Donate

EN
/

Join our email list

No. 68: Twenty Years Later

The following is a transcript of Episode 68 of the Identity/Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to Identity/Crisis: A show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer, President of Shalom Hartman Institute North America. And we’re recording on Friday, September 10th. Tomorrow of course is 9/11 and the 20th anniversary of 9/11. All of us who work in some capacity in the social sector or in political life, or in relationship to a religious community or the some of us who work at the intersection of all three of those had our careers dramatically altered by 9/11. For some of us, if we were old enough in ways that we can identify and name. We know how the agenda changed, we know how our responsibility has changed. We know how our question of allies changed and for others, and I’ve spoken to some younger colleagues this week, they know it probably did change their career trajectory, but they may not have been old enough to recognize the ways that it did.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
I’m talking today with a friend and colleague of mine who was one of the people who I know and spoken very extensively about the ways his career and life changed significantly after 9/11, my friend Wajahat Ali is a writer, public speaker. He’s got a book coming out in January called “Go Back to Where You Came From and Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American.”From Norton due in January and has written this week a piece in New York Magazine called “How 9/11 Destroyed the Muslim Model Minority Myth.” And to someone who I remember the conversation, Wajahat, that we had, where you explained to me how and why your life changed after 9/11. So, I’m grateful to have this conversation with you. We’ll get into a little bit about why this matters in the context of a show, primarily targeted towards the Jewish community. Thanks for making time. And Wajahat start with that. Locate us back on September 11th, 2001. Where were you? Where were you in life? And 9/11 was traumatic for all of us, of course, but what was so dramatic that wound up literally changing the trajectory of what you were going to do with your life?

Wajahat Ali:
Yeah, so belated Shana Tova and happy new year to all listening. Thank you for inviting me. On September 10th, 20 years ago, I was a 20 year old undeclared senior at UC Berkeley, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. And the night before with along with a lot of other Muslim dorks was in my apartment, drinking shai playing NBA 2K Dreamcast. I stayed up too late, probably didn’t do work. So in the morning, September 11th, when my roommate Essen knocked on the door early, again, this is the west coast. I’m like, wait, why the hell are you knocking on the door? What’s wrong, go away. And he goes, you got to wake up. I’m like, just go away. Then he knocks again and he goes, you really need to get up. So we’re both standing there, son of Pakistani immigrants, in our pajamas, staring at the TV, seeing one of the towers on fire.

Wajahat Ali:
And I think most of us who are old enough when we saw that, we thought, well, I think maybe the pilot had a heart attack. Maybe he was trying to land at LaGuardia. Something went wrong. It wasn’t until that second plane hit the second tower. That’s when I think most of us around the world immediately thought, oh my God, this is coordinated. And that’s when I did the minority prayer and it’s a prayer that people of color do and minorities do, which is please don’t let it be a Muslim. Please let it be a white person. It’s not because we hate white people. We want anything bad to happen to white people. As we realize, then when one of our members of our community does something we’re all collectively blamed. And you saw on the scroll, Osama bin Laden al Qaeda. And I remember very vividly I closed my eyes and I saw the next 10 years. I just saw it.

Wajahat Ali:
And I saw war. I saw blood lust. I saw anger. I saw an immense type of scrutiny on Islam and Muslims, just being a student of history and maybe a student at UC Berkeley in particular. I saw it and I was also a member of the Muslim student association at the time. And specifically they had voted me and four other people as leaders of the Muslim student association, right? Like the board. And some dark humor is needed. I always joke. You know, if Muslims knew about 9/11, which we didn’t, what have you heard of the conspiracy theory? I would have joined the Indian student association instead of the Muslim student association. I would have learned how to do Bhangra. I would have learned good spelling, dated some cute girls, but FML.

Wajahat Ali:
I joined the Muslim student association because I’m sure many Jews listening can empathize. When you go to college, you’re like, ah, there are others. There are others like me. I don’t have to explain to myself all the time. I’m no longer the token. And so immediately the repercussions of 9/11, even though the two towers fell in New York, the mushroom cloud from that blast went worldwide and affected us. So I’ll give you a really quick example of how that happened. My roommate Essen put my email as a media outreach because I was a board member. So who gets all the hate emails? I do. So immediately me, the son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants is being blamed for 9/11. Immediately our phone starts buzzing because Muslim girls going to school in California are like, should I go to school today? I heard a story about someone getting – “Hey, someone got assaulted.”

Wajahat Ali:
Oh my God. The chancellor of UC Brooklyn, the president invited us for a special meeting. What can we do to help? Do you guys need anything from us? Are you guys going to do something or protest? You know, should we be concerned about something? And so immediately from that moment forward, I became and others like me became this accidental activist, a cultural ambassador of 1.7 billion people, no training, no mentorship. Fareed Zakaria wasn’t on TV at that time. There was no Keith Ellison or Ilhan Omar. You have to realize it’s 2001. And the country was so crazy, Yehuda. People forget that the Dixie Chicks at that time were the number one pop country, music stars, Natalie Maines, the lead singer like two years later said, this is all that she said, I’m embarrassed that President Bush is from Texas y’all. As a result of that one benign comment, this country went so mad. They took tractors over Dixie Chicks CDs and made a bonfire of it. And so in that climate of chaos, I call it a baptism by fire because in that crisis, there was a fork in the road to pre 9/11 and a post 9/11 and my generation, our generation for us, it’s so vivid that it kind of thrust me into the rest of my career. If that makes sense.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
It does. Yeah.

Wajahat Ali:
And from that moment on, it was go time.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
I’m taken by the twin points of contact that you described. One is external: so media and the university, president others, kind of looking to you to either protest against Islam, as you’ve talked about publicly about being the good Muslim, as opposed to other Muslims to represent the 1.7 billion Muslims. But you also mentioned members of your own community, looking to you for advice as a 20 year old college student in Berkeley. So because the foregoing question is why was it your generation of 20 some-odds who were put in the spotlight? What was going on economically and socially within the communities that you were coming from, that put you into that position? And I guess I’d just be curious for you to toggle between those positions, because it means that you’re both an ambassador outward, but you’re also exhibiting some amounts of public leadership inward. And I guess I’m really curious about that second piece of what did it mean to lead inside the American Muslim community to see its status in America decline and become criticized in the wake of the attack?

Wajahat Ali:
Yeah, Yehuda that was exactly it. You have to realize, and I think Jews listening know this very well, if they know anything about Jewish history, is that the country can turn on you on a dime. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Doesn’t matter how loyal you are. Doesn’t matter if you take part in the military, it doesn’t matter if you’re economically successful. It doesn’t matter if you think you’ve achieved whiteness, achieved mainstream success. The country can turn on you on a dime. And I think in that particular moment for many Muslim Americans, not all of course, our is one of the most diverse religious communities in America, there was a realization that, oh, we’ve made it. We’re the good immigrants. We’re the model minorities we bought into it, right? South Asian and Arabs in particular, not all of them. Of course there was class differentiation and African-Americans who said, ah, this country has never accepted us, but for the rest of us, right?

