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NGO Monitor coins anti-Semitic slur: 'Jew-washing'

The right-wing watchdog group thinks that leftwing Jewish groups are not allowed to join coalitions with non-Jewish groups that criticize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, or allowed to take certain actions against Israeli policies because they are Jewish. This is a direct targeting of leftwing Jews as Jews.

By Jeremiah Haber

It’s perfectly kosher for a rightwing Jewish organization like NGO Monitor to disagree vigorously with a leftwing organization like Jewish Voice for Peace. But in a recent op-ed in the New York Jewish Week,  Yiktzak Santis and Gerald Steinberg use the trademark tools of their organization –lies, half-truths, and insinuations — to smear an organization they don’t like.

Still, something that is worth noting is their invention of a new anti-Semitic slur: “Jew-washing.”

Before I get to that, let’s start with the facts. 1. The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to boycott settlement goods by a whopping 71% of the general assembly’s membership. 2. A decision to divest from companies that profit from the occupation was narrowly defeated (by two votes). 3. The assembly voted to accept a recommendation that would allow individual pension holders to invest their pensions in companies that do not profit from the occupation.

Now let’s move on to the Santis and Steinberg lies and half-truths. They begin their op-ed as follows:

At the Pittsburgh General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) earlier this month, a motion to adopt a boycott of three companies for doing business with Israel was hotly debated and narrowly defeated.  At this Christian gathering, a group of “young Jewish activists” provided important “testimony” supporting the motion to isolate and demonize Israel.

Lie.  There was no motion to boycott any company for doing business with Israel. As reported in the JTA, the motion was to divest from companies doing business with Israeli security forces in the West Bank, i.e., that directly benefit from the occupation. Santis and Steinberg knew this, and one can assume that they wrote what they do in order to defame those who supported the motion.

Even if JVP supported a total boycott of Israel, which it does not, that would be entirely irrelevant to the authors’ misreporting of the motion. (And while we are on the subject of “lies,” JVP is not  an “anti-Zionist group.” It  includes Zionists, non-Zionists, anti-Zionists, two-staters, one-staters, no-staters, etc.)

Slur. The authors have the right to believe that this motion isolates and defames Israel. But there was no “motion to isolate and demonize Israel.”

Half-truth.  Note that Santis and Steinberg referred to the defeat of the divestment motion. They did not mention the approval of the settlement boycott or providing their members with a way to divest personally. That would have made Jewish Voice for Peace less “fringe” like.

And now for “Jew-washing”:

These were the “Jew-washers” – very visible actors in many such political attacks on Israel, particularly in Christian frameworks.  They are influential beyond their actual numbers, providing a convenient means for cleansing such actions from the stains of double standards, demonization and sometimes anti-Semitism against the Jewish state of Israel, and even Judaism itself.

“Jew-washers”? I guess what the authors mean is that JVP and other Jewish groups presents a veneer of Jewish respectability, a hekhsher (kosher certification), for the anti-Israel activities of the BDS’ers. And this is the first slur of what I shall call the “Nu, anti-Semitism!”

What is the “Nu,  anti-Semitism!”? It is saying to Jews, “Nu, you have no right to say or act upon what you think. Because that aids and abets the anti-Semites” (defined as “people who provide criticisms of Israel that we at NGO Monitor consider to be unfair.”)

The “Nu, anti-Semitism!” is occasionally charitable enough to believe that the Jews in question are self-hating, or naive, or have unreasonable expectations of Israel, etc., As the authors say, their intentions are irrelevant (in other words, such Jews lack the basic human right to be judged on the basis of their intentions.) But by hanging out the dirty laundry of the tribe for all to see, and, worse, by joining with the tribe’s enemies (e.g., Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, etc.), they are “Jew-washing.”

And the “evidence” for “Jew-washing” provided by Steinberg and Santis?

In many cases (sic) Jew-washing is also used to whitewash the blatant theological anti-Semitism that accompanies the church-based BDS attacks on Israel.  One example is Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian group that is very influential in those mainline churches active in the BDS wars.  Its theology includes supercessionism – a reading of the New Testament that considers the Church to have superseded the Jewish people in God’s promises – and deicide – the charge that “the Jews” killed Jesus – that served as the basis for centuries of anti-Jewish persecution.

