EI’s Nora Barrows-Friedman debates pro-Israel activist, former US government official on Al Jazeera

Earlier today on Al Jazeera’s The Stream, I squared off against Kenneth Marcus, a pro-Israel activist and lawyer who has pioneered efforts to abuse civil rights law in order to censor Palestine solidarity activism and criticism of Israel on US campuses by claiming that such speech is anti-Semitism.

The Electronic Intifada has followed Marcus’ activities — and the harmful effects the Israel lobby’s efforts to silence and intimidate those who speak out against Israeli policies  — have had on college students, faculty members, and free speech rights in California and across the US.

I was joined by several fantastic student Palestine solidarity activists from the University of California system who were included on the panel discussion — Rahim Kurwa and Suleiman Hodali from UC-Los Angeles, and Rebecca Pierce from UC-Santa Cruz.

Marcus’ attempt to paint his efforts and those of the Israel lobby as purely humanitarian endeavors were challenged at every level. And it was pleasing to see the show’s host, Josh Rushing, catching Marcus in a bald-face lie when talking about whether or not Marcus had ever called former president Jimmy Carter “anti-Semitic” and a “neo-Nazi” ostensibly because of Carter’s book on Israel’s apartheid system in Palestine. Watch the show above.




Well done you!
Mr Marcus is a consumately professional speaker, of the Mark Regev mould, ie dispassionate and self-righteous, but you tore thru his web of deceipt. HR35 is an unnecessary obstacle to free speach. Aimed at silencing BDS and other anti-zionist entities. Or am I now being anti-semitic?
Crying wolf is a potential problem for jews, as it feeds into stereotypes of victimhood and abuse, whilst toying with really profound humanitarian issues.
Nora Barrows-Friedman showed those who support HR35 and Marcus to be wolves, rather than victims.


Kenneth Marcus is not answering the simplest question posed: what is the difference between anti-semitic speech and anti-Israel speech. (Isn't that his job, and the topic of this Stream?). At 14:10: JR askes him: "From the community: It becomes confusing. What is anti-semitism and [anti-] Israel, and how do you separate the two." (not answered). At 15:30, JR: "Is it anti-semitic to compare what's happening in Israel today with the apartheid" (not answered, except for his Carter did-not-read-the-book-but-I-know).

It got worse. Asked at 14:12: "you [K.M.] bring up 'political anti-semitism'. Can you explain". Answer: "People often don't say what they mean. Oftentimes they cloak their racism in other terms. In some cases one will see classic anti-semitic motifs, but instead of actually talking about Jews you [sic] will talk about Zionists, or about Israel. And yet you'll do it in exactly the same way that people have talked about Jews for hundreds of years." In other words: we should leave it up to Kenneth Marcus to decide on anti-semitism (*your* anti-semitism that is): he can look through the cloak. He can see the "motifs". Also, he doesn't want it to be illegal. (Because that would rob him of his judgement chair that comes with the special see-through glasses?).

And then this to top it (16:04): "What I prefer to do is to look at certain tropes or memes or certain ways of speaking and to ask the question, whether you mean to be anti-semetic or not, are you conveying a classic kind of Jew hatred, intentionally or not?"

This is free speech for Kenneth Marcus: the freedom to smear "anti-semitism". Anyone, anytime, unchecked by court and not based on meaning, intention or logic.


My definition for when anti-zionism becomes anti-semitism is one of substitution. If you take a sentence and substitute France for Israel, French people for Jews and Paris for Jerusalem or Tel Aviv does the sentence sound ridiculous or would it still be sensible? That is to say holding Jews to a standard that one wouldn't equally apply to every other and all other people is anti-semitic while holding Jews to norms that generally applicable is not.

"Israel is a terrorist state", or "the government of Israel are all war criminals" is fine. Left wingers accuse any state that takes any kind of military action of being a terrorist state filled with war criminals. Those standards are generally applied.

