A Group of Jewish Scholars Politicizes Antisemitism

22.09.22

Editorial Note

Recently, a group of thirty-eight Jewish scholars, among them prominent figures of the radical political left, have written “A letter from Jewish Scholars to the UN.” The group, which describes itself as “scholars, experts and Jewish leaders,” addressed their letter to Mr. Federico Villegas, President of the UN Human Rights Council, with copies sent to Mr. António Guterres, UN Security-General, and Mr. Miguel Ángel Moratinos, UN High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC). 

They expressed concern over the “instrumentalization of antisemitism against UN Commission of Inquiry.”

The letter was triggered by an interview with Miloon Kothari, a member of a commission to investigate human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The U.N. Human Rights Council created the commission during the Israel-Gaza conflict in May 2021. In the interview published by the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss, Kothari used the phrase “Jewish lobby,” a well-worn antisemitic trope.   Kothari said: “We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by – whether it is the Jewish lobby or specific NGOs, a lot of money is being thrown into trying to discredit us, but the important thing is our mandate is based on international human rights and humanitarian standards and that we are all seeking the truth… the Israeli government does not respect its own obligations as a U.N. member state. They, in fact, consistently, either directly or through the United States, try to undermine U.N. mechanisms.” After a storm of protest, Kothari was forced to apologize.

In their letter, the Jewish scholars and activists praised Kothari’s apology: “we agree that ’s words in a recent interview about Israel’s UN status and ‘the Jewish lobby’ were mistaken and poorly chosen. We therefore welcome Mr. Kothari’s letter to you, in which he clarified his intentions and expressed regret about the offense his words have caused.”

However, the signatories agree with Kothari’s message: “Mr. Kothari was specifically criticizing Israel’s systematic refusal to cooperate with UN investigations and the escalating campaigns by politically-motivated groups to discredit and delegitimize the work of the UN Human Rights Council in general and the UN Commission of Inquiry in particular. Neither of these critiques are in and of themselves antisemitic, although both should have been articulated appropriately and with more sensitivity.”

The letter states, “In recent years, right-wing advocates, representing both Jewish and non-Jewish groups, have invested enormous energy and resources to frame legitimate criticism of Israel and attempts to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of international law as inherently antisemitic. Regrettably, the Israeli government has been applying the same approach.” 

For the Jewish scholars and activists, right-wing groups and the Israeli government are “seizing this opportunity to leverage allegations of antisemitism, in order to divert attention from the gross human rights violations taking place in Israel-Palestine.” The group ends by urging the Human Rights Council “not let this political instrumentalization, which targets the human rights mandate and mission of the UN as such, succeed. Undermining and blocking human rights investigations in such circumstances neither helps the global fight against antisemitism, nor international efforts to secure and protect the human rights and well-being of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Human rights in Israel and Palestine and the safety and well-being of Jews across the world must both be advanced. Indeed, these are two mutually reinforcing goals.”

Among the group are several well-known radical Israeli political activists, including Moshe Behar, Alon Confino, Amos Goldberg, Eva Illouz, Anat Matar, Atalia Omer, Adi Ophir, Raz Segal, Oren Yiftachel, and Moshe Zuckermann. The group includes prominent Jewish figures, among them Peter Beinart and scholars such as Sara Roy, Ian S. Lustick, and Libby Lenkinski, the vice-president of the New Israel Fund. 

There are several problems with their letter. The group’s concern is with the charge of antisemitism in the words that Kothari expressed. They don’t see any problem with an investigator’s biased views against the subject of his inquiry. It is unacceptable that an investigator is selected when it is known he holds biased and prejudiced views before his investigation.  

Some of the scholars have held anti-Israel and anti-semitic views themselves. Prof. Adi Ophir once described Israel in a co-authored article, “the garbage heap of Europe.” Prof. Moshe Zuckermann once called the Israeli soldier “Kalgas,” loosely translated as a Nazi-like soldier. Prof. Oren Yiftachel pioneered the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. Dr. Anat Matar has been calling for BDS against Israel for two decades. Profs. Alon Confino and Amos Goldberg often equate the Holocaust to the self-inflicted Palestinian Nakba. Moreover, by negating the right of “right-wing” views, the group aligns itself with left-wing views, suggesting that right-wing views are not morally accepted. Clearly, expressing concerns about human rights abuses is not truly what motivates the group.

