Friday, February 19, 2010

Alex Grobman: At what point does criticism of Israel become anti-Semitic?

At what point does criticism of Israel become anti-Semitic?

Dr. Alex Grobman

February 19, 2010

Attacks against Israel and Jews on a number of university campuses are being tolerated under the guise of free speech. At the University of California at Irvine, for example, Muslims claim that their anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric is justified because Israelis and Jews are the source of all the world's ills. Had the Jews not caused so many problems they argue, Muslims would not feel compelled to respond.

In their world, anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic since it is not directed at all Jews, just those who are Zionists. This raises the question of when does legitimate criticism of Israel become anti-Semitic. The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Antisemitism and Racism at Tel-Aviv University suggests several criteria to distinguish between reasonable condemnation of Israel and anti-Semitic attacks.

The institute says the line is crossed when the character traits, expressions, and descriptions ascribed to Israel use anti-Semitic stereotypes; when Israelis and Jews are portrayed as "a cosmic evil," are held accountable for global calamities, and are compared to the Nazis; when Israeli and Jewish supporters of Israel are singled out and attacked, and "are treated in a disproportionate manner in relationship to the issue at hand and in comparison to the actions of other nations"; when Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is "de-legitimized"; when the Holocaust is denied or distorted and made a political "weapon, allegedly misused by the Jews to extort financial support and to make political capital."

Practically all countries proscribe hate speech aimed at religious, ethnic, or racial groups Samuel Walker points out in "Hate Speech". Yet in the United States, the most hurtful and demeaning remarks directed at any of these groups is protected by the First Amendment. The reason explained Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson is so that "no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or any other matters of opinion." Public debate, opined Justice William Brennan, "should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open."

This strong First Amendment tradition did not prevent American universities and colleges in the 1980s from adopting student codes of conduct to restrict odious speech on campuses in response to a number of malicious racial episodes. By 1990, 60 percent had instituted guidelines about racial harassment and prejudice. Hate speech was not forbidden in some of these policies.

After the federal courts struck down the codes and the Supreme Court affirmed that the First Amendment forbids restrictions on expression, it became clear that the government was not prepared to stop unhindered free speech. To circumvent these legal limitations, some universities might be using anti-harassment policies or federal statues to ensure a hostility-free learning environment.

Those who argue that verbal racial attacks promote genocide urge the courts to make an exception when race is concerned. Alan Dershowitz notes that the First Amendment protects "advocacy" of violence, but not "incitement" to violence. The difference is "determinative," he says, though it "is often elusive."

Until a legal strategy can be devised to use incitement as a deterrent, one of the more effective ways to combat Muslim anti-Semitism is to let the public hear them spew their hate, but we should not provide them the venue to do so. Either out of ignorance or out fear of offending Muslim anti-Semite sensibilities, university officials furnish them with a forum. They need to understand that they are under no legal or moral obligation to continue this policy. Affording them exposure in the university press is also not their responsibility any more than it would be to promote any group that seeks to undermine America.

Their hatred must be exposed for what it is -- an assault on American democracy, its values, and its way of life. This is not a Jewish issue alone, and we must make this quite clear. The Jews are the first to be attacked because we are the first line of defense. Like the canary in the minor's cap, what happens to us is a warning to the rest of the world to the dangers that lie ahead for them.

Dr. Grobman's newest book, "The Palestinian Right To Israel," will be published in March. He also the author of "Nations United: How the U.N. Undermines Israel and the West". He is co-author of "Denying History: Who Says The Holocaust Didn't Happen and Why Do They Say It?" He has an M.A. and Ph.D. in contemporary Jewry from the Hebrew University.

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