Gil Troy: Durban II, Let’s turn a negative into a positive

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 4-29-09

An internet petition titled “Jewish Canadians Concerned about Suppression of Criticism of Israel,” would be laughable if it was not so tragic and typical.

Of all the modern ills to worry about, as Jews and as Canadians, this problem seems trivial. Especially following the Gaza operation, claiming that criticism of Israel is being suppressed is like claiming that Canadians don’t talk enough about the weather.

These are boom times for Israel critics. Anti-Israel week has become a fixture on many campuses, perpetuating the libel that Israel’s actions in defending itself in its nationalist conflict with Palestinians are comparable to South African racism. Year-round, Israel has become the left’s favourite whipping boy, demonized in the sloppiest and most distorted of ways.

Self-righteous protesters, however, love feeling oppressed. No self-respecting Israel-bashers in North America want to admit that their position allies them with the world’s dictators and anti-Semites, with evil Arab oil monarchs and genocidal Hamas terrorists, with nuclear-proliferating Iranian mullahs and racist, sexist, homophobes hostile to democracy, with right-wing neo-Nazis and left-wing purveyors of the “Zionism is racism” libel. So what better way to earn some radical street cred than to claim that evil forces are suppressing speech, resurrecting the anti-Communist excesses of the 1950s?

The petition is just one more example of these attacks’ intensity and inaccuracy. “We do not believe that Israel acts in self-defence,” these self-righteous scolds proclaim. This claim ignores more than 1,179 innocents (and counting) that Palestinian terrorists have murdered since Israel compromised during the Oslo peace process, the 10,000 Qassam rockets fired under the lovely auspices of Hamas, and the relentless attacks on bar mitzvahs and seders, cafes university cafeterias, kindergartens and bars. This lie ignores the culture of peace Israel has created despite it all, and the pornographic culture of political violence that pollutes the Palestinian national movement. This distortion overlooks Israel’s treaties with Egypt and Jordan, its concessions to Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement in the 1990s, and Israel’s voluntary withdrawal from Gaza less than four years ago.

To “back up” the claim, the petitioners assert that “Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $3 million a day.” This lie, which some students parroted back to me recently, too, ignores the fact that since 2003, American foreign aid to Iraq has often dwarfed American foreign aid to all countries combined.

But why let facts get in the way of a popular talking point?

I don’t fear these Israel-bashers and their treasured libel-Israel week. As a strong believer in free speech, I wouldn’t do anything to prevent peaceful political activities on campus, no matter how absurd or intellectually dishonest. Petitions such as this only prove how jaundiced so many Israel critics are, whether they’re Jewish or not. I trust the court of public opinion to reject these half-truths. I’m proud to see how Canadian public opinion has soured on the Palestinian case, appalled by the terrorism and frequently seeing through the victimization routine that avoids compromising to achieve pragmatic solutions.

My fear is that not enough of “us” – Jews and non-Jews who care about the truth, who resent the libels – are willing and able to refute these lies, to punch through the postures. With the world set to witness the followup to the 2001 UN anti-racism conference (held in Durban, South Africa), where pro-Palestinian forces will shift the focus from the serious challenge of fighting racism to trendy demonization of the Jewish state, let’s learn from Jewish tradition to turn a negative into a positive. Every day that Durban II meets, let us have teach-ins about Israel and celebrations of Zionism. For each lie cast, let’s try to plant some seeds of truth, ensuring that in the end, good will triumph.