There are often reports on human rights abuses by the two Palestinian dictatorships against the Palestinian people, such as the hanging of dissenters, physical abuses, and the abuse of children by turning them into soldiers. Not once did these Jewish and Israeli scholars express their dismay. For that matter, neither did the UN Human Rights body.

More to the point, the scholars failed to discuss the broader issue of antisemitic and anti-Zionist sentiments in the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. For once, the Palestinian probe is unprecedented in the sense that it is open-ended. No other country, even the most egregious human rights violators, was subjected to an open-ended examination of its record. Navi Pillay, the former High Commission for Human Rights and the head of the Palestinian commission, has lobbied for sanctions against the “Israeli apartheid state.”  

To recall, the widely adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) states that using double standards to target the Jewish state alone is antisemitic. Just because these scholars are Jewish or Israelis does not absolve them from the charge of antisemitism. Even worse, they are being used as stooges by antisemitic and anti-Zionist regimes eager to prove that Israelis share their views.

Genuine concern for human rights is based on equality. By singling out Israel, the UN Human Rights Council (and the signatories of the letter) are politicizing human rights advocacy and robbing it of the legitimacy needed for success.

References

https://medium.com/@diasporaalliance/stop-instrumentalizing-antisemitism-df4afd7ba019

Diaspora Alliance

Diaspora Alliance

Aug 23

·

Stop Instrumentalizing Antisemitism

A letter from Jewish Scholars to the UN

TO: UN Human Rights Council
Mr. Federico Villegas, President

CC: Mr. António Guterres, UN Security-General
Mr. Miguel Ángel Moratinos, UN High Representative for the UNAOC

Concerns: instrumentalization of antisemitism against UN Commission of Inquiry

Dear President of the Human Rights Council,

As scholars, experts and Jewish leaders, we agree that Miloon Kothari’s words in a recent interview about Israel’s UN status and “the Jewish lobby” were mistaken and poorly chosen. We therefore welcome Mr. Kothari’s letter to you, in which he clarified his intentions and expressed regret about the offense his words have caused.

At the same time, the response to Mr. Kothari’s words deserves our careful attention. Since being aired, his words have been repeatedly misrepresented and mischaracterized.

In his interview, Mr. Kothari was specifically criticizing Israel’s systematic refusal to cooperate with UN investigations and the escalating campaigns by politically-motivated groups to discredit and delegitimize the work of the UN Human Rights Council in general and the UN Commission of Inquiry in particular. Neither of these critiques are in and of themselves antisemitic, although both should have been articulated appropriately and with more sensitivity.

Human rights defenders must apply a level of care and precision in their language when raising their concerns. This is true in every case, including and perhaps especially when it comes to sensitive issues such as the situation in Israel-Palestine. But a parallel responsibility rests on civil society organizations, opinion leaders and governments to honestly reflect the concerns of human rights defenders and to fairly address the context in which they operate.

In recent years, right-wing advocates, representing both Jewish and non-Jewish groups, have invested enormous energy and resources to frame legitimate criticism of Israel and attempts to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of international law as inherently antisemitic. Regrettably, the Israeli government has been applying the same approach.

With the recent escalating call from Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to “disband” the Commission of Inquiry in response to Mr. Kothari’s statements, the Israeli government and groups politically aligned with it are doing exactly that — seizing this opportunity to leverage allegations of antisemitism, in order to divert attention from the gross human rights violations taking place in Israel-Palestine.

We strongly urge you to not let this political instrumentalization, which targets the human rights mandate and mission of the UN as such, succeed.

Undermining and blocking human rights investigations in such circumstances neither helps the global fight against antisemitism, nor international efforts to secure and protect the human rights and well-being of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Human rights in Israel and Palestine and the safety and well-being of Jews across the world must both be advanced. Indeed, these are two mutually reinforcing goals.

