For over a decade an increasingly sophisticated surge of anti-Israel material has been circulated on college campuses and in the cyberspace venues that are so influential in young adult lives. Some unequivocally anti-Israel rhetoric comes directly from overtly anti-Zionist sources, such as the following recent statement of Palestinian goals for the peace talks:
“The PLO’s representative in Lebanon, Ambassador Abdullah Abdullah, emphasized yesterday that the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, which have started in Washington, are not a goal, but rather another stage in the Palestinian struggle… He believes that Israel will not be dealt a knock-out defeat, but rather an accumulation of Palestinian achievements and struggles, as happened in South Africa, to isolate Israel, to tighten the noose on it, to threaten its legitimacy, and to present it as a rebellious, racist state. ‘” [ Al-Hayat Al-Jadida , Sept. 9, 2010]
However, in a contrasting twist, other materials utilized in campus rallies were not originally anti-Israel in tone or intent, but were meant as constructive critiques of specific Israeli policies, often suggested by Jewish peace organizations in Israel and the Diaspora, by human rights organizations in Europe, America, and Israel, and by academics and intellectuals in Israel and elsewhere.
Nevertheless, while the motivations and concerns may be grounded in a passionate engagement with Israel, the evidence and claims they produce are often reframed by anti-Israel groups. Thus, texts created by individuals and groups committed to Israel’s survival are frequently appropriated and interwoven in campus events with the language of those who hope ultimately to isolate and weaken Israel.
Finally, in yet another complicating turn, veteran Jewish organizations both in the United States and Israel appear to treat these intermingled attacks as a unified whole. Not only the leaders of Jewish peace and human rights organizations but also younger American Jewish religious leaders, public intellectuals, writers and artists (ages 22-40) who feel deeply engaged with Israel often complain that their critical concerns about Israeli policies are silenced or marginalized by established Jewish organizations. Indeed, some complain that although their vision of a democratic and just Jewish state is loyal to Zionist ideals, there is no room for them within the current Zionist establishment.
These twists and turns, interminglings and conflations of Israel’s friends and enemies make it difficult to determine, as the old joke goes, “Who’s on first.” Thus, this essay declares as axiomatic that the pained critiques leveled by supporters of a Jewish State of Israel at specific Israeli policies which undermine their vision of that Jewish state must be distinguished from corrosive attacks on Israel which assume that Zionism is racism and that Israel has failed to earn its right to exist. Since 1967, especially, Israel has been in a problematic position insofar as it has ruled over approximately two million Palestinians or more in the West Bank and Gaza. Without negating or ignoring egregious provocations perpetrated by Israel’s enemies, it is critical to acknowledge that many Palestinians have been without political and even civil rights insofar as no political or legal permanent settlement has been achieved. This situation has been the source for a great deal of criticism leveled at Israel from all of these quarters. Nevertheless, this criticism, as indicated must be distinguished from denying Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to a nation state.
Emergence of academic Israel hatred
Attempts to de-legitimize Israel on college campuses are part of an international campaign to frame Israel as a pariah state on the model of South Africa. The goal of many implementers of this campaign is ostensibly to pressure Israel into more humane policies toward Palestinian populations. It is here that the confusion between supporters of Israel who work to change Israeli policies and Israel de-legitimators often occurs, since Israel de-legitimators – especially in the United States – often present themselves as only opposing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and incursions into Gaza, not opposing the existence of Israel itself. However, in many college environments the campaign spreads into a broader form of Israel-phobia aimed at de-legitimizing the very concept of a Jewish state.
Attempts to de-legitimize Israel on college campuses are part of an international campaign to frame Israel as a pariah state on the model of South Africa
Although de-legitimization on campuses is currently an acute phenomenon, the intellectual roots of this movement emerged decades earlier, and had multiple sources, 6 including Marxist discourse, Arab agitation against Israel, and the impact of Arab scholars working in the West, such as Edward Said the late Palestinian-American literary theorist and one of the founding figures in postcolonial theory. Anti-Zionist tropes were also produced by post-Zionists and other leftists among Israeli scholars (discussed below), although those ideas took some time to penetrate the American consciousness. Another important stream contributing to anti-Israelism was Marxism in general, and most particularly trends generated by the French intellectual left who, bereft at the realization that communism was not the salvation of the downtrodden, fixed on the “global struggle of political Islam” as its new cause, beginning in the 1980s, as Pascal Bruckner explains in an important new book:
…the Palestinians, or rather the mythical idea that people have formed of them, conjoin two elements that promote [hatred of the West]: they are poor compared with a handful of colonizers, some of whom came from Europe, and they are mostly Muslims, that is, members of a religion that part of the Left thinks is the spearhead of the disinherited. That is how this endless conflict became, between 1980 and 2000, and at a time when revolutionary horizons were shrinking, the incontestable cause of a certain orphaned progressivism.
