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Why there is so much anti-Israel bias

RichRifkinW

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From page A6 | January 22, 2014 | 23 Comments

When I was researching my last column — regarding the boycott of Israeli scholars by the American Studies Association — one question I wanted to get at was the anti-Israel bias of the far left, here and abroad.

I was not probing the issue of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world. My interest was knowing why leftists, who don’t necessarily hate the Jewish religion or people of Jewish heritage, have so much antipathy for democratic Israel, but never campaign against truly evil regimes the world over.

To be clear, I am not accusing every person who condemns certain Israeli policies of having an anti-Israel bias. I am referring to the sinistral obsession of faulting the Jewish state while ignoring far worse infractions by others.

Hoping for, but not really expecting an explanation from an academic who loathes Israel (and presumably is not an anti-Semite), I brought up the matter in an email exchange with UC Davis professor Sunaina Maira, a member of the ASA Council and a supporter of the boycott. Part of her answer was so unexpected, it inspired this column.

Here was my question: The anti-Israel sentiments (outside of Muslim countries) around the world seem to be rooted in left-wing politics (as opposed to anti-Semitic prejudice). Do you think the ASA’s boycott is a reflection of this left-wing attitude toward the Jewish state?

Professor Maira began her explanation of what drove her side with the usual platitudes one might expect from any neo-Marxist (“commitment to social justice, anti-racism and anti-colonial and anti-imperial solidarity”). That is, she gave me the hackneyed jargon of the academic left.

But she then took issue with part of my question that I thought everyone understood is a given, saying, “Furthermore, to assume that Muslims critique Israeli policies generally because of ‘anti-Semitic’ prejudice suggests a gross misrepresentation of Muslim politics around the world and a denial of the impact of the Israeli state’s anti-Arab policies on the region.”

Now, if you read Maira’s words carefully, you will see that she does not explicitly deny that the Muslim world is rife with anti-Semitism. She never addresses that. Instead, she thinks universal Muslim hatred for Israel is really motivated by the same bromides that compel the radicals who comprise the American Studies Association.

Yet there is a serious problem with that conclusion. There is ubiquitous anti-Semitism all over the Islamic world. It’s a serious illness. A day does not go by that there are not vicious lies about Jews on television, radio, newspapers and websites catering to a mainstream Muslim audience.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that monitors racism and anti-Semitism, recently described the situation. “Newspapers across the Arab and Muslim world continue to feature anti-Semitic caricatures and themes, with demonic depictions of Jews that include big noses, black coats and hats, large skull caps, and many promoting age-old global Jewish conspiracy theories, including blood libel themes, Nazi symbols and the use of animal imagery — snakes, vultures and sharks — to portray Israel as a sinister predator.”

At the same time, there is no widespread commitment to social justice or anti-racism in any Muslim-majority countries. Just the opposite. There is a widespread yawn when Muslims commit atrocities against non-Muslims or the victims are the wrong kind of Muslims.

Where were the Muslim world’s protests and calls for boycotts against the racist government of Sudan for the 22 years its Arab-Muslim leaders were slaughtering non-Muslim blacks in that country’s civil war? When Egyptian Muslims were attacking Christians the past two years, was there ever a call for a boycott of the government of Mohamed Morsi in the Muslim world?

There has been as much silence with sectarian Muslim atrocities. When Shiites in Syria are slaughtering Sunnis, even destroying their mosques, the outside Shiite world says nothing. The same lack of concern is expressed by global Sunnis when the victims are Pakistani Shiites, who are regularly killed and abused by Sunnis.

Yet Muslim outrage pointed at Jews goes on unabated.

Every few years the Pew Research Center conducts a poll of citizens from many countries, asking their opinion of people of various religious faiths. The latest of these surveys, published in 2011, showed the same pattern of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.

The worst case was Lebanon, where 97 percent of the respondents hold a negative opinion of Jews. Only 2 percent of Lebanese said their view of Jewish people was favorable. Yet this was an improvement from 2006, when 99 percent of Lebanese said they disliked Jews.

It was not all that different in Egypt (95-3 against) or Jordan (96-3). In Turkey, where 17 percent had no opinion, 76 percent held negative feelings about the Jews. Pakistanis (76-4) and Indonesians (66-10) are overwhelmingly anti-Semitic.

By contrast, unfavorable views of Jews in the United States (7 percent), Britain (9 percent) and Australia (11 percent) were the exception.

