Anti-Semitism and J Street: Another view

April 19, 2015, 8:24 p.m.

To the editor:

I take issue with the accusations of Emma Hartung and Melanie Malinas that the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International, or the pro-Israel movement in general, fosters discrimination. Zionism has always had utopian dreams about peace. Ahad Ha’am, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes are just a few of the most famous. In the 1990s, Yitshak Rabin invited his sworn enemy, Yasir Arafat, to live in the West Bank and to negotiate a land-for-peace agreement. The failure of these negotiations brought us to the present stalemate. The Zionist/Israeli enterprise has always allowed and currently encourages an inclusive range of discussion about its goals and its methods.

Hartung and Malinas disappointed because they rejected even the possibility that J Street speakers are anti-Semitic, in spite of contrary evidence. The J Street conference cited by the authors included Sa’eb Erakat, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiator who made false accusations of massacres and blood libels against Israel in 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield. James Baker threw epithets at Jews when he was Secretary of State and also spoke at this conference. While the authors have the right to endorse such discussions, we should not whitewash the record of those speakers, nor insist that Hillel International invite them or share a stage with them.

Hartung and Malinas object that Stanford Hillel is anti-divestment and that discussions about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) lead to talk of anti-Semitism. Much of the pro-BDS discussion on campus is conducted by people who are neither bigoted nor anti-Semitic in any classical or traditional sense. However, the movement is disingenuous in other respects. Professor Joel Beinin of the history department, in a letter to the Daily earlier this year, wrote that BDS was an alternative to violent resistance.

However, the practical effect of the BDS movement is the opposite of what Beinin professes: It does not prevail against the PLO or Hamas to revoke their sponsorship of martyrs who commit atrocities on civilian Jews in Israel, nor demand that these groups revoke their anti-Semitic charters. Rather, BDS provides a sanitized, Stanford-appropriate model of Israel-hatred that serves as a tacit, intellectual second front. Meanwhile, others outside Stanford overtly carry on “armed struggle.” One victim of terror was my former grade school classmate, Kalman Levine, who was murdered last year in Har Nof while davening morning prayers.

The notion of BDS being (or not being) anti-Semitic cannot be discussed without the historical context of the Shoah that occurred in my parents’ generation. Germans boycotted Jewish businesses in the 1930s then eliminated six million Jewish souls in the 1940s in an event called the Holocaust, or the Shoah. The discussion of boycott and divestment from Israel thus hits raw nerves for many Jews and opens questions about whether the intentions of the BDS movement are to play on that historical wound. It is impossible for me, a child and grandchild of survivors, to discuss BDS without also considering, on a psychological level, whether the movement constitutes modern day anti-Semitism.

The BDS movement is also tragically misguided. The Palestinian movement has held a century-long list of rejectionist policies that led to a series of wars and to what the movement calls the Nakba. The BDS movement (falsely) prejudges the cause of the occupation and the outcome of the negotiations. While eliminating mutual accountability for historical mistakes, the BDS movement attacks Israel as the aggressor and makes no demands on the Palestinians. BDS thus excuses the Palestinians from conducting an honest dialogue about the past and acknowledging the need to give something (peace) in exchange for the land they want for their state. BDS is a dialogue killer.

Hartung and Malinas are correct that we need to discuss more and better solutions for Palestinian human rights. However, divestment and naive “solutions” offered by J Street set us all back. The Palestinians, and those who support them, need also to account for their own historical missteps and figure out what they did wrong.

Daniel Jacobs, MD

AB, Department of History, ’82

Contact Daniel Jacobs at Djacobs272 ‘at’

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