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Those Charging Jewish Critics of Israel with Aiding “Anti-Semitism” Are Accused of Trying to Stifle Free and Open Debate

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 2007

The American Jewish Committee has featured in its website (acj.org) an essay entitled “Progressive  
Jewish Thought and The New Anti-Semitism,” written by Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld of Indiana  
University. It argues that Jewish critics of Israel, through their speaking and writing, are feeding a rise in  
virulent anti-Semitism. In an introduction to the essay, David Harris, executive director of the AJC,  
writes, “Perhaps the most surprising — and distressing — feature of this new trend is the very public  
participation of some Jews in the verbal onslaught against Zionism and the Jewish State.”  
The “new” anti-Semitism is not hatred of Jews and Judaism but, instead, criticism of Israel. Prof.  
Rosenfeld’s essay begins by highlighting examples of the “old” anti-Semitism in the contemporary  
world, such as the success of a Turkish translation of Mein Kampf, distribution of the Protocols of the  
Elders of Zion, and conspiracy theories after 9/11, expressed in such books as The Jewish Role in the  
9/11 Destruction of the World Trade Centre. He also cites a rising number of anti-Jewish acts in various  
Western European countries. What Rosenfeld then does is take the leap of associating Jewish criticism  
of Israeli policies and actions with this allegedly “new” anti-Semitism.  
Among those he criticizes in this category are Professor Jacqueline Rose, author of The Question of  
Zion (Princeton University Press), New York University Professor Tony Judt, playwright Tony Kushner,  
poet Adrienne Rich, Prof. Daniel Boyarin of the University of California at Berkeley, and Prof. Noam  
Chemsky of M.I.T.  
It is not only such Jews in the U.S., Britain and elsewhere who are guilty of fomenting this “new” anti-  
Semitism, in Rosenfeld’s view, but Israelis as well. He writes: “To the dismay of many, Israel itself has  
provided a disturbingly large number of writers, scholars, journalists and others to feed this poisonous  
stream. One such is the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who felt no reservation in talking about the  
‘Nazification’ of Israeli society and was fond of using the epithet ‘Judeo-Nazi’ in referring to the Israeli  
army. And Leibowitz was hardly alone in employing such corrosive language. It is a sad but familiar fact  
that some of Israel’s most passionate defamers live within the borders of the state and have judged it  
guilty of ‘racism,’ ‘fascism,’ ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘genocide’ — vilification drawn from the  
same evil thesaurus of anti-Zionist derisions and excoriations that the Jewish state’s harshest enemies  
regularly dip into when leveling their own attacks.”  
Prof. Tony Judt, one of the targets of the essay, said he believed the real purpose was to stifle harsh  
criticism of Israel. “The link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is newly created,” he said, adding  
that he fears “the two will have become so conflated in the minds of the world that references to anti-  
semitism and the Holocaust will come to be seen as just a political defense of Israeli policy.”  
Alan Wolfe, a political scientist and the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life  
at Boston College, said “I’m almost in a state of shock” at the verbal assaults directed at liberal Jews. He  
laments the growth of “illiberalism” within the organized American Jewish community.  
On H-Antisemitism (h-net.org), an Internet forum for scholarly discussions of the subject, Michael  
Posluns, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, wrote: “Sad and misbegotten missives of the  
sort below make me wonder if it is not the purpose of mainstream Jewish organizations to foster anti-  
Jewishness by calling down all who take from their Jewish experience and Jewish thought a different  
ethos and different ways of being as feeding anti-Semitism.”  
Writing in The Washington Post (Feb. 7, 2007), columnist Richard Cohen, also a target of the Rosenfeld  
essay, notes that if the essay itself “was not bad enough, Shulamit Reinharz, a Brandeis University  
professor and columnist for a Jewish weekly, dispensed totally with Rosenfeld’s qualifications. She told  
the Boston Globe that all of us mentioned in the AJC report — are just plain anti-Semites ... Rosenfeld is  
surely right about one thing: It’s astonishing that in the 60 years since the Nazi extermination camps  
were liberated, anti-Semitism has revived and thrived. Still, it hardly makes sense to fight it by  
promiscuously throwing around the word ‘anti-Semite’ so that it loses its punch or to flay Jewish critics  
of Israel. I strongly disagree with some of these critics ... but if somehow an anti-Semite finds common  
ground with them, that is hardly their fault — and certainly not their intent ... It’s sad that the American  
Jewish Committee commissioned and published Rosenfeld’s report. I can’t imagine what good will come  
out of it. Instead, it has given license to the most intolerant and narrow-minded of Israel’s defenders so  
that ... any veering from orthodoxy is met with censure or, from someone like Reinharz, the most  
powerful of all post-Holocaust condemnations — anti-Semite — is diluted beyond recognition. The  
offense here is not just to a handful of relatively unimportant writers, but to memory itself. Shame.”  
In an editorial entitled “Infamy,” The Forward declared: “It’s hard to fathom what could have possessed  
the leaders of the American Jewish Committee to publish the screed posted on their Web site ...  
‘Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,’ by Alvin Rosenfeld ... From its sensationalist  
title to its tired invocation of the Holocaust in the opening paragraph to its closing words about the  
‘drift of ‘progressive’ Jewish thought,’ the slim essay is a shocking tissue of slander ... The fact that it  
was commissioned and published by an organization that once stood for dignity and civility in Jewish  
communal discourse speaks volumes about the state of Jewish leadership today.”

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