European Jewish Congress promotes anti-Muslim bigotry

A soldier pins a young man against a stone wall

Occupation forces in the West Bank city of Hebron detain a Palestinian youth during a protest against a US decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements illegal, in December 2019. Some Israel lobby groups define almost any protest or criticism of Israel’s actions to be anti-Semitic. 

Mosab Shawer APA images

A new report published by the European Jewish Congress calls attention to the alarming number of attacks on Jews by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in 2019 and early 2020.

But the report on worldwide anti-Semitism attempts baselessly to shift blame onto peaceful activism for Palestinian human rights.

Authored in collaboration with researchers at Tel Aviv University, it is the latest slapdash effort by an Israel lobby group to hijack justifiable fears about surging right-wing extremism in Western countries in order to silence criticism of Israel’s human rights crimes.

It engages in unsupported smears against advocates for Palestinian human rights and against Muslims, thus fueling exactly the kind of bigotry it purports to expose.

Despite the obfuscation, the report’s authors are unable to obscure the reality that the surge in anti-Jewish attacks and hatred has come from the far right, and has been stoked by politicians such as Donald Trump, whom the report does not even mention.

Surging neo-Nazism

The report notes, for instance, that a shooting that killed two people near a synagogue in Halle last October “was a landmark anti-Semitic attack in Germany which embodies all the current problems.”

It adds that German police registered more than 1,800 anti-Semitic incidents nationwide, “mostly perpetrated by neo-Nazis and extreme right-wing activists.”

In the US, the report claims, “a new phenomenon is emerging, one of increased violent anti-Semitic attacks, with shooting sprees and numerous casualties, inspired by right-wing ideologies as well as by certain groups within the Black Hebrew Israelites and the Nation of Islam” – the latter a small sect headed by Louis Farrakhan.

Without evaluating those assertions, what is absent is any claim that Palestine solidarity activists, or the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement for Palestinian rights had any connection whatsoever to such violence. That is because there is no evidence.

And yet the report expends many words attacking the BDS movement and trying to associate its supporters with rising anti-Semitism. BDS is mentioned no fewer than two dozen times in the 17-page document.

The report lists as “significant achievements” for fighting anti-Semitism in 2019 the votes by the German and Austrian parliaments smearing BDS activism as anti-Jewish bigotry.

It also attempts to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, as when it claims that US universities registered “approximately 300 anti-Semitic incidents” in 2019.

The report asserts that this represents “a decrease of 49 percent in classic anti-Semitism and an increase of 60 percent in Israel-related anti-semitism compared to 2018.”

No source is provided for this statistic, nor is it accompanied by any definition of “Israel-related anti-Semitism.”

But the report offers clues as to the kind of dubious sources it relies on.

Lies, damned lies and AMCHA’s statistics

Earlier, it links to a series of AMCHA Initiative reports, one of which claims that “acts of classic anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students decreased 42 percent, while incidents of Israel-related anti-Semitic harassment increased 70 percent” between 2017 and 2018.

AMCHA is a far-right pro-Israel organization with a long history of spying on and harassing students and teachers who utter any support for Palestininian rights.

Its founder Tammi Rossman-Benjamin has been caught on video making virulently racist statements against students involved in Palestine solidarity activism.

AMCHA’s definition of “anti-Semitism” is so broad that it includes saying Israel is racist, that it practices apartheid or commits war crimes.

That would mean that dozens of former European foreign ministers and prime ministers who recently decried Israeli “apartheid” policies, as well as the authors of countless UN investigations into Israeli war crimes, are, according to AMCHA, nothing but anti-Semites.

It even appears that the authors of the European Jewish Congress report consider it anti-Semitic to discuss whether it is right to define criticism of Israel’s abuses of Palestinians as anti-Semitism.

It approvingly quotes Rossman-Benjamin claiming that debates about “whether Zionism is an implicit part of Jewish identity and who gets to define anti-Semitism or represent Jewishness” have “negative consequences for many Jewish students.”

Included in these apparently “anti-Semitic” tendencies is any opposition to the misleading and politically motivated IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that is widely promoted by Israel and its lobby.

Free speech advocates and human rights defenders have opposed official adoption of the definition because it is a tool for censorship that falsely equates criticism of Israel and its racist state ideology Zionism, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.

AMCHA also defines as anti-Semitic any “student and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns against Israel that are a means of demonizing lsrael and seek to harm the Jewish state.”

