The New School, a liberal Manhattan-based university, has garnered considerable controversy over a program on antisemitism that’s currently scheduled for Tuesday, November 28. The program is titled Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice and it is designed to promote a book by Jewish Voice for Peace of a similar name.

Criticism of the event has been almost entirely focused on the university’s “misguided invitation” to Linda Sarsour and the “absurdity” of this self-identified anti-Israel firebrand and boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement “poster girl” being asked to discuss the nature of contemporary anti-Jewish hatred and how best to tackle it.

The focus on Sarsour is understandable given that she’s a celebrated voice on the progressive left and a controversial public figure, best known for her prominent role as co-chair of the National Women’s March.

https://nypost.com/2017/11/19/the-new-schools-fake-panel-to-combat-anti-semitism/

But, as I discuss further below, even worse than the spectacle of Sarsour speaking at The New School’s antisemitism event is the fact that leaders of the grossly misnamed Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)—including its Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson—will be sharing the stage with her.

Supporters of Israel have long been at the forefront of the effort to expose JVP for what it is—a group that promotes the view that the fight for social justice and civil rights requires that people demonize and isolate Israel and denigrate and deny the humanity of Zionists.

In JVP’s world, Israel lies at the center of a worldwide intersectional evil, and along with Jewish supporters of Israel, is responsible for wrongs such as police violence against blacks in the inner cities. Even worse, JVP deliberately manipulates Jewish holidays and rituals to create anti-Israel narratives, such as framing the story of Passover and the High Holidays in a way that demonizes Israel and in terms of Palestinian rights.

The role of JVP, as stated by Vilkomerson during a May 13, 2013 forum at Stanford University, and corroborated by other JVP activists, is to sow discord and generate polarization within American Jewry by driving a “wedge” into the American Jewish community over Israel:

I think part of our job as the Jewish wing of the [Palestinian solidarity] movement, is to facilitate conversations inside the Jewish community… So, I think it’s very important to think sort of how we plan a wedge…So, I think that the more and more we can sort of put that wedge in, saying the Jewish community’s not agreeing on these issues, the more we’ll make progress”.

Sarsour may be a publicity hound who loves controversy, but JVP is by far a more serious enabler and instigator of antisemitism, working on campuses and churches to spread its message.

But these days even left-wing critics of Israel have caught on to JVP’s overt and often explicit antisemitism. More are now conceding that its undeniable hostility toward Zionist Jews and its messaging, which has recently gone so far as to accuse American Jewish organizations of driving institutional racism in America, are making them “queasy.”

So in many respects, bringing in JVP’s Vilkomerson for a major academic event on antisemitism—and holding a well-publicized panel to mark the publication of the organization’s new book on the topic—is even more damaging to the cause of fighting antisemitism than including Sarsour.

Criticism of The New School event centers on Sarsour

Recent editorials in the New York Post, Fox News, Tablet and The Jerusalem Post, and a number of op-eds (see, for example, here and here) have lambasted The New School’s decision to include Sarsour in its antisemitism event as a betrayal of the principles of tolerance and social justice.

The ADL’s Jason Greenblatt has slammed the move in a series of tweets that have since gone viral:

An online petition—“Tell The New School: Linda Sarsour Does Not Belong on Anti-Semitism Panel”—has been launched by Zioness, a new initiative empowering progressive, Zionist feminists. With the event still a week away, it’s already gathered over 10,000 signatures to date:

Concentrating criticism on the invitation to Sarsour is understandable given that she’s a well-known activist on the progressive left who has a “problematic history” of minimizing antisemitism (including by having made the ludicrous argument that anti-Jewish prejudice, which according to recent FBI statistics continues to fuel the lion’s share of religiously-based hate crimes in the U.S., is “different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic”).

Sarsour—who back in 2012 opined that “nothing is creepier than Zionism”— supports Palestinian national aspirations while denying the same right of self-determination to Jews. She’s recently claimed that Zionists are racists who fail to support human rights and that therefore Zionism is necessarily incompatible with feminism. As we noted in several posts, she’s embraced (literally) convicted Palestinian terrorists and has a nasty habit of praising Palestinian rock-throwing kids as “courageous” resisters (note: Sarsour’s post below includes a photo that’s not actually of a Palestinian child or of Israeli soldiers):

https://twitter.com/lsarsour/status/653370490434756608?lang=en

Sarsour also supports the notorious antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. As documented recently by LI-occasional author Petra Marquardt-Bigman, over the years she’s repeatedly trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power and money, and has disparaged American Jews as dual-loyalist traitors to their country—a common anti-Jewish canard.

So criticizing The New School for inviting Sarsour to speak on an antisemitism panel is certainly called for. Basically, by choosing her as a panelist the university has bizarrely saw fit to invite a leading purveyor of anti-Jewish animus to discuss it.

