Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Growing trend to delegitimize Israel worries Jewish leaders

Haaretz: By Amiram Barkat

The trend toward delegitimizing Israel's existence as a Jewish state is growing not only in Europe, but also in the United States, according to Jewish-American academics and community leaders.

Anti-Israel attacks are even beginning to affect Jewish supporters of Israel, who have been accused of trying to silence public debate, they said. ...

Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz told Haaretz that American academics are at the forefront of those denying Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Veteran advocates of this position, such as Tony Judt and Noam Chomsky, were joined last year by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, both from reputable academic institutions, who charged that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) dictates American foreign policy. Their article, which generated shock waves, is being turned into a book, which is slated to be published in September. The fact that a respected publisher paid Walt and Mearsheimer an advance that is thought to have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars attests to how hot the publisher thinks this issue is, Reinharz said.

"My feeling - and that of many people - following Walt and Mearsheimer and other publications is that we are at the start of a new era with regard to attitudes toward Israel in the U.S.," he added. ...

Foxman said that Jews who challenge anti-Israel attacks find themselves accused of undermining freedom of expression.

"I received letters from professors who claimed that when I accuse someone of anti-Semitism, I am trying to silence public debate," he said. "When the president of Harvard University said that the delegitimization of Israel helps anti-Semites, he was accused of silencing public debate. No one would have dared accuse him of this had he been talking about racism or xenophobia.

My own sense is that the taboo on certain kinds of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel (not necessarily the same) rhetoric, in place since the Holocaust, is now rapidly evaporating (much faster in Europe than in the U.S.), and views that had been culturally suppressed are coming out with a vengeance. Much of it is ugly. So are many of the responses. I don't think the effort, by ADL and related groups, to put a lid back on is likely to succeed. We need to be more effective in engaging the substance of particular criticisms (some of which are undoubtedly justified), and concern ourselves less with motivations. And deal with the realities being discussed--less hasbara, more policy.

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