Unbelievably, the California Assembly passed a resolution in August which purports to define “anti-Semitism” and admonishes University of California campus administrators to take swift action against perpetrators. Really. I kid you not. The entire H.R. 35 is reprinted below.
I can’t think of another term in the English language that is as loaded with as much baggage as “anti-Semitism.” Even blogging about the term might land me in hot water.
Although I certainly don’t pretend to be a historian, I find the historical development of the term interesting. Wikipedia divides it into six stages:
- Pre-Christian anti-Judaism in ancient Greece and Rome which was primarily ethnic in nature
- Christian anti-semitism in antiquity and the Middle Ages which was religious in nature and has extended into modern times
- Traditional Muslim antisemitism which was – at least in its classical form – nuanced in that Jews were a protected class
- Political, social and economic antisemitism of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Europe which laid the groundwork for racial antisemitism
- Racial antisemitism that arose in the 19th century and culminated in Nazism
- Contemporary antisemitism which has been labeled by some as the New Antisemitism
“New Antisemitism” conflates hatred of Jews with criticism of the state of Israel, and therein lies the problem.
Suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews because of their Jewish heritage is wrong, wrong, wrong. Criticism of the state of Israel is another thing entirely, and very often well-deserved, in my opinion.
So that I am perfectly clear and not misunderstood by anyone —– let me say it again. Speech, conduct or actions that evidence a hatred of Jews because they are Jews is despicable, deserves the label of anti-Semitism and must be condemned.
Speech, conduct or actions that criticize Israel might be well-deserved, off-the-wall, inflammatory, with or without merit, but that is NOT anti-Semitism. To conflate the two is wrong, dead wrong.
Equating criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews diminishes the real victim, the person or persons who are the target of such atrocious behavior. My sister, my niece, my nephew, my friend can truly be victimized by anti-Semites and they must have recourse in my country’s laws and courts. The state of Israel is not a victim, will never be a victim, and these attempts (like California’s resolution) to place Israel in the shoes of the victim is a sinister attempt to block criticism of Israel.
Conflating the state of Israel with the person of Jewish heritage and labeling both as victims of anti-Semitism has become an effective tool to shut down honest discourse. Should Israel, and Israeli politicians, be immune from criticism? Does the state have no blemishes? Is it so weak that it can’t withstand the assault of dissent, opposition and displeasure such as BDS actions?
If the state of Israel is so vulnerable that it cannot tolerate criticism, learn from its mistakes, and celebrate its diversity, then I fear its days are numbered. And THAT is not an anti-Semitic statement, except perhaps in the great state of California.
WHEREAS, The frequency and severity of incidents of contemporary global anti-Semitism are increasing according to reports by representatives from nations around the world, including the United States Department of State in 2008, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2004, and the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism in 2009; and WHEREAS, On July 20, 2009, the United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution that unequivocally condemns all forms of anti-Semitism and rejects attempts to rationalize anti-Jewish hatred or attacks as a justifiable expression of disaffection or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere, and decries the comparison of Jews to Nazis perpetrating the Holocaust or genocide as a pernicious form of anti-Semitism; and WHEREAS, The United States Department of State, the United Kingdom' s All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-semitism Antisemitism , and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have adopted or endorsed the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights' working definition of anti-Semitism, which notes that in context certain language or behavior demonizes and delegitimizes Israel or attacks Israel with classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli police to that of the Nazis, and accusing the Jewish people, or Israel, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust; and WHEREAS, The United States Commission on Civil Rights reported in 2006 that anti-Semitism exists on some college campuses and is often cloaked as criticism of Israel, and recommended that colleges and universities ensure that students are protected from actions that could create a hostile anti-Semitic environment; and WHEREAS, Over the last decade some Jewish students on public postsecondary education institution campuses in California have experienced the following: (1) physical aggression, harassment, and intimidation by members of student or community groups in student-sponsored protests and rallies held on campus; (2) speakers, films, and exhibits sponsored by student, faculty, and community groups that engage in anti-Semitic discourse or use anti-Semitic imagery and language to falsely describe Israel, Zionists, and Jews, including that Israel is a racist, apartheid, or Nazi state, that Israel is guilty of heinous crimes against humanity such as ethnic cleansing and genocide, that the Jewish state should be destroyed, that violence against Jews is justified, that Jews exaggerate the Holocaust as a tool of Zionist propaganda, and that Jews in America wield excessive power over American foreign policy; (3) swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti in residential halls, public areas on campus, and Hillel houses; (4) student- and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns against Israel that are a means of demonizing Israel and seek to harm the Jewish state; (5) actions of student groups that encourage support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah and openly advocate terrorism against Israel and the Jewish people; and (6) suppression and disruption of free speech that present Israel's point of view; and WHEREAS, California public postsecondary educational institutions are admired throughout the world for their excellence and diversity, and it is important that they provide continued leadership in the fight against anti-Semitism; and WHEREAS, While the response by California public postsecondary educational institutions to incidents of hate and intimidation, including anti-Semitism, with actions designed to make their campuses safer and more inclusive of diverse students, faculty, and staff have increased, the problem requires additional serious attention on both a campuswide and systemwide basis; and WHEREAS, The Legislature supports the actions already taken by the President of Assembly commends the initial actions taken by the University of California (UC) and urges the leadership to continue to take action to address anti-Semitism on its campuses while staying within the constraints of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; and WHEREAS, The Legislature supports the following examples of the UC leadership: such as: (1) refusal by the UC Board of Regents and the President of UC to consider divesture from companies doing business with Israel; (2) strengthening UC's systemwide policies prohibiting student conduct motivated by bias, including religious bias; (3) implementation of a campus climate reporting system allowing any member of a UC campus community to report incidents of intolerance or bias and development of a comprehensive UC systemwide campus climate assessment; (4) the formation of an Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion whose members have conducted in-depth visits with Jewish students and groups on UC campuses to better understand their concerns and challenges and report back to the President of the UC; and (5) immediate statements by UC leaders strongly condemning specific acts of intolerance or bias when they occur; and WHEREAS, The Assembly urges both the University of California and the California State University to take additional actions to confront anti-Semitism on its campuses, with due respect to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; and WHEREAS, While these actions are important steps, strong leadership from the top remains an important priority so that no administrator, faculty, or student group can be in any doubt that anti-Semitic activity will not be tolerated in the classroom or on campus, and that no public resources will be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation; now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, That the Legislature Assembly unequivocally condemns all forms of intolerance, including anti-Semitism, on public postsecondary educational institution campuses in California; and be it further Resolved, That the Legislature Assembly recognizes recent actions by officials of public postsecondary educational institutions in California and calls upon those institutions to increase their efforts to swiftly and unequivocally condemn acts of anti-Semitism on their campuses and to utilize existing resources, such as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights' working definition of anti-Semitism, to help guide campus discussion about, and promote, as appropriate, educational programs for combating anti-Semitism on their campuses; and be it further Resolved, That the Chief Clerk of the Assembly transmit copies of this resolution to the author for appropriate distribution.