Still, by largely concentrating criticism of the controversial November 28 event almost exclusively on Sarsour, people are missing the fact that the university also selected guest speakers who are part of, and support, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

The Executive Director of JVP, Rebecca Vilkomerson, is featured on the panel, as is JVP’s Lina Morales, chair of its Jews of Color and Mizrachi/Sephardic Caucus. According to a recently released statement, the panel discussion is being billed as a way to “mark the publication” of JVP’s new book on the topic of antisemitism.

Under Vilkomerson, JVP has become a leading enabler and instigator of antisemitism

The New School’s decision to host JVP leaders on a panel devoted to understanding the contemporary manifestations of antisemitism is a terrible mistake because JVP simply doesn’t have the credibility to participate in any serious discussion about hatred against Jews.

In years of prior documentation on JVP, we’ve highlighted how it’s an anti-Israel extremist group that enables, legitimizes and mainstreams antisemitism by providing a seemingly Jewish cover and a veneer of Jewish legitimacy for BDS and similar movements.

We’ve shown just how poisonous this organization is in terms of its “increasingly radical positions” about Israel and American Jewry and its willingness to employ “questionable, radical tactics” in pursuit of its mission to isolate the Jewish state and it supporters:

In almost 100 posts dating back to 2011, we’ve drawn attention to the fact that JVP isn’t a Jewish group. Rather, it’s a far-left wing organization that purports to be inspired by the Jewish tradition of social activism. Appropriating the language of human rights and social justice, JVP presents itself as committed merely to ending Israel’s ‘occupation’ and to advancing civil liberties and democracy through non-violent means. But as we’ve documented, its tactics and affiliations tell a very different story.

The reality is that JVP’s leadership and activists:

JVP advances its virulently anti-Israel agenda via a relentless series of heavily-hyped national campaigns. In its recent initiative, the group blames Israel and major Jewish American organizations for policing problems in minority communities, including police shootings. It thus sets Jews up as part of, and the driving force behind, a white supremacist power structure oppressing people of color.

Basically, JVP is now publicly alleging that mainstay organizations of American Jewry are co-conspirators in some dark and evil mission to murder their fellow citizens, including African-Americans and other people of color and minorities, as well as immigrant groups:

Fast on the heels of this repugnant campaign, JVP’s new initiative—launched last month—takes aim at Taglit-Birthright Israel, by far the most successful and largest Jewish educational endeavor in the world. It openly and brazenly targets a popular college study abroad program in order to stop American Jewish students from participating in a rewarding educational opportunity that enables them to engage with students and their peers overseas, Rockefeller Brothers Fund finances Jewish Voice for Peace as it launches new anti-Israel campaign.

So in addition to its pro-boycott activities, JVP has been at the forefront of the effort to stoke racial tension and hatred of Jews through intersectionality theory in which Israel is portrayed as a global oppressor of minority communities and the source of problems that these groups face. The Jewish state thus serves the role in intersectionality theory that the Jews historically have served in international conspiracy theories, and JVP is at the forefront of trafficking and disseminating these antisemitic tropes.

In recent months, the group has become directly engaged in the newest pivot in this tactical assault against Israel: the equating of fascism with Zionism and the Jewish state.

One particularly ugly example happened earlier this Fall on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), when the campus JVP chapter collaborated in the attempt to label Zionists as white supremacists while demanding their expulsion from campus—violently if need be, Anti-Israel Rally at U. Illinois: “No Zionists, no KKK, resisting fascists all the way”:

As we noted,

the JVP chapter at UIUC gave non-Jewish college kids an excuse to accuse the vast majority of their fellow Jewish peers of being part of a sinister movement that includes assorted cranks from the neo-Nazi fringe. But there’s no way they came up with doing that on their own. The reality is that the shameful spectacle of JVP students validating the conflation of Israel, Zionism and white supremacy—the ideology of Nazism—is exactly the absurd and morally perverse campus programming that JVP’s national leadership is now wholeheartedly advocating and encouraging.”

So JVP isn’t merely an enabler of antisemitism. It’s also become a producer of anti-Jewish animus.

Bottom line: Given JVP’s past and recent activism, the participation of its leaders on The New School’s antisemitism panel next Tuesday won’t help the campus address anti-Jewish hatred, but will instead work to excuse and even exacerbate it.

Promoting JVP’s new book of anti-Israel propaganda

The November 28 event is co-sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, Jacobin Magazine, Haymarket Books, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. But it’s important to note that it’s actually being organized and hosted by The New School’s Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism program.

