‘Goyim kill goyim, and they come to hang the Jews,” said Menachem Begin in 1982, when Christian Phalangists murdered Palestinians in Lebanon. Today, as Russians massacre Ukrainians, and then millions “like” Gigi Hadid’s pledge to “support those experiencing the same in Palestine,” let’s update Begin’s line: “Goyim kill goyim, then bash Israel.”
If you believe Twitterdumb – misspelling intended – we Jews should be exhausted. We have been busy spreading COVID, fomenting racism, and now, imitating Putin – or being imitated by him.
The hashtag #Covid1948 did double demonization duty. It alleged that Jews and Israelis profited from COVID-19, while deeming this Israeli “Virus of 15 [sic] May 1948... a much bigger threat to humanity than COVID.”
Radicals used the horrific George Floyd murder in 2020 to popularize the Deadly Exchange libel blaming IDF training for police brutality – as if American racists need Israeli coaching to hate. Now, Bash Israel Firsters tweeting “War in Ukraine = Continued violent takeover of the West Bank,” link two random events, trying to hijack the world’s justifiable disgust with Vladimir Putin – to dump on Israel.
Writers who make their careers demonizing Israel embrace this libelous idiocy. In The Guardian, Peter Beinart argued that if “remaking borders by force violates a core principle of international law,” America must undo “Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war.” Straining to compare Israel with Russia, Beinart prefers twistory to history, ignoring the inconvenient facts that Syria repeatedly bombarded Israel from the Golan and never respected Israel’s right to exist – I somehow missed Ukraine’s bombing and anti-Russian delegitimization campaign.
In a harsher screed, “Justifications for Destroying a People,” Beinart equated the “arguments Russia’s government deploys to dehumanize Ukrainians” with “the ones Israel’s government uses to dehumanize Palestinians.” Targeting that evil, right-wing maniac Yair Lapid, who dared to suggest, as Gazans tried swarming Israel in 2018, that “the Hamas charter repeatedly calls for the genocide of the Jews, and these riots were another element in Hamas’s attempts to destroy the State of Israel,” Beinart declared: “Baselessly accusing a people of committing genocide creates the pretext for horrendous violence.” Such twistory, in the rush to demonize Israel, overlooks decades of Palestinian terrorism stirred by Palestinians’ “Death to the Jews” (not just Israel) rhetoric.
These obsessive attacks weave antisemitism into anti-Zionism, as the Jewish state becomes the despised, scapegoated collective Jew, the all-purpose lightning rod attracting so many different bolts of hatred. These smears prove that Jews can be guilty of Jew-hatred when they collaborate in the Jew-haters’ dirty work. They prove how plastic Jew-hating Zionophobia is, as the haters keep adapting it to changing headlines. And they prove Natan Sharansky’s analysis that demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, holding it to double standards, sinks from criticizing Israel into traditional cesspools of Jew-hatred.
In this topsy-turvy context, I admire Paul O’Brien’s honesty. This Amnesty International official said Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.” He dismissed scientific polls showing that 80% of American Jews support Israel – because those aren’t the elitist progressives he hobnobs with. “I actually don’t believe that to be true,” O’Brien proclaimed. Why? “I believe my gut tells me” that instead of a Jewish state, American Jews want “a safe Jewish space.”
TO COMBAT this anti-Jewish obsession, three-dozen countries and dozens of universities approved the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”
Two of the examples the IHRA definition offers – to help people criticize Israel and Jews without crossing redlines – are relevant to the latest onslaught: rhetoric “calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews” and making “mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews,” in the spirit of “classic antisemitism.”
Nevertheless, now, when the attacks are so brazen, if you resist this gob of Zionophobic lies, you risk being accused of Islamophobia.
This January, human rights activist and former Canadian justice minister Prof. Irwin Cotler marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine.
Although Cotler echoed the IHRA statement that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” 45 academics secretly protested. They claimed that by endorsing the IHRA definition, Cotler “reinforced anti-Palestinian racism.” Moreover, because U of T did not embrace the IHRA definition, these professo-tyrants objected that Cotler reopened the debate.
Over 300 colleagues counter-protested, defending Cotler – a master lawyer who is quite effective in defending himself. Cotler denounced this “absolute misrepresentation of what I have said over and over again,” while wondering why these hostile “academics, rightfully concerned with speech,” didn’t copy “me on their letter of complaint allowing me the right to respond.”
Petty propagandists are often projecting. If you seek something straight out of the Putin playbook, check out this totalitarian assault on Israel, with its lies, its twistory, its negation of a sovereign nation’s rights and narrative, and its bullying attempt to squelch debate.
Still, it is best to avoid cheap comparisons and sloppy historical analogies. But we should expose the chilling effect of these attempts to make radioactive any defense of Israel, or every counterattack against Jew-hatred and Zionophobia.
Ultimately, these totalitarian twistorians’ false comparisons, made-to-order narratives, and bullying self-indulgence backfire. It’s obvious; when your position is weak, you distort and browbeat. Franklin Roosevelt said “judge me by the enemies I make.” Judge Israel by the good arguments our enemies can’t take.
The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism. His book Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, coauthored with Natan Sharansky, was published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.