickening deification” is for the most part still a dirty little secret.

34:57-41:28: Why the Global Left Adopted a Demonizing Anti-Zionism

In this portion of the lecture, I note that many self-identified progressives now openly embrace groups that publicly promote genocidal Jew-hatred and admire Nazis.

Judith Butler—an American professor, leading lesbian feminist, and the doyenne of the BDS movement—has declared that Hamas and Hezbollah are progressive movements of the left.

In European leftist circles, including in British academia, there are high levels of solidarity with Hezbollah and Hamas—and an explicit defense of their terrorist tactics.

Hezbollah flags on Downing Street london

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, has called members of these terrorist organizations his “friends” and agents of “long term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region”.

University of Maryland historian Jeffrey Herf argues that we can trace this virulent anti-Zionism back to the 1960s, when it picked up steam in certain European leftist circles on account of Soviet antisemitic propaganda and new alliances with Arab terror organizations.

Jeff Herf new book

Zionism is Racism 1977

Here, I remind the audience that BDS didn’t originate in the West Bank—as a call from civil society organizations there.

Its roots were in Iran, where the first BDS manifesto was prepared and then launched at the 2001 World Conference on Racism in Durban—a coming out party for today’s trope of Israel as a racist, apartheid state.

UN conference in Durban | August 31, 2001

UN conference in Durban | August 31, 2001

The Durban conference descended into a blatant expression of Jew-hatred.

It got so bad that the U.S. delegation walked out.

In the remainder of this section, I also briefly review another source for the anti-Zionism of the left: the narrative may offer some measure of relief from Holocaust guilt.

Israel consistently scores low in terms of civilian casualty ratios in modern urban warfare. But according to some experts, images of Israeli soldiers allegedly acting brutally may serve as a psychological balm, helping to symbolically replace or erase the uncomfortable images of little Jewish children in the ghettos and concentration camps.

Nazi, IDF, Warsaw, Gaza

Eve Garrard writes that,

It’s very hard for Europe to forgive the Jews for the Holocaust, and seeing Jews as hateful makes life easier—people needn’t worry about whether they’re treating Jews quite fairly if they believe them to be lying, bloodthirsty and oppressive”.

Garrard also points out that antisemitism “feels good”.

It enables people to signal their virtue by visibly presenting themselves as morally pure, as selfless warriors for social justice, and as champions of the weak against the great evils of apartheid and colonialism.

41:29-1:03:18: Seven Things We Can Do to Stop Anti-Zionist Extremism

In this final portion of the lecture, I walk the audience through a number of proactive strategies that can be taken either individually or collectively to combat antisemitic anti-Zionism.

41:29-42:38: If You See Something, Say Something

It’s important that statements that demonize and defame Israel be stigmatized as hate speech, just like any other form of racism—and even when it’s issued by other minority groups or from supposed anti-racists on the left.

42:39-45:32: Recognize the Ways Antisemitism is Channeled

Antisemites believe that Jews are responsible for what ails the world, so if we could just somehow get rid of the Jews, we would all be miraculously better off.

Protest, World Peace destroy Israel

Tropes about omnipotent power abound, with Jews portrayed as the puppet masters of helpless gentiles. In today’s propaganda, the Jewish state is often depicted as a killer octopus.

Nazis and Israel 2

It’s usually easy to spot this kind of crackpottery.

But drawing on a recent thought-provoking article by David Hazony, editor of The Tower website, I noted in the lecture that there’s a related antisemitism that’s often overlooked: the notion that if Israel were just to back down and back off, and make more concessions, then maybe not all the problems of the world, but a lot of them—and especially problems in the Middle East—would be solved.

Hazony on antisemitism

Hazony persuasively argues that this perspective is linked to the broader antisemitic argumentative web because it views Israel as the source of all troubles and the central problem undermining regional peace.

45:33-46:52: Discredit Claims that Hatred and Violence Against Jews is ‘Different’

A common antisemitic trope is that Jews are to blame for whatever calamities befall them. So today when Jews are attacked, they’re told that they’ve brought the violence onto themselves.

According to this mindset, hatred and violence against Jews is excusable, understandable, even appropriate as a form of protest to Israel’s alleged bloodthirsty acts. Jews are to blame for the hatred, which arises as an inevitable byproduct of Israel’s so-called atrocious behavior.

