Last April Klein attended on assignment for a magazine the Durban 2 conference in Geneva, which Israel and a number of Western countries boycotted because of the invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She is still upset by her experiences there.
I was sure, at this stage, she was going to remark on the horrifying anti-Semitism that was present at the event, which included an Iranian delegate calling Elie Wiesel a "Zio-Nazi". It's such a gimme, right?
"The most disturbing feeling," she explains, "was the Jewish students' lack of respect for the representatives from Africa and Asia who came to speak about issues like compensation for slavery and the rise of racism around the world. In their midst, Jewish students from France ran around in clown costumes and plastic noses to say 'Durban is a joke.' This was pure sabotage, which contributes to the tensions between Jews and blacks."
"Durban wasn't just about Israel: The Durban Declaration acknowledged for the first time that the trans-Atlantic trade is a crime against humanity and that opened the way to compensation. The boycott of the conference created a vacuum that was filled, on the one hand, by Jewish students who wanted to sabotage the conference, and on the other, by Ahmadinejad both of them were truly awful."
Ah, such delightful moral equivalency. Ahmadinejad spewed racist garbage, which is bad. Jews didn't feel like lying back and taking it -- equally bad. Indeed, worse -- it was "the most disturbing" thing! The most disturbing thing about Durban II, for Klein, was peaceful protests against anti-Semitism. Think about that for a moment. Think about what that says about her and her worldview. Cleansing power of anti-Zionism, anyone?
Do you think it was necessary to allow Ahmadinejad to speak out so prominently at a conference against racism when he is calling for Israel's destruction and denying the Holocaust?
"I think that silencing the Palestinians was a big part of the reason he got so much attention. He is the only one who acknowledged what happened this year more Palestinians were killed in 2008 than in 1948. The boycott seems to me to have been an irresponsible decision the Jewish community unifies in an attempt to shut down a discussion of racism when there is a shocking rise in racism on the right in places like Austria, Italy, Switzerland, in the midst of an economic crisis, in conditions close to those in which fascism spread in all of Europe."
Yes, we all know that the UN's biggest problem is that it silences the Palestinians. Seriously, this is victim-blaming at its most blatant. Klein admits that Ahmadinejad's speech was racist, but still faults Jewish groups for opposing the conference that gave him an open mic. Because we refuse to be abused, we're committing sabotage at an anti-racism conference. Here's a thought -- maybe if putative anti-racists like Klein would step up and refuse to tolerate anti-Semitism, then Jewish students wouldn't need to dress up like clowns to draw attention to it.
Alice Walker once wrote that "No person is your friend who demands your silence." In the face of growing anti-Semitism -- a rise in racism that has occurred on both the left and right, in Europe and worldwide -- Klein's demand of Jews is that they shut up and let the real people talk. No dice. Klein's antics reveal her true colors -- as an ally of hate, of the fury and bigotry that threatens to consume us all.
Maybe Klein, playing the age-old role of the "good Jew" will be spared, and maybe she won't. But she has no right to demand my silence at a time like this, and certainly no right to appropriate the good name of progressivism to her fanaticism. And the people who call themselves her allies ought to know with whom they stand. Her apologias for hate should render her beyond the pale of good company.
UPDATE: Rebecca Lesses, writing from Israel this summer, overheard an interview with Klein on Israeli radio and offers her own thoughts.