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Reckless charges of anti-Semitism endanger Palestinians

The baseless claims made by The Forward’s Batya Ungar-Sargon at Bard College last week feed the dysfunction of the American debate on Israel-Palestine, making it more difficult for Palestinians and their allies to advocate for their rights.

Batya Ungar-Sargon speaking at a conference on racism and anti-Semitism at Bard College.

Batya Ungar-Sargon speaking at a conference on racism and anti-Semitism at Bard College (Screenshot October 11, 2019).

In a strange public controversy last week, Batya Ungar-Sargon, the Opinion Editor at The Forward, published a column claiming that she had been protested by members of Students for Justice in Palestine during one of her panels at a conference on racism and anti-Semitism at Bard College, ostensibly “for being a Jew.”

The article omitted the fact that many of the protestors were Jewish, and were largely objecting to the presence of keynote speaker Ruth Wisse, who has made notoriously racist comments about Arabs. They were also objecting to Ungar-Sargon’s attacks on U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar and her dismissal of the concerns of Jews of color about her editorial decisions at The Forward.

As +972 contributor Mairav Zonszein reported in Jewish Currents on Monday, many other participants at the conference – including the Jewish protestors, fellow Jewish speakers, and Jewish organizers of the event – have revealed that Ungar-Sargon’s op-ed and her departing speech at Bard were grossly misleading and detached from reality. Many of these participants issued their own responses refuting Ungar-Sargon’s account (examples are here, here, here, and here).

This episode is unfortunate yet unsurprising to many observers. In recent years, Ungar-Sargon earned respect in part for actively bringing a diversity of voices to The Forward regarding Israel-Palestine. These included Palestinian writers whose views were radically different from her own, offering them a platform to engage American Jewish audiences that they might otherwise not have interacted with.

Members and supporters of Fordham Students for Justice in Palestine rally on the university's Manhattan campus against the Fordham administration's refusal to register SJP as a student organization, January 23, 2017. (Joe Catron)

Members and supporters of Fordham Students for Justice in Palestine rally on the university’s Manhattan campus against the Fordham administration’s refusal to register SJP as a student organization, January 23, 2017. (Joe Catron)

However, her theatrics at Bard were illustrative of a baseless and reckless diagnosis of anti-Semitism which — in addition to cheapening a serious accusation — has contributed to a dangerous climate for Palestinians and their allies, including Jews, to challenge individuals and ideas that condone their oppression.

In many ways, the current debacle echoes Ungar-Sargon’s role in the saga around Rep. Ilhan Omar, after Omar criticized AIPAC’s political and financial lobbying of Congress by quipping on Twitter that “It’s all about the Benjamins.” The post drew accusations from Ungar-Sargon of espousing “anti-Semitic tropes” — a narrative that quickly dominated the public discourse, tarnished Omar’s reputation, and has made her the target of relentless political attacks to this day.

Though certainly not the sole source of that crisis, it seems Ungar-Sargon has not questioned whether her interventions in those events were accurate, warranted, or productive. In fact, she doubled down on her position while The Forward fundraised from the uproar. Following this incident, many Jews of color who previously contributed to the site criticized Ungar-Sargon and demanded she apologize to Omar — calls that went unheeded. (Those same contributors also stated that they were misrepresented or disparaged by other editorial choices she made in the newspaper.)

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. (Leopaltik1242/CC BY-SA 4.0)

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. (Leopaltik1242/CC BY-SA 4.0)

It is of course legitimate for Ungar-Sargon to have her opinions, and it cannot be emphasized enough that combating anti-Semitism is an urgent and vital task in the political left as well as the right. But her misleading analyses appear to be unduly impacting the American conversation around Israel-Palestine, contributing – intentionally or not – to an atmosphere in which the rights and reputations of many activists wanting to speak up about Israel (and Zionism) are increasingly under attack, from colleges to Congress.

It is not just that her positions are being used by the right to silence Palestinian voices. By presenting herself as an “influential voice among American Jewish progressives” (as she describes in her bio), she is arguably also persuading more ‘moderate’ U.S. audiences to buy into the conflation of Israel critics with anti-Semitic hate groups. This, too, feeds the dysfunction of the debate on Israel-Palestine – the very phenomenon she is supposedly challenging – thus making it more difficult for Palestinians to advocate for their rights.

The damage this has caused is not compensated by the claims Ungar-Sargon made about her work in her speech the day after the protest: that she has published more Palestinian op-eds than any other U.S. outlet; or that she has “spent her entire career embedded in the Palestinian community”; or that she has “convinced more Israelis to vote for the Joint Arab List than you will meet in your life.” (Ungar-Sargon was contacted to elaborate on these assertions for this article; no reply was received).

There are countless Jewish writers and analysts, women and men, who come from different or opposing political camps and who have valuable, credible, and grounded takes on these subjects (including here on +972). The dangerous episodes spurred by Ungar-Sargon undermine her claim to being one of them. Instead of advancing the public discourse, she has sadly done much to regress it.

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    COMMENTS

      • Rivka Koen

        I’d read it, but I don’t give clicks to the Forward anymore unless it’s a Yiddish article.