Wajahat Ali:
We were these kids who are the sons and daughters of Americans who became Americans, knew Americans were immigrants. And we were given, if you will, this checklist of success, be good, go to a good school, get a good degree, get a good wife, have good kids, go get a selfie in front of Haj and repeat the process. And I remember I was reading a study at that time that said the majority of Muslim Americans or professions or occupations around that time, the big bulk of it was business. They’re also engineers, doctors, and also the transportation service. So when it comes to public leadership, what’s missing? Elected officials. What’s missing? Teachers. What’s missing? Media journalists, standup comedians. Where’s the footprint in culture. Where’s the footprint in politics. Where is the footprint in translating that entrepreneurship into a type of leverage where you are seen as a co-protagonist of America?

Wajahat Ali:
It wasn’t there. There were people doing it, but it was largely despite us being in this country for 100 years, we were still very new in that arena. So now the onus and the pressure fell upon the rest of us who did not claim the mantle, but at the same time, we’re at UC Berkeley, which is a bastion and hub of activism, which has a reputation where student leaders, and now we have to navigate what the external with the media, with the community, with the mosque and what students and you’re right. I was 20 years old. Where’s the playbook. There is no playbook. And so simultaneously you don’t want to be an apologist, but at the same time, there are people who are terrified and you’re just trying to survive and keep your head above the water. And what I liken it to, as an analogy is we were in addition to being a Muslim culture ambassador, in addition to becoming a Muslim Wikipedia entry, whereas a 20 year old, we had to be an expert on the drop of the dime on Islam, Koran, Sharia, prophet, Muhammad, Hamas, homicide, joke, everything, and knowing full well that if you mess up, not only will Wajahat Ali be targeted.

Wajahat Ali:
It’s not Wajahat Ali. It’s what Wajahat Ali represents, which is this thing called Islam, because now it was Islam versus the west, a civilizational conflict, right? And internally you are now asked to represent this thing called Islam, represent this thing called the Muslims, represent Muslim Americans and yourself and not F up as we’re getting hazed from the media from national security. And I remember the internal policing within the community was the following and still exists to this day. I still get it. Don’t be too angry. Don’t be too passionate. What will the people say? The people is code word for white. Ethnic is the codeword for the rest of us. So you police your emotions, you police your righteous rage and you modulate it based off this immense very real fear that what you do and what you say is not limited to you, Yehuda it now becomes representative of this thing called Muslims. And if God forbid you F up and say something, nutty, all Muslims are indicted by nameless judge, jury, and executioner, that will always hold your patriotism as suspect.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
There’s something ironic though about that sequence, because as you’ve described and others have written American Muslims, especially south Asian American Muslims, pre 9/11 had voted for George W. Bush. The majority have voted for George W. Bush and as you’ve written about, and others have written about, we’re kind of on a journey towards whiteness of social mobility in America. And so that journey stays post 9/11, but as opposed to being a kind of happy journey, modulate and and moderate, who we are in order to be accepted, it’s the same journey. How do we figure out how to be accepted, but it’s with this specter or with this climate of fear. But the same thing is kind of taking place. But you’ve also described that it’s not just that American Muslims had to start watching what they said in public, not be too angry. You can’t be happy because that looks like you’re celebrating and you can’t be angry. You have to be moderate,

Wajahat Ali:
Whatever moderate means.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
But as you’ve also written, there’s also this emergence of a kind of proud Muslim cultural identity. So like those things to me, feels like a little bit intention because Rami doesn’t exist right in pre 9/11 America. And he’s not the example of quote unquote, the moderate, the good Muslim. These are super complicated cultural characters. So how did that evolve? How did it move from immediately after  9/11 and being about, oh my God, we have to play the role of good white moderates to you know what? We just have to allow ourselves to be who we’re going to be and try to win people over with the thickness or the substance of our identity.

Wajahat Ali:
And that’s the ongoing tension and struggle and push and pull of America. And also those communities, including Muslims and Jews in America who are trying to expand the tent of what it means to be an authentic Muslim and authentic Jew, right? And those conversations were happening in America. And I’ll go back to that election. I think it’s a very good pivot point before that election Muslims in America were having the debate is voting Halal. And literally the rest of us were banging our head against the wall that, oh my God, this is where our community is in 1998? Is voting Halal. When some Muslims, specifically south Asian and Arab Americans, especially that immigrant community decided to vote as a bloc, FML, they voted for George W. Bush. That was my first election. And I was like, for the love of God, please do not vote for Bush.

Wajahat Ali:
There were others. And you know, African-Americans would make up about 25% Muslim communities. They went with the democratic ticket. They’re like, you all are on your own. You guys don’t realize what you’re doing. The realization at that time was the following. Republicans have courted us. George W. Bush through Grover Norquist, who is a tax reform or conservative Grover said, you have some low-hanging fruit here. They’ll vote for us. There are people who are socially conservative. There are many who are entrepreneurs. They like low taxes. We talk about God, religious values reach out to them. Democrats have abandoned them. Secret evidence laws that were being used specifically against Arab Americans. George Bush talked about that, tried to repeal it. And you know, if you’ve never been invited to the party and you never been invited to the prom, the person who actually flirts with you, you go like, “Hey, I’ll go with you.”

Wajahat Ali:
So now you had Muslims who literally in 95% of the vote, Yehuda, in Florida and the Muslim vote went for Bush, which is why Grover Norquist later crowed the Muslim vote, gave Bush the white house, the irony. And then the Bush administration turns on that very same community. And the shattering – you have to realize for many Americans, for many Muslims, not all of them who thought, you know, they didn’t necessarily vocalize this language, but they chased whiteness, suburban house, middle-class America. We’re not black. We’re not brown. Meaning Latinos. We did everything right. And we’re the good minorities. And then overnight shattered. I’ve been in this country 30, 40 years, an uncle told me, and they turned on me overnight. I’ve been in this country, I’ve done everything right. I turn on the TV, they see me as a terrorist. And then also what happened is with the conservative movement and the Republican party, since they became so virulently anti Muslim, many people kind of out of default shifted towards the democratic party.

Wajahat Ali:
But from my generation, there was a fork in the road where we blew up that checklist of safety. And you saw a lot of lawyers say, I don’t want to be a lawyer. I want to be a standup comedian. I don’t want to be a doctor. I want to go into journalism. You know what? I want to go into politics. And it was a massive shift. It was almost like an unconscious collective realization for my community that we’re going to have to now enter the cultural arena and be co-protagonist of America. So that’s when you saw all these comedians go axis of evil, Allah made me funny. And without them, you would have no Rami without them. You would have no Hasan Minaj. Without Keith Ellison, you won’t have Ilhan Omar. Even me. I was a 20 year old student trying to figure out my major Ishmael Reed, who was my short story writer African-American playwright and poet MacArthur genius winner, he said, listen, as a black man, I can tell you, your people are going to get hazed in this country.

