NGO Monitor coins anti-Semitic slur: ‘Jew-washing’

The right-wing watchdog group thinks that leftwing Jewish groups are not allowed to join coalitions with non-Jewish groups that criticize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, or allowed to take certain actions against Israeli policies because they are Jewish. This is a direct targeting of leftwing Jews as Jews.

By Jeremiah Haber

It’s perfectly kosher for a rightwing Jewish organization like NGO Monitor to disagree vigorously with a leftwing organization like Jewish Voice for Peace. But in a recent op-ed in the New York Jewish Week,  Yiktzak Santis and Gerald Steinberg use the trademark tools of their organization –lies, half-truths, and insinuations — to smear an organization they don’t like.

Still, something that is worth noting is their invention of a new anti-Semitic slur: “Jew-washing.”

Before I get to that, let’s start with the facts. 1. The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to boycott settlement goods by a whopping 71% of the general assembly’s membership. 2. A decision to divest from companies that profit from the occupation was narrowly defeated (by two votes). 3. The assembly voted to accept a recommendation that would allow individual pension holders to invest their pensions in companies that do not profit from the occupation.

Now let’s move on to the Santis and Steinberg lies and half-truths. They begin their op-ed as follows:

At the Pittsburgh General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) earlier this month, a motion to adopt a boycott of three companies for doing business with Israel was hotly debated and narrowly defeated.  At this Christian gathering, a group of “young Jewish activists” provided important “testimony” supporting the motion to isolate and demonize Israel.

Lie.  There was no motion to boycott any company for doing business with Israel. As reported in the JTA, the motion was to divest from companies doing business with Israeli security forces in the West Bank, i.e., that directly benefit from the occupation. Santis and Steinberg knew this, and one can assume that they wrote what they do in order to defame those who supported the motion.

Even if JVP supported a total boycott of Israel, which it does not, that would be entirely irrelevant to the authors’ misreporting of the motion. (And while we are on the subject of “lies,” JVP is not  an “anti-Zionist group.” It  includes Zionists, non-Zionists, anti-Zionists, two-staters, one-staters, no-staters, etc.)

Slur. The authors have the right to believe that this motion isolates and defames Israel. But there was no “motion to isolate and demonize Israel.”

Half-truth.  Note that Santis and Steinberg referred to the defeat of the divestment motion. They did not mention the approval of the settlement boycott or providing their members with a way to divest personally. That would have made Jewish Voice for Peace less “fringe” like.

And now for “Jew-washing”:

These were the “Jew-washers” – very visible actors in many such political attacks on Israel, particularly in Christian frameworks.  They are influential beyond their actual numbers, providing a convenient means for cleansing such actions from the stains of double standards, demonization and sometimes anti-Semitism against the Jewish state of Israel, and even Judaism itself.

“Jew-washers”? I guess what the authors mean is that JVP and other Jewish groups presents a veneer of Jewish respectability, a hekhsher (kosher certification), for the anti-Israel activities of the BDS’ers. And this is the first slur of what I shall call the “Nu, anti-Semitism!”

What is the “Nu,  anti-Semitism!”? It is saying to Jews, “Nu, you have no right to say or act upon what you think. Because that aids and abets the anti-Semites” (defined as “people who provide criticisms of Israel that we at NGO Monitor consider to be unfair.”)

The “Nu, anti-Semitism!” is occasionally charitable enough to believe that the Jews in question are self-hating, or naive, or have unreasonable expectations of Israel, etc., As the authors say, their intentions are irrelevant (in other words, such Jews lack the basic human right to be judged on the basis of their intentions.) But by hanging out the dirty laundry of the tribe for all to see, and, worse, by joining with the tribe’s enemies (e.g., Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, etc.), they are “Jew-washing.”

And the “evidence” for “Jew-washing” provided by Steinberg and Santis?

In many cases (sic) Jew-washing is also used to whitewash the blatant theological anti-Semitism that accompanies the church-based BDS attacks on Israel.  One example is Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian group that is very influential in those mainline churches active in the BDS wars.  Its theology includes supercessionism – a reading of the New Testament that considers the Church to have superseded the Jewish people in God’s promises – and deicide – the charge that “the Jews” killed Jesus – that served as the basis for centuries of anti-Jewish persecution.

