The false accusation, trial, and punishment of the innocent Jew Alfred Dreyfus in France during the 1890s led to various responses on the part of the French Jewish community. Most stayed silent, waiting for the storm to pass over; others were pro-Dreyfus (i.e., Dreyfusards), some of whom believed in the French state while others did not (espousing either Jewish nationalism within France or Zionism, initially two different movements); and some were anti-Dreyfusards. Although the reemergence of Israel (at least in Herzl’s eyes) was aimed at freeing Jews from such unjust accusations, the same European antisemitism has reemerged today toward Israel itself. This has evoked the same multiplicity of responses on the part of the world Jewish community as it did among French Jews at the time of Dreyfus. We examine this pattern with regard to attitudes toward three events that have confronted Israel in the early years of this century: (1) Operation Cast Lead, and the resultant Goldstone Report and retraction; (2) the BDS movement; and (3) former American President Donald Trump’s policy moves toward Israel and toward American Jews.
Keywords: Theodor Herzl, Dreyfus affair, Zionism, Israel, antisemitism, Operation Cast Lead, BDS movement
Theodor Herzl’s experience at the trial of Alfred Dreyfus (and earlier with antisemitism in Vienna) convinced him of the impossibility of Jews being accepted and receiving fair treatment in Europe and played an important role in his conversion from assimilationism to Zionism. His idea of a restored independent Jewish homeland came to fruition in 1948. Yet subsequent events have indicated that the restored Israel has not ended European (and indeed world) antisemitism, often cloaked as anti-Zionism. The system was rigged against Dreyfus the Jew then, as it is against Israel, the Jewish state, today. This article will explore the attitudes of Jews in France toward the accusations against Dreyfus and compare them to those of Israelis and Diaspora Jews toward the contemporary charges against Israel in the context of (1) Operation Cast Lead, (2) the BDS movement, and (3) former American President Donald Trump’s policy moves toward Israel and toward American Jews.
If France was the cradle of modern liberalism and the Enlightenment, it was also a home for virulent ultranationalism and antisemitism. Though formally emancipated by French law since the 1789 Revolution, French Jews remained anxious and insecure. Pressured to be twice as French and twice as patriotic as anyone else, they sought to assimilate themselves as fully as they could. The advocates of Jewish emancipation largely echoed the words of Stanislas Marie Adélaïde, the Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, who on December 23, 1789, stated the now famous doctrine: “Deny everything to the Jews as a nation and deny nothing to them as individuals.” In other words, Jewish peoplehood was denied, and Jews were to be transformed from a “nation within a nation” into “individual citizens of the French state.”1
A decision on the status of Jews was postponed until September 27, 1791, when the National Assembly passed a motion giving them citizenship rights as individuals, with an attached clause requiring them to renounce the privileges they had held as a special group.2 When Napoleon came to power, he implemented the 1791 resolution despite apparent ambivalence toward the Jews,3 convening the Grand Sanhedrin (in August 1806), declaring Judaism one of the three official religions of France alongside Catholicism and Protestantism, and stating, “I want all people living in France to be equal citizens and benefit from our laws.”4
The nineteenth-century Orientalist scholar James Darmsteter, himself a Jew, maintained that the ideology of the French Revolution was identical to the ideology of Judaism. Moreover, he argued that France was a fulfillment of biblical teachings, that France and Judaism were one and the same, and that the French Revolution was a modern-day Exodus. Darmsteter went even further than a similar thinker, Joseph Salvador, in his total identification of France with Judaism. Where Salvador maintained that a “universal Jerusalem of truth and justice, of science and law, would actually be established in Palestine, Darmsteter believed it would be established not in Jerusalem but in Paris.”5 Indeed, the one-hundredth anniversary of the revolution in 1889 was celebrated in synagogues with special events and patriotic speeches. “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, was said to be a Jewish tune. Rabbis followed Chief Rabbi Zadoc Kahn in preaching from the pulpit of love of the fatherland. Jews even raised statues of Joan of Arc in several towns.
Yet antisemitism was not eliminated. As the hundredth anniversary of the revolution was celebrated in synagogues with special events and patriotic speeches, a surge of virulent antisemitism paralleling that of Germany, Austria, and Russia took place. In 1881, the first French newspaper totally devoted to antisemitism, L’Anti Juif, began to publish, and the next year the crash of a Catholic-owned bank was widely blamed on the Jews. Édouard Drumont, the editor of the overtly Jew-baiting journal La Libre Parole, ran a series of attacks on Jewish army officers, and in 1886 he published his book La France Juive to a very warm reception. New laws aimed at suppressing the Catholic Church stirred open antagonism toward religion, especially toward Jews, with an Antisemitic League formed and the failure of a French plan to build a Panama Canal publicly blamed on the Jews.
As France’s loss of confidence deepened, antisemitism morphed into mob violence. Jews closed their eyes in disbelief, afraid to recognize and react to what was happening to them. Only a few favored a stronger response; most trusted the basic rationality of the French public and French institutions. Many saw increased assimilation as the best response.
Then came the Dreyfus affair. It is well-known and has been written about many times by a number of historians of that period and later. This article relies heavily on the document collections of Joseph Reinach and Michael Burns, the studies by Michael Marrus, Jacques Kornberg, Leslie Dersler, Arthur Ameisen, and David Lewis,6 as well as Dreyfus’s own personal account.7
Born in 1859 to an old Jewish family in Alsace, Alfred Dreyfus was deeply imbued with French patriotism and was reportedly traumatized by his memory of victorious German troops marching through his hometown after its capture during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. In 1880, Dreyfus graduated from the elite Polytechnique military school and entered the army as a second lieutenant, subsequently receiving specialized training as an artillery officer. Having completed his training at the War College in 1892, Dreyfus was appointed an officer at the army’s General Staff Headquarters. The only Jew posted there, he had already experienced antisemitic discrimination before the eruption of the Dreyfus affair.
The case is well-known all over the world, and we will only very briefly summarize it here, relying on the writings of historian and parliamentarian Joseph Reinach, one of Dreyfus’s staunchest champions throughout the affair.
In April 1894, a handwritten unsigned letter (which came to be known as the bordereau or “memorandum”) was brought to the French War Department specifying certain sensitive documents that the author had sent or offered to the Prussian military attaché. It had been found in a wastebasket of the German embassy in Paris by a French cleaning woman who had been working for French intelligence.
The general staff examined the handwriting of its officers and compared it to that in the bordereau. On October 5, as Reinach recounts, the Commandant du Paty de Clam, an officer with expertise in graphology but reputed to be both paranoid and an antisemite, was brought into the case. He examined the two sets of handwriting and concluded that the handwriting on the bordereau was that of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus was summoned to the War Department under the pretext of a “general inspection” where he was duped by du Paty into a supposed confession.8
Dreyfus was found guilty, and on January 5, 1895, he was publicly humiliated and sentenced in Paris. A general pronounced to Dreyfus that he was unworthy to bear arms and that he was degraded in the name of the French people as Dreyfus shouted his loyalty to France and his innocence.
Dreyfus was sentenced to near solitary confinement on Devil’s Island, a malaria-infested equatorial island in French Guiana just off the coast of South America. After the trial, riots broke out in many French cities and in French-occupied Algeria. Jewish stores and synagogues were sacked and burned, and people were injured and killed.9
Yet there were people in France (the Dreyfusards) who believed an injustice had been done to Dreyfus. In 1896 evidence emerged identifying Ferdinand Esterhazy, a major in the French army, as the actual spy. However, the new evidence was suppressed by high-ranking officials, and the real traitor was acquitted. The army levied additional charges against Dreyfus, basing them on false documents. Word spread of the way the military court had treated Dreyfus and its attempts to cover up its action, largely the result of an impassioned open letter, “J’Accuse…!,” which the prominent writer Emile Zola published in L’Aurore, a Paris newspaper, on January 13, 1898.10
Dreyfus was returned to France in 1899 for a second trial and was convicted again. A ten-year sentence was imposed, but this time Dreyfus was pardoned by French President Emile Loubet and released from prison.11 Dreyfus was declared not guilty in 1906 and reinstated as a major in his beloved army. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and even became an Officer of the Legion of Honor. He died at the age of seventy-five in Paris on July 12, 1935. What is of interest to us in this article is how the Jews in France responded to the Dreyfus affair.
The Response of Jews in France
The response of French Jewry was divided and uncertain. Michael Marrus’s excellent analysis posits persuasively that the Dreyfus affair represented a fundamental test of the success or failure of Jewish assimilation to France. According to Marrus, “the majority of Jews relied upon the assimilationist tradition when faced with a threat to their existence; what they did, in response to attacks upon their Jewishness, was to assert their Frenchness and their devotion to the Republic. A small minority, however, made up of Jews who were already skeptical of the virtues of assimilation, took the opportunity to reject entirely the assimilationist ideal, and to lay the foundations of Zionism in France.”12
Here we will compare and contrast these expressed views using the following classification scheme: (a) anti-Dreyfusards, (b) no publicly expressed position, and (c) pro-Dreyfusards.
