On Wednesday, Boston University held its annual Elie Wiesel Memorial Lecture. Boston University was the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor’s academic home. Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his literary work documenting the Holocaust and the rebirth of Jewish freedom in the State of Israel. This year the university invited Rev. Dr. William Barber to give the lecture.
Barber is a prominent leader in the African American community, known for his activism against “structural racism” in the United States. The concept of “structural racism” holds that racism is intrinsic to America’s national character, and that the only way to cleanse the nation of its racist nature is through revolution.
Barber doesn’t limit his activism to the fight against the supposedly sinful essence of the United States. He also fights against the Jewish state. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s (CAMERA) Christian Media Analyst Dexter Van Zile reported last week, Barber has a long record of anti-Semitic statements, directed mainly against the Zionist movement and the State of Israel. Among other things, Barber has referred to Jesus as “a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew.”
In 2018, Barber gave a speech where he slandered Israel and the Israel Defense Forces, accusing them of “targeting” Palestinian children “simply because they wanted freedom.”
As for the Palestinians, by Barber’s telling, unlike the Jews, the Palestinians have done nothing but practice “nonviolence” in their resistance to Israel and the Jews. Barber’s version of history conveniently airbrushes away the century-old Palestinian terror war against the Jews of the land of Israel. On the other hand, by Barber’s lights, the Zionist movement—that is, the Jewish national liberation movement—was “a colonialist project from the beginning.”
As the director of Boston University’s Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies, Michael Zank invited Barber to give the lecture. Zank chose to respond to Van Zile’s revelations by lashing out at CAMERA.
Ignoring Barber’s record of false, bigoted statements against the Jews of Israel, Zank wrote in a statement, “The CAMERA article is one-sided and misleading, and it mischaracterizes Reverend Barber’s avowed and published positions. Dr. Barber has on many occasions condemned every form of racism, including antisemitism. He counts many prominent Jews among his friends and allies, and he regularly speaks in Jewish venues.”
Zank’s statement made clear that he didn’t have a problem with Barber’s anti-Jewish bigotry. He had a problem with CAMERA exposing it.
Responding to CAMERA’s report for the Wiesel family, his son Elisha Wiesel tried to find a middle ground between Barber and his anti-Semitic statements. On the one hand, Wiesel’s son praised Barber as “a well-known and respected leader and activist, who has been at the center of inspiring work fighting for voting rights and advocating for the African-American community.”
On the other hand, Wiesel said that in light of his good deeds for black Americans, “We were particularly troubled to hear about some of his previous comments, which echoed pernicious falsehoods – reminiscent of falsehoods broadcast from Christian pulpits in centuries past – that are deeply dangerous and harmful to the Jewish community.”
Wiesel rejected the libelous accusations Barber made against IDF soldiers and his whitewashing the past century of Palestinian terror and violence against Jews. While making clear that the Wiesel family was not involved in Zank’s decision to invite Barber to give the memorial lecture for Elie Wiesel, Elisha Wiesel did not criticize that decision. Instead, he minimized the problem.
“We would like to take this opportunity to extend a hand to Rev. Barber, simultaneously offering our family’s help with his powerful work here in the United States, while also beginning a conversation about these past comments. We would love to accompany him on a trip to the region to review the reality on the ground for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Elisha Wiesel’s effort to square the circle on Barber’s bigoted statements against the Jewish state resonated Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s statements last week regarding the six Palestinian NGOs which Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated as PFLP terror front groups two weeks ago. Gantz’s action was condemned by the Biden administration, the European Union, the United Nations Human Rights Council and a slew of international and Israeli NGOs. It was also harshly criticized by Gantz’s and Lapid’s governing coalition partners from the far-left Labor and Meretz parties.
Like Elisha Wiesel in his statement on the Barber lecture in his father’s memory, Lapid tried to navigate a safe course through the storm in his statement on the PFLP terror front groups. On the one hand, Lapid justified Gantz’s designation of the six PFLP-controlled NGOs as terrorist organizations. “This was a decision that had to be made,” he said. On the other hand, Lapid justified Gantz’s critics, saying, “In these organizations, there are very good people and very bad people.”
The problem with both Elisha Wiesel’s response to Boston University’s invitation to Barber and with Lapid’s response to the international assault on the government’s designation of six NGOs as terror groups is that there aren’t two equally acceptable sides to these stories. There can be no middle ground between them.
Barber uses his powerful “Christian pulpit” to disseminate blood libels against IDF soldiers. He rejects the Jewish state’s right to exist and has rewritten the history of the Zionist movement and the Palestinian Arab war against it. Barber’s words are his profession. And his words reveal him to be an anti-Semite, no different from the spewers of blood libels in Europe in past centuries. As an anti-Semite, Barber is not worthy of the honor of presenting the Elie Wiesel Memorial Lecture.
