If the only impression you had of me came from the comments to a recent review of my book – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – this is the picture you would have:
- I’m “a most virulent anti-Israel and anti-American blogger” who seeks to inspire anti-Semitic comments at progressive sites like Daily Kos and Tikkun.
- I suffer “from Stockholm Syndrome” for meeting with the Palestinian family of the man who perpetrated the 2002 Hebrew University bombing that injured my wife.
- I “spit on Israel,” am a “self-hating Jew” and “advocate for the destruction of Israel” due to my political critiques, stances and book.
These smears, made primarily by American Jews, appear in the Times of Israel, an English-language news site intended primarily for the American market. They are not novel in their target or approach. And this is precisely the issue: it has become normative in American political discourse for progressive Jews, such as myself, to be labeled as ‘anti-Semitic’ by more conservative Jews for recognizing the humanity and human rights of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Now, if this post was about my feelings, I’d be engaging in nothing but self-indulgent navel gazing. However, this post’s intention is not to generate sympathy on my behalf. Rather, its intent is to explore an important dynamic that seriously affects political discourse in America.
See, the strategy behind such smears is clear and calculated: delegitimize political positions, and the people who hold them, by evoking an emotionally-powerful charge sure to make most people cringe. Anti-Semitism.
The ‘anti-Semite” smear has power, particularly in the American Jewish community, and holds sway in larger political discourses – so much so that members of Congress sometimes sound more right-wing in their opinions than most Israeli politicians in order to placate those who hold extremist views. (Remember Romney’s campaign-inspired claim in 2012 that President Obama threw Israel “under the bus” due to his Iran policies? It’s cut from the same cloth – an influential one.)
There have been several high-profile incidents recently in which American Jews have wrongly tried to smear others as anti-Semitic. One involved Sadia Saifuddin, who became the first Muslim student to serve on the University of California Board of Regents. Predictably, she was slandered as anti-Semitic for her critiques of Israel and her membership in Muslim student groups by those who wanted her removed. The incident prompted the L.A. Times to ask in an editorial, “Oh, for goodness’ sake, will this never stop?”
The answer, unfortunately, was “no.” For another high-profile case occurred just weeks ago, when the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women dis-invited Alice Walker to speak after a chorus of anti-Semitic claims. (The university, embarrassed at how easily it succumbed to such pressure and its failure to protect free speech, quickly re-invited Walker.)
Now, anti-Semitism remains a very real, exceedingly dangerous prejudice. However, the charge has been so overused by my fellow Jews that all it really amounts to anymore, in political discourse, is this: I am frightened by your politics and don’t agree with them.
And yet, the smear still holds sway. Particularly in the American Jewish community. Which is why those Jews commenting on a review of my book could, with a straight face, call someone like myself – a Jewish studies teacher, for goodness’ sake – anti-Semitic.
The more we, as progressives, pose the same question asked by the L.A. Times – “Will this never stop?” – the more attention will be called upon this phenomenon and those disingenuous attempts to stifle geo-political dialogue on Israel.
At a time in which the Obama administration (however flawed) is attempting to re-start peace talks, at a time in which John Kerry is investing much of his political capital on ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such questions are needed.
For without them, political discourse in America will never be balanced. Nor will America’s role in the region.
Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG