Pro-Israel Group Responds To ‘Misdirected Anti-Semitism’ Criticism By Labelling Jewish Author Anti-Semitic

0

The Online Hate Prevention Institute has fired back at New Matilda columnist Michael Brull. Some of you may have seen this coming.

Last week, I wrote an article discussing the political orientation of the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI). Specifically, whilst it presents as an organisation combating “online hate”, it delegitimises criticisms of Israel and Zionism as anti-Semitic.

This is because it applies a controversial “Working Definition of Antisemitism”, which characterises certain criticisms of Zionism and Israel as anti-Semitic. This definition was abandoned by the body that created it.

Supporters of the definition frankly explained that they supported it because “alongside classical anti-Semitic behaviour, it lists the vilification of Israel or Israelis”. I concluded that those who support its work in other areas should “at least be aware of its Zionist orientation”.

The CEO of OHPI, Andre Oboler – and OHPI itself – responded by accusing me of anti-Semitism.

 

OHPI’s original response to my article

On the Facebook page of OHPI, the official account began with a measured response. They said “Michael, thank you for your coverage” of OHPI, before setting out the valuable work OHPI believes it does. They conceded that “OHPI grew out of a project that started at the Zionist Federation of Australia.”

Responding to my explanation that the definition had been officially abandoned it, OHPI wrote (without a great deal of coherence): “As to the definition of antisemitism, it is true that a restructuring of the agency that created it so their work on it discontinue.” This is not correct – as I noted, the organisation publicly discussed redrafting it, before finally dumping it.

OHPI went on to list other organisations which had adopted the discredited and abandoned definition.

In a follow-up comment, OHPI adopted a more critical tone, characterising the article as an “attack piece”. OHPI observed that “The article itself is far less harmful than the headline which is designed to be poisonous to the unity we have created between Jews and Muslims in particular to tackling both antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate.”

new-matilda-online-hate

I want to underline that – the article is “far less harmful than the headline”. The headline is: “The Pro-Israel Agenda Of The Online Hate Prevention Institute”. Aside from noting that the OHPI includes as anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel and Zionism, the article discusses an example of OHPI characterising a critic of Israel as anti-Semitic.

The example is a widely circulated cartoon by Michael Leunig from 2012. I also observed that Oboler had a long record of working for organisations with an aggressively pro-Israel agenda.

HOUSE AD – NEW MATILDA SURVIVES ON CONTRIBUTIONS FROM OUR READERS. YOU CAN HELP SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MEDIA THROUGH OUR LATEST POZIBLE CROWD SOURCING CAMPAIGN. CLICK HERE. EVEN $5 MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE.

 

Otherwise, there was no critique of a single fact in the article. The closest OHPI came to actual disagreement was this: “I do take issue with the idea that the definition ‘disproportionately demonises the political views of Muslims’. It only calls out racism when it occurs, excluding all fair criticism.”

There is no substance to this criticism, as Muslims are disproportionately likely to be characterised as anti-Semitic under OHPI’s definition. OHPI did not respond to this straightforward fact.

 

Oboler and OHPI’s support for Israel

Oboler founded a website in 2005 which characterises anti-Zionists as anti-Semites. He worked for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and at the Zionist Federation of Australia. During the war on Lebanon in 2006, he worked in the UK for an Israeli government program that acts to “build support for the Jewish state” among diaspora Jews. From 2007-8, he worked for a right-wing Israeli organisation called NGO-Monitor, which is primarily devoted to attacks on human rights organisations which document human rights violations by Israel. Its president has claimed that Israel has “the moral right to flatten all of Gaza”.

At the start of this year, Oboler published a report on social media anti-Semitism. It has a pie chart which identifies 34 per cent of its anti-Semitic sample as “Israel related”.

One example Oboler gives of an anti-Semitic image comes with this explanation: “This image comes from a page which uses logical fallacies as a basis for discrediting Israel in a recurring series of captioned images. This particular image places the onus of the Middle East conflict on Israel, implying that their defensive measures are proactive rather than reactive, and subsequently trying to make Israel accountable for the attacks historically carried out against it.”

