Say What You Like About the Jews. Up to a Point

Exactly when fringe, anti-Semitic freaks have become mainstream political leaders, anti-racist watchdogs mandated to confront hate, like Amnesty and the ADL, have shown they can't be trusted to identify it

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Jewish headstones tagged with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in Herrlisheim, eastern France. December 17, 2018
Jewish headstones desecrated with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in Herrlisheim, eastern France. December 17, 2018 Credit: AFP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Amnesty International, probably the world’s most respected human rights monitoring organization, has just published a report on the online abuse of female politicians and journalists on Twitter, with a particular focus on Britain.

The results, sadly, are not surprising. Women in public life are targets of disproportionate vitriolic attacks and degrading slander, demeaning them and seeking to silence their voices. No less surprisingly, prominent women from ethnic minorities are particular targets of Twitter abuse combining racism and misogyny.

There is one surprising feature in the Amnesty report however. You only need a very passing interest in British politics to have been aware that over the past three and a half years, since Jeremy Corbyn shot out of obscurity to become leader of the Labour Party, female Jewish members of parliament and journalists in Britain have been consistently singled for abuse, not only on Twitter, but often also in real life

>> Mix Together anti-Semitism and Misogyny. For Jewish Women in Public Life, the Results Are Terrifying

Strangely, this didn’t even warrant a mention in Amnesty’s report. When questioned about this glaring omission, the organization responded that, "despite our best efforts, we didn’t have enough data about the Jewish background of the women in our sample."

How to explain such a blatant lie?

There is absolutely no way Amnesty’s researchers and the compilers of the report could have made their "best efforts" and not come up with enough data to prove that female politicians in Britain, who openly celebrate their Jewish identity, have been inordinately singled out on Twitter for constant abuse.

The only possible conclusion is that Amnesty has consciously decided that anti-Semitism is not a form of racism worthy of its notice. There could be many reasons for that. Perhaps they think Jews are too privileged, too white, too wealthy and too protected, that hatred directed at them should be regarded as a threat to their civil and human rights.

Maybe they’ve bought in to the prevalent theory on the left that nearly all Jew-hatred can be explained away as being "legitimate criticism of Israel." It’s likely that highlighting anti-Semitism doesn’t fit in well with the political leanings of Amnesty’s leadership, its fundraising and the personal agendas of its researchers.

But while the anger with Amnesty over its obviously intentional ignorance of hate-speech towards Jewish women is entirely justified, I find it difficult to forget that when it comes to monitoring anti-Semitism, also the most prominent Jewish organization in the world in that field is abusing its mandate.

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League decided that it was its role to castigate, in a public letter, a website that allows people from around the world to rent out properties, Airbnb, for its decision to "de-list" properties on settlements in the West Bank.

You can argue that it isn’t Airbnb’s job to intervene in political issues and question why the company has not done the same with other "contested" regions around the world. But even if it’s controversial, it’s still a perfectly legitimate decision not to include on your website properties within settlements which according to the consensus of the overwhelming majority of experts in international law, were built illegally.

This is not a boycott of Israel (which 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War, has yet to extend its sovereignty to the West Bank) or of Jews anywhere. Airbnb users can still rent on its site hundreds of thousands of Jewish-owned properties in Israel and around the world. Just not in illegal West Bank settlements.

So why was it even ADL’s business to comment on the issue? The only conceivable reasons for its letter to Airbnb could be its leadership’s politics or pressure from donors

How does sticking up for settlers, who many, if not most Jews around the world oppose, fit in with ADL’s mandate of fighting anti-Semitism "and all forms of hate"?

What’s worse? Amnesty International’s whitewashing anti-Semitism out of existence, or the ADL’s cynical manipulation of the term to include the denial of the right of a small proportion of the Jewish people to build homes on militarily-occupied land?

The definition of anti-Semitism has never been so politicized. The Corbynist left in Britain is busy redefining it to only include hatred of Jews emanating from the far-right, while leaving Jews who are not entirely critical of Israel’s very existence, even and especially if they are female Labour MPs, as fair game.

In the United States, the right, including sadly many Jews, is intent on focusing only on Muslim and black anti-Semites, while ignoring the very real threat to Jews from white supremacists, boosted by President Donald Trump.

Egyutt (Together) opposition party activist removes a government billboard displaying George Soros and his 'plan' to settle a million migrants in Europe per year. Budapest, Hungary, October 5, 2017Credit: \ Bernadett Szabo/ REUTERS

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has only one litmus test for foreign politicians. If, like the current leaders of Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, they’re supportive of his policies, uninterested in the Palestinian issue or the Iran nuclear deal and willing to consider moving their country’s embassy to Jerusalem some time in the future, they can be as hostile as they like on their own turf towards local Jews and even revise the history of the Holocaust, they will be welcomed in the Prime Minister’s Office as friends of the Jewish people and given a guided tour of Yad Vashem.

As Batya Ungar-Sargon poignantly put it last week in The Forward - “Netanyahu truly can’t see the anti-Semitism of his fellow leaders of ethno-states for what it is, because despite engaging in anti-Semitism against the Jews in their own countries, these leaders are, in fact, Zionists.”

This summer in Britain, Corbyn’s Labour was tearing itself in to shreds over whether or not it could accept the anti-Semitism definition established by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and whether official caveats should be applied.

Sadly, the one question not being asked is: why there was even a need for an official definition?

The answer is that in an era when ignorant and bigoted men like Trump and Corbyn, who were once consigned to the margins of society, but have now been propelled to leadership positions, we tend to fall back on problematic legal definitions of what should have been obvious to every decent human being.

So what to do in an age when fringe elements and racist freaks have become mainstream? When even the most respected "anti-racism" NGOs, let alone western governments and political parties, can no longer be trusted, to tell basic truths?

When even the sensible New York Time Book Review uncritically interviews writer Alice Walker, already notorious for being a fan of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, who only recently published poems lambasting the Talmud as a source of evil and saying that she loves Jews, just not "the Zionist Nazis," who lists the Holocaust-denying David Icke as one of the writers currently inspiring her?

We are living in a time when there are no longer trustworthy arbiters of what is acceptable to say about Jews. It’s not all bad. Jews, whether in Israel or the Diaspora, are physically protected and secure like never before and that’s much more important than being protected from hate speech, which is anyway rightly protected by freedom of speech.

But in times when we have no faith in politicians and watchdogs to confront hate and protect its victims, we can only rely on our common decency and common sense. That's all we have.

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