The appearance of radical Oakland imam Amir Abdel Malik Ali at UC Irvine last week and yet another reference to "Zionist Jews" (This time he called UC president Mark Yudof a "Zionist Jew") raises a question over the use of the term itself. Ali defends his use of the term as differentiating between Jews in general and those who either live in or support the Jewish state of Israel. He will tell you (as he told me last week) that not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews. This takes us back to May 2010 at UCI when he told a Jewish questioner, "You Jews. You wouldn't sit down for tea and crumpets with the Nazis.....Y'all the new Nazis."
There is an old saying that it is not what you say but how you say it. I think that certainly applies to the use of the very term "Jew". Today in Germany, the term "Jude" is still an emotion-laden word. During the Third Reich, Nazis didn't have to use slurs and epithets to refer to Jews, they simply used the word "Jude". In most cases, they literally spit out the word, much like Ali does when he says, "Zionist Jews". In addition, the word Jew can be used in a pejorative way in English if used in a certain tone. Even when I use the word (or Jewish), I am conscious of the tone and context in which I use it. I think the same situation exists in other languages and would bet the farm in Arabic.
What Ali is engaging in is code language. To Israel's opponents, Zionism is considered a bad thing. Ali thinks as long as he puts that adjective "Zionist" in front of "Jew", it is OK. As an African-American, Ali knows all about code language since it has been used for ages against African-Americans. If some white racist gets in front of a microphone and starts railing against "welfare queens", everyone knows what he is talking about.
Of course, on both sides of an argument, we can see references to "code" that may or may not be justified. Ali and his friends will tell you that using "Zionist" isn't really code language at all, nor is the term, "pro-Israel lobby". Yet many of them will tell you that the expression "cutting taxes' is now code language for racism directed at African-Americans (which, in my view, is nonsense and, in its own way, insulting to African-Americans).
Ali might want to consider why he never uses the term, "Zionist Christians" (at least I have never heard it from him). If not all Zionists are Jews, then surely he must think that some are Christians who support the notion that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state (like me, for instance).
"Fousesquawk is a straight-up Zionist Christian."
Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it?
Even if Ali sincerely believes that his use of the term, Zionist Jew" is not anti-Semitic and not meant to apply to all Jews, he surely is savvy enough to know that his manner in saying it would lead many to believe there is religious animus involved and would offend many Jews, Zionist or not. After all, white Christians know that when referring to other groups like African-Americans and Muslims, offense can be taken very quickly, and (most of us) use our words carefully so as not to offend-even inadvertently. Those rules of etiquette apparently do not apply to Ali or those who invite him to speak on their behalf.
No, on the other hand, the MSU, prior to all their speaking events the past couple of years, have used a verbal disclaimer given at the opening that it is wrong to label anti-Zionism or opposition to Israel as being anti-Semitic. Indeed, they state that they oppose all forms of racial or religious bigotry-including that directed toward members of the Jewish faith. That apparently opens the doors for speakers like Amir Abdel Malik Ali (and others the UCI MSU has invited through the years like Abdul Alim Musa and Mohammed al-Asi) to step to the microphone and spout their toxic venom. Of course, Ali really offends nobody because he says, "Zionist Jews".
"You can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the Jew."
-Mohammed al Asi at UCI in February 2001
Poor Al Asi forgot to say "Zionist Jew". Well, we can certainly forgive the American-born, Ayatollah-supporting imam from Washington since Nowhere Is It Written, "Zionist" Jew.
As long as we are on the topic of momentous declarations at UCI, we might as well include this jewel from a few years back when Jewish students and community members were complaining about the rhetoric at these same events:
"One person's hate speech is another person's education."
That is what they were reportedly told by a university official.