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July 13, 2011

Canada: Who is an Antisemite?

Reuel S. Amdur

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While the authors of the report of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism set out to combat the pernicious ideology and its practical outcomes, paradoxically they only help to perpetuate it, if not to exacerbate it.

On the one hand, they denounce the practice of trying to blame all Jews for everything that Israel does.  On the other, they defend Israel’s “right to exist” and oppose its being subject to “double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” whatever that means.

While the meaning is ambiguous, the implication is clear: proceed very gingerly if you have anything bad to say about Israel or you are apt to be labelled an antisemite.  And Jews, it is held, have a right to “a homeland.”  Does that mean that all Jews have a right to Israel, criticism of which may be questionable, but that not all Jews are to blame for Israel’s misbehavior?

There are consequences for this dog’s breakfast. 

First, there are real antisemites, not the ones manufactured by the Coalition.  They hate Jews and want to do them evil.  Period.  However, we now offer them cover.

Jimmy Carter has been roundly criticized for his book linking Israel’s behavior to Apartheid.  He has been called an antisemite.  Bishop Desmond Tutu has similarly weighed in.  Well, if these good folks are antisemites, then the real genuine article is given entrance to a distinguished club.  He is given cover because the Zionist apologists such as the Coalition cry wolf too often, classifying as wolves people who are anything but.

Jews who talk like Carter and Tutu find themselves labelled as “self-hating Jews.”  Some of these “self-haters” may be pushed into silence, not even challenging the real antisemite.  Best to keep quiet as the whole ground is just too full of land mines.

Beyond the died-in-the-wool antisemites, consider people whose sympathies lie with the Palestinians.  These include Arabs, not just Muslims.  Christian Arabs have also been victims of Israeli injustice, and incidentally they have friends and relatives in Canada.  And of course there are Muslims in general. There are also others whose sympathies lie with the Palestinians.  Many of these people are going to be less than happy with Israel and especially with Israel’s behavior. 

The consequence of the kind of nonsense put forth by the Coalition is that some of these people will move from criticism of and opposition to Israel and its supporters to genuine antisemitism.  Consider the antisemitic attacks on schools and synagogue in Canada.  Of course, there have also been attacks on mosques, and both sorts of attacks become more frequent when matters in the Middle East heat up.

What is at work is stereotyping.  “They” are all like that and “they” are the enemy.  What works best in combatting stereotyping is positive personal contact, especially with people who contradict the stereotype. 

Among Jews, there are those who join the demonstrations against the separation wall at Bil’in and those like Daniel Barenboim, who involves Jewish and Palestinian youngsters together in youth orchestras and who denounces Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. 

Among Palestinians there are people like Edward Said, who worked with Barenboim.  Then there is Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel to avoid arrest for alleged treason but who authored an important article denouncing the Holocaust-denial which is becoming prominent in some Arab and Muslim quarters.

Succinctly, what the Coalition is doing is obscuring the necessary distinction between Jews and Israel.  Quite simply, no degree of animosity toward Israel necessarily makes one an antisemite.  On the other hand, an antisemite can even favor Israel, wanting to send all of the Jews there, even if it means displacing Palestinians. 

And conflating criticism of Israel (even “illegitimate criticism”) with antisemitism serves to give shelter to genuine antisemites and to increase antisemitism among people who are concerned with what is happening to the Palestinians. 

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