Wajahat Ali:
We fought back through art and culture. I’ve never read an American story about Muslims. What are you, Muslim, Pakistani? Why don’t you write a traditional play? I think dialogue and characters are your strengths put Muslims in the center. And that became the foundation of the play “Domestic Crusaders” that I wrote about a family of Pakistani Americans responding to the post 9/11 climate. I think about this sometime the sliding door moments. And you’ve alluded to this. If there was no 9/11, would I be talking to you? Would I be a writer? Would there be a Rami? Would there be a Keith Ellison? Would there be a progressive consciousness of young hijabi Muslim women who are standing hand in hand with LGBTQ allies. Let me tell you straight up for Jews who are listening, that issue would never have happened in 2008, 2009.

Wajahat Ali:
I’m telling you I’m keeping it real, if you said we, the Muslims are going to hang out with the gays. People would say, “astak fur Allah a hawla wa la quwwata” [I seek Allah’s forgiveness and there is no power nor strength (without Him)] what are you talking about?” And that’s a remarkable shift, even Jews, right? Let’s be honest, there’s immense tensions, as we know, but even finding those spaces in the last 10 years with Jews, there’s a realization that this post 9/11 climate and the rise of xenophobia has required us to modulate not only our identity, but also our place in America and those strategies of how we can expand the American tent and the tent of what it means to be a Muslim American.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
Right? Similar to a kind of controversial piece that came out last year from Zaid Jilani in Tablet magazine, which is a Jewish publication, where he said, we Muslims didn’t just survive. We thrived. And it was a reflection on the Trump era and the ways in which Trump essentially is the fulfillment of the post 9/11 vitriol against American Muslims that gets turned into American policy vis-a-vis the Muslim ban and other expressions. And Jilani, his argument is that threatened to destroy our communities, but it actually mobilized American Muslim political involvement and political participation better than before. As long as you don’t make that argument causal in the sense of like, oh, now it means all of this was good. There is something to that claim of, okay, this happened to us. And now look at the way that our community has pivoted towards one another, towards a different type of cultural and political arrival in this country. Of course you wish it wouldn’t have happened, but you are describing some realities of American Muslim life that have only been made possible because of this kind of urgency that was created by these moments.

Wajahat Ali:
Well, yes and no, I understand what Zaid was saying, but the reason why some nuance there is important is because it came at such a cost, a continued cost of continued trauma. And even though now, yes, there’s Rami and yes, there’s Ilhan and Rashida and Keith Ellison. And yes, there is, you know, Amna Nawaz and Fareed Zakaria and Ayman on TV and yes, there’s me and yes, with the realization of Trump, it’s one of those dark humors that I think Jews will understand is like, see, we weren’t lying about Islamophobia. And a lot of our allies, literally, they told me, you know what, we’re taking this seriously now for the last 16 years, we thought, oh, you Muslims, oh, you black folks. Oh, you’re just whining. We live in a post-racial America. We voted for Obama, stop whining, stop complaining, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Wajahat Ali:
And the realization, the inevitable realization of Trump and Trumpism made so many allies who ignored us say, “huh, we get it.” And not only that it realized, “huh, we can’t ignore the threat of Islamophobia because it’s directly connected to antisemitism, which is directly connected to anti-black racism, which is directly connected to misogyny.” And it seems like they’re coming after all of us. The problem though, is as we are quote unquote thriving in a way that we didn’t before, as emerging as co-protagonists of the American narrative, right? The mainstreaming of Islamophobia is just, there’s no dog whistle, Yehuda. Literally there is an entire conservative movement now where you are not penalized in any way, shape or form for the most noxious, toxic conspiracy theories, Islamophobia anti-Muslim hatred. You’re just not. So it’s become polarized in the sense that yes, we’ve won over, I guess, a slight majority, if you’re saying that democratic voters are the slight majority where at least there’s a cushion and at least there’s maybe some alliances, but within the conservative movement, I’m going to just give you one example.

Wajahat Ali:
In addition to just Trump, you can now openly say the most vile things about Ilhan Omar. I don’t care if you agree with or disagree with go ahead and disagree with her, but because of her blackness, her Muslim hijab, and the fact that she’s a refugee, she becomes like this, I call the trifecta boogie woman, to the point where Jeanine Pirro can go on Fox news and somehow equate her hijab with sharia taking over. That was something that didn’t exist in 2001. And to the point where the irony of ironies, George W. Bush, after 9/11, went to a mosque and told the world, Islam is not the enemy. Muslims are our neighbors. I’m embarrassed, or I feel terrible if Muslim women feel like they can’t be safe in this country. Can you imagine Yehuda, a GOP representative in 2021, going to a mosque saying that and the irony and the sadness is that George W. Bush ran as the Republican presidential candidate in 2024, he would be mocked and ridiculed as an immigrant lover and a Muslim lover. And that’s the tension.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
And in practice a centrist, regardless of what his policies actually were. So there’s one kind of wrench in all of this watch, which I want to talk about. And it’s not about you. Like we know each other, this is public information. We know each other because you came to the Hartman Institute, you made pretty superhuman efforts to meet the Jewish community and not just meet the Jewish community in conversation around Israel, you’ve traveled to Israel, to Palestine, multiple times, you led a documentary process at the Atlantic on encountering settlers. And I know that that encounter has come to you at significant personal and professional costs. But one of the things that I struggle within this story is that the emergence of a activist culture of Muslim identity in America increasingly feels at odds with there are pockets of where it meets up with the Jewish community in multi-faith multi-ethnic coalitions.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
If it’s those sectors of the Jewish community that also positioned themselves as either hypercritical of Israel or in opposition to Israel. But the majority of the Jewish community, which is basically Zionist or supportive of the State of Israel, does not know what to do with, or to make of this new activist Muslim identity that has retained a criticism of Israel as almost a key feature of its identity. So, first of all, I would love for you to tell me I’m wrong about that. But that’s what feels to me very scary about this because from the Jewish community’s perspective, great, if part of what happens around  9/11 is the emergence of a narrative of Israel and America as these great demons in the West and the attack and the criticism of them. I would love to build greater connections between Jews and Muslims it’s a big part of my life. But what happens when the new Muslim identity is still foregrounding or insisting on a certain type of criticism in Israel as a core component of that?

Wajahat Ali:
So two things, I think, first and foremost, no matter what Muslims have done, and this is me having lived as a Muslim, I think that Jewish community has always been afraid of Muslims. Anytime, a Muslim or an Arab or a pro-Palestinian voice has emerged in any capacity. I can tell you from my experience, we were crushed, right? Like to the point where, when I was at a UC Berkeley as a student, there was something called “campus watch.” And these are like suburban good kids who were just, you know, the second Intifada was happening. We took part in protests. And for us, the fear was Jewish quote, unquote power or influence, which was so vastly like asymmetrical to quote unquote Muslim power. If we were to simply exert our pro-Palestinian criticisms, which weren’t necessarily, I don’t think they were antisemitic, but some people would disagree, but like, just be pro-Palestinian.