"The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed." It is hard to imagine "The Hollande regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed" and even "The Vichy regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed" would be a stretch. The speaker sounds like the problems with the French go a bit beyond policy. So lets say definitely, definitely on the border if not just a bit over the line.

Conversely "France has no right to exist" is something that wouldn't even occur to people. Of course France has a right to exist, as much as any country has a right to exist. The fact that the French people, the Franks are the product of a mass migration into Visigoth territory forced by the Huns doesn't diminish their national rights. So yeah I do consider that one anti-semitic since it holds Jews to a standard totally unlike those of other people.


If you take a sentence and substitute France for Israel, French people for Jews and Paris for Jerusalem or Tel Aviv does the sentence sound ridiculous or would it still be sensible?

Your question contains the assumption that “French people” and “Jews” are the right analogy, and that Jews are to Israel what French people are to France. Well if by “French people” you mean ethnically white, traditionally Christian people only and not all French citizens regardless of national origin, religion or ethnicity, then in the 21st century you do indeed have an explicitly racist definition of a France “for French people.”

Saying Israel is the “Jewish state” is racist because it defines citizenship based on an arbitrary characteristic, at the expense of the indigenous, non-Jewish Palestinian people. That’s why Israel is constitutionally (small “c”) a racist state and France is not. France is a state of its citizens. Israel is the state of one ethnoreligious group. An attempt to normalize Israel’s racist, colonial regime by comparison to France fails utterly and only highlights the illegitimacy of Zionist claims.


I wrote a longer reply which might be in moderation jail.

But it occurred to me a shorter reply that I didn't hit was you missed the analogy.

In this analogy the Palestinians wouldn't be the ethnic immigrants to France, those would probably correspond to something like the Russian immigrants or the guest workers. The analogy with the Palestinians would be the descendants of the Visigoths who now live in Spain and North Africa, and don't get to vote in French elections.


Whatever you try. The point is that Kenneth Marcus wants to make up his own accusations of anti-semitism, without accountability. That is what he says.


How many articles have you dedicated to combatting Iran calling itself the Islamic Republic of Iran? Or is your vitriol all saved for demonizing Israel?


Would you consider someone who says "The Nazi regime must disappear" as anti German? Of course not. It is just saying the the supremacist ideology must disappear. That is, BTW, what Mahmoud Amadinijad of Iran has always said. He has never ever make the claim that all Jews need to disappear. In Iran there is a Jewish population that has no intention of leaving Iran. Mahmoud Amadinijad is misquoted in the western press for political reasons. That is called propaganda.


I am always amazed at the power of the pro-Israel lobby-propaganda machine to even usurp the meaning of words from the dictionary. Palestinians are Semites. How can working for fairness for Palestinians be considered, "Anti-Semitism"? Definition below:

Person speaking one of a group of related languages, presumably derived from a common language, Semitic (see Semitic languages). The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes including Hebrews. Semitic tribes migrated from the Arabian Peninsula, beginning c. 2500 BC, to the Mediterranean coast, Mesopotamia, and the Nile River delta. In Phoenicia, they became seafarers. In Mesopotamia, they blended with the civilization of Sumer. The Hebrews settled at last with other Semites in Palestine.


Anti-semitism was a term of self identification invented in the 19th century by racial nationalists regarding the status of ethnically Jewish converts to Christianity. The question was whether Judaism was racial and thus baptism was ineffectual in making one European or whether Judaism was strictly religious and thus could be "cured" by baptism. It never applied to Semites in the Arab racial sense since they were clearly not ethnically French or German. There was nothing to debate.

You can't break apart a word to determine its meaning. A cathouse is not a place where cats live.


You've just demonstrated why the notion that a Jewish nation or ethnicity exists is a falsehood. Yet the existance of a Jewish nation is essential for the justification of the Zionist project.

Zionist ideology is based on accepting many of the false assumptions of classical European Anti-Semitism.


