x-posted from Mondoweiss

Michael J. Jordan has a great article over at the JTA talking about the contortions people are going through to avoid stating the obvious: Jewish and pro-Israel groups worked to undermine the Durban II conference. Although “it’s no secret who was behind the effort to discredit the 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva,” Jordan shows that almost everyone from U.N. high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay on down is loathe to speak the truth out of fear of being called anti-Semitic. Jordan:

It was an ironic twist to the common storyline of anti-Semites naming Jews as the perpetrators of shadowy worldwide conspiracies. Those conspiracies typically are as true as the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — that is, to say, not at all.

This time, however, the Jews actually did conspire, albeit openly, to sabotage the conference.

Jordan also reports this ridiculous episode:

“I can’t tell you exactly who the lobby is,” Pillay said in a March 12 interview with Australia’s ABC.net. “I can just pick out that it seems to be one source putting out this wrong information and labeling this review conference as ‘hate fest.’ ”

Use of the loaded term “lobby,” however, appeared to be too much for some Jewish groups.

UN Watch, a monitoring organization, sent Pillay a letter asking her “to avoid using certain well-known stereotypes.” Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said the term “fostered images of a mysterious, unnamed, powerful” lobby.

This is a joke. Spurious charges of anti-Semitism applied to those stating the obvious work to debase the meaning of anti-Semitism in general. And the irony is that while Jewish groups attack anyone who points to their handiwork as anti-Semitic, they want to celebrate it themselves as Jewish work. The Boston Globe is reporting that on Sunday night the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris, visiting the Andover Newton Theological School, celebrated the fact that the AJC “engaged successfully with the Obama Administration to consider whether to participate in Geneva.” Of course the AJC and other Zionist organizations are welcome to lobby the Obama administration; and the Durban II episode is another great example of how the pro-Israel lobby in the US was mobilized and coordinated to affect US policy (an effort that hasn’t finished). From their perspective, I understand why they would want to celebrate this. After all, it was a victory.

But why is it not okay for people to talk about it? And when they do why can’t they say that it was Jewish groups leading the charge?

There are several dangers here. First, if we’re ever going to have an honest discussion of US foreign policy we need to be able to talk about all the influences that go into setting it. Do Jews set US foreign policy in Israel/Palestine? No. Are they an important force to be reckoned with? Of course! Was that so hard?

A greater danger is the conflation of Judaism and Zionism. While Zionists may have wanted to derail the Durban II conference in an effort to defend Israel’s racism, as a Jew I was ashamed of this. For a long time Jews were an important part of movements against racism in this country. Growing up, I routinely heard about the Jewish role in the civil rights movement. Now our communal leadership is working to undermine anti-racist efforts. This is shameful. While we once understood our place to be in solidarity with those who were facing persecution like us, the Jewish leadership in the US now seems obsessed with protecting its own ethno-national interests at all costs. To make matter worse, the nuance of the divisions within the Jewish community on these important issues is totally lost when no one is allowed to call out “the lobby” for its activities. Jordan demonstrates the danger of this:

Malaak Shabazz, the daughter of black rights activist Malcolm X, … blamed “Zionist agitators” for being disruptive and aggressive toward her in Geneva, and she filed a letter of protest with Pillay’s office.

“People confuse Zionism with Judaism, and that’s completely unfortunate,” she said.

“The Zionists here are making people hate Jews,” Shabazz said. “I was unfamiliar with the tactics of Zionists. But I got a crash course on it here.”

An honest discussion of Jewish power not only includes an accounting of the influence that Jewish organizations have in promoting their agenda, but what that agenda is. The agenda of the Jewish organizations in Geneva was not to fight anti-Semitism but to protect Zionism. I believe this is at complete odds with what is actually in Jewish self-interest. Not only would Jews benefit from a successful conference discussing the danger of racism, but, as the Shabazz quote shows, the work of Jewish organizations in Geneva has unfortunately placed Jews on the wrong side of an issue that used to be central to our identity.