Sabri: An unfounded attack

Last Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a report identifying what it calls the “Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups” in the United States. In addition to organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, it named Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has a chapter at Yale. Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, explains: “While there are hundreds of groups that organize and participate in various anti-Israel activities, we have identified the largest and most well-coordinated anti-Israel groups.”

It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of branding an organization as one of the most “anti-Israel” groups in the United States. But let us pause for a moment: what does “anti-Israel” actually mean? The term is used more than 50 times in the ADL’s short report, but it is never defined. In fact, I could find no coherent definition anywhere on the ADL’s website that would permit us to differentiate an anti-Israel group or person from a non-anti-Israel group or person. Before returning to the usage of this indefinite term, let me first discuss SJP.

SJP, founded at Yale in 2009, is motivated by a commitment to human rights and an unequivocal condemnation of all forms of racism and bigotry, including — and often primarily — anti-Semitism. The ADL report asserts that SJP chapters organize “biased” events like “mock ‘apartheid walls’ and ‘checkpoint’ displays” and “presentations by sensationalistic anti-Israel speakers”; these activities sound like run-of-the-mill student group activities. Attempts to raise awareness about realities of the everyday lives of Palestinians, it seems, are “biased,” as if the violation of Palestinian rights is an invention or lie. However, the ADL’s rhetoric aside, it is difficult to see what makes SJP different from any other student group that is advocating its message and encouraging others to act. Clearly, there is nothing about these values or activities per se that is worth writing an alarmist report ­— and we have yet to understand what it means to be “anti-Israel.”

Conceivably, “anti-Israel” could refer to the most vitriolic and violent anti-Semitism, which would indeed justify the seriousness and necessity of the report. However, most if not all of the organizations listed in the report do not fall into this category; certainly, most activists supporting Palestinian rights do not either. Therefore, this alarming version of “anti-Israel” certainly can’t be the meaning intended by the ADL.

Another possibility is that “anti-Israel” refers simply to people who criticize Israeli policies and actions, whether on moral, legal or political grounds. I suppose that could be accurate, given that all the groups named in the ADL report are indeed critical of Israel. But, is it fair? Are Democrats “anti-America” for criticizing the Bush invasion of Iraq; are Republicans “anti-America” for criticizing universal health care; are activists “anti-America” for criticizing corporate influence on Congress? By the same token, why should critics of Israel, many of whom are Jewish or Israeli themselves, be branded simplistically as “anti-Israel”? Is the free exchange of rational and critical ideas really “defamation”? While this definition of “anti-Israel” is probably the only one that works in the ADL’s report, it certainly deflates the negative charge and urgency of the report when articulated.

What should we make of this? Perhaps the term is deliberately left undefined in order to conflate the two, so that legitimate discussion is implicitly tainted by the first form of illegitimate bigotry. Indeed, given that most people would be inclined to take the term at face value without examining its real content, this conflation is easy. Such a ruse would deflect a lot of serious material challenging the morality and the legality of Israeli actions, even from reputable organizations such as the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and regional groups like B’tselem, Adalah, the Right to Education Campaign and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Now another question arises: How can we explain the ADL’s misleading and simplistic intervention? So much is at stake that it is unfair to the people of Palestine and Israel to resort to cliché dichotomies like “pro” or “anti-Israel,” not to mention that it impairs the seriousness of academic discussions on the issue. If the ADL — which is at odds with international law and the majority of the human rights and social justice scene — is so confident that Israel is acting in a morally defensible manner, then is it not the case that a free and fair discussion, devoid of unfair dichotomies, should only benefit its position? Alternatively, if the ADL is indeed committed to fighting bigotry, racism, inequality — which it does admirably on so many other fronts — then why can’t it acknowledge the dismal situation of the Palestinian people and the culpability of the Israeli occupation and Israeli policy? To that end, the ADL should see a friend in SJP, not an enemy.

Samer Sabri is a sophomore in Saybrook College.


  • Summer

    Fact check: SJP has called for a de facto economic boycott of Israel by promoting boycotts of and divestments from companies that do business in Israel.

    How is that *not* anti-Israel?

  • The Anti-Yale

    This is courageous article. It takes guts to tell the emperess/emperor s/he is wearing flesh clothing.

  • Arafat
  • zena

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS ARTICLE — indeed, it is courageous in this day and age to stand up for any group that criticizes Israel. As a Jew, and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, I’m horrified by many of the positions taken by the ADL; this latest one is merely one in a long line of intolerance, reactive views it has espoused for years.

