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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Three    May 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    Is critism of Israel anti-Semitic?

    Mordecai Briemberg

    (Dr. Norman Finkelstein, a renowned author, human rights activist and hard critic of the policies of the government of Israel, spoke in Vancouver on May 15. This inspired local broadcaster and Middle East analyst Mordecai Briemberg to publish the following feature that encompasses Finkelstein’s philosophy.)

    Campaigners for Israel admit the more people know about Israeli state practices the more supportive they are of Palestinian rights. For them open discussion is a “problem.” Their “solution?” Silence those who bring critical information, call them “anti-Semitic,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu included.

    Smearing so many is a sign of desperation from those who are losing their power to confine how people think about Israel and Palestine.

    Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi said Mussolini, Hitler’s ally, “had not killed anybody but just sent people to holidays in exile.” Nonetheless the Anti-Defamation League (a major campaigner for Israel) honoured him the next week for his fervent support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, sending the message that it’s okay to deny Mussolini’s massacres, including of Jews, as long as you are a supporter of Israel. But to criticize Israel is the unforgivable “new anti-Semitism.”

    Opposing the Israeli invasion, conquest and occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza is also “new anti-Semitism.” Even though the United Nations Security Council unanimously and immediately called in 1967 for the complete withdrawal of Israeli military, in the words of Israel’s advocates, 1967 is when “elements in the world conspired against the Jewish people and the victorious State of Israel” (Frank Dimant, the Canadian Jewish Tribune, Sept 25/03).

    To evaluate Zionism, the political ideology that has guided Israeli policies, to document the historical record of land seizures and population displacement by Israeli governments, to detail current practices of death squads, walls, and checkpoints, to explore historical comparisons with South Africa’s apartheid regime, all the while using documentary evidence, logic, and facts is “new anti-Semitism.” You can examine any other governments this way, free of accusations of racism, but not Israel.

    The political ideology that Jews could be safe only in a “Jewish state” (Zionism) was but one of many ideologies advocated by European and Arab Jews. It was supported by a small minority of European Jews, yet its adherents arrogantly decree criticism of Zionism is an attack on all Jews, more “new anti-Semitism.” So is criticism of capitalist ideology an attack on Canadians, criticism of socialism an attack on Cubans?

    Through its oppression of Palestinians Zionism, though claiming to be Jews’ ultimate protector, has made Israel one of the least safe places for them. What irony! Is it any wonder hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews now are claiming Polish and other East European passports, on the basis of their grandparents birthplace?

    To use the smear of “new anti-Semitism” to support Israel’s racist practices is one more outrage against Palestinians. And “nothing less than desecrate[ing] the memory of those Jewish [holocaust] victims, whose death … is meaningful only inasmuch as it serves as an eternal warning to the human kind against all kinds of discrimination, racism, and genocide.” (Ran HaCohen, Tel Aviv university professor)

    No: Israeli policies do not equal the well being of Jews. No: campaigners for those policies in Canada are not the voice of all Jews in Canada. No: criticism of Israeli state policies is not equal to anti-Semitism.

    Indeed to promote such false equivalencies to shield morally indefensible Israeli policies fuels anti-Semitism. As George Soros told fund-raisers for Israel, “anti-Semitism will diminish” by changing the policies of the Bush and Sharon administrations (Jewish Telegraph Agency, Nov 4/03).

    And when we face real anti-Semitic acts, which unquestionably are despicable, there often is a misleading emotional sentiment cultivated that another holocaust is looming. Consider racism in Canada against Chinese, aboriginals, Arabs, Jews, Moslems, East Indians: which group gets the most support from those with political, legal and police power? The Prime Minister, the Premier of Ontario, the Mayor and police chief of Toronto, denounced the desecration of 27 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery. Rightly. But who spoke out when aboriginal women just launched a campaign of awareness about the 500 “disappeared” native women in Canada? When Arabs and Moslems are targeted as “terrorists” by the full powers of the Canadian state?

    When we take to heart the principle that justice is the foundation of peace, it is our moral imperative to work for Palestinian rights. This will lessen the profound persecution they suffer and also enhance the security of Jews worldwide.

    Mordecai Briemberg is local community broadcaster with Vancouver Cooperative Radio, CFRO 102.7 FM. He can be heard on the Redeye program, Saturday mornings from 9 am to noon.

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