“the refocusing on the Palestinian struggle enabled the intellectual Left to slide back comfortably into established habits of anti-Semitism”
This refocusing on the Palestinian struggle combined “anti-imperialism, anti-Euro-centrism, liberation theology, and the Third World liberationism,” comments political scientist Richard Wolin. Moreover, it enabled the intellectual left to slide back comfortably into established habits of anti-Semitism, “to hate Jews in good conscience. When Jews were weak and stateless, they (sometimes) won compassion. With Israelis now perceived as strong-as the aggressors, even as the new Nazis-Europeans are absolved of their post-Shoah guilt and inhibition. Who knows?,” Wolin notes satirically, “Perhaps they were right all along to hate the Jews.”7
The current international effort can be said to have become apparent during the First Durban Conference in 2001, when the NGO Forum against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Intolerance published a concluding statement calling for “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state” with “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links… between all states and Israel.”8
Israel-phobic campus environments
Episodes ranging from random individual comments to organized protests sometimes make students feel that support for Israel is morally suspect. In many locations, university officials have been caught between the demands of American rights of free assembly and free speech, on one hand, and the potential for events in which an anti-Israel miasma pervades the environment, on the other hand. Binghamton University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, University of Kentucky, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Tulane University, DePaul University, University of Arizona, Hampshire College, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at San Diego, University of Michigan at Dearborn, Emory University, Georgetown University, New York University, Swarthmore College, Temple University, University of Illinois, Chicago, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Rochester, University of Southern California at Los Angeles, University of Texas, and University of Wisconsin at Madison are among the many campuses at which anti-Israel episodes have been reported in 2009 alone.9
A specific example illustrates the dynamic: At the University of Chicago in January, 2009, an event entitled “Crisis in Gaza: The U.S. Israel, and Palestine” featured notorious anti-Israel polemicists, including former DePaul Prof. Norman Finkelstein and Prof. John Mearsheimer, co-author of the book The Israel Lobby, which misstates and misquotes to “prove” that Zionists pressure America into maintaining policies that go against its own best interests. The event was sponsored by the Muslim Students Association, the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), and the student chapter of Amnesty International. During the lecture, those who disliked Finkelstein and Mearsheimer’s message did not disrupt the proceedings. Nor were there disruptive demonstrations outside the lecture. In contrast, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tried to speak at the University of Chicago in a lecture sponsored by its Harris School of Public Policy in the same year, about two dozen students and activists disrupted his lecture with “profanities and calls for his execution.” Another 150 demonstrators gathered outside the hall with signs about Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza.10
Among the many dozens of anti-Israel and antisemitic activities on American college campuses documented in 2009 by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is this description of the way subsequent university events escalated the anti-Israel propaganda:
“Within days, Olmert’s critics in the Bay Area were touting the Chicago efforts in promotional materials for a similar effort they were organizing in response to an upcoming Olmert speech hosted by the World Affairs Council in San Francisco. During the San Francisco event, 22 individuals were forcibly removed and arrested after disrupting Olmert with accusations of war crimes and genocide. Nearby, over 200 demonstrators gathered at Union Square, charging, “Olmert, Olmert, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”…[at] Tulane University in New Orleans, students wearing fake-bloodied clothes staged a sit-in outside the auditorium.”11
200 demonstrators in San Francisco: “Olmert, Olmert, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide…”
The quiescence of the pro-Israel students, contrasted with the vigorous and disruptive advocacy of the anti-Israel students and outside visitors is noteworthy and oft repeated.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement
Among other kinds of political pressure, activities that attempt to isolate Israel and Israelis within the academic world hold a special place. Political scientist Manfred Gerstenfeld documents the strategies and broad attacks on Israel and Israelis within academic and intellectual spheres of endeavor, providing international examples. His list includes:
- Preventing Israeli academics from obtaining grants;
- Convincing academics not to visit Israel and encouraging academic institutions to sever relations with Israeli academic institutions and academics;
- Blocking the publication of articles by Israeli academics;
- Refusing to review the work of Israeli scholars;
- Refusing to support students who want to study in Israel;
- Blocking the tenure and promotion of academics who have ties with Israel; expelling Jewish organizations from the campus;
- Supporting secret or concealed academic boycotts. Divestment from entities that are presented as benefitting the settlements is a particularly American phenomenon.12
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has had an impact on college campuses, not so much in actually accomplishing divestment as in making the de-legitimization of Israel normative and pervasive. One self-description defines the BDS movement as aiming at “pressuring Israel to withdraw from land claimed by the Palestinians.” Officially, American BDS groups tend to limit themselves to anti-settlements rather than anti-Israel targets, because, as Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force for Palestine puts it, the “movement has no chance of becoming mainstream inside the United States as long as it targets Israel proper.”13
However, the BDS movement is losing this restraint and on college campuses it indulges in overt anti-Israel rhetoric. Campus advocates often target not only Israel’s policies in Gaza and the occupied territories but the very existence of Israel. In Hampshire College, for example, the student who heads The Student Alliance for Israel (the campus’ only group of this sort) said, “We’re called Nazis.” When she hung an Israel flag and Hillel posters from her dorm window, “campus officials told her they could not guarantee her safety.”14 Journalist Sue Fishkoff reports that BDS campaigns on college campuses are now far more “organized” and “vitriolic” than in the past years, when “handfuls of anti-Israel students pass[ed] out photocopied flyers.” This past year, instead, campuses were visited by “a high-tech traveling exhibit of Israel’s separation barrier, complete with an embedded plasma TV showing anti-Israel images.”15
De-legitimizors and advocates of BDS make extensive use of poetry, drama and other arts, such as the play, “My name is Rachel Corrie.” Theatre, film, and the visual arts are used on campuses to stir powerful emotions on behalf of the Palestinian cause, because they have the great advantage that they can be extremely effective without the necessity of arguing a factual case.
On occasion, attacks against Israel overflow and include attacks against Jews. On the campus of the University of California at Irvine, Kenneth L. Marcus, former head of the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said, “Jewish students were physically and verbally harassed…” and students were confronted with violently hateful speech:
They were called “dirty Jews” and “f..king Jews,” told to “go back to Russia” and “burn in hell”….[students urged] one another to “slaughter the Jews.” One Jewish was told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind” and “Jews should be finished off in the ovens.”
Official responses and results to anti-Israel advocacy
While Jewish students on campus report that they feel personally intimidated as Jews and as supporters of Israel by episodes such as those described above, campus efforts to de-legitimize Israel often do not achieve official successes. In only one school, Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, did a BDS resolution pass in a non-binding student body vote.16 University presidents and administrators have spoken out against anti-Israel rhetoric and/or BDS efforts at Harvard University (Summers, 2002), Columbia University (Bollinger, 2002), Rutgers (McCormick, 2003), University of Pennsylvania (Rodin, 2002), Georgetown University (De Gioa, 2006), University of Michigan (Deitch, 2006), and Brandeis University (Reinharz, 2007). However, in several instances their outspokenness had practical negative consequences for their standing in their own universities. Many have speculated that one group of agitators pushing for the exit of Lawrence Summers from the presidency at Harvard formed when he helped to squelch the BDS effort there. Similarly, a small coterie of Brandeis University anti-Israel faculty complained to The Boston Globe about President Jehuda Reinharz, “over his handling of Jimmy Carter’s visit to talk about Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, as well as the sudden dismantling in 2006 of a Palestinian [student] art exhibit from the university library,”17 when it was revealed that Palestinian public relations professionals rather than young students had created and promoted the exhibit. This same small faculty group encouraged the 2010 petition against Michael Oren speaking at the Brandeis Commencement (which garnered a mere 125 student signatures) and subsequently boycotted Oren’s rapturously received commencement address.
one Jewish student was told: “Jews should be finished off in the ovens”
De-legitimization, Jews and the Holocaust
Broadly speaking, by “de-legitimization” we mean the mounting assertion, made both explicitly and implicitly, in elite and popular circles in Western countries, that the State of Israel is somehow not like other states, in two distinct but related ways: its policies and conduct are uniquely unjustifiable and unjust, and it is itself, qua Jewish state, illegitimate.
Sometimes these accusations against Israel on American college campuses are supplied by American academics. Those of Arab origin, like the late Columbia literature Professor Edward Said, certainly have had wide influence. Today, however, some of the most virulent spokespersons are of Jewish descent.
Perhaps the most notorious is MIT Professor Emeritus of Linguistics Noam Chomsky. Much of Chomsky’s commentary on Israel defies paraphrase, and is best conveyed through representative verbatim quotes:
“At one time Israel relied on cheap and easily exploited Palestinian labor, but they have long ago been replaced by the miserable of the earth from Asia, Europe and elsewhere …I wrote decades ago that those who call themselves “supporters of Israel” are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration and probably ultimate destruction.”
Chomsky asserts that Hamas’ “positions are more forthcoming than those of the U.S. and Israel,” and he advocates “selective boycotts, carefully formulated” so that they do not reinforce “the harshest and most brutal policies toward the Palestinians.”
“the world was blind to the selfishness of the Zionist state because of Holocaust guilt”
Finally, it must be noted that Chomsky’s scorn for the United States surpasses that for Israel, because America, in his eyes, has “a far worse record of violence and terror than Israel.”18
One cluster of Israel de-legitimization is linked to the accusation that Jews have exploited the Holocaust for their own purposes, which include the creation of a Jewish racist state, Professor of History Norton Mezvinsky, at Central Connecticut State University, for example, has suggested repeatedly that the world was blind to the selfishness of “the Zionist State” because of Holocaust guilt. Historian Norman Finkelstein, until 2007 an assistant professor at DePaul University, aroused intense attention among European academics with his book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2000). The radical left was delighted with his accusation that Jewish leaders acquired power and money by exploiting the Holocaust for their own purposes.
Finkelstein’s attack on the morality of Holocaust memory is particularly dangerous when linked to the enterprise of creating a moral equivalency between the Israeli military and the Nazis, in the hands of academics like Sara Roy, a senior research scholar at the Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Roy, Gerstenfeld explains, “exploits being a child of Holocaust survivors,” to promote this equivalency, claiming within the context of a Holocaust memorial lecture that “Israeli soldiers openly admit to shooting Palestinian children for sport.”19
De-legitimizing Jewish peoplehood and the Zionist enterprise
It is “now easier to express criticism towards Israel even when talking on U.S. campuses,” Frank Barat notes approvingly in his interview with Ilan Pappé, Israeli Professor of History at the University of Exeter in the U.K., and with Noam Chomsky.20 The de-legitimization of the State of Israel in its present configuration is ideologically and practically linked to the growing de-legitimization of Zionism and the very concept of Jewish peoplehood in academic settings in America, Europe, and Israel beginning in the late 1960s, roughly after the 1967 “Six Day War.” As Ilan Troen notes, “One can delineate in the academic literature when the regnant paradigm shifted from pro-Israel… to critical or anti-Israel.”21 In the late 1960s and 1970s, veteran Zionist historian Benny Morris, and expecially “New Historian” Israeli scholars including Tom Segev, Simha Flapan, Avi Shlaim, and his protégé, Ilan Pappé, promulgated a revised narrative of the emergence of the Jewish state: rather than a tiny band of brave Jewish pioneers fighting a David-and-Goliath-like battle against massive, united Arab armies, Israel had from the beginning a disproportionate level of military power, while the Arabs were destined to be defeated because they were divided by competitive in-fighting. In their revisionist retelling, the Arab population of Palestine did not voluntary flee from the newly declared Jewish state in 1948, but, instead, putatively were largely forced out, a process which Pappé labels “ethnic cleansing.”22
Pappé, a former Haifa University professor, has been called “the most hated Israeli in Israel,” arguably surpassing Chomsky in his radical attitudes toward the Israel-Palestine conundrum, supporting economic and academic boycotts against Israel, and ultimately a one-state solution. A superstar on the academic lecture circuit, Pappé speaks frequently on American college campuses, and is celebrated in many liberal-left political academic circles.
The “new history” not only reversed the origins of the Jewish state, but also posited a “post-Zionist” attitude toward Jewishness. Broadly speaking, post-Zionism declares that Jewishness is not a true nationality, since Jews who have visibly different ethnic origins, practice a bricolage of different customs, and do not live contiguous to one another, cannot constitute a nation-race. Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sand, for example, argues in The Invention of the Jewish People, that the original Jews of the Second Temple were never effectively exiled, and that current populations of Jews in Israel and around the world are descended from eclectic, multi-ethnic groups who retroactively imagined and reimagined themselves into an ersatz peoplehood in response to external stimuli.23 Political scientist Oren Yiftachel, in Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine,24 says Israelis have deliberately used constructions of Jewish ethnicity as a power tool of colonial oppression in their “creeping apartheid” over four decades. These charges remove from the Jews the dignity of being an authentic, historical people, and go far beyond Benedict Anderson’s dictum that all “nations” are socially constructed, and “imagined.”
The “new history” not only reversed the origins of the Jewish state, but also posited a “post-Zionist” attitude toward Jewishness
In its more extreme form, post-Zionism seems to tacitly agree with the concept that classical Zionism equals racism; that is, any formulation of Israel as a “Jewish state” – rather than as one state among many that happens to have many Jewish citizens as well as non-Jewish citizens-is not a legitimate mode of statehood in contemporary times, and Zionism is an illegitimate basis for statehood.
A related trend in Israel de-legitimization is the declaration that Zionism and Israel as a Jewish state are failed enterprises, and that Israel’s only hope is to be reconstituted as a secular, bi-national state, as recommended by British Jewish historian Tony Judt. As Steven Bayme notes, Judt argued that Israel’s very existence is anachronistic and mistaken, “since Israel was born as a nation-state in an era of post-nationalism.”25 Charging that Israel has become a “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-state,” Judt argued in 2003 that Israel should abandon its Jewishness and become a secular state comprised of Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and all of Jerusalem, with Jews and Arabs living where they wished throughout.26 Judt’s ideas, frequently articulated in The New York Review of Books as well as in volumes he authored, have had great cache in many academic circles.
British-Jewish historian Tony Judt: “Israel has become a belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-state”
Other Israeli sources-deliberate and unwitting-for de-legitimizing Israel
As anyone who has spent time in Israel can testify, Israel is a country in which the free exchange of ideas-and opinions-often reaches cacophonous levels. Ironically, one of the most common accusations of Israel’s de-legitimators inside and outside the country is that the Zionist establishment in Israel and the Diaspora silences and squelches dissent. Just the opposite is true: because Israel does not impede the expression of unconventional ideas, leftist Israeli academics and human rights activists have played a significant role in providing materials27 employed by Israel de-legitimators in international settings.
Michael Galchinsky’s sympathetic study of Israeli human rights efforts is particularly useful in tracing the organizational and individual players; Israeli human rights activism has been rising over the past few decades, even as Diaspora Jewish activism has been muted, Galchinsky asserts. Human rights organizations such as HaMoked (Center for the Defense of the Individual), B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), PHR (Physicians for Human Rights-Israel), PCATI (Public Committee against Torture in Israel), RHR (Rabbis for Human Rights), ACRI (Association for Civil Rights in Israel), and other Israeli domestic NGOs have utilized international law as “a crucial tool in their struggle for social justice,” with the aim of directing “the tools of international human rights and humanitarian law toward Israeli policies and practices.” In an effort “to advance Israeli democracy at home,” they “engaged in public campaigns to expose” Israeli practices that allegedly violate human rights standards.28 Among their “numerous strategies to puncture the public’s denial, apathy, lack of empathy, and indifference in the face of high threat perception,” NGOs have created materials that are easily transported and adapted for non-Israeli audiences, including “sophisticated media appeals” such as B’Tselem’s music video, “Eyes Wide Open,” which received 36,000 hits its first year. 29 While in the Israeli domestic context these activities are part of the democratic exchange of ideas and have their place, once taken out of that context they serve as “ammunition” in the de-legitimization battle.
