The Trump/Pence regime, acting through the Department of State has officially adopted a definition of anti-Semitism (racist hatred of Jewish people) that classifies a broad range of opposition to the state of Israel and/or the ideology of Zionism as, by definition, anti-Semitic. And now the Department of Education is using this definition to attack and suppress campus protests in support of the Palestinian people at Rutgers University in New Jersey, at UCLA in California, and elsewhere.
It is hard to overstate the extent to which this constitutes a dramatic leap in repression, not only of the Palestinian struggle, but on campuses as centers for dissent, protest, and critical thinking, and of freedom of speech even more broadly. The full weight of the U.S. federal government is now going to be used to suppress criticism of the state of Israel. This—going from basic and continual support of Israel militarily, politically, and ideologically to fully using the state to repress and effectively outlaw criticism of Israel—is an extremely ominous leap, and it goes with the Trump/Pence regime’s position of uncritical and extreme support for Israel.
Basic and Undeniable Truths About Israel Are Now Classified as “Anti-Semitic”
The website of the U.S. State Department starts by listing real expressions of anti-Semitism (e.g., talk of an “international Jewish conspiracy,” calling for killing or harming Jews, denying the reality of the mass genocide of Jewish people by the German Nazis, etc.). But then it goes on to lump political and ideological criticisms of the founding principles and of current practices of the state of Israel—criticisms which have nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism—together with these ugly, odious, and unscientific ideas.
For instance, the U.S. alleges it is anti-Semitic:
- To deny “the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
But the establishment of Israel was in fact a racist endeavor, because it was founded on land whose population was in large majority Palestinian Arabs, and because its founders undertook a conscious policy of driving hundreds of thousands of these inhabitants out through massacre and terror.
And because it was founded on this basis, the racist nature of Israel has intensified since then, and a significant section of Israeli leaders and people now speak of Palestinian people as animals and openly advocate their expulsion or annihilation. In 1984, Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan referred to Palestinians as “roaches.” In 2004, Yehiel Hazan, a state official, said, “The Arabs are worms.” In 2012, Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked stated that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy,” and called for the total elimination of Palestine, “its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” In 2015, Eli Ben Dahan, who was known for declaring that Palestinians “are like animals, they are not human,” was appointed Deputy Defense Minister in charge of administering martial law against Palestinians on the West Bank. And in 2016, Prime Minister Netanyahu echoed this racism, referring to Palestinians as “wild beasts.” Yet the assertion of this well-founded and well-documented reality is now classified as “hate speech” by the U.S. (See Bastion of Enlightenment… or Enforcer for Imperialism: The Case of ISRAEL for a full history of the founding and role of Israel.)
- To draw “comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
But again, these comparisons jump out at anyone who looks at the two experiences, so much so that in 2014, as Israel was massacring thousands of civilians, including hundreds of children, during its invasion of the Gaza strip, 40 Jewish Holocaust survivors and hundreds of their descendants published an ad in the New York Times condemning these massacres and saying that “Genocide begins with the silence of the world.” And in 2007, when Israel was severely restricting the flow of gas, electricity, and food to the 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza, the Israeli government actually calculated the number of calories per person (2,279) that should be let in to avoid a “humanitarian crisis.”
How can anyone read this and not think of the Nazi policy of letting just enough food into the Jewish ghettos to keep people alive and working? But speak it aloud—or act to protest it—and you have “crossed the line” to anti-Semitism, according to the U.S. government.
- And in an even more sweeping category, the U.S. says it is anti-Semitism if you apply “double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
In other words, if you protest Israel’s crimes, but fail to protest similar crimes carried out by some other country, that’s “anti-Semitism.”
This definition is not just some fucked-up thinking on a government website—the Department of Education is applying this definition to criminalize criticism and protest of Israel on U.S. campuses. It is especially reacting to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement that has played a significant role in exposing and isolating Israel, including by winning growing numbers of academics, entertainers, and others to refuse to attend events in Israel, in much the same way that anti-apartheid forces exposed and isolated the racist regime in South Africa in the 1980s and early ’90s. While BDS does not as an organization expose the fundamental illegitimacy of the state of Israel overall, it (along with organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine and the Rutgers group, Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action) has played a progressive role—and this is intolerable to the imperialists. For some time now a broad range of imperialists have been going after BDS and related movements; but these moves by the Trump/Pence regime mark a leap in bringing the force of the state directly into play against it.
Zionism Is NOT a Religion but U.S. Imperialism—and Especially the Trump/Pence Regime—Back It With Near-Religious Zeal
Zionism is NOT a religion. It is a political movement that arose in the 19th century that aimed to “solve” the problem of pervasive European anti-Semitism and persecution. European anti-Semitism was indeed horrible, marked not only by pervasive demonization and discrimination but by periodic pogroms, in which large numbers of Jewish people were outright murdered and lynched. The Zionist movement did not respond to this by fighting that oppression within Europe, but by moving Jews to Palestine to build up their own state. The Zionist movement sought the support of various imperialist powers to sponsor it as a colonial outpost in the strategically important Middle East. First Britain and then the U.S. supported this project, with the U.S. backing the founding of the state of Israel and almost all of its various wars and depredations since. Up until the foundation of the state of Israel, the majority of Jewish people did NOT back this movement; instead they either emigrated to escape discrimination or fought it where they were.
