From the archive (legacy material)

Edward Herman | Znet | November 25, 2002

Palestinians are “Semites,” but the word antisemitism is never applied to prejudice against them, only to Jews. The restriction on the application to Jews, and failure to use it in reference to Palestinians, continues in the face of the fact that prejudice against Jews has sharply diminished in the West from the era of Hitler, and that the Arabs have displaced them as target of anti-“Semite” hostility. Thus the usage itself reflects power and deep-seated bias.
What is more, the use of “antisemitism” has long been an opportunistic ploy of supporters of Israel to counter criticism of Israel, with mentions of the Holocaust and allegations of prejudice against Jews used to elicit sympathy for Israel, supposedly once again being threatened by menacing enemies. But the fact is that Israel has created increasing numbers of enemies by refusing to leave the occupied territories, or to abide by the Geneva Conventions, or to halt the steady and increasingly brutal ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians in favor of Jewish settlers, many immigrants from abroad. By identifying opposition to Sharon and Israeli ethnic cleansing with “antisemitism,” pro- ethnic cleansing activists have made “antisemitism” — in their distorted and unacceptable sense — a moral obligation for all decent human beings.
“Antisemitism” has been a complement of “terrorism” in the propaganda arsenal of the “friends of Israel,” more properly designated the “supporters and underwriters of Israeli ethnic cleansing.” The Palestinians have engaged in terror, but by any meaningful definition the Israelis have also, and the bias in treatment of the two has been staggering. The huge death rate differential over the years — better than twenty Palestinian to one Israeli deaths — and the steady racist bias in systematic house demolitions and removals, the seizure of water resources, and the rise to head of the Israeli state of a world class terrorist responsible for over a thousand Palestinian civilian deaths in a single episode, doesn’t alter the deeply imbedded bias. Only the Palestinians terrorize; the Israelis retaliate and are the victims of terror.
Back in 1979, when world pressure on Israel to settle and end its “redemption of the land” by ethnic cleansing was severe, the Israel-based Jonathan Institute organized a meeting in Israel that brought together members of the Western elite — George Bush, George Will, Senators Henry Jackson and John Danforth, Paul Johnson, Lord Chalfont, Jacques Soustelle, and many others — to declare the PLO a terrorist organization linked to Moscow, and to declare Israel the victim. The organization met again in Washington in 1984 for another rousing session to make the same points, here with Secretary of State George Shultz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Senator Moynihan, Daniel Schorr and Ted Koppel, among others present. This and many other Israeli-official U.S.-media efforts helped pin the terrorism label on the PLO and preserve Israel’s right to ethnically cleanse by means of (unacknowledged) state terrorism.
For years in the United States, there was a tendency on the part of the hard-line supporters of Israel to conflate criticisms of Israel with “antisemitism.” Such criticisms, and even criticism of policies that might not comport with Israeli interests, like a large military budget, were regarded — in Stalinist lingo and mode — as “objectively” antisemitic (most notoriously, in Nathan and Ruth Perlmutter’s 1982 work on “the real antisemitism in America”). That tendency has become more marked in recent years, as the “friends” have become increasingly aggressive in attacking critics of Israel, and have even mounted attacks on blatantly pro-Israel media institutions like The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN (all besieged with hostile messages and subjected to boycotts). The drive by the “friends” has been toward total closure; they are not satisfied that the NYT, WP and CNN are already hugely biased in favor of Israel (see the citations below), they want inconvenient facts suppressed and alternative viewpoints entirely blacked out.
The more aggressive campaign of the “friends” once again correlates with the demands of Israeli state policy. The open destruction of the institutions of Palestinian civil society, the more ruthless crackdown, use of firepower, curfews, and the open discussion of possible large-scale “transfer” — meaning accelerated ethnic cleansing — under the direction of terrorist commander Sharon, calls for parallel attempts to protect these ugly efforts from any Western constraint. The cries about a new “antisemitism” and a campaign to silence any criticism follows once again in the wake of this Israeli need. As Alexander Cockburn has noted, “there’s a quick way of figuring just how badly Israel is behaving. There’s a brisk uptick in the number of articles here by Jews accusing the left of antisemitism.”
The aggression of the “friends” has been unique in its scope, intensity and effectiveness, and constitutes a form of low level terrorism that has cowed politicians, school administrators, and the media. Politicians had long been brought into line by the experiences of many who had crossed the pro-Israel lobby in the past; as far back as two decades ago, two Illinois Republicans, Senator Charles Percy and Rep. Paul Findley, were the target of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in 1984 and 1982 respectively, and both were defeated. In 1986, Senator Jesse Helms was targeted, and only narrowly escaped. Since then his voting pattern has been consistently and ardently pro-Israeli. The recent easy defeat of two black congresspersons with “safe” seats who had been put on the lobby hit list — Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKinney — offered a fresh object lesson to those who might have been inclined to question a blank check to Sharon. Indeed, Congress and the Senate continue to rush at every opportunity with almost unanimous votes against Arafat and in support of anything Sharon, the man responsible for the massacres of Qibya and Sabra/Shatila, might want.
