- On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice by Jewish Voice for Peace, and: Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict by Ben-Dror Yemini
With the upsurge of anti-Jewish hostilities over the past two decades, scholarly publications on antisemitism, which had been relatively scant in recent years, have notably increased. Debates about the definition, causes, principal agents, and most serious contemporary manifestations of antisemitism are now intense. One of the most contentious aspects of these debates involves Israel and the question of whether some of the passionately voiced opposition to the country—not only to its policies but its very existence—should be regarded as antisemitic. At its most extreme, this opposition demonizes and delegitimizes Israel by equating the country to Apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany, thereby placing Israel outside the family of nations much as Nazism had placed Jews outside the scope of common humanity. Are these and related rhetorical assaults antisemitic? The question is prominently addressed in the widely [End Page 132] adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and elsewhere, but it remains contested, at times sharply so. That is especially the case with the first of the volumes under review here.
With only a few exceptions, most of the 22 essays in On Antisemitism are not by scholars but are personal and polemical pieces written by social activists who connect in one way or another to Jewish Voice for Peace, the book's sponsor and a prominent supporter of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) and other forms of anti-Israel agitation. The book's ideological keynote is sounded by Judith Butler: "Jews must reclaim a politics of social justice that is considered to be imperiled by the Israeli state" (x). It is noteworthy that Butler makes no reference to specific Israeli policies or actions but seems to level her charge against the state as such, as if its very existence is perilous to the values of justice. That is a strong indictment, and it seems to be widely shared, for many of the other authors in On Antisemitism follow Butler's lead in one way or another.
Despite the book's title, this is not really a work that attempts to understand antisemitism, and readers looking for academically grounded analyses of contemporary hostility to Jews and Judaism will have to look elsewhere. The volume's overarching concern, in the words of Omar Barghouti, one of the volume's contributors and a co-founder of the BDS movement, is with "the fraudulent use of antisemitism" (139). The "fraud" emerges, according to Butler, with the "claim that any and all criticism of the State of Israel is effectively anti-Semitic" (Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism [New York: Columbia University Press, 2014], 1). The statement astonishes, for no serious person would make such an absurd claim. Butler must know that. Nevertheless, in her foreword to On Antisemitism, she insists that such charges are commonly deployed as part of a strategy to malign "critics of Israel" and thereby silence their criticism. Another of the book's contributors, the Reverend Graylan Hagler, writes similarly: "[t]he charge of antisemitism is used as a tool to limit discussion; to thwart debate and silence anyone that differs from the 'established [End Page 133] Jewish' perspective" on Israel (112). And Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, adds, "[t]he accusation of antisemitism is used as a cudgel to repress substantive discussion" of Israel (3).
Revealingly, Butler, Hagler, and Vilkomerson fail to name a single person or cite even one concrete example to support their claims that the charge of antisemitism is used to smear and silence critics of Israel. Yet the notion that such defamation and muzzling are in active play is an unquestioned premise of this book. It is a mistaken one, little...