(a) Many Jews were anti-Dreyfus, at least publicly. Among these were Isadore Singer, Joseph Aron, Fernand Ratisbone, Gaston Pollonnais, Arthur Meyer, and to some degree Louis-Lucien Klotz. Singer and Aron may have been the most vociferous. Both made it abundantly clear that Dreyfus should be shown no mercy whatsoever. Although there was no death penalty for treason or espionage in France, both felt that, if convicted, the traitor deserved to be executed; Aron believed that he should be shot, and Singer that he should be subjected to the “pitiless penal code of Moses”— death by stoning with the chief rabbi of France casting the first stone.13
Ratisbone, Pollonnais, and Meyer were anti-Dreyfusards, at least publicly, as well. In 1898, Ratisbone wrote that he “disapprove[d] energetically of the current sterile campaign [to exonerate Dreyfus] which so profoundly troubles our country and discredits our army.”14 Pollonnais, the editor of Le Soir, argued that the presence of Jews among the Dreyfusards “called into question the loyalty of the Jewish community and fed the fires of antisemitism.”15 Meyer, the editor of Le Gaulois, embraced the role of a “defender of French Catholics against their Jewish oppressors” and called for Jewish assimilation into France.16 Klotz opined that antisemitism was not involved in the Dreyfus case and specifically attacked Bernard Lazare, one of the great defenders of Dreyfus.17
(b) As might be expected, the greatest number of Jews in France were silent about the Dreyfus affair at least publicly and hoped it would blow over quickly. Isidore Cahen, scholar, journalist, and director of the Archives Israelites, was a noted champion of the “social fusion” of Jews into French society. He told his readers that he would not comment on the Dreyfus affair or the judgment, “if not out of respect for the mourning of two respectable families [the Dreyfuses and Alfred Dreyfus’s in-laws, the Hadamards], it would be by the precarious position in which the dreadful campaign of antisemitism, places not only our Jewish minority, but all minorities.”18 Théodore Reinach (a younger brother of Salomon and Joseph, he was a historian of religions and a politician)19 advocated the “silence of disdain,” by which he meant that such silence could somehow shame the antisemites. Similarly, Lazare Wogue worried about “the hostile prejudice which always slumbers in people.”20 However, this position became more difficult to maintain as Dreyfus’s brother Mathieu began to release more details about the lack of evidence in the case.21
Marrus cites Isaïe Levaillant’s response in 1896 to the stance of noninvolvement (or “silence of disdain”) taken by many Jews in France: “Silence, even in the eyes of the most intelligent, often passes for an admission of guilt, disdain for a convenient excuse, and certain falsehoods, by dint of being repeated, end up by imposing themselves upon honest men if they are never opposed and nullified.”22 In his memoirs published in 1935, Léon Blum, three-time Jewish prime minister of France, remarks that Jews in general “did not talk of the Affair among themselves; far from raising the subject they studiously avoided it. A great misfortune had fallen upon Israel. One suffered with it without a word, waiting for time and silence to wipe away the effects.”23
(c) There were some Jews who were publicly pro-Dreyfus. These can be divided into four groups:
(c1) Some believed that Jews would be protected by the French state. Among this group, Michael Marrus includes Zadoc Kahn, the chief rabbi of France. Kahn believed in the France of the Republic, which had given Jews citizenship. He expressed the fervent wish that France would “remain faithful to her natural genius, so wonderfully made up of reason, good sense, loyalty, and generosity.”24 It was the France of the Revolution that had emancipated the Israelites in the past; the republican France of his day could only follow its generous traditions in taking up the cause of the victim of reactionary passions.25
Kahn’s close friend and associate Salomon Reinach, brother of Joseph, publicly supported Kahn’s need to modulate his public statements in keeping with his role as chief rabbi.26 Strikingly, the Dreyfus family itself seemed to act with an abundance of caution in shying away from any public protest on the grounds that it might irritate the government. In historian Arthur Levy’s words, the Dreyfuses behaved “far too timidly and with excessive prudence.”27
Nevertheless, in January 1895, Kahn did call together a group of his personal friends, including Reinach, to form a committee to defend Jewish interests in France. Attorney Narcisse Leven was appointed president, and among the participants were the aforementioned Isaïe Levaillant and Henri Aron. Prominent among this first group (c1) was Joseph Reinach, who from the beginning was not afraid to speak out publicly for Dreyfus despite being the victim of some vicious antisemitic attacks. However, in Marrus’s words, “the committee seems to have been unable to secure much support from the Jewish community, and its efforts, if they continued much at all after 1895, did not come out into the open.”28 Marrus does point out, however, that this committee helped subsidize the publication of a number of pamphlets attacking antisemitism and even supporting some political candidates who also opposed it. Nevertheless, much of this seems to have been done surreptitiously and to some degree anonymously.
There were others who spoke out more directly about Dreyfus’s innocence. These people can be roughly divided into three categories, described below:
(c2) those who believed in the fairness of France towards Jews (the assimilationists).
(c3) those who did not so believe and called for a separate Jewish nationalism, staying within France; and
c4) those who became advocates of political Zionism, calling for the Jewish return to Palestine (Zion).
(c2) Among the second group were French Jews who spoke out for Dreyfus and defended him on universal grounds. In this group, Marrus lists the professor of literature Victor Basch, Michel Bréal, Alfred Berl, poet Gustave Kahn, and Orientalist Silvain Lévi. Marrus emphasized that in almost every case, these figures went out of their way to emphasize that they were “engaging in the struggle, not in order to defend a Jew but to defend the basic principles of the Republic”: the idea of “la France libérale.” In Marrus’s words, “while these Jewish defenders of Dreyfus did not hide from antisemitism, they constantly strove to place it in the context of a much larger struggle.”29
Marrus cites Silvain Lévi’s publicly expressed reason for supporting Dreyfus: “As long as it had to do with Dreyfus alone, I thought that it was my duty to remain silent. The cause of an innocent man had nothing to gain before public opinion by the adhesion of a Jew; it risked [rather] to lose by it. But today [December 1898], silence would be cowardly; protest is a duty.”30
One important example of this group noted by Marrus is that of Hippolyte Prague. In 1892, he wrote optimistically, “[We say] No! to antisemitism. This Germanic import will not take root in our land! No. France will not deny the work of the Emancipation and the French Revolution! No! the nation which has been justly called the soldier of right and justice will not go back on her word, on her mission.”31 By 1898, however, Prague’s mood had changed, and he had moved into the category of the Jewish nationalists: “This grave crisis of antisemitism…this awakening of the most odious passions which we have just witnessed, has had for an effect to tear away from their satisfied indifference, from their beatific optimism a whole group of people who have been used to consider democratic institutions as a shelter.”32
(c3)This group was quite different and was exemplified, in addition to the later Prague, by Henri Dhorr and Bernard Lazare. The Dreyfus affair led them all to come to doubt whether the French government would protect its Jewish citizens. Dhorr, who wrote for anarchist newspapers and supported revolutionaries from the Jewish working class, maintained that antisemitism would not disappear as Jews themselves disappeared. Viewing Jewish assimilationists as his enemy, as advocating for submission, indeed suicide rather than resistance, and calling for a revolutionary perspective, he argued strongly for Jewish particularism: “It is salutary, for the purposes of liberty, that peoples, like individuals, preserve and develop their autonomy.”33 Yet he did not seem particularly attached to the religion of Judaism itself.
Bernard Lazare may be the most historically important of these figures and indeed is a paradigmatic case reflecting changes in French society in the period before the Dreyfus affair. In his early years, there was little sign that Lazare (born Lazare Bernard in Nimes, in Provence), although he had undergone the Jewish ceremony of bar mitzvah. Indeed he bought into the fashionable distinction in France between juif and Israelite, which Marrus summarizes as follows: “A juif was a Jew as portrayed in the traditional anti-Semitic caricature, a person who is dominated by the unique preoccupation with making a quick fortune.… The Israelite, on the other hand, was assimilated into French society, was much more refined, limited in his desires, was either poor or of moderate circumstances, and had been settled for a long time in the place where he lived.”34
In his early years, Lazare fully embraced this distinction. For him, French Jews were generally Israelites; German and East European Jews were juifs. Antisemitic charges were essentially correct when applied to these juifs but false when applied to Israelites. Lazare, of course, saw himself as an Israelite and rejected any association with the juifs. In 1893, he wrote that there was only one way for Jews to be fully accepted as French citizens—to assimilate and vanish completely into French society.35
But then Lazare began to change, even before Alfred Dreyfus was arrested. The growing antisemitism he perceived in the years before the arrest had made him skeptical of the possibility of Jewish assimilation into France, as France was constituted at that time. To be sure, the doors of the physical ghetto had opened. But what had emerged was perhaps even worse: a “psychological wall” against full Jewish assimilation into France. The advent of the Dreyfus case and the antisemitism it provoked only augmented this change in Lazare.
He now began to see that antisemitism was a fundamental component of French society and that Dreyfus represented an incarnation of centuries of persecution dating back to the Christian New Testament’s portrayal of the Jew Judas as the betrayer of Jesus to Roman soldiers:
Did I not say that Captain Dreyfus belonged to a class of pariahs? He is a soldier, but he is a Jew, and it is as a Jew that he was prosecuted.… Because he was a Jew, he was arrested; because he was a Jew, he was tried; because he was a Jew, he was convicted; because he was a Jew, the voice of justice and truth could not be heard in his favor.… They needed their own Jewish traitor to replace the classic Judas, a Jewish traitor whom one could recall to mind increasingly, every day in order to cover an entire race with shame; a Jewish traitor who could be used to give license to a long campaign of which the Dreyfus affair had been the last act.36
Lazare no longer believed that it was possible for Jews to assimilate into France; the solution could only lie in a sense of Jewish nationalism. “Give back to the Jews…the sense of Jewish nationality. A people knows how to defend itself when it is conscious of itself and it knows how to defend its own who need to be defended. Let the Jewish nation arise, and it will find in itself the necessary force to vanquish its enemies and to win its rights.”37 Lazare was still exasperated with his fellow Jews, but it was no longer because of his rejection of Jewishness but for the opposite reason: Jews’ failure to embrace Jewish nationalism.38 But Lazare’s nationalism seemed somewhat ambiguous. It was Zionist in the sense of advocating for Jewish nationhood of French Jews, but it is unclear whether this movement at this point was explicitly addressed to the geographic Palestine or to Jewish peoplehood within France itself.
But then came Theodor Herzl.
(c4) This group of public advocates for Dreyfus was composed of individuals devoted to the establishment of the Jewish homeland in Palestine itself and was spurred by the Austrian Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Mécislas Golberg, Jacques Bahar, Alexander Marmorek, and perhaps Bernard Lazare, whose nationalism at this stage seemed to merge with political Zionism.39
One of the journalists witnessing the ceremony degrading Dreyfus was Theodor Herzl, a young, previously assimilated Viennese Jewish reporter who had awoken to the antisemitism around him. The Herzl scholar Jacques Kornberg reports that though “in his journal, Maurice Paléologue recorded shouts from the crowd of ‘Death to the Jews!’ and ‘Death to the traitor,’” Herzl’s notes made no mention of specific antisemitic outbursts at the event. Kornberg points out that fellow historian Alex Bein was convinced that Herzl’s views about French antisemitism had already been formed by his experiences in Vienna before the Dreyfus case. Bein suggests that Herzl’s omission of specific cries of “Death to the Jews!” in his initial notes on the ceremony was in part motivated by Herzl’s own fears. Kornberg, however, cites a statement by Herzl indicating that he saw France as different from Vienna in this regard. “The strength of the Republic is by no means exhausted. The world can still look with anticipation to this land, where the concerns of humanity are always taken up: France is the great vessel in which political innovations bubble in the whole civilized world.”40
However, Herzl changed, and in 1896 he published Der Judenstaat, in which he presented his vision for the restoration of the Jewish state. Support for Herzl’s ideas came not from the assimilated Jews of Western Europe (including France) but primarily from the Jews of the East, including Russia, Galicia, and the eastern parts of the Hapsburg Empire.41
The problem, as Herzl saw it, was that Jews were not fully admitted into equal membership in the societies in which they lived. Thus Herzl viewed the Jewish question as a national one. Because the Jews were seen as a nationality in the countries they lived in, they were always regarded with reservations and even suspicions. Furthermore, Jews themselves were ambivalent, whether consciously or not, about losing their identity by fully assimilating into the nations they lived in. Herzl argued: “The Jewish personality does not want to, cannot, and must not disappear. It cannot because its external enemies contribute to maintaining it. It does not want to, and this it has proven for two thousand years, in the face of unspeakable suffering.”42 For Herzl, then, there was only one solution to this problem: the establishment of a Jewish state, and he set in motion the preparations for the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, an event covered in some detail in the French press.
