Dear Israeli Right: This is what anti-Semitism means.

Jude starLanguage is a funny thing. On the one hand it’s malleable by nature, because human culture is endlessly malleable; on the other hand, at any given time, the words in whatever language you’re using have actual definitions. Take “anti-Semitism,” for instance.

“Anti-Semitism” has an actual, working definition—and here’s what that definition is:

Anti-Semitism, n. –  hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.

I bring this up only because the Israeli right appears to be once again confusing anti-Semitism with “being opposed to things that the Israeli right want everyone to think are non-negotiable.”

Case in point: The sanctions that the European Union is poised to institute against West Bank settlements. The Israeli right feels pretty strongly that such sanctions will do damage to the settlement enterprise, and while we can’t really be sure of the outcome of a policy that hasn’t been implemented yet, I feel safe in saying that the Israeli right is, well, right—in fact, that’s the point of the sanctions: To damage the settlement enterprise. It’s a political action intended to produce political ends.

Representatives of the settlements, including Israel’s Ambassador to the E.U. and members of the Knesset, requested and were granted a special parliamentary session in Brussels earlier this week in which to present their opposition to the E.U.’s new policy—and here’s what MK Ayelet Shaked (of Nafatali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party) had to say:

If Europe thinks Jews will return to the days where we were forced to mark our products—you can forget it. Delegitimization of parts of Israel by Europe is the new anti-Semitism. The old anti-Semitism led to the destruction of our people in gas chambers. We will not allow the new anti-Semitism to hurt us.

Now, we could start by noting that whatever you may think of the settlement enterprise, not even Israel thinks that the West Bank is “part of Israel.” Those lands haven’t been annexed, and indeed their future is (putatively, at least) under negotiation by the Israeli government even as we speak. We could start there.

But why start there when we have the specter of gas chambers before us?

This is not the first time that anti-settlement policies have been likened unto racism,anti-Semitism and/or the Holocaust (because, you know, taking the political position that the West Bank does not, in fact, belong to Israel is just like performing torture experiments on Jewish children, sexually enslaving Jewish women, and gunning down 34,000 men, women and children at Babi Yar. Not to mention gas chambers), and it probably won’t be the last.

Indeed, the right’s tendency to label everything vaguely unpleasant as anti-Semitism (and a new Holocaust to boot!) is so strong that Israel’s more non-hyperbolic citizens often mock and satirize it. Perhaps my favorite example of this is an old routine by iconic comedy troupe HaHamishia HaKamarite—you don’t even need a working knowledge of Hebrew to enjoy it.

The mockery comes because many, many Israelis (left, right, and ambidextrous) understand that there’s simply no intellectually honest way to shoe-horn a decision to suspend “grants, prizes, and financial instruments… to Israeli entities or to their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967” into the idea of hating on Jews because they’re Jews. Or into the idea of killing them. It’s ahistorical. It’s nonsensical. It suggests a lack of book learning. And it’s deeply, profoundly offensive.

When Shaked (or Dani Dayan, or Avigdor Lieberman, or Zeev Elkin) say these things, they’re using the screams of babies, numbers burned into flesh, and ashes that once rose into heaven to try to shame the world into accepting right-wing dogma as settled fact. It is, simply put, grotesque.

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with my work knows that I’m anti-settlement. I always have been. But I don’t think that you have to share my political inclinations in order to agree on this particular point.

Some things really are anti-Semitic—as the Jews of 21st century Hungary, baseball disgrace Ryan Braunthe good people of Virginia, and a young girl I know who was once told that “Hitler should have finished the job” can attest. We need to stand against that hate and that bigotry wherever we see it and educate aggressively so that it becomes a thing of the past.

But the European Union doesn’t oppose the West Bank settlements because the people living in them are Jews. The European Union opposes the West Bank settlements because the people living in them (and the government that sent them)are breaking international law:

In conformity with international law on the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967…the EU has made it clear that it will not recognize any changes to pre-1967 border, other than those agreed by the parties to the Middle East Peace Process.

But Israel’s right wing (and the Americans who support it) want the world to simply give up and give in, to adopt its ideological position and red-roofed West Bank homes as a fait accompli and play a supporting role in denying the Palestinian people their civil and human rights into perpetuity.

And they’re not above exploiting the deaths of six million people to do it.

