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Unlikely source of racism spurs Jews January 28, 2007

Posted by C.A.R.D in Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, ADL, ANSWER, Anti-Defamation League, Anti-Semitic, Anti-Semitism, Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Discriminate, Discrimination, Israel, Israel's human rights, Jew, Jewish, Jews, Jonathan Bernstein, Lebanon, Nazi, nazis, Racism, Racist, Zionism, Zionist.

Growing complaints about Israel-bashing, plus Jews being increasingly compared to Nazis during political rallies, has spurred the Anti-Defamation League to hold its first-ever conference on how people can protect themselves against anti-Semitism — from the liberal left.

Anti-Semitism is increasingly seen and heard at liberal events, organizers say, including at anti-war rallies, at labor meetings and even on college campuses. It’s making participation uncomfortable for Jews, who have historically been Democrats.

“We heard from so many people who feel ostracized and alone and don’t really know what to do with this problem,” said Jonathan Bernstein, director of the ADL regional office in San Francisco. People shouldn’t “have to pick between being Jewish and whatever worthwhile cause.”

Sunday’s conference in San Francisco focuses on the problem and teaches coping strategies. The event, which is expected to sell out, will offer talks ranging from “Emphasizing What’s Right in Israel” to “On the Spot Responses to Hurtful Language.”

However, while hateful speech is odious, some critics say groups like ADL are muffling debate by branding almost all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.

“It’s like saying anyone who attacks U.S. foreign policy is un-American,” said Saul Kanowitz, an activist with ANSWER, which organizes anti-war rallies. ANSWER stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.

Covert prejudice

World events have recently led to tougher scrutiny of Israel. From the second intifada, which began in 2000, and divestment campaigns to last summer’s Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon, and President Carter’s latest book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” the Jewish state has come under intense criticism.

The ADL says legitimate critiques are fine, especially if focused on specific policies. But some political acts have far surpassed acceptability, they said, such as a San Francisco protest last year where people chanted “Jews are our dogs” in Arabic.

And prejudice isn’t always so overt, said Amy Stein, ADL assistant director.

For example, while divestment — encouraging groups to pull their financial holdings from certain companies doing business with Israel — may not seem anti-Semitic on its face, Stein said one must ask why the Jewish state is being demonized when other countries have worse human rights abuses.

Also, questioning Israel’s right to defend itself against hostile neighbors could be anti-Semitic, ADL officials say, because such hostilities threaten the country’s existence. And blaming America’s support of Israel for the Middle East’s volatility is also troubling, Stein said, because it could be borne of stereotypes that Jews run the world.

As evidence of growing anti-Semitism, ADL officials point to high-profile attacks in France and to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for the “elimination of the Zionist regime.”

“This is a new costume for a hate that’s existed centuries,” Stein said. This modern anti-Semitism, she said, just replaces the word “Israel” for “Jew.”

Not all bigotry

On the contrary, says Cecilie Surasky, labeling so many topics as bigotry “trivializes true anti-Semitism.” For instance, divestment doesn’t single out Jews, she said. The tactic was used in the 1980s to oppose apartheid in South Africa, and more recently to pressure the Sudanese government.

Surasky is director of Jewish Voice for Peace, which opposes Israel’s practices in the occupied territories. Members have been called everything from “anti-Semitic” to “self-hating Jews.” They say it’s impossible to address the reason behind current anti-Semitism without discussing Israel’s human-rights record.

“We hear regularly from people inside the community that they’re very intimidated about having a reasonable conversation about Israel,” said Surasky, whose uncle was recently “shouted down” at his Los Angeles synagogue for defending Carter’s book.

And the Harker School in San Jose recently canceled a talk by a Palestinian supporter after a few students and parents complained that a different lecturer already aired that viewpoint in the fall. The last-minute cancellation earned the school a spot on www.muzzlewatch.org, a Web site describing itself as tracking “efforts to stifle open debate about U.S.-Israeli foreign policy.”

“We’re slowly learning how sensitive this really is,” said Christopher Nikoloff, head of school at Harker.

The topic is attracting a lot of interest. On Thursday, Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel hosted author Norman Finkelstein at Stanford University; he discussed how charges of anti-Semitism have silenced debate. This week, the student group launched a campaign calling for Stanford to divest from Israel.

Reasonable debate

But what passes as reasonable debate is subjective, even within the same group. Kanowitz of ANSWER said he would ask someone with a “Smash the Jewish State, Smash the Jewish Race” sign (such have appeared at rallies) to leave. Fellow ANSWER activist Forrest Schmidt had a different approach to signs bearing swastikas or Nazi comparisons. Just a fraction of protesters carry such signs.

He’s unwilling to tell protesters, “they can come, but leave their signs at home. It’s not like a different issue,” said Schmidt, who characterizes Iraqis and Palestinians as both fighting colonialism.

“I think it’s a very different thing for someone to desecrate a Jewish grave with a swastika than comparing what Israel is doing to Palestinians with what the Nazis did,” Schmidt said. “That’s a reality.”

The charged atmosphere has prompted a number of Jews to avoid liberal gatherings.

Rabbi Leslie Alexander, chaplain with the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, stopped attending political events about two years ago. At her last event, a Darfur rally, a speaker likened atrocities in the Sudan with “the same kind of genocide the Israelis are perpetrating on the Palestinians.”

“It’s been real uncomfortable for me as a liberal Democrat,” said Alexander, who attended political rallies since childhood and campaigned for Bill Clinton. “I probably wouldn’t call myself liberal anymore because of that.”

At Sunday’s conference, organizers will discuss different methods Jews have used to navigate the new landscape, such as asking leaders to denounce anti-Semitism at rallies.

Others have tried to create a rally within a rally, supporting one another while distancing themselves from someone holding an offensive sign. Some have even toyed with holding a separate Jewish anti-war rally.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, Bernstein said. Like racism, addressing — and agreeing on — anti-Semitism is “more art than science.”

C.a.r.d {Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination} Source: MercuryNews.com

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