It is something of an axiom of Jewish life that “Is it good for the Jews?” remains the litmus test of Jewish communal activity — in other words, interest over principles. A good example is free speech. There can be little doubt that the organized Jewish community sees free speech as a problem because it may be used to criticize the behavior of Jewish organizations and especially Israel.
In Canada the response of the organized Jewish community to recent demonstrations against Israel was to attempt to invoke Canada’s restrictions on free speech in order to silence their critics. The Canadian Jewish Congress complained that protests against Israel’s incursion into Gaza contained images that were “uncivil, un-Canadian, that demonize Jews and Israelis.” They are asking the police to investigate the matter, for referral to the Canadian Human Rights Commission which is in charge of enforcing laws that infringe on free speech. Although the organized Jewish community in Canada has strongly supported the thought crime legislation (see below), Bernie Farber, the head of the CJC, stated “we are firm supporters and believers in the need to be able to demonstrate passionately in free and democratic societies.”
Because of the First Amendment, we are still a ways from situation in Canada here in the US. Nevertheless, the ADL has been in the forefront of promoting hate-crime legislation in America, and there can be little doubt that they see the First Amendment as a barrier to their interests in suppressing thoughts and speech critical of Israel and other Jewish interests.
An example of the efforts of the organized Jewish community in the direction of thought control is the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004. This law created an office of “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism” within the State Department, headed by Gregg J. Rickman. The act not only requires the State Department to document acts of anti-Semitism, but also to “combat acts of anti-Semitism globally.”
The act does not say what the U.S. must do to combat anti-Semitism around the world. I assume combating anti-Semitism wouldn’t require any more in the way of lives and money than, say, the war in Iraq — another project spearheaded by Jewish activism on behalf of Israel. But that may be wishful thinking as the same activists are avidly promoting a war with Iran which would likely be even more disastrous.
In any case, the office issued its most recent Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism Report (GASR) in March of last year. The document is an excellent example of Jewish activism that would be unremarkable except that it is now officially ensconced at the highest reaches of the U.S. government. As we shall see, it goes beyond criticism anti-Jewish actions to anti-Jewish attitudes, such as statements about Jewish influence.
The report performs the by now familiar casuistry on Israel as a cause of anti-Semitism. The reader is led to believe that the allegations of Israeli atrocities are overblown propaganda — when the real question is just how Palestinians manage to survive at all in the occupied territories. The recent horrifying incursion into Gaza is only the most recent example. Not only did Israel carry out a starvation-inducing blockade during a ceasefire and an assault that finally provoked Palestinian retaliation, there seems little doubt that Israel committed war crimes — particularly the use of white phosphorus bombs in densely populated civilian areas.
The report complains that Israel’s bad behavior is singled out while nobody cares when other governments behave inhumanely. The problem here is that because Israel’s bad behavior is in important ingredient in enflaming the entire region, it should interest everyone. And because of the role of the Israel Lobby in shaping American policy, Israel’s bad behavior is even more properly the concern of all Americans. American taxpayers are not being asked to massively subsidize other badly behaved governments, nor are they asked to fight and die in wars designed to advance the interests of those governments.
The report graciously states that “responsible criticism” of Israel’s policies is acceptable. (Thanks!) But there’s a catch: “Those criticizing Israel have a responsibility to consider the effect their actions may have in prompting hatred of Jews.”
This, of course, has the effect of proscribing criticism of Israel for fear of being called an anti-Semite. Presumably responsible criticism of Israel does not include books like John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt’s The Israel Lobby, despite its academic tone and masterful marshalling of evidence. Jewish activists have routinely accused the authors of resurrecting the Protocols and other vicious acts of anti-Semitism.
As the report notes, Israel is without doubt the source of most anti-Jewish words and deeds in the contemporary world. But the report also points to traditional Jewish stereotypes as a continuing concern: Jews as more loyal to Israel and Jewish interests than the interests of their country of residence; and Jews as having inordinate influence and control over media, the economy or government. For example, according to ADL surveys, substantial percentages of Europeans believe that Jews have too much power in business and in international financial markets. (The percentages range from around 20% in Germany to 60% in Hungary.)
Similarly, ADL surveys indicate that beliefs that Jews are disloyal are common among Europeans, ranging from 39% in France to 60% in Spain. The report notes that “those who believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country tend to believe that Jewish lobbying groups and individual Jews in influential positions in national governments seek to bend policy toward Israel’s interests.”
In other words, these anti-Semites are living under the illusion that organizations like AIPAC actually have some influence. And they may even believe that highly placed Jews like Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams and Richard Perle may have steered U.S. policy in a way that benefited Israel to the detriment of the United States.
As I noted in my review of Mearsheimer and Walt,
Pro-Israel activists such as Perle typically phrase their policy recommendations as aimed at benefiting the United States. Perle does this despite evidence that he has a strong Jewish identity and despite the fact that he has typical Jewish concerns, such as anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and the welfare of Israel. Perle poses as an American patriot despite credible charges of spying for Israel, writing reports for Israeli think tanks and op-eds for the Jerusalem Post, and maintaining close personal relation-ships with Israeli leaders.
Needless to say, the GASR is not a good place to find nuanced or fair treatments of these issues.