First, a belated happy and healthy New Year to my Jewish readers. In past years, far too many congregants worshipping in the more pluralistic branches of Judaism were subjected to sermons on the High Holidays that emphasized criticism of Israel without enough context or appreciation for the security challenges of the Jewish state. Being tough on Israel and soft on the PA was too often the script. This brings us to the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s long-standing anti-Semitism, most egregiously evidenced in their textbooks. Many of these sermonizers subscribe to the J Street talking points regarding criticism of Israel and defense of the Palestinian Arabs.
In recent weeks “Members of the European Parliament…were unanimous in condemning incitement and anti-Semitic content found by a recent study of Palestinian Authority textbooks, in what one nonprofit called a “watershed moment” in the campaign to reform the curricula.”
Overwhelming evidence of Palestinian Authority anti-Semitism has been documented for many years by organizations such as Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) that has been ignored or minimized by groups like J Street. A few years ago, I brought the head of PMW to meet leaders of J Street in New York. Itamar Marcus shared evidence of PA support for anti-Semitism in schools. Promisingly, the J Street leaders said the information was new to them and disturbing. They said that despite it being uncomfortable to a J Street audience, they would recommend to their national leadership to bring Mr. Marcus to speak at the national J Street conference. Unfortunately, Itamar never received an invitation from J Street, despite contacting them again. Diversity of thought was not on the agenda.
The last time J Street strongly condemned the PA was over three years ago when PA President Abbas’ blatantly anti-Semitic speech couldn’t be ignored. It may be long in coming, but it is time for J Street to step up to the plate and strongly condemn the PA for decades of anti-Semitism in their textbooks, official media, and mosques. Since the PA has not prepared their young people to accept their Jewish neighbors to have their own nation, J Street should be faithful to its mandate for two states for two-peoples and call out the PA’s actions as an impediment to peace, equal to their demand to end settlements. If settlements and territory were the primary reason for this dispute, it would have ended many years ago after Israeli offers in 1949, 1967, 2000, 2001, and 2008 for two states for two peoples.
Suppose J Street ignores, rationalizes, or defends the PA, even after the usually unsympathetic EU has denounced PA indoctrinated anti-Semitism. In that case, they should consider changing their moniker from pro-Israel to pro-Palestine.
EU Budgetary Committee Chair Monika Hohlmeier — who hails from Munich, where Palestinian gunmen killed members of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972 — called the offending (Palestinian textbook) content unacceptable. “The Munich massacre is portrayed as a justified attack. We cannot accept that young people are taught that terrorist attacks are acceptable.”
The Director of the mainstream American Jewish Committee’s Brussels-based EU Office said it is “difficult to imagine a policy more at odds with EU values and the stated goals of working toward peace and the creation of a democratic Palestinian state than indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate. The European Commission must act decisively to help preserve both the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution and its own standing as an honest broker.”
As President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken ponder how to entice the Palestinian Authority (PA) to negotiate with Israel, a far more significant problem is being ignored. The Biden team marched along, facilitating a transfer of money to the PA and reopening the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, another Palestinian demand, without tangible reciprocity. But this will not reveal the elephant in the room: an inevitable, coming uprising by Hamas in the West Bank.
Published in The Jerusalem Report on July 12, 2021.
In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, which “determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” US ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that “The United Nations is about to make antisemitism international law.” He said the United States “does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act… A great evil has been loosed upon the world.”
Yet the accusation of “Zionism is racism” is alive and well in America in 2021. The infamous 1975 UN Resolution that was rescinded in name only in the 1990s made its official return in 2001 at the Durban World Conference of Racism. As the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs stated, the conference “became a forum for racism. Human rights were used… as a weapon of political interests… A large group of states sought to… exclude references to the Holocaust, redefine or ignore antisemitism, and isolate the state of Israel from the global community as a racist practitioner of apartheid and crimes against humanity.”
Today its message animates much of American academia and the progressive world in all its antisemitic permutations. In the anti-Zionist Middle East, from Iran to Turkey to Hamas, with the notable new exceptions of nations who have signed the Abraham Accords, Zionism is Racism is a fact, just as the sky is blue. Just visit Jordan and Egypt, where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are prominently displayed, despite both having formal peace treaties with Israel.
