Tuesday, August 16th | 19 Av 5782

December 21, 2016 12:48 pm

Latest New York Times Smear: Zionism Is Illiberal, Antisemitic

avatar by Ira Stoll

Omri Boehm. Photo: Twitter.

Omri Boehm. Photo: Twitter.

In what seems like its never-ending quest to smear the Jewish state and its supporters, the New York Times has managed to come up with a new one, or perhaps a new variation on an old one: Zionism is antisemitism.

At least, that seems to be the accusation made in a lengthy and barely comprehensible screed by Omri Boehm, an assistant professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research. The Times published it as part of “The Stone,” which is described as, “A forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless,” and led by series moderator Simon Critchley, another NSSR philosophy professor.

Perhaps the Times, which recently announced it is vacating eight floors of its headquarters, has laid off so many journalists that it now has to rely on academic “moderators” instead of veteran editors. But whatever the back story, this article is one that would have been better off staying confined to the philosophy department of the New School, or better yet, to Professor Boehm’s brain, rather than being inflicted on New York Times readers (and linked from the newspaper’s online home page, as it was for some time this week).

The accusation that Zionism is antisemitism is just a variation on the article’s broader theme, which is that Zionism and liberalism are somehow incompatible, or contradictory:

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The alliance that’s beginning to form between Zionist leadership and politicians with anti-Semitic tendencies has the power to transform Jewish-American consciousness for years to come. In the last few decades, many of America’s Jewish communities have grown accustomed to living in a political contradiction. On one hand, a large majority of these communities could rightly take pride in a powerful liberal tradition, stretching back to such models as Louis Brandeis — a defender of social justice and the first Jew to become a Supreme Court justice — or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched in Selma alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the other hand, the same communities have often identified themselves with Zionism, a political agenda rooted in the denial of liberal politics… by denying liberal principles, Zionism immediately becomes continuous with — rather than contradictory to — the anti-Semitic politics of the sort promoted by the alt-right. The idea that Israel is the Jews’ own ethnic state implies that Jews living outside of it — say, in America or in Europe — enjoy a merely diasporic existence. That is another way of saying that they inhabit a country that is not genuinely their own. Given this logic, it is natural for Zionist and anti-Semitic politicians to find common ideas and interests. Every American who has been on a Birthright Israel tour should know that left-leaning Israelis can agree with America’s alt-right that, ideally, “Jews should live in their own country.”

See, I told you it was only barely comprehensible.

Professor Boehm conveniently ignores the reality that the Jewish state in many ways embodies liberal ideals. It welcomes Arab citizens and Jews from Ethiopia, Yemen, Russia and pretty much anywhere else. It has had a woman prime minister and it is a regional pioneer on gay rights. It has an independent judiciary and a rambunctiously free and critical press. It has powerful labor unions. It is a country that was settled in part by socialist farmers. It’s a a leader in water conservation and energy efficiency, among other environmental areas.

Imagining that liberalism and Zionism are a contradiction requires willfully closing one’s eyes to the real Israel and instead setting up a straw man.

If anyone’s flirting with the antisemitic agenda here, it’s not Zionists either in Israel or America, but Professor Boehm. By propagating the antisemite’s negative caricature of Israel, complete with the dual loyalty canard, Professor Boehm himself is the one who is advancing ideas traditionally associated with antisemites. It’s far worse than the “anti-Semitic tropes” that Professor Boehm accuses Donald Trump of trafficking in. Professor Boehm’s false accusation that Zionism is illiberal is itself an antisemitic trope — all the more so because Jewish nationalism is the one that the professor, enabled by the Times, chooses to single out among all others for attack.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. 

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