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March 8, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 8, 2013 " " PAGE 5A By Ben Cohen Over the last few weeks, I've seen a slew of articles about Beitar Jerusalem, one of Israel's leading soccer teams. In brief, the story is as follows: the club, tradition- ally associated with the Re- visionist Zionist movement, recently signed two Muslim players from Chechnya, Zaur Sadaev and Gabriel Kadiev. The move raised the ire of its extreme right-wing fans, who were already under the spotlight following a riot at Jerusalem's Malha shopping mall last year, during which Arab cleaning staff were as- saulted and abused. Then, on Feb. 8, Beitar's offices were the subject of an arson attack, which resulted in the destruction of many of the clubs trophies and other memorabilia. Shortly after the attacl , the Israeli police announced the arrest of two Beitar fans in connection with the attack, both of them members of the group known as "La Familia," which gath- ers together the team's most violent and racist supporters. Hopefully, these arrests signal the beginning of a crackdown on Beitar's thugs. As Liel Liebovitz, a diehard Beitar fan, recently wrote in Tablet magazine, the onus now is on the cluff's decent fans--the vast and silent majority--to counter La Familia's provocations. Still, the cascade of media coverage of these events has left me uneasy. I want to explain why. I've lived in America for nearly a decade. Over that pe- riod, I've watched awareness and appreciation ~f soccer, a sport I've loved since I was a kid in England, grow enor- mously in this country. At the same time, most Americans still don't follow soccer with any regularity. And weirdly, among American Jews of a certain generation, I've noticed that a fixation with baseball leaves them almost hostile to soccer, as though enjoying the latter amounts to betraying the former. Please understand: It's not my aim, in writing this, to persuade Americans, Jewish or not, of the inherent supe- riority of soccer. I want merely to point out that if you are basically unaware of the his- tory and culture of the game, you are going to be under the dangerously false impression that Beitar's fans are the worst in the world, thanks to the media's disproportionate focus on their antics. Take the recent story on Be- itar authored by the New York Times correspondent in Jeru- salem, Jodi Rudoren. Her truly appalling piecewas headlined "Some Fear a Soccer Team's Racist Fans Hold a Mirror Up to Israel"--implying, almost gleefully, that'a few thousand fans chanting anti-Arab slo- gans encapsulates the noxious essence of Israeli society. Ru- do en's source for this insight "was Moshe Zimmerman, an anti-Zionist professor at the Hebrew University, who told her, "iT]he fact is that the Israeli society on the whole is getting more racist, or at least more ethnocentric, and this is an expression." This, by the way, is the same Mo he Zimmerman who has called Jewish residents of the West Bank "Nazis," and their Obsession on page 19A By Martin J. Raffel NEW YORK(JTA)--Is it ap- propriate for a respected institu- tion to sponsor or host a speaker who harshly accuses the Israeli government of standing in the way of Middle East peace or grossly violating human rights because of its policies toward the Palestinians? Absolutely.L While American Jews over- whelmingly disagreewith these broad judgments, they ai'e legitimate issues for discussion. On the other hand, is it ap- propriate to sponsor or host a speaker who seeks to demonize or delegitimize Israel as the na- tion state of the Jewish people? In this case, the answer would be no. The European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xeno- phobia's working definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by the U.S. State Department, includes denial of the Jewish people's right to self- determination and Israel's right to exist. Of course, the exception would be a "one world" indi- vidual who rejects nationalism generally. However, for those who support the rights of other peoples to self-determination, but oppose that right for the Jewish people, the definition fits. Let's stipulate that the line between debate ~nd delegitimi- zation is often difficult to distin- guish even among members of our own Jewish community, let alone trying to explain it to journalists and officials in the general community. Does the BDS movement cross the line between debate and delegiti- mization? Let's look at the evidence. The movement, co-founded by Omar Barghouti, employs boycotts, divestment and sanc- tions against the State of Israel and seeks to turn it into a pariah state by making comparisons to the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. It supports the unfettered right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees and/or their aescendants to their homes inside Israel rather than to the future State of Pal- estine. This position is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on Israel's character as a Jewish and democratic state. But interpretation of the right of return aside, Bargh- outi himself has been explicit in rejecting Jewish national self- determination.lnhis2011book "BDS: The Global Struggle for Palestinian R~ghts,"he explains why Israeli peace groups cannot be good partners in the move- ment. He writes that "the most radical Israeli 'Zionist-left' fig- ures and groups are still Zionist, adhering to the racist'principles of Zionism that treat the indig- enous Palestinians as lesser humans who are an obstacle or a 'demographic threat' to be dealt with in order to maintain Israel's character as a colonial, ethnocentric, apartheid state." " This is why the principal challenge to the recent BDS conference at Brooklyn College featuring Barghouti was not because it was held on campus by an anti-Israel student group~ Studentprograms are protected by the First Amendment right of free speech. Rather, concern by the Jewish community and many public leaders focused on the judgment of the school's political science department in co-sponsBring the program. It is true, as some school offi- cials asserted, that sponsorship does not necessarily connote endorsement. But sponsorship conveys a message that the content of the program and the ideas presented by its speakers at least are deemed worthy'of ex- posure to the campus commu- nity. Would the political science departmentagreeto'co-sponsor an eventwith a Holocaust denier or a professor espousing theo- ries of African-American racial inferiority? If delegitimizing Israel is tantamount to anti- Semitism, it would fall within the same genre of bigotry and hate speech. Confusion about drawing the line was evident in a column in the Los Angeles Times dealing with the Brooklyn College epi- sode. The author observed that "students will hear from two spokespeople for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that seeks to punish Israel for its treatment of Pal- estinians," and that "it does no service to Jewish students--in Brooklyn or Berkeley--- to try to insulate them from debate about Israeli policies, including the denunciations offered by the BDS movement." Again, the issue is not debat- ing Israeli policies. Nor is it the about the right of students to speak or hear extremist views. The question is the wisdom of the political science department providing its imprimatur. This is all rather complicated, made even more so by the ex- istence of targeted boycotts againstproducts made in Israeli settlements--the so-called"Zi- onist BDS" espoused by certain Jewish groups and the scholar- journalist Peter Beinart. While counterproductive and mis- guided, these boycotts are not in and of themselves expressions of delegitimization. It isn't easy. But we must Continue to to meet the challenge of clearly delineat- ing the sometimesambiguous line that separates robust and sometimes uncomfortable debate about Israel's policies from delegitimization. Martin J. Raffel is the senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. By Andy Bachman NEWYORK (JTA) During the Vietnam War protests at the University of Wisconsin, students were said to have gathered on the front lawn of noted historian George Mosse, imploring him to stop support- ing the university's policy of allowing the ROTC on campus. To some students, this align- ment with the machinery of war was a "fascist policy," arid they charged their teacherwith the same label. - "A fascist," he was said to have mused. "Which kind?" Classic Mosse: He engaged his students with wit, turn- ing questions back to them, sending them back to books to examine their claims with "critical thinking." TWenty years later, when i was a student and protests against Israel were taking place on campus, Mosse was equally engaged. He did not talk policy, but he made us think about context; perspective and co- gency of argument. He alsowas fascinated by the personalities leading the debates on both sides. What historical forces made them into the students they had come to be? This arose one winter when the infamous anti-Semitic leader Louis Farrakhan came to campus. Someone wanted an apology from the university for hosting the speech in the field house; as a student leader, I argued one should attend the talk, hear what he has to say. That way, I figured, it would make the argument over his words more interesting and earn some respect from the other side for listening, how- ever misguided or hateful the speech. Watching the Boycott, Di- vest ment and Sanctions debate rear its head at Brooklyn Col- lege, a year after successfully beating it back at the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, brings to mind these experiences. As someone who takes it as axi- omatic that the BDS movement doesn't have a formidable leg to stand on (on a recent trip to Israel, I visited Palestinian friends in Jericho and bought the BDS-forbidden Ahava products at the Ahava Jericho Wall concession stand, above which flew the Palestinian flag; we got good date honey, too) one could have predicted the sandstorm that would ensue once the Brooklyn College political science department co-sponsored a forum on BDS. While there remain le- gitimate educational reasons to debate Israeli policy with regard to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, BDS and Brooklyn College became yet another occasion to trudge out the cottage industry of Americar/ Jewish politics and all its req-L uisite, manifest claims and questions: Is criticism of Israel anti- Semitic? Is opposing Zion- ism anti-Semitic? Does the strongest nation in the Middle East even care aboutwhat goes on at one end of Flatbush while dealing with a nuclear threat from Iran, unstable borders with Syria, an elected parlia- mentary government not yet in formation, and an unresolved conflict with Palestinians wherein neither side currently has the will to sit down, negoti- ate and compromise? Seltzer makers? Hand lo- tion? 'lease. Quick: Ask yourself whose voice you heard in the media about Brooklyn College and BDS? Can you name a his- torian? Political scientist? A teacher of any kind? Or can you only remember the politicians, community leaders, agitators and activists who weighed in, staking out ground for the greater battle over whether or not Israel should exist? Some have said that Brook- lyn College never should have allowed the program to take pla in the first place; that a city-funded university ought not spend taxpayer dollars on a program about a move- ment that does not actually seek a solution to tl e Israeli- Palestinian conflict other than the demographic dissolution of the Jewish state; and that since BDS advocates a binational state and seeks to delegitimize Jewish national aspirations, it's an inherently bigoted if not anti-Semitic front. I don't agree. Rather, I take issue with the political science department's tactics. The departmentshould have insisted that the program take place with a serious schol- arly approach rather than the show trial that went on, com- plete with competing claims about intimidation and stu- dents being removed from the premises. The teachers should have taught, questioned, prod- ded and used the lecture hall to lift the discussion to the valued place higher education aspires to occupy. Oops. There's that word, occupy. Which is precisely the point. The objection should not be about a university sponsor- inga forum onwhetherboycott is an effective 'practice for political change. The objec- tion should be that under the guise of "academic freedom," the agenda for a reasonable de- bate about difficult issues was hijacked by intellectually weak and tendentious argflment. If I were a Brooklyn Col- lege student, I'd demand a more demanding debate, more scholarship from a scholarly department. Academic free- dom 'doesn't mean saying whatever you want without someone pushing back in the classroom. It can also entail requiring'that students learn something, be pushed to new cognitive territory, have their orthodoxies tested and maybe even shattered before being made anew--all for the sake of a higher historical truth that the university, since its incep-- tion, is meant to offer. BDS isfnsidious and stupid. It's also wildly ineffective. The university shouldn't censor it by not addressing it; it should bring the movement under the light of examination and expose it for what it is: an attempt by the weak to bring down the strongest nation in the Middle EaSt that, besides being surrounded by enemies, has a population under its mill- tary control that is yearning for a state of its own. Sometimes the most basic facts are more conveniently ignored. Sowhen one-sided programming be- comes a spectacle, all we learn Is how to shout louder. At a debate over the mean- ing of the Vietnam War and increasingviolence on campus, George Mosse said to his oppo- nent and friend Harvey Gold- berg,"Youwere so respectable. You thought you could make PACK so le FI M TIE a revolution without conse- quences. Well, any revolution has to step over bodies, didn't you know?" The Israel and BDS debate needs more candor, more ar- gument and more exposure. Brooklyn College only got it half right. Studentsandajaded public lost out. Israelis and Palestinians hardly noticed. Andy Bachman is the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. I II AII