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Fight against anti-Semitism has ‘lost its way’, claims prominent US Jew

August 30, 2022 at 3:49 pm

Peter Beinart [Flickr]

Accusations of anti-Semitism has become an arsenal to crackdown on critics of Israel, prominent American Jewish commentator, Peter Beinart, has argued in an article in the New York Times. Asking rhetorically if “the fight against Anti-Semitism lost its way?”, Beinart claims that the campaign against anti-Jewish racism, in its current iteration, is being deployed to justify Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights while simultaneously being used as a shield to protect authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that have allied themselves with the Apartheid State.

Beinart claims that, historically, the campaign against anti-Semitism was intertwined with the struggle for universal human rights. American Jewish organisations that were established in the 20th century, for instance, put themselves squarely behind the civil-rights movements and against all forms of racism. After World War II, the early founders of American Jewish organisations fought racism and segregation while believing that prejudice and discrimination were all one piece and, therefore, combating racism and discrimination anywhere would ultimately serve the cause of defending Jews against anti-Semitism.

Although supportive of Israel’s existence, America’s leading Jewish groups did not make it the centre of their work in the mid-20th century, Beinart recalls. When they did focus on Israel, they often tried to bring its behaviour in line with their broader liberal democratic goals. The American Jewish Committee (AJC), for example, repeatedly criticised Israel for discriminating against its Palestinian Arab citizens. Beinart recollects that, in 1960, the head of the group’s Israel Committee hoped to eliminate “anti-democratic practices and attitudes” in Israel so the organisation could more credibly invoke principles of human rights and practices in the US and abroad.

Their progressive and universal outlook dramatically changed following Israel’s takeover of all of historic Palestine, having failed to take control of every inch of the territory after the first wave of ethnic cleansing in 1947/48, when more than half the indigenous non-Jewish population was forced out of their homes. The reason for the shift, argues Beinart, is because Jews became more assimilated, leading to many progressive American Jews to exit organised Jewish life. The result was that Jewish groups became more conservative and they began to search for a new agenda, after civil rights for Black Americans became law.

The second, and more crucial, phenomenon was the ideological transformation of American Jewish organisations. In 1974, two leaders of the Anti-Defamation League wrote a book arguing that Jews were increasingly menaced by what they called a “new anti-Semitism”. This new form of anti-Jewish racism was directed, not against individual Jews but against the Jewish State. Almost a half-century later, that premise now dominates mainstream organised American Jewish life.

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Beinart claims that the American government embraced the proposition, largely as a result of lobbying by Jewish organisations. The State Department now employs a controversial definition of anti-Semitism, whose examples include opposing Israel’s existence as a Jewish State. This year, the Senate confirmed Deborah Lipstadt to be the Biden administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

Lipsdadt is a strong advocate of the view that criticising Israel is anti-Semitic, which is why she has been vocal in her denunciation of major human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch over their report concluding that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. This places the US alongside serial human rights violators like China, Russia, India and Middle Eastern nations that regularly condemn and demonise human rights groups for exposing their crimes.

“Now that any challenge to Jewish statehood is met with charges of bigotry against Jews, prominent American Jewish organisations and their allies in the US government have made the fight against anti-Semitism into a vehicle, not for defending human rights, but for denying them,” said Beinart. Arguing that the campaign against anti-Semitism has “lost its way”, the definition of anti-Jewish racism promoted by the US and American pro-Israel Jewish groups, means that Palestinians and the entire human rights community are treated as anti-Semites merely for calling to replace a State that favours Jewish supremacy for one that that does not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.