The violent scenes surrounding this week’s appearance by Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Tzipi Hotovely, at the London School of Economics shocked decent people in Britain. After her talk and subsequent discussion took place uninterrupted, Hotovely had to be bundled out of the building under heavy security against an aggressive mob outside. Police held back protesters as they tried to rush the ambassador’s car, yelling “aren’t you ashamed” and calling Israel a “terrorist state.” Frightened Jewish students concealed their kipahs as they walked past the protesters.
The protests were organized by Palestinian and Islamic societies across London universities. Groups on campus had shared calls for violence while accusing the LSE students’ union of “platforming racism.” An Instagram group called LSE Class War called on social media for the ambassador’s window to be smashed. “Let’s f****** frighten her,” it ranted. “Let’s make her shake.” British politicians called this LSE thuggery “deeply disturbing” and “unacceptable.” Needless to say, this treatment would be meted out to no other ambassador from any other country in the world.
Hotovely, a former deputy foreign minister under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was ostensibly being targeted because of her uncompromising views on the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, her opposition to the “two-state solution” and her religious opposition to intermarriage.
The LSE Student Union’s Palestinian Society said Hotovely had “a track record of anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia and war crimes as well as actively facilitating apartheid and settler-colonial occupation.” Hotovely is demonized in this way simply because she articulates certain unambiguous truths: the legal and historical right of the Jews to the entire land of Israel; the exterminatory, anti-Jewish animus behind the Palestinian cause; and the unparalleled record of Israel and its military in adhering to human rights. Anyone who speaks these truths is vilified by those who inhabit an alternative universe in which the unique legal and historical right of the Jews to the land of Israel is “occupation,” the return of the Jews to their unique ancestral homeland is “colonialism,” and genocidal Palestinian anti-Semitism is “resistance.”
At the LSE, Hotovely told the students that the Israel Defense Forces never target civilians—only civilian places where rockets are being launched from “because according to international law, you’re allowed to target places that are the infrastructure of a terror organization.” Reportedly, this made the students gasp. That’s because they have been indoctrinated to believe the blood libel that Israelis are wanton child-killers. For the notion that the LSE protests were caused by Hotovely’s personal views is disingenuous. Anti-Jew and anti-Israel hatred, with its egregious lies, demonization and double standards, has been running rampant in Britain and on the Western left for decades. Over the years, Israeli speakers in British campuses have been treated to a similar onslaught. Demonstrators on British streets have repeatedly chanted, as they did at the LSE, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”—the call for Israel to be exterminated. Protesters have run Israeli businesses out of their premises and disrupted performances by Israeli artists, while university lecturers, the BBC and much of the mainstream media continuously pump out inflammatory Palestinian lies and incitement.
Whenever Israel takes military action to stop the murderous attacks against its citizens, there follows a spike in anti-Semitism in the West. Yet despite all this evidence of rising anti-Jewish madness, Diaspora Jews always seem taken by surprise. A study of anti-Semitism in the United States during Israel’s “Operation Guardian of the Walls” in May—published this week by the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv—found that Jewish communal leaders were surprised by violence against Jews that took place during the conflict. One of the authors, Shahar Eilam, expressed his puzzlement that the U.S. Jewish establishment hadn’t anticipated this given that similar rises in anti-Semitism in relation to Israel had happened before.
Unfortunately, Diaspora Jews are all too prone to this kind of self-delusion. Desperate to believe that anti-Semitism is a problem marginal to their own lives, they persistently fail to grasp that the best they can hope for is to be tolerated under a thin veneer of civility. In fact, anti-Semitism in the Diaspora inescapably goes with the territory (or lack of it). It is always to be expected. What really should be worrying Jews sick is the part being played in the demonization of Israel by Jews themselves. Jews on the left—some of whom reportedly took part in the LSE demonstration—routinely deploy the same lies and distortions about Israel as do its other existential foes by accusing it of apartheid, racism or human-rights violations.
Jewish Voice for Peace, for example, damns Israeli policies and actions, along with supporters of Israel, as being motivated by deeply rooted Jewish racial chauvinism and religious supremacism. Na’amod, which describes itself as “British Jews Against Occupation,” has campaigned against any Jewish organization inviting Hotovely to speak. Its petition to ban her says: “Our uncritical platforms have helped Hotovely deflect criticism of her far-right racist views.” In October, its members disrupted a talk by Hotovely at a synagogue on the outskirts of London with posters condemning her for “nakba denial” (her rejection of the Palestinians’ claim that the foundation of the State of Israel was a “catastrophe”).Its website declares: “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza is a system of violence and discrimination that infringes Palestinians’ freedom, dignity and human rights.” These are the kind of Jews who said Kaddish in the summer for those Arabs killed when they tried to storm the Gaza border under direction from Hamas. Other Jewish Israel-bashing groups are more canny, restricting their rhetoric to condemning the “occupation” and supporting boycotts or labeling of products coming from the Israeli “settlements.”
By misrepresenting Israel as behaving illegally in the “occupation” and thereby furthering the lie that it is intent on stealing legally non-existent “Palestinian land,” such groups also fuel the campaign intent upon Israel’s destruction—often while claiming grotesquely that these lies represent “Jewish values.” Diaspora Jews should not only be saying out loud the kind of things that Hotovely is saying about Israel in order to counter the lies and educate a generally ignorant public. They should also be publicly calling to account those Jewish groups that demonize Israel. This is vital not just to puncture their lies but to destroy the Jew-haters’ alibi that Jews themselves are saying these things. Defenders of the Jewish people should be pointing out that the Jewish identity of these Israel-bashers is irrelevant. Their activities in demonizing and delegitimizing Israel and singling it out alone for such treatment are not just anti-Israel, but anti-Judaism and anti-Jew.
Jewish leaders in Britain and America should be saying of these anti-Israel Jewish groups: “Not in our name.” Unfortunately, though, too many of these leaders have either themselves signed up to these falsehoods or else provide these groups with the space to promulgate them without any comeback under the community leadership umbrella. Such Jewish leaders may not themselves know enough about Israel and Judaism to counter these lies. Most are palpably frightened of provoking divisions in the community and giving the impression that it is split.
Above all, many are terrified that speaking the truth about Israel will cause them to lose their access to the political and intellectual circles they prize so highly, and in which they pretend to themselves they are accepted as equals just like anyone else. Anti-Semitism must be fought, whether it emerges in a violent campus mob or in the mouths of Democratic Party ultras. But the more urgent and lethal threat to Diaspora Jewish communities comes from within.