De-legitimization of Israel and its Implications for Jewish Engagement in Europe
The de-legitimization of Israel now emerging in North America has been present in Europe in what is arguably a more virulent form for the last thirty years. Four major interconnected developments In Europe that may have implications on local Jewries are:
- The demographic increase of Muslim populations in Europe;
- The emergence of a dialectical cultural movement with aspects of both post-nationalism and nationalism;
- The deteriorating image of Israel;
- The resurgence of anti-Semitism.
Taken together. these trends point to an increased polarization of European Jewry: a minority of more identified Jews have become socially and culturally more connected to other Jews while a much larger majority have become increasingly reluctant to affiliate with organizational Jewish life and for whom Jewish identity and identification have progressively diminished.
The European de-legitimization campaign, which has a voice on North American campuses, has its historical roots in various European countries, but especially in the UK. Europe is the incubator of academic and economic boycott initiatives, intellectual anti-Zionism, Holocaust denial or revisionism, and “philosophical” anti-Judaism. All over Europe, Israel and Judaism are positioned as controversial issues, and some universities have become bastions of anti-Israeli activism.
Despite the scarcity of quantitative data30, the overall evidence is that significant numbers of young European Jews avoid identifying as Jews and appearing sympathetic to Israel on campuses. On many campuses, holding rallies for Israel, solidarity events for the residents of Sderot and other Israeli localities under fire, or demonstrating support for Israeli military operations are either unthinkable or, when they do occur, may jeopardize organizers’ safety. This situation is also common in the workplace. Israel and Judaism are controversial and young Jews who work in large companies prefer not to address Israel and Jewish issues in professional environments. This is arguably a major difference between Europe and the United States. Very few students dare to present the Israeli perspective at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and few challenge exhibitions and petitions meant to advance the Palestinian cause.
Significant numbers of young European Jews avoid identifying as Jews and appearing sympathetic to Israel on campuses
As European Muslims are tenfold more numerous than European Jews, public opinion is highly critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinian and Islamist activists, who are more self-confident, passionate and energetic than their Jewish counterparts. Public discourse is lost to Arab and anti-Israeli voices. With the recent development of new nationalistic and anti-Islamic movements in Europe, public opinion seems to be in the middle of a shift. For the moment, strong criticism of Islamic activism works together with strong criticism of Jewish ethno-religious activism, and public discourse remain very critical of ethno-religious expressions of Israeli policy.
Jewish “activism” on European campuses is mainly limited to providing kosher food and other cultural services rather than political organizing and engagement. This doesn’t mean that Jewish students are altogether indifferent to Jewish identity, but only a minority meets off-campus in communal Jewish spaces, while the bulk, averse to what it perceives as “self-segregation” with its tribal-like connotations, excuses itself from organized Jewish society. Today, Israeli film festivals, Jewish book fairs and Jewish music festivals are disappearing from campuses. All over Western Europe, high school principals, in order to avoid controversy, do not include Hebrew language courses in their curricula and discourage Jewish expression in their schools. On several campuses, university administrators, acquiescing to community sentiment, program fewer courses on Israel, Hebrew and Yiddish language, and Jewish history and culture. In order to advance an affirmative identity that does not frontally hurt the consensual dominant dogma, the Jewish student activists have often to be tightrope walkers. In France, to avoid the unequivocal condemnation of Israel that is tacitly expected of them, and in order to suggest a significant ideological platform of compromise that motivates Jewish activism without clashing with the pro-peace and pro-Palestinian ethos on many campuses, Jewish student leaders coined the slogan, “I am Zionist and pro-Palestinian.” This is worth mentioning because in a context in which Zionism is conflated with the 20th century sins of colonialism, racism, Nazism, ethno-religious imperialism, ethnic cleansing, and anti-peace militarist activism, Jewish students increasingly reject the intellectual construct that support of a Jewish sovereign state necessitates denying the similar right of the Palestinians to national sovereignty. Israeli political positions are routinely examined at the prestigious School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS)31 attached to the University of London. Even if the Israeli positions presented there generate controversy and attract opposing views, at least it doesn’t categorically exclude the Israeli perspective. Lectures by Israeli politicians and other public figures, who do not profess far-left and post-Zionist agendas, are extremely rare on European campuses.
Palestinian and Islamist activists are more self-confident, passionate and energetic than their Jewish counterparts
The pro-Arab European bias
The European bias against Israel is widely acknowledged. Former AIPAC official Steven J. Rosen, who has a deep understanding of both US and European politics, summarized it convincingly in a recent issue of the Middle East Quarterly32: “There are many suppositions why Europeans tilt against Israel and toward the Arabs. For one thing, the Middle East is a place where Europeans can flaunt their foreign policy independence from the United States without responsibility for causing catastrophic results because they assume that the United States will protect Israel from any dire consequences such may produce. For another, Europe depends more heavily on trade with the Arab world and on Arab oil exports than does the United States. For example, the Arab Gulf states are a $300 billion import market for world products, compared to Israel’s $50 billion imports. Europe may also have a desire to appease the “strong horse” in the region (e.g., Israel has but one vote in the U.N.; the Arabs have twenty-five votes, the Muslim nations, fifty votes). Then there is the guilt among many Europeans over their discredited imperial past, leading them to falsely view Israelis as oppressing Third World peoples. Then, again, it may be the growing influence of Europe’s own Muslim populations (e.g., Arabs in France, Turks in Germany, Asians in Britain) and their need to keep such segments of their domestic populations as quiescent as possible. Some analysts suggest that there may also be an element of satisfaction at being free to censure Jews in Israel, relieving European guilt over responsibility for the Holocaust. Finally, it may be that the Europeans simply do not understand that Israel is a democracy at war, living in a mortally dangerous neighborhood, which must act in self-defense in ways that may seem excessive to onlookers in a benign environment such as twenty-first-century western Europe (even though the Western democracies and the United States have used harsher means than Israel in wars far removed from their own territory).”
