Stretching Charges of Anti-Semitism

Hard-line Israeli defenders have tried to shut down protests over how the Palestinians have been treated by accusing critics of “anti-Semitism” and by labeling dissenting Jews as “self-hating.” These intimidating tactics are now common on U.S. college campuses, Lawrence Davidson writes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Can criticism of Israel, particularly a) criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people and b) criticism of the state ideology of Zionism that justifies that treatment, be labeled anti-Semitic?

This is not a hypothetical query. An affirmative answer to this question is being advocated by influential Zionist lobbies in the United States. The question is of particular importance on the nation’s college and university campuses.

In places like the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz, and also at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Zionist students are now threatening to sue these institutions for failing to prevent an “atmosphere of anti-Semitic bigotry” allegedly created by the presence of pro-Palestinian student groups and faculty.
One might ask if it isn’t a stretch to assert that protesting Israeli and Zionist behavior is the same as anti-Semitism? Common sense certainly tells us this is so.

Unfortunately, we are not dealing with situations that are ruled by common sense. What we are facing here is the issue of ideologues bred to a specific perceptual paradigm and their insistence that others conform to it.
Here is an example: Take an American kid from a self-conscious Jewish home. This kid does not represent all American Jewish youth, but does typify say 20 percent of them. He or she is taught about the religion and also taught about recent history and the near annihilation of the Jews of Europe. He or she is sent to Hebrew school, and maybe a yeshiva school as well.

Most of our hypothetical student’s friends will be Jewish and of similar background. Between home, friends and school the student might well find himself or herself in something of a closed universe.

Throughout this educational process Judaism and its fate in the modern world is connected with Israel and its survival. The Arabs, and particularly the Palestinians, are transformed into latter-day Nazis. In addition, Israel’s state ideology of Zionism becomes assimilated into the credos of the religion. Soon our hypothetical student cannot tell the difference between the two.

Then, having come of age, our student goes off to college or university. Now he or she is no longer in a closed world. The result can be culture shock and an uncomfortable feeling that the student is on a campus where vocal and assertive debate about Israel and its behavior sounds like an attack on the Jewish religion.

Our student complains to the ZOA, Hillel, AIPAC or some similar organization and we are off down a road toward censorship and/or litigation.

Lawsuits are lodged (particularly if the ZOA is involved), donors swear that they will no longer support the institution, legislators bang on desks at the state capital, and boards of directors want to know what is going on and what the institution’s president is going to do about it?
Sweet Reason
There have been a number of efforts to try to use sweet reason to work out some of these problems before they get too explosive. For instance, in 2006, there was concern over the efforts of various pro-Palestinian campus groups to promote an academic boycott of Israel. Is this being anti-Semitic? Should campuses allow this to be advocated?

After all those who espouse academic boycott have a good deal of evidence of criminal activities on the part of the Israeli universities. At that time the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sought to clarify the issues by arranging a roundtable discussion on academic boycott by those who stood pro and con.

This sounded like a good idea. But, no, the Zionist side did not like the list of discussants on the pro side and tried to censor the list. The AAUP resisted that move, so the Zionist side pressured the donors subsidizing the proposed roundtable to pull their support. The whole thing collapsed. It seemed the Zionists were not going to discuss the topic except on their own terms.
Just recently there has been similar attempt at sweet reason. A heated debate is now taking place over whether Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which bars federal funds from institutions that discriminate) can be applied to schools that allow criticism of Israel which the Zionists claim is anti-Semitic.

If so, those same Zionists, whose influence is strong in Congress, can use Title VI as a club to threaten colleges and universities with the loss of financial support unless they shut down the criticism. This, of course, equates to censorship and an attack on free speech.
Once more the AAUP, which opposes the use of Title VI in such situations, approached the American Zionists in an effort to find a compromise position. Professor Cary Nelson, head of the AAUP, managed to enter into negotiations with Kenneth Stern, the “anti-Semitism expert” of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

The two of them worked out a common position which, after consultation with others in each organization, was signed and released to the public. What did this document say? For our needs, here are its most important points:
1. Title VI is not an appropriate instrument to use when trying to “protect” Jewish students from “anti-Israel events, statements and speakers.” To use Title VI this way amounts to censorship.
2. Regarding how to know when activities are anti-Semitic, the document said, “Six years ago the European monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) created a working definition of anti-Semitism … while clearly stating that criticism of Israel in the main is not anti-Semitic, [it] gives some examples of when anti-Semitism may come into play, such as holding Jews collectively responsible for the acts of the Israeli state, comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or denying to Jews the right of self-determination (such as by claiming that Zionism is racism).

