J-Street tweeted this:
No to anti-Semitism. No to efforts to silence legitimate debate about #Israel. Strong statements from 2020 contenders @BernieSanders @KamalaHarris @ewarren
— J Street (@jstreetdotorg) March 7, 2019
Elizabeth Warren:We have a moral duty to combat hateful ideologies in our own country and around the wortd–and that includes both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. In a democracy, we can and should have an open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy. Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Threats of violence — like those made against Rep. Omar — are never acceptable.
Bernie Sanders:“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace. What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”
Kamala Harris:We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America. But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, | am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk. We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country. I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism. At the end of the day, we need a two-state solution and a commitment to peace, human rights, and democracy by all leaders in the region — and a commitment by our country to help achieve that.
As far as I can tell, there is no Jew or Zionist that suggests that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, the way that J-Street and these candidates are saying or implying.
Even the most right-wing Zionists accept the IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism. from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It was adopted by the US State Department. It says this about criticism of Israel:
Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.
…Contemporary examples of antisemitism could include:
Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
The IHRA defines legitimate criticism of Israel as the type that would be leveled at any other country. This is quite fair.
The question is, who would oppose this definition?
Who wants to say that singling out Israel for special criticism when other countries are worse is not a form of antisemitism? Who wants to defend an Electronic Intifada/Mondoweiss worldview where obsessive focus on Israel out of proportion to its actions is considered legitimate debate? Who wants to claim that boycotting Israel, and only Israel, is not antisemitic in practice?
Who wants to say that accusations of dual loyalty is not antisemitism?
Who wants to say that equating Jewish self-determination with racism is not antisemitism?
Either these candidates accept the definition set here, or they don’t. If they don’t, they should explain the exact problematic part of the definition that they believe is not true – and be prepared to defend that.
No one, and I mean no one, is shutting down debate over Israel when the criticism is legitimate according to this definition. Which means that these candidates, and J-Street, have a completely different definition of what “legitimate criticism” than the IHRA.
What is it?
When politicians talk about how much they are against antisemitism, they aren’t saying what that means to them. If the IHRA definition is not to their liking, they must explain what specifically they disagree with.
The Democratic Party can make all this mess go away by adopting the eminently reasonable standard that the IHRA created. And if they did, it is obvious that Ilhan Omar really did spout Jew-hatred and must be censured.
If they don’t want to do that, then it is their responsibility to come up with their own definition – and to defend it.
The IHRA should be the baseline for the discussion. It would add clarity to everyone’s positions. And that is exactly why the Democratic Party will stay away from it – because it would expose a small but vocal minority of their members as engaging in antisemitic speech, and the party is too frightened to do anything to rein them in.
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