Column: Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism

A Detroit congresswoman, an Australian student editor and a sex-abuse survivor from Vermont escape from a sanatorium and regale us with stories cementing their standing as antisemites.

The trio has entangled Judaism and Israel, proving once again that from their perspective anti-zionism is indeed antisemitism.

A congresswoman we all know and loathe, Rashida Tlaib, is expelling Jews from the “progressive” movement for standing with Israel; Habibah Jaghoori picked a meeting at the University of Adelaide in Australia to berate Jewish students by urging “death to Israel”; and one or more leaders of a sex-abuse survivors’ group at the University of Vermont insist that only a friend of the Palestinians can be a friend of survivors.

Interestingly, these survivor organizations ignore the honor killings of women that are rampant in the Arab world. “Zionists” – those who support Israel’s right to exist – participated in progressive causes long before Rashida Tlaib was born. When natives of Russia meet Ukrainian natives, they do not shout “death to Ukraine.”

What does Israel have to do with “progressive” issues or just the status of being Jewish?

Attacking Israel, claim the Jewish homeland’s harsher critics, is not at all the same as attacking Jews. These critics are alarmed by what the state of Israel does, not by its essence as a Jewish entity. They cannot abide Israel’s policies, but they respect the Jewish people.

Each case recently emerged in the news, and in one way or another they contradict their claim that demonizing Israel has nothing to do with demonizing Jews. They love Jews, hate Israel.

Rashida Tlaib, a House Democrat who represents part of Detroit and some of its suburbs, went full Orwellian on Tuesday last week (Sept. 20) by declaring, “I want you all to know that among progressives it has become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government, and we will continue to push back and not accept this idea that you are progressive except for Philistine any longer.”

Philistine? She was quoted thus in two publications when she spoke at an American Muslims for Palestine event.

I could imagine Tlaib’s face filling a walled television screen, literally looking down on us as she dictates our political conduct. She is telling backers of Israel, whether Jewish or not, that we must be excluded from participating in liberal political causes.

That is plainly un-American. You cannot tell Americans what to think and believe. America is about anything but. Tlaib was born in America and has had the honor of representing Detroiters in Congress going on four years.

Tlaib’s way is how they do things in the Arab world, the world her parents moved away from – specifically the area around Ramallah on the West Bank. Control is systemic in Arabic nations. Would she tell women in Iran to wear their hijabs since that is Muslim tradition? Would she tell Russian men to obey orders for military call-ups to Ukraine?

Ordaining that progressive action and support for Israel do not mesh enters yet another dimension. Most Jews automatically support Israel, even if in a casual way. They feel a strong emotional tie to Israel, though their views about Israel’s policies cover a wide range. True, a great many like myself think Israel is essentially in the right, but we do not view the conflict in finite terms. Tlaib knows it, as do her allies.

I am hesitant to conclude whether a critic of Israel is antisemitic. Israel has made serious mistakes in this conflict, though nothing like those made by the Palestinians. Many critics genuinely believe that Israel is, overall, the villain in this situation, and even some of the crudest of critics will issue statements that are too confusing to decipher.

When critics decide to bar advocates for Israel – most of them Jews – from joining their club, that is antisemitism, so Rashida Tlaib has finally entered a distinct hall of shame. I am aware that I am late in thinking of her in those terms.

On the same day as Tlaib’s outburst, the board of YouX, the University of Adelaide’s student body, announced Habibah Jaghoori’s dismissal as editor of On Dit in the wake of her article declaring “death to Israel.” The board met to assess her article, but her conduct at the session swiftly influenced its decision. The board  stated, “Despite numerous opportunities to clarify her position and dispel any misinterpretation, she has continued to use language in public forums that can be clearly construed to support actions that could threaten the welfare of students.”

Describing what Jaghoori did, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, “The pro-Israel blogger Israelly Cool posted a video of a student union meeting at which Jaghoori repeatedly said ‘death to Israel’ and giggled while saying it when challenged by Jewish students who said they found it threatening.”

The J-Wire newsdesk in Australia recounted this comment by Dr. Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council: “We appreciate that Jaghoori’s removal as editor was due to her appalling behaviour at a meeting called to discuss her article, where she abused Jewish students including repeating several times ‘death to Israel.’”

As repulsive as her words were toward anyone, Jaghoori was sending this message to Australian Jews, not right-wing members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Her article worried these students, but it appears that Jaghoori did not bother to vet these students for their relationship to Israel. It would have been coincidental if any of them are Israeli soldiers or children of Israeli diplomats.

It was sufficient for Jaghoori to know that they are Jews.

Easily the sickest of these anti-Jewish actions is an unheard-of membership requirement enacted by two sexual assault survivor groups: Zionists not allowed.

You read that right. UVM Empowering Survivors at the University of Vermont in Burlington posted on Instagram, “If you don’t support Palestinian liberation you don’t support survivors,” and adding, “we have multiple Jewish-identifying members who are all advocates for Palestinian’s (sic) freedom,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported in mid-September.

This policy is among many antisemitic actions which were allegedly tolerated by the university that the U.S. Department of Education is investigating, as violations of Jewish students’ civil rights. The original complaint to the government was filed by Jewish On Campus, a college antisemitism watchdog group, with the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which is a pro-Israel legal organization that often gets involved in campus legal issues, according to JTA.

A similar federal complaint was filed in collaboration with the Brandeis Center the month before on behalf of two Jewish students at SUNY New Paltz, one of whom identified as a sexual assault survivor, who were also expelled from a student-led survivor group, in their case after sharing a pro-Israel Instagram post, JTA reported.

This congresswoman, student editor and Vermont group raised these absurdities to a more perilous level. They are blaming most if not all Jews for what they accuse Israel of doing. How is that anything but antisemitism?

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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