If pro-Israel lobby groups keep shooting themselves in the foot, none of them will have any support.
In my last column I described how B’nai Brith Canada went to absurd and unethical lengths to smear Liberal MP Pat O’Brien for his use of “concentration camp” to describe the effect Israel’s apartheid wall would have on the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
O’Brien meant it in the general sense of “a place or situation characterized by extremely harsh conditions,” but B’nai Brith president Rochelle Wilner put a Nazi spin on it, and then had the gall to accuse O’Brien of offending Canadian Jews. Talk about chutzpah!
For Wilner’s edification, “concentration camp” was coined during the Boer War to describe British-run compounds where tens of thousands of Boer civilians and black farmworkers died from hunger, thirst and poor sanitation. “Concentration” refers of a large number of people crowded into one place, like the Gaza Strip, the world’s most densely populated area.
Israel’s Occupation Army forces Gazans to live under inhuman conditions of overcrowding, malnutrition, humiliation, murder, segregation, massive unemployment and poor if any sanitation. The Gaza Strip easily meets the definition of “concentration camp,” as does the West Bank, with its Bantustan-like enclaves of strangulated Palestinian communities, but linguistic accuracy is anathema to B’nai Brith.*
In the private language of zionist-speak, “concentration camp” refers uniquely to Jewish suffering under Nazi Germany. No other connotation of the word, however accurate, is permitted. B’nai Brith didn’t really care that O’Brien criticized the wall–”some of the strongest critics are Israeli Jews–”but he could not be allowed to get away with appearing to impugn the iconic power of the Jewish holocaust, which justifies the illusion of Israel as a haven for Jews.** Zionists cannot allow “concentration camp” to take on objective meaning, because that would expose Israel to the dangers of international justice.
In an interview last week, O’Brien told me he used “concentration camp” deliberately to draw more attention to Canada’s failure to take concrete steps to demand Israel stop the wall, which is being built illegally on Palestinian land. After Foreign Minister Bill Graham gave O’Brien the standard “give every possible support just short of doing anything” shuck and jive, O’Brien had to speak out.
“The day I made my statement in the House, I had several Liberal colleagues shake my hand and say: ‘Good for you. It’s about time somebody made the statement,'” said O’Brien. “Others called within day or two and congratulated me. Many of my colleagues have been to the Middle East and have seen olive groves that Israelis ripped up for the hell of it. We’re becoming too pro-Israel, and Canada’s role is to promote peace and understanding wherever we are.”
To add insult to stupidity, the zionist lobby in O’Brien’s riding of London-Fanshawe got into the act. Leo Adler, director of national affairs for the Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Jacob Peretz, chairman of community relations for the London Jewish Federation, led a four-member delegation that met with O’Brien for an hour to “educate” him about concentration camps, but O’Brien held fast, much to the lobby’s consternation.
In describing the meeting, The Canadian Jewish News noted that O’Brien had researched “concentration camp” before he made his statement, and cited in his defence the esteemed holocaust scholar Norman Finkelstein, who had also used the expression. Too bad Adler or Peretz can’t claim the same degree of honesty.
In a letter to O’Brien, Adler screeched that comparing the West Bank and Gaza to a concentration camp was “absolutely wrong,” and those who do “are either ignorant of what a concentration camp is, or they choose to be deliberately provocative.” Obviously, the concept of irony is lost on this man.–
For his part, Peretz accused O’Brien of bowing to Muslim pressure, a charge that incensed O’Brien.
“Peretz indicated that I had many Muslim constituents approach me to make a statement–”that is totally false,” he said. “I discussed the wall with Muslim friends of mine, and did a TV show with two Muslims, but neither of them suggested I make a statement. They were pleasantly surprised when I did. I want Peretz to issue a retraction, and I am writing to the Jewish News and [reporter] Paul Lungen.”
If Wilner, Adler and other apologists for Israel expect to prop up zionism, they shouldn’t be provoking battles they can’t win. Going berserk over “concentration camp” enhanced the standing of O’Brien and further discredited the lobby. If this is the level of argument we can expect, Wilner and Adler would be well advised to shut up–”better to keep silent than betray their desperation and intellectual bankruptcy.
As I wrote on Dec. 3, the World Wide Web has changed mass media forever. The “Maginot Line” of censors and filters that insulated North America from the details of Palestinian suffering has been obsolete since 1993. The battle for our hearts and minds is over, and the Palestinians have won. No amount of propaganda can compete with the first-hand accounts of life under occupation from journalists like Robert Fisk and Akiva Eldar. Even the Israeli occupation army admits that it has an elaborate system to humiliate Palestinian civilians at roadblocks throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.– –
Devoid of credible arguments and with their cause in ruins, B’nai Brith is reduced to flogging the dead horse of “anti-Semitism.” Time was, it was a most effective method of intimidating anyone who decried Israeli terrorism. Now, as the gap between zionist propaganda and Israeli conduct grows wider, this all-purpose epithet has become ludicrous.
More next column.
* See Bill Kaufmann, “Cement barrier chokes life out of Palestinian villages,” Calgary Sun, March 8, 2004.
** The focus here is on the zionist exploitation of Jewish suffering for propaganda purposes, not the Jewish holocaust itself, so no charge of holocaust denial is possible.
– Paul Lungen, “MP stands by ‘concentration camp’ remark,” Canadian Jewish News , March 11, 2004.
– – Israeli army admits existence of elaborate system for humiliating Palestinians on roadblocks, Palestine Information Centre, March 8, 2004.