Branding critics of Israeli racism anti-Semites, latest salvo in campaign to defend the indefensible

It’s an effective ploy. No one wants to be branded a racist, least of all people committed to fighting racism, and yet it is the most ardent anti-racists who risk being called racist themselves.

Incensed by Israel’s condemning non-Jews to second-class citizenship, burning with indignation at Israel welcoming any Jew to the country while denying Palestinians driven from their homes the right of return, they proclaim Zionism equal to racism. For that, they are branded extremists, racists, anti-Semites. Not a pleasant stigma to bear for someone implacably opposed to racism.

You wouldn’t call a person who criticizes Ireland a Catholic-hater. Criticizing the policies of a predominantly Catholic country does not amount to anti-Catholic sentiment. Nor would you denounce anyone who questions Germany’s immigration and citizenship policies a hater of Germans.  So why stigmatize those  who criticize Israel as Jew-haters?

Because as a way of deflecting criticism and warning off would-be critics, it works. Few are willing to bear the shame of being branded an anti-Semite. And yet people who abhor Nazism, deplore anti-Semitism,  condemn Holocaust-denial, and thoroughly oppose all forms of racism, no matter what the stripe, are afraid to get caught in the web cast by Israel’s supporters that puts any critic of Israel in the same class as neo-Nazis. The unwritten rule is plain: Those who question Israel will be pilloried as the vilest racist.

North American press coverage of the UN anti-racism conference in Durban is almost universally agreed that Israel’s critics are anti-Semites. Canada’s The National Post uses “anti-Israeli” and “anti-Jew” interchangeably, as if the two were identical.

The Toronto Globe and Mail, less overt in equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism,  still subtly maps one onto the other. An August 31st report says that “an anti-Semitic tone has been evident throughout the (Durban) meetings.” The corroboration? Arab activists “interrupted a press conference by Jewish delegates with shouting and singing,” and there was tension between Jewish and Arab demonstrators. Hardly anti-Semitism.

Canada’s Foreign Minister John Manley, who was scheduled to lead Canada’s delegation to the conference but backed away at the 11th hour, dismissed the equating of Zionism with racism as “extremist” and said the conference should use more moderate language, in keeping with what “the international community” could accept. Only Israel, the US, and Canada have boycotted the conference, refusing to send high-level delegations. Apparently this triad now constitutes the “international community.”

Discovering their deploring of Israeli racism can make them social outcasts, many committed North American anti-racists back away, afraid to utter the truth. They censor themselves.

But the truth remains. If Zionism means driving Palestinians from their homes to make way for Jewish settlements, if it means Palestinians must be denied their right of return lest the ethnic character of Israel change, if it means that Israeli Arabs must forever be relegated to second-class citizenship, then Zionism is racism.

Nothing can change the truth. Not name calling. Not the bully tactics of Israel’s defenders. Not intimidation. And not an uncritical media that readily accepts the easy and simple-minded formula that criticism of Israel amounts to anti-Semitism.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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