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January 31, 2007

" 'Progressive' Jewish Thought & the New Anti-Semitism"

On January 31st, the New York Times published an inaccurately headlined article by Patricia Cohen: "Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor." The essay in question, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee and written by Alvin H. Rosenfeld was entitled " 'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism." It was about so-called progressive Jews who oppose Israel's existence. It was not about all progressives and not about "liberal Jews" or those who oppose particular Israeli policies but support Israel's existence as a Jewish state.

However, when Patricia Cohen interviewed various people critical of Rosenfeld's essay, they essentially responded with ad hominem attacks, mischaracterizing the essay as one that is trying to stifle those who criticize Israeli policies. It would have been a much more informative and interesting article, not to mention more relevant to Rosenfeld's actual theme, if Cohen had pressed her interviewees to defend their statements questioning Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.

For example, she didn't ask Richard Cohen about his statement in one of his columns: "Israel itself is a mistake." She didn't press Tony Judt to explain why he feels that Israel is an "anachronism" due to its predominantly Jewish character, yet he is not troubled by the many countries with a distinctly Muslim culture. And she didn't probe Tony Kushner on his numerous controversial comments about Israel, including: "the founding of the State of Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, political calamity."

Since so many of the people she interviewed expressed harsh criticism of Israel, and appeared to feel it was absurd that they would be considered anti-Semitic as a result, it would have been extremely helpful for Cohen to include mention of one or both seminal works on how to differentiate valid criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism: Natan Sharansky's "3-D" test, or the criteria stated by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).

The EUMC explains how to assess when valid criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism:

* Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
* Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
* Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
* Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
* Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Natan Sharansky provides a "3-D test": demonization, double standards, and delegitimation:

"The first D is the test of demonization. Whether it came in the theological form of a collective accusation of deicide or in the literary depiction of Shakespeare's Shylock, Jews were demonized for centuries as the embodiment of evil. Therefore, today we must be wary of whether the Jewish state is being demonized by having its actions blown out of all sensible proportion. For example, the comparisons of Israelis to Nazis and of the Palestinian refugee camps to Auschwitz.can only be considered anti-Semitic. Those who draw such analogies either do not know anything about Nazi Germany or, more plausibly, are deliberately trying to paint modern-day Israel as the embodiment of evil. "The second D is the test of double standards. For thousands of years a clear sign of anti-Semitism was treating Jews differently than other peoples, from the discriminatory laws many nations enacted against them to the tendency to judge their behavior by a different yardstick. Similarly, today we must ask whether criticism of Israel is being applied selectively. In other words, do similar policies by other governments engender the same criticism, or is there a double standard at work?

"The third D is the test of deligitimation. In the past, anti-Semites tried to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish religion, the Jewish people, or both. Today, they are trying to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state, presenting it, among other things, as the last vestige of colonialism. If other peoples have a right to live securely in their homelands, then the Jewish people have a right to live securely in their homeland. " (Jerusalem Post, "Anti-Semitism in 3-D," Feb. 23, 2004)

Posted by LG at January 31, 2007 02:54 PM


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