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Thinking About Zionism, AntiSemitism and Human Rights in Birmingham Alabama … (1)

January 19, 2019


Yassin Adel Za Aqeeq, age 15. Kidnapped from his home in Beit Ummar, Occupied Palestine, by the Israeli Defense Force in December, 2018. Hundreds of Palestinian youth are in Israeli jails, a full one third of them, from the town of Beit Ummar.

Note: What follows below is a slightly [language tightened up] revised and expanded entry on comments made on Facebook recently.

It concerns what has become the pervasive and underhanded way that Israel’s more zealous organizational supporters work to discredit and intimidate those who publicly criticize Israeli actions and/or support the Palestinian people in the struggle to end the Occupation.

Such methods have existed for decades, but have intensified as the public mood in the United States has shifted away from blind support of Israel and the myth of a halcyon, progressive Israel continues to erode.

To that end, recently Black scholar, human rights organizer, and long-time open American Communist, Angela Davis found herself in the middle of media storm. Again. One could hear a certain weariness in her voice but also a determination to address this new attack on her person head on, with the dignity and careful thought that has marked her life. A human rights award, the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award, offered to her for a lifetime of human rights work, was rescinded after pressure was exerted on the board of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Later it was acknowledged publicly – by the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama – that the pressure came from the Birmingham Jewish Federation and the city’s Holocaust Remembrance center. Shortly thereafter, and in response, what amounts to the city of Birmingham, its city council included, issued a counter statement of appreciation of Angela Davis’ work and invited her to “an alternative awards event” to be held on February 16, in Birmingham. I have been informed that there will be two events  on that day, a meeting with human rights organizers in the morning and a dinner in the evening, both, as I understand it, open to the public. 


An interesting exchange…and progress of sorts.

Happened a few days ago.

It was between a Jewish liberal Zionist, a national player, who admittedly, has done his fair share of good deeds to facilitate Jewish-Muslim dialogues in the United States on the one hand and myself on the other. He had posted on social media an article from The Forwardnational on-line Jewish newspaper, pretty good actually for the most part, about Jews who criticize Blacks for criticizing Israel (essentially) and show sympathy with the Palestinian cause in general; many of these support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, BDS, as it is known by.

The essence of this movement is to put pressure on Israel to end its military occupation of the 1967 territories taken from Syria, Egypt and Palestine in the June, 1967 War. The movement began at the request of Palestinian civil society because Israel refuse to engage in a political process that would have led to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The BDS movement is based upon similar boycott movements – most specifically the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s and the South African movement to end apartheid. It is peaceful, non-violent and completely legal. Although I have not personally been involved in this movement up until now, I support it ideologically, politically and morally. Because it has been so viciously attacked, I intend to involve myself more actively in it. 

The title of The Forward article was “Why Do Jews Keep Tearing Down Black Leaders” – linked to above. The article had some good points, but it was weak – arguing in a not rational or consistent manner that it wasn’t ok to criticize Angela Davis (who actually has a broad base in the Black Community and beyond), but it was appropriate to criticize Alice Walker, Marc Lamont Hill, Linda Sarsour on the other. In response to that post, I asked if it were not racist and paternalistic for a Jewish organization to try to set the boundaries for what are the acceptable parameters for Black people to counter racism.

We had a brief series of exchanges in which he accused me of “left anti-semitism” and I responded accordingly. Here is a small excerpt of my response:

“Hi (name left out)…I disagree obviously although there is nowhere to take this disagreement right now. From where I am sitting, most of this discussion – if you can call it that – is racist. Not just the attack on Angela Davis (a human rights award rescinded in Birmingham, Alabama (see discussion below), but on the others too. You can’t seem to understand that and respond typically by going on the offensive and attacking me. This is sad; from where I am sitting you are a part of the problem too. Time to look homeward and think about how paternalistic and racist it is to attack progressive Blacks (or me)… In its treatment of the Palestinians – the Occupation – Israel is a racist country. That is a simple fact.”

Of course criticizing the group from which one comes – political, religious, racial, class whatever – does not win one laurels or credits among the faithful. You’re more likely to get kicked in the knees (or a little bit higher) rather than getting a pat on the back for pointing out deficiencies. Every group of people has “a hard issue” – one difficult to face – not only American Jews. Chicano, Arab and Black friends have – in private – pinpointed the “intra-cultural,” class and personal issues facing their groups…and how it is they are trying to deal with these issues, overcome them. It starts, in all cases, with acknowledging the problem.

And then again, its always the hardest to criticize “one’s own kind.” They don’t take criticism very well. They feel betrayed…probably because they’ve been exposed and no self-righteous liberal likes to called out for the bigotry, greed and class bias that “is a part of the program.” No doubt that for many Jewish Americans, a hard issue, if not the hardest issue concerns Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as well as U.S. general active support for Israel’s actions (for its own strategic reasons). But it is precisely “the hard issues” that need to be addressed, and without so doing leads to all kinds of deviations from humanistic approaches as well as, unfortunately, spiritual rot.

