Max Blumenthal, a blogger who has frequently accused prominent conservative activists of racism, has trashed a highly respected annual report on antisemitism as “propagandistic.” The report, by the Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University, is the product of meticulous research by a team of scholars that collects and scrutinizes data from all over the world.
Yet to Blumenthal, the Roth Institute and its “collaborators” (more on that word later) “appear more interested in insulating Israel from scrutiny…than in generating education and dialogue to combat bigotry.”
He claims that the Roth Institute shares the objective of the Israeli government “and its international supporters” (again, more on that curious choice of words below) to undermine criticism of Israel’s policies.
As someone who has witnessed the last decade of anti-Israel protest–first as a freelance journalist, and then as a pro-Israel activist–I can testify to the truth of what Blumenthal so blithely denies. At the University of Chicago last fall, outside a speech given by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, I photographed anti-Israel demonstrators carrying swastikas, and was taunted by shouts of “Hitler was a great guy.”
The demonstrators also hurled abuse at the Chicago police who were patrolling the scene. At one stage, a young man in the anti-Israel crowd waved a stack of dollar bills at a small group of pro-Israel counter-demonstrators across the street. He later shouted: “You want a penny? I have a shiny penny!”
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I was also at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001, and saw the vitriolic anti-Jewish hatred on display, which my left-wing journalistic colleagues refused to acknowledge, though it was right before their eyes.
Pointing at a banner of a Star of David dripping in blood, I asked my editor: “Don’t you think that crosses the line?” His reply: “It’s Israel’s fault for putting a religious symbol on its own flag.” I learned then that there is an element of the far left that is determined to find racism in every conservative political impulse, but which refuses to acknowledge the hatred of Jews, except to conclude that Israel is to blame for it.
Blumenthal also dismisses the Roth Institute’s account of rising antisemitism in Venezuela, describing such accusations a “Cold War-era tactic,” and alleging that they are motivated by opposition to Chavez’s stance against the Gaza war. He notes that Jewish leaders in Venezuela distanced themselves from such accusations against Chavez, and that pro-Israel members of the U.S. Congress recently stopped an attempt to condemn Chavez for antisemitism.
Under pressure from Jewish groups in Venezuela, Jewish members of Congress torpedoed a 2009 House resolution to condemn Chavez for anti-Semitic incitement. The members of Congress who opposed the resolution included some of Israel’s most hardline allies in the House, from Rep. Gary Ackerman to Rep. Shelley Berkley. Apparently this news was not fit to print in the Roth Institute’s report.
What Blumenthal fails to acknowledge is that Venezuela is not a normal democracy. Jewish leaders there know that their community is in danger, which is precisely why they have tried to keep criticism of Chavez quiet. They are afraid of retaliation.
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Ask any of the many Venezuelan Jews who have left in recent years what is going on back home, and they will tell you about what the official structures of the community fear to proclaim openly — the attacks on synagogues, the propaganda, the intimidation.
Blumenthal also mocks the Roth Institute’s suggestion that the Goldstone Report — the U.N.’s one-sided investigation of the Gaza war — could have triggered antisemitism around the world. He claims “there is no evidence to back their claim up.”
Allow me to supply some evidence from personal experience. I sat in the U.N. General Assembly and watched the world’s dictators attack Israel during last year’s debate on the Goldstone Report, using classic antisemitic themes. They accused Israel of deliberately murdering children and spilling innocent blood for its own sake, images drawn from the antisemitic blood libel of medieval Europe, which has now been revived in state-sponsored propaganda in the Arab world.
Israel’s opponents did not limit themselves to criticizing the Gaza war, or the Israeli occupation. They attacked the very foundation of Israel itself. They also claimed Israel had violated the sanctity of Islamic holy places — a lie calculated to incite hatred of Jews. They drew parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany, debasing the Holocaust by taunting the nation built by its survivors. The ambassador of Chavez’s Venezuela, for one, called Israel a “genocidal nation.”
Blumenthal, perhaps unwittingly, indulges in a bit of this rhetoric himself. He chooses to use the word “collaborators” to describe those who contributed to the Roth Institute’s research. The verb “to collaborate” usually has an ordinary, innocuous meaning. But when used in a pejorative sense, the word “collaborator” also can evoke a specific definition, referring to those who assisted the Nazis in slaughtering six million Jews. Here, the word implies that scholars of antisemitism are complicit in some sort of crime.
Blumenthal also attacks the “international supporters” of Israel’s government. Of course, Israel does have friends around the world. Yet vague references to international support of allegedly nefarious Jewish activities were also a staple of Nazi propaganda.
It would be absurd to accuse Blumenthal of antisemitism. Yet left-wing critics never tire of imagining that we conservatives are motivated by prejudice –even black conservatives, who are portrayed as unconscious tools of internalized racism. And all too often, the media views claims of prejudice through an ideological filter, according to which accusations of conservative racism are believed without evidence, and evidence of left-wing antisemitism is denied in the face of the facts.
Blumenthal is right about one thing: those making accusations of racism or antisemitism — weighty accusations, capable of destroying careers and lives –should be expected to prove what they allege.
If only we could all agree to play by those rules.