Years ago, when my son was an undergraduate at Oberlin College, a story appeared in the Oberlin Review, the weekly student publication.
In that story, a Jewish student attacked the policies of the Israeli government and called for a boycott of Israel. The newspaper’s headline was “Jewish student calls for boycott of Israel.” The story apparently was newsworthy for its audacity — it was from a Jew who was attacking the Jewish state.
When I asked the Hillel director how and when he was going to respond to this incendiary proposal, he replied that he wanted to wait and see whether there would be more articles of this ilk appearing in the Review. I responded that any delay in response would give credence to the student’s justification of a boycott. His timidity allowed this calumny to linger for weeks in the hearts and minds of the Oberlin community.
Now we have the celebrated Irish novelist Sally Rooney refusing to have her book published by an Israeli publisher. But she has no problem having it translated into Hebrew. She backs the BDS movement in cultural exchanges even with left-wing Israeli artists because of Israel’s “apartheid” status. She signed an open letter calling for the return of all the millions of Palestinians and their descendants to Israel, in effect terminating the Jewish state.
But she will allow the book to be translated into the language of the Jewish state, providing a convenient cushion to soften any accusation of anti-Semitism.
When there are anti-Semitic attacks, among the first to condemn them are the Israel haters, such as members of the Squad, trying to inoculate themselves as champions against hatred while attempting to prevent the loss of potentially thousands of Israeli and Palestinian lives by rejecting Iron Dome funding.
Too many Jews agree with the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel. They are giving political cover to forces trying to undermine the Jewish state’s standing in the civilized world. Let’s take Ben and Jerry, the founders of their iconic ice-cream brand. They considered the actions of their company in boycotting the sale of their products to the “occupied territory including East Jerusalem” to be an act of social justice. An Axios reporter asked them why Ben and Jerry’s didn’t boycott Texas for its law banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. “By that reasoning,” Ben Cohen replied, “we should not sell any ice-cream anywhere. I’ve got issues with what’s being done in almost every state and country.”
That’s the crux of the issue. There is a double standard that is applied to Israel, making it the punching bag of the so-called progressive elites. Israel has become the “international Jewish cabal” popularized by the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the forgery that was manufactured in Tsarist Russia. Where are the calls to boycott China, a country that is incarcerating its Muslim Uyghurs for “re-education” and defying international treaties by crushing Hong Kong and threatening an invasion of Taiwan? What about Russia, for its conquest of Crimea and other abuses? Why did tens of thousands of people demonstrate in European cities when Israel defended itself against rocket attacks that, despite its best efforts, unfortunately killed civilians? When the United States mistakenly killed 10 civilians by a drone attack, there were few protests.
I’m proud that our Jewish federation, joined by other federations, was successful in lobbying New Jersey to become one of the first states to divest investments in companies practicing BDS. And Unilever, the conglomerate that owns Ben and Jerry’s, is reaping the whirlwind; now, more than a dozen more states are considering unloading Unilever stock.
Applying double standards to Jews and the Jewish state and claiming that the “existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor” was codified as anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and accepted by the EU and the U.S. State Department. It also reaffirms that criticism of the policies of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitic.
But this stance against singling out Israel among the nations was too accommodative for numerous Jewish academics who published a counter definition of anti-Semitism in the so-called “Jerusalem Declaration.” Guideline 14 of the Declaration states that “Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.”
Aside from justifying picking on the Jewish state for the world-wide BDS movement, these academic luminaries ignored the founding charter of BDS, which calls for “ending [Israel’s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands … and promoting the rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties,” effectively calling for the dismantling of the Jewish state.
One of the signatories of the Jerusalem Document, Peter Beinart, is in favor of a “one state solution,” negating the need for a Jewish state. Another, Hasia Diner, the Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of History at NYU, was quoted in an op ed in Haaretz as saying that she no longer considers herself to be a Zionist. She “abhors” visiting Israel, “will not buy” Israeli-made products, and feels “a sense of repulsion” when entering a synagogue that displays its support for Israel. Zionism is a “naïve delusion,” she concluded about the most enterprising and successful country in the Middle East. I hope she doesn’t teach a course on Zionism at NYU.
Despite calls by the progressive left to adopt the Jerusalem Declaration, the State Department, to its credit, refused to change its definition of anti-Semitism.
So like the Jewish student at Oberlin, there are too many Jewish academics and other public figures who, at best, are enablers of the worst anti-Semites, giving them political cover. At a time of increasing anti-Semitism and hatred of the only Jewish state in the world, we don’t need more Jews to pour more fuel into the fire.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014 and he is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.