Calling someone a Zionist is an epithet for a Jew. In the Middle East, a Jew is ashorthand for Israeli. Israelis and supporters of Israel are Zionists. Zionism is Apartheid, and to be a Zionist means you are racist. Just visit any American college campus during the annual Jew-hating apartheid week in the spring semester. As American historian Gil Troy explained, “The Zionist settler in Palestine was transformed… into an analogue of white settlers in Africa… Palestinian propagandists were resurrecting parts of Nazi ideology… negating Jewish nationalism and peoplehood.” In other words, Zionism is racism – which means antisemitism.
Connecting Zionism to apartheid to racism was clearly articulated by Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying, Israel is “promoting racism and dehumanization” under an “apartheid system.”
Her fellow anti-Zionist Rep. Ilhan Omar not only calls Israel an “apartheid government” but accuses it of “terrorism” while ignoring the targeting of Jewish civilians by a US government-designated terrorist organization. The “Squad” leader, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, accused Israel not only of apartheid but of indiscriminately targeting Palestinian civilians. Even UNRWA’s Gaza director Matthias Schmale said the Israeli military struck targets with “sophistication” and “precision.” That was until Palestinians and their international supporters demanded that he retract the facts. The first casualty of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been the truth.
This is not legitimate criticism of Israel. This is antisemitism, according to the IHRA definition, used by the US State Department and scores of nations. In America, you may have the right to be an antisemite, but let’s call it what it is. It is Jew hatred that incites violence, and equating Zionism with racism is unvarnished antisemitism.
The dramatic increase in antisemitic hate crimes in the wake of the last Gaza war has been met with a deafening silence by progressive academics and organizations in defending Jews against hate crimes. Academics’ propensity for a morally flawed cultural relativism that excuses the antisemitism of Israel’s enemies while advancing a perverted rationale that Zionism is a racistideology must be exposed for what it is and then rejected. It is the witch’s brew that has brainwashed two generations of naïve American college students who are now in positions of authority.
The litmus test to know if this is antisemitic oversensitivity or a double standard against Jews and Israel is to replace the Jewish victim with a person of color and the nation of Israel with the American use of force against ISIS and other asymmetric enemies that hide behind their civilian population. The answer is both frightening as well as illuminating. From CNN to the New York Times to NPR, there would be an outrage against similar attacks against minority groups that would be headline-grabbing for days on end. Yet, according to FBI statistics, Jewish hate crimes have continued to increase over the last 25 years (last reported for the year 2019), while those against African-Americans have decreased. Some victims are more favored than others. As for Israel, no nation has been more meticulous in avoiding civilian casualties. The amount of negative coverage Israel receives rightly or wrongly dramatically exceeds that of other democratic countries fighting terrorists.
The rise of antisemitism in the guise of politically correct anti-Zionism would not happen if a growing segment of progressives and the mainstream media did not believe Zionism is racism, akin to American white racist discrimination. The Israeli is a white Jewish supremacist. The Palestinian is an afflicted victim of color. Zionism is therefore racist. Yet, the majority of Israeli Jews fit the criteria of people of color. This is an inconvenient fact ignored by the progressive Left. It must be pointed out that there is hope. There is an outstanding progressive representative who is a strong defender of Jews and Israel, Richie Torres. He needs to be a model for others and be supported when the AOC gang eventually intimidates him.
Unfortunately, many Gen Z members and millennials have bought into a dogma that Israel is a pariah state, and to be a Zionist is to be a racist. Mainstream media have given fringe groups like Jewish Voice for Peace legitimization to propagate a hate-filled message about Israel under supposed Jewish values. Zionism is incompatible with decency in the church of “social justice wokeism.” Fellow progressive travelers may not realize they are abetting antisemitism because their leaders have reformulated antisemitism to align with the contemporary social justice movement.
Jewish progressives see Israel and Palestinians as they see the plight of African Americans. The parallel is inappropriate, but ideological movements never let this get in the way of manipulating people. The emotional temperature in the wake of the BLM movement first allowed them to claim that American police brutality is a consequence of Israeli training of American police. Even before the women’s march of January 2017, liberal Zionists were told that no matter how “woke” you are, if you support Israel, you are persona non grata. You, too, are an oppressor and racist, and you are not welcome.