The role of the dormant anti-Semitism
This anti-Zionist discourse didn’t emerge in a vacuum but in a climate of dormant anti-Semitism and rejection of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism. Despite its bi-millenary presence in Europe, Judaism has always been perceived, by philo-Semites and by anti-Semites alike, as a heterogeneous cultural ferment that both fosters creativity (when its dosage is moderate) and is destructive (when its presence is too high) in regard to the “authentic” Christian core of the European culture. Aware of this ambivalence, local Jews, mutatis mutandis – certainly in a more discrete manner in Switzerland and Hungary and in a more assertive manner in France and Britain – are careful to avoid a “too high” political profile. Tied up by a kind of unwritten conditional citizenship contract and fearing to be accused of clannishness or ethnocentric “tribalism,” European Jews – unlike various other groups – have not dared initiating a political lobby to advance their interests.
There may be an element of satisfaction at being free to censure Jews in Israel, relieving European guilt over responsibility for the Holocaust
Rising interest in Jewish culture
While anti-Jewish slurs and violence are still not uncommon for easily recognizable Jews all over eastern and western Europe, there is little risk of state anti-Semitism, and this rejection doesn’t normatively appear in economic, cultural and political spheres. Outside of the campuses in which strong anti-Israel activism deters public expressions of Jewish identity, in the European public sphere, alongside the largely negative reporting on Israel in European media, there is also a positive attitude toward Jewish culture. When it is not associated with the controversial State of Israel, Jewish descent provides to intellectuals and politicians an ethical and symbolic legitimacy to express themselves about existential and morally sensitive dilemmas. Apparently, Jews and Jewish culture fascinate. But sometimes it seems that the European media and reading public are more comfortable with the threatened or vanished culture of long-dead Jews than with the thriving, living Jewish communities. Klezmer music has been en vogue for more than a decade. Jewish and Israeli literature tops best sellers lists. Jewish topics fill the pages of nearly every European periodical. Institutions and Jewish museums are newly opened or freshly renovated everywhere. European audiences appear to be intrigued by Israeli daily life in the shadow of conflict. This fascination extends from literature to other art forms, with at least one or two Israeli films playing on screens in European capitals every week. However, whether a largely cultural and historic interest by Europeans is enough to enhance Jewish security and to guarantee European Jewry’s long- term future remains to be seen.
The right of Israel to exist is still accepted, but this position is becoming less and less easy to maintain
Systematic intellectual opposition to Israel has not always been so palpable as it is today. During the first three decades following the birth of the State of Israel, because of sympathy with the struggle of the Jewish political renaissance, the moral image of Israel as a pioneering and progressive state, the experience of European countries in decolonization wars, a different world balance of power, a smaller Muslim presence in Europe, the lower discursive prominence of human rights ideology and a lower awareness of Palestinian suffering, European intellectual opinion was more positive with respect to Israel. Today, the right of Israel to exist as the state of the Jewish people is still accepted, but this position is becoming less and less easy to maintain. The tipping point was the Israeli victory of 1967 and the following occupation of Palestinian territories. This situation shift led to two simple but non-evidence based syllogisms: first, if Israel returns to the 1967 borders peace will be achieved in the region, and second, Israel, perceived as no longer a victim but rather as a colonialist and racist oppressor, has lost its legitimacy as a democratic entity. These two interpretations, which do not take into account the religious, civilizational and historical contexts of the Arab-Israeli conflict, are steering current European perceptions of the conflict. Largely because of post-Shoah European guilt, this paradigm shift was confined to the fringe of public media for several decades until it became main stream dogma. Since the 1980s, academic anti-Israel attitudes have ripened in three successive stages that have progressively made supporters of Israel more and more uncomfortable.
First Lebanon war (1981)
In Europe, nurtured by two long-established anti-Zionist discourses – the Marxist denial of the right of the Jewish people to a sovereign state, and the assimilationist ideology that argues that Jews should dismiss all kinds of collective identity – the new intellectual left radical criticism of Israel was first articulated in French and British academies in the wake of the Six-Day War and largely adopted by European mass media during the First Lebanon War, which was perceived by good-faith European intellectuals as an unacceptable imperialist operation.
First Intifada (1987)
The post-Shoah period characterized by European guilt and special treatment of Jews prevailed in the public imagination up until the first Intifada (1987-93). Media depictions of the uprising, a loop of photographs and video clips of stone-throwing Palestinian youngsters taking on IDF tanks recast the Palestinians as David versus the Israeli Goliath. Israel came to be perceived by some public intellectuals as an anachronistic and colonialist ethno-religious state in a time of post-nationalism. In an optimistic, post-Cold War political climate, the European pacifist consensual aspiration could less and less support what they perceive as an increasingly bellicose and irredentist Israel. After centuries of bloody ethno-religious and nationalistic conflicts, the basic ethos of the European Union is that strong ethno-religious and national identities should be avoided. Moreover, with peaceful coexistence the ultimate goal, according to this philosophy, each state should be ready to exchange some of its particularism in order to build an “alliance of civilization” and avoid a threatening “clash of civilizations,” a demand which is particularly applied to Israel. In this context, Israel’s intransigence appears as the obstacle to the peace process and sometimes even as the obstacle to achieving peaceful Euro-Mediterranean economic prosperity.
In this period western European politicians progressively understood that migrant workers, more and more, would not return to their countries of origin and authorized the immigration of millions of spouses and children, many of them of Muslim tradition. This demographic shift, associated with the traditional pro-Arab foreign policy of the EU countries, incrementally impacted European attitudes toward Jews and Israel. Playing to their communities, political parties held anti-Israel positions and aligned behind resentful and anti-Jewish Muslim rhetoric.
Media depictions of the 1st Intifada – stone-throwing Palestinians youngsters taking on IDF soldiers – recast the Palestinians as David versus the Israeli Goliath
Second Intifada (2000 – 2005)
Starting with the Second Intifada and the 2001 Durban UN Conference against Racism, and escalating since then, an anti-Israel ideology has imposed itself as dogma. The two-state paradigm is described as a pro-Zionist retrograde position and many post-national, avant-garde intellectuals lobby for the end of the “outdated Zionist enterprise” as they did against South Africa in the 1970s.
We may ask ourselves how this anti-Israeli bias will develop in the coming years. Will the boycott, divestment and sanctions de-legitimization movement continue toward a crescendo of critical mass as it did in South Africa? As democracy is the foundational principle of the modern European idea, barring catastrophic conditions, anti-Jewish discrimination or state sanctioned anti-Semitism are today inconceivable in western Europe. However, should popular resentment against Israel and Jews intensify, the political and symbolic status of European Jewish communities will suffer.
Barring catastrophic conditions, anti-Jewish discrimination or state sanctioned anti-Semitism are today inconceivable in western Europe
De-legitimization of Israel on Campuses Left-Liberal Critiques and the Liberal Orientation of Diaspora Jews
As we have seen previously, de-legitimization attacks very often deliberately blur the distinction between de-legitimization and legitimate criticism of Israel. They also reflect emergent currents of liberal thought – indeed what makes de-legitimization so cutting and challenging a phenomenon is precisely its seeming congruence not only with liberal ideas, but with the liberal ideas which frame the world-views of so many Jews themselves.