There have been a number of dramatic recent cases of college administrator accommodation to the pro-ethnic cleansing lobby, and many more cases of pro-Israel ethnic cleansing activists efforts to stifle debate. Among the more notable:
—Dr. Sami Al-Arian of the University of South Florida was suspended from his job teaching computer science and taken to court for pro-Palestinian statements and allegations about terrorist associations, after an “O’Reilly Factor” attack, university donor financial threats, and a trustee’s meeting from which Al-Arian was forbidden attendance and at which no one was permitted to speak on his behalf (this board of trustees was hand-picked by Jeb Bush).
—Harvard President Lawrence Summers publicly assailed the campaign for divestment of stocks in Israel claiming that the campaign was “antisemitic in effect, if not intent.” This statement interpreted a very clear effort to punish Israel for its ethnic cleansing as antisemitism, and even implicitly challenged the intent of the campaigners. Presumably a cutback of the U.S. subsidy to Israel as a penalty for ethnic cleansing would also be antisemitic “in effect.” Summers has internalized the propaganda line of the friends of Israeli ethnic cleansing.
—A full page ad in The New York Times of October 7, 2002, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, and calling for the ending of harassment of “Jewish students,” was signed by the presidents of more than 300 U.S. colleges and universities. Several college leaders refused to sign unless the ad extended the call beyond “Jewish students,” but this request was denied by the AJC. This appalling ad was not only prepared by an interested party that refused to make the call to end harassment more general, it has been issued in a period when Jewish students and Jewish pro- Israel ethnic cleansing activists have been on balance far more the aggressors doing the harassing than victims of harassment.
—In a throwback to the McCarthy era and blacklisting publications like Red Channels and Counterattack designed to alert employers to “Reds,” Daniel Pipes recently organized a Campus Watch site that listed academics allegedly biased in favor of the Palestinians. Pipes himself is a well-known pro-Israel ethnic cleansing fanatic, who is a regular speaker before hard-line Zionist groups and contributor to the Op-Ed page of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post. This brazenly McCarthyite black-listing program was greeted in the media matter-of-factly, without the slightest indignation or condemnation, although we may be sure that a similar effort by pro- Palestinians listing Pipes and other hardliners as biased and implicitly unqualified for academic position would be treated differently.
There have been many other forms and manifestations of aggression against opposing viewpoints by the pro-Israeli ethnic cleansing cadres. On campus after campus, the Defamation League (nominally, Anti-Defamation League) and other of the cadres have complained when pro- Palestinian speakers have been invited to speak, on the grounds of bias, extremism, or lack of “balance.” They sometimes force cancellations, or the addition of their own favored speakers, and they make venues (and the media) cautious in extending invitations in the first place. When speakers who represent anti-ethnic cleansing views do come, they are often harassed. Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart speaking at the University of Pennsylvania on September 30 was subjected to regular interruptions, vilification and threats.
And anyone writing critically about Israeli policy will be subjected to serious harassment as a matter of course. Professor Shahid Alam of Northeastern University, after writing an article on Israeli repression and calling for a boycott of Israel, was the victim of a press vilification campaign, followed by attacks by computer hackers who sent out false “email- spoofing” messages under his name. I and everyone I know writing along these lines has been subjected to spamming, email- spoofing, and virus attacks.
The friends of Israeli ethnic cleansing have been fighting a war on many fronts, and without scruple. Their power is evident in the fact that over 300 college presidents signed an ad in which Jewish students alone are victims of harassment. It is also evident in the staggering bias of the media, already hugely biased in support of anything Israel does, but pressed further by the attacks of the “friends” wanting still more — for evidence on this bias, see the numerous case studies on the website of Palestine Media Watch (), the website of FAIR (, and my “Israel’s Approved Ethnic Cleansing,” Part 3, Z Magazine, June 2001.
Sadly, the success of the “friends” is also reflected in U.S. policy, which has given Sharon carte blanche to deal with the problem of “terrorism” (retail) by his own de facto terrorism (wholesale) carried out with U.S. weapons and diplomatic protection.
Edward S. Herman is a Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to Z Magazine since its founding in 1988 and to ZNet. Herman is the author of numerous books, including a number of corporate and media studies. These include Corporate Control, Corporate Power (1981), the two-volume Political Economy of Human Rights (1979) and Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), both of which he co-authored with Noam Chomsky, as well as The “Terrorism” Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror (1989), which he co-authored with Gerry O’Sullivan. Herman occasionally contributes a column to Swans.
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