In the mid 19th century when ideas of the anti-semites were fringe but being formed, I'd agree there wasn't a Jewish nation. But nations, while long lived are not eternal. Historical events can cause peoples to unify in a nation. Zionism started as a national movement for a non existent nation, but it was successful and so a nation formed. Israelis are a nation today: they have their own culture, their own religion, their own language, their own economic system, their political system...

As for the ties between antisemitism and Zionism, yes. Zionism was a an alternative to secular rights movements. Secular rights argued that the antisemitic were wrong on the facts about the flaws of Jewish character, or argued these weren't flaws but rather that they were somehow more moral than the views of their countryman. Zionists intellectuals often didn't disagree with the antisemitic critiques of Jewish character but argued that these flaws were a product of dispossession and not an inherent Jewish flaw. I.E. nature vs. nurture.

Why do you think Zionism refers to moving to Israel as aliyah "going up"? The idea is that Jews in the diaspora are crippled and stunted by their condition. That's exactly the claim of antisemites. Ben-Gurion constantly talked about how land purified the Jewish soul from two millennia of cowering in the diaspora, "we came as a nation of philosophers and violinists and in one generation became a nation of Cossacks".

After 1967 Arab Jews started to play a larger role in Zionist thought. And then there was the Russian tradition which had a different idea of land and nations than the German / French intellectual founders. So I'd say that form of Zionism is dying but they were tied together.


Still the original point was the meaning of anti-Semitism not history of Zionism.


1. Yes, there has been created out of ethnically diverse people an Israeli Jewish nation but Argentinian Jews, Australian Jews, Canadian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, etc, etc, are not part of that nation. That Israel's racist constitution allows the to move to Palestine and *become* Israeli Jews does not affect their nationality (and the majority choose not to avail themselves of that privalege). So being anti-Israel or anti-Israeli is not Anti-Semitic.

2. Creating a nation through violent colonisation, theft and institutionalised apartheid privalege creates a nation with a violent and narcisistic character. Observing this is not Anti-Semetic. [I am aware that Israel is not unique in this regard. I'm an Anglo-Australian so I belong to a nation that also has some very ugly characteristics that result from a history as a colonial settler state.]

3. People whose ideology is based on the disgusting Anti-Semitic notion that European Jews had/have a "crippled and stunted" nature (or as you put it, "often didn't disagree with the antisemitic critiques of Jewish character") claiming anti-racist activists are Anti-Semites shouldn't be taken seriously. However, they obviously are taken seriously as the Californian legislature's resolution shows. This is because Zionism (like Anti-Semitism) is part of broader racist Western supremacist ideology.


In order of your comments:

1) Being anti-israeli doesn't make you an anti-semite. Being opposed to Israel in a way you are not opposed to other states or other peoples does. For example I don't think Palestinian resistance is primarily motivated by antisemitism, the Israelis and the Palestinians have a good old fashioned land war. If the Finnish had come to Palestine and declared themselves the original inhabitants.... something like Hamas would like still exist. Conversely the non-Palestinian Muslim obsession with this particular tribal war when there are so many tribal wars going on is IMHO antisemitic.

2) All nations came from consolidation after a mass migration and used violence as part of the consolidation process. In fact our species, and the chain of species we are descended from generally used violent consolidation to advance. Generally organized violence is how people's unify into a cohesive whole. That kind of comment that you made I do consider antisemitic because it is holding Jews to a standard totally unlike every other nation on the planet.

3) I said "were" past tense. Those French and German influences don't characterize Zionism anymore. Zionism has changed character after 1967. Having direct control of Jewish holy sites, the various Arab Israeli and Russian migrations and the contact with American manifest destiny has changed the character of Zionism. Israel is now fact not an objective. Israelis were mostly born in Israel. They don't dream of the possibility of creating Israel, Israel is their home and they have known no other.

I woud argue the dominant form of Zionism today outside Israel is Christian Zionism which seeks an ingathering of the Jews in Israel so that there are the 144,000 righteous Jews needed for the heavenly chorus for Christ's return. There is no connection between that and 19th century racism at all.