This “left-liberal” variety of de-legitimization is generally of the “soft” sort of de-legitimization which has the following characteristics:
- Is not connected (at least not obviously or necessarily) to anti-Semitism/Judaeophobia
- Does not (at least not obviously or necessarily) argue for the violent physical destruction of Israel
- Is willing to distinguish between Israel’s government and policies and its people
- Is willing at least to consider some distinction between pre- and post-1967 Israel33
Some historical background is necessary. The question of Israel’s legitimacy is a new chapter in the long history of Western civilization’s various attempts to understand and contend with Jewish collective identity.34 The teaching of the early Christian church and in particular those of the Apostle Paul35 effectively configured Jewish distinctiveness as that which stands perversely athwart the universal moral teachings of the Gospel and the universal Christian community.
The rise of Western modernity did not improve matters. On the contrary, the advent of the secular Enlightenment in religion and the nation-state in politics rendered Jewish collective identity problematic in new – and ultimately deadly – ways. In particular, many Enlightenment thinkers were profoundly suspicious of the concept of Jewishness as a peoplehood. Some attempted to legislate Jewish peoplehood out of existence, demanding the Jewishness consist exclusively of a private religious devotion or “confession” that impinged in no way on public life. The Enlightenment problematized traditional religious belief while proclaiming a new, universal, religion of reason. The nation-state reconfigured group identities within new, and newly-hardened, geographic and cultural boundaries. Both developments made the historical Jewish amalgam of religion and peoplehood an awkward fit in the new dispensation.
The strains were well on display in perhaps the seminal event of European modernity, the French Revolution. As Arthur Hertzberg wrote in his classic study, The French Enlightenment and the Jews, “(t)he mainstream of the thinking of the Enlightenment…was absolutist. It imagined itself as a positive force for the making of a new world, and everyone had to be remade in order to be part of the new heaven. The particular disaster of the Jew was that the men of the Enlightenment were not entirely certain that he could enter the heaven even after he was remade.” 36 That partisans of the old aristocratic and ecclesiastical orders were uneasy with Jewish emancipation is no surprise. The striking development, Hertzberg notes, was the emergence of a new liberal intelligentsia for whom Jewish collective existence was an affront precisely to the new ethos of liberation. 37
This disjunction between Jewish collective existence and the drive for universal ethics is the seedbed for those elements of contemporary de-legitimization which do not arise directly from traditional anti-Semitism, or indeed are not overtly anti-Semitic at all.38
“A new liberal intelligentsia has emerged for whom Jewish collective existence was an affront precisely to the new ethos of liberation”
As a result, that which makes de-legitimization so vexing in the present context is:
- its circulation in elites who prima facie are detached from traditional anti-Semitism, share the fundamental premises of Western liberal democracies and the legitimacy of Western influence and power, but see Israel as at the very least, a deeply corrosive factor in the liberal West’s own internal coherence and progress. Thus while the West is seen to be
moving towards greater universality – politically in institutions such as the European Union, socio-culturally in its growing pluralism and multi-ethnicity – the valorization, real or imagined, of Israel qua Jewish nation-state goes in precisely the opposite direction.
- its being articulated in the cadences of liberal universalism which resonate deeply – and with good reason – with so much of contemporary Western Jewry. Liberalism facilitated Jewish success in North America, and it was a quintessentially liberal institution, the United Nations, which voted the State of Israel into being. 39 The waning of much traditional religious belief has made liberalism – its assertion of religious freedom, and its resonance with the ethical teachings of Judaism – the regnant ethos of Western Jewry.
The identification of Western Jews with political and social liberalism is one of the distinguishing facts of modern Jewish life. Jews embraced liberalism as best they could, above all because it afforded them a “neutral space,” the possibility of civic equality and economic possibility. Of course, the congruence of Jewish religion and liberal values was hardly obvious, even if today it is in many circles axiomatic to the point of cliché. That congruence was the work of generations of thinkers, initiated by Mendelssohn and with time taken up with special fervor on the other side of the Atlantic.40 Key to this reworking was the foregrounding of elements of universal ethics which do indeed exist in Jewish tradition, but were understood and contextualized rather differently over the course of much of Jewish history.
Be that as it may, Western Jewry has nearly staked its very existence on the idea of universal ethical ideals, precisely in order to loosen the tight connections between nationality, religion and citizenship which impeded Jewish emancipation and integration. The conjoining of those three elements in Jewish statehood thus implicitly challenges a key Jewish strategy for negotiating the radical changes of modernity.
Some Jewish theologians argue for the theological illegitimacy of Zionism as a violation of Jewish teachings on ethics and social justice
Some liberal de-legitimization stances in our time are explicitly theological, or to be more precise emerge explicitly from the classic Pauline disavowal of Jewish particularism and train that disavowal onto the Jewish state. These thinkers’ rejection of Jewish sovereignty is not stated in traditionalist terms, but rather in liberal terms and /or moralistic understandings of the Christian message (which often include internal condemnation of Christian anti-Semitism).41
Thus, to take a premier example, Rosemary Ruether, who has written with great sensitivity and courage about the Church’s history of anti-Semitism strongly opposes Israeli statehood, indeed sees it as the very opposite of the Jewish moral message in the world.42 Theological critique of Israel’s existence has also manifested itself at the organizational and denominational level, most notably in recent calls by the Presbyterian Church USA. 43 Some Jewish theologians, such as Marc H. Ellis, also argue for the theological illegitimacy of Zionism as a violation of deeply-held Jewish teachings on ethics and social justice.
Other stances may be characterized as theologico-philosophical, by which we mean to indicate currents of thought, some explicitly theological-confessional, others which bear the lineaments of theology’s aspiration to totality and use its categories while explicitly distancing themselves from institutional “religion,” and yet others which are strictly philosophical , e.g. the neo-Paulinism, expressed vividly by contemporary thinkers such as Alain Badiou, former chair of philosophy at perhaps the most prestigious intellectual institution in France, the Ecole Normale Supérieure. For Badiou, Jewish collective existence – especially when wedded to the power of statehood – is itself the great stumbling block to universal ethics. Indeed, Badiou challenges the ascription “Jew” with its morally privileged aura of victimhood to the community which refers to itself as Jews, let alone to their illegitimate state.44 Jean-Claude Milner (himself the son of a Jewish father) writes explicitly of the Jew, and certainly his state, as that which stands in the way of the European vision of universal union. In ostensible critique of Milner, the celebrated philosopher Slavo Zizek writes that Jewish statehood is the realization of, astoundingly, the Nazi program, in that it finally extinguishes Judaism, whose justification for existence lies only in its ethereality.45 Zizek well illustrates that the ostensible playfulness and irony of post-modern thought can and regularly divest it of moral seriousness and of the making of critical distinctions.
