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Yale University and Anti-Semitism

Sunday, 29 August 2010 19:43
An Israeli settler clashes with an Israeli left-wing activist during a demonstration against settlements in the West Bank town of Hebron, 05/04/09. (photo: Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images)

An Israeli settler clashes with an Israeli left-wing activist during a demonstration against settlements in the West Bank town of Hebron, 05/04/09. (photo: Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images)



Reader Supported News | Perspective

etween the 23rd and the 25th of August, Yale University held a conference on "Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity." It was sponsored by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. Therefore, this was a university event and not one brought in from the outside to use Yale facilities. On the surface there is nothing wrong with this. Anti-Semitism is an age-old form of racism and it calls for ongoing academic study. The problem is that this particular conference approached the subject from the ideologically driven position of radical Zionism. In other words, many of the assumptions upon which the conference was built were unfortunately tainted with bias. Indeed, in at least one instance (a panel on the "self-hating" Jew), one might suggest that the event was itself promoting a particularly virulent form of anti-Semitism. Very odd indeed.

The way you initially judge an academic conference is from the reputation of its participants and the nature of its panels. Philip Weiss, the co-editor of the blog Mondoweiss, has looked at both these categories and he concludes that this conference was "dedicated to the idea that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic." It appears he is largely correct. Many (though not all) on the participant list are the sort of strident supporters of Israel who confuse Zionism with Judaism and criticism of Israel with "demonization." Some of the panels were dedicated to problematic issues as "Jewish Self-Hatred" and "Confronting and Combating Contemporary Anti-Semitism in the Academy." Itamar Marcus, who was a conference keynote speaker and is also a leader of the West Bank settler movement, lectured the participants on "The Central Role of Palestinian Anti-Semitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity." Putting many of the participants (regardless of their academic credentials and affiliations) into the context created by these panels, what you get is not an academic conference in toto. Parts of it were more like an attempt to assert ideology as truth.

Let's take a look at some of the assumptions that appear to be behind at least a part of the conference.

1. Criticism of Israel/Zionism, somehow smacks of "demonization" and this constitutes a "contemporary form of anti-Semitism." (This seems to be the opinion of Charles Small, the Yale Initiative director. See the Weiss link above). If you think this assertion through, you find that it is illogical. Leaving aside the fact that not all Zionists are Jews and not all Jews are Zionists, it is nonsensical to claim that criticism of a political state and its idiosyncratic ideology is the same as criticism of a worldwide religion and people. The only way those at the Yale conference could fall into this confusion is by taking Israel's description of itself as the "Jewish state" and then uncritically accepting that this warrants the conflation of an entire people and religion with that state. This is an enormous leap, and one that does not reflect reality.

Indeed, it is even logically suspect to assume that criticism of Israel or Zionism is anti-Israeli, much less anti-Jewish! By way of analogy, one can point to the fact that there are millions of Americans who have consistently criticized US domestic and foreign policy at least since the 1960s. The only folks who accuse them of being anti-American are the fanatics on the far right. Is that the sort of company the Yale Initiative academics want to keep? Maybe so. The Zionist version of such fanatics certainly showed up for their conference and seemed to fit right in.

2. Public Jewish criticism of Israel is a form of self-hatred. This is one of those defensive positions Zionists throw up to protect themselves from what they see as the most dangerous attack of all, that from fellow Jews. You will note that when they use this epithet, they will most often put in the proviso that to constitute "self-hatred" the criticism must be made "in public." What does that mean? It means that if you make the criticism in private, no non-Jew will hear it and the Israeli/Zionist claim to represent all Jewry is not called into question. That being the case, there is no need to intimidate the critic with nasty name-calling. However, if the criticism is made in public, non-Jews do hear it and the Israeli/Zionist claim of representation is called into question. And, since they insist that they stand in for all Jews, that makes you, the Jewish critic, a "self-hating" anti-Semite. In the end, this gambit is nothing but a form of intimidation used to stifle criticism.

Yet, by persistent repetition, year in and year out, the Zionists have convinced many of their supporters that there is something to this otherwise nonsensical assertion that those Jews who stand against them are "self-haters." So, you can now find Israelis who complain about the "rot in the diaspora," and describe their Jewish critics both inside and outside of Israel as not only "self-haters," but also as "traitors to their people." This is what ideology taken too far can do. The room for critical debate disappears and you start to see those who disagree as mortal enemies.

3. Anti-Semitism plays a central role in Palestinian identity. Here I shall tell a story. I once met Yasir Arafat. From the subsequent interaction I concluded that he was no anti-Semite. He saw the state of Israel as an enemy because of what it did to the Palestinian people, but he did not ascribe blame to the Jewish people as a whole. He even talked endearingly of Yitzak Rabin, his "partner for peace." I thought that latter opinion naive of him, but it certainly was not the mark of an anti-Semite.

