Monday, January 25th | 13 Shevat 5781

December 7, 2020 6:23 am

Why Isn’t Antisemitism Treated Like Other Forms of Bigotry?

avatar by Mitchell Bard


Sunset is seen over the White House, in Washington, DC, Nov. 6, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Carlos Barria / File.

I’ve been binging on The West Wing, and there was an episode where the president’s assistant gives him the gift of a map of Palestine from 1709. The president is enamored with the map and says he is going to hang it outside his office. During the rest of the episode, different members of the president’s staff tell him that he cannot do it because the map doesn’t recognize the State of Israel. The president is confused because Israel was not yet established in 1709; nevertheless, he is told it doesn’t matter.

It made me wonder if such a thing would really happen. After about a second’s thought, I realized it probably would. It doesn’t take much to set us off.

The other day, a reader of our Jewish Virtual Library expressed concern that an article about El-Amerna, a city from the 14th-century BCE, mentioned Palestine. He correctly observed that there was no Palestine at that time; the name was given to the area by the Romans. He was apparently worried that readers of the article would get the misimpression that Palestine was thousands of years old. While he has a point, I’m not particularly worried that the few people who may read this article will adopt the Palestinian narrative.

Jews are now examining every Biden appointee with an eye towards rooting out anyone who is anti-Israel. The prickliest among us attack people if their views are simply different, as in those unhappy with the choice of Tony Blinken as Secretary of State because he supports a two-state solution (as does his boss), opposed sanctioning Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and spoke at the J Street conference.

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Of greater concern are appointees who appear genuinely anti-Israel. One who has already drawn attention is Reema Dodin, a Palestinian-American appointed as Biden’s deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. In 2002, she said that Palestinian “suicide bombers were the last resort of a desperate people,” and she also was involved in protests calling on the California University system to divest from Israel. She also complained that Palestinians were portrayed as “villains in the media,” when they were “suffering” and “oppressed.”

According to one book, when she was in collegeDodin blamed the 9/11 attacks on US support for Israel and suggested that suicide bombers could be stopped if “you start to look at Palestinians as human beings.” Eschewing the benign interpretation often given by apologists of radical Islam, she said “Islam does teach that you must defend yourself,” and added, “You cannot lie down and allow yourself, your home, your property, your family, and your people to be consistently oppressed.”

Dodin’s comments reflect naiveté and a willingness to be an apologist for radical Islam. She is pro-Palestinian and critical of Israel and, while she supported the antisemitic divestment movement, her comments were not antisemitic.

Some Jews immediately criticized the appointment, while Biden partisans defended her, noting that she has been a well-liked and able public servant in her professional career. No one has unearthed any more recent remarks akin to those from her college days, and an official from the Biden-Harris transition team told Haaretz, “Reema is the first to tell you she has grown from her youth in her approach to pushing for change.”

To my knowledge, however, she has not expressed remorse, disavowed, or clarified her comments.

Are the Jews being too prickly, or is this yet another example of how antisemitism is not treated with the same seriousness as other forms of bigotry?

Should her 18-year-old comments be written off as youthful indiscretion? Should we accept that her views have evolved without hearing it from her own lips? What if the appointee was a white man who dressed in blackface in their youth? Would Biden supporters be as forgiving and accept that his views had changed over the years?

If Dodin is antisemitic, you might argue that a bigot has no place in government. If she is still pro-Palestinian and critical of Israel, as I would suspect, it would be alarming for her to be in a foreign-policy-making role, but should her views disqualify her for a position unrelated to foreign affairs?

Working on legislative affairs might give her an opportunity to weigh in on issues such as foreign aid to the Palestinians and military assistance to Israel. Her job, however, is to promote the president’s agenda, not her own, and like him or not, President-elect Joe Biden has enough experience to know what he wants to do on these issues and is unlikely to be swayed by someone outside his foreign policy team.

Meanwhile, Biden has not taken office, and he is already being criticized for positions he took during the campaign and those he is assumed to hold because he was a member of the Obama administration. If there is one thing I can predict with certainty, it is that some Jews will take issue with Biden’s Middle East policy no matter how committed he says he is to Israel’s security, and others will defend it.

I’m reminded of the scene in The West Wing’s precursor — the movie The American President — when the lobbyist for an environmental organization gets fired and says, “You know those prickly environmentalists. It’s always gonna be something with them. If it’s not clean air, then it’s clean water.”

It’s much the same with prickly Zionists. It’s always something with us. If it’s not supporting Israel, then it’s fighting antisemitism.

Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on US-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews, and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

A version of this article was originally published by JNS.

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