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Reminiscences of the new anti-Semitism

By       Message Barry Werner     Permalink
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In the late '60s, when I was in graduate school and attending teach-ins on the Vietnam War, I was surprised and disturbed to hear anti-Israel lectures interspersed with anti-Vietnam War lectures - at Brandeis University!

Since then, for all the years I've been in academia, I've encountered anti-Semitic speakers lecturing to packed auditoriums. Its irrationality was (and continues to be) astounding. In many cases, the anti-Semitic ideas were presented as part of a generalized anti-white man ideology. In many cases these speakers, drawing full-house crowds of the best and brightest said, literally, that nothing non-Europeans did could be considered evil, and nothing Europeans did could be considered good, but the worst of the Europeans were the Jews.

After one of these speeches I approached the president of the University of Minnesota to complain that the university was allowing racists access to our students. I was brushed off, probably because it was more important not to make waves than to support the values the university is supposed to preserve and teach. And now there are left-wing academics in universities around the world trying to impose a boycott on Israeli academic institutions. Political correctness tortured and at its worst!

On one occasion, I went to a lecture as a guest of the president of the University of Minnesota Arab Students Association. (I had organized a year-long Mid-East Forum on campus, and, thereafter an informal Arab/Jewish student dialogue. I later took the president of the ASA to a lecture by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane - I've had an interesting life.) I didn't object when the lecturer spewed anti-Semitism - I considered it an unfortunate political reality. But I spoke up when he started on anti-white racism and, with the president of the ASA at my side, clearly explained to the speaker and the audience that racism - in any context - was wrong.

I clearly remember the bizarre philosophy expressed by a white feminist at an honors conference on ethics (no less!) that I attended as a professor at the University of Minnesota. She said that any oppressed minority had the unrestrained, moral right to fight back in any way at all. (She did not specifically speak about Jews or Israel.) I expressed my strong (politically incorrect) disagreement with such unethical ideas.

Over the years, I encountered expressions of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel prejudice from college students in the most unexpected places. On one occasion, when telling my colleagues that I was planning a trip to Israel, some students in the department told me that they supported Syria - of all countries - against Israel!
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Over the years, I listened to left-wing Israelis speaking to American audiences. I remember, maybe 30 or so years ago, listening to a former Israeli military officer (maybe a general) speaking in America on behalf of Peace Now. His message was that war technology had become so advanced that war should be considered unthinkable, that strategic depth was not as important as it had been because of advancements in rocketry, and therefore we had to have peace right away. The message was reasonable, but the delivery horrific. I could hear it the way a non-Jewish American who knew nothing about the Middle East would hear it. He sounded anti-Israeli, even though I knew that's not how he intended to be heard.

I heard similar language a couple of years ago, from Rabbis for Human Rights in Jerusalem. I fully support fair treatment for Arabs, but the language used was horribly insensitive to the pervasive anti-Semitism. The rabbi used the standard left-wing baggage-laden code words, probably clueless as to how those code words sound to non-Jewish leftists.

Before leaving for Israel in 2008, I spoke to a left-wing Christian friend and theologian, active in Christian peace movements. She told me that a lot of what she knows about the Middle East she learned from left-wing Israelis.

In my experience, I have found that left-wing Israelis are generally sincere and have Israel's best interests at heart. But some left-wingers outside of Israel transform what they say into the most crudely absurd anti-Semitic statements imaginable.

Over the years, I have argued Israel's case in formal lectures and informal conversations. In most cases, I have found that open-minded people of good will can understand Israel's position. But I usually hear, first, quite a lot of anti-Israel misinformation.

I recently read two books on this subject, "The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism" by Bernard Harrison, and "Left in Dark Times" by Bernard-Henri Lévy. Both authors are philosophers on the left of the political spectrum. Both explain how the left's anti-Israel sentiment is expressed in pervasive, irrational, anti-Semitic language.

The new anti-Semitism is a phenomenon which we must take extremely seriously. To me it seems eerily similar to the Dreyfus Affair.
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I am a retired PhD physicist with a deep, long term interest in the Israel/Arab/Muslim conflict.

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