“In recent years the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights have embraced this definition too. It is entirely proper for university administrators, scholars and students to reference the working definition in identifying definite or possible instances of anti-Semitism on campus.”

3. So, censorship and Title VI should be avoided, but the “working definition” should be used to make judgments as to how best to “wrestle with ideas” while at the same time “combating bigotry.”
This letter was signed by both Cary Nelson as President of the AAUP and Kenneth Stern as the Director of the anti-Semitism and extremism sub-division of the American Jewish Committee. Released in early August, it took only a few days before it was repudiated by the AJC.

On Aug. 9, David Harris, AJC president, “apologized” for the joint declaration, said it was “ill advised” and blamed a breakdown in the AJC’s “system of checks and balances” for the slip-up. Kenneth Stern is now on an unscheduled sabbatical and cannot be reached for comment.
This is, of course, a replay of the 2006 situation and just goes to show that, it is the hard-right ideologues who are in charge on the Zionist side. These people have a worldview that allows for no compromise. Censorship is exactly what they want and Title VI is as good a weapon to wield as any.

What could Kenneth Stern possibly have been thinking? There is no room for sweet reason here.
AAUP’s Mistake
This is not the end of the story. There is something wrong with the fact that the AAUP was so quick to endorse the EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism (a definition, by the way, that Kenneth Stern had a hand in writing).

Consider these two statements from the above AAUP-AJC declaration each of which, according to the “working definition,” can be seen as anti-Semitic: 1) “holding Jews collectively responsible for the acts of the Israeli state” and 2) “denying to Jews the right of self-determination (such as by claiming that Zionism is racism).”

As we are about to see the first statement has hidden facets to it and the second defies historical reality.
Statement 1:
It is absolutely the case that the Jews should not be held collectively responsible for the actions of Israel. But it should be pointed out that it is just such collective responsibility that Zionists insist upon.

Zionist ideology demands that Israel be recognized as representing world Jewry. Zionists expect that, in return, all Jews will identify with and actively support Israel feel one with the “Jewish state.” They classify those Jews who do not recognize their collective responsibility to Israel as somehow deficient or perhaps “self-hating” Jews.

So let us get this straight, if holding Jews collectively responsible for the acts of Israel is anti-Semitic, what does that make the Zionists?
Statement 2:
a. That Jews have some sort of natural right to political self-determination is highly questionable. How about Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, ad infinitum? Just how far do we want to push this claim of political self-determination for religious faiths?

Oh, but the Zionists insist that Jews are not just adherents to a particular faith they are a “people.” Well, that is an opinion. It just doesn’t happen to be the opinion of millions of other Jews who see Judaism as a religion pure and simple. Of course, if the latter are vocal about this they run the risk of being labeled “self-hating.”
b. And who, except of course the Zionists, says that Zionism is a desirable vehicle for the expression of this alleged right of self-determination?

Let us face it. Israel and its Zionist ideology were born of the will of a small minority of Jews, almost exclusively from Central and Eastern Europe, most of whom were secularists, and almost all of whom carried within their heads the poisoned perceptions of European imperialist bigotry an outlook which still characterizes the state they set up.

That is why, in practice, Zionism has resulted in a prima facie racist environment in Israel. And now we are told that, according to the “working definition,” pointing out the link between Zionism and racism is an act of anti-Semitism!
Given this close reading of parts of the “working definition,” the AAUP really ought to rethink its apparent support of the document. It is a position that can only give impetus to the very censorship the AAUP dreads.
One has come to expect twisted logic from the Zionists. Actually, one can expect this sort of thinking from any band of ideologues. Their blinkered vision, incapable of seeing around the corners of their prejudices, guarantees that most of what comes out of their mouths and their pens is sophistry.
However, what is one to do when folks you count on as rational and careful thinkers, like the leadership of the AAUP, get caught short this way? What is one to do when flawed reasoning and spurious assumptions start to be translated into criteria for government administrative decisions?