        Reply to Comment
    1. Ben

      Excellent journalism, +972 Magazine. I’d read Batya Ungar-Sargon’s manipulative attack in The Forward and then the strong replies to her of Kenneth Stern, Roger Berkowitz and Samantha Hill (all available at The Forward) and Mairav Zonszein’s reporting on this and I said to myself that I hoped +972 followed up on this. You did, and added insight and perspective, and show why there is no israeli publication better. Well done.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Some-one.

      Calling the Leftist kids in Students for Justice in Palestine anti-Semitic no mind conflating them with the likes of David Duke and Kevin Mac Donald.

      I don’t think she fully understands just what depth of hatred exists among “White Nationalists” for Jews and how people like her help them propagandize their genocidal hatred by their hypocrisy. Trump said he was going to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out while as Bibi actually did build a razor wired fence to keep genuine refugees out and of course “Arab Israelis” are largely segregated off from the Jewish community. “White” Americans complaining about people from their group marrying people from other races is, rightly, something not done in polite society, however Jews getting freaked out about Jews marrying non-Jews is acceptable and something that Jews do publicly. All this makes the “White Nationalists” believe that Left Liberal Zionist Jews like Batya are out to “genocide” them. That of course is nonsensical, she just does not see her double standards, and the reason for that is because actual anti-Semitism does not exist in the United States outside of “White Nationalism”, some Black Power and some Muslims but than again with the Muslims things become complicated because Jewish Establishment groups do massively fund really wild “Counter-Jihad” groups with only the Non and Anti-Zionist Jews who she would like everyone to dismiss protesting this (well in all justice Peter Beinart has as well).

      Outside of Canaanism and the ideological descendants of the Canaanists no longer identify as Zionist, Zionism is clearly racism because it says that Jews have a right to murder and steal from non-Jewish Middle Easterners (and the thefts and murders are still continuing) because they are so utterly inferior to Jews. Batya should leave the (just) fight against anti-Semitism to Neturei Karta and Jewish Voice for Peace (who actually are successful in combating Muslim anti-Semitism) because her deep seated racism, however much she likes to prettify it means that when it comes to this issue she does not have a leg to stand on. Richard Spencer while he obviously dislikes Jews to put it mildly (though one of his intellectual mentors, Paul Gottfried was himself Jewish) admires Zionism and even goes so far as to refer to his movement as “White Zionism”.

      Reply to Comment
      • Rivka Koen

        You’re committing a grave error by treating white nationalists and the left as though they are fundamentally separate worlds with no ability to impact each other; in fact, fascists like David Duke have a long history of spreading antisemitic theories that make their way into the left, with the aim of dividing and conquering. Fascists have a long history of both entryism and covert efforts to sowe FUD. They tell Black people that Jews were the ones who enslaved them, and they tell LGBT people that Jews are the ones who invented homophobia. Their modus operandi is dishonesty, so they are able to pit numerous groups of people against each other while holding all of them in contempt.

        Just because Ungar-Sargon is cynically exploiting this for her own benefit doesn’t mean the left doesn’t have a lot of work to do on its antisemitism problem. In fact, truly fighting fascism requires addressing the impact its propaganda has on the left.

        Reply to Comment
        • Some-one.

          One of the principle reasons that Jackie Walker was expelled from the British Labour Party for anti-Semitism was that he mentioned in an argument on facebook about Jewish involvement in the slave trade.Now unlike a lot of people I accept that there are such things as Jewish anti-Semites, my mum was definitely in their number, it could be easily argued that Gilad Atzmon is one, however in the case of Jackie Walker (who is opposed to Gilad Atzmon) this is definitely not the case. The point she was trying to make to Zionist Jews is that Jews have historically not only been victims but at times been victimizers- the same as a lot if not most other human groups. There is also some pretty nasty anti-Black racism in “The Guide for the Perplexed”. Do you know about Rabbi Lody van de Kamp? You are right that “White Nationalists” do go out of their way to try and make Black Nationalists believe that Jews were and are behind most of their problems. However the best response to this is not denial of everything and hysterics but asking calmly why should all Jews today be held responsible for what some Jews did several centuries ago.

          https://www.jta.org/2013/12/26/global/dutch-rabbi-confronts-jews-with-ancestors-complicity-in-slavery

          The idea that Jews invented “homophobia” is risible. The ancient Germans took a very extreme attitude towards homosexuality. That said Second Temple Jews used to boast that homosexuality did not exist among them unlike the other peoples of the Mediterranean world. “Homophobia” along with really valuable Second Temple Jewish values did spread to others in that world through Christianity. Though “White Nationalism” likes to put forward a homophobic face the fact is that very many “LGBT” people are attracted to it which should come as no surprise seeing the SA which was the Nazis street fighting gang in the Wiemar Republic was a gay supremacist organization. Anyway as regards the LGBT we are talking about tiny fraction of the population.

          “White Nationalists” hate the Left because of it’s universalist values, or at least the universalist values of the majority of it. They cannot stand to be around in general people who are different to them and that includes people with the same skin tones who they probably hate more than people of colour though of course less than the Jews. I think your fears are misplaced.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Some-one.

