Edition 2: No. 34
Anti-Semitism is a charge bereft of substance
“We live in a world of myth” was the conclusion drawn by Ervin Kohn, president of The Mosaic Religious Community in Oslo. He was responding to growing allegations thatNorwayhad become a seriously anti-Jewish country.
Not long ago, it was reported in the media that a Jewish boy, son of a prominent French rabbi, was assaulted in a Paris train station by an anti-Semitic youth. The story was touted as proof that French Jews live in constant danger, particularly from their Muslim neighbours. Then President Nicolas Sarkozy was compelled to apologize publicly to the Jewish community, and promised that there would be no more such incidents. France is home to about eight million Muslims and only half a million Jews. According to the media, anti-Semitic incidents in France rose between 2008 and 2009 by 75% – from 475 to 832.
However, Rabbi Yirmiyahu Menachem Cohen, chief rabbi of Paris declared in an interview with the Brooklyn-based Yiddish newspaper Der Blatt that these stories were completely unfounded. He personally spoke with the rabbi whose son was supposedly beaten, and learned that the “anti-Semitic assault” was nothing more than a brush with a drunken man, which left his son without a single scratch.
Furthermore, Rabbi Cohen said he has never encountered any anti-Semitic violence in France. He uses the subway system every day without incident. Paris is home to a community of about 200,000 Jews, of whom about 200 pray in Rabbi Cohen’s synagogue. Rabbi Cohen believes that the rumours about rising anti-Semitism in France were deliberately spread by pro-Israeli media outlets, in the hopes of spurring more Jews to leave France and settle in the State of Israel.
Reality isn’t black and white. Aside from the multiple stray instances that are manoeuvred to create phobia against anti-Semitism, there is also the hasty labelling of anyone who challenges the illegality of the Israeli occupation of Arab lands as anti-Semitic.Israelhas decided that they are ‘chosen’ to be always board, to have the right to plunder, steal, exploit, and oppress. The world has only the right to be spectators to these inhuman acts of barbarity.
The question is often asked: Are Palestinians anti-Semitic? The word “Semite” refers to a language and cultural group made up of ancient and modern people. Semitic languages include: Akkadian, Arabic, Aramaic, Moabite, Hebrew, Phonecian, Assyrian, and Babylonian. (Biblically they are considered the descendants of Shem, son of Noah.) According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first usage of anti-Semitic for a person who discriminates against or is prejudiced against Jews was in the 1880s (about the same time as the rise of Zionism).
If we return to the original meaning of Semitic, it is difficult to call Palestinians and other Arabs anti-Semitic, since they are themselves Semites. Palestinian Arabs are opposed to the state policies ofIsraelthat deny them legitimate human and civil rights and the right to a State. They are not against the religion of Judaism except as it is used as the rationale for actions against them.
Hard boiled Zionists argue that it is anti-Semitic to Defend Palestinian Human Rights which is, of curse, an absurdity in itself. There are campaigns to punish those who campaign in support of the Palestinians by cutting funding and by denying them tenure and even getting them terminated from their positions of employment. Several years ago, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu banned from speaking on campus by theUniversityofSt. ThomasinMinnesotabecause of statements he made criticizing Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. He was speedily dubbed as “anti Semitic.”
This campaign to silence critics of Israel and to demonize supporters of the Palestinians is most disturbing and a violation of free speech, academic freedom and violation of Palestinian human rights. It is also a violation of basic democratic rights when a government does it.
For the last several decades, though, it has been all but impossible to cry out against the Israeli state without being smeared as an anti-Semite, or worse. To question not just Israel’s actions, but the Zionist tenets on which the state is founded, has for too long been regarded an almost unspeakable blasphemy.
Yet it is no longer possible to believe with an honest conscience that the deplorable conditions in which Palestinians live and die in Gaza and theWest Bankcome as the result of specific policies, leaders or parties on either side of the impasse.
The problem is fundamental: Founding a modern state on a single ethnic or religious identity in a territory that is ethnically and religiously diverse leads inexorably either to politics of exclusion (think of the 139-square-mile prison camp that Gaza has become) or to wholesale ethnic cleansing. Put simply, the problem is Zionism.
Most of the World has a critical view of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and supports the right of Palestinians to self determination. The mainstream media obfuscates this reality. Does the media, for example, report that in 2006 on the question of the right of Palestinians to self-determination, the UN voted 176 to five in favour of the Palestinians. The countries that supported Israel were theUnited States, theMarshall Islands,PalauandMicronesia. The countries that abstained were:Australia,Canada,Central African Republic,Nauru and Vanuatu. That pattern continues with some variations till today.
All human beings are entitled to basic human rights. However, the well documented human rights violations of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis, by respected organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The International Red Cross, the United Nations, and even by Israeli organizations such as B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and by many Israeli journalists, are attacked and buried under a barrage of criticism that they are biased, are unfair for singling out the Jewish State or are even anti-Semitic.
If the Palestinians, or their supporters, complain about the well-documented facts surrounding the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, losing their property to which they had legal title to, losing their personal belongings and even their bank accounts, having 531 villages destroyed, losing their country and their right to a citizenship, and then not being allowed to return to their homes in contravention of international law; or complain about discriminatory policies of the Jewish National Fund or the discrimination involved in the Jewish Law of Return; or complain about the house demolitions, the more than 600 Israeli military check points in the West Bank, the 45 years of military Occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the program of targeted assassinations, the well-documented cases of torture; and the imprisonment of more than 11,000 Palestinians including women and children, many held without charge under what is called Administrative Detention, or the recent slaughter in Gaza, that these complaints and to expose these facts is anti-Semitic!
The view that it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israel, or its actions, is pure and simple racism against Palestinians. The Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have many legitimate reasons to criticize the policies and actions of “the Jewish State.” A state that aggressively, and repeatedly, attacks its neighbours and is slowly but systematically ethnically cleansing its non-Jewish population is not above criticism.
Meanwhile, the characterization of anti-Zionism as an “epidemic” more dangerous than anti-Semitism reveals only the unsustainability of the position into whichIsrael’s apologists have been forced. Faced with international condemnation, they seek to limit the discourse, to erect walls that delineate what can and can’t be said.
Establishing a secular, pluralist, democratic government in Israel and Palestine would of course mean the abandonment of the Zionist dream. It might also mean the only salvation for the Jewish ideals of justice that date back to Jeremiah.”
Palestine Update also shares with readers a useful article “When facts about Palestine are seen as ‘anti-Semitic’ slander” that makes very useful reading. It is an article that appears in a newsletter of an influential Jewish Organization- Jews for Justice for Palestinians. (JFJFP) See http://jfjfp.com/?p=33113
JFJFP believes that Peace in theMiddle Eastwill only come about with mutual recognition and respect and must be seen as just by both sides. Peace requires the end of illegal occupation and settlement. Violence against civilians is unacceptable.
Israel’s policies in the West Bank andGazaare breeding hatred and resentment.
It is crucial that Jews speak out for Palestinians’ human rights. The humanitarian values of Judaism have been corrupted by the Israeli state’s human-rights abuses.
A lasting peace must be seen as just by both sides.