Giving Sabeel a thorough Jew-wash is JVP’s Rabbinical Council, which in its “Statement of Support for the Sabeel Institute” acknowledges “the more radical incarnations (sic) of some of [Sabeel’s] theological images.”

Yet, Sabeel’s frequent denigration of Judaism as “tribal” and “primitive” and comparisons of Palestinians to Jesus on the cross put there by the Israeli government’s “crucifixion machine,” does not seem to affect JVP’s rabbis, who assert that it is “a mistake to dismiss Palestinian Christian theology wholesale.”

Now, if I said that an organization “whitewashes the blatant theological anti-Semitism that accompanies the church-based BDS attacks on Israel’ (Note that Steinberg and Santis just called a bit under half of the Presbyterian General Assembly “blatant theological anti-Semites”), I would be prepared to show how Jewish Voice for Peace gives some Jewish cover for this.  Instead, the authors refer to a JVP statement that says as follows:

We are aware that many Jews point to the more radical incarnations of some of Ateek’s theological images. We believe, however, that it is a mistake to dismiss Palestinian Christian theology wholesale. As Jews, we are much more troubled by the “End of Days” theologies of fundamentalist Zionist Christians such as Pastor John Hagee, who believe that Jews will either convert or go to hell when we’ve fulfilled our theological purpose. This is anti-semitism par excellence.

In other words, JVP’s Rabbinical Council, while not endorsing Ateek’s theological images, say that they have to be understood in light of the ongoing suffering of Palestinian Christians at the hand of Israelis. One may consider this too forgiving on the part of JVP, but the point is that they are not excusing or whitewashing such images, but saying that they should not be allowed to get in way of the bigger picture.

Should we accuse rightwing groups of “Jew-washing” because they form coalitions with John Hagee’s ministry? Or “Christians United for Israel”? Of course not.

For all I know, Christian Zionists  who eagerly await the mass conversion of Jews have contributed to NGO Monitor.

I say, “for all I know” because the trademark smear of NGO Monitor has yet to come. Of JVP they write:

Their motivations, like their financing, are unclear and irrelevant – the fact that they provide a useful cover for non-Jews to justify gratuitous, Israel-bashing is what counts.

If their financing is irrelevant to the author’s argument then why make the remark that it is “unclear”? Oh, that’s an easy one: This is NGO Monitor, which has made a career of insinuations about the “unclear sources of financing” of the organization it “monitors.” In fact, even when the source of funding is entirely transparent, they either use the sources to delegitimize the organization or  raise the specter of secret funding.

In NGO Monitor-ese, “unclear funding” means “funding by donors whose identity we cannot discover, and therefore smear through association, no matter how much our staff Googles.”

This wouldn’t be so bad were it not that NGO Monitor’s own funding is no less “unclear” than that of Jewish Voice for Peace. Last spring  Haaretz published an expose showing how NGO Monitor hides the identity of its donors. That is in Hebrew, but a good account of it in English is here. NGO Monitor’s funding is a lot more unclear than that of the NGOs the organization purports to monitor, whose transparency is mandated by law.

But rest assured, NGO monitor, most of JVP’s budget is made up of individual donations. They lack the heavy guns that you have, but they would not demean themselves by saying that you provide cover for the anti-Semites.

The “Nu, anti-Semitism!” slur of “Jew-washing” demonizes, and in general, impugns the character of Jewish critics of Israel.  If you think that leftwing Jewish groups are not allowed to join coalitions with non-Jewish groups that criticize Israel’s  existence as a Jewish state; then you target leftwing Jews as Jews. If you believe that Jews are not allowed to make certain arguments or take certain actions because they are Jewish, then you claim that Jews are not allowed to possess the basic human right of expressing their opinions and acting on them in a responsible, non-violent manner.

That’s what makes “Jew-washing” an anti-Semitic slur. It unfairly singles out Jews by judging them by a double standard. And it denies them fundamental human rights.

