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Translation / Interpretation / Caption Text

Sighting: Albuquerque, New Mexico - 2015
This poster at a Santa Fe protest against Israeli military action last summer resulted in the event being listed in the Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Analysis / Interpretation / Press

Anti-Semitism in Santa Fe?
By Mark Oswald / Journal Staff Writer
Friday, April 10th, 2015 at 12:05am

This poster at a Santa Fe protest against Israeli military action last summer resulted in the event being listed in the Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
The unfortunate use of Dave Chappelle as a target for a banana peel when the African-American comic was performing at the Lensic isn’t the only recently inflicted chink in Santa Fe’s image as a tolerant, welcoming place.
The Anti-Defamation League’s nationwide audit of anti-Semitic incidents for 2014, released last week, says there were four such cases in New Mexico, including one in Santa Fe.
And that provides the starting point for a discussion on a tougher subject than trying to figure out whether a self-described jokester/artist was racist or just stupidly inappropriate when he threw part of a banana at a black man during a public performance.
The ADL cites a protest on July 23, when about a dozen people gathered at the Plaza and marched along downtown streets to the offices of New Mexico’s two U.S. senators.
The group was protesting Israel’s role in last summer’s 50 days of violence that killed more than 2,200 people – the vast majority of them Gazans – and destroyed thousands of homes in the Gaza Strip after rockets were fired into Israel and three Israeli teens were killed by two members of Hamas.
The Santa Fe protesters were not restrained in their criticism of the Jewish state. In a photo published online by the Journal, some of their signs said, “No more U.S. $ for Israeli-killers”; “Obama stop supporting Israeli apartheid”; and “U.S. stop supporting genocide.”
Late last week, I called Suki Halevi, the ADL’s New Mexico regional director, to raise this question: In the ADL’s view, when does a protest like last July’s in Santa Fe cross the line from mere commentary, however harsh, of Israel’s policies or military action and become anti-Semitism?
Helavi did some research on the Santa Fe incident. It turns out that none of the signs shown in the Journal’s published photo got Santa Fe onto the ADL’s anti-Semitic list.
Helavi cited another poster at the protest that the ADL says went too far.
It showed an edited version of Nazi Germany’s Reichsadler, the familiar emblem that features an eagle, facing left and with wings spread, grasping within its claws a wreath of oak leaves surrounding a Nazi swastika.
In the remake that one of the Santa Fe protesters had on his poster, the swastika inside the wreath had been replaced with a six-pointed Jewish star. Reinforcing the comparison, the poster’s wording included, in German, “Israel über alles?” And over the eagle emblem was a strip that said “Stop Palestinian holocaust!”
Among the images that Journal photographer Greg Sorber captured on the day of the protest, but that weren’t published, was one showing this poster. Sorber was able to retrieve it from his archives this week.
Comparison ‘dangerous’
“The ADL is a civil rights organization and defends freedom of speech and political protest,” Helavi said. “… We are offended by words like genocide and apartheid. We find those deeply offensive, and we do not agree with them, but that’s a type of political protest.”
But comparing Israel to the Nazis “is aimed directly at Jews,” and is anti-Semitic and dangerous, she said.
“To associate the victims of Nazi crimes with the Nazi perpetrators is a deliberate insult to those who perished and those who survived,” she said.

In a Journal photo published last year, David Cortez of Taos, left, and Justin Haas, with megaphone, lead protesters against Israeli military action away from the Santa Fe Plaza in July 2014. Justin Haas is the son of the protest’s organizer, local attorney Jeffrey Haas. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
The protest last year was organized by Santa Fe attorney and author Jeffrey Haas, who happens to be Jewish and believes Israel’s policies are “in conflict with the liberal tradition of Judaism and support of the oppressed.”
But he said comparing Israel to the Nazis isn’t “particularly accurate” or effective. The sign with the altered Reichsadler was being carried by a man who is “an anarchist by nature,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s anti-Semitic,” Haas added. “I don’t think it’s particularly accurate.” Haas said there aren’t any gas chambers, but that the Israelis are taking Palestinians’ land and water, and portray them as “less than human.”
Helavi said, “The Nazis had a deliberate and predetermined plan to exterminate the Jews in Europe. This (the current Israeli/Palestinian divide) is a dispute over territory.”
Haas maintains the ADL “just generally considers any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. It’s an easy way for them to dismiss it.”
Not so, Helavi asserts. “The important thing to understand is that the audit by ADL of anti-Semitic incidents, that audit does not include criticism of Israel or Zionism. It’s when it crosses the line to anti-Semitism.”
“We will hold people accountable for expressions that are blatantly anti-Semitic,” she continued. “… One of the most effective things we can do is to take these incidents seriously and present them to the community.
“People often ask what’s the difference between political protest and anti-Semitism,” she said. “This is a very good example.”

Protesters stand outside of Senator Tom Udall’s office opposing his stand on Israel’s attacks on the people of Gaza on July 24, 2014. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
Debate is international
This same debate is going on nationally and around the world. A thoughtful commentary was recently published by the Religion News Service, a mainstream journalism site based at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., with offices at the respected University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Jay Michaelson, with a doctorate in Jewish thought from Hebrew University, a Yale law degree and nondenominational rabbinic ordination, sees a difference between a protester displaying an Israeli flag with a swastika on it, saying the Israeli government is “Nazi-like,” and a swastika sprayed on a synagogue door, “saying that Nazis are good and we should finish the work they started.”
But he concludes that making these distinctions can be difficult.
“The factors that differentiate anti-Semitic from anti-Israel speech are subtle,” Michaelson writes. “Are symbols or themes from anti-Semitic history being used, even if only subconsciously? Are Jews (or Israelis) depicted as evil, monstrous or less than human? Is collective guilt assumed based on identity? And, finally, is the intent to terrorize, wound or harm?
“To be sure, some of these factors are present in anti-Israel rhetoric; many of them are absent in expressions of anti-Semitism. But that doesn’t mean that making such distinctions is invalid. It means the phenomenon is complicated – and that oversimplification makes it worse.”
That last point may be something everyone can agree on.