What can you do when a fifth of the Congress decides to take a break and visit one of the most racist places on the planet and you risk being labeled an anti-Semite for decrying this fact?

Well, you have a good laugh, have a good cry, and then go post your assessment of the situation on your website. Then you get a bit drunk. Finally, you repeat ten times “I will never stay silent.”

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author ofForeign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

14 comments for “Stretching Charges of Anti-Semitism

  1. August 27, 2011 at 23:58

    I don’t consider all Jewish people as Zionists, and I do know both American and European Jews. I have met Israeli Jews who certainly not Zionist and I have never considered for the most part those who are not Zionists to be anything other than moderates to leftists in all their countries. The Zionists are the ones I despise and they all aren’t Jewish by birth or religion. We have plenty of these retards in the United States attending all sorts of really nutty churches, look at those Dominionists and the Baptists along with a lot of other nuts running around. All of those people hate everyone not like them and are only using the Israelis as a straw man to spread their ridiculus ideology of a silly religion that is about as far from true christianity as possible. The Palistinians are not even counted as human as they will be those slaughtered in these crazy idiots pell mell journey into oblivion. I am not religious, I don’t believe in any religion. I consider them all to be the evil that is holding humanity back. But again that is another history and even though I do not believe, I will fight for the right to have you believe in any nonsense you want to believe in, As Long As You Do NOT Try To Force Your Idiocy on ME!

    Just this old Chief’s 2 cents

    Oh and By the Zionists Did Commit an Act Of War against the USA… Look up Israel and the USS Liberty… Quite a story and if It had not been for the Russians they would have killed all hands and blamed it ont the Egyptians.

    • MacDougall
      September 1, 2011 at 20:28


  2. Marc Schlee
    August 27, 2011 at 22:14


    There has never been a country named “Sem” and I’ve never met or even heard of anyone who described themself as a “Semite”. Not even one.


  3. Lyn19
    August 27, 2011 at 21:45

    Lawrence Davidson’s article is right on.

    Now here is some logic that’s a little hard to follow, but I think it works:
    Accept for the moment that the zionist claim:
    1. Saying Zionism is a racist ideology is equivalent to saying Jews are evil (anti-semitism)

    2. Since one of the tenets of Zionism is that only Jews have the “right” to live in Israel, especially, those Palestinians who were expelled in 1948 or their descendants don’t have that “right” because they aren’t Jewish, it’s pretty clear Zionism is, in fact, a racist ideology (using the legal definition of racism which covers discrimination on the basis of ethnicity): it clearly gives preference to one ethnic group (in this case defining ethnicity by religion, or whatever you call Judaism) over all others and especially over the indigenous people of Palestine, namely, Palestinian Arabs.

    3. Therefore, if you say Zionism is a racist ideology you are merely stating a truth.

    4. Since stating Zionism is a racist ideology is equivalent to stating Jews are evil, the two statements are equivalent in their truth value.

    5. Therefore, stating Jews are evil is also stating a truth.

    6. Therefore, Jews are evil.

    Anyway, it just goes to show that the Zionist claim that stating Zionism is a racist ideology is anti-semitism leads to a ridiculous and patently false assertion, therefore the claim cannot be true. Or, maybe we should stop with conclusion #4 above, with the note that the Zionist claim of equivalence is of itself anti-semitic.

  4. J. B. Gregorovich
    August 27, 2011 at 17:56

    Sorry. Superb analysis.

  5. J. B. Gregorovich
    August 27, 2011 at 17:51

    Superb ananylis.

  6. Norman
    August 27, 2011 at 17:16

    As I understand the rhetoric, the Israeli Zionists consider all peoples except themselves, as being of less human. Now, isn’t that in itself raciest? Isn’t that also anti-everybody else? The Zionists are the chosen people? What about the other 7 billion peoples on this planet? I seriously doubt that there is going to be a big rush by the 7 billion to embrace the Zionists just because they say they are the ones and if you don’t, then you don’t like us. 7 million pushing against 7 billion, just like the banks creating something out of nothing.