Ryan Braun and Anti-Semites.

ryan braunSo yes: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and America’s own “Hebrew Hammer” has accepted a 65-game suspension under a drug-testing agreement, which means (aside from anything else) that he cheated in a game which has been (let’s be honest) fairly riddled with cheaters of a similar nature. So that’s bad enough.

But then, but then! On Monday, we heard that back when he was lying about having cheated, Braun called some fellow ballplayers to try to win their support, and along the way, accused the collector of his urine sample of being not just an anti-Semite, but a Cubs fan, to boot.

As a the daughter of hard-core Cubs fans, I’m not sure which accusation could be considered the deeper cut. But I will say this: you shouldn’t be an anti-Semite. Not if you collect the urine of professional athletes, and not if you do anything else, either. (I’ll leave it up to readers to decide what they think about clinging to the Cubs).

But wait! According to Braun’s own mother, who is a Catholic, Braun “is totally not Jewish”—in 2007, USA Today reported that:

Ryan was not raised Jewish and never had a bar mitzvah, but suddenly he’s hearing from Jewish organizations claiming him as their own. 

“He’s totally not Jewish,” Diane says. “I heard some organization started called him ‘The Hebrew Hammer’.” I said, ‘Oh no.’ My mother would be rolling over in her grave if she heard that.” 

“Ryan is proud that people want to claim him now, but where were they before? You know how that stuff works.”

But hold on! It’s not even clear that Braun accused anyone of anti-Semitism! Some of the people to whom he’s supposed to have made the comments have issuedcategorical denials.

And yet, none of that has stopped actual, self-revealing anti-Semites from being just as pleasant as you might expect actual, self-revealing anti-Semites to be.

“Ryan Braun typical sneaky Jew,” tweeted one upstanding sports fan last month. “Of course Ryan Braun took steroids,” wrote another, “he’s a Jew, and last I checked, sports aren’t really their thing.”  And of course: “Bye Ryan Braun, you cheating piece of sh*t. CANT JEW YOUR WAY OUT OF IT THIS TIME.” You can read more (if you really feel the need) by clicking here.

So I don’t know. Was the guy whose unenviable job it is to collect urine an anti-Semite? Did Braun ever say that he was? Does Braun genuinely identify as a Jew, or was he forced into a virtual yarmulke and then despised for it? It’s kind of hard to say at this point.

Here’s what we do know: Braun did, in fact, dope, and then he lied about it, and then he agreed to pay a price for his unassailably awful behavior. And no matter what he did or did not say about the guy who took his pee, actual anti-Semites are a real thing.

It’s been my impression that Catholics have some pretty well-established ideas about lying and cheating and how to address those problems. But if Braun wants to tackle them through the faith of his (Israeli-born!) father, we have a special day coming up on which he can do so. Everyone’s welcome in shul on Yom Kippur.

As for the actual anti-Semites who dumped their repulsiveness on a man they presumed to be Jewish? Some sins are harder to absolve.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

What a day! On anti-Semitism & clarity.

So this morning, I posted a piece at Open Zion/The Daily Beast (which I was up writing well past midnight) that opens with the words “Pro-tip: If your goal is to help the Palestinian people, anti-Semitism is a really poor tool.” (The whole thing, which is entitled “Anti-Semitism — Bad for Palestinians, Too” and is full of very angry adjectives, can be read here).

From there I went on to (in the words of my boss, Peter Beinart) eviscerate a woman named Greta Berlin, co-founder of The Free Gaza Movement, who had tweeted a link to a vile, anti-Semitic video with the words “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Her only excuse and/or apology was to say that she had meant to post the video to a private Facebook discussion and – oops! – it had been tweeted, too. So sorry for the mix up.

In the meantime, as you might imagine, there has been a whirlwind of response, much of it very, very angry. Free Gaza issued a statement which may or may or may not have been written by Berlin herself (as she is one of their spokespeople) but which refers to her in the third person. The organizational statement/apology notes that “[the tweet] came from Greta’s private Facebook page and was shared with a group of people  who were discussing propaganda and racism, and this link was an example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.” The only words actually put in Berlin’s mouth read:

Greta has added, “I apologize that I did not watch the video before hitting SHARE on Facebook. I was in a rush to get to a book event and simply reposted. The fault is completely mine. Free Gaza had nothing to do with the post at all. “

Soon after my post went up, however, I learned that Larry Derfner, a writer I greatly admire, had accused those expressing dismay over Berlin’s actions of having slandered her (not including me, as my post had not yet appeared), so I looked into what he said, and was in the process (literally) of writing a clarification in which I said, essentially “Look, Derfner says XYZ, but here’s why I don’t buy it” — when Berlin herself issued a statement saying

I am not a Holocaust denier. And I am not a supporter of the video that I posted, nor would I ever have been. It was, in fact, an example of propaganda that is EXACTLY what I and others are horrified over.

And when I say “literally,” I mean “literally”: I was about to send the second piece (on which I’d worked for more than an hour) to Open Zion when, given the speed of events, I thought I’d better look at the Free Gaza Twitter feed again — and lo, there the statement was.

So, more emails to all & sundry, followed by me (over the course of another hour or so) writing an entirely new clarification, which you will find below. Of course, thereupon followed many more communications regarding ALL the turns of events, and in rapid succession, people having all kinds of responses to things I had either said or not (actually) said and me having to respond to same.

And at two different points during the day, I hosted large school groups in our backyard sukkah. And I never got any lunch.

So. Anyway. I’m tired now. I cannot tell you how glad I am that it’s almost Shabbat and I can turn all this off.

And here’s my clarification, in full:

Greta Berlin Clarifies

I wrote this morning about a controversial tweet sent by the co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, Greta Berlin. I learned later that a writer who I’ve long respected, Larry Derfner, has written in defense of Berlin, calling attacks on her “slander,” and when Derfner writes something, I listen. The heart of his defense was that:

All these stories referred to Berlin’s apology on the Free Gaza Movement website—but only to one part of it: the part where she explains that she didn’t mean for the tweet to go out on the Free Gaza Movement’s Tweeter [sic] account, but only to a group of people on her personal Facebook page. Reporting this and only this as her “apology” naturally made Berlin look even more evil.

…Berlin’s full explanation… is that her tweet was not a statement of her views, but a headline for the video she was sending to a discussion group on “propaganda and racism” as an “example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.”

Initially, I didn’t agree with Derfner. I had seen the statement to which he refers, and it was actually written in the third person as an organizational statement, and the one comment with Berlin’s own name behind it repeated the tone she had taken on Twitter in which she repeatedly apologized for a technical snafu, but not the content of the tweet, or even the impression it might have made.

In the last few hours, however, Berlin issued the following statement:

I am not a Holocaust denier. And I am not a supporter of the video that I posted, nor would I ever have been. It was, in fact, an example of propaganda that is EXACTLY what I and others are horrified over. The video (although I didn’t watch it then) seemed like the kind propaganda that our group was discussing. And I passed it on because of the title.

Ironically I am caught in the same propaganda hysteria that I was trying to fight. It was my mistake that I didn’t post to the small private group on Facebook and the video ended up on my wall. Greta

I know that for some, this will not be enough, because it came after a series of non-apology apologies, or because Berlin has failed in the past to create much daylight between herself and old-school anti-Semitism. I believe that if she and Free Gaza want to genuinely put this story behind them, they will need to produce some proof of the private group discussion to which they refer, beyond a statement made well after the fact with nothing to corroborate it.

For me, however, as one of the writers who has positively slammed her in the past few days, Berlin’s fresh statement is enough: She has said unequivocally that her intent in sharing that deeply disturbing video was not to support its content.

It would be nice if she might indicate that she understands why people were horrified, and sought both clarification and apology. I would also disagree with her suggestion we who took issue with her unexplained sharing of a video claiming that Zionists ran the concentration camps rise to the same level of “propaganda hysteria” as the video itself—but I’m sure that’s not the only thing on which she and I would disagree.

I was careful in writing my piece to speak up for those who are falsely accused of being anti-Semitic simply because they support Palestinian rights—I am among those people, as are many beloved friends. The point of my post was that in spite of what I see as a troubling over-use of the anti-Semitism accusation, real, honest-to-god Jew hatred does still exist, and pro-Palestinian activists who employ it not only hurt the Jews against which it is directed, but also the cause they claim to defend: Palestinian rights, and a just resolution of the conflict.

I am sorry that in writing about a real problem, I used Greta Berlin as the example around which my thesis was built. With her new statement, I now understand that my reading of her earlier comments was absolutely inaccurate.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast


Truth be told, the thing that annoys me most in this whole story is that the main point of my original post (that real anti-Semitism exists, and that when it’s employed by pro-Palestinian activists, it hurts not only Jews, but the Palestinian cause) was and remains valid and very important. But now that’s going to be lost in the back and forth.

So it goes.

I imagine I might have another chance to talk about anti-Semitism in the future.

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