Sat, Jun

If Everything Is Antisemitic Then Nothing Is


GUEST COMMENTARY - On Sunday December 3, 2023, it was reported that hundreds of "pro-Palestinian" marchers made their way through the streets of Philadelphia. They stopped to protest a restaurant, "Goldie," partly owned by politically connected Israeli chef, Michael Solomonov. Though the marchers stopped at other places and businesses along their route, this stop particularly drew the attention of the White House, the Governor of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania’s US Senator.

The marchers were protesting what they understood to be the chastisement and discharge of restaurant employees that questioned US policies in Gaza and Israel, the restauranteur's support of Israeli Defense Forces, and the murderous military assault in Gaza. The marchers were also protesting the erasure of Palestinian culture and history that is not only occurring in the occupied Palestinian territories, but also with the misappropriation of Palestinian culture in which businesses, such as "Goldie," take what is considered Palestinian cuisine or culture and re-label it Israeli.

If Zionists continue to label all criticism of Israel as antisemitic will fewer people listen when actual antisemitism occurs?

The restaurant owner was politically connected and could draw on those contacts for sympathetic publicity, political support, and for defaming the protesters as antisemites. Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro, who is a political friend of the restaurateur, immediately called the protest antisemitic. Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania did the same as did the White House who also issued a condemnation of the protest describing it as antisemitic. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) commented that “targeting businesses solely based on their Israeli or Jewish ownership is blatant antisemitism.” This however was not the case, but it does serve the strategy of making antisemitism into an amorphous equation that can label, defame, and silence everything and everyone with a valid critique. 

Many of us are increasingly confused about what and where antisemitism is and is not. This latest incident is a good example of this confusion. Groups like the ADL have promoted the conflation of Israel with Judaism, creating a religious and political sledge-hammer that can be wielded when it is convenient and advantageous to do so. The ADL and numerous other Zionist organizations have gone to great lengths to make the criticism of Israel synonymous with hatred of Judaism and Jews. In that context, any act against Zionist ideology, or any critique of any politically connected Zionist is construed as an act of antisemitism.

This perversion of the charge of antisemitism has been used to shut down political speech, historical analysis and critique, and phrases and words used in a cultural context. When Representative Ilhan Omar referred to AIPAC's political influence and its financial support of candidates in a Twitter post as "It's All About the Benjamins, Baby," she had to apologize for it. The phrase she used came from a Puff Daddy song by the same name from 1996. “Benjamins" means money and what she was stating was the great financial influence that lobbying organizations have upon US political discourse. Zionism/Israel is no exception to that influence. It was not antisemitic speech, or an anti-Jewish trope, but the usage of Black cultural speech to explain a phenomenon that is destroying free discourse in America regarding every issue imaginable.

Marc Lamont Hill, Temple University professor and commentator on CNN was fired from CNN because of a comment he made in 2018 at the UN's International Day of Solidarity. "We have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action” he said. “Grass-roots action, local action and international action that will give us what justice requires and that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea."

His support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement was considered antisemitic, and his "...from the river to the sea," comment for many Zionist organizations was a river too far. They argued that he had called for the destruction of Israel with those words, and CNN responded by severing any contractual arrangements with Hill. Representative Rashida Tlaib, Michigan, the only Palestinian-American in Congress was censured in November 2023 by a bi-partisan vote of 234-188 for her use of the same words. 

Again, we are met with this confusion, deliberate and constructed, to make any statement, any act, and any expression that does not support the Zionist narrative an act of antisemitism. By way of example, if I said that I yearn and will fight for BIPOC to be free from "sea to shining sea," would that be considered a call for the destruction of the United States or is it a demand for equal rights to make America better? The latter is what is clearly intended. 

I am reminded of Aesop's Fables and the boy who cried wolf. He thought it was amusing to cry wolf, to scream about the danger and the threat, and when all the town responded he laughed and regaled in how gullible the town was and how easily they were fooled. It seems like Zionists are doing the same thing. They are crying about everything being antisemitic, and unfortunately when the real danger emerges there will be fewer people to believe it. It is a devious and dangerous approach to a complicated and highly charged issue. If Zionists continue to label all criticism of Israel as antisemitic will fewer people listen when actual antisemitism occurs?

It is sad, but true, that Zionist organizations have made any criticism, any protest, and any analysis that questions Israel's policies in the world and towards Palestinians as an act of Jew-hatred.

James Zogby, Director, The Arab American Institute, writes "For decades now, major Jewish organizations have sought to define criticism of Israel as antisemitism. With the conflict in Gaza, that effort is in full swing." It is in full swing and making great strides by offering up descriptions of the conflict such as "unprovoked attacks," and "Israel's 9-11." The narrative that has been put forward masterfully is that of Palestinian savagery. It assumes the unreasonableness of Palestinians, their demands, and cause, while at the same time asserting Israeli innocence, and accentuating all the emotional touchstones that have fueled and justified reactions of revenge and vengeance. 

The corporate media has ably assisted in continuing the 75-year-old narrative that establishes sympathy for the Zionist agenda while ignoring the humanity and human rights of Palestinians.

I am particularly struck by the attacks leveled by Zionist groups against Jewish organizations like "If Not Now" and "Jewish Voices for Peace". These groups, though Jewish, have been castigated either as antisemitic or self-hating Jews. Under the ADL’s CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt, the organization has shifted its attention away from many historically antisemitic right-wing groups to focus instead on the anti-Zionist-left and the Jewish groups that are demographically younger, liberal, anti-racist, and questioning Zionism. The charges against JVP are glaring because it is against an organization that is proudly Jewish and asserts its desire to live into Jewish values. Jewish Voice for Peace's great sin appears to be that it questions the Jewish validity of Zionism and whether it reflects true Jewish values. They are a threat to the monolithic view of Zionism, Jews, Judaism, and Israel that the ADL puts forth. 

If every criticism, every expression of doubt, every concern leveled at Zionism, Israel, and the Israeli lobby is antisemitic then nothing is. This is not to say that antisemitism does not exist, but groups like the ADL and other proponents of Israel with their blending of Judaism with the state of Israel has cheapened the charge of antisemitism by making it into something that more people are slower to hear, understand, or believe. 

It is sad, but true, that Zionist organizations have made any criticism, any protest, and any analysis that questions Israel's policies in the world and towards Palestinians as an act of Jew-hatred. It has become an instrument to short-circuit debate and discussion, and to bully people into silence where there needs to be discussion, analysis, and dialogue. That discussion is not happening currently, and to get peace in Palestine and Israel it will require a robust, deeply probing, and honest conversation about the issues. Not one that is distorted, perverted, and truncated by continuing with the monotonous and disingenuous charge of antisemitism.


(Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler is an advisor with FOR-USA and the founder and president of Faith Strategies USA. Until retiring from his position in 2022 Hagler was Senior Minister at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C. This story was first published in CommonDreams.org.)