Simply put: the “new antisemitism” sees verbal and physical assaults on Jews—anywhere and everywhere—as politically justified on account of Israel’s alleged perfidy and malevolence.

I invited the audience to consider one of many tweets disseminated by the controversial academic Steven Salaita which perfectly underscores this particular age-old bigotry:

Salaita tweet

46:53-52:36: Stand in Solidarity with Those Targeted

In our professional and personal lives, when we know that someone is being ostracized, harangued, or bullied for supporting Israel we need to speak up about it, and hold the bigots accountable.

In the video, I provide a number of examples of how this support can make a difference for pro-Israel artists, academics, and others.

Audience members seemed particularly struck by the fact that many Israeli academics now report having to hide their nationality in order to get published.

Credit: Haaretz

Credit: Haaretz

They also appeared taken aback by the bizarre case of St. Louis Rabbi Susan Talve (see my prior LI post).

A longtime nationally-prominent and award-winning progressive activist, Talve was recently vilified by BDS and BLM activists as a “terrorist” because she was critical of Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, and had gone on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel.

Rabbi Talve delivers Chanukah blessing

Shunning of Rabbi Talve

As I described in my post, it turns out that a lot of people in St. Louis didn’t much like seeing their beloved Rabbi pilloried for being a Zionist. They stood by her. Last I heard, the smear campaign had petered out.

52:39-56:31: Don’t Minimize the Problem

As the British sociologist David Hirsh notes,

BDS does not impact much against Israel; it impacts hard against Jews around the world where BDS takes hold”.

Here, I asked the audience to consider the following question:

What will be the level of support for Israel when the current generation of students, having passed through the anti-Israel grinder in college and having internalized all its falsehoods, are entering their professions and producing future national voting positions?

In this section of the lecture, I noted that the anti-Zionist movement is bound to have a negative impact on young American Jews because, while Israel is the ostensible target of BDS, first in the firing line are diaspora Jews.

A generation of young Jewish people may end up suppressing their Jewish identities just in order to get by.

campus BDS 2

Bottom line: If BDS were merely a campaign of economic warfare, it would be easy to defeat. Israel is well-integrated in the global economy and too important as an investment opportunity for it be isolated. But BDS is more than boycotts and divestments. It’s essentially a campaign to make people angry with Israelis, and with those people around the world who are suspected of supporting Jewish sovereignty.

Jews on Front Lines

So, it’s a serious problem.

56:32-59:44: Stand Against All Racisms, but Don’t Belittle the Threat to Jews

In this section of the lecture, I briefly highlight the global resurgence of antisemitism, with a particular focus on Europe. Rising antisemitism there is driving record high Jewish immigration to Israel.

Credit: Times of Israel

Credit: Times of Israel

I point out that in the United States, anti-Jewish hate crimes make up the bulk of religiously-motivated ones. Anti-Muslim hate speech and hate crime is on the rise in America too, but it pales in comparison to the verbal abuses and assaults against Jews in the country—as a percentage of religious-bias hate.

Here, I note that while Jews should condemn hate speech directed against any American minority group, they need to insist that this solidarity be reciprocated and that the support not become an avenue for engaging in virulent forms of anti-Israel messaging.

As an example, I invited the audience to consider the recent national campaign to put public Chanukah celebrations into service for an anti-Islamophobia agenda. The reality is that these events morphed into anti-Zionist spectacles.

Chanukah in Syracuse

Interfaith efforts to combat racism are valuable, but not if they become co-opted by BDS and not if they’re exploited as a means for introducing an anti-Israel narrative through the backdoor.

59:45-1:03:18: Educate Yourself, then Educate Others

My final suggestion is: don’t let the lies go unchallenged, because much of what is said about Israel is simply factually inaccurate, or needs to be qualified and put into context.

Anti-Israel propagandists have concocted a fantasy world where:

  • Hamas is a social service provider whose leaders would accept a two-state-solution if only Israel would stop being so intransigent;
  • West Bank settlers are like ‘termites’ consuming Palestinian property; and
  • An Israeli building a second bedroom or a balcony in a legitimately purchased apartment in a Jewish neighborhood of east Jerusalem is a war criminal and the primary obstacle to peace.

Rep Johnson Termite comment

The reality is that over the years, many people have “internalized a giant load of bullshit”.

In the remainder of this portion of the lecture, I attempted to debunk some of the myths. Here are a few of the images I shared with the audience:

Credit: AIJAC

Credit: AIJAC

EU building illegally

1:03:19-1:06:44: Conclusions: Build a Firewall Against the Hate

Can Jews back progressive causes and be pro-Israel at the same time?

The answer from the BDS movement is a resounding no, because being a Zionist makes one complicit in supporting a racist, apartheid, and genocidal state.

campus BDS

The charge is absurd. Israel isn’t perfect, but compared to a region which has literally “reverted to the Dark Ages”, its fully functioning democracy is heaven on earth.

The problem isn’t the crazy talk of BDS leaders though.

It’s that a great many well-meaning people have come to believe the BDS nonsense, and they’ve now allowed anti-Israel fanatics to worm their way into a myriad of progressive organizations and projects.

In some of these spaces—like the Black Lives Matter movement—they’re now running the show.

My final point is this: we need to demand from progressives that they do a better job in policing the liberal left’s intellectual borders.

As noted recently in an important essay by Alan Johnson in Fathom:

We need to insist that [the left] build an intellectual firewall separating criticism of Israeli politics and policy from the demonology of Zionism and Israel—which is not legitimate, and which can be lethal.”

3. Post-lecture Small-Group Discussion Exercises

Along with screening the video, educators and community organizers may wish to use the following exercises to generate conversations.

Completing the 2 exercises takes approximately 40 minutes. Ideally, the responses generated from them can be used for future programming.

Breakout Discussion #1 (20 minutes)

In this post-lecture workshop, audience members broke into pairs to discuss 35 images from print and social media. The colored images were distributed as handouts.

Each paired team was asked to determine whether they found all, or only some, of the images offensive, and if they thought that any could be appropriately used to foster debate and dialogue. They were also invited to consider how they would react if a friend, family member, or colleague sent them one of the images via Facebook, Twitter, or email.

Responses were recorded on separate pages for collection at the end of the event. Note: self-identification optional.

Below are some of the images from the packet:

Discussion pic 5

Discussion pic 1

Discussion pic 4

Discussion pic 2

Discussion pic 5

BreakOut Slide 1

Breakout Slide 2

BreakOut Slide 3


Breakout Discussion #2 (20 minutes)

In this post-lecture workshop, audience members worked together in small groups to facilitate discussion. They were invited to discuss the following questions: What actions, if any, should the national Jewish community take regarding the ‘new antisemitism’? What actions should be taken in the greater Ithaca area? What actions, if any, will you take personally?

On separate pages, each participant was asked to record areas where their group had consensus; areas of disagreement; and their own viewpoints.

Responses were collected at the end of the event. Note: self-identification optional.

Post-lecture discussion| Ithaca, NY | Credit: Miriam Elman

Post-lecture discussion| Ithaca, NY | Credit: Miriam Elman

4. Conclusion

In a widely-cited recent article titled “Why BDS Is Antisemitic”, British sociologist David Hirsh cogently argues that:

Antizionism is not simply criticism of this or that policy or characteristic of Israel. It is a political movement which takes hostility to one particular state and it makes it into an ‘ism’, a worldview; one which has a tendency to position the Jewish state as being central to all that is wrong with the world. Everything bad that happens in Israel is constructed, within this ideology, as the necessary result of the supposedly racist essence of Zionism…BDS [puts] Israel at the very centre of the political activity of ‘good people’ all around the world. It trains people to think of Israel as the key question of emancipation in our age”.

To be sure, anti-Zionism has always found a sympathetic ear among such ‘good people’ on the far left. But what’s new about contemporary anti-Israelism is how mainstreamed it’s become in academia and progressive politics, and how much antisemitism is flourishing today in those arenas under the cover of a ferocious anti-Zionism.

It’s obvious that in leftist circles, anti-Zionism has become the “new, legitimate way to hate Jews”. The question then becomes: how long will the rest of America remain insulated and separated from it, how deep and far will the “poison” spread, and what can be done to stop it?


Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman


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Just read an interesting article with an unpleasant prognostication.

” This is unlikely to occur without a significant rise in anti-Jewish sentiment on the left, bringing with it potentially dire consequences for the community’s religious liberty. Nor, we can predict, is this anti-Jewish sentiment likely to be limited to Ḥaredim. “