We also welcome the clarifications of Commissioner Navi Pillay in her letter to you and call on all UN Member States, including Israel, to support and protect the Commission of Inquiry in its important work.

Yours respectfully,

Anita Altman, co-founder ReelAbilities
Meir Amor, Dr. (ret.), Concordia University, Montreal
Leora Auslander, Professor, Associate Chair, Department of Race, Diaspora and Indigeneity; Professor, Department of History; Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor of Western Civilization, University of Chicago
Moshe Behar, Dr., Programme Director, Arabic & Middle Eastern Studies, School of Arts, Languages & Cultures, The University of Manchester
Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism; Associate Professor of Political Science, City University of New York
Seyla Benhabib, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Emerita, Yale University; Senior Research Associate, Columbia Law School
David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of History, UC Davis
Avraham Burg, former Speaker of Knesset and Head of the Jewish Agency
Alon Confino, Pen Tishkach Chair of Holocaust Studies, Professor of History and Jewish Studies, Director Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Hasia R. Diner, Paul And Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History, New York University
Debórah Dwork, Director, Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Graduate Center, City University of New York
Efrat Gal-Ed, Professor Dr., Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf
Katharina Galor, Hirschfeld Senior Lecturer in Judaic Studies, Brown University
Amos Goldberg, Professor of Holocaust Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Atina Grossmann, Professor of History, Cooper Union, New York
Eva Illouz, Professor, School of Advanced Studies, Paris
Natasha Josette, Director, Breathe (UK)
Marion Kaplan, Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History, New York University
Brian Klug, Dr., Emeritus Fellow in Philosophy, St. Benet’s Hall, University of Oxford
Daniel Levy, President, US/Middle East Project
Libby Lenkinski, Vice-President, New Israel Fund
Ian S. Lustick, Professor Emeritus, Bess W. Heyman Chair, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Anat Matar, Dr., Department of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University
Paul Mendes-Flohr, Professor Emeritus of History and Religious Thought, University of Chicago; Professor Emeritus at the Divinity School, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Atalia Omer, Professor, The Keough School of Global Affairs, The University of Notre Dame; Dermot TJ Dunphy Visiting Professor of Religion, Violence, and Peace Building, Harvard Divinity School
Adi Ophir, Professor Emeritus, The Cohn Institute, Tel Aviv University, Visiting Professor, The Cogut Institute, Brown University
Katheen Peratis, Co-chair, Jewish Currents
Na’ama Rokem, Associate Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, Director the Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies, University of Chicago
Michael Rothberg, Professor, 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies, UCLA
Sara Roy, Dr., Senior Research Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
Raz Segal, Associate Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Endowed Professor in the Study of Modern Genocide, Stockton University
Rachel Shabi, Journalist and Author
Simone Susskind, Former Belgian Senator and Former Member of the Brussels Parliament
Jessy Tolkan, Founder and President, Drive Agency
Barry Trachtenberg, Associate Professor, Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History, Wake Forest University
Enzo Traverso, Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities, Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University
Oren Yiftachel, Professor, Lynn and Lloyd Hurst Family Chair of Urban Studies, Geography Department Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba; University College London (Hon.)
Moshe Zuckermann, Emeritus Professor in History and Philosophy, Tel Aviv University

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https://www.jta.org/2022/08/05/israel/un-investigator-apologizes-for-jewish-lobby-remark-and-other-comments-deemed-antisemitic
UN investigator apologizes for ‘Jewish lobby’ remark and other comments deemed antisemitic

BY MADELINE FIXLER AUGUST 5, 2022 4:21 PM

(JTA) — A United Nations investigator has apologized for recently using the phrase “Jewish lobby” and suggesting that Israel could lose its U.N. membership, comments that drew widespread condemnation, including from U.S. officials.

Miloon Kothari sent an apology letter on Thursday to Federico Villegas, head of the U.N. Human Rights Council, for statements he made during a podcast interview last week with the anti-Zionist Mondoweiss site.

Kothari is a member of the Human Rights Council’s commission to investigate human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinain Territories that was formed following Israel-Gaza violence in the spring of 2021.