By this time, Bernard Lazare seemed to have completed his transformation from assimilationist to Zionist. He had become editor of the journal Zion before the Dreyfus affair had reached a crescendo. Now, however, he began to develop an explicit theory and program of Jewish nationalism as the best response to the situation in which Jews found themselves. His ideas were greatly influenced by the Zionist thinker and Hebraist, Ahad Ha’Am. Although Lazare remained personally friendly with Herzl, he broke with him publicly because he viewed Herzl as attempting to lead a “revolutionary movement” with authoritarian and middle-class methods.43 The previously mentioned Joseph Reinach’s view that attacks on Algerian Jews constituted an attack on France was now criticized for not specifically addressing antisemitism. For the journalist Jacques Bahar, who attended the First Zionist Congress in Basel, the Dreyfus affair represented a critical moment in the history of French Jewry: “The condition of Jews in France has become intolerable. In the army, in the magistracy, and in the civil service, in commerce, and in society, our condition no longer even resembles what it once was…the Algerian Jews are only guinea pigs for the treatment which is being reserved for us.”44
Bahar wrote in his monthly publication Le Flambeau that it was Jews in the process of assimilating who particularly evoked distrust in the French Christian community for trying to be something that they were not. Zionists, on the other hand, made no pretense of being Christians. Bahar made clear that his endorsement of Zionism did not imply an enthusiasm for the formal institution of Judaism per se; instead, he viewed Zionism as a revolutionary political organization freeing and indeed awakening Jews to the fulfillment of their social mission.45
Another important Zionist figure was Max Nordau, whom Marrus calls “a writer of considerable European reputation.” Though he was the son of a Budapest rabbi and the descendant of an old Spanish Jewish family, Nordau himself, who lived most of his life in France, had been a seemingly assimilated psychologist and author. He remained largely aloof from Jewish communal life and from the Jewish community itself, to which he seemed to feel no ethnic or religious bond. But his views changed during the early stages of the Dreyfus affair, and like both Herzl and Lazare, he became not only a Zionist but a leading figure at the First Zionist Conference.
Marrus discusses several other important Zionist figures. Mécislas Golberg, a Polish-born anarchist living in France, aligned himself with the Jewish nationalist cause, largely because of what he saw as the debilitating effects of the bourgeois French society in which he came to live. He felt that the Jewish intellectual had become a renegade and a deracine, “deprived of …the environment of his own people.” The strength of the Jews returned when they accepted the principles of Jewish nationalism.
Zionism also grew at the Jewish Popular University in Paris. Such Zionism emerged among Jewish immigrants and laborers and was supported by intellectuals such as the president of this university, Alexander Marmorek. In 1903, Marmorek stated that “Zionism provided the bond between the diverse social groups which were participating. Those who leave here will be more proud, more conscious of their personal dignity, and they will bear proudly the name of Jew.”46
Alfred Dreyfus Himself
It is striking that Dreyfus himself did not seem to fully realize the position of Jews in France and how it led to his conviction. Quiet, naive, and rigidly and totally devoted to the military, he did not draw the ultimate lesson of his own trial, conviction, humiliation, and imprisonment that Herzl, Lazare, and most of his other vocal defenders drew: that Jews would never be fully accepted in France. Instead, his letters from his four years on Devil’s Island reveal that he could not understand why he had been so severely punished.
Dreyfus idealized and idolized France and dreamed of it as some might dream of a lover. For him, France was “above all human passions.”47 “O dear France that I love with all my soul,” he wrote. “I have never forgotten that far above men, far above their errors, is our country. It is she that will be my final judge.”48 His diary and letters constantly speak of France being the final arbiter of right and wrong. France had taken the place of the biblical God in his mind, replacing his Jewish identity. As Burns put it, “That his tragedy through Herzl’s reaction to it helped shape the foundations of the modern Jewish state stands as one of the affair’s most significant and ironic legacies.”49
While Dreyfus knew that an injustice had been done, he could not accept the idea that his beloved French army had stabbed him in the back. It pained him throughout his incarceration, and he found no reasonable explanation for why he was being punished: “My heart is dead within me, my brain reels with the turmoil of what has passed. To be condemned without palpable proofs on the strength of a bit of handwriting! However clear the soul and conscience of a man may be, is there not more than enough to enfrenzy him.”50
There were probably a number of reasons for Dreyfus’s mindset: (1) He was a product of an assimilationist Jewish culture in France. (2) As such, he was willing to subordinate any Jewish sensibilities or identity to acceptance as a full Frenchman. (3) He chose to belong to the army, one of the most conservative and antisemitic French institutions. (4) When he was betrayed by the army and outed as a Jew, he had no identity to fall back on. (5) He thus meekly begged the French to exonerate him, never showing a healthy anger at his abusers or acknowledging that the system was rigged against him.
Hence we must reluctantly put Dreyfus himself in category c1 in table 1. In that, he was typical of so many Jews who were captivated by the Enlightenment.51 We will return to this topic at the end of this article.
Table 1. Attitudes of French Jews toward the Dreyfus Case
Jewish publicly expressed positions toward Dreyfus
Believers that Jews would be protected by the French state and should assimilate without any need to retain Jewish separatism
Doubters as to whether Jews would be to assimilate into France in the context of general French values, as Frenchmen of the Jewish faith
Believers that Jews could not and should not assimilate and should stay separate in France
Believers that Jews must return to their homeland in Palestine (Zionism)
Isadore Singer (1894)
Joseph Aron (1894)
Arthur Meyer (1895)
Louis-Lucien Klotz (1896)
Fernand Ratisbone (1898)
Gaston Pollonnais (1899)
Publicly uninvolved/ neutral
Bernard Lazare (1893)
Theodore Reinach (1895)
Isidore Cahen (1896)
Lazar Wogue (1893)
Zadoc Khan (1895, 1899)
Salomon Reinach (1895)
Narcisse Leven (1895)
Isaïe Levaillant (1895)
Henri Aron (1895)
Joseph Reinach (1898)
Theodore Reinach (1898)
Mathieu Dreyfus (1896)
Alfred Neymark (1897)
Michel Bréal (1898)
Silvain Lévi (1898)
Victor Basch (1899)
Gustave Kahn (1899)
Alfred Berl (1900)
Alfred Dreyfus himself
Lazar Wogue (1894)
Hippolyte Prague (1898)
Bernard Lazare (1896)
Henri Dhorr (1899)
Max Nordau (1899)
Mécislas Golberg (1899)
Jacques Bahar (1899)
Although the reemergence of the Jewish State was aimed (at least in Herzl’s eyes) at freeing Jews from such unjust accusations as those levied against Dreyfus, the same European antisemitism has now reemerged and is now being directed at Israel itself. In other words, Israel itself has become the same litmus test for the world that Dreyfus was. This situation has evoked the same multiplicity of responses on the part of both Israeli and Diaspora Jews as it did among French Jews in Dreyfus’ time. We examine this pattern as manifested in attitudes toward three events that have confronted Israel: (1) Operation Cast Lead; (2) the BDS movement; and (3) former American President Donald Trump’s policy moves toward Israel and toward American Jews.
Event 1: Operation Cast Lead
Israel began Operation Cast Lead on December 27, 2008, with the avowed intent to put an end to the relentless terror attacks from Gaza by Hamas, which for years had fired thousands of rockets and missiles on Israeli towns and villages. During the first five days of the war, Israel launched an air assault on targets it deemed to be hostile within Gaza, including police stations, weapons storehouses, and other military and political targets in the cities of Gaza, Khan Yunis, and Rafah that Israel suspected had been involved in the attacks. On January 3, 2009, the IDF began its ground invasion.
Views expressed about Operation Cast Lead can be compared and contrasted using a similar classification scheme to that with which we categorized French Jewish attitudes toward the Dreyfus affair (see table 2). In other words, people and institutions will be classified in terms of whether they were: (a) publicly anti‒Cast Lead or (b) publicly pro‒Cast Lead. We further divide the respondents in each group into whether they represented (1) Israeli government officials and those in well-known think tanks, (2) Israeli Jewish public opinion expressed by NGOs, journalists, and private citizens, and (3) Jews in the Diaspora.
Table 2 Attitudes of Israelis and Diaspora Jews toward Operation Cast Lead
(a1) As would be expected, we are not aware of any official Israeli responses in opposition to Cast Lead, at least during the operation itself.
(a2) For the most part, in this category, there was not much criticism of the operation while it was going on. However, there were some Jewish students at Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who spoke out against Operation Cast Lead. Despite the provocations that Israel had endured, revisionist historian Avi Shlaim (who was born and grew up in Israel while living most of his adult life in Britain) seized the opportunity not only to immediately pounce on Israel’s counterterror campaign but to deride its very creation as the original sin underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict. Shlaim cited a letter by British official Sir John Troutbeck, which lamented that “establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians.” Shlaim commented, “British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On June 2, 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by ‘an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders.’”52
What Shlaim neglected to mention, historian Efraim Karsh points out in a 2008 annotated text, is that even Troutbeck, no friend of Israel and Jews by any stretch of the imagination, conceded a year later following a fact-finding mission to Gaza in June 1948 that while the Palestinian refugees “express no bitterness against the Jews (or for that matter against the Americans or ourselves) they speak with the utmost bitterness of the Egyptians and other Arab states.… I even heard it said that many of the refugees would give a welcome to the Israelis if they were to come in and take the district [i.e., Gaza] over.”53
After the operation ended, a number of Israeli private citizens and journalists began their criticism. On March 26, 2009, a report by Amira Hass in Haaretz described the economic losses incurred by the Abu E’ida Construction Company as a result of Operation Cast Lead.54 But the criticisms became much more severe. On July 17, 2009, for example, 22 public Israelis published a letter in The Guardian in which they signaled their virtue by blaming Israel for defending itself and calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and institutions: “We, as Israeli citizens, raise our voices to call on EU leaders: use sanctions against Israel’s brutal policies and join the active protests of Bolivia and Venezuela.… Boycott Israeli goods and Israeli institutions… Help us all, please!”55
Moreover, some Israeli human rights organizations eagerly collaborated with the fact-finding mission established by the virulently anti-Israeli United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”56
Also in July 2009, the European-funded Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence solicited personal accounts from some 26 soldiers who had participated in Operation Cast Lead and who accused Israeli soldiers of “vandalizing homes” and “indiscriminate killing of civilians.” These charges, however, were largely rebutted by other soldiers who said they were based on rumors and not on any first-hand observation.57 The accusers, however, rejoiced when the “facts” and “information” they had given the commission culminated in a 600-page report by a committee chaired by jurist Richard Goldstone of South Africa (released in September 2009) that harshly indicted Israel while effectively turning a blind eye to Hamas’s countless war crimes.58
Shortly thereafter, on August 29, 2009, Israeli poet and journalist Yitzhak Laor accused Israel of “destroying Arab East Jerusalem,” “killing masses of Palestinians in Gaza,” and “maintaining a brutal dictatorship in the territories.”59 On September 29 of that same year, Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar cited in Haaretz a statement by a representative of the Israel Police trying to persuade the Tel Aviv District Court to block antiwar protesters from the city: “This is a time of war, and every incident harms the people’s morale.”60
On April 7, 2011, after Goldstone retracted his report, Israeli commentator Gideon Levy responded angrily: “We can believe that the IDF didn’t deliberately kill civilians, we don’t have murdering soldiers as in other armies, but neither did the IDF do enough to prevent them from being killed,” he wrote. “Isn’t the killing of about 300 civilians, including dozens of women and children, a reason for penetrating national soul-searching? Were all of them killed by mistake? If so, don’t 300 different mistakes require conclusions? Is this the behavior of the most moral army in the world?”61
Jessica Montell, then-executive director of the B’Tselem human rights organization, wrote: “Israel, unlike Hamas, did not have a policy to intentionally fire at civilians. But is this a cause for rejoicing?” Any impartial and dispassionate observer would of course answer this rhetorical question in the affirmative, as there is a world of difference between the unequivocal war crime of deliberately targeting civilians (as Hamas did) and the unintentional killing of civilians in the course of attacks on military targets (hidden in densely populated areas—another Hamas war crime). When such intentional killing occurred, it was after Israel had taken all possible measures to avoid or minimize civilian casualties, including the unprecedented “roof-knocking” that signaled to civilians to leave buildings used as military strongholds by Hamas. But these exceptional efforts were not good enough for Montell. Reverting to the common tactic among Israel critics of singling out the Jewish state for uniquely high moral standards and stringent self-restraint (exemplified in the standard characterization of legitimate self-defense as “disproportionate use of force”), she insisted: “Heaven help us if our moral standard is reduced to not committing crimes against humanity. From my country, I demand far more.”62
(a3) Operation Cast Lead was criticized in the Jewish Diaspora as well. Critics, for example, included Richard Falk in 2008 and Mark LeVine and the aforementioned Richard Goldstone in 2009.
Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton, was born into a highly assimilationist Jewish family and served as the UNHRC’s special rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories. He has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to “Nazi atrocities.” It may be significant that Falk had also been drawn to conspiracy theories about Al Qaida’s attack on various targets in America on September 11, 2001. In his capacity as UN rapporteur, Falk described Israel’s embargo on Gaza as a “crime against humanity,” largely underplaying if not ignoring Hamas’s continuing rocket attacks against Israeli towns and villages. When he arrived in Israel on December 15, 2008, he was expelled by authorities, who explained that he was unwelcome because of his hostile stance toward Israel.
Another Diaspora critic, the American Jewish academic and musician Mark LeVine, published in Al Jazeera on December 27, 2009, a scathing critique of Israel’s conduct during the war. LeVine argued that Israeli raids on Gaza before the war, as well as the war itself, were unprovoked. He claimed further that “Israeli violence had been responsible for ending 79 percent of all lulls in violence since the outbreak of the second intifada, compared with only 8 percent for Hamas and other Palestinian factions.”63
Finally, the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, as mentioned previously, released a report in September 2009 that severely indicted Israel while effectively overlooking Hamas’s countless war crimes. As South African author and journalist Benjamin Pogrund remarked in 2011, “Everyone who hated Israel, loved Goldstone.”64
` We turn now to category b, comprising people and institutions who were publicly pro‒Cast Lead.
(b1) On December 22, 2009, almost a week before the start of Operation Cast Lead, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated that Israel would not tolerate rocket fire coming from militants in Gaza. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who had previously supported the truce, now called for military intervention in Gaza.65 As may be expected, the Israeli government and the IDF strongly defended the operation. Defense analyst David Eshel maintained that Cast Lead had succeeded to use advanced technology to outflank Hamas within its own territory.66 Commentator Amos Harel quoted a senior Shin Bet official saying that “Hamas had completely lost the Gaza War.”67 The Israeli army declared that it had destroyed about 89 percent of the arms-smuggling tunnels from Egypt to Gaza.
Other Israeli professionals who defended the operation were Robbie Sabel, then a visiting professor of international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, and Gabriel Siboni, a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and head of its Military and Strategic Affairs program. Sabel defended Israel against charges of disproportionate use of force, arguing that “once parties are in armed conflict, the rule of proportionality is no longer applicable or relevant, except as regards civilian casualties…. The rules of war do not impose a game type of equilibrium. In an armed conflict, a party is entitled to use superior force to destroy the enemy’s armed forces and military capabilities and not only to respond in kind.”68
Siboni compared Cast Lead favorably to the Second Lebanon War two-and-a-half years earlier: “The civilian defense component was also more effective than in the Second Lebanon War. In the course of the operation, the IDF garnered the support of the media, and most of the reports noted the positive aspects of the fighting and the changes for the better in the IDF while pointing out that the commanders were fighting on the front lines, in front of their men.”69
Over time, the official Israeli governmental response strongly defended Israeli conduct in Operation Cast Lead. In reaction to the Goldstone Report, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued an official statement on September 15, 2009, explaining that it “did not feel able to cooperate with the Fact-Finding Mission because its mandate was clearly one-sided and ignored the thousands of Hamas missile attacks on civilians in southern Israel that made the Gaza Operation necessary. Both the mandate of the Mission and the resolution establishing it prejudged the outcome of any investigation, gave legitimacy to the Hamas terrorist organization, and disregarded the deliberate Hamas strategy of using Palestinian civilians as cover for launching terrorist attacks.” Nevertheless, the ministry added that “Israel will read the report carefully.”70
After reading it, the ministry issued an initial formal response to the report specifying what it viewed as 32 cases of biases and errors. Its conclusions were sharply critical, accusing the report of serving a political agenda rather than upholding international law.71 On September 16, 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labeled the report a “field court-marital which was decided before the evidence was ever presented.”72 President Shimon Peres was unsparing in his criticism, saying the report “fail[ed] to distinguish between the attacker and the defender.”73 Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, in a letter to the Jerusalem Post on September 17, characterized the commission as “established with the aim of finding Israel guilty ahead of time.”74 A New York Times report by Ethan Bronner quoted the then-Israeli military advocate general, Avichai Mandelblit, stating that the Goldstone Report’s assertions “made us look like we set out to go after the economic infrastructure and civilians, that it was intentional. It was a vicious lie.”75
In these circumstances, it was hardly surprising that when in April 2011 Goldstone, who had headed the fact-finding mission, recanted in a conspicuous Washington Post op-ed the anti-Israeli gist of its report, stating that “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,”76 he was peremptorily criticized by human rights activists.
(b2) As revealed in an analysis by Israeli legislator and academic Yehuda Ben Meir, Israeli public opinion was initially very positive toward the war and remained so. On December 28, 2008, 81 percent of the Israeli public supported the operation, and only 12 percent opposed it. Most of the opponents were Israeli Arabs, with Jewish Israelis’ support for the operation reaching 90 percent. This overwhelmingly high proportion of approval stayed largely constant throughout the Israeli ground offensive, which was launched on January 3, 2009. In a poll conducted from January 4 to 6, about 92 percent of Israeli Jews responded that they supported the Israeli airstrikes, and 70 percent the ground offensive. On January 13, some ten days into the ground offensive, an estimated 70 percent of the Jewish population still expressed support, 78 percent saying the operation was a success, and less than 13 percent saying they thought Israel had used excessive force.77
During the first days of Cast Lead, a number of Jewish students demonstrated in favor of the operation at Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In July 2009, the Israeli group “Soldiers Speak Out” countered the aforementioned criticisms of Cast Lead by Breaking the Silence.78
(b3) Operation Cast Lead also received considerable support in the Diaspora. Among its prominent supporters were Alan Dershowitz, Irwin Cotler, Richard Goldstone (in recanting), and Mitchell Bard.
In 2010, Dershowitz presented a case against the original Goldstone Report on the grounds of evidentiary bias. He argued that the report was
far more accusatory of Israel, far less balanced in its criticism of Hamas, far less honest in its evaluation of the evidence, far less responsible in drawing its conclusion, far more biased against Israeli than Palestinian witnesses, and far more willing to draw adverse inferences of intentionality from Israeli conduct and statements than from comparable Palestinian conduct and statements. It is worse than any report previously prepared by any other United Nations agency or human rights group…. The Goldstone report is, to any fair reader, a shoddy piece of work, unworthy of serious consideration by people of goodwill, committed to the truth.79
In a panel discussion at the Begin Heritage Center in February 2010, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler proposed that Israel launch an independent commission of inquiry into Cast Lead so as to take back the narrative in the international arena. “My main point,” he said, “is that Israel should create an independent commission of inquiry, not only because it has nothing to hide, but because I think Israel has something to contribute by engaging with the international community.”80
As mentioned, on April 1, 2011, Richard Goldstone himself published a Washington Post op-ed in which he reconsidered and, in some respects, retracted his earlier report. Goldstone cited a final report by a UN committee of independent experts stating that “‘Israel had dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza’ while ‘the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.’”
“Our report,” Goldstone wrote,
found evidence of potential war crimes and possibly “crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying—the rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.
The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the UN committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.81
Finally, in the 2011 edition of his annual report on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Mitchell Bard defended Israel against a number of accusations concerning its conduct in Operation Cast Lead: (1) Israel did not violate the cease-fire with Hamas; (2) Israel did not react with disproportionate force; (3) Palestinians in Gaza were not innocent victims; (4) Hamas did not target military objectives; (5) because Hamas believed it was fighting a holy war, it did not fear Israel’s military might; (6) thus Israel would not have been able to negotiate with Hamas; (7) Israel did not deliberately attack a UN school; (8) media coverage of Operation Cast Lead was not fair and accurate; (9) the media was not barred from Gaza; (10) the UN’s human rights reporter is not an objective source on conditions in Gaza; (11) Hamas rocket attacks were not a legitimate tool to resist the “occupation;” (12) Israel did not withdraw from Gaza settlements to intentionally create a humanitarian crisis; (13) Hamas did not behave as any “resistance movement” would in reaction to Operation Cast Lead; (14) casualty reports from Gaza were not accurate and verifiable; and (15) Israel did allow ambulances to reach injured Palestinians.82
Event 2: The BDS Movement
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement was formally established in 2005 by approximately 170 Palestinian nongovernmental organizations on Western university campuses. The aim was to equate Israel with the South African apartheid regime so as to subject it to international boycott, divestment, and sanctions and thereby “pressure Israel to comply with international law.”83 Leaving aside the fact that there is no similarity whatsoever between apartheid South Africa and Israel, where the Arab minority enjoys full equality before the law and is endowed with the full spectrum of democratic rights,84 behind this seemingly innocuous phrasing lies the goal of bringing about Israel’s demise. As starkly illustrated by the official BDS movement’s website, its preoccupation is not with ending Israel’s “illegal occupation” of the West Bank but rather the Jewish state’s very existence, which “for nearly seventy years…has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights.” In other words, the “regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation,” to which the Palestinians have allegedly been subjected, dates not to Israel’s capture of the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 war but to its establishment in May 1948.85
The implication is clear and unequivocal: just as the anti-apartheid movement brought down that regime, so a sustained international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions will bring down the “regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation” that, in the BDS movement’s definition, is Israel. Moreover, the BDS movement embraces the “right of return”—the standard Palestinian euphemism for Israel’s destruction via demographic subversion—as “a key demand of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.”86
Again, in analyzing responses to this attack, we use basically the same classification scheme (see Table 3). People and institutions were categorized in terms of whether they were: (a) publicly pro-BDS or (b) publicly anti-BDS. We further divided the respondents in each group into whether they were (1) Israeli governmental officials, (2) Israeli private Jewish citizens, or (3) Jews of the Diaspora.