      The below is really funny. My reading of it is that she was basically attempting to seduce Philip Weiss who in his happily married virtuous innocence did not pick up on the fact.

      https://mondoweiss.net/2019/08/going-batya-sargon/

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      The only rights that “fakestinyans” need to advocate for is the right to disappear.
      This means returning to their original JORDANIAN roots and abandoning the fraudulent concept of fakestinyanism.

      “fakestinyanism” is essentially a chronologically maladapted idea that seeks the creation of a new, fake Arab nationality ON TOP of the State of Israel.
      This silly rational has no logic and no purpose.
      Its eventual demise is baked into its own absurd starting assumptions.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Afula Man reminds me of one of these old guys with the metal detectors trudging along the beach muttering to himself, looking for coins. “Nope! No fakestinyan coins yet! I knew it! Who do those buggers think they are?! The can’t fool me…..!”

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Yes, it is important to remember there is NO SUCH THING AS A “fakestinyan”…
          Capital City
          Borders
          Constitution
          Language
          Religious Tradition
          Currency
          Royal Palace
          King
          Nation-State
          Music
          Food
          Architectural Record
          Anything

          My image is of Ben digging up the sand in Israel.
          “If I did deep enough, I am sure I will find the historical artifacts proving ‘fakestine’ was real”

          Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Ben’s attempt at humor just reflects he has no response to “fakestinyan” absence in the historical record.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You really don’t get it, do you? You don’t get it that your whole insistence, that anything depends upon anyone digging anything up, is nuts. That it puts you at the level of a bonafide crank. Wow.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Better a bonafide crank than a deranged Libtard that recognizes imaginary nationalities that don’t exist.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Dan Kelso

      The Palestinians continue to assert they will never recognize a Jewish state. They can’t – it is inconsistent with their identity, and the purpose for which the Palestinian identity was forged. From the Palestinian standpoint, the “peace process” is not about peace, or even about a state, but about reversing history: they seek a state on the 1967 lines to reverse the 1967 war and seek to flood Israel with millions of Arabs to reverse the 1948 war — to return to the time before the wars the Arabs started and lost, and before there was a Jewish state. The real barrier to Palestinian statehood is Palestinian hatred, lies and Rejectionism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Mr. Kelso, this is mere cant, a mindless recitation of memorized verses from the gospel according to Aipac/Likud. In its tidy, self-assured know-nothingism it has the American right wing “I have never really been to the occupied territories except in a Birthright tourist capacity but I think I know all I need to know” quality to it. Each of your sentences is false, beginning with the “Jewish state” issue, but like all propaganda it is not meant to illuminate but obscure, and it depends upon the audience’s ignorance and fear. It is in fact classic Israeli Rejectionism. This is an educated audience here.

        Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Dan hits the nail on the head with this very precise description of the evil nature of “falestinyanism”.
        The latter is a nasty ideology, crafted out of the cruel imagination of an infamous Egyptian Mass Murderer.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Well, ok, I misspoke, Mr. Kelso. MOST of the audience here is educated.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            I would just like to add that the “fakestinyan attempt to reverse history” is an organic part of this devious blame-shifting ideology.
            Only mass repatriation of these JORDANIAN citizens will cure them of their delusions.

            Reply to Comment
          • mordechai ben yosef

            So ethnic cleansing is the solution. Thanks for the clarification of your position.

            Reply to Comment
    6. John Hall

      DAN LIVNY:
      Why has Israel withdrawn its offer of a state for Palestinians only now?
      Why has it allowed “settlers” to “aquire” Palestinian land and drive the native
      population out over the years since the war and increasingly of late?

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        There is no such thing as “fakestinyan” Land.
        The Land was captured from JORDAN in the 6 day war.

        The imaginary state of “fakestine” simply never was.
        Repeating “fakestinyan land” millions of times will never change the historical record.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          You might not have noticed this, tiger, but you are the only one repeating this childish fantasy-nonsense construction millions of times. It’s not too late to change your behavior and people might start to begin to take you seriously. But a reputation once lost is not easily regained. On the other hand, if you ARE a child, does your mommy know where you are?

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            ………………………… exclaims our Haaretz-reading, Gideon Levy-supporting, Ilan Pappe-believing Leftist Nutter, from 5000 miles away.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            an eeeevil Haaretz reader! LoL.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            No, not evil.
            Just a Leftist Nutcase.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You frequently imply that your political opponents are “nutters,” “nutcases,” “nutjobs,” etc. It’s obvious to me that this is a pathologizing (of the center-left)/normalizing (of the far right) maneuver. But you’re the jihadi advocating forced mass transfer and/or mass death as the only reasonable solution. And your Hardali sidekick believes he and his sons have a heritable right to clear the Muslims out and ascend a rebuilt Third Temple in priestly Levite robes and sacrifice goats, and that this is a mere prelude to an imminent End of Days, and the occupation is a sign of all this. But I’m the nutcase?

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            I do not speak for the other chap called Itsak.
            You should argue with him.

            Reply to Comment
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