That makes it an academic event and bestows a degree of intellectual respectability on JVP’s recent collection of published essays (the panel is officially being advertised as “marking” the release of JVP’s new book which will be sold at the event; ticketed audience members can buy the volume there for $5.00 off the purchase price).

Published last spring by Haymarket Books, the 271 page book includes twenty essays by virulent anti-Israel activists nearly all of whom support BDS. None of the contributors are experts in the academic field of antisemitism. One of the book’s few scholars with an actual tenured university position is Judith Butler, who provides the book’s Forward.

In it, Butler makes some cogent points about how people tend to “loathe the identification with antisemitism with which they are charged.” But Butler has also voiced cockamamie claims about Hamas and Hezbollah being “progressive movements on the left” so its hard to take much of what she says seriously (in her Forward, she again comes perilously close to excusing both Hamas’ antisemitism and the heinous actions of this terrorist organization, see pp. x-xi)

Many of the book’s chapters aren’t written by Jews and so a good number of the authors lack any lived Jewish experience in the United States or anywhere else.

They include Omar Baghouti, the blood libel-hurling, hypocritical, tax-evading founder of the West Bank branch of BDS who has advanced degrees from Tel Aviv University but insists that everyone else on the planet should boycott the place. According to Barghouti, “Jews are not a people, and the UN principle of self-determination does not apply to them”—a sobering and direct statement consistent with widely-accepted (see here and here) definitions of antisemitism.

Also among the non-Jewish featured authors is Rev. Graylan Hagler, the senior minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, DC for the past several decades. Hagler’s virulent anti-Israelism is well-documented, as is his effort to inject BDS into the Black Lives Matter movement. You can read our prior post which highlights examples of Hagler’s vicious anti-Israel commentary going back for years. It includes his defense of terrorism and his embrace of anti-Semites, such as his hosting of the notorious Gilad Atzmon.

Last month, Hagler spoke for Code Pink, an ADL-flagged extremist group whose activists have a penchant for attending Holocaust-denying conferences convened in Teheran. Hagler defended his Code Pink “friends” while disparaging Jewish faith leaders for failing to “stand with minorities” (watch the video in this Facebook post).

As noted in a review by the blogger Elder of Ziyon, JVP’s book is “ostensibly about antisemitism” but it’s really about “justifying merciless criticism of the Jewish state” (I would add that another major theme of the volume involves the shaming of Ashkenazi Jews—those who JVP claims have “white or class privilege”—as “oppressors” in both the “United States and in Israel/Palestine”).

In one chapter after another, the authors insist that Zionists dishonestly use false allegations of antisemitism to defend Israel’s policies, shield it from criticism, and “suppress the conversation about Palestinian rights.” But as pointed out in Elder of Ziyon’s review, that’s just a strawman: the reality is that no one says that every criticism of Israel is antisemitic, and Israel’s detractors are hardly the ones being silenced.

Indeed, on many campuses the reverse is true: it’s BDS groups and virulent anti-Israel students who are aggressively disrupting and shouting down Israel-themed events and educational activities. Meanwhile, too many BDS-supporting faculty undermine campus free speech and viewpoint diversity by packing guest speaker series with like-minded activists—a type of stealth boycotting that, as the AMCHA Initiative’s new study shows, correlates with a rise in anti-Zionist student expression and anti-Jewish hate speech and crime, New study: how anti-Israel faculty increase campus antisemitism.

Bottom line: It’s unwise for The New School to promote JVP’s new book as a major piece of scholarship on antisemitism. The book traffics in bigotry by advancing the claim that securing Palestinian rights can only be realized if Judaism is purged of Zionism. Furthermore, in whitewashing antisemitism in the Muslim and Arab world and defending the claim that supporting Israel “makes Jews less safe”, the book actually advances an age-old antisemitic trope: Jews must be held responsible for all the terrible things that are said about, and done to, them.

Conclusion

The New School’s November 28 panel on antisemitism promises to achieve the exact opposite of the program title – it will legitimize a fight against justice.

As has been noted by many, it’s a “pathetic farce” that aims to discuss the serious and persistent problem of antisemitism in America but without including any actual scholars of antisemitism who might “disrupt the torrent of invective” with real facts and expertise.

By featuring Sarsour and Wilkomerson, the event won’t be about confronting and tackling antisemitism, precisely because the panelists themselves trade in ugly antisemitic tropes; spend much of their time working to minimize the significance of antisemitism; condone and excuse blatantly antisemitic acts; and attack mainstream Jewish organizations and their supporters as ‘white supremacists’.

Basically, the panel will be all about generating unearned sympathy for a bunch of virulent anti-Israel critics who enable and peddle antisemitic conspiracy theories and stoke racial and religious tension. They should be the subject of a panel on antisemitism, not panelists.

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Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence 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, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElman