Re-Legitimizing Anti-Semitism: Not the Time for Silence

By Foxman, Abraham H. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

Re-Legitimizing Anti-Semitism: Not the Time for Silence


Foxman, Abraham H., The Middle East Journal


Under the guise of examining new legislation that would attempt to mitigate the impact of supporters of terrorism on university campuses, Duncan Clarke engages in a smear campaign against me and, indeed, the organized American Jewish community. His piece, rather than being an analysis of American-Israeli relations and the role of American Jews in that relationship, is, in fact, an effort, though hardly the first, to turn the American people and leaders away from their long-time support of the State of Israel, and to employ the threat of anti-Semitism as a way to prevent American Jews from their democratic right to support the one Democratic State in the Middle East.

Clarke's essay is so full of distortions, exaggerations, stereotypes, and innuendoes that it is hard to know where to begin in responding. Let's start with his initial charge that in my book I, as champion for free expression (in Clarke's own words), am trying to stifle open dialogues on campuses regarding the Middle East. This is simply untrue. I have been clear on many an occasion that the freedom to speak is a basic American value that protects all American minorities in particular. When vicious anti-Israel speakers appear on campus - individuals who deny Israel's right to exist, support suicide bombers against Israel, and intimidate Jewish students - I have called on college Administrators to make use of their free speech rights to speak against the messages that are being articulated, not against the right to voice such messages.

My record is clear on such matters and is reflected in our approach to the Internet. Hate speech, including anti-Semitism and extreme anti-Israel messages, abound and must be countered, but I have never called for censorship. Clarke's effort to depict me otherwise is one of his many inaccuracies and distortions.

second, Clarke suggests that my goal in writing about the connections between the new anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is to portray any pointed criticism of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic. This is an old charge and is wrong on its face. Criticisms of Israeli policies are all around us, including in Israel itself. Obviously, there are a host of differing views about what Israel should do about settlements, terrorism, refugees, territories, Jerusalem, and its relations with the United States. These differences are aired in the media, in government offices, on campuses, and just about everywhere else. Clearly, I have a point of view about Israel, but I recognize the legitimacy of differing perspectives, including within the Jewish community. Clarke is setting up a straw man in arguing that this is what I call anti-Semitism.

What I and others have written about during this period, in which there is an explosion of global anti-Semitism not seen in 60 years, is the relevance of what Israel's Minister of Diaspora Affairs Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky refers to as the "demonization, delegitimization, and double standard" in attitudes toward Israel. These definitions of what has created an environment in which anti-Semitism has been legitimized for the first time since the Holocaust, have nothing to do with legitimate criticisms of Israel's policy, part of the normal course of international conversation. They are about singling out Israel as the root of all problems. They are about denying the right of the Jewish people to a home of their own. They are about exaggerating Israel's faults while minimizing or ignoring the far greater faults of others, such as at the Durban Conference in 2001, when the fact that Israel, the only society in the Middle East that is democratic and is governed by the rule of law, was singled out for its alleged "racism."

Lawrence H. Summers, the President of Harvard University, said it well in an address several years ago. Speaking of the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the world, a phenomenon which he admitted surprised him, he referred to efforts to get Harvard and other major universities to divest from any companies that do business with Israel, much as had taken place vis-à-vis South Africa in the 1980s. …

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