  7. steve wise
    August 27, 2011 at 11:15


    • sulphurdunn
      August 27, 2011 at 16:32

      Yes. Zionists are twisted too. Furthermore, the article was about freedom of speech on American college campuses and the attempts by Zionist associations to muzzle it, not the relative guilt of Palestinians or Israelis toward one another. The fact that you’d erect a straw man rather than address Davidson’s argument is a strong indication that unfettered debate is something you fear.

  8. MacDougall
    August 26, 2011 at 21:51

    The “Karate Kid” Moment that Bill Clinton missed: Linguistics and the Manipulation of Fear:

    They are ‘Dog’matists and ‘Cat’egorists. This is the insane linguistic behavior Alfred Korzybski outlined in 1933. (Did anyone mention, ‘Reichstag Fire?’) Korzybski simplified the act of propaganda with two little words: ‘labelling’ and ‘identification’. But there is a third, even littler word essential to this perverse equation. Bill Clinton (animal) instinctively stumbled on it while defending himself against the Lewinsky accusations. He recognized the paradigm, but had never been schooled on the strategy.

    The famous quote was, “ That depends on what the definition of, ‘is’ is”. Kozybski’s entire thesis rests on this little word, and he outlined exactly how it is used to pervert reality. The infinitive, ‘to be’, in all it’s conjugations, is the vehicle used to make the word become the thing. Once the word becomes the thing, it can be linguistically manipulated, and the listener is easily deceived. Those who ask perceptive questions become, “Un-American”. Those who question rhetoric become, “Un-Patriotic”. Those who voice dissent become, “Traitors”. Those who speak the truth become, “Lunatics”. Doesn’t anyone remember Spiro Agnew’s, “They are an effete corps of impudent snobs” remark?

    The game is to use some form of the infinitive to first label, and then then cause a linguistic identification. It is usually a label that has some despicable and unacceptable connotation, causing the target of the label to have some grave reservations about being ‘labeled’. When the word, “antisemite” is tossed around, it implies racism, ignorance, Fascism, Nazism, lynchings, floggings, hijackings, blackballing, hatred, castor oil (as used by Mussolini), street gangs, and every other form of unfettered animalistic behavior.

    That’s why Korzybski called people who engaged in animalistic perversion of language, ‘Dog’matists and ‘Cat’egorists. He also proposed the concept of, “Nonsurvivalistic Behavior”. He posited that, if everybody did it, none of us would survive. So far, we seem to be careening down the path he warned against.

    Watch out as this debate unfolds for that little word, “is”, or any of its conjugations. Especially when someone says, “So and so is a ‘terrorist’. Terrorism is tactic, not an ideology. You can’t fight a war against a tactic. But Zionism truly resembles an ideology. (Notice, I avoided the infinitive.)

    If you don’t know how the game works, you can’t win. But once you do, like Miyagi said, “There is no defense.” Knowingly or unknowingly, this is how “PsyOps” works. It’s time we fought back.

    • MRW
      August 27, 2011 at 16:47

      Great comment, MacDougall.

      • MacDougall
        August 27, 2011 at 23:00

        Thanks, MRW, it’s lonely where I’m at.

  9. Mark Thomason
    August 26, 2011 at 18:29

    This is appearing all over the web fora as the working definition of antisemitism used to make personal attacks on anyone who is critical of Israeli policies. It is part of the written definition of antisemitism in for example CiFWatch.

  10. Karen Romero
    August 26, 2011 at 13:37

    Well, you have a good laugh, have a good cry, and then go post your assessment of the situation on your website. Then you get a bit drunk. Finally, you repeat ten times “I will never stay silent.”

    And, as you are getting a bit drunk and saying to yourself “I will never stay silent.” You can always add these helpful quotes and know they are indeed TRUE…

    Jesus rights wrongs.
    You will know them by their fruits.

    I love your articles Robert Parry!

    Karen Romero

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