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    1. Another moment of glory for NGO Monitor, who have previously:

      – unapologetically used an incorrect translation to smear human rights defenders http://bit.ly/wyF1Su

      – claimed that “Judaization”, a term used by Israeli politicians and academics (including Danny Ayalon), is “an anti-Jewish racist term” http://bit.ly/ylb8lu

      Reply to Comment
    2. the other joe

      It strikes me that the ‘supercessionism’ decried above is a fairly fundamental and standard reading of Christian theology – and further, I’d be very surprised if any Christian Zionists could be found that did not believe this. To conflate this with genuine anti-antisemitism, which has had a hold within many parts of the church for thousands of years. is highly misleading. Many religions believe that they have superceded other religions – for example Islam believes it has superceded both Judaism and Christianity. I suspect that Jewish belief at some point could have been said to have superceded the ‘chosen race’ theology of other groups. That is what religious groups do, get over it.
      Liberation theology is threatening to those in power it is designed to be directed towards – and there is clearly a muddying effect when those in power are Jewish. But even this cannot directly be said to be anti-Semitic, given that the antecedent liberation theologies were developed in South America, where the struggles were not against Jews. In a South African context, such theology and language was used against other Christians.
      I believe both of those charges are easily dismissed as drivel.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ehad Ha'am

      “Jew washing” is just another term for “token Jew(s)” or “useful idiots” or “self-hating Jew(s)” — concepts that in some form or other have been around since time immemorial.

      Throughout history there have always been individual Jews or small Jewish groups who believed that if they appease the alligators they will be eaten last. There is nothing new in that.

      Of course, that is not to say that fair, even severe, criticism of Judaism or of Israel is not perfectly legitimate. Certainly, not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, but that doesn’t change the fact that some of it is.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Rorr

      Actually JVP does support the extinction of Israel and the death and dispersion of the Jews therein. It’s implied all through their positions. And “Jew washing” does hit the mark. When guys like Haber, Silverstein, Weiss, Blumenthal, do their Julius Streicher imitations and say its fine because through some cosmic sccident of birth we were born Jewish. What is that .

      Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      “Its theology includes supercessionism – a reading of the New Testament that considers the Church to have superseded the Jewish people in God’s promises – and deicide – the charge that “the Jews” killed Jesus – that served as the basis for centuries of anti-Jewish persecution.”

      Strange indeed. Clearly, Christianity is universally anti-Jewish in the sense that to be Christian you have to believe that Rabbinical Judaism is wrong. And according to Gospels, Jews were instrumental in the death of Jesus, who was executed by Romans, but that sin is forgivable. “Who sins against me can be forgiven”. Jews are also guilty of an unforgivable sin against Holy Ghost: they heard the Word, they witness the miracles and they rejected the Word which is the only safe way to Salvation of the soul.

      The standard punishment meted by the Christian for this unforgivable sin was to let Jews persist in their error and proceed to the Lake of Fire. As opposed to heretics and pagans who would be energetically encouraged to abandon their ways and proceed to Salvation. Occasionally, but never as a rule, and never universally through Christiandom, Jews were treated as badly as if they were heretics.

      Too bad that learned Santis and Steinberg were not able to address Presbiterians and urged them to abandon the Nasarene heresy and tear apart pages of Gospels like MK Ben-Ari.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ron Kampeas

      Good piece, Jerry, and “Jew Washing” is odious. One thing though, and it’s not your mistake, but JVP’s: Hagee explicitly rejects supercessionist Christian theology, at least as applied to Jews, and has caught (you should excuse the term) hell for it from fellow evangelicals. I’m not saying this vindicates his activities, or does not vindicate them, but for the sake of accuracy, this much should be noted.
      Here for instance is an oped we ran a few years ago from a Hagee opponent who lists a slew of reasons for Jews not to cooperate with him — but emphasizes that hopes of converting Jews are not among them. http://archive.jta.org/article/2006/07/10/2932844/when-friends-arent-really-friends-be-wary-of-evangelical-support-for-israel

      Reply to Comment
    7. Danny

      Isn’t Steinberg a clever little man – even for a kippa-wearing extreme rightist? Let’s take every term invented by the leftists to smear Israel with, and turn it against them! GENIUS! So, to counter groups like Mach’som Watch, let’s call ourselves NGO Watch! And Pink Washing? Why we’ll call what they do Jew Washing! That’ll show ’em! Fight fire with fire!