That is, claiming that Israel is the aggressor, and placing the “onus of the Middle East conflict on Israel”, is a form of anti-Semitism.

UK Minister of State for International Development, Alan Duncan MP, visits Gaza, 10th December 2012. He is the first British minister to visit Gaza since the ceasefire entered into force on 21 November. (IMAGE: UNRWA/Shareef Sarhan, Flickr).
UK Minister of State for International Development, Alan Duncan MP, visits Gaza, 10th December 2012. He is the first British minister to visit Gaza since the ceasefire entered into force on 21 November. (IMAGE: UNRWA/Shareef Sarhan, Flickr).

Oboler explains that a video is anti-Semitic, and includes among its sins that it offers “a running compilation of anti-Israel photos (including demolished buildings and soldiers)”.

Oboler explains that the New Antisemitism is where the State of Israel is “demonised”. It repeatedly identifies such critics of Israel with Hamas. For example, one category of the New Antisemitism includes content which “is aimed at demonising Israel for actions that any modern state would take when in armed conflict with another. It decries Israel as a murderous state which unfairly targets innocent victims rather than acting legitimately as any government would in a conflict. Such portrayal of Israel on social media is very much a part of Hamas’ social media strategy.”

Note how anti-Semitism now includes claiming that Israel has unfairly targeted civilians, or is a “murderous state”.

Despite this report, from January this year, Oboler regards it as particularly harmful to identify his organisation as having a pro-Israel agenda.

 

Oboler decides that I’m anti-Semitic

My article does not mention at any point that Oboler is Jewish. It does not mention any Jewish organisations that Oboler is involved with. It discusses his record of working for groups that aggressively support Israel and Zionism.

A day after his more measured response to my article, Oboler responded in the comments section. Now, his response was… different.

Oboler wrote:

“This article critisizes me as a Jewish person by undermining my efforts to combat all forms of hate on the basis of my being Jewish. It seems to assign a political ideology to the organisation I have been running for almost 5 years on the basis of my own Jewish identity. I have worlked (sic) very hard to keep OHPI focused on online hate and not politics. If I was not Jewish, I doubt he would have written the article.”

Let’s note a few things. The article does not mention his Jewish identity. It does not criticise him as a Jewish person. It does not assign him a political ideology “on the basis of [his]Jewish identity”. It notes that he has a long record of working for the Israeli government and organisations that zealously advocate on its behalf. And it notes that his organisation define at least some critics of Israel and Zionism as anti-Semitic.

Despite the lack of a single reference to his Jewish identity, Oboler claims that I have criticised him on that basis. This is a complete fabrication.

Remember: Oboler identifies as an expert on anti-Semitism, who writes reports on anti-Semitism, and devotes considerable energies to analysing and campaigning against anti-Semitism. He thinks my article, which discusses his extensive advocacy work for Israel, is attacking him as a Jew, and not as a longstanding advocate for the Israeli government.

OHPI did not respond to my article by flagging any factual disagreement. It only took issue with one point. Indeed, OHPI said that the “article itself is far less harmful than the headline”. That is, the worst, most harmful thing about the article is that it identified OHPI as pro-Israel.

The Knesset, Israel's parliament. (IMAGE: Ze'ev Barkan, Flickr)
The Knesset, Israel’s parliament. (IMAGE: Ze’ev Barkan, Flickr)

Identifying Oboler and his organisation as pro-Israel is apparently an even newer form of anti-Semitism. It seems not to matter that Oboler himself is proud of working for the Israeli government, Zionism on the Web, the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Gerald “Israel had the moral right to flatten all of Gaza” Steinberg at NGO Monitor.

The only reason I could possibly “assign” Oboler a “political ideology” is his Jewish identity. He can’t imagine any other possible reason why I’d identify him as pro-Israel.