Table 3 Attitudes of Israelis and Diaspora Jews toward the BDS Movement
Jewish public positions toward the BDS movement
Israeli Jewish citizens’ response
Diaspora Jewish response
a. Publicly pro-BDS
Gush Shalom (1997)
35 Israelis (2001)
Tanya Reinhart (2000, 2003‒5)
Rela Mazali (2001, 2002, 2005)
10 Israeli academics (2002)
Eva Jablonka (2002)
Ilan Pappe (2002, 2014)
10 Israelis (as part of a group of 270 European scientists, 2002)
Anarchists Against the Wall (2003)
Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (2005)
Dalit Baum (2005)
Dorothy Naor (2006)
Shir Hever (2006, 2008)
Rachel Giora (2006)
Reuven Abergel (2006)
Gideon Levy (2006)
Kobi Snitz and Roee Harush (documenting BOYCOTT? 2008)
Anat Matar, Yael Lerer, and other members of BOYCOTT? (2008)
Yoram Carmeli, Anat Matar, Jonathan Pollak, Kobi Snitz, Rachel Giora, and other members of BOYCOTT? (2009)
Neve Gordon (2009)
Michel Warschawski (2009)
Uri Jacobi Keller (2008)
Coalition of Women for Peace (2009)
Miko Peled (2014)
Nurit Peled-Elhanan (2014)
Jeff Halper (2014)
Gideon Levy (2016)
Anat Matar (2016)
Sahar Vardi, Rachel Giora, Ofer Neiman, and Kobi Snitz (represented by Attorney Eitay Mack, 2017‒19)
Letter of Israeli and Jewish academics to German political parties (2019)
Letter of 1,000 Israeli citizens to the city of Seattle (2020)
Steven Rose (2002)
John Berger (2006)
Leon Rosselson (2006)
Adrienne Rich (2012)
Sarah Schulman (2013)
Judith Butler (2013)
Howie Hawkins (2014)
Michael Raitner (2014)
Josh Reubner (2014)
Antony Loewenstein (2014)
Jennifer Loewenstein (2014)
Bertell Ollman (2014)
Hedy Epstein (2014)
Samuel Harper (2014)
Cynthia Franklin (2014)
Lynn Gottleib (2014)
Adam Horowitz (2014)
Selma James (2014)
Lenni Brenner (2014)
Jonathan Beller (2014)
Hilary Rose (2014)
Steven Rose (2014)
Max Blumenthal (2014)
Jonathan Rosenhead (2014)
Moshe Machover (2014)
Daniel Boyarin (2014)
Miriam Margolyes (2014)
Jewish Voice for Peace (2015)
Michael Rosen (2015)
Nicholas Mirzoeff (2015)
Peter Kosminsky (2015)
Naomi Klein (2016)
Jay Michaelson (2020)
b. Publicly anti-BDS
Israeli Knesset (passed Law for Prevention of Damage to State of Israel through Boycott, 2011)
Israeli Knesset (passed Amendment 28 to the Entry into Israel Law, 2011)
Reuven Rivlin (2016)
Gilad Erdan (2016)
Yisrael Katz (2016)
Israeli Mission to the United Nations (hosted a group of several thousand BDS opponents, 2016)
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan announced a plan to set up a database of Israeli citizens who supported BDS using open sources such as Facebook and social media posts (2017). Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit objected.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu successfully persuaded Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen to stop the Danish government’s funding of Palestinian organizations (2017).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly condemned Irish legislative initiative supporting the BDS movement (2018).
Israeli soldiers (arrested and detained Mahmoud Nawajaa, general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, for 19 days (2020).
Israel Allies Foundation (2020)
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner (director,
Shurat Hadin, 2002‒)
Gil Troy (2010)
Robert Wistrich (2010)
Reut Institute (2010)
Yehuda Ben Meir and Owen Alterman (2011)
Yisrael Medad (2012)
Joel Fishman (2012)
Alliance for Israel Advocacy (2014)
Mordechai Kedar (2016‒17)
Elie Pieprz (2016‒17)
Emmanuel Navon (2016‒17)
Yuli Tamir (2016‒17)
Einat Wilf (2016‒17)
Yossi Beilin (2016‒17)
Yishai Fleisher (2017)
249 Israeli and Diaspora Jewish academics (2019)
American Jewish Committee (2007)
Abraham Foxman (2013)
Anti-Defamation League (2014)
Jewish Federation of Sarasota, Florida (2014)
Charles Krauthammer (2014)
Alan Dershowitz (2014‒15)
Marc Greendorfer (2015)
Maccabee Task Force (2015)
Howard Stern (2015)
Simon Wiesenthal Center (2016)
Adam Milstein (2016)
Jonathan Schanzer (2016)
Norman Finkelstein (2016)
Mort Klein (2016)
Mark Goldfeder (2016)
Ira Sheskin (2016)
Ira Felso (2016)
Alexander Joffe (2017)
Simon Wiesenthal Center (2017)
Ed Asner (2017)
Andrew Pessin (2017)
Doron Ben-Atar (2018)
Judah Pearl (2018)
249 Israeli and Diaspora Jewish Academics (2019)
Deborah Lipstadt (2019)
Ben Shapiro (2019)
Stephen Fry (2019)
Daniel Schwammenthal (2019)
Israeli-American Council (2020)
(a1) As would be expected, no official representatives of the Israeli government seemed to be pro-BDS.
(a2) As would also be expected, the Israeli far-left Matzpen organization appeared to strongly favor boycott, divestment, and sanctions in principle (as opposed to the movement, which was established later) as early as February 1988, issuing a call to boycott products made in the Jewish settlements. A 2010 article by Israeli academic Rachel Giora describes several Israeli organizations and individuals who supported some version of BDS.87 Much of the material in the next several paragraphs comes from this piece.
In September 1997, Gush Shalom called for a boycott of products of the Jewish settlements in the “occupied Palestinian territories.”88 In 2001, 35 Israelis published a signed call to boycott Israeli industry and agriculture, likening Israel’s situation to that of South Africa.89
The year 2002 marked a turning point in criticism of Israel, ostensibly triggered by the IDF’s response in March to terrorism stemming from the West Bank. What Israel officially dubbed Operation Defensive Shield was labeled by critics and foes of Israel worldwide as the Jenin Massacre. The criticism was intensified by Israel’s building of a defensive barrier in the West Bank in response to unrelenting terror attacks. Israel was accused in some circles, which included academics, writers, and artists worldwide, of creating an “apartheid wall” that turned the West Bank into South African bantustans. April of that year was marked by a call for a moratorium on EU and European Science Foundation support for Israel. Some 120 academics signed this call, including 10 Israeli academics, among whom were Profs. Rachel Giora, Ilan Pappe, and Tuvia Shlonsky.90 Pappe doubled down on this criticism in 2003, asserting that “conditions the Palestinians live in are much worse than South Africa’s.”91
Among a segment of the Israeli population, the criticism did not abate over the succeeding years. Some of the critics were Tanya Reinhart in 2000 and then again in the period of 2003‒05. Among the critics were Rela Mazali and Eva Jablonka in 2002 and Anarchists Against the Wall in 2003. In 2005, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions protested the demolitions of homes of families of terrorists.92 From 2005 to 2008, other Israeli civilians such as Rela Mazali, Dalit Baum, Dorothy Naor, Shir Hever, Rachel Giora, and Reuven Abergel expressed support for the BDS movement.
These attempts to isolate Israel only intensified with the launching of Operation Cast Lead in 2008, discussed in the previous section. It is as if Israel critics who could not find evidence to attack Israel for its actions in Cast Lead now channeled their anti-Israeli venom into the BDS movement. This is a point we will return to later.
In her aforementioned article, Rachel Giora’s list of Israeli supporters of BDS after Operation Cast Lead included Uri Jacob Keller in 2008 and Neve Gordon and Michael Warschawski in 2009. The year 2009 also saw the emergence of BOYCOTT?, a group that included Yoram Carmeli, Kobi Snitz, Roee Harush, Anat Matar, Yael Lerer, Jonathan Pollak, and Rachel Giora.93 Expressing support for BDS, they were joined by the Coalition of Women for Peace, and in 2014 by Miko Peled, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Jeff Halper, and Jonathan Rosenhead.
In 2016 more Israelis took part in the pro-BDS chorus, including Gideon Levy and, again, Anat Matar.
In the 2017‒19 period, Israelis such as Sahar Vardi, Rachel Giora, Ofer Neiman, and Kobi Snitz attempted to take legal action in support of the BDS movement. They were represented by attorney Eitay Mack. In 2019, 240 Israeli and Jewish academics wrote to political parties in Germany, maintaining that the BDS movement was not antisemitic.94 Finally, in 2020 1,000 Israeli citizens wrote to the city of Seattle urging it to support BDS.
(a3) Since Operation Cast Lead, many Diaspora Jews have expressed support for the BDS movement as well. From 2013 to 2016, for example, pro-BDS American and Canadian Jews unsurprisingly included Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the leading Jewish anti-Zionist groups in America. Other American supporters of BDS included Howie Hawkins, Antony Loewenstein, Samuel Harper, Michael Raitner, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, Selma James, Jonathan Beller, and academics Bertell Ollman, Samuel Farber, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Daniel Boyarin, and Judith Butler, authors and journalists Josh Ruebner, Anthony and Jennifer Loewenstein, Lenni Brenner, Hedy Epstein, Cynthia Franklin, Naomi Klein, Max Blumenthal, and Jay Michaelson, and writers and producers Sarah Schulman, Adam Horowitz, and Adrienne Rich. There were a number of prominent pro-BDS Jews in Britain as well, including Moshe Machover, Steven and Hilary Rose, Miriam Margolyes, Peter Kosminsky, John Berger, Leon Rosselson, and Michael Rosen.
