Apartheid and Anti-Semitism: Rhetoric and Reality

By Nick Borg

In writing this article I have graciously used Norman Finkelstein’s book Beyond Chutzpah as a helpful aid.

The comments that follow will address the recent condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week at Queen’s Park. The campaign initially had been proposed by MPP for Thornhill Peter Shurman and then unanimously approved by 30 MPPs that were present on 25 February 2010. Having carefully reviewed the transcript of the debate in Ontario’s Legislative Assembly, some comments are in order to demystify the ill considered falsification and distortion that ensued. I should note that while this letter is addressed as a response to Mr Shurman’s bill, my comments will by no means be limited to the indignation expressed by Mr. Shurman. To be fair, the hysterical condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week evoked outbursts of rage by numerous MPPs and therefore I will not spare them any silence in their deceitful display of condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week.

Mr.Shurman opened the debate by outlining his main grievances with the term “Israeli Apartheid Week” which he condemned on the grounds that “it serves to incite hatred against Israel,” and even the slightest “use of the word ‘apartheid’ in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.” Turning to fact, Israeli Apartheid Week is not obligated to prove that Israel is employing the same kind of apartheid that South Africa employed but merely to demonstrate that Israel is practicing apartheid. On a further note, Israeli Apartheid Week has made it explicitly clear that it is focused on exposing and putting to an end the “colonization and occupation of Arab lands” – this includes Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – in accordance with international law.

Mr.Shurman continued his fury regarding the “demonization of Israel” by flatly rejecting any position which identifies that Israel is practicing apartheid – omitting any evidence to refute this assessment. Mr.Shurman continued to pontificate that Israeli Apartheid Week is a “thinly veiled campaign by those whose real agenda is to eradicate Israel entirely.” On what grounds does Mr.Shurman base this claim? He shamelessly refers to an online blog dubbed: ziofascism.net. Mr. Shurman then equates the blog that he found thanks to his “Google alert” and Israeli Apartheid Week as “pure garbage” and in effect, one in the “same.” It should go without saying that Mr. Shurman’s “Google alert” and Israeli Apartheid Week have neither any relation nor affiliation.

Amidst this horrific “hate-mongering” campaign by peace activists, humanitarians and leading human rights organizations lies the gravest of all taboos: “anti-Semitism.” MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence Mike Colle asks “Why do they pick on Israel?” His only answer to solve this deep perplexing mystery “has to do with this long-time systematic hate against anything to do with the Jewish religion.” The hysteria was not limited to Mr. Colle’s conclusions. According to Mr.Shurman, Israeli Apartheid Week seeks the “minimization and the diminishment of any Jewish heritage in the region” and “lessening of the Jewish people as not being on an equivalent level with any other members of human kind.” MPP for Durham John O’Toole reckons that the campaign is really about attacking “the values of Judaism itself.” If “we don’t condemn this type of utter nonsense” by peace activists, humanitarians and leading human rights organizations Mr. Colle asserts, “with our silence,” it is “no different than what happened in Germany.”

This then makes for a truly baffling list of anti-Semites. Chiefly among this purported list of anti-Semites includes B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) which observes that “Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past such as the apartheid regime in South Africa.” Along with B’Tselem is deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti, former US President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop and Noble Laureate for Peace Desmond Tutu, and human rights law founder in South Africa John Dugard. For Dugard what he found most interesting between the Israeli and South African analogy is “…that every black South African that I’ve spoken to who has visited the Palestinian territory has been horrified and has said without hesitation that the system that applies in Palestine is worse.” Furthermore, Michael Ignatieff remarked in a 2002 article for The Guardian that “When I looked down at the West Bank, at the settlements like Crusader forts occupying the high ground…I knew I was not looking down at a state or the beginnings of one, but at a Bantustan, one of those pseudo-states created in the dying years of apartheid to keep the African population under control.” The anointed Liberal leader has since reversed his judgment, now joining in on the witch-hunt to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week which he regards as a “deliberate attempt to portray the Jewish state as criminal.”

Campaigns such as Israeli Apartheid Week, Mr. Shurman goes on, is “aimed solely at denying Israel’s right to exist,” adding “the day Israel is accepted and recognized by its neighbours, [will] be the day that productive dialogue and resolution will begin and come quickly.” Mr. Colle echoed Mr. Shurman’s comments when he described the “hate-mongers” who “deliberate[ly]” aim to “undermine the legitimacy” of Israel. Moving away from Mr. Colle and Mr. Shurman’s illusions with regard to Israel’s “legitimacy” and “right to exist,” it may come to their surprise that there is no such concept under international law whereby Israel’s neighbouring states or neighbouring states of any country for that matter must recognize the others “right to exist” or “legitimacy.” Furthermore, contrary to what Mr.Shurman might like to believe, Israel is fully accepted and recognized by its neighbours, this even includes the democratically elected government in Gaza of Hamas, as well as “that regime in Iran” which I presume is on Mr. Colle’s list of “hate-mongers.”

It is worth recalling that in March 2002 Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proposed a peace plan – commonly known as the ‘Saudi Peace Plan’ – supported with unanimous agreement by the Arab League. The plan offered in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories along the borders of UN Resolution 242, the full recognition of Israel as well as to begin “normal relations.” This did not even include the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees along UN Resolution 194, but rather a “just resolution” to the refugee question. These facts are readily available for anyone who cares to have a look, but perhaps these too are also part of the “long-time systematic” anti-Semitic conspiracy by those whose aim is the “demonization of Israel.”

The anti-Semitic schmata employed by Israel and its apologists as we have seen with the latest denunciations of Israeli Apartheid Week at Queen’s Park is by no means a newly discovered tool used to immunize Israel from any well deserved criticism of its egregious state policy. However, there are those who have chosen a more honest path, one which moves away from a highly effective doctrinal system. British historian Tony Judt observation on the use of anti-Semitism is worth quoting at length:

“If you criticize Israel too forcefully, they warn, you will awaken the demons of anti-Semitism; indeed, they suggest, robust criticism of Israel doesn’t just arouse anti-Semitism. It is anti-Semitism. And with anti-Semitism the route forward—or back—is open: to 1938, to Kristallnacht, and from there to Treblinka and Auschwitz…[B]y shouting ‘anti-Semitism’ every time someone attacks Israel or defends the Palestinians, we are breeding cynics. For the truth is that Israel today is not in existential danger. And Jews today here in the West face no threats or prejudices remotely comparable to those of the past—or comparable to contemporary prejudices against other minorities.”

Also:

“When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized – but then responds to its critics with loud cries of ‘anti-Semitism’ – it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don’t like these things it is because you don’t like Jews.”

Such deplorable and shameless use of the anti-Semitic card as the kind fervently used by some of Ontario’s MPPs in their recent condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week, claim to be so-called “supporters of Israel,” but more appropriately they should be identified with what Noam Chomsky has described as the “supporters of the moral degeneration and ultimate destruction of Israel.” The tireless efforts by those campaigning with Israeli Apartheid Week to expose the brutality of Israeli state policy will be vindicated when the brutalization and suffering of a tortured peoples in the Occupied Territories is finally acknowledged and no longer ignored for the advancement of higher political objectives.

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