On the same day that Missouri University (MU) President Timothy M. Wolfe resigned over “racism,” the MU Black Studies Department co-sponsored a lecture by David Sheen, a journalist who regularly compares Israelis to Nazis. The lecture was called “Racism in Israel.” The event was hosted by the MU Socialists, who posted the following description: “Remember the systematic racism experienced at Mizzou is part of the violent global system of white supremacy. Come to our event tomorrow night to learn more about connections between racism in Israel & racism on campus.” David Sheen is an anti-Zionist Israeli and an associate of Max Blumenthal, a notorious anti-Israel radical who has made comparing Israeli Jews to Nazis his career. The two were involved in an incident dubbed “Toiletgate” earlier this year when they chased a left-wing German politician into a toilet stall after he canceled a presentation they were slated to give in the German parliament. The MU Socialists have a history of anti-Israel events, and the lecture was sponsored by multiple groups. But when I saw that the flyer read, “Sponsors: … Black Studies Dept,” I assumed the Black Studies Department was not fully informed about David Sheen.
Thus, I sent the Black Studies Department a letter requesting that it withdraw its co-sponsorship. The letter started by stating that I “applaud your effort to raise awareness of the difficulties facing African refugees.” The letter explained that trying to improve the situation for Africans is admirable, but Sheen goes beyond criticism of Israel and compares Israelis to Nazis. For example, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Israel is preparing to stop, as much as possible, the entry of people with Ebola,” Sheen twisted Netanyahu’s words and tweeted, “Just as Nazis compared Jews to vermin to incite racism against them, Netanyahu compares non-Jewish Africans to ebola.” A totally false claim.
In one lecture, Sheen discussed the African refugee detainment center in Israel. Sheen showed the sign near the entrance of the center, which reads, “Office of Employment.” Then Sheen stated, “This is the only thing they’ve left for us to be reminded of,” showing a picture of the sign at Auschwitz that read, “Arbeit macht frei,” meaning, “work makes (you) free.“ Showing pictures of the African refugee center interspersed with Auschwitz is a clear comparison of Israeli Jews to Nazis. The letter I sent stated, “Sheen commits an egregious iniquity when he equates the temporary housing conditions of undocumented Africans to ‘Auschwitz’… This comparison is actually a well documented form of antisemitism known as ‘Holocaust Inversion.’” The Black Studies department responded by sending me an invitation to come hear Sheen speak.
I sent another letter explaining that “the treatment of African Refugees does NOT include, forced cattle car transport, starvation, slave labor, crematoria, and the systematic gassing and murder of millions of Africans, and therefore Sheen’s claim is false.” I received nothing in response. But in case the reader thinks that I was overreacting, a couple weeks before Sheen came to speak, a swastika was allegedly drawn with feces on the wall of a residence hall. In response the MU Maneater reported, “Thirty-six organizations wrote a letter… after the latest act of anti-Semitic vandalism in residence halls.” The thirty-six organizations shared their concern about “the departmental sponsorship and implicit ideological endorsement of virulently anti-Israel events,” such as “an upcoming talk called ‘Racism in Israel,’ by anti-Zionist David Sheen, ‘who compares Israeli Jews to Nazis.’”
I attended Sheen’s lecture at MU. Sheen did not explicitly use the words, “Jews are Nazis.” However, I contend that the goal of his lecture was to lead the audience to that conclusion. He started by explaining that Israel is not a democracy. He used the word “fascist” to describe some members of the Knesset. He effectively made the analogy in images when he showed pictures of Holocaust victims interspersed with images of African refugees. I actually spoke to Sheen afterward, and he denied that he had depicted Israeli Jews as Nazis. But by calling Israelis fascists and showing pictures of Holocaust victims interspersed with African refugees, it is completely reasonable to assume that the audience would conclude that Israel is like Nazi Germany. If there was any doubt that the audience reached this conclusion it was put to rest by statements made immediately after Sheen’s lecture by a Palestinian author. The Missourian reported, “a Palestinian-American author, thanked Sheen for his work… She said the Palestinian people were forgotten when Israel was established in 1948 and said that, ‘an entire people have been displaced.’” The author also explained that the Palestinian people were going through a “second degree Holocaust,” and she was met with applause.
Sheen went on to advocate that the Jewish State should not exist. As the Missourian reported, “Another audience member asked Sheen about his thoughts on a possible two-state solution for Israel and Palestine where each is recognized as its own nation. Sheen responded that he did not support such a compromise, and said if Palestinians acknowledged Israel as a ‘legitimate Jewish state,’ then it would be ‘a license (for Israel) to be even more discriminatory.’” The only problem is that denying the right of the Jewish State to exist is actually defined as racism. This point was made before Sheen’s arrival in the letter by the thirty-six organizations, which said: “Pope Francis, President Obama, British Prime Minister Cameron and French Prime Minister Valls have all stated that denying Israel’s right to exist, as some departmentally-sponsored MU speakers have, is anti-Semitism.” And yet, Sheen did the same thing at his lecture. In fact, Sheen’s lecture was designed to lead the audience to the conclusion that Israel is not a democracy. Rather, it is a racially structured regime similar to Nazi Germany and as a racist regime, it needs to be destroyed.
That being said, it was admirable that the Black Studies Department wanted to support a lecture raising awareness of the racism African refugees are experiencing. However, at the moment when Sheen’s criticism left the realm of facts and became false accusations, then any concern for the refugees became totally obscured. Instead, the accuser accuses himself. In summary, I and thirty-six organizations alerted the Black Studies department that Sheen would portray Israeli Jews as Nazis and that any speaker denying the right of the Jewish State to exist is espousing a form of anti-Semitism. Sheen did both. Right now, many people are waiting for a statement from the Chancellor condemning the swastika drawn with feces. In a figurative sense, Sheen is a speaker who draws a swastika on the entire Jewish State. Which is worse?