Criticizing Israel isn’t anti-Semitic

It has been common practice over the course of modern Israel’s relatively short history to accuse critics of the state of anti-Semitism or, in the case of Jewish writers like Gideon Levy and Noam Chomsky, Jewish self-hatred. Reducing political criticism of Israeli foreign policy to an ethnic issue has become so typical that we hardly notice when leaders go on the world stage and openly denounce critics of their foreign policy as racists. This type of demagogy could be expected from the likes of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but not our very own prime minister or leader of the opposition — the latter is supposed to be a human rights expert with a foreign policy plan to counter Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s. Policy came to a head this past week when Harper and Michael Ignatieff both spoke at a conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism.

On issues of foreign policy, Ignatieff struggles to conceal his overwhelming agreement with Harper. Canada’s current agenda is to praise Israel no matter what. The Liberal position on Israel is hardly any different to the Conservatives’. It remains the media’s job to perpetuate the illusion that there are major disagreements. An article appeared in The Globe and Mail on Nov. 2 contrasting Harper’s and Ignatieff’s foreign policies and somehow managed to conclude that they differ immensely, even after conceding that they agree on most important points. Another weakly-argued article, this time in the National Post on Nov. 8, followed Harper’s and Ignatieff’s comments. David Frum attempts to contrast the positions of the two leaders by analyzing the Liberal leader’s remarks practically word by word. Again, the columnist concluded that there is a major difference between the two positions.

Far from Harper being the tough-talking enemy of anti-Semitism and Ignatieff the weak-kneed manipulator who needs to quantify his condemnation of Jewish-hatred, both men expressed a remarkably similar doctrine, a card that has been played many times — critics of Israel are anti-Semites. Harper bluntly referred to Israel Apartheid Week (which occured as protests against the Israeli government on campuses across Canada) as “anti-Semitic.” Ignatieff made the same claim.

see ISRAEL, page 13

Ignatieff echoed the prime minister’s remarks practically verbatim. One-sidedness doesn’t appear to this extent even in American politics where the current president is taking an almost moderate view of Israel. However, in the mainstream politics of both countries, support for Israel is merely a question of degree.

Limiting the range of ideas that can be discussed is a great way to control thought in a democratic society without being physically authoritarian. In the case of foreign policy, this becomes particularly important. What better tool is there than to equate a political entity with an entire people? Somehow, they managed to paint supporters of Israel as moderates and supporters of peace-talks as anti-Semites. In the meantime, Harper has the gall to say that Israel is “consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation.”

The fact that Israel even needs to be mentioned in a speech condemning anti-Semitism is a disgrace. Harper’s unconditional support for Israel is dogmatic. Ignatieff thinly veiled his agreement with Harper while trying to keep the moderates on his side with impotent comments comparing anti-Israelism with “Islamophobia” (another ridiculous construction) which only validates the view that criticism of Israel’s policies is the same as hating an entire group of people.

Narrowing down what is acceptable discussion cannot possibly be a good thing. When even the suggestion of an opinion opposing the mainstream comes along, it is aggressively criticized. When MP Libby Davies suggested that Israel has been occupying Palestinian land, she was called to resign as NDP deputy leader, not only by the prime minister, but also by the Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae (a former NDP member himself). This was for expressing a moderately pro-Palestinian view. What would happen if she expressed a view similar to that of George Galloway, the former British MP who used to be banned from Canada for aiding Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by Canada? Is there any reason an opposing position couldn’t be represented?

Accusing detractors of Israeli policies of anti-Semitism is, at its core, childish politics. Canada has come a long way since Pierre Trudeau openly defied Israel’s pressure to have Jerusalem recognized as its capital. Unfortunately, it seems our minds are slowly closing rather than opening to new ideas on how to achieve peace in the region.

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