But it’s what needs to be done, isn’t it?

To do so as someone brought up in the Jewish faith, of course, means taking on – dealing with one of the great myths of our time – that Zionism is a progressive political movement, or that it ever has been. It isn’t. Not that the other alternatives have worked particularly well for Jews – socialism, assimilation. (1)

In the old days, when expressing support, sympathy for the Palestinian cause, opposing the Israeli Occupation, I was called “a self-hating Jew” – a strange expression if you think about it. That is passee and now I’ve graduated to a “left antisemite” – a half truth – I’m left, but have no stomach for any kind of racism, antisemitism included.

True – I did refer to accuser (he named called first!) as a “liberal Zionist racist” in response. I do understand liberal Zionism as being a form of racism, nothing less. Anyone who can equate the situation of the Palestinians living under Occupation – and facing incremental genocide – (Gaza) with the attitudes of the Israeli government – this one or frankly more so-called “liberal ones” – is living in a narcissistic bubble.

What provoked this exchange of compliments?

I suggested that the attack on Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Marc Lamont Hill coming from mainstream Jewish sources as racist and paternalistic. That leaves out the savaging of Steve Salaita – Palestinian-American scholar, and the crucifixion of Norman Finkelstein and the recent attacks on Linda Sarsour – to name just a few of the better known cases. Actually, I’d like to believe that I’d put this comment in a rather cautious, manner, more questioning than accusing. But that didn’t matter.

Frankly, I was expecting the response – and it came as predicted.

Beyond the name calling, my critic cited the history of Jews standing in the forefront of fighting racism in the past. Of course, historically at least, there is truth here…

But it is partial truth…for in the past few decades that alliance – strong as it was – has, if not withered – has frayed on the edges, especially for the mainstream Jewish organizations – the state federations, AIPAC, the ADL and the like. Getting to the heart of it, major Jewish blind supporters of Israel, when criticized, engage in an age old debating tactic.

Rather than responding to the criticism or charge – Are Israeli practices racist? – they turn the narrative on its head, go on the offensive and accuse the victims – and those who support them of prejudice! They both play the victim – ah, the poor maligned Israel! – and, at the same time, blame the actual victims, the Palestinians. This is the classic behavior of a bully – to “claim the moral high ground” at same moment they are squeezing the life out of their victims, engaging in severe repression, ethnic cleansing.

Those who don’t go along with this carefully contrived narrative – a narrative of which it quite easy to poke holes in, those who criticize (or oppose Zionism), or show some basic sympathy with the Palestinians, regardless of the forms it takes are smeared with an anti-Semitic brush. This is a profoundly inaccurate and unfair label – to call the victims of racism and their supporters – as anti-Semitic, which means they are accused of racism. Of course reality is twisted. Overwhelmingly those who criticize Israel and support Palestinian national rights in their vast majority are anti-racist. 

And now there is a new twist… it’s taking the ideological offensive.. controlling the narrative by accusing others of racism, bigotry – it’s the critics that are bigoted, not the perpetrators! It’s an effective form of denial – to accuse the victims of the crimes of the perpetrators and I am impressed with how effective it has worked.

So, Jews – many Jews in the USA, those who blindly support Israel – live in a narcissistic and paranoid bubble.  So many can’t bring themselves to look at the truth of what Israel has become…and in one way or another…has always been – a modern example of settler colonialism. As the saying goes – it ain’t rocket science. That particular model brings with it a certain signature of bigotry. Can’t ethnically cleanse the better part of an entire people and then…blame it on them! Blaming the victim.

And of course there has always been a special animus to those among us Jews – I am one – who don’t buy into the narrative – who challenge it – frankly in the name of human decency and in the struggle against racism – calling Zionism out for what it is. It is just the right thing to do even if I can’t explain it to my liberal Jewish friends.

How to re-establish the link, not just between Jews and Blacks, but more broadly speaking, between Jews, Blacks, Moslems, Atheists, Chicanos, Native Americans, immigrants, trade unionists – white or none-white – or create these alliances in a new, needed way, on a new, progressive basis? It’s needed – that new alliance to turn the situation in the country around.

A Memory

Long ago, I’m pretty certain it was in 1974, a local delegation of rabbis and Jewish Community leaders went to my work place and requested to the president of the college that I be fired because I criticized Israel. That was first and not the last time this kind of thing happened. I was sitting in the kitchen of a dear friend, an Irish Catholic. His mother was there. I was bemoaning my fate. How could they? I went on kvetching – my own people attacking me like that. It hurt – I was 28, 29 never dreamed fellow Jews would come down on my like that – and it didn’t end there.

