Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Some forms of criticism of Israel can indeed be antisemitic

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Ahron Shapiro

Online Opinion - Friday, 31 May 2013

Antisemitism is a persistent scourge that should weigh on the world's conscience on a daily basis. The toll from this baseless hatred can be counted in innocent lives in recent years, such as the evil attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, a Jewish community centre in Mumbai in 2008, or in quality of life in places like Malmo, Sweden. It is also rising steadily, up 30% over the past year according to recent Tel Aviv University study.

We have seen expressed antisemitism find a safe haven in politics, in places like Caracas and Budapest. Meanwhile, it has become almost pervasive throughout societies in the Middle East.

It is incumbent upon world governments to take a leadership role in rejecting antisemitism in their own countries. That is why parliamentarians from around Australia - from Prime Minister Julia Gillard, members of her government, members of the Opposition and now a growing number of lawmakers down to the state level - deserve praise for recently adding their names to the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism.

The document, which was drafted by the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism in 2009, has been signed by over 300 other lawmakers from some 60 different countries, including UK Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It has been lauded for the message it sends, not only about the resolve of governments to combat rising antisemitism worldwide, but also in the battle against hate crimes targeting other ethnic groups.

It is therefore disappointing to hear some people criticise this document on the grounds that two of the Declaration's clauses mention Israel (see for example George Browning's piece on this site last week "Criticism of Israel is not anti-semitic per se").

While they claim to be defending the right to "criticise" Israel from efforts to "stifle" it by labelling all such criticism antisemitic, their argument has nothing to do with the actual text of the Declaration, which is very specific in the way it addresses the relationship between antisemitism and Israel-hatred.

The critics of the Declaration cite two clauses, numbers 1 and 6. But what do those clauses actually say?

1. Parliamentarians shall expose, challenge, and isolate political actors who engage in hate against Jews and target the State of Israel as a Jewish collectivity...

and

6. Governments and the UN should resolve that never again will the institutions of the international community and the dialogue of nation states be abused to try to establish any legitimacy for antisemitism, including the singling out of Israel for discriminatory treatment in the international arena, and we will never witness - or be party to - another gathering like the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and other related Intolerances in Durban in 2001;

The first clause merely establishes that Jew-hatred, which in the 2000-year absence of a Jewish state was naturally confined to the level of the individual or the community, can now be escalated to the state level. This seems hardly a controversial statement, and can be supported by simple logic. Would an antisemite who has expressed his loathing for, or discriminated against, Jews on an individual or communal level somehow cease to harbour prejudices and act upon them when confronted by the reality of the State of Israel, a democratic country with a sizable Jewish majority and the cradle of Jewish national self-determination? Of course not. That would be absurd.

Should he get a free pass if he inserts the word Israel in a rant where he previously would have talked about the Elders of Zion? That would be equally absurd.

However, if it has been established that antisemitism can be expressed on a national, and diplomatic level, then how, specifically, does it manifest itself? One form is that which is addressed in the sixth clause. When an international organ is used to single out Israel for censure on human rights while at the same time overlooking far more clear-cut and egregious examples from other countries, that is, by definition, bias, though not necessarily antisemitism. However, when this bias is repeated and reinforced with regularity, it is reasonable to raise the question whether antisemitism may be a motivation.

Pro-Palestinian activists who have criticised the London Declaration's specific mention of antisemitism as it relates to Israel as a method of "stifling" criticism of Israel are actually trying to stifle debate on their own campaign of delegitimisation of Israel by rejecting a priori that any elements of their supporters may actually be driven by antisemitism. Yet the evidence is overwhelming - one has only to read the comments on the Facebook page for last month's protest calling for a boycott of the supposedly (though not actually) Israeli Max Brenner Chocolate shop at the University of New South Wales. Dozens of ugly remarks about Jews, many invoking traditional stereotypes, were posted there with little pretense of a connection to Israel. Meanwhile, also last month, a Palestinian NGO associated with supposed moderate Hanan Ashrawi published a piece promoting Blood Libel - the antisemitic belief that Jews kill Christian children and eat their blood as part of religious rituals.

Whatever perceived grievances pro-Palestinian activists have against Israel does not relieve them of their moral responsibility to disavow those who espouse antisemitic beliefs from within their ranks. Just as supporters of Israel must reject and separate themselves from extremists who express racial hatred towards Arabs, and "Tea Party" critics of US President Barack Obama must shun the support of those who attack Obama with racist motives, the Palestinian camp must stop denying the reality of Jew-haters among them, and purge them as well.

They should therefore embrace the London Declaration, not only for the sake of the Jews, but out of self-interest. While they might be able to deceive themselves, their act of denial on this important moral issue can only cost them the support of fair-minded Australians who do not wear such blinders.

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