Wajahat Ali:
That would be like a flaming tire around our neck though, or destroy our careers. And you still see that happening now, right? That fear. That fear has kind of been less in an extends because I think you and I are shocked that Israel has become a partisan issue. 20 years ago if you said Israel, it’d be a partisan issue where there would be young Jews, progressives openly criticizing Israel. I’d be like, get the F out that would never happen. Right? They would never risk their career equity. So from our perspective, I’m just giving a perspective for those who might not agree with me from our perspective, it’s that we’ll never be moderate enough. I’ll give you a very quick example. And I’m going to answer your question. Also, Keith Ellison, a couple of years ago, when I talked to Jonathan about this from the ADL Keith Ellison against BDS. Keith Ellison goes to Israel. Keith Ellison calls out antisemitism. But then they have this audio clip of how he’s talking to Muslim students about like, well, you know, this is how Jews do it and you gotta do how the Jews do it.

Wajahat Ali:
You know, it’s like politics. And then Steve Emerson, who now is increasingly seen as a toxic person, right? But part of what we call the Islamophobia industry, took that information and said, look, he’s antisemitic. And the ADL hit him. For the rest of us were like, oh my God, if Keith Ellison isn’t even kosher for them, none of us will be kosher for them. Right? So what does it matter? Trying to always moderate for the Jewish community, that by virtue of our existence, anytime we’re pro-Palestinian sees us as a threat, nothing is good enough. Each time we advance in media or politics, there’s always a Jewish footprint ready to quash us if we’re pro-Palestinian. I’m just giving you the perspective, Yehuda, for those who are listening, right? And now there’s a situation where there’s diverse Muslim communities. There are Muslim pockets who do not like the Muslim activists.

Wajahat Ali:
There are Muslim pockets who think that the progressive Muslim activists that are aligning with the democratic party are abandoning religiosity. Abandoning traditional Islam. Are abandoning some conservative values. I’m sure that Jews listening right now understand this on gay marriage, on abortion for example. There are people who are deeply skeptical of establishment period, who are very enamored in a strange way by Joe Rogan and Info Wars, believe it or not, Jordan Peterson, but when it comes to Israel, I think for many American Muslims, right, to be very blunt and honest about this, there will always be a lingering desire to be pro-Palestinian. The problem – and I just was at duke yesterday and I was talking to both Muslim and Jewish students is that as this issue becomes more and more nuanced the line between is criticism of Zionism, antisemitism? Is criticism of Israel antisemitic? Of what works, what doesn’t work?

Wajahat Ali:
And now you’ve got Jews saying to me, you know, like I remember when Ilhan said those tweets about all, about the Benjamins. I wrote an article for the Washington post. I said, you know, I’m glad she apologized. I’m glad Jews are working with her. Sometimes these are antisemitic tropes that people don’t even recognize. I remember I was in a room in New York where these meetings that you and I always have to take, and there was a Jew who said, she didn’t say anything antisemitic. I support her. So I’m like, isn’t this an interesting plot twist? You know, like, look at that. And he goes, I’m a proud Jew. And I’m all for it. I’m sick and tired of AIPAC, X, Y, and Z. Right? But the problem here is the following. And I know in the interest of time, you know, we could talk in a whole episode about this is a space has to be created and I asked Jews for the space where you don’t automatically turn on a Muslim if they’re critical of Zionism or Israel and squash them as antisemitic, there’s a space there.

Wajahat Ali:
And for Muslims and you know this, and I know this because you’ve alluded to it in some of these circles, this is the key part, some of these circles where Palestine like Israel and your communities becomes the rallying cry, where you have to perform on social media, where you have to perform in front of the funders. Right? Let’s be honest about it. There is very little space given where you can talk to someone who self-identifies as a Zionist. And I am trying to carve a space or see if a space can be carved where you can be progressive on your politics, where you can live in alliance with multicultural communities, not agree with everything, but at least most values, retain your truth about Palestine/Israel. But we are living in the United States of America where your community and my community, in my opinion, is facing Thanos. And Thanos is white supremacy that is coming after all of us. And so that tension is real. That concern is real. And I could tell you, within Muslim Americans, there are a lot of leaders and funders and activists who want to reach out and have flexibility, but within the community, the pressure comes in that silences it, does that make sense? And I know Jews listening know this.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
It does. It does. Let me ask you one last question. We’ll come back to where we started with nine 11. So there was a piece that Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL, who you referred to earlier wrote on cnn.com last week in advance of the high holidays, apologizing on behalf of the ADL for the decision that the ADL had undertaken under its previous leadership to oppose the Cordoba house project park 51, a mosque that was meant to be built in the area around ground zero, designed as an interfaith center, kind of exactly what you want in the world for all the reasons we’ve alluded to. It was opposed politically. And then some voices in the Jewish community, most prominently, the ADL under its former leadership opposed it an Greenblatt wrote a public apology. I thought it was great. It was interesting to see there were different reactions, the current leadership of Cordoba house welcomed the apologies to this is exactly what we need.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
Daisy Khan, who had been one of the leaders of the project was really upset about the apology felt like too little too late. And why didn’t you speak to us directly? Why is this taking place in the press? I guess I’m curious both for your 2 cents on that and like, what else do you want to see? I read it. I was like, this is great. It was good to see. Of course, it’s not the whole work of reconciliation after moments like this, what else do we need to do? Whether it’s in the Muslim community, towards the Jewish community and vice versa.

Wajahat Ali:
So two things I appreciated the article. I think it’s never too late to make amends. I shared it. I think it’s important. I think for most people they need to hear that. You have to also realize there’s pain, immense pain, especially with the ADL under Abraham Foxman’s leadership. I mean, we’re talking about a lot of, progressivess not antisemites, people really are good folks who I would have suspected them to praise that article. There were like too late, performative. And ADL still hasn’t apologized for spying on us, for bad mouthing us, for slandering us, all the pain that we had to go through after nine 11. So that pain and those wounds are very real. And Jonathan kind of has a masochistic job of trying to inherit that baggage, but also trying to cleave from it and move forward while also then not appearing too weak in front of his Jewish allies and funders who say you can’t succumb to these Muslim forces.

Wajahat Ali:
You know, it’s a tricky world. I take the wins where I can, I think it’s a good start. And from the Muslim perspective, we have to realize that that was such a painful memory because that was done in coordinance with Jewish allies based on the Jewish centers. And it was a coordinated effort done by the conservative movement right before the 2010 elections that helped mainstream those talking points that still attack Muslims to this day. Obama’s a Muslim. Sharia is a threat to America. You don’t expand mosques. And it kind of was the natural escalation of 9/11, 9/11 happened. We didn’t really have these conversations. Boom, that was weaponized in 2010. Now all of that nonsense that was manufacturered is in the ecosystem. Republican presidential candidates ran with it as a talking point, fast forward to 2016, Donald Trump, fast forward to now, right? So that pain is not like a forgotten pain.