  • ignatz

    Ah, yes, the “Palestinian people.” Let’s step back for a moment and ask: Who exactly are they? It’s hard to tell, because they’re not in the history books anywhere, and they never had a country at any time in recorded history, or a national anthem, or a national currency, or a flag, or a president, or anything. In fact, “Palestinians” didn’t show up on the world stage until after 1948 — what a crazy coincidence! But let’s suspend disbelief here and ask in earnest, who are the “Palestinians”? Obviously most “Palestinians” are too young to have ever lived in what is today the State of Israel. But their parents did, perhaps, or maybe their grandparents, or possibly their great-grandparents? So . . . a “Palestinian” is anyone whose ancestors once lived in what is now the State of Israel? Now we’re getting somewehere. And that means that virtually all the Jews in the world today are “Palestinians,” because obviously the entire Jewish people once lived in what is now Israel. Ah, but now we have a slight problem — the “Palestinians” want no part of the Jews! So . . . a “Palestinian” is anyone whose ancestors once lived in what is now the State of Israel — and who ISN’T Jewish! In short, we have here a claim to “peoplehood” that is built on the deliberate exclusion of the Jewish people that originally lived in the land! What could be more anti-Israel than that?

  • YaleMom

    All my Jewish friends are very nice. Why does this ADL group dislike Jewish people so much?

  • The Anti-Yale

    It sounds like kindergarten: “I was here ***FIRST***—-so it’s ***MINE*”**

    Can’t people just SHARE?

    I know. I’m terminally naive.


  • YaleMomsHusband

    Did you know our cupcake is dating a Jewish boy?

  • Harbinger904

    Great article Mr. Sabri, calling upon Israel to meet its obligations, both in terms of international and humanitarian law, as well as in meeting its self-described charge as a democratic state is not being “anti-Israel” insomuch as it’s being against an Israel that is morally and strategically bankrupt and insomuch as it is being against the routine and outrageous crimes visited on the Palestinian (and Lebanese) people for the past 60 years. Don’t mind the ensuing wave of trolls (I see “Arafat” already made it); we know who they are.

    @ Summer : For clarification, I know for a fact that Yale’s SJP, at least, has not issued such a call. And in any event, similar calls were made against South Africa in the age of apartheid (which Yale missed the boat on supporting when it really mattered– do a search of the YDN archives). Would you term that boycott and divestment campaign tantamount to being “anti-South Africa”? Is South Africa better or worse off after the divestment campaign and international pressure against the apartheid regime? Apply a similar logic to Israel, for it too engages in systematic discrimination and brutality on a routine basis. Don’t take my word for it, try any major human rights organization, from Oxfam to Save the Children, to Doctors Without Borders, etc (to add to the list Mr. Sabri gave above). I’d like to see anyone give me the names of some human rights organizations that are held in similar regard that maintain the contrary.

    As an aside, I love how “ignatz” feels he/she made an actual point… as if “Palestinian-ness” (if it were ever in question to begin with, and if you’re not a staunch Zionist of the right it never was) ever mattered when it comes to the routine human-rights violations the current Israeli regime visits upon the Palestinian people on a daily basis. If one issues a similar deconstruction of “Jewish-ness” or any other ethno-religious group, would that entitle anyone to do to them what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians? And for the record, there are and were Palestinian-Jews, and any potential proposal for a Palestinian state doesn’t exclude Jews from its citizenship (indeed, many settlers cite this fact as justification for their being in places like Hebron — some say they would be willing to join a Palestinian state, so long as they were allowed to remain where they are).

  • ignatz

    Sorry about that, Harbinger904. I figured if SJP is exorcised about perceived mistreatment of “Palestinians,” then it might be useful to understand who these “Palestinians” are. Too, with Western intellectuals chomping at the bit to create a new country just for them, again, we might pause to ask who these “Palestinians” really are. Mainly they are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Arabs to whom the very idea of a “Palestinian people” would have been entirely novel and bewildering. I know — let’s start calling ourselves “New Havenians,” and then we can demand OUR own country!

  • SeriouslyMan

    ignatz, here are two quick remarks:

    1) If you have a problem with the word Palestinians, let’s call these people another name. We can even call them New Havenians, or not call them anything. Even if we assume that they don’t exist as an entity, they still exist as physical beings who are suffering, and their presupposed absence of identity does not justify Israel’s policies and actions towards them. But for you their *existence* is inherently anti-Israel, how does this even make sense? It’s Israel who excluded a lot of *non-jews* from its state, this is why today there are a lot of New Havenians (remember, that’s what we decided to call them) in Lebanon, Jordan…

    2) ‘In fact, “Palestinians” didn’t show up on the world stage until after 1948.’ I’m also going to assume that this is true. Now I’m going to experiment a little bit. I’m going to copy and paste the sentence, and then replace “Palestinians” with “Israelis.” ‘In fact, “Israelis” didn’t show up on the world stage until after 1948.’ Oh! It’s true! Does this give me the right to dismiss Israeli people’s existence and completely disregard their security concerns? Of course not.