If Jack Galvin sympathized – he had recently abandoned the seminary, given up on becoming a priest – Mrs. Galvin was not moved in the least. She looked me square in the eye and simply commented: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. …

Besides my father repeatedly telling me, in response to my left politics “to stop pissing in the wind”…best advice I’ve ever gotten.


Part Two



1. Socialism in the Soviet Union – the struggle for which many Jews were actively involved, did not “solve the Jewish problem.” Antisemitism continued, although to compare the antisemitism of the USSR with that of Nazi Germany is, frankly, a crime against history. Jews were not singled out in the Soviet Union but were victimized as were so many other ethnic (and religious) groups. There was no systematic extermination. Discrimination yes, abuses, yes, but forgotten – purposely? – is even Stalin’s efforts to save the lives of as many Jews as possible from the Nazi invasion of the USSR. I would add here, that while not denying some antisemitism did exist in the USSR, since its collapse, antisemitism, attached as it is to narrow Russian ethnic nationalism, has flourished far more than it ever did under Stalin, Brezhnev and the rest of the ruling Soviet septuagenarians.

As for Assimilation, as Zionists themselves admit, no Jewish population was more assimilated into their national culture than that of Germany. Look what happened though, how quickly, how thoroughly, with such unabashed cruelty, systematic barbarism on an unprecedented level? Important to remember though, if Jews were Nazi Germany’s main target, that 4 million (non-Jewish) Poles, 27 million Soviet citizens and millions of others lost their lives, suffered indignities and brutalities too. Rather than emphasizing the shared fate of the victims of fascism, Zionism has long tried to isolate the Jewish experience in the war, a disservice to history.

Needs to be pointed out (again) that the kind of antisemitism that led to the systematic slaughter of millions of Jews was essentially a European problem. Yes, there were manifestations of anti-semitism in the MENA (Middle East and North African) countries but until recently, with the emergence of narrower Turkish, Arab ethnic nationalism, it never reached the pervasive proportions that existed in Europe. Further, as been revealed in a number of recent documentaries, there are a number of important examples – in North Africa, Albania – where Moslems took great risks to protect Jews.

The kind of hard bitten Nazi antisemitism, thus, is a product of European history. That it has emerged in the Arab World, and it has, is a result of a toxic mix of Zionism’s own history, the narrow ethnic (nationalist and religious) national approaches, combined with Zionism’s insistence that equates Zionism with Judaism. It also has to be added that Arab and Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment – which has grown considerably in recent decades – is in large measure, a response, misguided as it is, to Zionist bigotry against Arabs and Muslims. The two seem to feed on themselves despite tolerant efforts from both Jews and  Moslems to counter the tendencies.

The experience of Jews assimilating  to their national cultures varies. Attempts at it are not without some dark chapters (like now) – here in the United States. Could “it” turn ugly. Yes it could and it has to a certain extent these last years. But we are a long way from Auschwitz and Buchenwald in Denver and Atlanta. How the Jewish Community deals with the current upsurge in antisemitic hatred will do much to determine how that future plays out. What alliances will it make? Which will it break? Will the Community itself stay unified or split in several directions? Important questions, too early to give definitive answers.

Given the false promises of both Socialism and assimilation to solve the crisis that Jews have faced in the Modern World, many turned to Zionism, Jewish Nationalism, as a solution to Jewish sufferings. this was especially true and took on magnified proportions after World War II. Frankly given the historical moment, I don’t know if Zionism could have ever worked. The formula of “a people without a land, looking for a land without a people” was always floored. For millennium, there was a people living in Palestinian, the Palestinians. I

In one short Golda Meir sentence, the historical existence of the Palestinian people is denied to provide “living space” so to speak, for a project dominated by European, Askinaze Jews. The Zionist project was always a settler colonial project, the dilemma being which great power would sponsor the project. The early Zionists went to the Ottomans, the French, the Germans for political and financial support which was rejected out of hand. Even the British nod – the famous Balfour Declaration – was a cynical acceptance of the project, based in part on geo-political considerations: restricting French influence (strong in neighboring Lebanon and Syria) from extending its sphere of influence and creating a protective buffer for British control of the Suez Canal, lifeline of the British Empire.



4 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    January 20, 2019 6:28 am

    Well, the uproar on the Angela situation shows that the wind is starting to change course. When enough people start pissing in the wind, the Zionist Racists will be so busy clearing their eyes, they won’t be able to shoot the legs off Palestinian Children. Keep on pissing!

  2. margy stewart permalink
    January 20, 2019 10:36 am

    Great essay, Rob!

  3. Ellen Zimmerman permalink
    January 21, 2019 10:57 am

    Great article, Robbie. I agree 100%! Thanks for articulating what I have always felt!


  1. Thinking About Zionism, AntiSemitism, Human Rights…Publicly (2) | View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince's Blog

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