A guest post by Amith Gupta, NYU Law Student
Feel free to forward this widely. Contact me if you would like to publish some or all of it.
A personal note: I did not intend on sending this or discussing this any further. But, for the last three years, I have been pushed and pushed to speak about Alison Weir, not out of support for her politics, but out of alienation by those who have attacked her.
Below is a consolidated version of some of the things I have written to associates on organizing lists about the recent statement by Jewish Voices for Peace to malign Alison Weir, which was mass-mailed to various chapters and list-servs. I did not intend to write anything further, but I have had ten people contact me to tell me to spread this further in 24 hours.
These comments are NOT made out of support for If Americans Knew NOR out of opposition to Jewish Voice for Peace. These comments should NOT be read as a defense of any unnamed persons who have separately been accused of anti-Semitism, nor should they be interpreted to suggest that anti-Semitism is not a problem or that it does not exist.
These comments are ENTIRELY PERSONAL and do not constitute endorsement from ANY organization with which I have worked or currently work with, and do not necessarily imply agreement from any of the individuals mentioned or cited. They should not appear as an endorsement of any particular individual or group that shares or circulates them.
These are made for the movement, as a whole, which desperately needs internal criticism of its increasingly problematic and racist politics.
1) Disclaimer: I do not have any formal or organizational affiliation with Alison Weir or her organization, If Americans Knew.
2) My personal experience with the smear campaign against Weir.
3) JVP’s entire accusation against Weir is based on guilt by association and could easily apply to some of the most prominent voices in the movement for Palestine solidarity, including Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Dilip Hiro, Ilan Pappe, Jennifer Loewenstein, Ray McGovern, Joseph Massad, Norman Finkelstein, Glenn Greenwald, Pete McCloskey, Philip Weiss, Richard Falk, John Mearsheimer, Lenni Brenner, and Rachel Corrie’s parents.
a. Alison Weir has not endorsed nor agreed with the racist views expressed by those with whom she has been associated
b. It is unwise to expect Weir or anyone else to completely ignore the communities that are vulnerable to such racism (see below).
4) Inaccurate and hypocritical accusations of ethnic chauvinism
a. Losing Balance: While JVP alleges that IAK downplays the value of Palestinian voices, it is JVP which is constructed on seeing Jewish voices as “particularly legitimate” according to the JVP website.
b. If Americans Knew and Alison Weir have been principled and expansive in working with Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinian/Arab-Americans, including the Al-Awda Right to Return Coalition and the Beit Sahour-based International Middle East Media Center; both organizations are run and staffed by Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans. The organization has publicly and explicitly supported the full Palestinian-led call for BDS since at least 2006.
c. JVP has not been principled in working with Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinian/Arab-Americans, barring its chapters from working with groups of any ethnicity that take overtly anti-Zionist slogans and politically vetting those Middle Easterners and Muslims with whom they work. It also took JVP ten years to endorse the full BDS call.
d. JVP ‘s statement appears to suggest that Jews alone can define anti-Semitism, despite knowing that such accusations can implicate racism and violence against Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian communities. This is a form of ethnic chauvinism.
e. JVP’s statement suggests that all Jews are somehow personally or familially connected to Israel, a restatement of Zionism
f. JVP’s statement suggests that American imperialism and warfare benefits Americans as a whole, undermining the American anti-war movement and contradicting prior stances that JVP has taken
5) JVP has taken at least 4 different positions on Zionism, implying a lack of any principle regarding racism and colonialism against Palestine in particular and the Middle East as a whole.
a. Open-Ended: JVP’s guidelines state a refusal to state their beliefs in terms of the word “Zionism”
b. Restricted: JVP’s guidelines state that their chapters are banned from working with organizations that use “anti-Zionist demands or slogans”, presumably including Al-Awda and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
c. Pro-Zionist: JVP interprets Jews, as a group, to be connected to the Middle East, which is Zionism (see above).
d. Anti-Zionist when condemning anti-Semitism: JVP has recirculated letters that explicitly argue that Zionism is a form of racism in the context of disavowing a British-Israeli author for his apparently anti-Jewish statements. The statement against this man is included in their statement against Weir. The implication is that condemning Zionism as a form of racism is acceptable, provided the condemnation is made while disavowing someone for anti-Semitism.
e. JVP’s statements imply a lack of principled positions regarding racism against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, while taking a staunch position against perceived racism toward the Jewish community. This is a racist double-standard.
6) Racism, Colonialism, and Identity Politics
a. Optics & the White Gaze: JVP and IAK are both “identitarian” groups that have sought to navigate the maze of racism in the United States.
b. The racist and colonial roots of anti-Semitism allegations against Palestine solidarity organizers per se.
c. While neither group has navigated perfectly, JVP’s position in particular is highly problematic and warrants serious criticism.
7) JVP has taken an inconsistent position on engagement with “the Right” and those who are in danger of being misled and exploited by xenophobic, right-wing racism.
a. My personal experiences with right-wing racism as a person of color and the son of immigrants.
b. The roots of “the right” and the dangers of ignoring their misguided flock.
c. JVP has not opposed engagement with right-wing elements of the Jewish or Israeli communities.
8) Other Resources that I consider informative.
a. Noam Chomsky on accusations of anti-Semitism within left-wing and anti-racist movements.
b. Joseph Massad: “Sartre, European Intellectuals, and Zionism”
c. Philip Weiss: “Conservatives for Palestine”
d. Norman Finkelstein on ADL anti-Semitism survey and what qualifies as anti-Semitism
e. Louis Proyect: “The Anti-Semitism Canard”
f. Lenni Brenner, “The Demographics of American Jews”
g. Jacobin Magazine: Checkered History of Palestine and the Left
9) Addendum: Spencer Sunshine’s PRA attack on Alison Weir and “Campus Anti-Semitism”
a. The original report
b. The attack on Weir
I have no association with Alison Weir outside of meeting her a few times at activist summits/conferences. I recommended her website to others in the early 2000s when If Americans Knew and electronicintifada were the only pro-Palestinian news sources I knew of, and when I was in college I constructed a banner with the website on it. The last time I saw her, I believe it was when she was the keynote speaker at the convention for Al-Awda, the Right of Return Coalition, which is a large-scale, broad-based Palestinian anti-Zionist organization.
Nonetheless, I find JVP’s statement highly, highly problematic.
II) The Smear Campaign
I’ve never seen someone’s name dragged through the mud as with her. In the past, I worked with an organization at the national level. At the time, I did not know that there was any real controversy regarding how she was perceived; I had only ever heard one person suggest she was an anti-Semite, and I assumed it was just a personal difference. I had seen Alison Weir give a short workshop at the 2012 “Occupy AIPAC!” summit that was organized by Code Pink, so I contacted Weir’s organization about either giving a workshop or tabling at a conference with the organization I was working with. I let the other organizers know, some of them flipped out, claiming she was an anti-Semite. I asked why they believed so, and they responded by accusing me of lacking trust (even though I didn’t know any of these people except via internet), and it was a long, drawn out, angry battle from there.
I was never given any actual reason why they believed she was anti-Semitic. It honestly intimidated me that a people whom I barely knew were willing to label someone else I barely knew an anti-Semite, without being able to at least explain why they felt this way. It scared me, because it made me think that these organizers could have easily made the same accusations against me, no reasoning necessary. It reminded me of COINTELPRO.
After the episode was resolved, one of the organizers posted a link to the letter referenced in the JVP statement in which several Palestinians disavow racism, as if to suggest that those of us who did not agree with the accusations against Weir were ourselves guilty of racism.
III) Guilt By Association
So it is worth giving JVP credit for at least explaining why they feel that Alison Weir is bigoted. But I think the reasons they have given are problematic. JVP points out that Weir gave interviews to a right-wing extremist, and, in their view, failed to properly challenge racist and bigoted statements made by the host.
But appearing on someone’s radio show, including a bigot’s, doesn’t exactly imply an endorsement. Weir also claims that she did express disagreement when those bigoted ideas were voiced, but in either case, it seems like JVP is quite openly admitting that the entire claim is based on guilt by association.
Reading the transcript of her interview with the right-wing extremist, Weir sounds like she is doing her best answering questions from a person who does not sound as though he is “all there”. Interrupting this individual any time he made racist comments would require interrupting him virtually every other sentence. But that is not a reason to completely avoid this individual’s listener base, especially as that base is particularly vulnerable to the sort of racist and violent propaganda that is regularly pushed by both anti- and pro-Israel segments of the far-right against Arabs, Muslims, immigrants, and others (see section VII below).
The rest of the accusations are similarly based on association, pointing to writing and publications rather than radio interviews. With regard to publications, is it even Weir’s obligation to go around checking what seedy groups might have exploited her work and then disavow them?
Would JVP suggest that Norman Finkelstein is an anti-Semite, because many of his earlier works criticizing the exploitation of the Holocaust have appeared in genocide denial publications?
Would they suggest that Chomsky is some sort of anti-Semite because he has appeared on all sorts of right-wing media for odd reasons? Would they claim Noam Chomsky is a racist for “failing to disavow” people who have used his writing for nefarious purposes?
How about Joseph Massad, whose Al Jazeera piece “The Last of the Semites” has shown up in nasty places?
Weir has separately – and correctly — pointed out that JVP’s attacks would also implicate prominent American peace activist Ray McGovern; Palestine solidarity activist and journalist Jennifer Loewenstein; Israeli professor and author of “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” Ilan Pappe; journalist Dilip Hiro; Edward Said; Noam Chomsky; and parents of slain ISM activist Cindy and Craig Corrie.
JVP’s statements also appear to implicate award-winning journalist and publisher of the Snowden leaks Glenn Greenwald, Jewish historian Lenni Brenner, MondoWeiss blogger Phil Weiss; anti-war Congressman Pete McCloskey; and a slew of others.
IV) “Ethnic Chauvinism”
A) JVP alleges that IAK and Alison Weir have expressed the nationalistic and chauvinistic view that only “Americans” who aren’t ethnically associated with Israel/Palestine can make meaningful or “objective” conclusions. It is a strange criticism to hear from a group calling itself “Jewish Voice for Peace”. But compare the positions the groups have taken: IAK has been expansive and principled in engaging and working with Palestinian and Palestinian-American communities — more so than JVP.
Here is what JVP said in their message about Weir:
“For example, in IAK’s “Our Story” on their website it reads:
[Alison Weir] founded an organization to be directed by Americans without personal or family ties to the region who would research and actively disseminate accurate information to the American public.
In other words, according to Weir and If Americans Knew, only non-Arab, non-Muslim, non-Palestinian, and non-Jewish voices can be trusted to speak the truth, based solely on their ethnic or religious identity.
Notions of objectivity are routinely used to discredit the experiences of those most directly affected by oppression. But no one is objective, least of all Americans who benefit from the U.S. government’s destructive interventionist and white supremacist policies around the world [emphasis added]”
Compare this with what JVP says on its own FAQ page:
“Q: Why are you a Jewish group? Can’t you just be a peace group?
“Because we are Jews, we have a particular legitimacy in voicing an alternative view of American and Israeli actions and policies. As Jews, we can make the distinction between real anti-Semitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue to shield Israel from legitimate criticism. [emphasis added].
How is founding an organization directed by Americans who aren’t tied to the region any less chauvinistic than suggesting — and then exploiting — that Jews have a “particular legitimacy” in speaking out? Contrast that with JVP Director Rebecca Vilkomerson’s own statements on the matter:
“…So we have to be aware of the privileging of Jewish voices, and the racism and Islamophobia that underlay that privilege. It’s a balancing act and not an easy one. Its about an awareness of playing into notions of who is entitled to speak out about Israel and Palestine and making sure we are not replicating the very systems of privilege there that we are working so hard to break down, while also being willing to use our voices as Jews to change and challenge some very deep preconceptions.
In practice, both JVP and IAK are constructed on forms of identity politics, knowing full well that a thoroughly racist society would view their organizations with greater “legitimacy” due to their ethnic identifiers (“Jewish” and “American” respectively). Both groups have used such identifiers while also attempting to open spaces of dialog and speech for Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian organizations. How can JVP condemn IAK for pursuing the same “balancing act” that JVP works to navigate? There’s one easy answer: JVP has lost its balance.
B) In reality, If Americans Knew has gone even further than JVP in promoting Palestinian voices and organizations. If Americans Knew has embraced the Palestinian-led call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions as one of its strategies of “resistance” since at least 2006:
“By Mazin Qumsiyeh
“…In July 2005, more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a historic document. It articulated Israel’s persistent violations of international and humanitarian laws and conventions and called upon “international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”
The call stated that “these non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by: ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194”[emphasis added].
IAK’s Executive Director was also keynote speaker at the convention for Al-Awda, the Right of Return Coalition, which is a large-scale, broad-based Palestinian anti-Zionist organization. Finally, IAK’s primary source of news promotion is the Beit Sahour-based Palestinian media collective, the IMEMC. Even a brief perusal of the If Americans Knew website makes it clear that IAK’s media campaign relies heavily on promoting Palestinian and Arab voices, including the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, Qatar-based Al Jazeera, and various podcasts and live broadcasting from Palestine.
C) In contrast, JVP took over ten years to endorse the Palestinian BDS call. Here is what their “Guidelines” page currently states:
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) endorses the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equality for all people. We believe that the time-honored, non-violent tools proposed by the BDS call provide powerful opportunities to make that vision real [emphasis added].
We join with communities of conscience around the world in supporting Palestinians, who call for BDS until the Israeli government…By endorsing the call, we make our hope real and our love visible and we claim our own liberation as bound with the liberation of all [emphasis added].
But here is the position JVP took prior to March 25th, 2015:
The boycott/divestment/sanctions movement (BDS) encompasses a variety of tactics and targets. JVP rejects the assertion that BDS is inherently anti-semitic, and we encourage discussion both within our own community and outside of it of the growing BDS movement. JVP defends activists’ right to use the full range of BDS tactics without being persecuted or demonized. We support divestment from and boycotts of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. This includes companies operating in or from occupied Palestinian territory, exploiting Palestinian labor and scarce environmental resources, providing materials or labor for settlements, or producing military or other equipment or materials used to violate human rights or to profit from the Occupation [emphasis added].
In other words, until a few months ago, JVP was willing to defend other people’s right to promote “freedom, justice, and equality of all peoples,” but they themselves were only willing to mobilize their resources toward the freedom, justice, and equality of some. JVP is invoking concepts like “freedom for all” but only when convenient. It is like saying “I promote equality all of the time, 60% of the time.”
Furthermore, JVP appears to work almost entirely with left and liberal segments of the Palestinian-American community that are politically acceptable to them — for example, JVP bans its chapters from joining in coalitions with groups that use “anti-Zionist slogans,” which would presumably bar their leadership from working closely with Al-Awda.
JVP has also taken inconsistent positions on the subject of Zionism (see Section V).
D) JVP’s FAQ page also reads, “…As Jews, we can make the distinction between real anti-Semitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue to shield Israel from legitimate criticism.” What does this statement mean to imply, if not that Jews and only Jews are entitled to define what is anti-Jewish? JVP appears in its own statement to be fully aware that accusations of anti-Semitism can be used to “shield Israel from legitimate criticism”. Considering much of the “legitimate criticism” in question is about Israel’s racism against Arabs and others, this statement amounts to little more than ethnic chauvinism. Despite knowing that accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry can be used to shield racism against Arabs, JVP believes that Jews alone are entitled to draw the line with what amounts to legitimate criticism, as opposed to “anti-Semitism”. In the process, Arabs, and others who identify with the Palestinian cause can be muzzled if they disagree with the limits set by a Jewish group — which is what has happened here.
E) Note also that the JVP statement against Weir interprets the phrase “without personal or familial ties to the region” to imply the exclusion of Jewish voices. Is JVP suggesting that every Jew has personal or familial ties to Israel? This is Zionism.
F) JVP’s statement also alleges that “Americans” have benefited from the US’ interventionist and white supremacist policies. This is a very strange position for a peace group to take. While there is no comparison between the situation of American victims of imperialism and those of its citizens, American warfare abroad has resulted in thousands of Americans being maimed and killed; a massive increase in international threats to the American public; and the waste of billions of dollars that could have been spent on social resources. Indeed, JVP appears to be very committed to the notion that Israeli policies of aggression against Palestinians harm Israelis; so why does JVP feel differently about US policies, of which support for Israel is one?
It is also difficult to imagine that JVP can make any in-roads within the United States if they are opposed to policies which they mistakenly believe to benefit Americans.
V) JVP on Zionism.
JVP has taken at least four different positions on Zionism.
A) First, JVP refuses to condemn Zionism as a form of racism in order to pander to racist people within the Jewish community to form a “big tent”. While admitting that Zionism is a form of racism in other releases and admitting anti-Zionists as individuals, the group says the following about Zionism:
“The terms, “Zionism” and “Jewish state,” are emotionally loaded and defined differently by different people. [JVP] do not articulate our positions in these terms, but instead in terms that affirm the values we endorse: equality, human rights, democracy, and respect for international law.” [emphasis added].
Despite condemning Weir for reaching out to groups with problematic and racist ideas, JVP’s own views on Zionism — the most obvious form of racism relevant to the Palestinian struggle — are explicitly based on pandering to racist people in order to form a united front. It is difficult to imagine that JVP can effectively promote “equality, human rights, democracy,” etc. while explicitly seeking to pander to those who identify so closely with the colonial enterprise of Zionism that they would refuse to work with JVP if it condemned Zionism as racism.
B) JVP even goes further to bar its chapters from working with groups that use “anti-Zionist slogans or demands”:
A JVP group may join in coalition with pro-Zionist or anti-Zionist groups. JVP groups may not participate in a coalition whose demands or slogans are pro- or anti-Zionist.
That would presumably include principled organizations like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and Al-Awda, which condemns Zionism as a form of racism in its points of unity.
It is also difficult to imagine that JVP could ever work with any Palestinian organization that is remotely representative of the Palestinian struggle if it demands that its coalition partners effectively sanitize Zionism in their sloganeering or in any political demands that they make. The effect of this is that organizations cannot critically oppose the colonial ideology that underpins the ethnic cleansing of Palestine or stigmatize this enterprise in public fora. If JVP was around prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, JVP would not have been able to rally support behind the infamous and powerful UN resolution defining Zionism as a form of racism.
C) As noted above, JVP’s statement on IAK also interprets Jews, as a group, to be personally and familially connected to the Middle East. This is a frank admission that JVP believes in and endorses Zionism.
D) Ironically, while JVP refuses to use the term “Zionism” to articulate its message and bans its chapters from joining in coalitions with groups that use anti-Zionist slogans, it did not mind circulating a letter by Palestinians disavowing controversial British-Israeli writer and alleged anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon, which explicitly rejects Zionism as a form of racism. In other words, when disavowing people like Weir (or Atzmon), it is apparently okay to stretch these arbitrary rules.
E) JVP’s varying stands on Zionism, when contrasted with the group’s ideas of anti-Semitism, exhibit a racist double standard. With regard to racism and colonialism being carried out against Palestinians and Arabs, JVP will take varying stances depending on the circumstances, although it appears that the usual stance is to apologetically write off Zionism as a touchy subject while barring its chapters from coalition-building with groups that are both principled and more likely to be representative of Palestinian demands. In contrast, when discussing anti-Semitism, JVP will go out of its way to launch a behind-the-scenes “whispering campaign” before publicly disavowing a fellow activist, solely based on a guilty association with anti-Semitism. While there is pragmatism in reaching out to those with ignorant or apologetic views within the Jewish community, it does not make sense that JVP would go out of its way to attack others in this fashion except out of a failure to confront their own internal racism.
VI) Racism, Colonialism, and Identity Politics
Overall, this is not about disavowing racism, which is unfortunately pervasive in American society, including its activist organizations. It is about optics. Knowing full well that the “white gaze” of American society views only certain groups with ethnic legitimacy, JVP and IAK have charted out different political strategies in terms of how to navigate the maze. Accusations of anti-Semitism against Palestine solidarity organizing per se are entirely based on the colonial construction of Jews-as-civilized and Palestinians-as-savages whose rights and existence threaten the civilized (AKA Jews).
JVP appears to have taken the strategy of mobilizing liberal and left Jewish voices, even if it means pandering to racism within the Jewish community.
IAK has charted out a different strategy, based on a much wider tent for which the centerpiece is “national interest” and American-centric rhetoric that portrays Zionism as a deviation from the interests of the average American. JVP appears to think this is apologism for America’s crimes (see Section V). But American policy is largely undemocratic, driven by interest groups and donors, and disconnected from the average person. If anything, IAK’s position is a recognition that colonialism/imperialism are driven by elite interests, rather than the reductionist view that suggests there is something inherent about “America” that makes its regime support Israel in a vacuum, removed from the institutional interests of ruling elements (including lobbies).
In any case, without endorsing Alison Weir’s politics as a whole, I think JVP’s position is highly problematic for those reasons. I have removed myself from their list-serv. Personally, I do not find the idea of a distinctly “Jewish” organization that opposes Zionism to be problematic. I am a fan of groups like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. But JVP’s criticisms of Weir appear less to be motivated by any nefarious associations that Weir (or anyone else) might have and more based on their own highly problematic identity politics.
Additional subjects and resources below.
VII) Avoiding the Right — Sometimes
I think it is worth discussing a major organizing flaw that seems to permeate well past Palestine-organizing: not engaging the communities that are most likely to be exploited by the right:
“The enemy is laughing at you. You can wear a t-shirt with the hammer and sickle, you can even hold a huge flag, many, many feet long and go back home with your flag while the enemy is laughing at you because the people, the workers, prefer the enemy, they believe in the enemy. They understand the enemy when he talks, and they don’t understand you. And it’s possible that you’re right, and you can ask your children to put a placard on your grave: “He was always right, although nobody knew.” But when you study the successful experiences of the movements of transformation, you realize that the key to success is to achieve a connection between the reality you have diagnosed and what the majority actually feels and that is very difficult, that means engaging in contradictions…”
As far as I can tell, JVP’s statement correctly labels the radio host in question anti-Semitic. He appears to be a Neo-Nazi, supports former KKK leader David Duke, and appears to be primarily concerned with what he perceives as the decline of the white race. As a person who was raised in California to two non-white immigrant parents, I find that kind of politics to be, quite frankly, scary.
But I also know that in the past, many of the people who listen to such people are not committed to such hateful messages. They buy into it because those kinds of hateful people are the only ones that speak to their sense of frustration with real problems, like the economic crisis. It is very easy for a poor white person from the middle of America who sees the economic collapse take his job to start blaming ethnic cabals and conspiracies for his problems — you know, like that Muslim socialist President we have that was born in Kenya and is secretly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood? That is not because he is an avowed racist, it is because he is vulnerable to such messages from people like the radio host in question.
I know this because in my own personal experience of meeting people with, quite frankly, ignorant views on host of race-related subjects, I have found that many of them are not hateful or violent but simply misled. Properly engaging people in a way that they will actually understand and be placed on the right path is important, even if tricky. If even one person stopped listening to the radio host in question and started reading If Americans Knew, where they would hear not only from white American voices like their own, but also from Jewish voices, Palestinian and Arab voices, the United Nations, and the like, that is in my mind a small victory. That would not be possible if Alison Weir did not go on his bizarre radio show or interrupted him every time he said something racist, which was every other sentence.
Most importantly and ironically, it appears that JVP already knows this: that is why they have gone out of the way not to condemn Zionism, knowing (correctly) that to do so would immediately alienate Jewish people who have been brought up in communities where Zionism is a prevalent form of racism. There is wisdom is telling those segments of a society that are committed to various forms of racism to take a hike, but there is also wisdom in trying to put them on the right path, even if it means not always being able to shame them in the strongest terms.
As Weir pointed out, JVP would not be foolish enough to condemn Weir for appearing on Israeli right-wing radio shows, because they know as well as she does that there is at least some strategic wisdom in engaging the people who are most vulnerable to racist messages. There is plenty of historic similarity between poor white segments of American society and some parts of the Israeli settler movement which are also made up of poor and marginalized segments of Israeli society. It is no coincidence that the marginalized Mizrahi Jewish population of Israel also happens to be among the strongest of advocates for Israel’s proto-fascistic movements.
Finally, if the real issue is “justice for all,” then why did it take JVP ten years to endorse the boycott, and why do they bar their members from working with groups that use “anti-Zionist slogans” (see section V)? The answer is that they know that such decisions are not always easy to make when engaging a hostile, racist population. Alison appears to be aware of the same issue, albeit for a different population, and it is not right to publicly shame her for it.
VIII) Other Resources
A) Noam Chomsky speaking on accusations of anti-Semitism within left and anti-racist movements, mostly by left-liberals, SUNY New Paltz:
Q: “Incidents of anti-Semitism have come up at the Occupy protests. Why is anti-Semitism starting to rise among the left, and what is your advice to young Jewish activists?“
Chomsky: As far as I know, it’s not true. [applause]
If you’re out to look for it, you can find things. When you take a big mass of people, you can find a little bit of almost anything.
On the other hand, this claim that there’s anti-Semitism on the left, just look at its history. Look at the early 1960s-70s. There was practically an industry of left-liberals, including the Democratic Socialists who were among the worst, trying to show that Dan Berrigan was an anti-Semite, that everyone who opened their mouths were anti-Semites. There were literally efforts — Seymour Martin Lipset well known sociologist, was running big studies to run through Black Panther newspapers to see if he could find a poem by a twelve-year-old kid which maybe had some anti-Semitic implications. Okay, that shows they’re all anti-Semites [sarcastically].
The cry of “anti-Semitism” is a good way to shut people up [applause] because nobody wants to be charged with that. I’d be pretty cautious about those charges. But if it’s real, then you respond to it. Whatever it is, anti-Semitism today isn’t even a toothpick on a mountain compared to anti-Muslim hysteria [applause].
A lot of the states in the Union here in [the United States] passing constitutional amendments to prevent the courts from using Halakha, Talmudic law [sarcastically]. If they did that, people wouldn’t even laugh. But there are states doing something equally laughable and ridiculous — except that it’s dangerous — which is trying to institute constitutional amendments to prevent the use of Sharia law. This is about as likely as an asteroid hitting the state [laughter]. But this is all over the place. That’s real.
The FBI is breaking into people’s houses and arresting them for what’s called “material support to terrorism” — meaning they said something favorable to Palestinian movements or something. Nothing like that is happening to the Jewish population. If there are any bits and pieces of anti-Semitism, then fine, shout at them or argue against it. But I think it’s extremely slight if it’s there at all, in comparison to major movements of hatred and repression, hatred of immigrants, blacks, racism, anti-Muslim racism which is an extraordinary and really major phenomenon. [applause]
B) Joseph Massad, “Sartre, Left Intellectuals, and Zionism”
“What is it about the nature of Zionism, its racism, and its colonial policies that continues to escape the understanding of many European intellectuals on the left? Why have the Palestinians received so little sympathy from prominent leftist intellectuals such as Jean- Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault or only contingent sympathy from others like Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Etienne Balibar, and Slavoj Zizek? Edward Said wrote once about his encounters with Sartre and Foucault (who were anti-Palestinian) and with Gilles Deleuze (who was anti-Zionist) in this regard. The intellectual and political commitments inaugurated by a pro-Zionist Sartre and observed by Said, however, remain emblematic of many of the attitudes of leftist and liberal European intellectuals today…”
C) Phil Weiss, “Conservatives for Palestine”
The national-interest crowd was traditionally silenced by the anti-Semitism charge. Scott McConnell showed how anti-Semitism charges were used to marginalize writers Joseph Sobran and Pat Buchanan when they took strong stands against Israel. Steve Walt said that the overuse of the charge by the lobby had helped undermine its power to blacklist speakers and arguments.
D) Norman Finkelstein, “Quick Thoughts: on the ADL Global 100, An Index of Anti-Semitism”
…I would also find it alarming if anyone except Abe Foxman (and perhaps the New York Times) gave a hoot about the poll’s conclusions [in which the ADL found that one quarter of the world is anti-Semitic]. Personally, I am alarmed by genocide and war, death from preventable diseases and from hunger, global warming and massive unemployment. I see no cause for alarm if not everyone loves by far the wealthiest and most successful ethnic group on the planet. Back in the day, most sensible people detested WASPs.
…is it even true that a quarter of the world’s population is anti-Semitic? I am actually surprised at how low the percentage is, in light of the calculated absurdity of the questions…
E) Louis Proyect, “The Anti-Semitism Canard”
There was a time when Jews suffered from institutional racism. At the turn of the century, Jews lived in the slums on the Lower East Side and could easily identified by their Yiddish accent. They suffered from discrimination and poverty on a level that matched that of Blacks or other oppressed groups historically. In Germany they were less oppressed despite the specious arguments of Daniel Goldhagen. It was only the Great Depression and the massive influx of Eastern European Jews into Germany that allowed Hitler to make use of the Jews as a scapegoat.
All that changed after WWII when Jews moved out of the tenements and into the mainstream. The second generation (my mom and dad’s) opened small businesses, went to colleges (most often state universities), lost their Yiddish accent, and even changed their last name to fit in. Bernard Schwartz became Tony Curtis and Issur Danielovitch became Kirk Douglas. If you were fortunate enough to make big bucks on Wall Street, you didn’t even have to change your name.
To put things into perspective, the Anti-Defamation League issued a report on anti-Semitics attacks in 2013 that covered the entire world. Not a single death was reported. Most of the incidents were of the sort that turns up in New York routinely, a swastika scrawled on a Synagogue wall or a gravestone overturned. Compare that to the fate of Muslims who face racism and murder every where they look, from Burma to Kashmir.
F) Lenni Brenner, “The Demographics of American Jews”
In 1991, I interviewed Harold Seneker, then the editor of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, for an article in The Nation. I told him that I found Jews, 2.2% of the population, to be about 25% of the 400. He told me that he thought this a success story, both for American capitalism and for the Jews, and that he wanted to write a story on it. But Forbes wouldn’t let him. The then publisher had gone thru the Hitler era, when talking about Jewish money was an anti-Semitic specialty.
This mentality is still common on the left as well, and it is wide spread among elderly Jews. Forbes, much of the left, and old Jews share what must be called a ‘folk Marxist’ mentality. Despite the differences in their politics, they all believe that history repeats itself. Someday there is going to be another 1929 Depression. The capitalists will, once again, call up central casting and get another Hitler to smash the left.
This is fantasy. Its a projection of the past, and Germany’s past at that, into America’s future. In reality, journalists constantly turn out articles for Zionist publications about how Jewish campaign contributors play a major role in funding both parties and, very rarely, the topic is touched on in the mainstream media. “The Political Future of American Jews,” a1985 American Jewish Congress pamphlet by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, declared that “While there have been few reliable statistics on the subject — and some reluctance to gather any — the journalistic and anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that more than a majority of Democratic funds on a national level, and as much as a quarter of Republican funds have come from Jewish sources.” They were referring to private contributions, as was an article in the 1/5/93 NY Times announcing that “Jews contributed about 60 percent of Mr. Clinton’s noninstitutional campaign funds.”
G) Jacobin Mag, “Palestine and the Left”
VIII) Addendum: Spencer Sunshine & PRA attack on Alison Weir and “Anti-Semitism”
Although it was not a part of my original conversations with others regarding Alison Weir, a piece written by a CUNY Graduate student and anarchist, Spencer Sunshine, has found its way to me. The piece, attacking Alison Weir and If Americans Knew, was commissioned by Political Research Associates, a liberal think-tank affiliated with Chip Berlet, and released originally in a 2014 report about what Berlet, Sunshine, and the others at PRA believe to constitute “campus anti-Semitism”. While the piece was written in 2014, it has resurfaced on the front page of Political Research Associates, implying that the piece has been posted to double-down on JVP’s attack on Weir. Sunshine’s attack on Weir is tagged on to the end of the report, so it is worth discussing the report in full.
The report is largely stacked. From its beginnings, it appears that Berlet relies heavily on pro-Israel advocacy groups and Zionist ideologues to construct varying definitions of anti-Semitism, including Hillel, the Anti-Defamation League, and the like. The report also spends much ink analyzing the varying and arbitrary definitions of anti-Semitism supplied by Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky. While the report is quick to point out dissenting sentiments, the underlying assumptions of these organizations’ views largely color the rest of the report’s conclusions, in which anti-Semitism is defined in such a way as to include various forms of anti-Zionist and anti-Israel activism.
Elsewhere, Chip Berlet gives a lengthy interview to UK sociologist David Hirsh, who has separately written that BDS is “arguably antisemitic in itself,” and that eyewitness testimonies of disgust with Israel’s massacre in Gaza or John Mearsheimer’s comments about the Israel lobby are “reminiscent of classic antisemitic blood libels or conspiracy theory”. Hirsh has written, “…if you organize an academic boycott of Israeli Jewish academics but no one else in the world, that is an anti-Semitic policy”. In his interview with Berlet, Hirsh argues that Nazi analogies made by campaigners against Israel are motivated solely by “Jew-baiting,” ignoring of course that there is a subversive element to reclaiming the Holocaust from a state which has never ceased to exploit its memory.
Hirsh, like Berlet and Sunshine, are often quick to emphasize that anti-Semitism does not necessarily require intent. Instead, they emphasize that anti-Semitism, like other forms of racism, can be institutional. The concept of institutional racism can be useful. The basic gist of institutional racism is “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture, or ethnic origin”. This idea is useful in particular interventions dealing with racism, in which discrimination is system-wide and it may be difficult or impossible to single out an individual’s personal prejudices.
But with so much discussion of institutional racism, none of the individuals in the report carry out any institutional analysis regarding discrimination against Jews at all. Indeed, those who have done so have found that Jews in the United States and Western Europe do not suffer institutional discrimination, but rather have the qualities and traits of the country’s most elite ethnic groups.
Instead, the three individuals have separately and concurrently misused this conception of institutional racism to engineer definitions of anti-Semitism that are vast, vague, and, overall, useless for anti-racist organizers and dangerous for Palestinian rights campaigners.
In the report itself, Berlet argues that any form of “othering” and conspiratorial or populist rhetoric, even when unrelated to Jews or Israel, is potentially anti-Semitic or dangerous to Jews. While the report contains many such examples, one running theme is that virtually any opposition to Israel that involves populistic rhetoric about Israeli power is conflated with anti-Jewish canards. Failing to look at historic, European anti-Semitism within any historical context, the authors instead conflate any discussion of Israeli political power in completely different contexts with canards about Jewish power from different times and places in a completely ahistorical fashion.
After smearing Alison Weir, Norman Finkelstein, and others alongside the likes of notorious racist and Islamophobe David Horowitz, the report closes with interviews with individuals praised for “challenging bias,” including, surely enough, a Hillel leader. But perhaps more troubling is the praise the report reaps on Temple student April Rosenblum, responsible for an anti-Palestinian propaganda pamphlet circulated on the left. The pamphlet, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere,” is appropriately titled, given that the pamphlet is devoid of any historical grounding. The pamphlet repeats the sophistry of the report, in which various incidents, commentaries, and the like revolving around Jews or anti-Semitism in separate parts of the world are knitted together as a sort of international anti-Semitism, which is apparently to be found any time anyone uses strong rhetoric against Israel. The pamphlet suggests that activists avoid suggesting that Zionism is racism, and that various kinds of strongly-worded or exaggerated criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic. In order to give it credibility, the pamphlet is littered with cheap activist sloganeering and lip-service concerns about Palestinians.
In a separate, hour-long rant that Sunshine gave in Portland, in which he also attacked Weir, Sunshine elaborates on the rhetorical scheme found in the PRA report. Sunshine defines a vast array of varying types of commentary as anti-Semitic in nature, many of which are unrelated to Jews or Israel, including populistic rhetoric against financial capitalism, any sort of rhetoric about national self-interest in light of foreign lobbying, and the like. He suggests that anti-Semitism is a sort of exceptional racism, and as a result, he constructs it in such a way that it can be found virtually anywhere.
Bizarrely, Sunshine believes that referring to the Israeli consulate “the Zionist consulate” is anti-Semitic, that condemning normalization with Israel is anti-Semitic, that refusing to see Israel’s settler population as victims of anti-Semitism is anti-Semitic, that using the image of a “snake” in anti-Israel writing is anti-Semitic even when the artists’ intention was not anti-Semitic and the symbol shares no genealogy with anti-Semitic symbolism of the past, and so on. Sunshine manages to see anti-Semitism in condemnations of Zionism as a form of imperialism, and the like. He also cites fringe Marxist theorist Moishe Postone, the intellectual influence of the right-wing, anti-Palestinian and pro-war Anti-Germans tendency in Germany.
In tandem, it appears that Sunshine, like Berlet, have little expert knowledge of the Middle East itself. At one point, Sunshine falsely repeats the cheap Western misconception that there “always has been” a conflict between Arabs and Jews, and that the veneer of anti-Semitism has been laid over the situation. Elsewhere, he suggests falsely that Israel did not invade Lebanon until the end of that country’s civil war; in reality, Israel occupied Lebanon for most of that country’s civil war and continued for ten years thereafter.
There is a running theme behind the rhetoric that Berlet, Sunshine, and other left-liberals who churn out witch-hunting propaganda about anti-Semitism. While managing to construct anti-Semitism as an ever-present, grossly exaggerated, abstract threat, found in various kinds of rhetoric and symbols, violence and inequality against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are downplayed, misunderstood, or ignored, and attempts to address the institutions responsible are themselves reduced to part of the abstract specter of attacks on Jews.
The effect of this rhetoric is to whitewash one of the most blatant inequalities on the face of the earth, in which the Middle East’s foremost military power, armed with nuclear weapons, carrying on a decades-long protracted war of aggression against people under occupation, with the one-sided support of the world’s primary superpower, using blatant racism, is downplayed, and various forms opposition to this extreme situation are presented as toxic and threatening.
It is from this context that Sunshine has written a separate hit-piece on Weir. Sunshine has no problem citing rabidly anti-Palestinian propaganda organizations like CAMERA, which he writes off as a “watchdog group,” in order to condemn Weir. Sunshine also accuses Weir of promoting a blood libel by reporting on accusations of organ-harvesting by Israeli troops — a disturbing but real phenomenon in places of armed conflict. Sunshine also finds fault with Weir’s suggestion that Israel has started all of its wars except one [aside: she is correct].
To add to this, Weir has separately responded to my questioning by forwarding me a copy of the “interview” Sunshine carried out with Weir. Many of the questions are loaded, accusing Weir of suggesting that “the Zionists pushed the US into WWI and WWII”. Sunshine also suggests that Weir’s commentary about links between US reporters and Israel are an attack on those reporters’ families and Jewish identity. He attempts to bait Weir into describing Zionists as parasites, and to describe the organ-harvesting scandal as a Jewish ritual.
Sunshine makes it clear that his primary knowledge about the region is based on Zionist historiography. He chastises Weir for not making it clear that Arabs rejected the 1947 UN partition plan, a plan which would have in fact resulted in the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. He is doubtful that Israel attacked the USS Liberty on purpose, citing a lack of motive and ignoring the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He also appears to believe, despite several decades of scholarship on the subject, that the early Zionists were concerned about the Holocaust when in reality many in their ranks took highly irresponsible positions with regards to the genocide in Europe.
The gist of Sunshine’s problem is as follows: “IAK’s criticisms of Zionism and Israel dovetail with traditional antisemitic narratives…IAK narratives are consistent with the antisemitic conspiracisms of the past century, including the claims that Jews are clannish and cabal-like, have dual loyalties, control the media and the government, steal the body parts of non-Jews, and start wars…”
None of these claims are accurate. Instead, Weir has consistently targeted Israel and its supporters. But due to the Sunshine’s ideologically-motived, ahistoric association of European anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, he manages to find blood libels, canards, and conspiracisms where virtually all of IAK’s commentary has targeted Israel’s state-sanctioned racism against its victims and the behavior of American institutions and communities in providing impunity.
It would be difficult to take Sunshine seriously if one were to see Palestinians as people. If that were the case, it would not be a surprise that Israel’s racist state institutions, its undue levels of support in the United States, its lobbying efforts, or continued racist support for Israel by Jewish community organizations, would come under fire from campaigners. But having refocused his attention on the alleged threats to the community associated with Israel’s campaign of colonization (i.e. Jews), Sunshine, like Berlet, is able to reduce anti-Zionist and anti-Israel rhetoric to canards from completely different time periods with no historical or institutional analysis whatsoever. Mired with dishonest questioning, cheap reductionism, and poor knowledge of the Middle East, the report as a whole, and Sunshine’s comments in particular, amount to sophistry.