Open Zion

08.06.12

The Disingenuity of "Jew-washing"

The Anti-Semite, it’s been said, is that luckiest of bigots, because there’s a Jew for any conspiracy. Need a socialist plot? Have Karl Marx. Looking for capitalist machinations? Why look, here’s Baron de Rothschild!

The point of the waggery being, of course, that Jews are people—a mighty multitude, if you will. We do everything other people do, have every opinion other people have, treat each other as well or as badly as anybody else.

Witness the ridiculous neologism “Jew-washing”—the latest, Jewiest entry in the “No True Scotsman” competition.

Yitzhak Santis and Gerald M. Steinberg of NGO Monitor, the McCarthy-esque organization behind much of the anti-left bashing that’s plagued Israel and the Jewish community in recent years, introduced the inelegant turn of phrase last week in the New York Jewish Week:

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.

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.

Back in 2009, Yossi Alpher (former head of Israel’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, today a strategic consultant) already recognized NGO Monitor for what it is, writing “NGO Monitor Needs a Monitor”—because bottom line, if Steinberg and Santis et al don’t like what you say about Israel, they’ll drag your name through as much mud as they can. They’ve crowned themselves the arbiters of what is and is not sufficiently Jewish behavior and thought, and—just as bullies have done throughout history—they use every tool available to try to force others to dance to their tune.

Thus, NGO Monitor and its leaders have made hay out of attacking individuals dedicated to building a better, safer Israel, such as former Member of Knesset Naomi Chazan and J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, and they’ve attacked venerable and highly-respected  institutions, such as Israeli human rights watchdog B’tselem and American pro-democracy non-profit the New Israel Fund—organizations and people committed to the kinds of values expressed not only in our heritage, but in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence.

And even if NGO Monitor occasionally gets something a little right (Jewish supporters of BDS probably are more visible than their actual numbers warrant), it comes wrapped in so much fear-mongering and sinat chinam (baseless hatred) as to become irrelevant.

Let’s take the new terminology out for a spin: NGO Monitor treats B’tselem and the New Israel Fund as enemies of the Jewish State, yet both are comprised largely of Jews. Are they “Jew-washing” themselves? What about Naomi Chazan and Jeremy Ben-Ami—do they put themselves through the Jew Cycle every morning? How about me, my family, and all the many and varied Jews I know (Israeli or otherwise) who believe that acting in Israel’s best interests means pursuing a two-state solution and opposing policies that make that solution more distant? When we fast on Yom Kippur next month, will we be hoodwinking ourselves with our Jewy behavior?

I personally don’t support BDS, but to suggest that non-Jewish organizations use Jewish BDSers for nefarious ends creates a mirror image of the Anti-Semite’s world, a world in which Jews and Gentiles alike are robbed of agency, and act only in accordance with the speakers’ own narrow understanding of human behavior. It furthermore suggests a litmus test for true Judaism that has no place in our community, or our discourse.

Our tradition teaches that HaTorah shivim panim la—the Torah has 70 faces. If our Scripture is multi-faceted and deeply layered, how can it possibly be that our people and political debate will not also be?

Jews are people. We cover the gamut of opinion, belief, and behavior, and every single one of us was at Sinai when The Holy One Blessed Be He made us a people. I, for one, find Yitzhak Santis and Gerald M. Steinberg to be disingenuous, to say the least, and NGO Monitor’s activities not only repulsive, but dangerous.

Yet should any neo-cons or extremist evangelical Christians lean on NGO Monitor’s specious arguments in support of their anti-two-state positions, they wouldn’t be “Jew-washing” those positions.

They’d merely be wrong. As people occasionally are.