Parliamentary hearings deserve praise

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 12-10-09

If the traditional definition of chutzpah has the murderer who kills his two parents pleading for leniency because he’s an orphan, the modern anti-Semite’s chutzpah is expressed by screeching about Israel obsessively, then being shocked when that obsession is noted, let alone criticized.Today’s new anti-Semites don’t even have the courage of their convictions. They mask their traditional Jew-hatred behind a politically correct veneer of anti-racism, anti-apartheid, anti-occupation, we-are-the-world talk. But all their lovely liberal rhetoric can’t hide the venom behind their disproportionate focus on Israel – and the harm they do to liberal ideas, as well as the Jewish state, with their hatred.

Predictably, the all-party Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) had barely convened its hearings when it was already being bashed. On the new website “The Mark,” John Baglow complained that the “new parliamentary coalition against anti-Semitism is really about shutting down criticism of Israel” and 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.” Without listening to the hearings, Baglow and others instinctively caricatured this bipartisan initiative as a pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian witch-hunt.

I don’t seek special treatment, only equal treatment. Would critics pounce so quickly on a parliamentary inquiry into racism, sexism or homophobia in Canada? And would anyone feel comfortable publicly suggesting that any of these scourges have disappeared “almost entirely?”

I wish Israel-bashing wasn’t such a popular sport, on campus and off. I wish violence against Jews was trending down, not up. Alleging that human rights activists fighting Jew-hatred are McCarthyites squelching debate is absurd, considering how frequently Israel is criticized, both in Israel and abroad, by Jews and non-Jews. And I wish so much criticism of Israel wasn’t intensified by historic anti-Semitic markers.

It’s easy to differentiate between legitimate criticism of Israel and illegitimate criticism rooted in traditional Jew-hatred. For starters, anyone who suggests that critics of Israel have a hard time getting a hearing has overlooked what a boon Israel-bashing has been to the careers of Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt and now Naomi Klein. Especially for Jews, shrill anti-Israel invective is a fast-track to more media exposure, higher lecture fees and booming book sales.

More benignly, every day in synagogues around the world, as well as in Israeli newspapers and, these days, in the White House, Jews and non-Jews, presidents and regular folk, criticize Israeli actions without delegitimizing Israel – which is the clearest red-line to draw.

It doesn’t make sense that Israel is singled out for disproportionate criticism, that Israel is the only UN member state whose existence is challenged, and that so much of the world’s attention focuses on such a minor conflict. Describing the Israel-Palestinian national clash as a racial conflict or comparing Israel to South Africa – or, worse, to the Nazis – also doesn’t 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, or 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 truly fit those damning indictments escape notice.

Hopefully, the CPCCA hearings will help others draw the line more clearly, seeing where honest criticism ends and demonization, delegitimization and obsession begin.

But the hearings should also help us understand the historical pathology of anti-Semitism by highlighting the similarities between today’s targeting of the Jewish state and the traditional targeting of the Jew. Yet we must learn from the modern mutation, too. The way the new anti-Semitism manifests itself, sometimes obscured by its “we’re pro-Palestinian and we’re just criticizing Israel” rhetoric, hides a despicable anti-democratic agenda. This upside-down agenda rationalizes terrorism, romanticizes violence, justifies extremism and perverts justice while purporting to defend it.

Exposing that charade isn’t just important for Jews and the Jewish state, but for all of humanity, and especially western democracies such as Canada, which deserves applause for launching these important hearings.

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