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January 28, 2016 0

Crossing the Line: When Criticism of Israel Becomes Anti-Semitic

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Task Force Protestors

Pro­test­ers at Task Force Con­fer­ence in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the wake of a protest against a recep­tion fea­tur­ing an Israeli com­mu­nity group at a recent LGBTQ con­fer­ence, there has been wide­spread con­tro­versy. We have read blog posts and arti­cles, watched videos of the protest, and heard from friends and allies who were present at the demonstration.

Yet, what was per­haps most painful for many of us is that we value and embrace much of the good work of these activists and orga­niz­ers.  They are some of our nation’s lead­ing advo­cates, work­ing to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all. Often they stand as allies in our work for jus­tice and equality.

Unfor­tu­nately, though, this fis­sure is not a new expe­ri­ence.  Since start­ing as the CEO of ADL last sum­mer, I per­son­ally have heard from many col­lege stu­dents that their Jew­ish faith ren­ders them pari­ahs on their cam­puses – unless and until they affir­ma­tively denounce Israel.

Cam­pus Hil­lels and other Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions that have long worked with LGBTQ cam­pus groups, stu­dent of color orga­ni­za­tions, and other pro­gres­sive clubs on cam­pus to host film fes­ti­vals, pan­els, and other events increas­ingly are being shut out, rejected from par­tic­i­pat­ing, even when Israel is not on the agenda. Where other stu­dents are not being sub­jected to a lit­mus test on their views on Israel, Jew­ish stu­dents have been sin­gled out and ques­tioned about their objec­tiv­ity and posi­tion on the issue.

As racial ten­sions flared across the coun­try the past few years, we heard anec­dotes from Jew­ish racial jus­tice advo­cates that they were called “kikes” or tar­geted with other anti-Jewish slurs. When they tried to address the epi­thets, they were told they need to under­stand that “it’s because of Israel.”

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not. It’s anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear. No gov­ern­ment is immune from crit­i­cism. Surely nei­ther the U.S. gov­ern­ment nor the gov­ern­ment of Israel nor any other.  Indeed, we have crit­i­cized poli­cies and prac­tices of Israeli lead­er­ship when we felt appro­pri­ate to do so.

We rec­og­nize that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists will con­demn Israel. That is a real­ity. That is their right. We dis­agree — vig­or­ously — with their accu­sa­tions of pinkwash­ing, with claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and with other efforts to demo­nize Israel.  And we will speak out, chal­lenge their mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, and dis­man­tle their indict­ments with facts and truths, as is our right.

But when that crit­i­cism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, we will con­demn it. It is unac­cept­able and can­not be tol­er­ated any­where, espe­cially not in social jus­tice circles.

To be spe­cific, when a per­son con­flates Jews, Israelis, and the Israeli gov­ern­ment, it is anti-Semitic. When all Jews and all Israelis are held respon­si­ble for the actions of the Israeli gov­ern­ment, it is anti-Semitic. When Jews would be denied the right to self-determination accorded to all other peo­ples, it is anti-Semitic.

And when pro­test­ers chant “Pales­tine will be free from the river to the sea,” it is appro­pri­ately inter­preted by most peo­ple as a call for the era­sure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic. Giv­ing pro­tes­tors the ben­e­fit of the doubt, it is unlikely that most intend their mes­sage to be anti-Semitic. How­ever, regard­less of the intent of the protest, the impact matters.

Yet, too often, when stu­dents, indi­vid­u­als, or orga­ni­za­tions raise the specter of anti-Semitism it is quickly rejected, dis­re­garded, or writ­ten off. Israel’s crit­ics lit­er­ally have writ­ten best-selling books decry­ing their so-called inabil­ity to crit­i­cize Israel.

But Pres­i­dent Obama him­self noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise. And, as he elo­quently reminded, “When any Jews any­where is tar­geted just for being Jew­ish, we all have to respond.. ‘We are all Jews.’ ”

Indeed, we know that women are best posi­tioned to define sex­ism, peo­ple of color to define racism, and LGBTQ peo­ple to define homo­pho­bia, trans­pho­bia, and het­ero­sex­ism. But, does this mean that all women must reach con­sen­sus on what offends them? All peo­ple of color? Every­one in LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties? Hardly.

So too, we Jews are best sit­u­ated to define anti-Semitism, even if all of us may not likely reach con­sen­sus on the def­i­n­i­tion. Our mil­len­nial expe­ri­ence with intol­er­ance demands the same acknowl­edge­ment as other forms of big­otry. Indeed, it is the col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­ity of activists and orga­niz­ers across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum to stop and lis­ten when some­one says,  “You’ve crossed the line.”

Stand­ing up for rights of dis­em­pow­ered peo­ple is a job for us all. ADL has been doing it for more than 100 years. But mar­gin­al­iz­ing and wound­ing oth­ers in the process helps no one. Rather, it divides us and impedes our abil­ity to find com­mon ground in places where our col­lec­tive strength could do so much good.

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December 28, 2015 1

Iran: While We Weren’t Looking

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Khamenei - Social Media Image

It’s been nearly two months since the so-called “adop­tion day” when Iran offi­cially began the process of scal­ing back its cen­trifuges and retro­fitting some its nuclear infra­struc­ture as part of the agree­ment with the world pow­ers to restrict its nuclear weapons pro­gram. Some have touted the agree­ment as a sign of Iran seek­ing to soften its poli­cies and join the world community.

Yet, for all of the fan­fare over the sum­mer about the con­se­quences of the Iran deal, it seems like lit­tle atten­tion has been paid to other Iran­ian poli­cies. Alas, with the world’s focus on the imme­di­ate dan­ger of the rad­i­cal extrem­ism ema­nat­ing from the Islamic State, Iran­ian actions in recent months have affirmed the regime’s unchanged agenda — pro­mot­ing illib­eral poli­cies that pro­foundly con­flict with our core val­ues and those of nearly every other mem­ber of the fam­ily of nations.

In recent weeks, some actu­ally have sug­gested that Wash­ing­ton “sep­a­rate its Iran pol­icy from Israel.” This is lit­tle more than a smoke­screen to divert atten­tion. Despite the impas­sioned rhetoric of some regime sup­port­ers, it’s not about Israel. It’s about the Islamic Repub­lic of Iran, a regime that con­tin­ues its author­i­tar­ian rule at home and one that enforces poli­cies over­seas that chal­lenge the core prin­ci­ples that cen­ter our country:

Dou­bling Down on Human Rights Vio­la­tions: Two years into the term of “reformist” Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, the Islamic Repub­lic remains one of the world’s lead­ing human rights vio­la­tors. If any­thing, Iran has stepped up its abuses in recent months.

Activists and watch­dog groups report a harsh crack­down since Sep­tem­ber, with the Iran­ian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard arrest­ing dozens of activists, artists, car­toon­ists and jour­nal­ists. Notable among these are the deten­tion of 170 “man­agers of groups active in mobile social net­works” in Ghazvin, accord­ing to the Iran­ian Fars News Agency, and the arrest of admin­is­tra­tors of groups on a mes­sag­ing app for spread­ing “immoral content.”

Iran is one of the most dan­ger­ous coun­tries in the world if you are an LGBTQ per­son. In Octo­ber, Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards arrested 17 peo­ple at a birth­day party, say­ing they were “a net­work of homo­sex­u­als and Satanists.”

And, while crit­ics rightly have decried ISIS’ per­se­cu­tion of reli­gious minori­ties, there is wide­spread reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion in Iran — includ­ing ban­ning wor­ship and fre­quent arrests. In Novem­ber, accord­ing to reports, more than a dozen Chris­tians in Varamin were arrested for the “crime” of attend­ing church ser­vices on a Sunday.

The Baha’i World News Ser­vice reported 20 Baha’i Ira­ni­ans were arrested in three cities across Iran in recent weeks for no dis­cernible rea­son. The Shi­ite theoc­racy holds par­tic­u­lar con­tempt for Sunni Mus­lims. Many human rights observers are mon­i­tor­ing the high-profile case of Shahram Ahmadi, a Sunni pris­oner of con­science who cur­rently lan­guishes on death row in Iran sim­ply because of how he prays.

Beyond reli­gious per­se­cu­tion, a U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly human rights com­mit­tee res­o­lu­tion passed in mid-November con­demned Iran for its “alarm­ing high fre­quency of, and increase in the carrying-out of the death penalty….”

While ISIS has been derided for their bru­tal hap­haz­ard exe­cu­tions, Iran has sys­tem­atized the use of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment as a tool of the state against its per­ceived ene­mies, and has done so in com­plete dis­re­gard of inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized norms. This includes wide­spread exe­cu­tions “under­taken with­out noti­fi­ca­tion to the prisoner’s fam­ily mem­bers or legal coun­sel.” Accord­ing to Amnesty Inter­na­tional, Iran’s “stag­ger­ing exe­cu­tion spree” in 2015 could reach 1,000 exe­cu­tions by the end of the year.

Anti-Jewish and “Anti-Zionist” Pro­pa­ganda: Fan­tas­ti­cal anti-Israel and anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries have been a main­stay in the state-run Iran­ian media since the Islamic Rev­o­lu­tion in 1979. Offi­cial sources reg­u­larly issue explicit and implicit threats against the Jew­ish State. Almost too fre­quent to men­tion, there are some notable new addi­tions to the canon of hatred:

Just days after the attacks in Paris, Iran’s Fars News Agency pub­lished a so-called report titled, “Paris Bomb­ings — Fin­ger­prints of the Zion­ists Are Found Again” that made a series of bizarre unsub­stan­ti­ated accu­sa­tions, includ­ing that “After the ter­ror­ist attacks in Paris, it was once again con­firmed that French Jews were informed that the tragedy would hap­pen. Just as it hap­pened in the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks 14 years ago, when Jews work­ing in the Twin Tow­ers did not attend to work.” To add to this fic­tion, the account added that “Zion­ist offi­cials wanted to exploit [the attacks] to achieve their spe­cific goals,” albeit no fac­tual basis was pro­vided to explain this anti-Semitic con­spir­acy theory.

Iran con­sis­tently uses war-mongering rhetoric in its cam­paign against the Jew­ish state. Iran has accused Israel of cre­at­ing ISIS, despite the clear lunacy of such a sug­ges­tion. It is trou­bling to even repeat such a mon­strous fic­tion, but also seems ironic in light of the fact that arguably the Islamic Repub­lic of Iran has ben­e­fited more than any other gov­ern­ment in the world from the dis­tract­ing capa­bil­i­ties of ISIS. In this year’s annual com­mem­o­ra­tion of the anniver­sary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the Iran­ian gov­ern­ment launched a new pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign that declared: “Israel will be destroyed within 25 years.” This came on the heels of the Supreme Leader’s repeated use of social media to threaten Israel with destruc­tion, includ­ing his announce­ment in Novem­ber 2014 of a new “9-point plan to destroy Israel.”

In a recently released open “Let­ter to West­ern Youth,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Aya­tol­lah Khamenei charged that Israel’s “ter­ror­ism” is worse than the attacks in Paris. He wrote of Israel, “In today’s world, do we know of any other vio­lence on this scale and scope and for such an extended period of time?” Alas, this was not writ­ten with any hint of irony.

Finally, whether we can credit the Supreme Leader or those around him, Iran recently revived one of for­mer Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ahmadinejad’s favorites: the Holocaust-themed car­toon con­test. The 11th ver­sion of the “event” which has attracted extrem­ists and pro­pa­gan­dists from around the world promises to fea­ture much of the same. Best of all, orga­nizer Masud Shojai-Tabatabai told an Iran­ian news ser­vice, “[This year] we are also wor­ried about the con­tem­po­rary holo­causts in which a great num­ber of women and chil­dren are being killed in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.” It is unclear whether this was intended to be ironic since he failed to point out that Iran is at the root of these con­flicts, sow­ing unrest in Yemen and per­haps more involved than any other state actor in sus­tain­ing the bru­tal­ity and loss of life in Syria.

Ter­ror­ism: Iran’s state spon­sor­ship of ter­ror­ism is well doc­u­mented. While the world focuses on responses to ISIS and other rad­i­cal Sunni groups includ­ing Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, Iran main­tains its finan­cial and oper­a­tional sup­port for equally vio­lent ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions such as Hezbol­lah, Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen. And, although ISIS just recently has shifted its focus out­side its local the­ater of oper­a­tions, Iran long has exported ter­ror beyond its bor­ders. Its litany of crimes spans con­ti­nents from Latin Amer­ica to Europe and includes an attempted assas­si­na­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Iran has also expanded to Africa: just a few weeks ago, Kenyan author­i­ties announced the arrest of two local men who were described as hav­ing “links to Iran” for plot­ting attacks against West­ern tar­gets in the country.

Anti-Americanism: Dur­ing the sum­mer, many observers mar­veled at the fact that Amer­ica and Iran seem­ingly over­came decades of dis­trust to forge a diplo­matic agree­ment. Yet, despite the accord, Iran­ian lead­er­ship con­tin­ues to rail against the “Big Satan” with­out penalty or even oppro­brium. In a recent tele­vised address, Aya­tol­lah Ali Khamenei inex­plic­a­bly alleged that the U.S. is try­ing to “infil­trate Iran” using sex and money.

Iran con­tin­ues to imprison Amer­i­cans with­out any legal basis for doing so. The list of cap­tives includes Wash­ing­ton Post cor­re­spon­dent Jason Reza­ian, who, accord­ing to reports in the Iran­ian media, recently was sen­tenced to a prison term of inde­ter­mi­nate length. But Reza­ian is not alone. There are five oth­er­im­pris­oned Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, includ­ing Sia­mak Namazi, a Dubai-based busi­ness­man with dual U.S. and Iran­ian cit­i­zen­ship who was detained by the author­i­ties just last month for unsub­stan­ti­ated crimes.

Beyond unpro­voked arrests and pub­lic threats, the Islamic Repub­lic employs increas­ingly sophis­ti­cated tools in its efforts to tar­get Amer­ica. U.S. offi­cials have reported a “surge” in cyber-attacks ema­nat­ing from Iran, includ­ing a series of attempted hack­ing attacks that tar­geted State Depart­ment offi­cials, the very same indi­vid­u­als with whom the Islamic Repub­lic allegedly was nego­ti­at­ing in good faith on the nuclear deal. Admit­tedly, the reported hack­ing attack of Bow­man Avenue Dam near Rye Brook, NY took place two years ago before “good faith” was the norm. But it seems an indi­ca­tor of what we can expect in the future.

We still are months away from “imple­men­ta­tion day” — the date when the IAEA must cer­tify that Iran has met the require­ments spelled out in the nuclear agree­ment before inter­na­tional sanc­tions are lifted, and world atten­tion might shift back to Iran and its behav­iors. Mean­while, com­mer­cial del­e­ga­tions blaze a trail to Tehran and ana­lysts con­tem­plate a new era for Iran and the West.

But just as the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity is com­mit­ted to mon­i­tor­ing for poten­tial vio­la­tions in the nuclear realm, the Islamic Repub­lic ongo­ing human rights vio­la­tions and its exter­nal aggres­sions must be taken into account when con­sid­er­ing the prospect of nor­mal­ized relations.

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December 22, 2015 1

Israel’s Choice: Incitement or Civility

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in the Times of Israel.

As we see in Amer­ica these days, when peo­ple are feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble and inse­cure, politi­cians and dem­a­gogues play on those fears to offer solu­tions that are often anti-democratic and that will ulti­mately weaken, rather than strengthen society.

 So it is in Israel. The coun­try faces con­tin­ual ter­ror­ist vio­lence against its cit­i­zens — more fright­en­ing in some ways than intifadas because of the ran­dom and inti­mate nature of the attacks. And as hos­tile anti-Israel cam­paigns grow around the world, some Israelis turn to sim­plis­tic solu­tions. Those include blam­ing ter­ror on those who dis­agree with them polit­i­cally and engag­ing in behav­ior that verges into incite­ment. Such trends risk sti­fling the cul­ture of free expres­sion that Israel can be so proud of.

In recent days, this phe­nom­e­non has man­i­fested itself in the con­tin­ued attacks on Pres­i­dent Reuven Rivlin for his insis­tence on speak­ing to all seg­ments of Israel’s diverse soci­ety. It has shown up in an ugly video cre­ated by Im Tirtzu, a right-wing advo­cacy group, to name and dele­git­imize left-wing Israeli activists as “for­eign agents” in what can only be con­sid­ered an act of hate­ful incite­ment. It also appears in a broader Knes­set bill that would bar non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions funded by for­eign gov­ern­ments from any con­tact with gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary authorities.

All of these together rep­re­sent a seri­ous threat to Israel’s robust demo­c­ra­tic tradition.

Let’s be clear: when a group like Break­ing the Silence airs alleged atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by Israeli sol­diers abroad — instead of through the estab­lished legal chan­nels for deal­ing with such alle­ga­tions — it under­stand­ably raises the ire of Israelis who are proud of the Israel Defense Forces, the force that stands in the way of Israel’s destruc­tion at the hands of its ene­mies. And it is fair to raise ques­tions about whether such groups play a con­struc­tive role or con­tribute to Israel’s iso­la­tion in the world.

There is, how­ever, a line that should not be crossed. And of late, there are too many cross­ings of that line.

Pres­i­dent Rivlin has been a par­tic­u­lar tar­get of these attacks. Already dur­ing last sum­mer, when Rivlin harshly con­demned the arson attack in Duma, he was widely con­demned on social media for speak­ing out. This included the post­ing of pic­tures of him wear­ing a kef­fiyeh and a Nazi uni­form. Incite­ment of this nature is rem­i­nis­cent of the attacks against for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin that pre­ceded his assas­si­na­tion 20 years ago.

 More recently, when the Israeli pres­i­dent spoke before the Haaretz con­fer­ence in New York, which also fea­tured a panel dis­cus­sion with Break­ing the Silence, Israel’s Chan­nel 20 harshly crit­i­cized him on their Face­book page say­ing the pres­i­dent “mustn’t spit in the face of the sol­diers,” and that his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the same con­fer­ence with Break­ing the Silence is “con­tempt of the presidency.”

The pres­i­dent used his podium to high­light the impor­tance of speak­ing with groups with whom he stren­u­ously dis­agreed, a prin­ci­pled exam­ple of the type of plu­ral­ism that define open soci­eties. Indeed, he specif­i­cally called out his com­plaints against groups such as Break­ing the Silence, as did for­mer Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Knes­set law­maker Tzipi Livni.

 A trou­bling inci­dent in the effort to dele­git­imize and sti­fle left-wing crit­i­cism of Israel was the egre­gious video pro­duced by Im Tirtzu paint­ing left wing activists as com­plicit in Pales­tin­ian stabbings.

 An orga­ni­za­tion has every right to be crit­i­cal of polit­i­cal activ­i­ties it deems harm­ful to the nation. But this kind of fear tac­tic — of blam­ing left-wing groups for the ongo­ing wave of Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ism in order to dele­git­imize them — is a form of incite­ment that crosses over into hate speech. Whether one agrees or dis­agrees with the work of the non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions men­tioned — and ADL strongly dis­agrees with groups like Break­ing the Silence, which refuse to con­tex­tu­al­ize Israeli mil­i­tary actions and to con­sider the hos­tile cli­mate to which they con­tribute — accus­ing them of sup­port­ing Pales­tin­ian ter­ror is poten­tially libelous, and cer­tainly unde­mo­c­ra­tic and dangerous.

This kind of incite­ment against Pres­i­dent Rivlin or against left-wing orga­ni­za­tions and activists should be rejected and con­demned. Israel has trag­i­cally expe­ri­enced what such incite­ment can lead to. Luck­ily, many have spo­ken up.

At the same time, respon­si­bil­ity for how one deals with del­i­cate issues, par­tic­u­larly at a time of great vul­ner­a­bil­ity in soci­ety, falls on all sec­tors of soci­ety. Those on the left who are crit­i­cal of Israeli poli­cies have a right to offer those crit­i­cisms. But they also should be mind­ful of the impact of those crit­i­cisms on the aver­age Israeli and on embold­en­ing forces around the world who are hos­tile to Israel.

For civil soci­ety to work in a demo­c­ra­tic coun­try, civil lib­er­ties must be pro­tected. The right to voice one’s views must be guar­an­teed, and one’s secu­rity in doing so must be reassured.

If civil lib­er­ties are dimin­ished in Israel, Israel will be diminished.

But out­side of Israel, it is essen­tial to rec­og­nize that, in any soci­ety, if a citizenry’s sense of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and inse­cu­rity reaches a break­ing point, pub­lic sup­port for civil lib­er­ties dimin­ishes accord­ingly, while calls for secu­rity increase. In fact, it is worth reflect­ing on the remark­able resilience of Israeli democ­racy in the face of the unre­lent­ing exter­nal threats that it has faced since its establishment.

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