Wajahat Ali:
It is a connected pain going back to 9/11. And we thought if anything, ADL being the ADL should have known better, should have done better. I remember when that happened in 2010, it was like a knife in the back and the knife in the heart. I’m just giving a perspective, a Muslim perspective. You guys who’s listening right now, just so you know why, Yehuda, why didn’t everyone celebrate that? And so for many Muslims, they’re like too little too late, performative. Of course, now you do it. We’re skeptical. I’m glad he did it. They can do so much more. There’s also this angle and it goes back to what you were saying. And this is something interesting, which I would love to revisit with you is Jews are realizing that they’re no longer part of the multicultural progressive agenda. They’re being isolated from this multicultural Avengers that is moving forward in solidarity, whether it’s BLM, LGBTQ rights, Muslims, Palestine, and these institutions are antiquated and they’re trying their best to still stay relevant.

Wajahat Ali:
And this was a low hanging fruit by Jonathan to just try to get them their still. There’s also that understanding and that tension, perhaps everything I’ve just said is correct. At the same time. I know having spent time with you having spent, how much at Shalom Hartman, having spent time with Jews. I know the tensions that exist within Jewish communities. I think I’m lucky to be, I guess, an outsider-insider. And by the way, guys, they mimic the tensions that exist within Muslim communities, the performance, the funding, the hardliners, the liberals, the conversations you have in public, the conversation you have in private, but the dance that you always have to do, Yehuda. Not being called a sellout, being authentic, using your equity, not using equity. And so I think it is a very important step and I hope Jonathan and ADL keep pushing in that direction. I think there’s an opening there.

Justus Baird – Ad:
Hi, my name is Justus Baird. One of the hats I wear as senior vice president at the Hartman Institute is managing editor of our new journal called Sources. Instead of hot takes Sources, features long form essays issue. Number two is out now, and it will inspire you. You’ll read about the future of liberal Zionism, synagogues, revitalizing American democracy and making disagreement, purposeful. Significant ideas, beautifully expressed all at sourcesjournal.org.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
With all the heaviness of this particular anniversary marking 20 years of nine 11, it turns out that there’s a second major anniversary of relevance to the Jewish community, its story, questions of vulnerability that we’re also marketing around this time, which is the Durban conference that took place in Durban, South Africa in August and September of 2001. Obviously got moved out of the news cycle by 9/11, but the conference itself was enormously significant in terms of signaling a shift in the discourse around antisemitism, anti-Israel-ism, and possibly antisemitism. We’re recording on Friday, September 10th, 2021. This morning, actually, Ron Kampeas, the bureau chief for Jewish Telegraphic agency published a piece at JTA naming that not only is it 20 year anniversary since nine 11, and it’s also the 20 year anniversary, just about for the Durban conference, a UN conference, ostensibly to combat racism, which took an incredible turn towards becoming basically an international anti-Semitic event.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
I had honestly never connected the dots, the Durban conference, and nine 11 took place basically a week apart from one another, Ron had spoke to eight or nine people. We’ll link the story in the show notes. It’s worth reading the perspectives elicited from a whole bunch of people who were there, including Stacy Burdet, who was at the time at the ADL and has been a guest on our show, Irwin Cotler, who was a representative from Canada and later went on to become a Canadian justice minister, an anonymous Jewish organizational executive, who couldn’t be identified by name. Really worthwhile set of reflections. And we thought today would be interesting to kind of talk about these two events 20 years since Durban, what it signals and what the relationship is, or maybe isn’t between these two anniversaries.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
So, Ron, first of all, thanks for coming on the show and thanks for your article.

Ron Kampeas:
Sure. Thank you.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
So take us back. I don’t know if you acknowledged this in the story if you were at Durban or if you were covering it at the time, but take us back a little bit, because I think that many of our listeners will obviously know the 9/11 story much more than Durban, but maybe paint the picture a little bit about what the Durban conference was and what it was supposed to be and what happened. And then we can get into some of the anecdotes that were really powerful that you told about your story.

Ron Kampeas:
Yeah, I wasn’t at Durban. I knew people who were at Durban. I knew them in real time and they also interviewed them or met them like after I was working for the Associated Press and a colleague Dina Kraft was also working for the AP in South Africa and she’s a close friend and she was just sending me real time, like anxiety filled messages about how awful it was. What had happened is that there were a sequences of conferences starting in the 1970s having to do with equity at the United nations. There was a woman’s conference. There were a couple of women’s conferences. There was the famous conference in China, I think in 1996 where Hillary Clinton spoke out for women’s rights. And and these were rolling along and there was also at the same time, a successful effort to roll back a lot of the anti Zionism that had infected the UN since the seventies.

Ron Kampeas:
It was probably I think, 1991 or 1992, the organized Jewish community working with John Bolton, who was then an under secretary at the State Department and others got the General Assembly to repudiate its 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution. So there was just this sense, I think at the time, that in their Jewish organizational world, at least that there was a recognition that antisemitism was as toxic as a lot of other forms of racism. And that there were at least some forms of anti Zionism that were antisemitic that were, that were a part of that. And so that’s how they felt going into the conference, you know, on the opposite side you had you know, what we now see as the harbingers to September 11th, there was 1996, I think, attack in Saudi Arabia on a US air force base. There was the attack on USS Cole. It was around the same period, but in 1998, I was thinking more of the Al-Qaeda attacks on the, the embassies in Nairobi and in Tanzania. And so there was, there was this, this threat from this radical Islamic group that was prone to get headlines when it did something major, but then receded and people weren’t paying attention to it. So you have this completely coincidental, obviously coming together in September of 2001, the anti-racism conference and the attacks.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
I don’t know that I had fully understood the, the role that Ahmedinejad and the Iranians played in reshaping the agenda of that conference. Can you go into a little bit of detail on that? Because it was new to me in the story. Honestly, I know Durban as, and I think probably a lot of people in Jewish community and know Durban as like a word like this thing happens, but you actually described it as a kind of takeover by the Iranians of the agenda of this anti-racism conference. And you actually you connect it to an earlier iteration of the conference or a regional version of the conference that happened earlier. How does, I mean, I’m also just kind of, this is a naive way of asking, how does it happen that an international anti-racism conference for those of us who are not convinced all the time that everything in the world is conspiratorially anti-Israel how does it kind of happen politically that this conference effectively gets taken over and becomes as bad as it was?

Ron Kampeas:
Oh, you know, it was just a you know, a coincidence of just bad actions and actors, I think, first of all, so this was a little bit before, a few years before Ahmedinejad was elected, but he was identified with the 2009 second Durban conference. He came there and kind of dominated there. But by that time, most of the Western world had already written off Durban, so that didn’t get as much attention. But what happened as far as the Iranians go is that every region had a conference beforehand, starting in late 2000 and the last confence. So there was one in Latin America, there was one in Europe. And then the last such conference was in Tehran. They said that was going to be the Asian conference. And the Iranians didn’t want to let anybody in that they didn’t know, they didn’t want to let Israelis in.

