Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
In what can only be characterized as the latest example of Jewish self-loathing, a group of morally deranged faculty has joined forces to create a new organization, the sole purpose of which is to derail the adoption and use of the working definition of anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
The organization, the Jewish Faculty Network (JFN), is comprised of some 140 Canadian academics who last March published a statement in which they decried the IRHA definition, suggesting at that time that, “as Jews,” they wished to “add our voices to a growing international movement of Jewish scholars to insist that university policies to combat antisemitism are not used to stifle legitimate criticisms of the Israeli state, or the right to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
What Jews could possibly interfere or take issue with a tool for identifying anti-Semitic behavior and expression when it manifests itself? Why would anyone, Jewish or not, try to reject a working definition of anti-Semitism that has been adopted by some 35 countries, international organizations, and 30 universities, all of which see the IHRA definition as an important vehicle for ameliorating a surge of anti-Semitism, both on campuses and outside the university walls?
The answer is revealed when these woke activist professors finally disclose why they object to efforts to have the IHRA definition adopted on their respective campuses: regardless of whether or not it helps expose anti-Semites, for the JFN the greatest concern, “the most serious problem . . . is that the definition is tied to a series of examples of which many are criticisms of the Israeli state.” For this group, whose members are an active and vocal part of the campaign to decry the very existence of the Jewish state, linking instances of anti-Israelism with anti-Semitism is completely unacceptable, because, they contend, the use of the IHRA definition “threatens to silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s grave violations of international law and denial of Palestinian human and political rights.”
Only in the inverted reality of academia could a group of Jewish professors denounce a tool which has as its core purpose to identify and define current-day instances of anti-Semitism, preferring, instead, to stand in solidarity with Israel’s ideological enemies, the same individuals who are largely responsible for the present tsunami of Jew-hatred or campuses, disguised as “criticism of Israel.” In fact, as supporters of the IHRA definition have urged universities to adopt it, the very people who object to its use are the ones complicit in propagating the bigotry it was created to address.
Why should professors, and especially Jewish professors, care more about supporting the right of pro-Palestinians to voice their loathsome views concerning Zionism, Israel, and Jewish self-determination and the people—including non-Jews–who support them than they do about protecting Jewish students and faculty from anti-Semitic bigotry that frequently intrudes on the periphery of the Israel/Palestinian debate?
What would make them wish to proudly stand in solidarity with the ideological and existential enemies of the Jewish state and protect their supposed right to freely spew forth libels, slanders, and lies about Israel in an incessant, singularly-focused campaign that holds Israel to a double standard when judging other nations and omits comparable critiquing of any other nation on earth—both instances that the IHRA definition suggests can be n example of anti-Semitism.
What is so noble and virtuous about Palestinian self-determination that would compel these Jewish professors to want to protect its articulation more than they wish to suppress anti-Semitism?
Is it the genocidal charter of Hamas, the Palestinian leadership in Gaza, which is committed to the murder of Jews everywhere, not just in Israel, and are theologically and ideologically committed to the destruction of the Jewish state?
Could it be the stellar leadership of Fatah by the so-called moderate Mahmoud Abbas, someone who is furious when Jews “defile” the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, with “their filthy feet” or publicly announces that not one Jew will be allowed to live in a new Palestinian state—a salient example of the apartheid that Israel is always falsely accused of committing against the Palestinian Arabs?.
Do those standing in solidarity with the Palestinians do so because of the peculiar culture of death in which martyrdom is celebrated for those who immolate themselves in an attempt to murder Jews and who have a grotesque “pay to slay” program that pays hundreds of millions of dollars in bounties to terrorists and their families for having successfully killed Israeli civilians?
Or does this fervent support come from an admiration of the campus version of being pro-Palestinian which is comprised almost exclusively of a campaign to denounce and decry every aspect of Israel’s existence, using a visceral hatred in a narrative of lies and contortions of history in prolonged hate-fests like “Israeli Apartheid Week,” Holocaust in the Holy Land,” “Israel: The Fourth Reich” and other venomous events designed to malign Israel and reduce its support in the community of nations?
Is this the cause to which these professors lend their vigorous support? Would they as energetically support the free speech rights of a white power group on campus? Would they fret so excessively if the speech was “chilled” of an anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic organization that maligned its targets of hate with the same passion and vituperation endemic to the anti-Israel campaign that these professors facilitate and with which they are complicit?
