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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick

ON ANTI-ZIONISM, ANTISEMITISM & RELATED ISSUES....

As advertised in this newsletter, in the coming weeks I'll be addressing the rise of antisemitism on the left at a Friday night presentation. (In case you missed it, the date has been changed to February 16.)


Due, perhaps in part, to the awkwardness of an earlier newsletter description, I've already received more feedback about it than I usually get with presentations that I've already delivered! To be very honest, I'm actually grateful for this because it's forced me to take a step back and allow myself a little more time to get it right.


Though different folks had different questions about what, specifically, I would be talking about, there was a common thread. It boiled down to the question of whether I intended to include criticism of Israel - specifically anti-Zionism - in my assessment of the rising antisemitism in some left-leaning or progressive circles. Those in the know wondered (some quite pointedly) whether I was relying on what is called the "The Working Definition of Antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance," better known as the IHRA statement, or if I'll be taking my lead from "The Jerusalem Declaration On Antisemitism"?


Since I doubt that most people are "in the know" about these two documents, let me sum up their differences.


In one word: Israel.


In fact, most of the examples of contemporary antisemitism provided by these two documents either resemble or complement each other. Even many of the examples of whether or not criticism of Israel is antisemitic are similar. The IHRA statement says that "accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations" is antisemitic. The Jerusalem Declaration says that "assuming that non-Israeli Jews, simply because they are Jews, are necessarily more loyal to Israel than to their own countries" is antisemitic.


Not so very different, really.


The crucial divide falls under what what some call "river to the sea" language. In other words, expressing opinions or taking part in activities that are considered anti-Zionist in the sense that they question the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.


The IHRA statement opposes "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor." The Jerusalem Declaration says that it is "not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants 'between the river and the sea,' whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form."


The controversy over these two statements goes beyond my presentation. Of much greater significance is that soon after its adoption in 2016, the IHRA statement became a matter of public policy debate when it was used as the basis for proposed federal legislation. That bill never passed but that didn't stop the Trump administration from issuing a 2019 executive order extending it to the educational non-discriminatory clause of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI).


Since then, helped along by the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, it's also been adopted by other governments, both domestic and international, in various laws or policy statements.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) forcefully opposed its adoption into law, stating that:


… the overbroad definition of anti-Semitism [sic] in this bill risks...making it likely that free speech will be chilled on campuses. The examples incorporated into the bill’s definition of anti-Semitism include actions and statements critical of Israel, including many constitutionally protected statements. For example, it includes [as samples of antisemitism] ...“denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination [emphasis mine]."


To be precise here, no antisemitic speech can be considered a crime in America where even the most loathsome speech is protected by the First Amendment.


What concerned the ACLU, however, were the "chilling effects" of regulating expressions of anti-Zionism in student codes of conduct. This is because schools and universities can sanction students for saying or writing things that are otherwise protected by the Constitution.


Back in 2021 I wrote a commentary for this newsletter endorsing the Jerusalem Declaration over the IHRA statement. It was not because I failed to understand the arguments or feelings of those who view anti-Zionism as inherently antisemitic. I get it. Believe me, I do. I am far from an anti-Zionist. My attachments to Israel run wide and deep.


The sole reason that I endorsed the Jerusalem Declaration is that I don't want to see campus codes of conduct employed to punish anti-Zionist scholarship or political activity. I don't think that being anti-Zionist is, as the the IHRA statement claims, "a racist endeavor." I know more than a few Jews who are anti-Zionist. That doesn't make them antisemites.


(I am speaking, of course, about the kind of anti-Zionism that endorses incorporation of Israelis and Palestinians into a larger heterogeneous state. The Iran-Hamas model of destroying the Jews along with their state is unambiguous genocidal Jew-hatred. Endorsing such an odious position - one that we saw play out in real life on October 7 - may be protected by the Constitution, but that doesn't mean it's not violently antisemitic. If I thought that the IHRA was solely referring to that kind of anti-Zionism, I would have no problem with the statement.)


In my February 16 presentation (note the date change!) it will rely on examples of antisemitism agreed to by both statements. These include the lies, libels, and conspiracy theories abounding on social media and the threats, harassment, vandalism, and very real dangers happening in the real world.


And guess what? Even anti-Zionist Jewish organizations have been targeted by these antisemites. Real Jew-haters never spare any Jews.


As always, the presentation will be posted to our YouTube channel.


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For a great analysis of the issue of anti-Zionism and whether and when it's reasonable to label it as antisemitic, I recommend a recent New York Times piece by Jonathan Weisman who has reported widely on modern antisemitism. CLICK HERE to read.

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