While Arafat was in forced exile in Tunisia the Israelis managed to tap his phone. There they allegedly recorded Arafat saying some bad things about "the Jews." I say allegedly because the Israelis are not above having forged the whole incident. Real or false, the statements appeared in The New York Times the next day and many people said, "Aha! You see. The leader of the Palestinian people is anti-Semitic." Assuming, for the moment, that Arafat did make the comments, I do not find that surprising (though I do not think such a single incident would make him an anti-Semite). Actually, what I would find surprising is if he did not occasionally make such comments. Do the Palestinians hate all Jews? The vast majority does not. But, given Israel's barbarous treatment of them, and its simultaneous insistence that it is the institutional incarnation of the entire Jewish people, it is a small miracle that most Palestinians, including Yasir Arafat, have never fallen into the trap of blaming all of Jewry for the actions of only some of them.

It is not the Palestinian national character that has been shaped by anti-Semitism. Rather, it is the Israeli national character that has been shaped by a fear and loathing of all Arabs, and Palestinians in particular. If you doubt this just go to Israel and keep your ears open. There you will find that too many of its Jewish citizens see Arabs as dirty, promiscuous, untrustworthy, and all the other things that we Americans once ascribed to Irishmen, Italians, Poles, African-Americans and the Jews as well. Quite frankly, I have never run into anything approaching this level of racial animosity in an Arab country.

If this past week's conference is indicative of anything, it is that Yale's Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism is in danger of falling from academic grace. That is, it is in danger of ceasing to be a center for the objective study of an age-old form of racism, and instead tying itself to an ideological view of the world that is itself racist. Why are they apparently doing so? Is it because they are funded by wealthy Zionist ideologues who have influenced the choice of leadership and therefore the parameters of what here passes for "research?" Maybe. Whatever the reason, if this keeps up the Yale Initiative is doomed as a legitimate academic venture. I recommend that Yale University correct the situation or rapidly distance itself from the entire project.


Lawrence Davidson is a professor of Middle East history at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and author of the works listed below.

Contributing Editor: Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture

"Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest"

"America's Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions From Balfour to Israeli Statehood"

"Islamic Fundamentalism"

Keep your eye on the language: When South Africa assigned rights according to race they called it apartheid. When Israel assigns rights according to religion they call it the only democracy in the Middle East.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+7 # Guest 2010-08-29 20:07
A recent Israeli ambassador to the United States when asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he was alleged to reply to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
+1 # Guest 2010-08-30 07:48
What's the source of this phony quote?
-1 # Guest 2010-09-01 05:13
Quoting jbecket:
A recent Israeli ambassador to the United States when asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he was alleged to reply to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

The ambassador was right. To all those who play the 'anti-zionist but not anti-semitic' game, that's like saying 'I'm not a Jew-hater as long as the Jews are denied the right like every other nation to self-determinat ion'. In other words, bad sophistry which fools only the willfully ignorant and those who can't think for themselves.
0 # Guest 2010-09-01 07:55
Quoting jbecket:
A recent Israeli ambassador to the United States when asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he was alleged to reply to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

