Parsing the (Odious) New Term, “Jew-Washing”

photo: Jewish Voice for Peace

Cross-posted in the “Forward Thinking” blog of the Jewish Daily Forward:

In his latest column, Philologos correctly parses the linguistic problems with Yitzhak Santis and Gerald M. Steinberg’s invented term, “Jew-washing.” His political analysis, alas, fails miserably.

Philologos has it completely wrong when he speaks of the “anti-Semitism in boycotts of Israel.” To begin with, Santis and Steinberg did not use the term “Jew-washing” in reference to a boycott of Israel as a whole, but rather to a resolution recently brought to the Pittsburgh General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that called for divestment of their pension funds from three specific companies that profit from Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of the West Bank.

Regardless, it is highly disingenuous for Philologos to accuse the Presbyterian Church of anti-Semitism. Our Christian friends’ response to the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), reflects their deeply held commitment to justice in a land their tradition also considers holy.

Philologos asks, “Have the Presbyterians considered boycotting China because of Tibet? India because of Kashmir? Russia because of Chechnya?” This, of course, is classic misdirection. The issue at hand is not global human rights, but a very specific call from Palestinian civil society for international support in ending their oppression. The real question before them (and us) is not “what about Tibet, Kashmir and Chechnya?”

The question, rather, is: “will we or won’t we respond to the Palestinian call?” To this question, many members of the Presbyterian Church are courageously responding “we will.” So too are increasing numbers of Jews who believe that our legacy of anti-Jewish oppression leads us to stand with Palestinians being denied basic human rights in our name.

No, we are not being used as pawns by Christian partners to further some nefarious “anti-Semitic plot”. Rather, we are standing in solidarity with the oppressed, as the most basic of our Jewish teachings demand that we do. What irony that other Jews should stand in the way of the Jewish imperative to end injustice. How heartbreaking that some in the Jewish community pervert this imperative by labeling the best intentions of our Christian friends as “anti-Semitism.”

We do, however, fully share Philogos’ distaste for the term “Jew-washing,” the coining of which is a sign of abject desperation that itself crosses the line of anti-Semitism, as blogger Jeremiah Haber pointed out last week. We predict that odious terms such as this will soon be relegated to the history books as part of a last, flailing effort by a fearful generation of Jewish leaders unwilling to recognize the moral urgency of the moment. It also reflects the short-sightedness of an establishment that continues to support war and occupation while deliberately alienating itself from the next generation of courageous Jewish leaders.

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