The American Friends Service Committee, a left of center Quaker organization, usually has commendable, idealistic, but reasonable approaches to social and international issues … with one exception: Israel.
Some might be tempted to say, incorrectly in my opinion, that AFSC is this way because of Joyce Ajlouny, their General Secretary since 2017. A Palestinian-American, she was director of the Ramallah Friends School in Palestine for 13 years before joining the AFSC. However, AFSC hostility to Israel predates her arrival.
Whereas the organization regularly criticizes Israel’s human rights record, it fails to ever address much worse situations in China, India, Myanmar and elsewhere. Applying a different moral standard for the world’s only Jewish state is by definition anti-Semitic.
Almost all American Jews, regardless of politics, view Israel as a Jewish state. That doesn’t mean that most Jews support the right-wing policies of Netanyahu; many do not. But they do support the right of Israel to exist and defend itself … and for pro-Israel (and anti-Israel) speakers to address Jewish and non-Jewish campus groups without harassment.
The AFSC apparently believes that harassment of pro-Israeli Jews is merely acceptable “free speech.” The AFSC has been biased regarding Israel but fails to see its one-sidedness.
For example, the AFSC blog has an article by Mike Merryman-Lotze, their Palestine-Israel program director. He criticizes the recent Presidential order on anti-Semitism as a “cynical move to weaponize anti-Semitism to silence criticism of Israeli policy and to criminalize support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which aims to end Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights.”
He further singles out “Kenneth Marcus, assistant secretary of Human Rights at the Department of Education, a longtime pro-Israel activist” as the person responsible for making funding cuts to universities in violation of the Executive Order. Apparently, the term “pro-Israel activist” is the accepted AFSC synonym for Jew.
In reality, there has been a long history of Jewish college students being harassed by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, a fringe organization he admires. He refuses to acknowledge that when these sorts of groups harass Jewish organizations and students, it represents anti-Semitism.
For example, not long-ago eviction notices were placed on the Emory University dormitory doors of students who are Jewish. The fake notice was designed to mock the eviction of Palestinians from their land. Amazingly, the people doing this had a permit from Emory, which now is trying to wiggle out of responsibility. Apparently, anti-Semitism is acceptable University policy if it is couched in anti-Israel terms. There have been other incidents on Georgia campuses.
Although revered by the AFSC, pro-Palestine campus protestors do not let both pro and anti-Israel positions be publicly expressed. In undemocratic fashion, they prevent debate from occurring, for example:
• University of Virginia: “Video of the event obtained by the university showed that Rabbi Jake Rubin, executive director of Hillel at the university, asked those protesting to let the program go on and said they could ask questions of the panelists and otherwise engage in discussion with attendees. The protesting students refused to do so and continued to shout at the speakers, making it impossible for the event to proceed as planned” (Inside Higher Ed, 2-26-18).
• San Francisco State University: Per Mark G. Yudof, former president of the University of California, and Oliver Benn of Hillel: “SFSU is doing a disservice to its community and society as a whole by failing to enforce its rules on nondiscrimination and disruption of campus events, to assert leadership and to educate its students about anti-Semitism.”
These U of Va. and SFSU protestors (and others like them at Michigan State University and elsewhere) are deceiving themselves and others about the basics. They mislead uninformed people by repeating the oft stated disingenuous left narrative that Israel is totally composed of “invading” Europeans.
In reality millions of Israelis either emigrated from hostile Arab nations or are descendants of emigres. These “non-Ashkenazi” Jews of color now comprise the majority of Israel’s population.
The AFSC is a fine organization with one blind spot: anti-Semitism. Although the organization seems to acknowledge that anti-Semitism is wrong and a growing menace here, the AFSC fails to understand that its myopic anti-Israel viewpoint is anti-Semitic in and of itself. It’s unfortunate that they cannot see it.
[Jack Bernard of Peachtree City is the former Director of Health Planning for Georgia and has been a senior executive with several national healthcare corporations. He’s also the former Chair of the Jasper County Commission and has been on two Georgia county Boards of Health. Opinions expressed by our guest columnists are their opinions, and do not necessarily represent those of this news site.]
Cal – Thank you for publishing these columns by Mr. Bernard. It is refreshing to hear from a man who will rationally evaluate ideas and policies from both ends of the political spectrum.