Of course not. No such groups would even be allowed to organize and campaign on any university campus in the United States in the first place, and these woke professors would not step over each other to defend the odious ideology of these groups, though they seem oblivious to the fact that they are helping to insulate the poisonous pro-Palestinian campaign on campuses by resisting the use of a tool—the IHRA definition—that will help administrators and others clearly identify those instances when anti-Israel activism crosses the line into anti-Semitism.
These professors, like many on the Left, never see their own role in perpetuating anti-Semitism as part of the anti-Israel campaign, pointing to other sources of anti-Jewish bigotry as a way of deflecting their own complicity. “The IHRA working definition distracts from experiences of anti-Jewish racism,” the JFN statement claimed, suggesting that the real instances of anti-Semitism emanate from white supremacy, an accusation that became ubiquitous after the election of Donald Trump as part of the mendacious narrative that he emboldened white supremacists and fascists and that within their ranks lay the most troubling sources of anti-Semitism.
But that is precisely why the IHRA definition dwells disproportionately on items involving Israel: because contemporary cases of anti-Semitism most frequently occur and manifest themselves in the debate around Israel and the Palestinians. Critics of the IHRA have been adamant, of course, in their belief that anti-Zionism is completely disconnected from anti-Semitism, and that even venomous, vile, and out of proportion criticism of Israel is never, never an example of anti-Semitism, even though the IHRA definition has determined that, in some contexts, it often is. It is obvious why anti-Semites, and those who apologize for or are complicit in this bigotry, would seek to ignore a definition of anti-Semitism that calls reveals them as being anti-Semitic, exactly why the JFN and other groups and individuals have ignored the IHRA tool.
Anti-Semites do not get to decide what is, and is not, anti-Semitic. The JFN statement cautioned that the IHRA definition “threatens to silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s grave violations of international law and denial of Palestinian human and political rights,” but, again, anti-Semites do not get to define what is “legitimate criticism of Israel” and what is part of a campaign to demonize Jewish self-determination by maligning Zionism, accusing Israel of being a racist endeavor, and of being singularly responsible for all the ills that have befallen the Palestinians, an incantation of the Third Reich, and an obstacle to peace throughout the Middle East.
JFN members also exhibit a paranoia about their ability in the future to continue their abhorrent campaign to defame Israel, suggesting that the IHRA definition will “chill” free speech, suppress academic freedom, and stifle research and scholarly debate. How would that happen? “On campuses where this definition has been adopted,” the JFN statement claimed, “it has been used to intimidate and silence the work of unions, student groups, academic departments and faculty associations that are committed to freedom, equality and justice for Palestinians.” Intimidated and silenced? The blatancy of pro-Palestinian activism on university campuses is so visible and ever-present, and so radical and venomous, no one could reasonably claim that any anti-Israel activists are being silenced or intimated, just as this group of morally-challenged professors feels perfectly comfortable with denouncing a tool to curb anti-Semitism on behalf of the genocidally-inspired pro-Palestinian movement.
And the adoption of the IHRA definition does not mean that anti-Semites will have to cease articulating their bigotry, anyway; it will just mean that their expression and behavior can and will be called anti-Semitic if and when it is. A normal person would not have any problem that happening; someone more concerned with virtue-signaling how tolerant and compassionate they are for the every-victimized Palestinians, of course, would.
And there is another, more psychologically interesting aspect to a group of Jewish professors opposing a tool that attempts to protect Jewish students and others from the pernicious effects of anti-Semitism, an aspect that Harvard’s insightful Ruth Wisse dealt with in her book, If I Am Not For Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews: the professors attacked the IHRA definition specifically because it deals with Israel, and how academia reacts to the debate about the Jewish state and its surrounding Arab neighbors. Rather than confront the lies and distortions promulgated by the Arab world against Israel over its alleged racism, apartheid, settlements, and lack of a just solution to the so-called occupation, anti-Israel liberal Jews completely accept the spurious new narrative of Israel being the sole villain, and, in fact, often abet it with their own condemnations of the Jewish state.
For Wisse, this behavior could “more accurately be described as the desire to disassociate oneself from a people under attack by advertising one’s own goodness,” a psychological pattern that has manifested itself conspicuously on campuses and seems to be at play in the current instance with the Jewish Faculty Network. So worried are these professors that by accepting the use of a working definition of anti-Semitism they will somehow be seen to be complicit in defending Israel, they would rather denounce the definition and expose Jewish students to potential harm than stand up for principles that might tarnish their liberal credentials.
It is easy to demonize Israel and critique its strategy and politics, and certainly it requires no bravery in academia, where moral narcissists console each other in an echo chamber of good intentions, willing to sacrifice academic integrity, true scholarship, and the safety and viability of the Jewish state in the process.