Standing up to anti-Semites works
Perhaps we should thank Spain’s Rotodom Sunsplash reggae festival organizers. They just provided us with a textbook case both of the nature of today’s anti-Semitism and of how to defeat it.
Last weekend, the festival organizers canceled their invitation to Matisyahu, the American-Jewish reggae artist, because he refused to bow to the organizers’ demand that he publicly support “Palestine.”
Matisyahu was the only known Jew in the festival line-up and the only performer asked to produce such a statement.
Rather than take this lying down, on Monday Matisyahu recounted the episode on his Facebook page, writing, “It was appalling and offensive that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements.”
Matisyahu’s disinvitation prompted a worldwide Jewish outcry. The Foreign Ministry registered a complaint with the Spanish government.
Every major American Jewish organization and several European Jewish organizations condemned the blatant discrimination against Matisyahu.
On Tuesday, Spain’s main newspaper, El Pais, condemned the festival’s anti-Semitism. The Spanish government followed hours later.
On Wednesday, the festival organizers issued a groveling apology to Matisyahu and officially reinstated his invitation to perform.
The organizers claim they were intimidated into discriminating against Matisyahu by a local anti-Israel BDS group. BDS País Valencià resorted to “pressures, threats and coercion” and warned the organizers that its members would “seriously disrupt the normal functioning of the festival.”
There are two main lessons here.
First, the BDS movement does not seek to end the so-called occupation of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. It does not seek peace.
By demanding that an American Jew denounce Israel as a condition for performing, the BDS movement made clear that the only Jews it is willing to countenance are anti-Semitic Jews. The only Jews BDS activists will accept in the public square are those who join them in denouncing Israel and denouncing Jews who support Israel.
In other words, the goal of BDS is deny Jews civil rights. All participants in the movement – whether non-Jews or Jews – are anti-Semites, because they all seek to boot from public life Jews who disagree with them.
The second lesson of the Matisyahu affair is that it is possible to defeat these haters. The festival organizers discriminated against Matisyahu because they feared the Jew-hating mob more than they valued his artistry. They are now groveling at his feet because the pushback they received from world Jewry for their behavior knocked them to their knees.
When Jews stand up to anti-Semites, the anti-Semites back down.
In the West today, the hardest part about standing up to anti-Semites is that most anti-Semites and the most powerful anti-Semitic movements are on the Left, where most Western Jews have traditionally situated themselves.
Although the US is far less anti-Semitic than Europe, ironically, it is in the US where Jews have the hardest time defending themselves. The relative mildness of anti-Semitism in the US makes anti-Semitic Jews feel comfortable joining anti-Semitic non-Jews in weakening Israel and the Jewish community.
Their involvement in anti-Semitic organizations, in turn, together with the relative weakness of the threat in comparison to Europe, inhibits mainstream Jewish groups from discrediting hostile Jews and hostile groups.
J Street has played a major role in recent years in subverting attempts to achieve Jewish unity on issues related both to Israel and to fighting anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Case in point is the communal division over President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran.
This week, 340 rabbis signed a letter to Congress calling on lawmakers to support Obama’s nuclear deal with the world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism. The letter received significant publicity in the US and contributed to a sense that the Jewish community stands with Obama against Israel in relation to the nuclear pact.
But whereas the organizers claimed that the signatories represented all streams of American Judaism, according to an analysis undertaken by the Zionist Organization of America, 187 of the signatories are members of J Street’s “Rabbinic Cabinet.”
The ZOA revealed as well that Ameinu, the Jewish group that organized the letter, is a J Street front group. Its National President Kenneth Bob also serves as J Street’s treasurer. Its Vice President and Executive Committee Chairwoman Judith Gelman is also a J Street official.
J Street is so radical that its student group J Street U just elected a Muslim to serve as its national president.
President Amna Farooqi announced that J Street U is not a pro-Israel group. In her words, “We are not here to talk about the pro-Israel conversation on campus. We are here to talk about the occupation.” She declared that J Street U will dedicated itself to “yearlong anti-occupation work.”
Part of the reason the community has avoided taking J Street on is because of its deep ties to the Obama White House. For six years the White House has used J Street as a strategic weapon of influence. J Street’s assigned role is to prevent the Jewish community from opposing the administration’s rank hostility toward Israel and block Jewish criticism of the administration’s willingness to countenance and legitimize anti-Semitic allegations. These include Secretary of State John Kerry’s libelous accusations that Israel is about to become an apartheid state and that Israelis are uninterested in peace as well as Obama’s recent insinuations that there is something basically treacherous about American Jewish support for Israel.