From 11:25 to 14:07 in the video, Channah Barkhordari (UCLA, twitter handle @cbwritersblock) has a say. She is asked four questions: 11:00: About anti-Israel and anti-semitic speech: "Channah, what is the distinction?". 12:30: "Are you saying, there should be legislation, a curtailing for the actions of BDS?, should BDS be allowed on UC campuses?" 13:22, repeated: "I get that you don't think it is legitimit, but what I want to know is: do you think it should be disallowed from UC campuses?" None of these questions did she answer.

She does state that: depicturing Netanyahu as Hitler is anti-semitic (no. In her twittered link he was depicted this way for bombing Gaza, not for being a Jew), hold [Israel] to double standards that any other country wouldn't be held [to] (not true) (sic: she wants double standards for all countries then?), [this all] is anti-semitic (plain no). Later on, a bad audio: "Actual origins of BDS rise by in[?] 2005 the organisation by Arafat that wanted to start a second intifada, that was a component of that intifada." (what is this? Anyway, it doesn't contain a single true fact). "So, having that root, that base which a lot of founders of the BDS very opely say has the goal of destroying Israel" (not true).

She uses expressions "cloaking anti-semitism" and "is not political" (protest), specific idiom also used by Kenneth Marcus right after her. "Free speech" she does not say, let alone ponder or defend.

The untrue or unbased statements listed above aside, she does not clarify one single point. She did not answer a question, let alone join the discussion. She doesn't have her talking points listed. To me, she did not make one single coherent contribution.

In 2011 Channah Barkhordari was Regional Campus Director New England, Boston, for the Hasbara Fellowships organisation.


Who should define anti-Semitism - the one making the depiction, the target of the depiction, anyone belonging to the Jewish religion, or a sovereign authority?

In my opinion, the government should decide what is anti-Semitic, and in passing the legislation being discussed in the video there is no factual evidence, other than the personal anecdotes by some extremists (like the author), that the law in the CA govt stifles the free speech of PA activists.


The problem she has is that HR 35 ( http://leginfo.legislature.ca.... ) specifically lists BDS as one form of antisemitism.

The issue is not that HR 35 prohibits speech it in fact says precisely the opposite that the constitution protections for free speech, including antisemitic speech must be supported by CA universities. The issue I think Nora has is, "that no public resources will be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation" combined with the boycott of Israeli businesses (which would include BDS) which has been part of the Arab boycott since Israel's creation, was specifically cited as an example of a prohibited activity.

In other words a group she supports is being labeled as a hate group by the CA legislature and CA universities are being told to treat them the way they treat Christian Identify groups, not the way they treat mainstream political groups.


From 31:21, it is about a resolution, countering HR35, passed at UCSA.
Channah Barkhordari: "[they had] a resolution passed through by lobbying, that basically supported BDS. And that kind of *extreme* political stance ...". No problem so far, although it might be an oversensitive indignation.

Then she continues (31:34): "It made the Jewish community at large and other communities that disagreed with that stance really feel alienated." Note that Channah speaks not just for *the* Jewish community (on what grounds?), but even for that community *at large*. And also for other communities in the same sweep. Next: "And I think silencing [these communities] is also dangerous". She and the communities she speaks for lost a vote. Now when, by whom and how was she or would she be 'silenced'?


At 7:00, Rebecca Pierce (UCSC, @aptly_engineered) is introduced. She asks Marcus: "[F]or the growing number of Jewish students who participate in things like Israel Apartheid Week and BDS. Do we have a place in Jewish community? Because the definition of anti-semitism that you have been promoting [inaudible] cuts us out and silences us."

Marcus answers: "Oh absolutely [you have a place in the Jewish community]. I think that there are many different ways of expressing Jewish identity and that there is no single person or organisation who should be defining it. So whatever your politics, whatever your point of view, that doesn't exclude you from the Jewish community."

