The Department of Education Gets Anti-Semitism Right, While Its Critics Get It Wrong

Sept. 14 2018

Last month, Kenneth Marcus, the recently appointed assistant secretary of education for civil rights, announced that his office plans to reopen an investigation into an incident in 2011 in which an anti-Israel organization allegedly charged an admission fee only to Jewish students. The Department of Education had closed its investigation into the affair in 2014, finding no wrongdoing. On Wednesday, the New York Times published a heavy-handed front-page story about Marcus’s decision, which confusingly accuses Marcus of supporting a “definition of anti-Semitism that  . . . explicitly defines Judaism as not only a religion but also an ethnic origin.” As Noah Rothman argues, the article exhibits a severely warped understanding of anti-Semitism, and of what it means to be pro-Palestinian:

[The article] contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” [But this] is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance [and] adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.

[The Times’s author, Erica] Green, went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.

Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its . . . inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israel agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves . . . an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA). . . . Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on the Rutgers campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi, which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually . . . even BAKA conceded the point. . . .

Some might attribute the Times’s neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But [the] benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Barack Obama, BDS, Israel & Zionism, Israel on campus, New York Times

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war