Monday, June 01, 2009


It seems like as soon as there's any conflict involving Israel, I begin to hear the word 'anti-Semitism' a lot more often. Either it's an accusation against anti-Zionists, or an accusation by anti-Zionists convinced that they'll be accused of anti-Semitism for any criticism of Israel.

I think these accusations need to be considered more carefully. I'm well aware of the debate within Jewish circles and in the press. But the argument is never - well, let's be fair and say rarely - that Israel is being criticized, but how it's being criticized, and the absence of fair criticism of the other side, or even of other countries. For example, I'm very careful with my criticism of other nations because I'm very aware of Canada's abuse of Natives; our treatment of our indigenous people is shameful. And Canada's not alone, sadly. So, the complaint from some people is when Israel gets singled out, and is criticized in a vacuum - it's not the criticism itself. Perhaps this is a subtle difference, but it's also crucial. When Israel is cited by the UN Human Rights Committee endlessly without a mention of China, Syria, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, etc, that's anti-Semitism. When newspapers put Israel on the front page, but ignore hundreds of thousands of deaths in Darfur, that's anti-Semitism. When Churches and Universities advocate boycotts of Israel while ignoring the persecution of Tamils, or basic human rights abuses in dictatorships from Libya through Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, that's anti-Semitism. Unless someone has another explanation.

It's pretty obvious to me when anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism. I don't often make the accusation, because your average anti-Semite simply can't recognize it in himself. I've met a lot of Christians like that; they claim to love Jews, but will turn around and call us 'incomplete, 'Pharisaical,' and 'stiff-necked.' Criticism of Israel is even worse, as I've pointed out, and often suggests an unfair double-standard is at play (ie. if you're going to call yourselves the Chosen People, you must do better than every other people on the planet); or there's this sense that the Jewish emergence from powerlessness that occurred after the Second World War has really thrown a wrench in some people's plans. WE weren't supposed to restore Israel ourselves; we weren't supposed to even survive the Holocaust intact let alone more powerful than before. There are a lot of folks out there, and I'm including quite a few Jews, that are very uncomfortable with Jewish power - and I don't mean just political power - I'm talking about Jews running around with guns, God Forbid, defending ourselves, asserting our right to self-determination, reclaiming what was taken from us by force, well, it's enough to make secular, bagel-loving American Jews blush with embarrassment (and fear of being accused of being Communists, or spy or Fifth Columnists or whatever else could undermine their hard-earned assimilation.)

Speaking of racism, anti-Zionists also love to accuse Israel of abusing its Arab citizens. Show me a country that doesn't have race (or for that matter, gender) issues. When Israel was liberating Gaza (and yes, I used that word deliberately because it was Israel in 1967 that for the first time since 1948, permitted refugees to travel to the West Bank and beyond and work in Israel), the US was engaged in race riots across the country that left hundreds dead and injured. When Israel was permitting Arab women to vote for the first time anywhere in the Middle East, Swiss women still couldn't vote or participate in parliament (they got the vote in 1971). Some would say hatred and anger are pervasive in this part of the world, but we don't judge a society on its faults alone (after all, who is faultless?); we judge it on its actions to correct these faults, through prevention and corrective laws.

And it's worth noting, anti-Jewish and Christian racism isn't just condoned in most Islamic countries: it's actively promoted and funded. That's the difference. While Muslims wail about cartoons featuring Mohamed, images like this regularly appear in state-funded Arab newspapers: Source: Al-Watan (Qatar), April 2, 2007

Then again, maybe the problem isn't anti-Semitism at all? Perhaps it's not Israel being held to a higher standard, but the Muslim world being held to one much lower? Either way, it's hard not to feel that the great experiment, the United Nations, which aims to to, "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small," has failed.

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