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February 10, 2013 7:51 pm

Brooklyn College, The Sunday Times and the Most Effective Response to Anti-Semitism

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The anti-Semitic cartoon including The Sunday Times masthead.

The public expression of ugly anti-Semitic sentiment recently seems to have become more frequent.

The rise of far Right parties in Europe, and the success of radical Leftist efforts to attach the most horrific of false accusations to Israel mean that the hatred emanates from both sides of the political spectrum.

It is unfortunate that concerned Jewish organizations and individuals who have been active in their opposition to the hateful speech, depictions and action have often faced criticism for speaking up.

Two arguments that I have most often heard, go something like this:

  1. The ‘cry wolf’ argument: If Jews are too vocal, or speak out too often against anti-Semitism, the public will begin to take their charges less seriously, and like ‘the boy who cried wolf’ when they are really in need, nobody will come to their aid.
  2. The ‘lose anyway’ argument: It is pointless for Jews to take on a battle against something offensive that can’t actually be won, because it will make them appear weaker, and they may burn bridges without achieving the desired results. “People will hate Jews more,” goes the argument.

Both lines of reason are counterproductive and in truth encourage the spread of anti-Semitism.

It is correct that hatred of Jews is widespread, in the United States and further afield, but so is hatred of blacks, gays, Hispanics and other minority groups. So why is it that offending those groups is far less socially acceptable than criticizing Israel in a fashion that is considered anti-Semitic according to the European Union Working Definition of Anti-Semitism? Examples of this include: 1. Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, 2. Applying double standards to the Jewish state, 3. Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism, and 4. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis. (As a side note, I don’t believe that the European Union should be the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes anti-Semitism, but for the sake of argument, let us for now stick with this definition.)

The simple answer is that as is so often the case in life, boundaries are determined by the point of resistance. Haters will go as far as they can get away with, and will back down when met with blunt opposition.

The publication of an anti-Semitic cartoon two weeks ago by the Sunday Times provided a perfect case study of how anti-Jewish bigotry should be effectively opposed.

Hours after the edition hit the newsstands, the Anti-Defamation League issued a harsh condemnation of the blood libel-esque depiction of Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The criticism was followed by a barrage of outrage directed at the Times from all corners. British Jewish, and Zionist groups spoke out against the offensive imagery. UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Members of Parliament, the Speaker of the Knesset, columnists, pundits, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, hundreds of concerned members of the public and multiple other Jewish groups joined in unison to express offense.

The sustained message was clear: The cartoon was unacceptable and intolerable, and our position on this is simply not up for discussion.

The eventual result after repeated attempts at evasion was a full “unreserved” apology printed by the paper a week later.

In another incident  which took place more recently at Brooklyn College, where the political science department co-hosted a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions event directed against Israel, those standing in opposition were unsuccessful in preventing the event, let alone eliciting the warranted apology from the disgraced college.

The BDS movement is inherently anti-Semitic according to the EU definition above, first and foremost because it denies the Jewish right to self-determination. Even anti-Israel activist Norman Finkelstein acknowledged simply that “they don’t want Israel.”

“The BDS movement views Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state as illegitimate,” affirmed the New York Daily News in an editorial Saturday.

In addition its members are routinely guilty of drawing parallels between Israeli policies and that of the Nazis, as highlighted by the Daily News in its report of the event: Founder Omar Barghouti, “declared that Israelis were infected with a strain of racism against Palestinians that is similar to the European anti-Semitism that led to Nazism.”

The response to Brooklyn College’s sponsorship of the event started out in much the same way as the response to the Sunday Times cartoon. City officials strongly expressed opposition, as did mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, and Jewish groups including the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Concerned individuals and members of the public spoke up as well. But many Jewish groups sat out the round, as did representatives of the state of Israel. Then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg disgracefully endorsed the College’s sponsorship of the event, and there was nary a response from Jewish leaders. The opposition went cold and a publicly funded institution of higher learning got away with sponsoring a bigoted hate fest.

The lesson is clear: to be effective, as in the case of the Sunday Times cartoon, the opposition to institutionalized hate speech must be sustained, consistent, broad and uncompromising. The challenge is great, but for the sake of our humanity it must be overcome.

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