Israel’s claim to monopoly on suffering is wearing thin

Where in the world does one have to be in order to be indignant at Israel’s routine treatment of Palestinians (documented daily on every TV channel) and not raise a storm? Scandinavia is certainly not far enough. When Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja dared to opine last week that Israel’s intent was to “suppress, humiliate, subdue and impoverish the Palestinians” and that “it is quite shocking that they should continue toward the Palestinians policies similar to those which they were victims of in the 1930s,” the reaction was quick and expected, and Israel’s ambassador to Finland considered that the minister’s statements were based on “an outburst of personal animosity” (read anti-Semitism).

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, a new ambassador with a rotten past has come to Denmark, in spite of the Danish Justice Ministry’s reservations, the Danish people’s disgust and Amnesty International’s protests. Carmi Gillon, former head of the Israeli General Security Services, is a self-confessed perpetrator of torture (or what the Israelis call “moderate physical pressure,” which is how normal people would describe aerobics). However, he is protected by the Vienna Convention’s provision for diplomatic immunity (which Israel decided superseded the UN Convention against Torture, ratified by Denmark in 1987) and can walk the streets of Copenhagen with impunity.

In Israel, the torture of Palestinians is rewarded with a high diplomatic post. As usual, with arrogance and a selective observance of international treaties, Israel bestows upon itself the right to choose which laws to apply, and which laws to ignore. This prerogative of double standards also extends to accusations, that of racism in particular: Israel can accuse others of racism, but cannot be itself accused of the crime. The gist is clear, and by now we should be accustomed to, if not fed up with, the intricacies of politically correct statements according to Israel and company.

The Jewish lobby’s relentless campaigning has successfully turned a number of notions into absolute tenets, providing the basis for Israeli rationale: a) no people suffered like the Jews did; b) no people committed crimes like the Nazis did; c) no people can claim to have suffered anything like Jews’ suffering at the hands of Nazis.

As a consequence of the above, the world has been led to believe that anything Israel does pales in comparison, and that it can never be compared to other criminals. We thus have to accept that the Jewish people’s suffering justifies any Israeli action, in the same way one would blame a difficult childhood for any action made in adulthood, while excusing the behavior. Woe is Israel. Further to that, the Jewish lobby has smartly turned the tables in Israel’s favor, disarming the people accusing it of racism by branding them with the best-known form of racism: anti-Semitism. Try to bring attention to the Palestinian people’s suffering by accusing its oppressor and bingo, you’re anti-Semitic, a risk few people in the world are willing to take. Discredit the accuser, and shift the attention away from Israel’s status of oppressor to that of victim of racism. How convenient.

Why would anything be different at the World Conference Against Racism? This futile meeting is nothing more than a mock stage for helpless victims of every kind of racial discrimination to exchange horror stories, and for the superpower and its colonial friends to act concerned, albeit aloof.

Judging by the turnout and by the preconditions set by Israel’s friends for participation, this conference could live up to its title. At most, it could be called a “most-of-the-world” conference against “racism-as-long-as-it-does-not-include-Zionism;” indeed, the United States and Israel have withdrawn their delegations.

Mary Robinson, UN high commissioner for human rights and head of the Durban conference, has gone out of her way to express her opposition to any mention of Zionism in the final declaration, and to any direct criticism of Israel, the same state that has repeatedly violated countless UN resolutions. Perhaps trying to emulate John F. Kennedy in Berlin, but ending up supporting the Israeli occupier, Robinson proclaimed: “I am a Jew.” Of course. Why would anyone want to be a Palestinian? Why be a victim when you can be the oppressor? The United States, and US-wannabes Britain and Canada, have loudly made a point of their decision not to honor the rest of the world with a high-level representation at this conference, sending junior diplomatic staff to attend. George W. Bush warned beforehand that the United States would not take part if the conference “picks on” Israel, or denigrates it for its treatment of Palestinians. Other Western countries were less vocal, but the only European foreign ministers present are those of Belgium and Germany.

While some condemnations of racism are perfectly acceptable � although pointless � to the powers that be, others are again labeled as racism themselves. There are multitudes of people rightly demanding an end to the abhorrent racism and discrimination they have been subjected to. Nobody has objected to their claims, and no powers have made their participation in the conference subject to the removal of such claims. Except with reference to Israel, of course. Palestinians cannot even claim that they are subject to racism without in turn being called anti-Semitic.