Given the steady drumbeat of anti-Semitism in the Muslim media, their schoolbooks and in the pulpit, it is no surprise the Islamic world hates everything Jewish, including Israel. The only surprise is that anyone thinks the Muslim hatred of Israel is about social justice.

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column publishes every other week. Reach him at Lxartist@yahoo.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 23 comments

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  • AileenJanuary 21, 2014 - 10:29 am

    Hi Rich, I would like to know how one can consider anyone who speaks Arabic, regardless of their religious beliefs, as anti-Semitic when by definition, a Semite is anyone who speaks a Semitic language such Hebrew AND Arabic. Thanks.

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  • Rich RifkinJanuary 21, 2014 - 4:29 pm

    Aileen, you need only look in a dictionary for the answer to your question. Here is the definition verbatim: "anti-Semite — noun, a person who persecutes or discriminates against Jews." .......... Hope that helps.

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  • Rich RifkinJanuary 21, 2014 - 4:39 pm

    By the way, even though Jews have suffered persecution for 2,000 years, the term "anti-Semitism" only goes back to 1881. It was coined by a racist German named Wilhelm Marr, who created a political movement to harass and murder Jews called the Anti-Semitic League (AntisemitenLiga in German). Marr's movement is seen as a forerunner of the Nazis. Marr influenced American Jew-haters like Henry Ford.

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  • AileenJanuary 21, 2014 - 6:39 pm

    I don't know which dictionary you're looking in. Merriam-Webster is my reference: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/semite

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  • greg johnsonJanuary 22, 2014 - 9:01 am

    It sounds like this point is not really relevant to the point of the piece, which is the popular disdain of Israel. I have to admit having little knowledge of the issue BUT what is abundantly clear to me is that it is now trendy on the left to be ant-Israel, and I think at least some of this stems from Obama's clear anti-Israel bias.

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  • ontJanuary 24, 2014 - 1:49 am

    January 22, 2014 - 9:01 am: “I have to admit having little knowledge of the issue...” All your comments need this disclaimer warning readers of your ignorance. It makes it crystal clear that your ridiculous assertions and gross distortions, such as the president has a “clear anti-Israel bias,” are nothing more than displays of malice in search of a justification.

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  • zabaJanuary 25, 2014 - 9:12 pm

    BUT what is abundantly clear to me is that it is now trendy on the left to be ant-Israel Greg: I agree. When do you think all those 'trendy' folks will be giving up their Israeli developed cel phone?

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  • Frank foxJanuary 29, 2014 - 9:29 pm

    the left has opposed Israel since the 60's, actually when Stalin returned to his Jew Hatred since the 1950's.

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  • Jim LeonardJanuary 22, 2014 - 9:16 am

    Sad. The question should be about human rights not any country's national policies. Isn't it time to move on to bigger issues?

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  • zabaJanuary 25, 2014 - 9:08 pm

    Isn't it time to move on to bigger issues? Indeed it is Jim. muzlims are currently fomenting 95% of the world's conflicts. Please think about that for a moment.

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  • Alan MillerJanuary 22, 2014 - 1:29 pm

    Rich, thanks for a thoughtfully written article. My mom, the source DNA of my Jewish half, all but quit a decades-long affiliation with the Palo Alto Unitarian Church as a growing faction of anti-Israel-ignore-the-neighboring-country-atrocity apologists began to congregate there in the 90's, and continue to. These attitudes, if not anti-Semitic, certainly border on it. You hit nail on the head, this strange obsession with attacking Israel while ignoring the atrocities committed in the rest of the middle east, as if those other atrocities are just a forgivable given for those other countries. That attitude is at its core deeply racist towards the other middle eastern countries. I am no fan of much of Israel's politics or policies (to the degree I can make sense of the complexities of the middle east), and I find Israel apologists who all but dismiss the plight of many Palestinians to be just as strange of ducks. However, the anti-Israel types who see and condemn the evil state of Israel while seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking of no evil in the deep dark sea of evil that plagues much of the middle east, well, their brains are so imbalanced in their condemnation of one people over another that their state of being can only be described as a serious mental illness. And that mental illness is called racism.