Once the riots of the summer of 2020 began, more false claims were easier to make. The years of apartheid walls, screaming down pro-Israel speakers on college campuses without any consequence, the intimidation of pro-Israel professors, and the fear Jewish students have of speaking up for Israel without being intimidated have brought us to where we are today. A few years ago, I was invited by a student to speak at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. A short time later, she called to apologize, telling me that she had to disinvite me or she would lose at least half of her friends because my viewpoint would not be welcome. Welcome to cancel culture.
I watched the return of Zionism is racism when I visited Vassar College with a young liberal Israeli speaker. Students for Justice in Palestine disrupted his talk, and when he asked them just to sit down and have a candid discussion, they refused and continued their disruption. Afterward, the students from J Street on campus told me that they were stigmatized as Zionists because they believed Israel had a right to exist, even though they were highly critical of Israeli policies. They said they were considered the most right-wing group on campus. Today that is closer to the norm than an aberration on too many campuses. Two years ago, I was disinvited from giving a speech at a majority black university after the dean read my address praising MLK and his support of Zionism.
Even though the original UNGA Resolution on Zionism was rescinded, the world never stopped equating Zionism with racism. The best proof is the infamous Durban conference, which was a hate fest of Jews and Zionism. Let’s look at what the original resolution said. The determination that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination was based on:
• The unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism
• The racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regimes in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin… organically linked in their policy aimed at the repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being,”
• Most severely condemned Zionism as a threat to world peace and security and called upon all countries to oppose this racist and imperialist ideology.
• The principle that “international co-operation and peace require… the elimination of colonialism and neo-colonialism, foreign occupation, Zionism, Apartheid.”
Does anyone think this resolution would not garner a significant majority of votes in the UN today, or a substantial number of the progressive caucus and the rest of the anti-Israel gallery of activists? Their words and hate resonate with young idealistic progressives who know little of history. What makes this intolerance so galling is that progressives claim to be open-minded but, in reality, are the most illiberal members of Congress, disrespecting differing points of view.
This May, I spoke to a Democratic Senate office that told me the Human Rights Watch’s designation of Israel as an apartheid state had caused real damage with Democrats. I was told defending Israel in the wake of the Gaza war was too politically dangerous, especially with the rise of the progressives who would work to defeat moderates in the next election.
A letter signed by hundreds of faculty, students, and alumni at Princeton University said, “We stand by HRW… in calling Israel’s systemic discrimination and violence by its proper name: Apartheid. The brutal system that controls Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories is ideologically founded upon Jewish supremacy.”
SPME, a network of university scholars whose mission is to fight the falsehoods of pro-Palestinian advocates, pointed out the Daily Princetonian article was “filled with empirically false or grotesquely exaggerated assertions, a profound lack of empathy for Israelis and Jewish lives and safety… Israel is a colonial, illegal occupier of Arab land. (This) an occupation that includes land grabs, state-sponsored terror, militarism, and random and sadistic violence against an indigenous population.”
A driving force to legitimize the narrative that Zionism is Racism is to view the world through the prism of Intersectionality. All victimized people need to stand together because all our causes are intertwined. Black Lives Matter, Palestinian Lives Matter. Even liberal Jews are suspect because, in this Orwellian nightmare, American Jews are white, privileged, and racist even if they don’t know it.
What could slow it down, but is unlikely to happen, would be a vociferous counterattack by pro-Israel liberal Democrats. Instead, we are getting the usual bromides about Israel having a right to defend itself, but silence in supporting and defending Zionism and Israel’s vital role in supporting US interests in that part of the world.
What makes this a tipping point is the silence of pro-Israel Democrats in Congress and the mainstreaming of new anti-Zionists such as Peter Beinart, who is still described as a liberal Zionist. How can you be a Zionist if you want a binational state to end a Jewish state because it offends your progressive sensibilities?
An excellent place to begin is to continue to lobby every organization, university, and nation to understand why adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism is essential to combat antisemitism. If you cannot define it, you cannot fight it. If you challenge the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland and Israel’s right to exist, you are in effect practicing antisemitism. The Zionism is Racism crowd is fighting this definition tooth and nail, in the name of free speech. If you wanted to gauge American society, ask yourself, how many members of Congress would vote against using this definition for antisemitism?
