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Fighting Anti-Semitism with Islamophobia at Yale

Audre Lorde used the metaphor of the masters tools not being able to dismantle the masters house to explain why racism could not be used to fight sexism. Unfortunately, no one told many of the scholars who attended the recent Yale conference Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity. In no case can one oppression effectively or ethically used to combat another, but particularly in the case of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, where one is threatening to take the place of the other.

Yaman Salahi writes about the virulence of many of the speakers. First up

Among the many anti-Arab and anti-Muslim speakers was Itamar Marcus, a member of the Israeli settler movement who offered a keynote speech on “The Central Role of Palestinian Antisemitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity.” The title alone reduces an entire people and its history to irrationality and hatred; worse, it was but one of dozens of talks with a similarly problematic theme.

It is hard to imagine any other conflict where Yale would allow a front line and privileged member of a conflict to hold forth on their opponent. Would Yale invite Chinese settlers in Tibet to hold forth about the inferiority and irrationality of Tibetans? Members of Sudanese militias to criticize the perfidity of people of Darfur?  Salahi gives several other examples of speakers’ problematic past records and then points out to the larger problem.

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The center’s failure to adhere to consistent anti-racist principles makes it vulnerable to the charge that it is motivated by a political agenda. Indeed, many of its speakers hailed from partisan, right-wing, pro-Israel organizations including NGO Monitor, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Palestinian Media Watch — not to mention the Israeli government. In addition, many talks functioned as apologia for recent controversial Israeli actions, including an attack that killed nine civilians on a humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza this summer that one speaker called “the Jihad flotilla.”

Using Arabic terms as a slur does not seem like an effective way of combating Anti-Semitism, to say the least, but hardly suprising from this crew. And neither is their rigid view of acceptable Judaism.

In addition, speakers at times seemed to conflate anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitism. For example, in a plenary about anti-racist Jewish critics of Israel titled “Self Hatred and Contemporary Antisemitism,” Richard Landes’ speech asked, “What Drives Jews to Loathe Israel Publicly?” as if those dissidents’ claims were based not on merit but on some pathological psychosis. Landes and others were not speaking about radical organizations but rather reputable human rights organizations, prominent Jewish dissidents and international student activists — exactly the kind of people a center purporting to fight bigotry should celebrate.

Instead Jews who differ from these groups view of Israel are marginalized and their Judaism question.

the same logic, inverted, often provides a pretext for racist ideas about Jews around the world, for those who imagine that Jews, no matter where they are or what they say, form a monolithic body that can be blamed for Israel’s actions.

Of course, Arabs and Muslims are the primary targets of Islamophobita, but Salahi also realizes the cost to Jews of this kind of mindset.

While the center’s failure to abstain from inflammatory anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric is offensive and dangerous, the real tragedy is its failure to recognize that a successful and principled stand against anti-Semitism requires a principled stand against all kinds of racism, including anti-Muslim/anti-Arab bigotry in America and anti-Palestinian racism in Israel.

So Jews who have differing views on Israel cannot count on these self appointed fighters of anti-Semitism, We would not be welcome at such a conference, and such bigotry will not protect us. Fortunately we have allies like Salahi who we can partner with to fight both our oppressions together.

Magnes ZIonist also reporting on the conference, asks where were the progressive Jews who study Anti-Semitism?

Do only hard-line Zionists care about anti-Semitism? No, not really. But the study of anti-Semitism has gravitated in that direction because it has been taken over by Israelis and Zionists, and is supported mostly by hard-line Zionist money. Sorry to be blunt, but I can think of no other explanation.

–Jesse Bacon

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