Aggressive policy against academic BDS proposed by expert

Manfred Gerstenfeld, left, is presented with the International Lion of Judah Award by Machla Abramovitz, CIJR’s publications editor. (Janice Arnold photo)

A leading expert on contemporary anti-Semitism suggests combating pro-BDS academics by exposing weaknesses or flaws in their scholarly works.

Rather than debating them about Israel, Manfred Gerstenfeld, the former chair of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs (JCPA), makes the case for professionally discrediting the enemies of Israel.

“Find plagiarism or a wrong footnote and make it public,” he said at a fundraising event for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR), in Montreal on Dec. 1. “Only about 10 per cent of academics are hard-core anti-Israel and the rest are not going to risk their careers. Academics are cowards.”

Gerstenfeld, 82, is the author of the 2015 book, The War of a Million Cuts: The Struggle Against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism.

Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, he affirmed, and it is gaining ground around the world in “progressive” circles.

He listed a number of “ideological” movements as harbouring anti-Israel sentiment, including human rights, feminism, LGBTQ, post-colonialism, intersectionality, “extreme veganism,” anti-nuclear and anti-climate change. Gerstenfeld holds a PhD in environmental studies, which was his earlier field of research.

Born in Vienna in 1937, he grew up in the Netherlands and made aliyah from Paris in 1968. Today, he is the director of the JCPA’s Institute for Jewish Global Studies.

He sits on the academic council of CIJR, a 31-year-old independent pro-Israel group founded and directed by Concordia University Prof. Frederick Krantz.

Citing Anti-Defamation League (ADL) data, Gerstenfeld figures there are 75 anti-Semites for every Jew in the world, and that’s defined by religious or ethnic prejudice, not “anti-Israelism.” That includes 49 per cent of Muslims, 24 per cent of Christians and 21 per cent of those who don’t identify with any religion.

Another of his suggested strategies is to persuade prominent non-Jews to publicly acknowledge that “anti-Semitism is an integral part of Western culture.”

The blunt-spoken Gerstenfeld also excoriated “Jewish masochists” who “criticize Israel because it’s not perfect,” calling them “useful idiots for Israel’s enemies.” He specifically mentioned U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Gerstenfeld was presented with CIJR’s International Lion of Judah Award for his “exceptional service to Israel and the Jewish people.” Praise for Gerstenfeld came via a video from Hillel Neuer, the executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. An encomium was also received from Alvin Rosenfeld, the director of Indiana University’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism.

The resurgence of anti-Semitism was the theme of the evening, which was held at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and attended by about 125 patrons.

CIJR national board chair Jack Kincler said anti-Semitism “has reached unprecedented levels around the world.” He drew a parallel with the 1930s, but noted that today, perpetrators can be found on both the far left and the far right.

Krantz blamed “administrative weakness and vacillation” for the rise of “aggressive” anti-Israel activities at universities.

Israeli Consul General David Levy noted that earlier that day, a demonstration had been held outside Israel’s consulate. Especially on campuses, “anti-Semitism is veiled in anti-Zionist rhetoric,” which denies Jews the right to national self-determination, he said.

Ariana Kaye, a fourth-year art history student and member of the Students’ Society of McGill University Legislative Council, said she has witnessed growing hostility toward Israel among not only students, but faculty, as well.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather cited a recent ADL study, which found that only eight per cent of Canadians harbour anti-Semitic views, one of the lowest rates in the world.

However, a quarter believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than Canada, he said, which is “very scary.” The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by the Canadian government earlier this year, should be applied by universities when judging if anti-Israel expression veers into hate speech, Housefather said.

As the only Jew among 125 Quebec MNAs, David Birnbaum said his actions are often “filtered through bad baggage, the perception of who we are as a Jewish people,” but “I don’t go looking for incidents and say ‘gotcha.’ ” Rather, he chooses to wear his secular Jewish identity consciously with pride.

Gerstenfeld also resents proponents of a two-state solution, because it will not change the Palestinians’ “criminal behaviour.… Should we reward the murderers of civilians?”

A young audience member questioned whether Gerstenfeld’s confrontational approach might be counterproductive.

“The Jewish tradition is to defend ourselves. But offence is the best defence. When we start attacking people, we get more allies than when only defending ourselves,” he replied.