Zionism was never racism, and forcefully defending and implementing the IHRA definition is a good place to begin.
In the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, there is an essential component that well-meaning Western negotiators have underestimated: religion factors more into the equation the West might expect, even for secular Arab citizens.
Religious beliefs are a core reason that many Palestinians cannot accept the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism (Zionism) or peoplehood. For them, it is a religious obligation never to cede land that once was Islamic. The Western mindset can’t fathom the importance of this, unable to comprehend that there is no separation of mosque and state for these believers. If it were simply about haggling over borders, the conflict probably would have ended long ago.
Israelis also have a religious narrative, especially among those who settle the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) for religious reasons — the biblical homeland of Jewish people.
With the Biden administration re-engaging with the Palestinian Authority and restoring funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees, it would be wise to reflect on past failures in achieving Middle East peace. This requires something difficult for Washington: thinking beyond conventional State Department wisdom. Typically for Washington diplomats, it is all about Israeli settlements and not the role that religion plays in the conflict.
But Western analysts have underestimated the vehemence of those who believe that Judaism is only a religion, and not a people or a nation. From their perspective, the Jews don’t have a civilization or one with legitimate aspirations for their ancestral home in the Levant. On the other hand, they feel a duty to keep, or to regain, control of any place that once was under Islamic control.
For example, the first Islamic presence on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), the Dome of the Rock, was built in the late 7th century, nearly 1,600 years after the Jewish temple first stood on that location. If you listen to the Palestinian Authority’s line, never mind the archeology, Jews were never there and are simply colonialist interlopers.
Western experts should appreciate the importance of the Abraham Accords, in which moderate Islamic nations chose pragmatism and respect for their Jewish cousins’ claim to nationhood. It could be a gift to create a new paradigm between the Israelis and Palestinians. But only if a new Palestinian leader emerges in the image of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), a pragmatic Sunni moderate who signed a peace treaty with Israel, will there be a chance to resolve the conflict anytime soon. Such a leader must accept a Jewish state without territorial demands dictated by strict interpretation of Islam. Many Middle East experts failed to see the Abraham Accords coming, wherein Arab states would recognize Israel and choose moderation over religious orthodoxy.
The origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict were never simply territorial, ending in Arab and Jewish states as envisioned in United Nations Resolution 181. The most unmistakable evidence is that former leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas both declined offers for a Palestinian state and Arab East Jerusalem as the capital in 2001 and 2008, respectively.
Western foreign policy officials say that we all know how this conflict has to end — two states for two peoples, with a division of the land and Jerusalem based on the 1949-1967 Armistice Lines. Yet, they forget there were those who would not sign an armistice unless it made clear that these lines would not be permanent borders, insisting instead on a ceasefire that stated, “The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary,” so it could not legitimize a Jewish entity.
Today, conventional Western wisdom is that Palestinians sustained “Al Naqba,” a “catastrophe,” with the creation of the State of Israel, which expelled 600,000 indigenous people. But this catastrophe for the Palestinian people wasn’t only of Israel’s doing. Respecting Palestine’s loss is something with which most Israelis could empathize — if most Palestinians could overcome the belief that Israel has no right to exist. Both peoples must learn to respect the other’s narrative.
Religion was a motivating factor in Palestinian leaders and Arab nations not accepting a Palestinian state in 1948, 1967, 2000 and 2008. This more realistic, but politically incorrect, narrative is not one that today’s foreign policy experts want to accept.
America should not mediate any negotiation for final-status talks without a precondition: The signing of an unassailable end-of-conflict treaty, stating that neither side can have claims on the other’s territory. That is a non-negotiable demand to avoid past failures, because it would mean the religious dimension of the conflict is addressed regarding territorial concessions.
Palestinians deserve a government that prioritizes their future and begins the process of accepting the painful compromises needed for their economic empowerment and freedom. With Palestinians about to vote in legislative elections, it is incumbent on the U.S. to articulate a clear position on what it expects of Palestine and Israel.
