Swift-Boat Veterans of American Jewry Charge Anti-Semitism at Occupy Wall Street

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This is why war-, gossip-, and hate-mongers love words like “antisemitism” and “racism”: because they allege something so horrible that, like a traffic accident or Qaddafi video, you just have to look.

No surprise, then, that a Jewish far-right organization named “Emergency Committee for Israel” has produced a cheap YouTube video showing a couple of crazy people at Occupy Wall Street shouting antisemitic slogans. For good measure, they’ve thrown in Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Eliot Spitzer endorsing the sentiments behind the Occupy movement; ergo, the three of them must hate the Jews too. 

This, of course, is ridiculous. As everybody should know by now, Occupy is a leaderless, open-source movement. That means, unfortunately, that the nuts have free rein. When I last visited Occupy Wall Street, there was indeed a concatenation of weirdos, from Old Left grandmas to anarcho-syndicalist dudes, and, yes, one particular antisemitic loon who’s been showing up at protests in the New York area for years now. None of them had the ‘human mic.’ None of them were in any kind of non-leadership leadership position. Surely, anyone who knows anything about the protests – which includes ECI’s leadership – knows this to be the case.

Which makes ECI’s video a cheap lie — yet another in a long litany of desperate efforts by the far right to convert the largely liberal American Jewish community to neo-conservatism, hawkish policies on Israel, and the belief that “Barack Hussein Obama” is a Muslim. 

That said, there actually are two interesting forms of antisemitism going on here.

First is the antisemitism of ECI itself. To tug at the kishke-strings of American Jews in the way that ECI has is not only to demean and dehumanize us, but also to do violence to the memory of victims of actual antisemitism. More than anything else, I’m insulted by the ad, and offended that this organization is lying to me, my mother, and my relatives for their own political reasons—namely, defeating Barack Obama. Antisemitism is a serious, real thing. When it is used as a cheap shot—as when pro-Palestinian advocates throw around terms like “Nazi” and “concentration camp”—it is an offense against all those who were murdered over the centuries. Diluting the meaning of the term ‘antisemitism’ is, itself, antisemitic.

Second, as I described in a recent post, there is indeed a structural similarity between some of the Occupy movement’s concerns and historical antisemitism. Occupy is, indeed, protesting against the malefactors of great wealth and their international cabals of political-financial interest. Add the word “Jewish” in there, and you’ve got world-zionist-conspiracy antisemitism, circa 1880-1945. So in a way, the couple of bigots at Zuccotti Park are just connecting the dots between Occupy’s agenda and their own.

The main difference, of course, is that Occupy’s target is real, whereas the antisemite’s is a fantasy. Which is a pretty big difference.

All this would be insignificant were it not for the significant financial backing of ECI, and its association with respectable conservatives like Fox News commentator William Kristol. It’s possible that cracks may be appearing in the edifice. Recently, it’s come to light that one of ECI’s board members, Rachel Abrams posted inflammatory, borderline-insane rants about Palestinians being “devil spawn” on her blog. Unsurprisingly, the center-left Jewish organization J Street has called on the saner folk at ECI to cut dies, disavow, etc, and if they don’t, for other Jewish organizations like AIPAC and the ADL to distance themselves from ECI.

This last step should have been taken long ago. ECI, as critics point out, is no more a friend of Israel than it is a foe of Occupy Wall Street. Rather, it uses Israel (and now Occupy) as a pawn to score electoral points for Republicans. The whole organization is a ruse. It’s the Swift-Boat Veterans of American Jewry. 

(Oh, and incidentally: Eliot Spitzer?! Surely he was included in the ECI video not because of his non-existent leadership position, but because, like Bill Clinton, he makes some people feel that Democrats are sleazy. This confirms that the real point of the video is not to bash Occupy but to attack Obama, Pelosi, and the Democrats.)

Personally, I find it nauseating that millions of dollars are being spent to exploit antisemitism and American Jews’ love of Israel in such a crude and crass way. I guess it’s not the first time that politican spinsters have pandered to the baser instincts of religious communities. Usually, though, Jews are the scapegoats of hate, not the perpetrators of it.

JayMichaelson&ltjay@nehirim.orggt'

Dr. Jay Michaelson [@jaymichaelson] is Associate Editor of Religion Dispatches and the author of five books, most recently "Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment" (North Atlantic, 2013). He holds a J.D. from Yale and a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.