(b1) Many Israelis and Diaspora Jews opposed the BDS movement as well. We look first at Israeli governmental responses. On July 11, 2011, the Knesset passed a law deeming it a civil offense to call publicly for a boycott of the state of Israel. This was defined as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural, or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions, or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural, or academic damage.” Anyone calling for such a boycott faced the possibility of being sued and required to pay compensation, independent of specific damages. This party might also be prohibited from bidding in government tenders.95
That same year, the Knesset passed Amendment 28, which enabled limiting entry into Israel on the basis of attitudes toward BDS. As might be expected, this law provoked a reaction with 32 Israeli law professors signing a petition stating that the law was unconstitutional and harmed freedom of political expression and protest.96
President Reuven Rivlin, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, and Intelligence Minister and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz all came out strongly against the BDS movement. In May 2016, Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations hosted a group of several thousand opponents of BDS. This assembly was harshly criticized by the aforementioned columnist Gideon Levy in a piece titled “BDS Isn’t the Criminal Here”:
Israeli propagandists are delighting in the achievements against BDS. The struggle’s commander, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, last week held a propagandists’ conference in the UN building, where his forces briefed some 1,500 gullible Jewish students to recite: Every other word that comes out of your mouths must be “peace.” That is moving, of course, to the point of tears. But the hour of truth will come, and then all those who acted to criminalize the boycott will have to answer honestly: Who is the criminal here, what is the real crime, and what have you done against it?97
On November 17, 2016, Ambassador Danon convened a meeting as the chairman of the UN Sixth Committee of the General Assembly for the Examination of Legal Questions. He specifically focused on how to legally combat the BDS movement. Notable attendees included Dershowitz, Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein, and Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow and project director at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
“We are here to send a simple message to the BDS movement,” said Danon. “To the bullies who harass students on campus, to those who use the language of civil rights to mask their hate, to the activists who are conducting this illegal and unjust campaign of hate; your time is over, your movement based on lies and intimidation is coming to an end.… We will use every tool and every legal measure to stop the hate.”98
In 2017, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan announced a plan to set up a database of Israeli citizens who supported BDS using open sources such as Facebook and social media posts. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit objected, insisting that only the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service) had the authority to monitor citizens in that way.99
Also in 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu successfully persuaded Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen to stop the Danish government’s funding of pro-BDS Palestinian organizations.100 In 2018, Netanyahu strongly condemned an Irish legislative initiative supporting the BDS movement.101
In 2020, Israeli soldiers arrested Mahmoud Nawajaa, general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, and he was detained for 19 days. Also in 2020, the Israel Allies Foundation, partly funded by the Israeli government, helped push legislation in 25 U.S. states banning state agencies from contracting with any entity supporting a boycott of Israel.102
(b2) A number of Israeli citizens and nongovernmental organizations also came out strongly against BDS. One was Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of the Shurat Hadin NGO, who had been a vocal critic of BDS since 2002. In 2010, historian and commentator Gil Troy noted in the Jerusalem Post that BDS “was not just targeting specific Israeli policies, but rather questioned the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence.”103 The late Israeli historian Robert Wistrich also came out against it in 2010. In this same year, Israel’s Reut Institute argued that BDS was applying double standards to Israel in an attempt to delegitimize it.104 In 2011, Yehuda Ben Meir and Owen Alterman asserted that BDS’s main aim was “to portray Israel as a pariah state, a country that is repeatedly violating international law, human rights law, and accepted international norms, practicing apartheid. Its goal is to have Israel become an international outcast, leading to its total isolation.”105
Historian and commentator Joel Fishman came out against BDS in 2012. The Alliance for Israel Advocacy leveled criticism at BDS in 2014, and 249 Israeli and Diaspora Jewish academics came out against it in 2019. Individual Israeli citizens who have decried BDS also include Yisrael Medad in 2012, and Mordechai Kedar, Elie Pieprz, Emmanuel Navon, Einat Wilf, and Yishai Fleisher in 2016‒17. Politicians Yuli Tamir and Yossi Beilin also were critics of BDS, though their responses may have been more qualified.
(b3) There was considerable Diaspora criticism of BDS as well, largely from America. Among these opponents were the American Jewish Committee in 2007, and in 2014, the then Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman, the Jewish Federation of Sarasota, Florida, the late Charles Krauthammer, and Dershowitz. In 2015, Marc Greendorfer, the Maccabee Task Force, and Howard Stern all came out against BDS. In 2016, they were joined in this opposition by Jonathan Schanzer, Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein, as well as Mark Goldfeder, Ira Sheskin, Ira Alex Joffe, and even critic of Israel Norman Finkelstein. In 2017, the Simon Wiesenthal Center decried BDS as did actor Ed Asner. Opposition to it was expressed in 2018 by Andrew Pessin, Doron Ben-Atar, and Judah Pearl, father of slain reporter Daniel Pearl.
In 2019, as noted, 249 Israeli and Diaspora Jewish academics came out against BDS. So did historian Deborah Lipstadt; talk-show host Ben Shapiro; Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Transatlantic Institute; and British Jewish actor Stephen Fry. In 2020, the Israeli-American Council also took a stand against BDS.
Dershowitz added his opinion that legal tools could be employed against the BDS movement as it “engages in discrimination based on national origin, which is illegal.” He further noted: “But I do worry that sometimes when you pursue legal remedies, you win in the courtroom but lose in the court of public opinion.… BDS must be fought in the court of public opinion. It is not enough to fight BDS in courts of law.”106
The criticism of Israel intensified after the passing of a law in 2017 that barred entry to Israel for non-Israelis who called for the boycott of Israel or of settlements.107
Overall, the Israeli response to the BDS movement has been mixed. Certainly, individuals and organizations in Israel have strongly opposed it. And more recently, there seems to have been a concerted, official governmental response to BDS.
Event 3: Then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s Policy Moves toward Israel and toward Jews
On December 22, 2016, then-President-Elect Donald Trump unsuccessfully pressed the Obama administration to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements, presaging a drastic shift in U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. Under Trump’s administration, Israel’s situation dramatically improved on a number of fronts. To begin with, on December 6, 2017, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the American embassy to be moved there from Tel Aviv.108
Further, on March 25, 2019, Trump signed a directive to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel. The United States thereby became the first country, aside from Israel itself, to take that stance.109
Next, on November 18, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration did not view Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be in violation of international law. “After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan. The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”110 It took only one hour for EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini to issue a statement expressing her disagreement.111 Moreover, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) on Israeli settlements is still in place, and Israel is still susceptible to international pressure and sanctions on the settlements issue.
Yet another positive event occurred not in Israel but in the United States, with implications for how Israel is treated on U.S. college and university campuses. On December 11, 2019, President Trump issued an executive order to combat antisemitism in schools and on campuses. It applies Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI, 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq.), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance, to discrimination against Jews. As Trump stated in the executive order:
While Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices. Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin. It shall be the policy of the executive branch to enforce Title VI against prohibited forms of discrimination rooted in antisemitism as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination prohibited by Title VI.112
One would think such an order would attract unanimous support from the American Jewish community. But this community seems as confused and divided as the one in Israel. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations came out solidly in favor of the initiative, as did the Anti-Defamation League, the Republican Jewish Council, and the American Jewish Committee. However, it was opposed by J Street and the Jewish Democratic Council of America.113 (It was also criticized by many newspapers, including, for example, the Washington Post.)114 What seemed to provoke such resistance was the implicit assertion that Jews are a people and not just followers of the Jewish religion, contradicting the view expressed by de Clermont-Tonnerre in 1789 (see n. 1), Duport in 1791 (see n. 2), and by Napoleon in a letter of July 22, 1806 (see n. 4).
Finally, on January 28, 2020, Trump unveiled the outline of his peace plan. As the New York Times described it:
It would guarantee Israeli control over a unified Jerusalem as its capital and, in addition, would allow it to keep its settlements intact in the West Bank. Under this proposal, a tunnel would be built connecting Gaza to the West Bank. The capital of this new Palestinian state would be called Al Quds and would encompass some of the other portions of East Jerusalem. The status quo would be preserved with regard to the area that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary (Al Aqsa). In addition, President Trump proposed $50 billion in economic aid.115
A negative response, at least initially, was expected on the part of the Arabs and the Palestinian Arabs in particular. It was, however, somewhat muted. Indeed, three Arab ambassadors—from Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—attended the press conference announcing the plan, though no Palestinians attended.116 Further, Al Jazeera reported on February 1, 2020, that in an emergency session requested by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Arab League said that it “rejects the U.S.-Israeli ‘deal of the century’ considering it does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people.”117
Not surprisingly, the European response was largely hostile. A Guardian editorial on January 29, 2020, labeled Trump’s peace plan a “con, not a deal” as well as a “blatant attempt to stop Palestinians from seeking justice for war crimes.”118 A month later, The Guardian published a letter by 50 former European foreign ministers and other leaders expressing their “grave concern about the U.S. plan to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict” and asserting that “the plan contradicts agreed parameters of the Middle East peace process, relevant UN resolutions, including [the previously cited] UN Security Council Resolution 2334, and the most fundamental principles of international law…evok[ing] chilling associations with South Africa’s bantustans.”119
Such platitudes and unfair, even vicious analogies are standard fare from many purportedly high-minded Europeans. For the purposes of this article, we examine Israeli responses.
On the one hand, as would be expected, there were a number of positive responses. For example, a Jerusalem Post editorial on February 2, 2020, saw merit in the plan but said that for it to work, Palestinians must give peace a chance.120 In a Jerusalem Post op-ed, Susan Hattis Rolef concluded that “even though the ‘Deal of the Century’ is unlikely to bring about a breakthrough in the peace process, which the Left desires, or major annexation, as the Right desires, at least it has placed all the pertinent issues on a future Israeli-Palestinian settlement on the table.”121 Commentator Caroline Glick, for her part, called it “a sin for us not to support Trump’s plan” and added: “Trump recognized the truth of the foundation of Zionism and made that truth the foundation of America’s policy regarding the Palestinian conflict with Israel.”122
Melanie Phillips, a British citizen who spends much of her time in Israel, argued that the Trump plan had called the Palestinians’ bluff. She concluded: “The Trump plan won’t bring peace; however, it restores the truth and justice that are essential prerequisites of peace. Crushing the lethal and poisonous fantasies about Israel and the Jewish people, as well as taking a hard-headed approach to Palestinian intentions, it replaces illusion with reality. That’s no small achievement. Now it’s up to the rest of the world.”123
However, Israeli newspapers also printed some strongly negative reactions. David Ha’ivri, a longtime settler in Kfar Tapuach, expressed fear that Trump’s peace plan put his community in danger.124 Other commentators opposed Trump’s deal from the Left. For example, Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev lamented the possibility that Trump’s peace plan and the upcoming Israeli election would leave the Left on the “verge of extinction.”125 Ravit Hecht evoked the Jewish experience in the Holocaust to call on Israel to treat the Palestinians “with somewhat more generosity and dignity.”126 Not to be outdone in his criticism, Gideon Levy, totally ignoring that it has been the Palestinians who have always rejected Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, wrote: “But anyone who still has a drop of moral commitment should be aghast at this terrible peace of the victors that may end well for Israel but will never end well for Israelis. Israel never assumed responsibility for the first and second Nakbas, perhaps it will also evade its responsibility for the third. But it will never be able to escape the blame and disgrace for stamping out another people.”127
A few weeks later, a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy described Trump’s peace plan very differently. Responding to a feature in the Israeli TV comedy Eretz Nehederet that mocked the plan as ignoring the Palestinians, they asserted that the plan “can succeed not by ignoring the Palestinians but by bypassing their corrupt, dictatorial leaders.”128
Too often, Israel as a nation has behaved like French Jews did in the Dreyfus affair and even Dreyfus himself, strikingly overdependent on the judgment of other people. Many Israeli opinion leaders have often begged a hostile world to accept them. Like many French Jews during the Dreyfus case, many Israelis and Diaspora Jews have refused to acknowledge that the system has been rigged against them.
The late author and commentator Steven Plaut argued that when Israelis are educated enough to understand and embrace Jewish and Zionist history, they will understand the historical relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Yisrael, which endured through 100 generations in the Diaspora, sometimes under the harshest conditions. The history of the Middle East is complicated, and there are certainly various ways to look at the rebirth of Israel and the issue of its boundaries.129 The point we are making, however, is a psychological one.
For Plaut, the 1990s represented the return of a pattern of moving away from the Jewish people—even within Israel as the Jewish state was increasingly treated as a “collective Dreyfus,” repeatedly and unjustly charged for crimes it had not committed and sentenced and humiliated in the court of public opinion, especially in Europe. Where Dreyfus bleated “I am innocent, long live France,” many in Israel seemed to respond “We are innocent, long live Europe, long live world opinion,” refusing to accept the fact that elite world opinion was deeply rigged against them as evidenced, among other things, by the 1975 General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism.130 While this resolution was rescinded in 1991, the attitudes underlying it remained, and the ostracism of Israel has only intensified. In Plaut’s words: “One after the other, Israeli politicians, academics, novelists and artists during the early and mid-1990s mouthed the post-modernist gibberish of the anti-Israel choruses from overseas, about how Israelis needed to stop ruling over another ‘people,’ had to learn to understand the ‘other,’ had to commemorate the ‘tragedies’ the Jews had imposed upon the innocent Arabs and so make restitution. If no Palestinian people had ever existed in history, Israeli politicians were determined to invent one for peace.”131
Plaut maintained that many Israelis had become timid to the point of self-loathing, beginning with the radical Left and its strongholds in academia and journalism, and finally widening to affect the entire country even when Likud-led coalitions were in power. Such self-negation had become the politically correct stance to take. We add that this was not unlike too many Jews in France who were so desperate for acceptance that they remained silent in response to the accusations against Dreyfus or even joined his accusers.