If accepting Zionism and embracing the principles of the Abraham Accords is a bridge too far for the political leaders to cross at this time, a good beginning would be to foster grassroots dialogues between moderate Muslim and Jewish religious leaders, who can see the humanity in the other people with whom they are destined to live in the land. Who knows — if the Abraham Accords were possible, anything may be possible?
Supporters of extending Israeli sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank claim this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to permanently create defensible borders and strategic depth with the blessing of an American administration. Like the Israeli Stockade and Watchtower settlements of the pre-State era that rose in a single night to create facts on the ground for future defensible borders, today’s annexation advocates believe that once built, the project cannot be undone. Maybe yes, or maybe no.
With polls showing former vice president Joe Biden in the lead in key electoral swing states that Trump needs to be re-elected, Middle East watchers have now begun to speculate on what a Biden presidency and a Democratic Senate might do in 2021, if Israel extends sovereignty to portions of the West Bank.
Would the result be American sanctions, a reduction of security cooperation, or decreased funding, to be used as leverage to change Israel’s position? Progressive critics of Israel including J Street will tell the president that it is for their own good to punish Israel, and that America must advocate for Palestinians as the victimized party. According to The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon, during the presidential debates, Biden said that the US has to “put pressure constantly” on Israel to move toward a two-state solution.
For perspective, Israel was never supposed to withdraw to indefensible lines that existed before the Six Day War. People forget that the goal in 1967 was meant by the Arabs to be a war of annihilation, a second Holocaust. Today that history falls on deaf ears, as Israel is simply seen by many as an occupying colonialist power that must accept an indefensible line as its permanent border.
Most people have no idea that the authors of UNSC Resolution 242, written after 1967, which was the basis for all peace initiatives, acknowledged that lines were to be redrawn so that Israel could live in security. What constitutes secure borders or strategic depth today is most definitely not a return to the lines of 1967.
If Israel extends sovereignty to the Jordan River Valley and major settlement blocs, the uproar will be great. The question is not whether Israel needs the Jordan River Valley for its ultimate security – it almost assuredly does – the question is rather, is this the most opportune time to do it? Security analysts know that Jordan may not be long for this world and Iran could be the big winner, effectively controlling Jordan as it more or less controls Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq today.
AS FOR the semantics between the terms “extending sovereignty” vs “annexation,” you cannot annex something that you have rights to based on an equally legitimate reading of international law that views the territory as disputed, because the last legal stakeholder was the now-defunct Ottoman Empire. Whether it is wise at this time for Israel to extend sovereignty is a different question.
AIPAC used to fight for any position the democratically elected government of Israel advocated whether from the Left or Right, but has now read the tea leaves and has given its blessing to those who want to criticize Israel for any annexation, even of the large settlement blocs that were part of land swaps in every previous peace offer. Political expediency trumps conscience for Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as he too has read those tea leaves and has refused to endorse his long-term pro-Israel colleague House Foreign affairs Chairmen Elliot Engle, who is in the fight for his political life against an opponent endorsed by AOC’s Justice Democrats.
Fast forward to a United Nations deliberation on Israel next year. What will President Biden and Vice President Susan Rice charge the US ambassador to the UN to say when the inevitable international condemnations against Israel begin, if it extends sovereignty to even to just the large blocs? Biden and Rice were actively involved when the Obama administration orchestrated the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 in 2016 that labeled Israeli possession of a millimeter of territory over the 1967 line a war crime.
Which brings us back to whether it is wise for Israel to extend any sovereignty this summer?
The unsatisfying but prudent answer is that the status quo is the better strategy at this time. It’s up to Israel to determine its own fate, but American supporters of Israel have the obligation to share with their brethren the potential ramifications. The extension of sovereignty will weaken Israel’s security status because of a rupture in relations with America. A more prudent approach for those who want to extend sovereignty would be to see if Mr. Trump is re-elected and the Senate remains in Republican hands.
The Middle East is tense and unpredictable under normal conditions. The current economic crisis and political instability due to the pandemic has made the region a tinderbox. There is no need to ignite the US-Israel relations at this time. Israel still has all of its options in the future, while maintaining the current strategic depth and working relationship with the PA’s security that the status quo would maintain. Pragmatism isn’t pretty, but violence and diplomatic isolation are worse.
Timing is everything. The best choice is no annexation now, while revisiting the possibility in the future if events change.
The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, and Defense News.