Note that this man is "fighting" anti-semitism for dozens of years by his education, profession and current job. He has defined and accused or smeared, however untried and untrue, "anti-semitic" behaviour. I mean, even my dog, called Pavlov, barks after that word. Now here comes someone who asks like: You say I'm anti-semitic. Am I welcome? And he answers like: yes, I call you anti-semitic and you are welcome to my house.

Why did he not answer: "Anti-semites are not welcome anywhere"?


-- Why did he not answer: "Anti-semites are not welcome anywhere"?

Because Jews like most religions are interested in trying to work with apostates who are interested in reconciliation after deep alienation. Especially when talking to young people who are trying to find their identity. When someone expresses a desire to remain part of the Jewish community, rather than apostate completely they are naturally going to be interested. It is exactly what he would say to a Jewish drug addict who was interested in remaining in the community or a Jewish man who had a non-Jewish child or ...

Christians have a great expression. Hate the sin, love the sinner.


That is not what she stated in her question: his accusation "cuts us out and silences us".


Nora Barrows-Friedman (19:28): "And I do have to point out that mr. Marcus has been a pioneer of trying to criminalize Palestine solidarity activism and criticism of Israel policy at the highest levels. He has been .." [Marcus interruption: "that's nonsense"].
Marcus responds (21.44): [dismissive gestures throughout] "I think that's all nonsense. I don't know who this speaker is from Electronic Intifada [would he use an ad hominem then?] but pretty much everything I think she said is .. is, .. is, .. nonsense" [(21:54) Nora smiling, request by host JR to be specific]. "First that I am trying to criminalize anything. She starts with .. I say very little about criminal law, although if people are subject to assault and battery I think they should generally be prosecuted. This notion of criminalization its total nonsense."

Is that so?
From his The Louis D. Brandeis Center (LDB) website: 'Best Practices Guide for Combating Campus Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism' [1], Author: Kenneth Marcus.
Note that the title says: "Combating ... Anti-Israelism", a political issue. So all his guidance is also aimed, intentionally, at political (free) speech.
"[Guideline] 4. Fighting Crime: Some recent anti-Semitic conduct has been criminal as, for example, in the UC Berkeley incident in which then student Jessica Felber was attacked with a shopping cart". [2]
First, there has been no criminal verdict, so there is no criminal act. Second, it was not established that it was anti-semitic. The incident happened at a political demonstration. Third, her claim was not against an alleged attacker, but against UC Berkeley itself, for "[Felber] not being able to express her view" and such more. One defendant was UCB president Yudof: 'at the highest levels' as Nora said.



Fourth, in Felber's claim SJP, MSU and MSA are mentioned to organise anti-Israel demonstrations, and are directly associated with violence and "terrorist acts". Fifth, it did not result in a conviction at all (case was thrown out and dropped in 2012 [3]). Sixth, Marcus should know all this, because Felber's then attorney Joel H. Siegal is in the LDB Legal Advisory Board and because the claim also appeared as a Title VI case.
So Marcus advises to combat anti-Israelism by invoking criminal law. He uses an example case that was not criminal, and that itself criminalised SJP's and MSA's political speech.

Marcus (22:12): "I am also not interested in punishing or restricting speech. That's also manufactured".
See again the LDB 'Combat ... Anti-Israelism' guide he wrote for universities [1].
"[Guideline] 5. Protecting Speech, Preventing Disruption" describes why 'free speech' on campuses is powerful. It then lists what *regulations* administrators can use in their combat:
- "Regulating the time, place or manner of offensive speech, including ... security to prevent heckling at university lectures"
- "Regulating non-speech aspects of actions with speech components, such as the defacement of Israeli flags"
- "Regulating speech which falls under a specific exception (e.g., threats of imminent violence)"
- "Providing enhanced discipline for conduct code infractions that are motivated by hate or bias" ('motivated by' a valid reason?)

And of course if he really were "not interested in punishing ... speech", he would not refer to the Irvine 11 protest in his every second paper.

[1] http://brandeiscenter.com/inde...
[2] http://www.berkeleyside.com/wp...
[3] http://electronicintifada.net/...

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).