Sunday, November 14, 2010

Eyal Lichtmann: 'Anti-Semitism Is A Genuine Social Problem That Must Be Confronted'

"Murray Dobbin’s screed against Israel and Stephen Harper (Sun, Nov. 11), attempts to convince readers that anti-Semitism is negligible, exists in a vacuum from the anti-Israel movement and is a convenient weapon used only to 'silence' criticism of Israel. His angry and irrational argument succeeds only in proving itself wrong on all counts.

Dobbin denies that anti-Semitism is the powerful accelerant that enflames the anti-Israel movement, claiming that anti-Semitism effectively doesn’t exist and is invoked only to silence people like him from speaking up. Both theses are wrong. Anti-Semitism permeates both his movement and his article. But Zionists like Stephen Harper, Irwin Cotler and me point this out not in order to silence him, but because anti-Semitism is a genuine social problem that must be confronted and because we hope that Dobbin and those like him might look into their hearts and analyze, even in the most perfunctory way, their own motivations and prejudices.

Dobbin goes so far as to call into question the Stephen Harper’s mental stability simply because the prime minister disagrees with Dobbin’s own narrow viewpoint, which is itself an example of disordered thinking.

Dobbin notes, correctly, that 'UN resolutions criticizing Israel are regularly supported by virtually every country with the exception of Israel, the US and – sometimes – El Salvador.' Picking up on the prime minister’s use of the term 'anti-Israel mob,' Dobbin asks: 'Is the whole of the UN membership part of the ‘mob’?' Sadly, pretty much. And so is he.

The Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism, adopted by the very convention that sparked Dobbin’s attack, specifies: 'singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium – let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction – is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.

Yet Dobbin implies that nearly every country in the world can’t possibly be wrong. I wish I could be so optimistic. But, as the son of a Holocaust survivor and a student of history, I can assure him that this is not the first time every country in the world has failed to come to the aid of the Jews. The fact that the UN wastes infinite time and resources on this one comparatively minor conflict does not prove Israel is at fault. Indeed, a fair reading of history and current events proves that the near-unanimity at the UN is a large part of the problem, not the solution.

Moreover, Dobbin, not the prime minister, is the one who seems pathologically incapable of rational reasoning. Accusing Harper of putting support for Israel above 'his duty to represent Canada’s interests abroad' tells us that Dobbin is ideologically blinded to the fact that Israel’s security is among Canada’s foremost interests abroad, both morally and strategically. From the moral standpoint, if defending the Middle East’s tiny oasis of pluralism, democracy, multiculturalism, human rights and women’s equality is not among Canada’s top foreign policy priorities, what are we doing on the world stage at all? And, strategically, Israel’s fight is our fight. Just as, in previous decades, enemies came for the Jews but quickly targeted other groups as well, today’s enemies of Israel have their sights set on all of Western civilization. The fact that Dobbin and his mob will dismiss this statement as paranoid ideology is the crux of our disagreement. Israel is the frontline against Islamist terror. In the mob narrative, Islamism will be neutered when Palestine is free, though 'free' may not be quite the right term for Palestinians living under Hamas or, for that matter, Fatah. In this perversely cheerful worldview, Islamism merely demands a little bit of Palestine, and is not a real threat bent on eliminating Israel, therefore Israel has no legitimate right to self-defence, ergo all its actions are illegitimate.

But the main purpose of Dobbin’s rant is to repeat the nonsense that Zionists seek to 'redefine anti-Semitism to mean virtually any criticism of Israel.' This familiar allegation is a total inversion of reality. It is not supporters of Israel who seek to silence – this would be a quixotic waste of time even if we tried. It is not Israel-bashers, he should note, who get hauled before Canadian human rights tribunals; it is Zionists like Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant. So who is silencing whom? What Dobbin is actually saying is that he should be able to condemn Israel in the most vociferous terms and no one has the right to contradict him. Indeed, if you disagree with him, you must have a mental disorder. An intellectual give-and-take is not what he and the mob seek. Take issue with any part of the extremist narrative and invite accusations of trying to silence debate. In fact, all Zionists are seeking is genuine and balanced dialogue; Dobbin sees only a Zionist conspiracy behind every good faith attempt to engage in discourse.

A typical rejoinder when contesting any part of the mob’s distorted ideology of hatred is the accusation of 'uncritically' supporting Zionism. This is ironic because if there is a model of uncritical ideology, it is the incessant, unthinking and absolute opposition to anything Israeli. Support for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel – the prime mission of the anti-Israel movement – is the textbook case-in-point of uncritical thinking. Israel has the highest per capita rate of academic publishing in the world and what does the mob want? Boycotts. Who is silencing whom? And with what consequences? The mob’s demand for BDS is modern-day book-burning, with the promise of stifling all Israeli contributions, including world-leading scientific and medical research. This is an exponentially more dangerous, backward and real silencing than the imagined 'silencing' allegedly attempted by a few Zionists.

The madness of the mob is even more evident when comparing their approach to Israel with their attitude to countries like North Korea, Iran and Cuba. With the most repressive regimes in the world, the mob demands dialogue, engagement, cooperation. With democratic, multicultural – and Jewish – Israel, it’s: isolate, vilify, destroy.

Dobbin imagines himself and his mob as victimized martyrs whose attempts to express 'fair criticism' meet efforts by the evil Zionists to silence them. The inversion, again, is specious and calculated. This is provable by the merest review of the facts. If Zionists are silencing criticism, we are doing a demonstrably pitiable job of it. Google Dobbin’s name and the word 'Israel' to see how free he feels to spread his compulsive rantings on this topic. Or just Google 'Israel' and see the landscape of Israel-bashing and Jew-hatred proliferating in the virtual (and presumably, actual) world. The very idea of Jews silencing our critics, especially in the Internet age, requires a paranoid fantasy dependent on stereotypical ideas of Jewish muscle massively disproportionate to our tiny numbers, if not the medieval certainty that Jews have gnarly supernatural powers to control what others do, say and think.

Even if our goal was to silence criticism, accusing people of anti-Semitism is clearly not an effective tool. If anti-Semitism does exist, and if it plays a role in the anti-Israel movement, Dobbin and the mob have already demonstrated that they don’t give a damn. Imagine any other cultural group in Canada speaking out to say they are victims of discrimination and being met by self-identified 'progressive' people shouting: No you’re not. Dobbin outright denies documented statistics showing alarming increases in anti-Semitic incidents. Worse, like the rest of the mob, he takes not a single moment to consider whether such hatred, prejudice or stereotyping plays even a remote role in his movement.

If Dobbin would engage in just a short act of self-reflection, he might see how the narrative he purveys is plausible only if one is predisposed to certain stereotypes. For example, it is simply not possible to review Israel’s history of compromise and generosity in seeking peace and a two-state solution and conclude, as Dobbin does, that these are 'patently phony ‘commitments’ ... that no Palestinian leader could possibly agree to.' That is, unless one’s views are clouded by stereotypical ideas about scheming Jews who can never be bested in negotiation.

Likewise, it is not possible to ignore the history of Arab military aggression and everything Israel has done to strive for peace with its neighbours and conclude that Israel is the belligerent party in this conflict. That is, unless one is inclined to see only what one expects, which is the stereotype that Jews care only about their own and are insouciant to the suffering of others, ever striving to get their hands on that which doesn’t belong to them.

Moreover, there has never been a reasonable explanation from the mob as to why Israel and this conflict eclipse, in their eyes, every other foreign policy matter. The historian Walter Laqueur quantifies the Israeli-Arab conflict as the 46th most lethal clash since 1945, even including Israeli victims and Palestinians killed by other Palestinians in sectarian violence. Anywhere one looks in the world, there are greater humanitarian situations than that of the Palestinians, yet some unseen force has made this the cause celebre of Dobbin and other 'progressives.' Could it have anything to do with the identity of the Palestinians’ perceived enemy?

And if people who support nationalist movements from Quebec to Tibet take exception solely to Jewish nationalism, which is called Zionism, does this tell us anything?

If, as seems the case, the survival of the only Jewish-majority country in the world is of no concern to the mob, especially given the historical implications of Jewish statelessness, explain how that does not reflect some sort of anti-Jewish animus?

I agree with Dobbin on this: Zionists – me, at least – are claiming that anti-Semitism exists, that it is a powerful accelerant in the anti-Israel movement and that his own arguments are suffused with it. But I do not make these accusations because I am trying to silence him. I do so in the genuine hope that we will all unite to fight this persistent social illness. Am I too much the optimist?"

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