Ron Kampeas:
They didn’t want to let Jewish organizations in. And they didn’t even want to let, and they were joined in, I think with Pakistan and some other countries, and didn’t even want to let Australia and New Zealand in. And so that’s, you know, which is interesting because they’re usually grouped in with Asia because they’re too small to have their own group and they didn’t what to let them in because they wanted to shape the conference to be an anti Israel antisemitic. And so what would happen, you know, if you’ve ever you, of all people, of course, you’ve been deep inside their Jewish organizational world. You send people to sit out at these conferences to go through the sort of boring, grueling, hard work of sitting around tables and working out resolutions. They say things, you can’t go that far. You can’t say that. And then eventually you’d get like a kind of consensus, but the Iranians effectively blocked that from happening by keeping all those people out of the Tehran.

Ron Kampeas:
And so you have this complete, this document that included phrases like apartheid and committing genocide that showed up in the ultimate document that came out of the Durban NGO conference. Because Durban was divided into two components and NGO conference first, and then a governmental conference afterwards. And part of the problem there is also in terms of the other factor was Mary Robinson was a UN human rights commissioner. She really had ambitions of becoming the UN’s first woman secretary-general. And the Jewish organization said, you know, we can get into Tehran they’re being obtuse. Move it to another city and she refused. She said, no, she wanted to get it into Tehran. She wanted to, I guess, bring the Iranians into the thing. And maybe also she wanted to gain credibility as she sought the secretary generalship and she said, but I’ll make sure they get you in.

Ron Kampeas:
So what they did is they delayed, delayed, delayed permission until the last planes had left Paris and New York. So yes, they had permission to get in, but it was virtually impossible for the participants to get in. And so you had these Iran effectively shaping this. The other factor was the second Intifada and the images that were coming out of the second Intifada and to the degree that the Iranians, you know, with already having shaped this toxic document coming out of the Asian sector, they were able to tap into a worldwide anger at the second Intifada, particularly there were there was just after the second Intifada started, there was the death of a 12 year old Muhammad Durrah, who was caught in the crossfire between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It’s never really been fully determined, which bullets killed him. It’s, it’s almost beside the point.

Ron Kampeas
I mean, it was crossfire and it was and it was awful. It was just a horrible, horrible, you know, few minutes of video of a child dying. And so there was that anger, there was a kind of within South Africa -so South South Africa is the host and the NGOs in South Africa tended to have a sympathy, in any case, toward the Palestinians, there was an NGO umbrella organization that organized a trip to the West Bank for a lot of the local NGOs and that further radicalize to them. And of course, beacon being the host country, they were they were influential and it just all came together. And you, you know, you have this conflagration in Durban,

Yehuda Kurtzer:
It’s not crazy that a similar conference took place in 2021 around the time of a significant outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas would also be coterminous with a whole bunch of protests. As you described taking place in South Africa which you kind of carefully delineate as pro-Palestinian protests, but many of the people you interviewed described them as pro-Palestinian protests with a decidedly antisemitic bent. So that you’re not really, it’s not merely a kind of, kind of coincidence of this event taking place around the time of the second Intifada. There’s also a shift in tone in volume and in there’s something ominous and threatening about that. You want to unpack that a little bit because you did, you know, you said like anti-Israel and antisemitic, and of course, anytime somebody puts those two things together, you know, everybody’s gonna start asking, well, what’s the line between anti-Israel and antisemitic, but almost everybody who’s there describes it as no, no it’s anti-Israel, but it’s also an antisemitic. So maybe play that out a little bit.

Ron Kampeas:
Without having been there, but we haven’t talked to the people there I think it’s just the Iranian brand of anti-Israel-ism or anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. It’s not unabashedly antisemitic Holocaust denying. We’ve seen it. The current Ayatollah Khomeini, interchanges on Twitter, Jews, and Zionist Jews, and Zionists. He doesn’t care. It’s all an evil entity. And that just came across, you know, Jewish organizations might be having an event just as Jews. And they would be surrounded by people who would be screaming at them. If they tried to get up and speak on any issue, they would be shouted down. People would say that, you know, you are like Hitler. And there was a person who turned out to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda of all things. He was getting money from the bin Laden family, a Muslim radical in South Africa. And he printed up these flyers, which turn, you know, which people who were there told me where ubiquitous. They would appear on the back of cars.

Ron Kampeas:
And it was a picture of Hitler. And what if I had won? And the good would be that there’d be no Israel. That’s one of the good things if he had won. It was like, it was this bizarre attempt at humor because the bad is there would be no new Volkswagen beetle. I’m not sure why that was in the in the flyer. And that was just, you know, that became an emblem for at least the Jewish participants at emblem of the opposition that they were getting. So it was definitely antisemitic in tenor, I think the Friday of the of the NGO conference. So maybe the fifth day you have this massive demonstration of 20,000 people and they were wearing, t-shirts saying apartheid Israel, as in, you know, play on “apartheid is real” apartheid Israel. And that was funded apparently by the local NGO umbrella, the unions who went into the townships and handed out these t-shirts and, and got these people bused in.

Ron Kampeas:
And so then, you know, you had that, that manifestation of antisemitism that one can define by singling out Israel. I mean, you’re talking about a conference, it’s stressing every type of racism you have talking about a conference that going in, a lot of the people had hoped that minorities like the Roma and the Dalit in India that had not been adequately dealt with in the NGO community, in terms of the racism they suffered, that they would be dealt with. And the, the one massive demonstration that happens targets Israel. And so there’s that, that element as well.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
When it comes to the actual conference, the US representative was Tom Lantos, who was a Holocaust survivor, a member of Congress. And if he’s being attacked and he ultimately led a walk out, if I’m not mistaken, if he’s being attacked, it’s pretty clear we’ve crossed the line from tacit support for Israel, you know, to something else that’s taken on a different quality. By the way, you know, I heard this recently and I feel like it’s underreported, so maybe somebody should take it up that during the 2021 Israel – Hamas conflict, a great deal of, I think something, somebody told me 15% of the most violent and antisemitic memes that were circulating on social media are actually coming out of Iran. This feels like an underreported piece of what is oftentimes imagined as kind of the domestic production of outrage against Israel for its actions is actually being designed and controlled by foreign governments. And that feels like there’s, there’s DNA of that in what you’re describing as being part of what went wrong at Durban.

Ron Kampeas:
Yeah, absolutely. I, you know, Iran promotes these ideas. It has forever, it has it’s occasional, I don’t think it’s annual, but it’s occasional conference on cartoons about the Holocaust, for instance. It has Holocaust deniers. It has antisemites on PressTV, it’s official television channel. And this is plugged into an infrastructure that’s already quite adept at interfering in elections. You know now there’s now evidence that Iran is pedaling means right now in terms of stoking dissent within the United States, related to the the whole COVID issue. So yeah, there there’s a lot of this, I’m sure, obviously there is sincere pro Palestinian-ism. Why wouldn’t there be, you know, there’s, every group is going to have its natural sympathizers and then you have this kind of deliberate, manipulative actions by governments and by outside actors.

