CAMERA’s thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by Hurricane Ian, and we wish a speedy recovery to anyone injured and peace to those who have lost loved ones.
Fifty-one out of the 53 members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations (including CAMERA) have endorsed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. That’s about as close as one can possibly come to unanimity within the organized American Jewish community. The IHRA definition has also been endorsed by 38 countries and a majority of US states. But on September 25th—erev Rosh HaShanah—the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran an op-ed by a far-left activist seeking to undermine this definition. (“What antisemitism is, what it is not and why it matters,” by Donna Nevel.)
Nevel wrote, on the eve of the Jewish High Holy Days, purportedly to urge Jews not to consider criticism of Israel antisemitic: “Many Jewish organizations speak about criticism of Israel or Zionism as antisemitic, but that is a misuse and an abuse of what antisemitism is.” In fact, however, the IHRA definition specifically and explicitly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
It is beyond argument that not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic. But just as surely, some of it is. How to distinguish between the various critiques of Israel, how to sort what is from what is not antisemitic, is at the root of the IHRA definition. But Nevel seeks to erode this distinction.
On the one hand, Nevel claims, “antisemitism is directed at Jews as Jews. Criticism of Israel or Zionism is directed at a nation-state,” implying that there is no connection between criticism of Israel and hostility towards Jews. But on the other hand, she wrote, “for many of us who are Jewish, we feel an obligation to make clear Israel does not have our support and to speak out about the injustices being committed.” If Israel is just any old nation-state, just like any other, then why does Nevel feel that being Jewish gives her a special obligation to speak about it?
She is, moreover, either blissfully ignorant of Jewish history, or appallingly disingenuous. She wrote:
Zionism is a political movement that resulted in the dispossession and expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their land and homes. Opposing that movement in favor of a movement that honors and respects all who live there is an important principle to uphold. That is not remotely antisemitic. In truth, conflating anti-Zionism and antisemitism turns the focus far away from fighting antisemitism and envisioning a world in which all people are treated with dignity, and, instead, is about building support for Israel’s unjust, discriminatory system that privileges Jews over all others and continues to engage in land theft and enormous violence against Palestinians.
Of course, the Palestinian Arabs who became refugees in 1948 mostly fled from a war that they, along with five Arab nations, started. As CAMERA has written before,
Historians agree that there was no single cause of the Arab flight from Palestine. In large part, the masses fled because they saw the Palestinian elite doing the same thing. In part, it was in response to exhortations by Arab military and political leaders that Palestinian civilians evacuate their homes until the end of the fighting. Vast numbers were simply fleeing the heavy fighting that surrounded them, or that they expected to soon disrupt their lives. In some instances, Palestinians were forced from their homes by the Jewish military.
The Jews who lived in the war-affected area, in contrast, did not flee—because they had nowhere else to go.
Nevel also appears oblivious to 1300 years of history in which Jews who lived in Muslim-majority lands lived as second-class citizens known as dhimmis, a kind of Middle Eastern Jim Crow. Similarly, her claim that Israel engages in “enormous violence” against Palestinians ignores decades of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, wars launched by Hamas, and rejection of peace and independence offers. Her allegation of “land theft” is of course baseless.
Antisemitism is not simply, as Nevel claims, “like all forms of injustice.” It functions differently than other forms of bigotry; it can flourish in certain circles because it is viewed as “punching up,” and it often manifests as the demonization or delegitimization of the Jewish state. In order to fight it, people must understand it. That’s why IHRA is so important—and also why people like Nevel attack it.