Such a mindset has disastrous consequences for the rise of antisemitism around the world. Israel’s own politicians have lent credibility to antisemites and allowed them to control the narrative, acquiescing in the view that Israel was indeed a “colonial conqueror” causing great harm to the indigenous “Palestinian people.” To Plaut’s assertion that “if no Palestinian people had ever existed in history, Israeli politicians were determined to invent one for peace,” we would add journalists, writers, and academics as well.
A case in point is the discordant effect of the necessity of Operation Cast Lead increasing the positivity of Israeli and Diaspora attitudes toward the BDS movement. Why should Israel’s response in Cast Lead to constant attacks from Gaza have unleashed a torrent of pro-BDS sentiment? Common sense would dictate the opposite. If giving “Palestinians” autonomy in Gaza led to relentless attacks on Israel, why would reasonable people expect a different outcome if Israel withdrew from the territories in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria)?
We must ask how many of the previously cited self-accusing Israeli critics have had a vested interest—academic, financial, social, or some combination of those—in currying favor with their European colleagues, employers, or paymasters. They seem more than willing to sell Israel down the river, as they say in America, to appear respectable, fundable, inoffensive, if not lovable, and “non-Jewish” to their European colleagues. It appears all too reminiscent of the Jewish anti-Dreyfusards in France.
Even worse, too many Israelis behave like Dreyfus, refusing to accept that they will not receive a fair hearing in international bodies such as the United Nations, continuing to plead their innocence and maintaining their allegiance to a hostile and largely antisemitic world organization. Israel needs to detach from excessive concerns about world opinion and do what it must to survive and thrive.
Steven Plaut lamented Israeli self-flagellation: “An Israeliness well-grounded in Jewish consciousness would never have given rise to a struggle for acceptance based upon the presumption that people hate Jews because of Jewish sins, selfishness, shortcomings, and misdeeds,” he wrote. “Only people detached from and ignorant of Jewish history could have believed that violent antisemites can be bought off with promises of high-tech investments and five-star tourist hotels.”
He added: “The entire Oslo episode of Jewish history is an indicator not only of the silliness and shallowness of Israeli politicians but of something deeper and far more ominous. Very simply stated, the Oslo ‘peace process’ was the byproduct of Israeli self-hatred and Jewish assimilationism inside Zion. And Oslo may very well also indicate that secular Zionism has failed.”
Plaut firmly rejected the argument that Israeliness could exist separate from Jewishness. He labeled this a peculiar form of “assimilationism” that had resulted in an attempt to create a “post-Jewish” Israel. No Israeliness well-anchored in Jewishness and Jewish history could have internalized the belief that hatred of Jews and Israel is the fault of the Jews and due to their mistreatment of others, that is, to Jewish misdeeds and even sins. And yet modern Israelis seem obsessed with exactly such notions and the shallow and ridiculous promises of “rebranding.”132
Prof. Ruth Wisse argued the same point in the Wall Street Journal during the Days of Awe, 5777 (2016). She explained that such self-flagellation has roots within the Jewish tradition itself, posing dangers and potentially leading to egregious distortions:
To lay bare one’s deeds before the ultimate Seat of Judgment is very different from the practice of individual introspection or meditation. Here each person stands within the community in a public attestation to dozens of wrongdoings. In the extensive Yom Kippur confessions, worshippers recount sins committed willfully or involuntarily, “by idle talk or by lustful behavior . . . violence or by defaming Thy Name.” But the millennial-long history of Jewish self-restraint also stands as a warning. It is all very well to focus on overcoming your failings. Yet the search for moral perfection can also render individuals, and nations, prey to those who believe in conquest rather than self-conquest and who join in holding you accountable for their misdeeds. The same confessional posture, praiseworthy when standing before the Perfect Judge, becomes blameworthy when adopted before an enemy that has you before a rigged tribunal….
This calumny [of blaming Israel for the Palestinian-refugee problem] is by now the basis of political coalitions not only at the United Nations and in Europe but on campuses here in the U.S.… For its obsession with Israel’s putative misdeeds to the neglect of the unspeakable crimes committed by so many UN member states, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently declared at the General Assembly that “the UN, begun as a moral force, has become a moral farce.” The Jewish nation is owed the unconditional respect of its fellow nations and must demand of others what it expects others to demand of themselves.133
Where, outside the Jewish world, has there been a Zola to rise and shout to the world “J’Accuse”? One singular voice was that of the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci:
I find it shameful that in Italy there should be a procession of individuals dressed as suicide bombers who spew vile abuse at Israel, hold up photographs of Israeli leaders on whose foreheads they have drawn the swastika, incite people to hate the Jews.… I find it shameful that the Catholic Church should permit a bishop to plant himself in front of a microphone to thank in the name of God the suicide bombers who massacre the Jews in pizzerias and supermarkets.
I find it shameful that in France, the France of Liberty-Equality-Fraternity, they burn synagogues, terrorize Jews, profane their cemeteries. I find it shameful that the youth of Holland and Germany and Denmark flaunt the kaffiyeh. I find it shameful that in nearly all the universities of Europe, Palestinian students sponsor and nurture antisemites. That in Sweden they asked that the Nobel Peace Prize given to Shimon Peres in 1994 be taken back and conferred on the dove with the olive branch in his mouth, that is on Arafat.
I find it shameful (we’re back in Italy) that state-run television stations contribute to the resurgent antisemitism, crying only over Palestinian deaths while playing down Israeli deaths, glossing over them in unwilling tones.
I find it shameful and see in all this the rise of a new fascism, a new Nazism. A fascism, a Nazism, that is much more grim and revolting because it is conducted and nourished by those who hypocritically pose as do-gooders, progressives, communists, pacifists, Catholics, or rather Christians, and who have the gall to label a warmonger anyone like me who screams the truth.
And I am disgusted by the antisemitism of many Italians, of many Europeans, I am ashamed of this shame that dishonors my Country and Europe. At best, it is not a community of States, but a pit of Pontius Pilates. And even if all the inhabitants of this planet were to think otherwise, I would continue to think so.134
Does this not sound eerily similar to Bernard Lazare’s letter about Dreyfus’s conviction (cited earlier in this paper)? It bears repeating: “They needed their own Jewish traitor to replace the classic Judas, a Jewish traitor whom one could recall to mind increasingly, every day in order to cover an entire race with shame; a Jewish traitor who could be used to give license to a long campaign of which the Dreyfus affair had been the last act.”135
Some of modern Israel’s situation and thinking mirror Dreyfus’ with regard to the five points we raised at the beginning of the paper: (1) The state of Israel was largely a product of Enlightenment thinking. (2) As such, many Israelis have been willing to subordinate any Jewish sensibilities or identity to being accepted as members of the community of nations. (3) These Israelis have chosen progressive universalism, a movement that inherently denies Jewish particularism. (4) When Israel is attacked as a Jewish Zionist state, these people have no identity to fall back on. (5) They thus meekly beg the world to accept them, even if it entails joining the chorus of attacks against Israel, never showing a healthy anger at their attackers, and never drawing the correct conclusion that the system is rigged against Israel and Zionism.
Ben-Gurion put it this way: “What matters is not what the gentiles say, but what the Jews do.”136 Where some French Jews may have seen Paris as the “New Jerusalem,” it seems many Israelis seem to see Tel Aviv as the “New Vienna.” To quote Milton Himmelfarb, “Reinach and Darmesteter were Franco-Jews, Hermann Cohen was a Germano-Jew. Trotsky and Lukacs were Marxist-messianic non-Jewish Jews, Ahad Ha’am was a Jew. He compels our respect. They solicit our understanding.137 In Jabotinsky’s words, Jews need to develop a healthy hadar (i.e., pride).138
* * *
1 Stanislas Marie Adélaïde, the Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, “Speech on Religious Minorities and Questionable Professions.”
2 Adrien Jean Francois Duport, “Admission of Jews to Rights of Citizenship,” September 27, 1791.
3 In May 1806 Napoleon issued a “Decree on Jews and Usury” that accused them of “unjust greed” and provided one year’s relief from debt repayment to Jewish moneylenders in Alsace, which became a routine practice by the Bank of France. Roberts, Napoleon, 402; Arnold, Documentary History.
4 Roberts, Napoleon, 403; Weider, Napoleon and the Jews, 3.
5 Marrus, Politics of Assimilation, 104‒7; Darmesteter, Prophètes, 185‒86; Darmesteter, Joseph Salvador, 12‒13; Milton Himmelfarb, “In the Community: The Greeks, the Romans, and Captain Dreyfus,” Commentary, February 1973.
6 Reinach, “Present Aspects”; Dersler, Dreyfus Affair; Burns, Dreyfus: A Family Affair; Lewis, Prisoners of Honor; Marrus, Politics of Assimilation. Reinach’s multivolume collection of documents on the affair, published several years later, remains the best collection of primary sources.
7 Dreyfus, Five Years; see Miles, Devil’s Island.
8 Reinach, “Present Aspects,” 762.
9 Dersler, Dreyfus Affair, xvii.
10 Zola, “J’Accuse…!,” L’Aurore, January 13, 1898.
11 Dersler, Dreyfus Affair, xx.
12 Marrus, Politics of Assimilation, 126.
13 Marrus, 213.
14 Marrus, 229.
15 Marrus, 229‒30.
16 Marrus, 230.
17 Marrus, 186.
18 Marrus, 212.
20 Marrus, 212.
21 Marrus, 220.
22 Marrus, 218.
23 Marrus, 212; Blum, Souvenirs, 25.
24 Marrus, 223.
25 Marrus, 224.
26 Marrus, 225.
27 Marrus, 216.
28 Marrus, 241.
29 Marrus, 226‒27.
30 Marrus, 227.
31 Marrus, 199.
32 Marrus, 205.
33 Marrus, 250.
34 Marrus, 170.
35 Marrus, 171.
36 Bernard Lazare, Une Erreur Judiciare (English translation by Burns, France and the Dreyfus Affair, 76).
37 Lazare, 190.
38 Lazare, vii.
39 Lazare, 252. Interestingly, Marrus points out that there were several philanthropic Jewish groups that, even before the Dreyfus affair, were involved in providing assistance to Jewish settlements already in the Holy Land. Among these Marrus lists the Alliance Israelite Universelle, Hovevei Zion, the Societe Mebassereth Zion, and the Societie Ichoub Israel. And of course, Baron Edmond de Rothschild donated a great amount of money to these settlements, though he himself was probably an assimilationist.