      Reply to Comment
    8. Kolumn9

      The choice of terminology is a little strange. However, the phenomenon of justifying the most extreme attacks on Israel or Jews by pointing to a Jew that supports you or that you have once talked to is very real. So, the most extreme anti-Semites who flock to read Gilad Atzmon are very much guilty of this. Likewise the Israel-hating groups use this when they invite a few extreme leftists born to Jewish mothers to their rallies.

      Is it the terminology that offends you or the very real fact that you are being called out as a decoration to be used by anti-Semites and Israel-haters when they see fit to appear more moderate?

      Reply to Comment
    9. the other joe

      @Poitr – clearly any exclusive religion can be considered to be ‘anti’ every other religion by definition. Christianity has a poor history of interacting with various kinds of heretical theology, particularly when a version of Christianity is in power. That seems to me to be more about the nature of power than the nature of religion though – at least the New Testament does not laud divinely mandated child-murder, racial cleansing and so on. Y’see, it isn’t just the Nazarene heresy which can be read as a reason to hate other people.
      @Ron, I think Hugee’s theology is more complex than you make out. His end-time theology is wrapped up in the success of Israel – in that he believes Jesus will return as King of Israel in Jerusalem and all Jews will become Christians. Possibly he believes that converting Jews is not necessary, but in another sense he also seems to believe that Israel itself is a tool for the Second Coming.
      @Kolumn9 – I’m not sure anyone flocks to hear Gilad Atzmon. If some anti-semites chose to quote other anti-semites, that is hardly the fault of JVP, what an utterly repulsive thing to say.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Liz

      I am concerned about an advertisement that is, as of right now, on this blog. It is a anti-choice ad about abortion that is also against Obama. I clicked on the ad, and it brought me to a very conservative pro-life website. While I don’t care if people don’t like Obama, the propaganda is extremely conservative and right wing.

      Are you aware of this, and do you condone it? I was surprised to see such a conservative ad on such a leftist blog.

      Reply to Comment
    11. the other joe

      @liz, it seems that the ads you see depend on where you are and what websites you recently visited.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Michael W.

      Liz, you should activate your browser’s AdBlock plugin or something of that sort.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Fat Freddy's Cat

      Liz, I thought that left leaning people typically believe in free speech, even if you do not agree.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Thanks for reminding me, Ron. I will change it on my blog.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Hi, I didn’t sufficiently distinguish between my views and those of the JVP statment. Pastor Hagee doesn’t believe in converting Jews now — JVP didn’t say that he did — but it is hard to believe that he, like other Christians, don’t think that this will happen in the end of days. Unlike JVP, I would not call that anti-Semitic, especially since it mirrors many traditional Jewish views, that the gentiles will convert to Judaism, or they will accept their inferior status, during the messianic period.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Elisabeth

      Most Christians feel that “we are all God’s chosen people”. If that is already anti-Semitism then God help us…

      Reply to Comment
    17. Heck, was that really Ron (JTA) Kampeas applauding? Quite odious, maybe? Who knows? But in any case, this “Jew-washing” term is just the flip-side of the ‘Ostjuden’ approach: which means: “I am the better, more moral, more cultured, more sophisticated Jew (and cleaner, too) than those other Jews and therefore, I should be accepted into general society and I am not to blame for what those Jews are or do”. It worked soooo well in Germany, didn’t it?

      Reply to Comment
    18. Hilel Salomon

      “Jew Washing” is apt. Al Jazeera does it and so do countless other groups and media when they wish to have “Jewish” support for their actions. I don’t see much difference between that term and “self-hating,” “token” or “Jewish Uncle Toms.” The lines between being anti-Israel and being anti-Jewish have blurred considerably. There are now many, many Jews who call for the end of Israel. Ultimately, that’s being anti-Jewish. Anyway, I’m in favor of Christian churches’ boycotts, but only if they actually pay taxes on these investments and on the land they own. American tax payers and Israel would be better off.

      Reply to Comment