Ron Kampeas:
And you just have maybe like a handful of people with the, on the one side, sincerely genuine pro-Palestinian outlooks who can recognize that there’s an effort to manipulate them and try and push back against them. But the, you know, I think human nature is, you know, once they see one guys on your side on a political issue, you don’t ask a lot of questions. It’s certainly manifested itself in in terms of criticism of Israel over the years where unfortunately you get people embracing or not wanting to deny or not making a big effort to push back against the antisemitism with their own ranks. I mean, you saw it in, in Britain during the whole Corbyn era labor party.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
Let’s talk about two pieces of a legacy. So in your, in your piece, the number of the people you spoke to essentially pointed to Durban as the trigger of the shift on anti-Israel discourse, some of the language around BDS, around delegitimization of Israel a lot of that emerges in the Jewish community, essentially as a direct response to Durban. Durban as a trigger event. So I’m curious for you, how do you see that story playing out? How should we look back and watch the nature of the Jewish communal response and even the state of Israel’s response to Durban? And, and then we’ll come to the 9/11 question as well.

Ron Kampeas:
Well, I think that, you know, there was momentum towards integration into the into the whole United nations infrastructure in terms of fighting racism. And then there was just this sort of sudden realization, this bi huge splash of cold water and the Jewish organizational world at Durban that it isn’t working. And so you had two outlooks that emerged from that. And one was that we haven’t explained antisemitism well enough to our NGO partners. Because there wasn’t – a lot of the hurt that came out of the Jewish community and Tom Lantos his piece that he wrote for a Tufts University foreign policy publication that became very influential – the piece that he wrote, had to do with not simply like, you know, the Iran-backed manufactured antisemitism there, but the fact that the other NGOs that, you know, that, that Jews had helped start like Human Rights Watch that the Jews have been, you know, working with, they said nothing.

Ron Kampeas:
And in fact, you know, I didn’t go too deeply into this, but the NGO’s reaction at the time was there was a lot that was really good that was coming out of this conference. Why do we always have to obsess about the Jewish thing? And of course, can you imagine saying that to, let’s say the blacks who suffered racism at a conference. Why don’t we always talking about the black? Nobody would say that they, for some reason, I felt that they could get away with saying that on the Jewish thing. And there were others who were, who resented Lantos as a blanket kind of thing, but certainly Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. The groups didn’t stand up for them. So there was that one reaction I described, we have to engage with these people. And there was the other one, which was like, let’s just write them off.

Ron Kampeas:
You know, these people are not, they’re not honest brokers, they’re not good partners. And it’s up to them to reform until they reform we will pursue human rights issues separately from them. And I think that that defines a lot of the Jewish communal react to now the antisemitism from the left. Antisemitism from the right is of course a whole different thing. But so like, and when Ilhan Omar, the Congresswoman from Minnesota says something that can be interpreted as antisemitism saying the pro-Israel advocacy is all about the Benjamins. Do you engage? Or do you just say, get her out, run a primary opponent against her and try and make him win. And so you, in the Jewish community here in the States, you’ve seen both approaches and those that difference in approach and the argument and the tensions that ensue from those differences were defined came out of Durban, I think.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
That’s really interesting. I mean, another detour we could take, which we won’t do today, but just to flag it as a kind of an interesting question, the whole question of fighting Israel’s delegitimization has been a domestic question for Israel in terms of its priorities and what sorts of government infrastructure, it sets stuff to deal with it. A very big part of the Netanyahu administration over the past 20 years was making the delegitimization of Israel a centerpiece of his own leadership, partly because his own vision of his own leadership is I’m the great protector and they’re out to get us. And Iran is the primary specter in that. And so there was a ministry essentially devoted to combating BDS, which has basically quietly been dismantled, you know, in the Bennett takeover. And part of that is a question of, do you actually think you’re going to defeat this through these types of political measures?

Yehuda Kurtzer:
Or do you, you know, do you say I can’t defeat it, I’m just going to pursue my own destiny or, and the third educational option is Israel just has to make a better case within the international community about how what it does may not be desirable to the international community, but won’t be classified as apartheid. Let’s, let’s do the 9/11 story though, because again, I was kind of my, I was like, oh, really? That was like a week before. So what’s fascinating to me is obviously there is a coherent consistency between these two stories for a very particular worldview. The worldview that emerged post 9/11 of basically the civilizational divide between America and Israel on one side and the Muslim world broadly construed on the other, even though of course, Iran, Iraq and Al Qaeda are no friends to one another. But it does seem to be that like, you know, a week after the Durban conference, the entire attention of the foreign policy establishment moves from what might’ve been Iran to Afghanistan and Iraq. So maybe I’d love to just hear perspective on what did we learn from the juxtaposition of these two events? What are they, what did they share in common? And in what ways were they simply coincidentally around the same time?

Ron Kampeas:
I think, yeah, it’s they were, they were coincidental. Obviously, Iran obviously was working, you know, had no relationship with Al Qaeda and they weren’t sympathetic to Al Qaeda, but that’s in the tactical realm in the sort of overall ideological realm. Certainly a rejection of the west and sort of an extreme antisemitism is something they did have in common. I mean, up on both sides accelerated by the establishment of the state of Israel and by the infection within the Muslim world of a kind of Western antisemitism that had rose up in the decades before. So there’s that I think that the I think what you, you pinned it down in the sense that we’ve got the, what they really have in common was the reaction when you have this kind of extreme manifestation of hatred, obviously it was deadly and it’s September 11th in ways that Americans had never experienced before. In the American context, I think what was interesting if you look at what happened in Durban is that at first and people forget this in the George W. Bush administration, there was an effort to actually engage.

Ron Kampeas:
I mean, you can even see the Iraq war and its hopes for bringing democracy to the region. As you know, people will complain about this, but because of the devastation brought by the Iraq war, but it was a way to actually engage with Muslim world. If you, especially, if you look at the worldview of one of its architect, Paul Wolfowitz was deeply involved in Muslim Western engagement. And that dissipated, that dissipated as the west Americans became a lot more insular. And so you have this coincidence cross party bi-partisan despite the fact that we’re extremely polarized in other ways, the thing that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have in common was retreat from this kind of engagement whether it’s I mean, I guess in terms of the diplomatic engagement Biden, certainly it would be more, I think, more proactive than then Trump was, but in terms of military engagement, anything that involves American troops on the ground there has been a retreat.