 

Oboler’s theories on anti-Zionism

On his Facebook page, I got into an argument with Oboler, unaware that he had accused me of anti-Semitism. In that discussion, he advanced some of his theories on criticisms of Israel.

For example, doubling down on his position that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, he explained that “claiming ‘the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour’ is a form of antisemitism. Not all anti-Zionism is antisemitism, but this particular flavour of anti-Zionism is. It was created by the USSR in the cold war.”

As for anti-Zionists in the Muslim world today, Oboler explains that “Yes, there is still propaganda to that effect used politically in Muslim communities, some of it recycling things from the 1970s.” Presumably, Muslims didn’t oppose Zionism until the USSR started stirring up trouble. Now that the USSR is gone, Muslims “recycle” the dated “propaganda” from the 1970s.

It may not shock readers to know that anti-Zionism existed before the ‘70s. Anti-Zionists even exist now that the USSR is gone. For example, there is the case of John Judis, a former senior editor at the New Republic who published a book last year on the creation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In it, he wrote, “The British and the Zionists had conspired to screw the Arabs out of a country that by the prevailing standards of self-determination would have been theirs.”

Or take another apologist for Palestinian anti-Zionism: “There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?” The author of those words was David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding Prime Minister. I noted those words in an essay for Overland, where I compared the creation of Israel to the creation of Australia, arguing that both are settler colonies.

In responding to Oboler’s claims about the Soviets being behind anti-Zionism, I concluded by posting a link to my Overland essay. OHPI deleted it. They explained: “Sorry Michael, you may not use our page to promote arguments in support of hate speech.” That is, they regard identifying Israel as a settler colony as a form of hate speech, namely anti-Semitism.

HOUSE AD – NEW MATILDA SURVIVES ON CONTRIBUTIONS FROM OUR READERS. YOU CAN HELP SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MEDIA THROUGH OUR LATEST POZIBLE CROWD SOURCING CAMPAIGN. CLICK HERE. EVEN $5 MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE.

 

In a different thread, I asked Oboler if he stood by Steinberg’s “position that Israel had the moral right to flatten all of Gaza”. He replied: “If he did say that, then no, I don’t agree. While on our page, please do stick to discussing issues of online hate and not issues of politics. Yes, we do say this whenever someone tries to divert a discussion into politics. That isn’t the purpose of this page and such discussion just derail the important work we need to do.” I asked if that meant that recognising Israel’s “right to flatten all of Gaza” was merely “an issue of politics, not of hate”.

A file image of Gaza in 2009. (IMAGE: gloucester2gaza, Flickr)
A file image of Gaza in 2009. (IMAGE: gloucester2gaza, Flickr)

Oboler, now speaking as OHPI, declined to explain. It seems that Oboler regards Israel’s right to “flatten Gaza”, advanced by his former employer, as merely a political disagreement. By bringing it up, I had failed to “stick to discussing issues of online hate”. Whilst Oboler regards the display of “anti-Israel photos (including demolished buildings and soldiers)” as a form of hate, flattening Gaza is in the realm of political disagreement.

To summarise: identifying Israel as a settler colony, like Australia, is hate. Claiming that Israel is an aggressor, or murderous, is a form of anti-Semitism. Claiming that Israel has the right to “flatten Gaza” is politics, and not hate. Calling these definitions of anti-Semitism pro-Israel is a form of anti-Semitism. Identifying a person as working for the Israeli government and Zionist organisations is an attack on that person’s Jewish identity.

As I noted in my previous article, progressive organisations have tended to ignore claims that criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic. The OHPI seems unlikely to change this state of affairs.

Oboler did not invent the cynical misuse of anti-Semitism to stifle criticism. He just happens to be really bad at it.

HOUSE AD – NEW MATILDA SURVIVES ON CONTRIBUTIONS FROM OUR READERS. YOU CAN HELP SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MEDIA THROUGH OUR LATEST POZIBLE CROWD SOURCING CAMPAIGN. CLICK HERE. EVEN $5 MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE.

 

https://newmatilda.com/shop/

Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).

Comments