Zank and Boston University showed profound contempt for Wiesel’s memory, for the Wiesel family, for the university’s Jewish community and for the American Jewish community as a whole when they invited an anti-Semite to give the lecture.
This brings us to Lapid and the six PFLP front groups that were outlawed two weeks ago. For the foreign minister of Israel, it should be self-evident that members of murderous terror groups are not “very good people.” Good people don’t voluntarily become terrorists. They do not finance terrorists. They do not serve as fronts and straw organizations to launder money to terrorists or operate terror cells.
How are we to understand Lapid’s and Wiesel’s patent inability to take a firm stand against anti-Semites and terrorists?
The moral paralysis both men displayed this week is a function of their political and ideological identities: Both men are center-left progressives.
The leftist-progressive camp’s relationship with reality is at best ambivalent and more often than not pathological. For progressives, the narrative, rather than reality, is what counts. According to the leftist-progressive narrative, anti-Semitism in America is the provenance of the political right, not the left. As a result, Barber merely “echoed” European blood libels that are deeply dangerous and harmful to the Jewish community. He didn’t deliberately craft and disseminate slanderous statements to harm the Jewish state and its supporters in America.
Wiesel gave Barber a pass for his anti-Semitism initiative not because there is any question about his views—he stated them plainly and publicly. Wiesel gave him the benefit of the doubt because Barber is a progressive. And as a progressive, Barber can’t be an anti-Semite. He can only be ignorant. And his ignorance can be remedied through a “conversation,” and maybe a trip to Israel.
In a similar fashion, in the leftist-progressive narrative, the Palestinians are the victims of “Zionist colonialists.” For progressives, champions of the Palestinian struggle against Israel must be good people because they are on the side of the oppressed. On the other hand, those who oppose the Palestinians and side with Israel must be bad, because Israel is the oppressor.
Both Lapid and Wiesel are soft progressives. As such, they try to be simultaneously on the side of reality and on the side of the narrative. But they fail, because there is no connection between the two.
Barber isn’t interested in learning the truth about the Palestinians’ hundred-year war against the Zionist movement and the Jewish people. He is interested in attacking the Jewish state. And Zank and Boston University want to help him to achieve his goal by giving him a pulpit embossed with the name of one of Israel’s greatest champions.
Likewise, the European Union, the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the U.N. and E.U. member states don’t fund organizations that facilitate the Palestinian war against Israel, including terror groups, because they are ignorant of their goals. The donors fund these organizations because they support their goal of destroying the Jewish state.
Labor leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, Meretz head and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and their fellow government ministers are harshly criticizing Gantz’s designation of the six Palestinian groups as terror organizations for two reasons. First, their partners on Israel’s far left from B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, Peace Now, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and others are funded by the same donors that fund the terror groups. And second, Israel’s far-left politicians are critical of Gantz’s move because they have adopted the progressive camp’s narrative of Palestinian victimization at the hands of their countrymen.
Last week, the American Jewish Committee published a new survey on the state of anti-Semitism in America in 2021. The survey found that 90 percent of American Jews view anti-Semitism as a problem in the United States today; 72 percent of American Jews feel less safe than they did in the past; 40 percent said they have taken steps to hide their Jewish identity due to fear for their safety and well-being. A quarter of American Jews said they had been the targets of anti-Semitism in the past year. Nearly all U.S. Jews view the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel as anti-Semitic. And nearly all American Jews view anti-Zionism as a form of Jew-hatred.
Yet despite the sharp rise in the sense of dread and fear, and despite the fact that it is the leftist-progressive camp, with the support of leading Democrat politicians and policymakers, that are advancing BDS and legitimizing anti-Zionism, most American Jews are not concerned by the fact that their political home—the Democrat Party—empowers the most outspoken anti-Semitic voices in American politics and society today.
Only 40 percent of American Jews are disappointed with the Democrat Party’s handling of anti-Semitism (45 percent are satisfied with the party’s actions). On the other hand, two-thirds of American Jews are disappointed with the Republican Party’s handling of anti-Semitism. This despite the fact that there are no prominent Republicans who have advocated anti-Semitic views. Moreover, while there are no Republicans who have made their political career by demonizing Israel and its American Jewish supporters, the number of Democrats who have built themselves through their Jew-hatred grows every year.
The implications of all of this are clear. In America and in Israel alike, progressive Jews would rather defend progressive anti-Semites than defend the Jews against progressive anti-Semites.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Jewish News Syndicate