In the interview, he said, “We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by – whether it is the Jewish lobby or specific NGOs, a lot of money is being thrown into trying to discredit us, but the important thing is our mandate is based on international human rights and humanitarian standards and that we are all seeking the truth.”

He added that “the Israeli government does not respect its own obligations as a U.N. member state. They, in fact, consistently, either directly or through the United States, try to undermine U.N. mechanisms.”

At the time, the head of the commission, Navi Pillay, defended Kothari’s comments as being taken out of context. Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s special envoy on antisemitism, and Michèle Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, both condemned Kothari’s rhetoric.

“We are outraged by recent antisemitic, anti-Israel comments made by a member of the Israel COI,” Taylor tweeted last week.

In his letter sent Thursday, Kothari wrote that “It was completely wrong for me to describe the social media as ‘being controlled largely by the Jewish lobby.’ This choice of words was incorrect, inappropriate, and insensitive.”

Israel, which has refused to participate in the U.N. commission’s inquiry, was unsatisfied with Kothari’s apology. A deputy director general at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the statement “pitiful” and “unconvincing.”  

==============================================================

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/stop-weaponising-antisemitism-jewish-scholars-urge-un-members-support-israel-probe

Stop weaponising antisemitism: Jewish scholars urge UN members to support Israel probe

Dozens of Jewish scholars signed a letter to the UN urging member countries to back the probe into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians

By 

MEE staff

Published date: 24 August 2022 22:12 UTC 

Dozens of Jewish scholars around the world signed a letter sent to the United Nations which urges member countries to support the UN’s probe into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

The letter comes after the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has come under attack from Israeli groups who accuse the body of being biased and antisemitic in its targeting of Israel.

“In recent years, right-wing advocates, representing both Jewish and non-Jewish groups, have invested enormous energy and resources to frame legitimate criticism of Israel and attempts to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of international law as inherently antisemitic,” the letter read.

The latest pressure on the UN body comes after commissioner Miloon Kothari gave an interview chastising Israel for not cooperating with the investigation, adding that if Israel wants to be part of the UN, it has to abide by its rules.

“I would go as far to raise the question of why are they even a member of the United Nations, because the Israeli government does not respect its own obligations as a UN member state. They in fact consistently, either directly or through the United States, try to undermine UN mechanisms,” he told Mondoweiss.

The UN investigation’s primary critics, Israel and the US, pounced on the statement as evidence of the body’s apparent bias. One pro-Israeli organisation went as far as to accuse Kothari of questioning Israel’s right to exist and antisemitism, charges he denies.

Kothari recently also faced accusations of antisemitism after claiming social media was “being controlled largely by the Jewish lobby”. Kothari later apologised for his remarks, saying his choice of words was “incorrect, inappropriate, and insensitive”.

But the letter’s signatories say that Israel and pro-Israel groups are capitalising on the special rappartour’s remarks to attack the validity of the probe and taint it with claims of antisemitism.

“I signed the letter because I strongly object to practices, all to common, by Israel advocacy groups and by the Israeli government, to avoid substantive discussion of real issues by making ad hominem attacks on critics,” said Ian Lustick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Atalia Omer, a signatory to the letter and a professor of religion, conflict and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, told Middle East Eye that the “accusation of antisemitism undergirds and entrenches Israeli impunity”.

“It needs to be called out, especially when deployed to demobilise an inquiry into Israeli state violence at the level of the United Nations.

“The letter is significant because it again demonstrates that many Jewish scholars and public intellectuals reject the weaponisation of antisemitism to avoid holding Israel accountable for its policies and actions while also recognizing that antisemitism is a real phenomenon.”

Last year, the UNHRC agreed to launch an investigation – with a broad mandate – to probe all alleged violations Israel had committed against Palestinians following its May offensive on Gaza, which killed 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to the UN. 

The first of its findings which came out this June said that Israel’s occupation and discrimination against Palestinians are the main causes of the endless cycles of violence in Israel and Israeli-occupied territory, UN investigators have concluded.

Earlier this year, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories also submitted a report to the UNHRC that concluded that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid.

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