    So if you want to make big unfounded claims, I might be fine with it. But try to be congruous in your thought.

  • Arafat

    Harbinger writes, “And for the record, there are and were Palestinian-Jews, and any potential proposal for a Palestinian state doesn’t exclude Jews from its citizenship (indeed, many settlers cite this fact as justification for their being in places like Hebron — some say they would be willing to join a Palestinian state, so long as they were allowed to remain where they are).”

    Conveniently he leaves out the fact that in every single Islamic country non-Muslims are slowly (or quickly in places like Sudan) disappearing. Pick any Islamic country you want and graph the non-Muslim populations during the last one hundred years (or 1,400 years if that’s your inclination) and you will find their numbers diminish until they completely disappear.

    Of course, no doubt, Harbinger’s notion that, whatever a Palestinian is, they will treat Jews as equals, and not kill them as Muslims kill Buddhists in Thailand, and kill Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and kill Christians in Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan and elsewhere.

    Not that this could ever be an issue, but I wonder how long it would take for the Palestinians (whatever they are) to wipe all the Jews out of Israel like Muslims have eliminated them from everywhere else in the Middle East. (Remember, Jews were once the dominant demographic group in Medina. Now there is not one single Jew allowed to step foot in all of Saudi Arabia, even though Islam is a compassionate and TOLERANT religion.

    Anyway, no doubt Harbinger is also right when he refers to Israeli apartheid ways, especially since the Muslim population (20% of Israel) is the fastest demogrpahic group in Israel. If there’s one thing we can trust about Harbinger it is that if we flip any fact he writes on its head chances are we will then know the truth.

    Harbinger’s facts are something we can all take to the bank, especially if the bank is run by Angelo Mozilo.

  • Harbinger904

    @Arafat — So do you dispute any of my facts? I submit quite willingly, that non-Muslims in all of those countries are in danger (as are Muslims in many others — sometimes in the same countries, ex. you leave out the long-lived and repeated slaughters of Hausa villages in Nigeria) though I don’t know what that means unless you think such violent state conduct can be extrapolated to Muslims as a people. Is your only contention that Muslims will inevitably slaughter every minority in its midst? If so, I won’t condescend to entertain such a bigoted and sensationally paranoid statement. Anyone willing to seriously engage with the issue of repression, despotism, and intolerance in the Muslim world (as people should) has to take the complexities of the issues at hand into account, and understand how to fight them. Facile generalizations about Islam and the constitution of Muslim peoples fail to do either of those things.

    The fact remains about what I have said about Palestinians — historically the Christian quarters have suffered some of the worst of Israeli violence and they have been subject to even more painful and widespread diaspora than their Muslim brethren, thinning their numbers over time. (Though I wonder how much that non-Muslim minority concerns you). Jewish Palestinians (Jewish Arabs living for several generations in Palestine, whatever you want to say) have had a much more welcoming home in Israel than have the majority of Palestinians that experienced dispossession and diaspora at the hands of the Israeli war machine. This explains the constitution of the Palestinian people today and why Christians living in Palestine (though not Christian Palestinians) have thinned in number and why there are so few Jews that still call would themselves Palestinian.

    I fail to see how they your point about Israeli Muslims has any coherence to it whatsoever. Blacks in South Africa were also the fastest increasing demographic group during Apartheid… Your attempted deconstruction of the apartheid in Israel has fallen flat on its face.

  • mouzannar

    where are we now?
    where are the solutions?
    how can everybody get his rights ?
    how can we stop violence?
    there are groups of jews,muslims ,christians and other humans in this area of the globe they need urgently to live in peace.

  • Arafat

    Harbinger would have us believe the Christian Palestinian problems are caused by Israelis, not Muslims. It would be interesting to know how Harbinger distinguishes between their plight from the identical problems suffered by Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Atheists, homosexuals, etc… in all other Islamic majority territories.

    Why is it wherever one finds a majority Muslim demographic we also see the minority non-Muslim group under pressure? Harbinger would have us believe that the Palestinian Christian problems are caused by a different problem.

    The following links should provide insights as to why the problems of minority demographic groups in Muslim majority territories always follow the same path.

    I hope these links should also put to rest Harbinger’s accusation that I am a paranoid bigot. Salman Rushdie brought to light many of these same issues and has been living with 24/7 security ever since. Who is the bigot and who is telling the truth?

  • JackJ

    Suggest you revisit you ancient history texts and discover the kingdom of the Philistines (or Philistia) that co-existed with the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. It is in fact believed to be the origin of the word Palestinian. Or you could just remember the story of David and Goliath.

  • Arafat

    Harbinger accused me of being a bigot. Here’s an article that refutes his charge.