Protocols: Exposing Modern Antisemitism posed an interesting problem for this once-a-week book reader. It is my habit to read books only on the Sabbath, when my computer is shut down for the duration. Since it is the Shabbat, when writing and drawing are forbidden, the use of a highlighter is similarly off-limits. How then, can one mark important passages for future reference, especially when there is something important on pretty much every page? That was the conundrum this writer encountered while reading the absorbing new read by Elder of Ziyon.
In general, the answer to my Sabbath "problem" of how to mark pages for future reference, is lots and lots of paper scraps, recycled from old printouts. I cut the paper into strips before Shabbat, and slip the resulting scraps of paper between the pages of the books I read. Then all I have to do is hope I can later figure out whether it was the page on the left, or the page on the right that had the important passage, marked as it is, by only a flimsy paper placeholder. After Shabbat, I remove the paper scraps one at a time and type out the page numbers on a document which I then save to my computer.
The problem with reading this particular book, written by Elder of Ziyon—by way of disclaimer, the host of this, my weekly column—is that I found myself slipping tiny pieces of paper between most of the pages. Everything I read seemed something worth remembering and revisiting. At a certain point, though armed with sufficient scraps of paper, I had to admit defeat: I could find nothing superfluous in Elder’s book.
There were things I didn’t know about before reading Protocols: Exposing Modern Antisemitism. The writer has a clear and impressive command of his subject matter. As one small example, I had never heard of the Jerusalem Declaration, an attempt to modify the IHRA definition of antisemitism to exclude all criticism of Israel. The writer informs, but often it is the way he frames his thoughts that catches the reader’s attention:
“What other state, based on a national group, is ever told to destroy itself?”
This is a new way of viewing an old and very tired story of
New perspectives are always good, but Protocols also succeeds on the strength of the writing. In his prolific daily tweets, scoops, and blogs, Elder of Ziyon is distinguished by his economy of words. In his book on modern antisemitism however, the writer reveals his eloquence, as in this brief history of antisemitism:
Pharaoh saw Hebrews as a fifth column. Haman said the Jews didn’t respect the King’s laws. Antiochus said the Jews refused to assimilate. Christians said Jews killed their god. Jews stood accused of killing Gentiles, especially children. Jews charged interest on loans. Jews lived apart. Jews tried to assimilate and take over nations. Jews spread capitalism. Jews spread communism. Jews were a subhuman race.
One of the great things about Protocols is that it is an accessible read. It isn’t difficult to understand. That’s because Elder is good at breaking things down for the reader. He uses plain talk for example, to explain the various types of antisemitism (philosophical, social, racial, and etc.) and how each type justifies its own brand of hate:
There are always “reasons” to hate Jews. The reasons are invariably garbage. But the excuses have a function, which is to have something on which to hang hatred of Jews and not feel like a bigot.
Protocols is based on sound and thorough research, making it a good resource and reference book for anyone. At the same time, Elder can explain difficult concepts in ways that are easy for any reader to understand. The average person may not know much about BDS. Elder presents BDS from a broader perspective, by providing information readers might otherwise never have heard or been exposed to:
BDS disregard for actual Palestinian welfare goes well beyond Israel and the territories. Palestinians in Lebanon who have lived there since the 1950s are barred, by law, from many jobs. They cannot buy land. They cannot build new housing even in overcrowded camps. Yet one would be hard-pressed to find a BDS advocate who demands that Lebanon offer basic human rights protection to their Palestinian residents. On the contrary, Lebanese bigotry against Palestinians is ignored and silenced, since the BDS narrative sees Israel as the only evil that may be discussed.
One of the best things about Protocols is that it is not hampered by political correctness. The writer is unafraid to discuss, for example, black and Hispanic antisemitism. Because the phenomenon exists, Elder gives us the numbers, all properly sourced and footnoted:
Some 22% of blacks and 14% of Hispanic in America are antisemitic, according to a 2013 ADL poll. How exactly, can racism and antisemitism be tackled together when the victims of each consider the others to be the oppressors?
Reading a book like this, on such a difficult and often emotional topic, one is struck by the integrity of the writer. He does not shy away from the truth, and he is not going to lie. In fact it was Elder's integrity that motivated this writer to approach him in 2016 for a spot on his blog, a decision I have never regretted. One can feel clean writing from this small corner of the internet: the Elder of Ziyon blog. The book is a perfect echo of the blog in this respect. It's a clean read. You don't have to sift through bias to get to the facts.
Protocols offers ample illustration that by definition, antisemites have kicked intellectual honesty to the curb. This comes through loud and clear in the concluding paragraph of the chapter entitled “Judith Butler’s fundamental dishonesty.”
No one is silencing anyone. All questions about Israel should be asked and forthrightly answered. But Butler doesn’t just ask questions—she attacks the very idea of Jews as people having the same rights as other people to self-determination. She disingenuously characterizes her criticisms as merely asking questions: she has no interest in the answers which an honest academic would welcome. She singles out Israel for vitriol way out of proportion to the supposed crimes to the point that it is the only state in the world assumed to be illegitimate. That isn’t debate, but hate—hate identical to that aimed at Jews throughout history, hate that also was justified as merely asking questions.The point of Protocols, it seems to me, is that agree or disagree, one has to look at things and see what there is. It’s basic. Intellectual honesty demands no less from us than the willingness to look at everything. This seems as good a guide as any on how to understand critics and criticism of Israel. Those who criticize Israel but refuse to look at facts, are antisemites plain and simple, for their criticisms are founded on hate, alone.
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