This alleged 'Quote' of an 'Israeli Ambassador' simply never occurred. I spent hours trying to locate a source for this quote and the only success I had was from Google (it referred me to this RSN page and 'jbeckett'. So, lets talk about FACTS. A study, by the Institute for Interdisciplina ry Research on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, December 2009, found that there's "quite a high level of anti-Semitism that is hidden beneath critics of Israel’s policies." Mind you, I do not suggest that having an opposing position to a political action makes you a racist; but, even in the US, the right has acted in a blatant racist fashion claiming opposition to Obama's policy, not his race. When jbeckett fabricates to prove his point, perhaps he should analyze his motivations!
+3 # Guest 2010-08-29 21:22
Anti-Semitism is bad. Too much pro-Semitism is also bad: it has blinded America to the facts in the Middle East, and the fact that Israel is a very insincere friend.
-5 # Guest 2010-08-29 23:26
Professor Davidson is very critical of the Yale conference. This is not surprising in light of the articles that he constantly writes for the RSN which always criticize Israel, Zionism, the nature of the Israeli American political alliance, personalities who would support the idea of Israel as a Jewish state and see the complex Israeli situation differently than he does. Mr. Davidson is quite uncomfortable ideologically with the Yale conference conclusions which are different from his own ideas. It is obvious that the assumptions and explanations of these assumptions that he writes about in his analysis of the Yale conference are his own ideological positions as seen by his writings and is an attempt to once again justify what he thinks while criticizing those who think diffferently than he does. An academic with preconeived ideas such as Professor Davidson could never give a balanced report on the results of the Yale conference nor any issue related to Israel and the issue of anti-semitism.
+4 # Guest 2010-08-29 23:38
What Prof. Davidson writes reminds me of the reaction of three University of Oregon professors (presumably, by what they wrote, Zionist) to my published letter urging creation of a Middle East Studies program at the University of Oregon, where a Judaic Studies program existed. They said my illustrating the vacuum by comparing it to the study of Judaism was anti-Semitic. Such reactionary and misleading behavior is common at many universities, certainly in Oregon. - George Beres
-3 # Guest 2010-08-30 07:48
Davidson harps on the truism (denied only by a rabid few right wingers) that opposition to Israeli policies isn't necessarily Antisemitism. But he seems oblivious to the fact that Antisemtism is really widespread in the Middle East (if not Arafat, then definitely Hamas and Hezbolah). Worse yet, he ignores the reality that on the part of many leftists opposition to Israeli policies morphed into anti-Zionism, and then anti-Zionism morphed into Antisemitism. One only has to track the comments on articles posted on Leftist fora to see more and more open expressions of Antisemtism--so me of which wouldn't have been out of place in the letters column of der Sturmer--as in "Name one person with proof that died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz" and "let's not forget MOSSAD,THE JEWS ARE THE SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN ON EARTH(REV 2:9,,3:9)" and "stuff the Jews." Still worse is that these are moderated lists and the leftist moderators seemed to have no problem with the open Antisemitism.
+5 # Guest 2010-08-30 08:24
Aren't Arabs also Semites?
+1 # Guest 2010-08-30 09:43
All Arabs are Semites; some Jews are Semites.
0 # Guest 2010-08-30 09:25
"no racial animosity in Arab Countries?" No, they just executed Jews on trumped up charges, deprived Jews of all civil rights, appropriated their possessions etc. Mr. Davidson needs a refresher course re; the Middle East, to fill in the gaps in his selective history of the region.
-2 # Guest 2010-08-30 09:27
"There they allegedly recorded Arafat saying some bad things about "the Jews." Dr. Davidson's comments reflect the bias with which his articles are written. He takes fact and conflates it against his personal opinion that "the Israelis are not above having forged the whole incident." This is no better than Fox News. If you can't disprove the facts, suggest, in the absence of any evidence, that they are forged. Perhaps the 'Holocaust' was forged as well. (Actually, Davidson has not denied the holocaust, but he has stated "even if you believe that Israel is a necessary retreat for threatened Jewry, the use of the Holocaust as a justification for Israel and its policies is a grave strategic mistake.") "Anti-Zionism has become the most dangerous and effective form of anti-Semitism in our time, through its systematic delegitimizatio n, defamation, and demonization of Israel." Robert Wistrich - UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, published in its official record on 2/10/04.
+1 # Guest 2010-08-30 13:40
This charade of labels defining criticism of Zionist ideology as patent Antisemitism is tied to the favorite Jewish intellectual past-times of scapegoating, blacklisting,an d vicious character assassination.
The simple fact is that Jewish racism is being disguised by smearing critics of Israel with the staccato beat of repeated false accusations, slander, and hatred is revealing.
It is an old, worn-out method. Since Jews can't honestly debate their own misguided ethnocentric policies it is expedient to smear their critics with absurd false charges.
Israel has become a fascist state. No more excuses for Jewish racism!
+3 # Guest 2010-08-30 15:43
Everyone has an opinion about everything-- except truth. Who cares about anyone's opinions. If people can express themselves from their hearts, rather than their minds, we would have a real possibility for AUTHENTIC DIALOGUE.

But, very few want to tell the truth, b/c it reveals who we are in all our messiness: the 7 deadly sins, and mostly all our pain from the human traumas we come to adulthood with.
So, all this mind f---ing, opinionated talk is such wasted time.

We are barking up the wrong lane so we can avoid, at all costs, revealing any truth.......WE ALL WANT TO BE HEARD, WE WANT PEACE, WE WANT LOVE.

This is not Naive..... You just need to open your hearts and LISTEN.
-2 # Guest 2010-08-31 00:36
Dr. Davidson says we must first look at the credentials and his article is followed with citations of his other writings. But content analysis of this article is sufficient. It is another shameful pissing contest that contributes nothing to peace or to rational discussion of issues. Shame on RSN for propagating this kind of shallow approach.
+1 # Guest 2010-08-31 13:03
When South Africa assigned rights according to race they called it apartheid. When Israel assigns rights according to religion they call it the only democracy in the Middle East.
+1 # Guest 2010-08-31 12:54
Israel is an apartheid state. Supporting apartheid with $7million/day is ??? is this site made by anitsemitists or by selfhating jews? Likely by both - it has facts ... not propaganda
+1 # Guest 2010-08-31 16:05
Some of the comments left already cover this-
But its worth repeating.

Charges of anti semitism are best answered with-

Simply ask your accuser to define 'SEMITE'. Memorize the definition yourself beforehand of course-then you can calmly and sweetly ask your accuser to show you where the definition mentions the word-israel.

This is an important point for canadians as the next election gives us a choice betwixt TWO treasonous israeli agents. Ain't 'democracy 'a hoot?
0 # Guest 2010-09-02 21:22
Anti-Zionism and criticism of the State of Israel are not theortically the same as anti-Semitism.
However, when the reasoning and tropes of the anti-Zionism and anti-Israel statement are exactly the same as those of classical modern anti-Semitism then teh conflation makes sense. When Protocols of the Elders of Zion is cited to back up anti-Israel feeling as itis in the Arab world, the differentiation is meaningless. When the critique of Israel deals with "arrogance" and other tropes, sorry, they're the same thing.
0 # Guest 2010-09-20 04:43
ha, I am going to try out my thought, your post get me some good ideas, it's really amazing, thanks.

- Norman

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