The war continues and it is a long war

Can you remember the years when Israelis considered antisemitism a Diaspora issue?

by Phyllis Chesler

This coming weekend (November 1-3), the University of Minnesota will be hosting the infamous Students for Justice Palestine (SJP). The nature and history of SJP has been exposed countless times, but to little avail.

This time, Ilhan Omar, whose district includes the Twin Cities, as well as Senator and Presidential contender Bernard Sanders, will be holding a rally on the same weekend, on Sunday, November 3rd.

On November 12th, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst will be hosting a pro-BDS panel featuring the former (fake) women’s rights activist and (always real) pro-Palestine activist, Linda Sarsour, Cornel West, and Omar Bhargouti (via video), among others.

The UMass/Amherst Chancellor, Kumble Subbaswamy, has issued a sobering critique of the cleverly devious view that attacking BDS is an attack on legitimate “dissent.” The faculty has launched a petition castigating or taking issue with the Chancellor. 

A cursory view of the signatories reveals that one professor of African-American Studies, the distinguished John H. Bracey, did co-edit a book about Black-Jewish relations after Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan’s “divisive” visit to the campus in the 1980s. His other books are all about Black History and Black Arts in America.

Ironically, so few of the professor-signatories seem to be academic experts in the history of Israel, Zionism, or Judaism; or about the Arab Muslim rejection of the only Jewish state; or about Islam’s historical relationship to the black African slave trade, slavery in general, colonialism. imperialism, and gender and religious apartheid.

Many of the professor-signatories seem to have little, if any expert publications in the above areas and clearly, have been propagandized at large or perhaps within their disciplines of African-American Studies, Anthropology, Communication Studies, Philosophy, Education, English, Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science, and Women and Gender Studies. 

The Women’s/Gender Studies signatories have published articles, monographs, or books titled:

  • “Black and Green: Afro-Colombians, Development, and Nature in the Pacific Lowlands” (Kiran Asher);
  • “Trans, Feminism, or Reading Like a Depressed Transsexual” (Cameron Awkward-Rich);
  • “How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure of Trump” and “Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transnational and Transracial Adoption” (Laura Briggs);
  • A “Rape Culture Syllabus” (Laura Ciolkowski);
  • “Blood at the Root: motherhood, sexuality, and male dominance” and “Dancing with the Philosophy of Iris Marion Young” (Ann Ferguson);
  • “Are Second Generation Korean American Women Tiger Mothers? Strategic, Transnational, and Resistant Responses to Racialized Mothering” and “Second-Generation Korean Experiences in the United States and Canada” (Milann Kang);
  • “Street Corner Secrets: Sex, Work, and Migration in the CIty of Mumbai” and “Queering the Indian City: Urbanism in the Era of Transnational LGBT Rights” (Svati Shah).

I am not claiming that this work is not feminist work or that it does not explore previously silenced subjects. But it has nothing to do with the Middle East, Israel-Palestine, Judaism and Israel.

Their signing this pro-BDS letter, disguised as a defense of “dissent” or in favor of free speech is the equivalent of my signing a petition, as an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, condemning (or praising) an expert in nuclear physics, chemistry, engineering, or computer science. How could I possibly know what I was saying?

Long ago, in 2004, I wrote my little heart out about SJP at Duke University. It changed little—or so I thought, but since then, many others have most admirably taken strong activist and academic stands against this organization and against BDS. AmchaSPMEStand with Us, and individuals such as Elder of ZiyonRichard Landes, and Adam Milstein

While we may win some battles, the war continues and it is a long war.

For example: In the early 1970s, I had a nasty brush with anti-Semitism on the American feminist left which sent me to Israel for the first time. Thereafter, I worked with a small group of Jewish feminists who tried to alert others about this danger as well as about the limited opportunities for women in Jewish religious, educational, and philanthropic organizations.  

In the mid-70s, we could not convince most feminists to take the threat of anti-Semitism very seriously. When we asked leading feminists to consider constituting a group to discuss this issue, we were turned down flat. No one viewed anti-Semitism as a form of racism. Educated Jews, both women and men, viewed themselves as privileged and assimilated and felt utterly safe, even entitled. They considered themselves—and were seen as— “white” Jews.