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  • Rich RifkinJanuary 22, 2014 - 2:04 pm

    Thanks for your comments and compliments, Alan. I would have to write an entire new column to explain why I don't think, in the case of most leftists (such as those at U.S. universities) who are obsessed with hating Israel, but at the same time ignore far more egregious violations of human rights in that neighborhood and elsewhere around the world, are not all prejudiced against Jews or Judaism (in contrast to so much of the Muslim world and its obsession with hating Israel is). What motivates the hatred of the radical left is more complicated than mere anti-Semitism.

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  • greg johnsonJanuary 22, 2014 - 2:19 pm

    Rich, just extrapolating from other leftist positions, maybe it is the fact that Israel has more wealth and military power. There seems to be a tendency to assume these days that those with power and wealth are inherently evil. Just a thought.

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  • Alan MillerJanuary 22, 2014 - 2:48 pm

    Do write that column!

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  • January 22, 2014 - 1:55 pm

    What is NOT being mentioned here, is the British/American designation of Israel being the ancient homeland of Jewish Israelis and literally plopping those rescued Jews following WWII onto and into a land which had for centuries been populated by Arabic Muslims. The ongoing conflict between those two population factions, with the USA supporting and defending Israel, regardless of right or wrong, has begun to erode sympathy for those Jews, who for whatever reason, left Israel centuries ago, only to return as the legal residents, completely disregarding the populations who had made this their home during those centuries.

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  • Alan MillerJanuary 22, 2014 - 2:18 pm

    Thank you Anonymous. Let me express my deep respect for your bravery in not exposing your identity while discussing a heated issue. And that comes from my deep rooted mental illness known as sarcasm.

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  • Grant AcostaJanuary 22, 2014 - 6:12 pm

    "My interest was knowing why leftists, who don’t necessarily hate the Jewish religion or people of Jewish heritage, have so much antipathy for democratic Israel, but never campaign against truly evil regimes the world over." - For me, this line could read: "My interest was knowing why the Bush-era rightists, who didn't necessarily hate Iraq or the people of Iraq, had so much interest in going to war with Iraq, but never campaigned for going to war against other truly evil regimes the world over."

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  • greg johnsonJanuary 22, 2014 - 8:09 pm

    This is such an absurd comparison that the only thing to say is "This is such an absurd comparison".

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  • Grant AcostaJanuary 22, 2014 - 9:29 pm

    Greg - what is so absurd about that comparison? Rich desires to know why "leftists" pick on Israel while ignoring other countries' suspect policies. I want to know why conservatives bought into the Bush rationale of the Iraq war (you will recall that after the initial WMD reasoning proved false, the conservative rationale became to overthrow an evil regime - completely ignoring the fact that there were other "evil regimes' in the world that could have qualified as deserving of overthrowing.) My point is completely relevant to the overall point Rich is making. Don't you see it? We ALL tend to overlook facts/details when we want to view the world according to our own preferences. It's human nature!

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  • zabaJanuary 25, 2014 - 6:16 pm

    "A day does not go by that there are not vicious lies about Jews..." What is the root cause of islamic behavior towards non muzlims and the 'wrong kind' of muzlim? It's in the koran: the ideology of islam is superior to and must supercede ALL other religions, by ALL means possible. Educate yourselves. See islam 101 at jihad watch dot org. Even more info at the religion of peace dot com.

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  • zabaJanuary 25, 2014 - 9:23 pm

    "My interest was knowing why the Bush-era rightists......had so much interest in going to war with Iraq Grant: You need another comparison. Saddam to Arafat, April 1990: 'Iraq won't hesitate' to use WMDs against Israel ‘Saddam gave orders to fire chemical weapons at Tel Aviv if he was toppled in First Gulf War’ Tapes reveal Iraqi dictator told generals to launch missiles with WMD warheads at Jewish state should he be cut off from his military staff By Times of Israel staff January 25, 2014, 12:14 am 25 See this article at the timesofisrael dot com

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  • Keith BrintonJanuary 25, 2014 - 5:35 pm

    This concentration of attention on Israel stems also from the feeling that "a democracy should be better than that." We don't think that Arab "regimes" are in the same class and therefore don't waste time criticizing them. We hold Israel to a higher standard. (Bout time we held our own government to a higher standard...)

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  • CloJanuary 26, 2014 - 6:27 pm

    Thank you for this article. I've always pondered why some Americans choose to vehemently criticize Israel but ignore its much more deserving-of-criticism neighbors. Thanks for doing the research on this.

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