These European thinkers are of course laboring under, at times obsessed with, the Holocaust, whose horror they do not deny. To the contrary, the Holocaust is central for them as an apotheosis of evil, and of the purest victimhood, whose moral force is inverse to its political powerlessness. Thus the Jewish assertion of statehood comes to be seen as an inversion of morality, precisely because Jews are meant to be the signifiers of perfect victimhood.
Of course, these very continental thinkers, influential as they are speak in heady and regularly abstruse abstractions, well removed from the more pragmatic and plain sense cadences of Anglo-American liberalism. But there too one finds the view that Jewish statehood is at odds with the determined reasonableness of liberalism, and that Jews, of all people, should have recognized by now the dangers of attachment to the nation-state.
“The Jew, and certainly his state, stand in the way of the European vision of universal union”
The best and most prominent illustration here is the work of the recently-deceased Tony Judt (who was discussed briefly earlier). Himself Jewish – indeed in his youth he was sympathetic to Zionism and volunteered on a kibbutz – Judt offered the most intelligent and crisply-argued versions of de-legitimization around. Judt’s critique in some ways resembles that of the neo-Pauline critique described above, but without its quasi-theological totalizing, baroque rhetoric and unmistakable hostility to Judaism. In a much-discussed 2003 essay, he argued that:
The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism. 46
Israel’s anachronism does not make it simply ungainly or out of step – rather it puts it athwart the deepest currents of our time, socio-cultural and, more critically, moral:
“In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism. And not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one. In today’s “clash of cultures” between open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp”.47
Judt himself advocated a bi-national state, a stance which was once the program of a small but significant group of Zionist figures and which, in theory at least, does not entail the destruction of Israeli Jewry, though in practice it well might.48 His essay stimulated a whirlwind of controversy, in no small part because he pithily articulated the anti-Zionist case in the humane liberal tones and terms of the worldview of most American Jews themselves. He also stated, in American cadences, a very European discomfort with Jewish statehood, an enterprise which seems to fly in the face of what many European elites regard as the high moral–political achievement of forging the European Union.
“In today’s ‘clash of cultures’ between pluralist democracies and intolerant ethno-states, Israel actually risks falling into the wrong camp”
Liberal discomfort with Jewish statehood is finding expression among writers and artists far more involved with Jewish culture than was Judt, such as Daniel Boyarin, Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner who will be discussed below. In the academy we are seeing renewed interest in the works of significant Jewish thinkers who were critical of statist Zionism, which they saw as running counter to the liberal values which have best served Jews as a collective and which define the contours of the moral communities, Jewish and otherwise, with which Jews can and should identify.49
It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that the fact that Jewish and Israeli thinkers are discussed here is not to meant to tar any of them with pejorative brushes of “anti-Semitism,” self-hatred,” or even, in some cases, of being anti-Zionist. It is however to convey that they partake of the larger trends under discussion, and do so precisely out of their own understandings of Jewish life, history and experience.
Left-liberal de-legitimization discourse takes several other forms: post-modernist/post-colonial; International law/NGOs; and cultural and expressive politics.
Post-modernism and post-colonialism
Post-modernism casts a skeptical eye on all assertions of power and hierarchy and of strong claims of identity, and thus, as the Marxists used to say, it is no accident that among the fiercest critics of Israel in the academia are the standard bearers of post-modernism such as Judith Butler. Butler of course is not herself anti-Semitic, unapologetic about her Jewishness and its place in her world; and her substantive political positions are within the bounds of reasonable discourse itself. She is a staunch advocate of BDS, and argues for a post-national state. These in and of themselves are not violent positions. But they do deny Israel’s fundamental legitimacy as a nation-state.
Not all post-modernists need be anti-Zionists, of course. Yet post-modernism’s assault on all fixities of identity and thoroughgoing suspicion of all state hierarchies easily lend themselves to anti-Zionist view.50
The flourishing in recent years of post-colonial studies as a thriving academic field has breathed new life into the argument voiced by the Third World during the Cold War that Israel is a colonial entity and thus, ipso facto, illegitimate.51 Indeed, the author, Edward Said, of the founding text of post-colonialism, Orientalism, clearly identified Zionism as both an outgrowth and as part of European colonialism.52
Post-colonial perspectives are well on display in the popular (by academic standards) works of Daniel Boyarin, a distinguished Talmudist whose critique of Zionism synthesizes traditional Jewish anti-Zionism with post-colonial discourse.53 Thus he argues that Zionism’s assertion of Jewish power both undermines what he sees as the principled passivity of Rabbinic Judaism and implicates Jews and Judaism in illegitimate hierarchies of power.
To be sure, as far as Zionists are concerned, Israel is not a colonial state: the State of Israel itself did arise from within the colonial matrix and Zionist leaders made adroit use of the colonial system which was for all intents and purposes the international system itself before WWI, and a large part of it until WWII. But Israel is not a colonialist entity. It is home to its citizens, native and immigrant, and exists for its own sake and not as the satellite of some other entity. Within its borders all citizens have equal rights (Judea and Samaria do in some ways present a colonial situation, which is itself a strong argument for the resolution of their status, and that of their Palestinian inhabitants, as soon as practicable).54
Yet there is no denying a strong current of international – and Israeli – opinion that Israel is indeed a colonialist entity. Thus, for instance, political geographer Oren Yiftachel has argued that Israel is an “ethnocracy,” in which one, indigenous group of people is systematically deprived of rights and resources to serve the needs of one ethnic group. Baruch Kimmerling depicted Israel as the last state structured along the European colonial model of an imported European populace subjugating indigenous people.55
Post-modernism’s assault on all fixities of identity and thoroughgoing suspicion of all state hierarchies easily lend themselves to anti-Zionist view
Liberal de-legitimization is also crucial to the discourse emanating from the world of international law and international bodies, in the form of UN bodies obsessively given over to criticizing Israel, or the endless stream of critical reports emanating from human rights groups of different kinds – not to mention the new “lawfare,” efforts by lawyers and jurists to mount extra-territorial prosecutions of Israeli political leaders through the exercise of expanded doctrines of universal jurisdiction.56
“Israel is an ‘ethnocracy’, in which one indigenous group of people is systematically deprived of rights and resources to serve the needs of one ethnic group”
The distinctive feature of this category is that it captures groups operating within the seemingly neutral, apolitical, highly abstract and rationalized frameworks of international law – which rings its own changes on globalization’s ostensible effacing of national sovereignties. The story of the global human rights bears within it deep currents which seek somehow to bypass the messy business of politics – and this illusion makes those institutions malleable tools in the hands of various political actors.57
Cultural & expressive politics
A final category of liberal de-legitimization is the voicing of sentiments by actors and artists who seem motivated more by cultural expression than by an articulated political ideology or agenda. This would include artists such as Elvis Costello and Annie Lennox, who have boycotted Israel and, in the case of Lenox, issued inflammatory statements (which she has since modified).58
One can find some of the currents discussed here registered in the works of some major artists who are themselves Jewish, have seriously explored Jewish themes in their work and are fundamentally supportive of Israel’s right to exist. Thus, Steven Spielberg’s Munich has his Mossad protagonist eventually choosing Diaspora existence in Jewish Brooklyn over the relentless life of violence that his Israeli identity forces on him.59 The screenplay was written by a major American playwright, Tony Kushner, who has powerfully explored Jewish experience in his other works, and who is part of the artistic trend seeking to recapture the energies of modern Yiddishism as a form of Jewish identity that will bypass both Israel and the synagogue.