Ron Kampeas:
And so, and you have the same thing and to a degree, certainly in Israel and the Jewish organizational world. I think in way in Israel, it’s kind of there’s been a move in the other direction recently, if you look at the Abraham Accords and that, you know, the credit goes to Netanyahu for that in as much as he really was behind the setting up the Strategic Affairs ministry and the pushback against the BDS, there has been an openness to engagement with the with the Arab world. But I think overall the common factor in both cases is like, geez, this is really bad. It’s a lot worse than we imagined. We should cut ourselves off from this. We should build walls to defend ourselves from this phenomenon. I mean, I guess in terms of literally building walls, remember a lot of the if you look on the right wing and you look at what’s going on on the Mexican border, a lot of the impetus for that was the supposed threat from Muslim radicals who were going to come in over through Mexico, even though it wasn’t necessarily based in reality, but that’s part of the bigger picture.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
As I was reading what you were writing as we’ve been talking. It strikes me that when you saw even five, more than five years ago during the Obama administration, the emergence on, in the Democratic party of an eagerness, not just a willingness, but an eagerness to negotiate with Iran and bring about at least slow down their nuclear aspirations and that can end them. I kind of wondered whether had Durban taken place, and I know alternate history is nonsense, but it had Durban taken place and 9/11, hadn’t it might’ve been not more obvious of the specter of Iran’s anti-American antisemitic aspirations. And it seems possible to me that 10 to 15 years of effectively fruitless battles in Iraq on the basis of bad intelligence and a kind of downhill war in Afghanistan, basically essentially losing the war on one end, disincentivizes the desire to actually be at war with others. Does that makes sense to you? Beause I was having a hard time during the lead up to the Iran deal with even sections of the pro-Israel left, the Zionist left, who seemed like unabashedly supportive of the Iran nuclear deal, even though it was so at odds with most of the pros were a world and the state of Israel, but it kind of seems to make sense that like, okay, well that strategy didn’t work vis-a-vis Iraq and Afghanistan. What else is available to us?

Ron Kampeas:
All right. I think, yeah, I think you’re right. I think there’s a very practical line of areas. You know, it’s substantial not just psychological – in terms of psychological or thinking the Bush administration neglected Iran. There was an overture from Iran in 2003 because they actually feared the Bush administration because it was going in Iraq that was “woah. “You know, they didn’t, they didn’t want to get in, they set up this weird system where they allowed the three European nations, the E3 (Germany, Britain, and France) to negotiate on their behalf in terms of trying to denuclearize Iran and of course that broken telephone didn’t work. There are pro Israel figures, particularly in APAC at the time who will tell you, we’re trying to tell the Bush administration come in and help us combat this. Within the Obama administration, perhaps there was an eagerness to engage Iran, but there was also like an attitude if you were on the Obama side, on the white house side you know, what are we going to do?

Ron Kampeas:
We have to stop around from getting nuclear Clinton, sort of have some good ideas about doing it in the nineties, and then put them aside because of the belief that the president of Iran at the time was actually a moderate. George Bush might have had an inclination to do so, but he was actually preoccupied with Iraq. And then you had the, in 2006, you had actually came into effect in 2010 that were pushed by the Obama administration and Republicans and Democrats in Congress, as a means of leveraging Iran into the Iran deal. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen proposed them in 2006 and she had backing for them, but the history sort of gutted them because they didn’t want to alienate others in them, at least in the rest of the world, by imposing sanctions, just as they were just as they were trying to rally those countries to back the surge in Iraq.

Ron Kampeas:
So you absolutely have this you know, if Durban did happen and September 11th had not happened, I think, I don’t think Durbia would have been the determining factor, but it certainly would have been an element in the west sort of coming to terms with the fact that Iran was toxic and that it had very real intentions to acquire a nuclear weapon. And there probably would have been more efforts towards stemming that. I mean, like I said, like Ross Lipman had proposed her sanctions absent the September, the 11th, absent the Iraq war in 2006, I think they would, would have been no brainer. Yes, we’re going to sanction around until we’re sure that they’re not moving towards a nuclear weapon.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
The last thing in the haunted lines in your, in your article is attributed to Irwin Cutler, but he’s actually quoting someone else, but then nine 11 was Kristallnacht, but but Durban was Mein Kampf. I mean, maybe let’s just as a last question. What do you, what do you think is going to be the lasting, enduring, like actionable memory of of where Durban is going to live in Jewish memory or Jewish imagination? Where do you see the future of that memory?

Ron Kampeas:
I think that that there’s an acknowledgement wherever you are, that there’s an irreducible antisemitism out there. It’s just, there’s a nugget of it that will never go away. You know, I think that’s actually despite the levels of disagreement that have arisen between the right and the left and within the Jewish communal world within the Jewish community. And we’re focused more on the disagreement often. I think that that’s, that’s the agreement. So when I was talking before about the two different approaches, post Durban, you know, cut these people off or engage with them, be engaged with in size, is talking about human rights, watch and amnesty international, even Ilhan Omar, there’s a, there’s an effort to engage from Ilhan Omar, but there’s also a recognition that there are actors who are irreducibly antisemitic that they’re not going to go away. And the dispute is, you know, maybe once in the nineties for a brief period, there was a thought that they would become, you know, nobody ever thought they would absolutely go away, but there was a thought that maybe they’d become a relevant, they’re always going to be relevant.

Ron Kampeas:
There’s always going to be a toxicity there. And the question is, how do you contain it? How do you combat it? How do you mitigate it? I think that that is a legacy of Durban within the Jewish communal world from right to left. Maybe not to the far left within the Jewish communal world, but absolutely, you know, to the to the J Street left, that’s, let’s call it for sure. I think was that, that recognition you saw it in an exchange on Twitter between the Talia Lavin, who has written about neo-Nazis and white supremacists and Briahna Joe Gray, who was, back then was, I think, a spokeswoman for one of Bernie Sanders campaigns. And for some reason, the conversation devolved into the whole threat of Nazis. And there was about a de-radicalization, but that’s almost beside the point, because the way that Briahna Joe Gray came back at her was like, I’m African-American and I faced a greater threat from Nazis than you, which is a ridiculous thing to say to a Jewish person.

Ron Kampeas:
And what was interesting, I think, was Talia’s reaction and the reaction of her supporters, and they’re all on the left. They’re all on the, you know, within the Jewish spectrum, they’re all on the, maybe the far left, but they, understood who was there. They knew it was that they weren’t surprised they weren’t taken back by it. And I think, you know, even if those people weren’t necessarily aware of Durban in real time, the realization that came down from Durban, from their ideological antecedents, that this is a very real phenomenon on the left. Help them prepare them for this kind of occasion where somebody who’s on the left as I don’t – Jews are privileged.,Jews are white. And you get to the sort of reductive ad absurdum thing of saying that Jews don’t necessarily feel any threat from Nazis per se, which is then that’s just one example to. The there’s a legacy of Durban. There is that realization across, across the Jewish political spectrum.

Yehuda Kurtzer:
Well, thank you so much for listening to our show this week and special, thanks to my guests. Watch Wajahat Ali and Ron Kampeas. Identity/Crisis is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced this week by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Alex Dillon with assistance from MiriI Miller and Shalhevet Schwartz and music provided by So-called. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website typically a week after an episode airs to find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online, shalomhartman.org. We’d love to know what you think about the show you can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people find the show. And you can write to us with questions, comments, and opinions had identity crisis central. You can subscribe to our show, wherever podcasts are available. See you next week. And thanks for listening.

 

 

More on
FOLLOW HARTMAN INSTITUTE
Join our email list

SEND BY EMAIL

The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics