Anti-Israel week elicits yawning, not yelling

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 4-8-10

On Feb. 25, the Ontario legislature unanimously passed, by voice vote, a resolution condemning “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW), days before it began in Toronto, as well in 11 other Canadian cities and another two dozen locations worldwide.

This all-party amity on any issue is rare. Just as the Obama Administration was gearing up for an unnecessary, counterproductive showdown with Israel, Canada once again took the lead in supporting it.

MPP Peter Shurman, should be hailed for leading the fight against what he branded a “hateful… odious” comparison that insults Israel, all democratic countries that share Israel’s values, and millions of black South Africans who endured racism under apartheid, which separated people on the basis of colour systematically, legally and brutally.

Shurman’s resolution proclaimed: “I move that in the opinion of this house, the term ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ is condemned, as it serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and the use of the word ‘apartheid’ in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Shurman understood that these resolutions are not binding. Moreover, they do not squelch anyone’s right to free speech, no matter how aggressive or untrue that speech may be. Rather, he explained, the resolution was a tool of “moral suasion,” reflecting the feelings of a democratic body, appalled by an unreasonable, undemocratic assault against the democratic nation of Israel.

By contrast, in a video circulated on the Internet promoting the bash-Israel-fest, Toronto-based activist Naomi Klein proclaimed: “Nothing about this week is motivated by hate. It’s motivated by justice. It’s about using our freedom to defend the freedom of Palestinians to exist in peace and dignity and with full equality in their land.”

In fact, Palestinian nationalism’s great failure is its nihilism, the fact that so much of the movement’s energies are dedicated to destroying Israel rather than building a Palestinian state. A week celebrating Palestinian nationalism could be about “peace and dignity.” But a week demonizing Israel and celebrating the false, misleading comparison with South African racism is about hate – and, not surprisingly, has often degenerated into hooliganism and anti-Semitism.

There is much to debate regarding Israel, Palestinians and the quest for Middle East peace. But someone committed to “peace and dignity” would acknowledge how much of this constant Israel-bashing is fed by the crudest Arab anti-Semitism. The disgusting images rooted in Nazi propaganda that still appear in the Arab press feed a demonizing discourse that led some York University students to yell “die Jew” and recently led a student at Oxford University protesting an Israeli government official to yell in Arabic “Itbah al-Yahud,” which means “Slaughter the Jews.”

Nationalism is a double-edged sword: it can elevate and enlighten, as it does in democracies such as Canada, or it can rouse and ruin. Becoming addicted to hatred of one’s defined adversaries gives a fleeting feeling of unity, but it ultimately degenerates into violence and destructiveness. Too much of the Palestinian national movement – and far too much of it on campus and in North America – is devoted to Israel-bashing. It creates a culture of martyrdom that celebrates suicide bombers rather than nation builders. It honours leaders such as Yasser Arafat, who preferred the purity of perpetual violence to the complexity of compromise. It results, in a cult of violence, sometimes feeding Hamas-versus-Fatah bloodshed, usually aimed at Jews.

Too much of the Arab world seems engulfed by this irrational hatred of Israel and Zionism. That this hatred is perfumed, rationalized and masked on campus in the language of human rights, then ennobled with the sacred mantle of the anti-apartheid struggle, is perverse.

Fortunately, most of our students are too smart to be swayed by such distortions. Initial reports this year suggest that “anti-Israel week” 2010 was a bust.

Students repudiated this festival of historical distortion, nationalist nihilism and Israel-bashing by yawning, not yelling. Most demonstrated the good sense to avoid the tumult and let the haters shout to mostly empty rooms – a perfect response.

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