The meaning of liberal de-legitimization
The significance of all the above forms of de-legitimization is that they proceed in whole or in part in terms which resonate deeply with contemporary Jewry, and which do indeed reflect values emerging out of modern Jewish historical experience – a critical moral stance towards untrammeled state power, sensitivity to the rights of minorities, a deep discomfort with essentializing definitions of belonging. Indeed, liberal de-legitimization may be said to arise precisely from several elements of modern Jewish life and thought which the Zionist revolution sought to overcome – the valorization of statelessness and powerlessness as a guarantor of virtue, and of Jewish disembodiment and geographic dispersion as crucial elements of Jewish spirituality.
Putting the Campus in Context: De-legitimization, Globalization and Global Civil Society
One of the factors that enhance the potential for a connection between contemporary left-liberal discourse and critique and the de-legitimization of Israel is the link between much of contemporary liberalism and certain globalizing discourses. We have seen such links between liberalism, globalization and the de-legitimization of Israel writing of Tony Judt and in the de-legitimizing appeal to international law.
“Globalization” in this context refers to an orientation towards global agendas and systems. These can be pursued through explicitly global institutions and processes such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), global financial markets, and the war crimes tribunals. In addition to this, and perhaps even more prevalent, are national and sub-national organizations and agencies which are oriented towards global agendas and systems such as environmental and human rights organizations. These interact with each other in transnational and supranational networks but not necessarily through the formal inter-state system. While the scale of action and of practice in these examples is national or even local, the “organizing logic” governing them is global; they are oriented towards a global system or agenda.60
A primary example of such an orientation, as was intimated, is the contemporary arena of human rights. The conceptualization and practice of human rights has shifted in the contemporary globalized era. In the modern period characterized by the democratic and industrial revolutions, that is, from around 1775 to around 1980 political thinkers and actors conceived of human rights as ordering the relationship between citizens and states.
But in the contemporary era, political, legal and civil society actors and activists orient the discourse and practice of human rights towards a global human rights order. Rights and rights-bearing individuals are, as it were, abstracted from their political membership and made the objects of discourse, action and policy in a universalistic and absolute frame. Around this “organizing logic” an entire institutional and organizational machinery has sprung up: international human rights courts and tribunals (the European Court of Human Rights, the ICC), NGOs and networks of human rights NGOs, universal jurisdiction and the application of international human rights law in national courts and settings. Thus while the notion of human rights is not new, the past 30 years have witnessed an entirely new discourse and set of practices regarding it.
In the contemporary era, activists orient the discourse and practice of human rights towards a global human rights order
This prevalent orientation towards global agendas has brought with it changes in the world order: the first of these is that the new international order is no longer composed solely of states. On various levels and scales many non-state actors are active on the world scene. As we have indicated, these include transnational and supranational organizations such as the EU and the WTO but they also include agencies that are much smaller and less powerful than states such as NGOs and relatively autonomous media organizations (e.g. International CNN or Al Jazeera) and even terrorist groups. As a result nation states no longer dictate the rules of the international playground nor control its agenda.
To a certain extent this process has been accompanied by a certain decline in the idea of the nation-state and the rise of the idea of the post-national order. This was seen first and foremost in Europe after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. European publicists, politicians and thinkers advanced the idea that the nation-state was passé and that it would be replaced by “Europe.” The introduction of a common currency, the Euro, strengthened this notion. 61
Transnational activism creates a new globalized “civil society” which contains citizen practices that go beyond the nation
Secondly, new ideas of citizenship have emerged. Citizenship has become de-nationalized. Today, theorists, activists and politicians speak about trans national and post national citizenship. “European” citizenship, or citizenship in the European Union is a leading example of postnational citizenship. Equally important is “transnational citizenship.” One leading form of transnational citizenship is connected to transnational activism. This latter concept refers to “new transnational forms of political organization emerging in a context of rapid globalization and proliferation of cross border activities of all sorts of “actors,” notably immigrants, NGOs, first nation people, human rights, the environment, arms control, women’s rights, labor rights and rights of national minorities…” Paul Wapner sees these activist networks “as a slice of associational life which exists above the individual and below the state, but also across national boundaries.”62 Transnational activism creates a new globalized “civil society” which contains citizen practices that go beyond the nation. Accompanying the growth of a global civil society is a global sense of solidarity and identification in connection with the various activist causes.
This new globalized configuration of ideas, discourses and practices has important implications for the de-legitimization of Israel. The rights (individual and group) of the Palestinians both in the PA and the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are now the concern of a global human rights regime and a world order universalistically concerned with human rights. They are no longer simply the object of the discourse and practice of the Israeli state and of groups working within an Israeli national frame, or even the concern of states and entities in the Middle East and of those who have strategic interests in the area. Instead, Israel and Israeli policies are the “business” of observers around the world. Global “audiences” see themselves as legitimate stakeholders, and are receptive to hearing about the issue of Palestinian rights. This is first and foremost the new “global civil society.” This consists first of global human and minority rights activists and organizations and secondly, of the new global machinery – such as the international human rights courts – which is concerned with enforcing the global human rights regime.
Conclusion: Classical and Globalized Liberalism
Liberalism today is somewhat different than “classical” modern liberalism. Classical modern liberalism was concerned with the relations of the citizen to the state. Israel as a democratic nation-state with a basic human rights regime was considered well ensconced within the old liberal paradigm. The new “global” liberalism is concerned with human rights, women’s rights and environmental protection as part of a global agenda and order. In the new global liberal conception the global agendas of women’s rights, human rights and environmental protection tend to trump the concerns of mere nation-states. Furthermore, states that are too particularistic tend to intrinsically arouse suspicion. Thus, the eniornment of contemporary “globalized” liberalism tends to be inherently less comfortable for Israel. New configurations of Jewish identity among young Jews are somewhat congruent with these orientations.