While Zionism is not a religion, the U.S. imperialists, particularly with the rise of the Trump/Pence regime with its Christian fascist core, have a near-religious zeal for the state of Israel. And it’s no wonder why—Israel is a heavily armed and thoroughly pro-U.S. enclave right at the center of one of the most strategic parts of the world. Israel is the reliable agent and enforcer of U.S. domination over the Middle East, with its vast oil reserves, strategic waterways, and with its population of hundreds of millions of bitterly exploited and oppressed people.
This “zeal” has taken a leap with the Trump/Pence fascist regime, for two big reasons. First, this regime came to power with the strategy of radically remaking the Middle East, including relying on Israel as a lynchpin of a regional drive to hem in and possibly take down the Iranian government, including possibly through war. Second, a big part of the social base for this regime is Christian fascist fanatics who combine white European chauvinism with a religious view that Israel must have unchallenged domination of the Middle East, and all the Jewish people must gather there, as part of their “Biblical prophecy.” We’ll only note in passing the seeming irony of a regime which counts among its base both those neo-Nazis who march around with torches chanting “Jews will not replace us” alongside those who back the Zionists to the hilt—where they come together is the extreme white racism and European supremacy openly enunciated by the regime.
Why the Regime Is Hammering the Campuses on This
But, again, all the imperialists hold support of Israel as fundamental. Without a powerful Israeli state, the U.S. empire—and its ability to exploit the people and resources of the world—would be seriously weakened. BDS has dealt real political blows to Israel, and in addition, is helping to revive U.S. campuses as centers of critical thinking, protest, and resistance—which is especially dangerous to the fascist Trump/Pence regime. For all of these reasons, there is nothing abstract about the U.S.’s definition of anti-Semitism: It is part of stepping up an offensive to crush these forces and clamp down on dissent generally.
As part of this, the Department of Education just reopened a 2011 complaint against Rutgers University in New Jersey alleging that Rutgers failed to come down heavily enough on Students for Justice in Palestine and Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action after they held a “Never Again for Anyone” event on campus. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) brought the original complaint with bogus claims that Jewish people were charged admission to the event and non-Jews were not. These allegations were investigated and the claim dismissed by DOE in 2014. Claims by SJP that their members were assaulted and called “towel-heads” and “suicide bombers,” and that a Jewish volunteer was called a “traitor” by ZOA, were of course not investigated.
What was clear then and now is that ZOA—and now the DOE—objected to the event itself, which was part of an international tour that included a Jewish Holocaust survivor and Palestinian speakers to draw out the similarities between the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany and the treatment of Palestinians in Israel, and to rouse people to support the Palestinian struggle. Its title comes from a theme of Holocaust remembrance—“Never Again” can genocide be allowed to happen while the world is silent—to make the point that this should not happen to any people, and was consciously welcoming Jewish people into this struggle. It is quite revealing that the pro-Israel forces found this objectionable, and tried to attack, disrupt, or shut down this tour, not only at Rutgers but around the U.S. and internationally.
Likewise, in California, UCLA is threatening heavy charges against protesters who marched through a pro-Israel event chanting “Free, Free, Palestine,” including possible five-year sentences! Zionist forces called for these charges, specifically linking them to the new definition of anti-Semitism and raising the threat of a DOE lawsuit against UCLA if it failed to come down hard on the protesters. But already, members of the Revolution Club are facing heavy charges and years in jail for speaking out at the campus appearance by Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
PalestineLegal.org has documented legal and extralegal attacks on activities and groups supporting the Palestinian people at 37 colleges and universities in the U.S. Many involve claims that things like erecting a replica of the wall that Israel has built around Palestinian areas, urging the university not to invest in Israel, staging a mock eviction mimicking Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes, having a course on “Palestinian voices” in literature and media, or writing a letter to the New York Times calling for “a final status resolution to the Palestinian” question are all anti-Semitic. And in many cases, those making these charges back them up by referring to the U.S. government definition.
Exactly because the reality of Israel is so blatantly oppressive, it desperately needs to wrap itself in a mythology of being a noble bulwark against the oppression of Jewish people. And because this “narrative” is so paper-thin, it is increasingly necessary to forbid people from even considering critical viewpoints. And the U.S. has taken up the role of enforcer of this suppression of heretical thought with a vengeance. Fighting for a world in which people of all nationalities struggle together in the interests of humanity—or even for a world in which people can debate and discuss contending ideas—requires challenging and repudiating this attempt to forcibly suppress criticism of Israel.
Revolution newspaper/revcom.us, the voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, provides the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for the whole process of carrying out our strategy for revolution. Through publishing works of Bob Avakian, and through many different articles, interviews, letters, graphics, and other features, Revolution enables people to really understand, and act to radically change, the world.