It is a sign of J Street’s power that although the 340 activists who signed the J Street-inspired, pro-Iran rabbis’ letter to Congress make up just 6 percent of the rabbis in America, and although American Jews oppose the deal 2 to 1, neither the Reform and Conservative movements nor the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has agreed to openly oppose the deal.
Then again, for a group with a direct line to the White House and apparently unlimited amounts of money, convincing a community that voted for Obama 3 to 1 twice to side with the White House against Israel should have been a piece of cake. And yet, the fact is that despite all of its advantages, while the Conservative and Reform movements haven’t come out in opposition to the deal, they also haven’t come out in support of it.
On Wednesday, the Reform movement issued a statement announcing it would refuse to take a stand on the issue. Although purportedly neutral, the statement criticized the administration’s employment of anti-Semitism in its attacks against opponents of the deal, stating, “We are concerned... with the possibility that some will use the debate as fuel for anti-Semitic views.”
With even the Reform movement denying its support, it is hard to imagine the administration will be able to secure the support of any major Jewish groups outside of J Street and the NJDC – the official Jewish wing of the Democratic Party.
In part, J Street’s failure is a testament to the overwhelming support for Israel among American Jews. In part, it owes to communal anger at Obama’s anti-Semitic bating of his Jewish opponents.
But a large share of the credit for blocking Obama’s attempts to split the community goes to Israel’s skillful diplomacy, which has challenged and empowered normally diffident Jewish leaders to stand up to the White House and withstand its pressure.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s willingness to confront Obama directly and explain over and over why Obama’s deal endangers Israel makes it difficult for American Jewish leaders to support it. They cannot take Obama’s word for it when Netanyahu shows them how the deal guarantees Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, be well placed to achieve its goal of regional hegemony and develop the means to attack the US with nuclear warheads.
There is a lesson here about the role of Israeli diplomats in fighting anti-Semitism in the West and cultivating Jewish unity in defense of Jewish rights, even as leftist Jews seek to undermine that unity.
The lesson is that there is no point in trying to reach compromises with anti-Semites, or with those pushing agendas that endanger Israel and threaten the civil rights of Jewish communities in the West. Israel gains the most by demanding the most and patiently, clearly and convincingly justifying its demands.
Israel empowers Western Jews – including leftist American Jews – to stand with it, and to stand for their rights by unapologetically defending it and its rights.
This basic truth demonstrates why Israelis should be heartened rather than concerned about Netanyahu’s ambassadorial appointments.
His designated ambassador to Italy, Fiamma Nirenstein, has devoted her life to defending Israel and Jewish rights and fighting anti-Semitism in Europe. Netanyahu’s decision to appoint her to Rome is a clear sign that he is putting an end to the pathetic mollycoddling of anti-Israel forces in the hopes of appeasing them that has characterized Israel’s diplomacy for decades.
The concerns of some Italian Jews that Nirenstein’s appointment will raise allegations of dual loyalties against the community are proof not that Netanyahu made a mistake in appointing the famous Italian-Jewish journalist and former member of the Italian parliament to represent Israel, but that he was right to appoint her.
Only a fighter like Nirenstein who knows Italian culture inside and out can ensure that such allegations are discredited and that anti-Semites feel the same heat that the organizers of the reggae festival in Spain felt this week.
Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Danny Danon as ambassador to the UN springs from the same willingness to confront rather than appease anti-Semites. Danon’s unapologetic defense of Israel’s rights to Judea and Samaria has been attacked by the Left as proof that he will be unable to get along at the UN.
But Israel of course cannot get along at the UN. The only way for it to successfully defend itself in a body dedicated to delegitimizing it is by fighting for its rights every single day. That is why someone who makes no apologies and doesn’t worry about being loved is exactly the person Israel needs at the UN.
Matisyahu’s ejection and reinstatement at a reggae festival is a small story in the vast scope of events today. But it tells us that we can fight effectively for our rights against the anti-Semites on the Left. We can defend our rights and defeat our enemies on the Left if we stick to our guns and empower our fellow Jews – including leftist Jews – to do the same.