Creeping of Anti-Semitism

By Gil Troy, The Mark, 12-1-09
American history author; Professor, history, McGill University.

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When it comes to Israel, there is plenty of legitimate criticism. The problem is that there is so much illegitimate criticism rooted in hatred as well.

Gil Troy on how to keep criticism of Israel kosher

In a recent article for The Mark, John Baglow complains that “the word ‘anti-Semitism’ has lost its original meaning almost entirely, and has become code for criticism of Israel and too-vocal support for the Palestinian people. ”

Alleging that human rights activists fighting Jew-hatred are somehow McCarthyites squelching debate is absurd considering how frequently Israel is criticized, in Israel and abroad, by both Jews and non-Jews. I just wish so much of the criticism of Israel was not distorted, and intensified by anti-Semitic tropes.

The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism has not launched some pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian witch-hunt, as Baglow alleges – without evidence. In fact, it’s very easy to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and illegitimate criticism rooted in a hatred of Jews.

Let’s start with the easiest case – and a moral test to Israel’s critics. Much Arab criticism of Israel and far too much Palestinian nationalism is interlaced with crass anti-Semitism. Too many Arabs and Palestinians conflate “Israel” and “the Jews.” Hamas’s charter could condemn Israel without invoking a classic, I am sorry to say it, Islamic phrase in Article 7, among other places, quoting “the Prophet” Muhammad saying:

“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Cartoons in the Arab media could caricature Israeli leaders without giving them the hook-noses, fangs, and Shylock sidelocks of Nazi propagandists. And protesters against Israel could make their point without signs lamenting that Hitler did not finish the job. Then there are the attacks on synagogues and Jews in Europe.

Alas, Canada has not been immune from this. Jews did not concoct the charge that the April 2004 firebombing of a Montreal Jewish elementary school was connected to pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel forces. The criminals themselves made the link.

Israel’s critics could distance themselves from these vile expressions but rarely do. And we have learned from the civil rights movement, feminism, and gay liberation, that the moral onus is not on the victim to parse who is criticizing legitimately and who is perpetuating prejudice. If more critics of Israel denounced the anti-Semitism poisoning so much of the Palestinian movement, fueling so much criticism of Israel, there would be no need for Parliamentary inquiries.

More subtly, it is quite easy to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism, or criticism propelled by anti-Semitic tropes. Every day in synagogues throughout the world, in Israeli newspapers, and, these days, in the halls of power in Washington, DC, Jews and non-Jews, presidents and regular folk, criticize Israeli actions without delegitimizing Israel – which is the clearest red-line to draw. The fact that Israel is singled out for disproportionate criticism, that Israel, alone among the 192 UN member states, has its existence challenged, that so much of the world’s attention is focused on such a small conflict, does not make sense.

Describing the national conflict between Israel and Palestinians as a racial conflict, or claiming that Israel is like South Africa or, even worse, like the Nazis, also does not make sense. Unless, that is, you acknowledge the anti-Semitism that treats Israel, the Jewish state, as the Jew among nations, accused of disproportionate but secret power, undue influence in squelching debate, and nefarious aims and methods in what is a complicated, tragic conflict, then tarred with accusations of “racism,” “apartheid,” and “genocide,” when other countries whose actions would fit those damning indictments far, far better escape notice.

Finally, note another way too many Israel critics reveal an ugly anti-Semitism. We see gays overlooking Muslim homophobia, feminists overlooking Arab sexism, and liberals overlooking Israeli libertarianism in their zeal to bash Israel. We see academics overriding their primary professional obligation to tell the truth and acknowledge the world’s complexity in their rush to caricature Israel in simplistic terms. When (some, not all!) gay activists, feminists, liberals, academics, and others violate their core identities and defining values to malign Israel, they are doing what bigots do – leaving the realm of the logical for the pathological, and only diminishing themselves.

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