We can’t ALL be “anti-semites”, can we?

rabble.ca, May 11, 2010

Since this article was written, the federal government has cancelled $397,500 in support for Pride Toronto.

The hysteria created around the inclusion of a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the Toronto Pride Parade this year can be justly attributed to the ongoing Brand Israel campaign backed by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and most recently by Irwin Cotler’s Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism.

The CPCCA and the Israel lobby groups that surround it have taken the charge of anti-semitism to new and exaggerated heights, inventing what has been termed: “the new anti-semitism.” Aside from the fact that it sounds like a new and better hair product, its roots can be located in the Brand Israel campaign launched by the Israeli government’s Hasbara department, that is, the foreign ministry’s public diplomacy department.

The modern incarnation of Hasbara, which literally translates as “information,” came out of the 1992 Israel government’s sweeping changes to the foreign ministry’s publicity department, when it was merged with the press department. Hasbara’s main focus was now on media communications and on presenting positive images of Israel abroad. This also parlayed its way into the creation of organizations such as “Hasbara Fellowships” which have sent thousands of American university students to Israel to learn how to become effective pro-Israel activists back on their home campuses.

But what is the message of Hasbara, hence that of Israel’s foreign ministry, and of all Israel lobby groups, including those here in Canada such as the B’nai Brith, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Hillel chapters (on college and university campuses), etc.?

At its core, Hasbara functions from an ideology rooted in the right wing of the Israeli government. As Susan Hattis Rolef, editor of the Knesset website, wrote after the 1992 elections: “The Likud regards the world as hostile by definition, and when our few proven friends in the worst of times happened to criticize Israel, the Likud was inclined to react by saying that they too must be ‘closet anti-semites.'” anti-semitism, which is at the centre of the Israeli foreign ministry’s ideology, is what forms Jewish identity abroad and has become the raison-d’être of Jewish nationalism. If you aren’t for Israel and everything it does, you are clearly against it, so the tautology goes. By circular logic, if the State was formed as a response to Jewish hatred (post WW II), and if you are critical of the State, then you must be for Jewish hatred.

How to separate critique of Israel from this conundrum? Not easily.

Martin Gladstone, a self-proclaimed gay-rights activist and Jewish lawyer, has been one such advocate of this position in his opposition to the inclusion of QuAIA in Toronto’s gay pride parade. First QuAIA were anti-semites for daring to use the word apartheid in relation to Israel, then the Jews amongst them were declared self-hating, the presence of anti-fascist activists was turned into “comparing Israel to Nazis” (I’m still scratching my head on that one), and finally, almost pathetically, Gladstone claimed the there was no place for politics in Pride. Overall he declared that the presence of QuAIA created an atmosphere of hate.

Recently, MPP Peter Shurman of Thornhill spearheaded a motion in the Ontario legislature, that the term “Israel Apartheid Week” incites hatred and likens it to “hate speech.” This then provided the basis for the city, at Gladstone’s prompting, to question whether Pride had violated their anti-discrimination policy by allowing QuAIA to march. I hesitate to mention the fact that, because there is no basis in law for any of these claims, not one single official complaint has been made to the Ontario Human Rights Commission or the city of Toronto: in the face of charges of anti-semitism, it doesn’t seem to matter that it didn’t violate anything. QuAIA, like all other critics of Israel has been condemned: death by anti-semitism.

According to Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, QuAIA and groups like it form the “new anti-semitism.” Under the FAQ section of the CPCCA, the new anti-semitism is laid out for us: while accusations of blood libel are still being made against the Jewish people, instead they are being directed against the State of Israel, such that anti-Zionism is being used as a cover for anti-semitism. This problem is especially prevalent on campuses where Jewish students are ridiculed and intimidated for any deemed support for the “Nazi” and “apartheid” State of Israel, which is claimed to have no right to exist.

Are Jewish students really being intimidated, just as Gladstone’s acquaintances were “uncomfortable” and even at times “intimidated” at the Pride parade? What is their fear predicated on? Is it the belief that Israel’s (and by association all Jews’) enemies are lurking behind every corner? That as Hasbara would have us believe, all critics are “closet anti-semites?” Indeed there has been an escalation of criticism of Israel State policy on campuses including a call for the end to occupation. Some even suggest a one-state solution, which according to the above is “calling for the extinction of the State of Israel.”

Never does this fall into a debate about democracy, rights, human rights abuses, etc. but rather devolves into: “Why is Israel being singled out as the bad guy, there are so many other countries in the world who do worse” and these days: ‘But Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, AND we have gay rights! With its co-joining statement: “Why defend all those other Middle Eastern countries who kill gays?” And the answer, yep, you guessed it: because you, they, all are anti-semites.

Follow this with the excellent timing of an election campaign for Toronto’s next mayor. And what better way to grandstand than to side with a “minority” who feel under attack? Everyone knows anti-semitism is bad, so let’s make sure to stand up for those who are being unjustly oppressed. When the cry is anti-semitism, the debate is shut down, the focus successfully shifted from pesky details like occupation, war crimes, settlements, human rights violations. QuAIA is accused of fomenting hate and anti-semitism by its very existence.

So is QuAIA really anti-semitic? What exactly did they do to promote an “unsafe and poisonous environment” by marching in Pride? Is this indeed the “new anti-semitism” in action? In declaring that Israel is an apartheid state do they call for the destruction of Jews worldwide?

The Israeli Foreign Ministry, which hosts the Global Forum on anti-semitism, says the “new anti-semitism:” Seeks to undermine the legitimacy of Israel and disguises hatred of the Jewish people by means of hatred towards the Jewish state. The now standard response to ANY criticism of Israel is considered anti-semitic. It also accounts for the virulent response to Obama and his administration’s criticisms of Israel. Countless Jewish and Israeli lobby groups have dismissed them as anti-semites, despite the many Jews working in that same administration (they must be self hating).

When John Mearsheimer, a political science professor from the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, academic dean and professor of International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government [1], published their book; The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which discussed the power of the Israel lobby in the shaping of foreign policy, guess what they were branded as? Yep, you guessed it again, anti-semites. When asked by Israeli film director Yoav Shamir, if he is really an anti-semite, Mearshimer smiles wearily and says, “How does one say we’re not anti-semitic and convince people who say you are? It’s impossible to prove one is not an anti-semite, one reason why this charge is so effective.”

And so, too, therefore, QuAIA is anti-semitic — the word apartheid, the core of the groups’ critique, seems to have been singled out as the offending term. Linking Israel to apartheid is akin to hate speech, defiling the one democracy in the Middle East by comparing it to the brutal oppressive regime of South Africa. The simple response is that the use of the word as it relates to current Israeli State policy is merely accurate and has been used by those who lived under South African Apartheid, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, heads of State Jimmy Carter, Ehud Barak, members of Knesset Yossi Paritzky, Shulamit Aloni, Mayors of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, Ehud Olmert, and on it goes. Can they ALL be anti-semites too?

While politicians will say almost anything to get elected, a good test would be to check their public track records. While QuAIA’s bookshelves have not turned up one “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” pamphlet, candidates Rob Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti have indeed proven their homophobic stripes over the years. Funny bedfellows for Martin Gladstone who’s “parts don’t fit” with Mammolitti’s — a slur he made against gays many years ago. But then again, Israel too has chosen to slip between the covers with the likes of the Christian Zionist right. Call me an anti-semite but what’s that going to look like when the Messiah comes?!

Anti-semitism is a potent and poisonous phenomenon, and it has been around as long as Jews have, but calling every critic of Israel, Jewish or not, not only undermines the real incidences of anti-semitism but further delegitimizes those who claim to ‘stand by Israel.’ The list of anti-semites is indeed getting longer and longer.

Elle Flanders is a Canadian filmmaker and a driving force behind Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

andie531