CAMERA’s Snapshots of Anti-Israel Fervor

Hundreds of people from around the world converged on Boston University this past weekend to defend Israel against a war. A war, they said, being waged not with bombs and terror but with words and lies.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America organized a two-day conference featuring more than a dozen speakers and attended by 800 people each day, according to CAMERA president Andrea Levin.

Called “War by Other Means: The Global Campaign to Delegitimize Israel,” the conference focused on what many panelists called “anti-Semitic” misrepresentations of Israel in politics, the media and academia.

“Israel has been able to fend off attacks on the field of battle. Now it has to defend itself against a war of propaganda and demonization,” Levin said.

CAMERA is a nationwide research and activist organization that monitors the coverage of Israel in American media and challenges reports it views as biased or false. It was founded in 1982 as a response to coverage by The Washington Post of the Lebanon war.

The conference, held Oct. 10-11, featured about 10 panel discussions, with topics such as anti-Semitism in the United Nations, the growing wave of anti-Israel sentiment in Europe and Jewish “defamers” of Israel.

The speakers included Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, author Mark Steyn and Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens.

On both days, about a dozen protesters — mostly Boston University students representing Students for Justice in Palestine — stood outside the conference holding signs that read “End Israel Apartheid” and chanting “Free Palestine now!”

The audience attending the conference — the largest ever gathered by CAMERA, organizers said — was mostly supportive, although one heated exchange erupted between Dershowitz and British conservative columnist Melanie Phillips.

Phillips, who writes for The Daily Mail of London, spoke on the first afternoon about “The British Hijacking of Reason.” She asserted that the “mass derangement” and “complete departure of reason over the issue of Israel” is part of a wider pattern of unreasonable thought — espoused particularly by members of the “progressive intelligentsia.”

Phillips said that this loss of reason extends not only to liberal views of Israel, but also to global warming and the war in Iraq.

In the question-and-answer session, Dershowitz criticized Phillips for making Israel a right-wing issue and alienating more liberal students.

‘That’s Not Israel’
“Don’t you think that the worst way to get young people to support Israel is to give them a litmus test on global warming?” the Harvard law professor asked. “You’re turning Israel into an extreme, right-wing issue, and that’s not Israel.”

Phillips responded that Dershowitz was saying in effect that “right-wing is a synonym for ‘don’t listen to her, don’t go there; she shouldn’t even be on the platform.’ ”

“I think it’s extremely prejudiced that people of very, very good intentions — and I respect very much what [Dershowitz] does and says in defense of Israel — are so sectarian that they cannot possibly entertain that any alternative to their own worldview can have any benefit what so ever,” added Phillips.

Audience members applauded both Phillips and Dershowitz as they made their points.

Anti-Israel activities on university campuses were a major concern of the conference.

On the second day of the conference, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a Hebrew professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, gave a presentation about what she saw as growing anti-Semitism on California campuses. Jewish students who support Israel are being verbally attacked and physically intimidated, Rossman-Benjamin said, with no intervention by university leadership.

Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speakers have been invited to speak on campus “under the cloak of academic acceptability,” she said. “It’s institutionalized anti-Semitism. If speakers spoke out against African-American students or Arab students, there would be an uproar. But there is no protection for Jewish students.”

Many of the speakers — as well as the many students in attendance — voiced concern over the rising number of student groups critical of Israel.

“I’m hoping that it’s just a fad,” said Adam Miller, an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts. “College students will jump on any bandwagon. Remember the ‘Live Strong’ bracelets?”

In the conference’s opening speech, Dershowitz stressed the importance of a nuanced and accurate debate.

“CAMERA only has one weapon in its fight against the delegitimization of Israel,” Dershowitz said. “And that weapon is truth — and it’s the most powerful weapon in the world.”

Dershowitz urged the audience to go on the offensive — a theme that was repeated again and again throughout the conference.

In the workshop sessions on the opening day, speakers discussed how to write effective letters to editors and politicians, and how to use social media on behalf of Israel.

“We have to stop employing defense lawyers and starting employing the prosecution,” said Bret Stephens, the conference’s closing speaker.

Stephens, a self-proclaimed “right-of-center” foreign affairs columnist for The Wall Street Journal, said that the media needs to employ “full-spectrum journalism” when covering the Middle East.

Journalists do not hold Israel and the rest of the Middle East to the same standards, Stephens said.

“Where everything is expected, nothing is forgiven,” Stephens said. “Where nothing is expected, everything is forgiven. Israel cannot always be the country where everything is expected.”