40 Kornberg, Theodor Herzl, 196‒97, cited from Paléologue, Journal de l’affaire Dreyfus; Bein, Theodor Herzl: Biographie.
41 Marrus, Politics of Assimilation, 255.
42 Marrus, 255‒56.
43 Marrus, 268.
44 Marrus, 260.
45 Marrus, 262.
46 Marrus, 272.
47 Marrus, 184.
48 Marrus, 3, 199.
49 Burns, France and the Dreyfus Affair, 170.
50 Dreyfus, Five Years, 110.
51 Himmelfarb, “In the Community.”
52 Avi Shlaim, “How Israel Brought Gaza to the Brink of Humanitarian Catastrophe,” The Guardian, January 7, 2009.
53 Efraim Karsh, “1948, Israel, and the Palestinians: Annotated Text,” Commentary, May 2008, quoted from Sir John Troutbeck, “Summary of General Impressions Gathered during Weekend Visit to the Gaza District, June 16, 1949,” PRO, FO 371/75342/E7816, p. 123.
54 Amira Hass, “Industrial Wastelands,” Haaretz, March 2, 2009.
55 Yoram Carmeli, Rachel Giora, Anat Matar, Jonathan Pollak, Kobi Snitz, and 17 other Israeli citizens, “Words and Deeds in the Middle East,” The Guardian, January 17, 2009.
56 “United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution: The grave violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks against the occupied Gaza Strip,” January 12, 2009, A/HRC/RES/S-9/1.
57 “Israel Troops Admit Gaza Abuses,” BBC News, March 19, 2009; James Hider, “Israeli Soldiers Admit to Deliberate Killing of Gaza Civilians,” The Times, March 20, 2009; Ethan Bronner, “Israel Disputes Soldiers’ Accounts of Gaza Abuses,” New York Times, March 27, 2009.
58 Richard Goldstone, head, United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories,
59 Yitzhak Laor, “The Soft Underbelly and the Victim,” Haaretz, August 26, 2009.
60 Akiva Eldar, “How Israel Silenced Its Gaza War Protesters,” Haaretz, September 21, 2009.
61 Gideon Levy, “Goldstone Has Paved the Path for a Second Gaza War,” Haaretz, April 7, 2011.
62 Jessica Montell, “Op-Ed Doesn’t Close the Book on Cast Lead,” Forward, April 5, 2011.
63 Mark LeVine, “Who Will Save Israel from Itself?,” Al Jazeera, December 7, 2009.
64 Benjamin Pogrund, “Goldstone’s Retraction,” Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2011.
65 “Israel Defense Minister: Ongoing Rocket Fire Unacceptable,” Xinhua, December 22, 2008, https;//web.archive.org/web/20090208094648/http://news.xinhuanet.com/English/2008-12/22/content_10543536.htm.
66 David Eshel, “New Tactics Yield Solid Victory in Gaza,” Aviation Week, May 11, 2009.
67 Amos Harel, “Senior Shin Bet Official: Hamas Completely Lost Gaza War,” Haaretz, October 21, 2009.
68 Sabel, “Operation Cast Lead.”
69 Siboni, “From the Second Intifada.”
70 “Israel’s Initial Reaction to the Report of the Goldstone Fact Finding Mission,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, September 15, 2009.
71 “Initial Response to Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, September 24, 2009.
72 Roni Sofer, “Netanyahu: Goldstone Report ‘A Prize for Terror,’” Ynetnews, September 16, 2009.
73 Roni Sofer, “Peres: Goldstone Report Makes Mockery of History,” Ynetnews, September 16, 2009.
74 Avigdor Liberman, “UN Commission Established in Advance to Blame Israel” (letter), Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2009.
75 Ethan Bronner, “Israel Poised to Challenge a UN Report on Gaza,” New York Times, January 23, 2010.
76 Richard Goldstone, “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes,” Washington Post, April 1, 2011.
77 Ben Meir, “Operation Cast Lead.”
78 Cnaan Liphshiz, “IDF Soldiers Give Testimonies to Counter Gaza War Crimes Claims,” Haaretz, July 16, 2009; Maayana Miskin, “‘Breaking the Silence’ vs. ‘Soldiers Speak Out’ on Cast Lead,” Arutz Sheva, July 17, 2009.
79 Alan Dershowitz, “The Case against the Goldstone Report: Study in Evidentiary Bias,” Jerusalem Report, February 1, 2010.
80 Abe Selig, “Cotler: Independent Cast Lead Inquiry,” Jerusalem Post, February 28, 2010.
81 Goldstone, “Reconsidering.”
82 Bard, Myths and Facts, ch. 24.
83 BDS movement, “What Is BDS?,” https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds.
84 Karsh, “Israel’s Arabs.”
85 BDS movement, “Overview: Ongoing Injustice,” https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds.
86 BDS movement, “Settler Colonialism, Apartheid, and Occupation,” https://bdsmovement.net/colonialism-and-apartheid/summary.
87 For a chronology of BDS from 1998 to 2010, see Rachel Giora, http://usacbi.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/milestones-in-the-history-of-the-israeli-bds-movement-a-brief-chronology. Matzpen’s website is at http://www.matzpen.org/index.asp?p=kria.
89 See n. 99 (chronology).
90 According to Tamara Traubman (April 25, 2002), more than 270 European scientists, including about 10 Israelis, signed this letter; http://www.inminds.co.uk/boycott-news-0033.html.
June 12, 2019.
94 Tzvi Joffre, “240 Israeli, Jewish Academics Urge Against Calling Bds Antisemitic,” Jerusalem Post, June 12, 2019.
95 Harriet Sherwood, “Israel Passes Law Banning Citizens from Calling for Boycotts,” The Guardian, July 11, 2011.
96 Tomer Zarchin and Jonathan Lis, “Dozens of Israeli Law Professors Protest against the Boycott Law,” Haaretz, July 4, 2011.
97 Sherwood, “Israel Passes Law.”
98Danielle Ziri, “Danny Danon to UN Forum: ‘See You in Court, BDS,’” Jerusalem Post, November 17, 2016.
99 Eliyahu Kamisher, “Minister Seeks Database of Israeli BDS Activists,” Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2017.
100 Matthias Sandberg, “Israel Objected, and Then Denmark Changed Its Support to NGOs in Israel and Palestine,” January 2, 2018, https://www.information.dk/ind/2018/01/israel=bankede-bordet-saaanendrede-danmark-stoette-ngoer-israel-palestina.
101 “PM Netanyahu Condemns Irish Legislative Initiative,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 30, 2018, https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2018/Pages/PM-Netanyahu-condemns-Irish-legislative-initiative-30-January-2018.aspx.
102 Aiden Pink, “US Pro-Israel Groups Failed to Disclose Grants from Israeli Government,” Forward, August 31, 2020.
103 Gil Troy, “Delegitimizing the Delegitimizers,” Jerusalem Post, August 13, 2010.
104 Reut Institute, The BDS Movement Promotes Delegitimization against Israel, August 13, 2010.
105 Yehuda Ben Meir and Owen Alterman, “The Delegitimization Threat: Roots, Manifestations and Containment,” Strategic Survey for Israel, Institute for National Security Studies, August 20, 2011, 121‒37.
106 Ziri, “Danon to UN Forum.”
107 Jonathan Lis, “Israel’s Travel Ban: Knesset Bars Entry to Foreigners Who Call for Boycott of Israel or Settlements,” Haaretz, March 7, 2017.
108 Mark Landler, “Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital and Orders U.S. Embassy to Move,” New York Times, December 6, 2017.
109 Julian Borger, “Trump Says US Will Recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over Golan Heights,”
The Guardian, March 21, 2019.
110 Karen DeYoung, Steve Hendrix, and John Hudson, “Trump Administration Says Israel’s West Bank Settlements Do Not Violate International Law,” Washington Post, November 18, 2019; Amir Tibon and Noa Landau, “Israeli Settlements Don’t Violate International Law, Pompeo Announces,” Associated Press, November 18, 2019.
114 Patrick Goodenough, “EU Foreign Policy Chief Repudiates Pompeo on Legality of Israeli Settlements; Silent on Iran Protests,” CNS News, November 19, 2019.
112 Donald J. Trump, “Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism,” The White House, December 11, 2019.
113 “Jewish Groups Praise and Decry Trump’s Executive Order to Protect Jewish College Students,” Jewish News of Northern California, December 11, 2019.
114 Editorial Board, “Why Trump’s Judaism Executive Order Is Too Narrow and Too Broad,” Washington Post, December 12, 2019.
115 Michael Crowley and David M. Halbfinger, “Trump Releases Mideast Peace Plan That Strongly Favors Israel,” New York Times, January 28, 2020.
116 Ben Hubbard and Declan Walsh, “A Muted Arab Response to Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan,” New York Times, January 28, 2020.
117 “Arab League Rejects Trump’s Middle East Plan,” Al Jazeera and news agencies, February 1, 2020.
118 “The Guardian View on Trump’s ‘Peace Plan’: A Con, Not a Deal” (editorial), The Guardian, January 29, 2020.
119 “Grave Concern about US Plan to Resolve Israel-Palestine Conflict” (letter from 50 former foreign ministers and leaders from across Europe), The Guardian, February 26, 2020.
120 “For the Trump Peace Plan to Work, Palestinians Must Give Peace a Chance” (editorial), Jerusalem Post, February 2, 2020.
121 Susan Hattis Rolef, “This Is No ‘Deal of the Century’ for the Palestinians: Opinion,” Jerusalem Post, February 3, 2020.
122 Caroline Glick, “A Sin for Us Not to Support Trump’s Plan,” Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2020.
123 Melanie Phillips, “The Palestinians’ Bluff Has Been Called,” JNS, January 30, 2020.
124 David Ha’ivri, “I’ve Been an Israeli Settler for 30 Years. Trump’s Peace Plan Puts Our Communities in Danger,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 3, 2020.
125 Chemi Shalev, “Trump Plan Leaves Israeli Left in Empty Street on Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” Haaretz, February 3, 2020.
126 Ravit Hecht, “Trump’s Peace Plan: Humiliation, AKA Annexation,” Haaretz, February 2, 2020.
127 Gideon Levy, “Trump Declared the Third Nakba,” Haaretz, January 30, 2020.
128 Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy, “The Promise of the Trump Peace Plan,” Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2020.
129 Laqueur and Rubin, Israel-Arab Reader, 30‒36.
130 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, November 10, 1975.
131 Steven Plaut, “Jewish Anti-Semitism and the Left in Israel,” http://sullivan-county com/news/mine/t16.htm; Steven Plaut, “The Collapse of Israeliness,” Nativ: A Journal of Politics and the Arts, January 2002.
132 Plaut, “Jewish Anti-Semitism”; Plaut, Jewish Enablers.
133 Ruth Wisse, “No Apologies for Being Jewish,” Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2016.
134 Oriana Fallaci, “On Antisemitism Today,” Panorama, April 12, 2002.
135 Lazare, Une Erreur Judiciare (English translation by Burns, France and the Dreyfus Affair, 76).
136 “The Father of Israel Is Dead,” Windsor Star, December 3, 1973; David Breakstone, “Keep Dreaming: The View from the Balcony,” Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2019.
137 Himmelfarb, “In the Community.”
138 Halkin, Jabotinsky.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by either of the two authors.
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