Without even going into the irony of Semites being called anti-Semites by fellow Semites, suffice to say that Israel’s sole raison d’etre is based on racial discrimination, where being Jewish grants you every right. A so-called democracy that does not even have a formal constitution or recognized borders, and that states the holder’s religion on identity cards, Israel openly grants Jews basic rights which are denied to Palestinians, purely on the basis of their ethnicity. In Israel, one is either a Jew with infinite privileges (including the right to emigrate to Israel) or a “miyutim lo yehudim” (i.e. a non-Jew, with no right of return, no right to own land, and a long register of prohibitions too numerous to list). If this is not discrimination based on the concept of racial superiority, if this is not racism, if this is not the same type of discrimination previously practiced in notoriously racist governments such as South Africa’s apartheid regime and Germany’s Nazi rulers, then perhaps the latter were not racist after all. But logically, if we accept that a country confers or denies human rights based on ethnicity, then we accept that the country is racist. Either all are racist, or none are.

Israel’s existence rests on the foundations of Zionism, which lays down the principles of a state for a people (Jews) at the expense of another (Palestinians). Therefore, Zionism is a racist ideology, and Israel is a racist state. Today, Jews in Israel are the Aryans of Nazi Germany, and the whites of apartheid. And yet, we are castigated for voicing these truths, even during a conference convened precisely for the purpose of discussing racism and discrimination.

America and Israel walked out of the conference because they claim it degenerated into an Israel-bashing session. In fact, it is they who made such a big deal of the attempts to condemn Israel before the conference even started, and it is they who have pushed the other, equally important racism issues aside, thus hitting several birds with just one stone and evading the weighty slavery issues.

I am neither surprised nor upset by America’s position over this conference.

Its attitude is perfectly on par with its history of not only defending Israel, but also of providing it with the means to do anything it likes. I am not even surprised that Colin Powell, America’s first black secretary of state, chose to snub the conference altogether. Either he was never touched by even the slightest racial slur, or he has forgotten and thus cannot understand what all the fuss is about. In any case, Israel is way too important for a mere secretary of state, whatever his race, to risk offending.

What does surprise me, however, is Reverend Jesse Jackson’s attitude. At first pleased that he and Coretta Scott King (widow of late civil-rights leader Martin Luther King) would come to Durban (what better American participants to a conference against racism?), I now wish he hadn’t come at all. His contribution has been focused on pressing the Palestinians to support language recognizing that the Holocaust (insisting on a capital h) was the most murderous crime of the 20th century, and on eliminating any mention of Zionism or Israel in the final declaration of the conference. Et tu, Jesse? Everyone is trying to gratify Israel. Days before the opening of the conference, Robinson said “there is a clear understanding that the formulation ‘Zionism equals racism’ has been done away with,” thus already rejecting an eventual resurgence of the notion. That didn’t stop non-governmental organizations from reinstating that formula in their own declaration. The famous UN resolution of 1975, recognizing that Zionism is a form of racism, was revoked in 1991 in a one-sentence resolution, a few weeks after the Madrid peace conference.

This was not because the General Assembly deemed that Israel had suddenly done away with the racism that defined its founding principles, but rather because the world community gave in to Zionist pressure, rewarding Israel for seemingly accepting the concept of land for peace.

Ten years later, Israel’s every caprice continues to be indulged, while the basest form of racism it openly practices has reached unprecedented magnitudes. At the same time, other countries are punished for much lesser crimes, or for even the suspicion of potential racism. When Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party, which does not hide its vision of an Austria with fewer immigrants, won the largest share of votes in the last Austrian elections and thus took part in the ensuing coalition government, the 14 other members of the European Union did not hesitate to freeze ties with Vienna.

But when Ariel Sharon, the infamous war criminal, was elected prime minister of Israel in a landslide victory, the world congratulated him and allowed him not only to continue, but to intensify the actions which at the very least would be called racism in other countries. When it comes to Israel, anything goes, and the West’s refusal to discuss, let alone admit, that it is indeed a racist state is not really surprising.

Naturally, by focusing on Israel’s defense in Durban, former colonial powers (such as Britain) and present ones (such as Israel) are also trying to evade the thorny issue of apologies, lest they lead to eventual lawsuits for compensation. Double standards are a wonderful thing when played well.

Victims of racism all over the world just have to face it: apologies and compensations are the sole privilege of Israel. Just as official state racism is.

* Rime Allaf wrote this commentary in Damascus for The Daily Star

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