Giving Sabeel a thorough Jew-wash is JVP’s Rabbinical Council, which in its “Statement of Support for the Sabeel Institute” acknowledges “the more radical incarnations (sic) of some of [Sabeel’s] theological images.”

Yet, Sabeel’s frequent denigration of Judaism as “tribal” and “primitive” and comparisons of Palestinians to Jesus on the cross put there by the Israeli government’s “crucifixion machine,” does not seem to affect JVP’s rabbis, who assert that it is “a mistake to dismiss Palestinian Christian theology wholesale.”

Now, if I said that an organization “whitewashes the blatant theological anti-Semitism that accompanies the church-based BDS attacks on Israel’ (Note that Steinberg and Santis just called a bit under half of the Presbyterian General Assembly “blatant theological anti-Semites”), I would be prepared to show how Jewish Voice for Peace gives some Jewish cover for this.  Instead, the authors refer to a JVP statement that says as follows:

We are aware that many Jews point to the more radical incarnations of some of Ateek’s theological images. We believe, however, that it is a mistake to dismiss Palestinian Christian theology wholesale. As Jews, we are much more troubled by the “End of Days” theologies of fundamentalist Zionist Christians such as Pastor John Hagee, who believe that Jews will either convert or go to hell when we’ve fulfilled our theological purpose. This is anti-semitism par excellence.

In other words, JVP’s Rabbinical Council, while not endorsing Ateek’s theological images, say that they have to be understood in light of the ongoing suffering of Palestinian Christians at the hand of Israelis. One may consider this too forgiving on the part of JVP, but the point is that they are not excusing or whitewashing such images, but saying that they should not be allowed to get in way of the bigger picture.

Should we accuse rightwing groups of “Jew-washing” because they form coalitions with John Hagee’s ministry? Or “Christians United for Israel”? Of course not.

For all I know, Christian Zionists  who eagerly await the mass conversion of Jews have contributed to NGO Monitor.

I say, “for all I know” because the trademark smear of NGO Monitor has yet to come. Of JVP they write:

Their motivations, like their financing, are unclear and irrelevant – the fact that they provide a useful cover for non-Jews to justify gratuitous, Israel-bashing is what counts.

If their financing is irrelevant to the author’s argument then why make the remark that it is “unclear”? Oh, that’s an easy one: This is NGO Monitor, which has made a career of insinuations about the “unclear sources of financing” of the organization it “monitors.” In fact, even when the source of funding is entirely transparent, they either use the sources to delegitimize the organization or  raise the specter of secret funding.

In NGO Monitor-ese, “unclear funding” means “funding by donors whose identity we cannot discover, and therefore smear through association, no matter how much our staff Googles.”

This wouldn’t be so bad were it not that NGO Monitor’s own funding is no less “unclear” than that of Jewish Voice for Peace. Last spring  Haaretz published an expose showing how NGO Monitor hides the identity of its donors. That is in Hebrew, but a good account of it in English is here. NGO Monitor’s funding is a lot more unclear than that of the NGOs the organization purports to monitor, whose transparency is mandated by law.

But rest assured, NGO monitor, most of JVP’s budget is made up of individual donations. They lack the heavy guns that you have, but they would not demean themselves by saying that you provide cover for the anti-Semites.

The “Nu, anti-Semitism!” slur of “Jew-washing” demonizes, and in general, impugns the character of Jewish critics of Israel.  If you think that leftwing Jewish groups are not allowed to join coalitions with non-Jewish groups that criticize Israel’s  existence as a Jewish state; then you target leftwing Jews as Jews. If you believe that Jews are not allowed to make certain arguments or take certain actions because they are Jewish, then you claim that Jews are not allowed to possess the basic human right of expressing their opinions and acting on them in a responsible, non-violent manner.

That’s what makes “Jew-washing” an anti-Semitic slur. It unfairly singles out Jews by judging them by a double standard. And it denies them fundamental human rights.