I did get some feminists to sign on to the petition opposing the Zionism=Racism resolution at the United Nations. Many turned me down.

After the United Nations conference in Copenhagen in 1980, an anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist precursor of Durban, and one in which I participated, the late, great Mina Ben-Zvi, the commander of Chen during the 1948 war of independence, wept in my arms, saying: “I thought we were done with all that. How can it still be here?”

I flew to Israel for the fourth time in less than a decade and tried to interest Israelis in the rise of anti-Semitism. The poet Rahel Chalfi interviewed me at length in Yediot Aharonot. (Bless you Rahel.) Most Israelis whom I met with insisted that nations always fight with each other and that the battles against Israel were no more than that. Some felt that anti-Semitism was strictly a Diaspora problem which did not involve the Jewish state. 

I flew back to America and had a few meetings with Jewish-American organizations. I suggested that the cognitive war against the Jews would become ever-hotter and that it was important to teach the coming generations how to fight back in the language used by various liberation and anti-racist movements—in short, to use what was evolving as politically correct propaganda against Jews, Judaism, and Israel by commanding that language on behalf of the truth.

Everyone was polite and attentive, and although I was not asking for funding or even agreeing to create a curriculum—still, I got nowhere.

In 1980, I tried to interest my agent in representing a book about rising anti-Semitism in Europe and in the Islamic world. His response: “It’s not happening, it’s not important, no one will want to read about it anyway.”

And so, I shelved my vision, my mission, for a later time in history.

During this time (1980-2000), others, whose work I was totally unfamiliar with, were certainly seeing what I saw. The late, great Robert Wistrich, Ruth Wisse, Dennis Prager, David S. Wyman, among many others, all immediately come to mind.

By the time Arafat launched his long-planned Intifada of 2000, I was back on duty. As were Richard Landes, Nidra Poller, Alan Dershowitz, Carl Levin, and many, many others.

The Israeli government has gradually changed its view on anti-Semitism and its relation to the Jewish state. It has also begun to take the cognitive war far more seriously than ever before.

American Jews are up in arms and increasingly terrified. Some are focused on the brutal attacks on visible Jews in North America and in Europe. Others are focused on synagogue shootings and cemetery desecrations. Some Jews see the rise in anti-Semitism as mainly a right-wing phenomenon in the United States. Others understand that the Perfect Storm against the Jews also involves left-wingers and Muslims, especially in Europe and in the Islamic world.

Yesterday, a dear friend said: “Now, I’m scared, I’m really scared.” The adult child of Holocaust survivors cried out: “It’s happening all over again, it’s unbelievable.” A 90-year-old Israeli hero told me that I must tell us what to do, say some positive things, suggest actions, otherwise what I’m writing about is too depressing and demoralizing.

I am not an ancient prophet. Burning bushes do not speak to me. Nor does God, not even in my dreams. Thus, I cannot advise Jews that if they repent, turn back, obey God’s commandments that all will be well—that then, “they (the nations) will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer take up the sword against nation, nor will they train anymore for war. And each man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, with no one to frighten him. For the mouth of the LORD of Hosts has spoken” (Micah, 4:4).

I can humbly repeat what the prophet Jeremiah said: “Al Tirah Ya’akov, Avdi Ya’akov.” “Do not fear O Jacob My servant, saith the LORD, for I am with you.” (Yermiyahu 46:28).

May God bless the IDF and the Jewish genius that is generating incomparable scientific, medical, and technological research. 

The late Dr. David Gutman was one of the Jewish-American heroes who sailed on those leaky boats that brought European Jews to the Holy Land. We were attending an Israeli film festival. I had just had surgery and David was shaking with Parkinson’s. I offered my walker to him. “We can at least share it David, come, hang on.” And then he said: “I have it. The Action. We’ll stroll along on our walkers and take out some Jihadists. They’d never suspect us, not on walkers.”

I declined the honor but going forward, may a heroic, fighting spirit like his also arise in each and every one of us.

We must never give up.

First published in Israel National News.