In short, this means that any data AMCHA provides are utterly unreliable, since the group considers any activism for Palestinian human rights to be “anti-Semitic” and harmful to Israel.

Israeli propaganda

As for statistics on online anti-Semitism, the European Jewish Congress report cites “the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in Jerusalem,” whose “Anti-Semitism Cyber Monitoring System” allegedly “recorded several million anti-Semitic posts in 2019.”

It ought to be enough to know that Israel considers virtually any criticism of its policies to be “anti-Semitism” in order to discount such data as nothing more than government propaganda.

But the ministry’s own definition of “anti-Semitic expressions” contains such vague transgressions as “applying double standards towards the State of Israel.”

The European Jewish Congress report nonetheless praises the efforts of the European Union’s coordinator on anti-Semitism Katharina von Schnurbein to pressure social media companies to censor such “hate speech on the web.”

Von Schnurbein, who maintains a close relationship to the Israel lobby, has been an aggressive opponent of Palestinian rights advocacy, and along with her EU colleagues has habitually resorted to lies and smears in an effort to discredit the BDS movement.

Fueling anti-Muslim bigotry

The European Jewish Congress report acknowledges that “Europe is facing an overall rise in racism and xenophobia,” fed by “ultra-nationalism, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hate.”

But it gives little attention to how the perpetrators of lethal attacks against Jews tend to share the same white supermacist views as those who murder Muslims for being Muslim and Black people for being Black.

For example, the massacre of 51 Muslims at two New Zealand mosques by an Australian white supremacist in March 2019 receives only a passing mention.

The Christchurch attack, as well the right-wing extremist massacre of nine people at two shisha bars in the German town of Hanau this February, are far more relevant to a report on anti-Semitism than is human rights campaigining on behalf of Palestinians – especially as these incidents contextualize anti-Semitic attacks on Jews by white supremacists with the targeting of non-white, non-Christian groups by the very same supremacists.

But Hanau isn’t mentioned at all, while BDS absorbs much of the report’s attention.

Indeed, the language of the report opens its authors to charges of Islamophobia.

They claim, for instance, that there has in recent months been an upsurge in anti-Semitism implicating Jews in the spread of the coronavirus, and that this bigotry has been “originating mainly from extreme right activists, who also call to spread the virus among Jews, plus from Muslim circles.”

One need only replace “Muslim circles” with “Jewish circles” to see how bigoted this sort of sweeping accusation is.

The report also falsely asserts that in Germany, “Israel-related anti-Semitism, mainly originating from Muslim students and staff, is already becoming normalized among school students and teachers.”

A footnote to that sentence links to a report on Holocaust teaching in Germany. Yet the report makes no such allegations about Muslim students or teachers, nor does it discuss alleged Israel-related anti-Semitism.

It appears that broad, racist generalizations about entire communities are permitted as long as those being scapegoated are Muslims.

This is only the latest in an endless series of Israeli government or lobby reports smearing Palestine solidarity activists.

While bad faith is manifest on every page, it should not lessen the commitment of all of us to fighting all forms of bigotry, including anti-Black racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and colonialism, including Israeli colonial and racist policies.

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But the ministry’s own definition of “anti-Semitic expressions” contains such vague transgressions as “applying double standards towards the State of Israel.”
Ali Abunimah

Of course, the comic irony lying herein (and I do mean "lying") is simply that Israel always and relentlessly operates under a double standard. There's one rule for Israel- which in practical terms amounts to no rules at all. And there's a second standard the rest of us are expected to abide by, which involves convoluted restrictions of word and deed.

Zionists also maintain a curious duality in prescribing how the world should regard their project. On the one hand, they argue that Israel as the state of the Jews differs in no way from other nation states in its fundamental right to constitute and defend itself. It's a normal country and shouldn't be singled out for criticism. On the other hand, they are perfectly willing to assert that, based on theological or historical grounds, Israel is unique among the nations, and (once again and for the opposite reason) may not be held to standards inscribed in international law.

The nerve of these duplicitous outlaws is breathtaking. They not only insist on both having and eating their cake, they demand free access to everyone else's cake- drafting legislation for nations all over the world while claiming their inviolable right to conduct their affairs as they see fit, without interference.

Of course, the cake they love the best is the stolen variety, the land of Palestine. That's the one that will choke them.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.