New York City’s progressive university The New School is under fire for agreeing to host a panel on anti-Semitism featuring Palestinian-American activist and staunch Israel critic Linda Sarsour, the latest example of the left’s growing rift over Israel.
The Tuesday forum, called “Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice,” features Ms. Sarsour and two representatives of the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace, prompting critics to decry the event as a “supreme irony,” a “fake panel” and “Orwellian.”
At the same time, the uproar has prompted pro-Israel progressives to push back against the dictates of intersectionality, the political movement that calls for leftists to take sides against Israel in a show of unity against oppression.
The newly formed Zioness Movement, a progressive pro-Israel advocacy group, has gathered more than 18,000 signatures on a petition condemning the “noxious event,” saying it has the “sole purpose of excluding Jewish and Zionist voices from the left.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Obama White House aide who has come under criticism for aligning the ADL with progressive causes, called it a sad day for The New School.
“Having Linda Sarsour & head of JVP leading a panel on #antisemitism is like Oscar Meyer leading a panel on vegetarianism,” Mr. Greenblatt said in a tweet. “These panelists know the issue, but unfortunately, from a perspective of fomenting it rather than fighting it.”
Kenneth Bialkin, a major donor to The New School and chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League, threatened in a letter to cease his contributions unless the Manhattan-based institution cancels the event.
“I am proud of the New School’s history as a refuge for scholars who fled Nazi Germany, including Jewish thinkers like Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss,” Mr. Bialkin said in a letter obtained by The Tablet. “However, I must question my commitment to continued investment in a university that has seemingly institutionalized the anti-Semitism of the radical left.”
In a statement to The Times of Israel, The New School said it did not comment on its relationships with specific donors.
Much of the focus has been on Ms. Sarsour, a leader of the Women’s March in January who has described Zionism as incompatible with feminism and embraced convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh.
“Antisemitism is harmful and real,” the event’s promo read on Facebook. “But when antisemitism is redefined as criticism of Israel, critics of Israeli policy become accused and targeted more than the growing far-right.”
Philip Weiss, founder of the progressive Mondoweiss website, said the event comes with the left pushing to reverse the Democratic Party’s support for Israel and accused the ADL of perpetrating the “very blackmail that the panel is about.”
“The panel is important because Linda Sarsour represents the main threat to the Democratic-left consensus in support of Israel today: the real possibility that the Democratic Party might begin to reflect its progressive base, and call for sanctions against Israel,” Mr. Weiss said in a Nov. 20 post.
All four speakers on the panel, hosted by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, are critics of Israel. The others are JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson, JVP youth coordinator Lina Morales and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice organizer Leo Ferguson.
Jewish Voice for Peace, backed by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, has drawn criticism for supporting Odeh, who was deported in September for omitting on her visa application her 1970 conviction in the bombing deaths of two Hebrew University students.
JVP also has joined Students for Justice in Palestine in supporting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, which notched a victory last week when the University of Michigan student government voted in favor of a divestment resolution.
Miriam Elman, associate political science professor at Syracuse University, said the JVP has attempted to lump Zionists with white supremacists, citing a September rally sponsored by the University of Illinois at the Urbana-Champaign chapter at which protesters chanted, “No Zionists, no KKK, resisting fascists all the way.”
“Given JVP’s past and recent activism, the participation of its leaders on The New School’s antisemitism panel next Tuesday won’t help the campus address anti-Jewish hatred, but will instead work to excuse and even exacerbate it,” Ms. Elman said in a Nov. 21 post on Legal Insurrection.
Others pointed out the irony of leftists working toward the same goal — discrediting Israel — as far-right neo-Nazis.
In a Friday op-ed on Fox News, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, and historian Harold Brackman said, “Self-styled ‘progressives’ have joined right-wing extremists to campaign against the legitimacy of Israel and Zionists.
“In Britain, Jeremy Corbin’s Labour Party, once the political home of British Jewry, now is home to prominent anti-Semites,” they said. “And last summer, a convention of the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed BDS.”
The pro-Israel group StandWithUs said that panel is aimed at “shielding anti-Semites from criticism” and “silen[cing] the voices of the vast majority of Jews.”
“The panel also features speakers who have demonized and dehumanized Israelis and Jews who support Israel’s existence, including by associating us with ‘white supremacy,’” said StandWithUs tri-state campus director Rena Nasar.
Zioness Movement said the panel, with its “explicit endorsement of anti-Semitism couched as anti-Zionism,” correlates with a 67 percent increase in U.S. anti-Semitic incidents from 2016 to 2017.
FBI statistics released Nov. 13 show hate crimes rising by 4.6 percent in 2016 from the previous year, with nearly 58 percent of victims targeted as a result of their race and 21 percent over their religion.