15 August 2009

Anti-Semitic Semites?

Critics of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians are frequently charged with anti-Semitism. Which inevitably leads to the question, is the charge justified or is it the old demagogic tactic if you can't attack your opponent's argument, attack your opponent. Bernie M. Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, has attempted to clarify the matter. "Criticism of Israel crosses into anti-Semitism ," Farber says in a letter to The Globe and Mail, "when it calls into question the legitimacy of Israel's identity as a Jewish state."

Unfortunately, Farber's definition sounds rather like the demagogic tactic. How can one not call into question the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state? Twenty per cent of the population is Muslim Arab. What are these people? Invisible? Nonentities? Members of a lesser race as Winston Churchill once referred to them? To ignore such a substantial minority and define a state by its racial majority is in itself racism. And if this minority is Semitic, as of course it is, then is not the racism anti-Semitism? If so, then Mr. Farber would seem to have his argument backwards.

And we should not be surprised. The whole point in creating Israel was to create a racial state. So we should expect its supporters to justify its definition as such. And to support, also, the continued exile of millions of Palestinian Arabs, denying them the right to return to their homeland solely on the basis of their race.

Or is it race? Is the failure of the Arabs not race but religion? Is it being Muslim that puts them beyond the Pale? Is the prejudice religion rather than race, or is it both? Racio/religious prejudice, so to speak. Not that it matters much, defining a nation by either or both is an odious practice.

Jews such as Mr. Farber are often in the forefront in defending human rights. They were prominent in the struggles against segregation in the American south and against apartheid in South Africa. Yet when it comes to Israel, the same people exhibit a curious blind spot. The rednecks in the South and the Afrikaners in South Africa only wanted one thing -- to maintain the integrity of their race, to maintain their identity as a people. And that is what the Jews of Israel are trying to do. Unfortunately, they are doing it with ethnic cleansing, collective punishment, apartheid and relentless land theft, all of which puts them roughly in the same league as the rednecks and the Afrikaners. Perhaps they have now discovered a little empathy for their former foes.

Farber accuses critics of attempting to "punish Israel for wanting to retain its Jewish identity." Unfortunately, Israel retaining a Jewish identity means marginalizing and punishing Palestinians. So what choice do people of conscience have but to call into question that "identity"?

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