Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reflections on a Few Recent Articles Concerning the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute

Over just the last few days, I’ve come across several articles that, especially when taken together, help expose some of the fallacies and disingenuous positions taken by those who oppose Israel.

First we have the article Anti-Israel “Rabbi” in anti-Semitic attack in Amsterdam detailing how an ultra-Orthodox Jewish member of the anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta (several members of the group are pictured below to give you an idea of the likely appearance of the victim) was attacked by an apparently Muslim man. Before the physical attack began, the assailant apparently shouted slurs at the rabbi. When the rabbi called for help … he was ignored.


Why do I direct your attention to this incident? Because we’re told time and time again that opposition to Israel is about opposition to Israel and its policies and is not anti-Semitism or opposition to Jews. But it seems that at least one member of Amsterdam’s Muslim community was unable to make the distinction between anti-Israel violence and anti-Jewish violence. Of course, given that so much of the anti-Zionist/anti-Israel rhetoric is couched in anti-Semitic terms, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, should we?

Which leads me to the second article, Palestinians: “No Jews Allowed!” by respected Arab Israeli reporter Khaled Abu Toameh.

“We will approve the meeting on condition there are no Jews.”

This is what you are likely to hear these days if you request a meeting with any senior Palestinian Authority official in the West Bank.

Palestinian journalists who try to arrange meetings or interviews with Palestinian Authority representatives for Western colleagues have become used to hearing such things almost on a daily basis.

Just last week, for example, a journalist who requested a meeting between Western journalists and a top Palestinian Authority official was told “to make sure there were no Jews or Israelis” among the visitors.

The official's aide went on to explain: “We are sorry, but we do not meet with Jews or Israelis.”

Another Palestinian journalist who tried to arrange an interview with a Palestinian Authority official for a European colleague was turned down “because the man's name indicates he is a Jew.”

In yet another recent incident, a Palestinian Authority ministry instructed its guards to “prevent Jewish reporters” from attending an event in Ramallah.

First, it’s hard to make peace if you won’t meet or talk to the other side. But, OK, so the Palestinians won’t meet with Israelis. But Jews? If the opposition is merely to Zionism or the State of Israel, then what is the problem with meeting with Jews or allowing a Jewish reporter to ask a question? Imagine the international outcry if Israeli officials refused to meet, not just with Palestinians (whom they are actually willing to meet with…), but with any Muslim. We’d hear cries of racism from every corner of the globe. But when Palestinians expand their objections beyond Israelis to all Jews? Crickets.

Which brings me to the third article, also by Khaled Abu Toameh: Lebanon’s Apartheid Laws. How often have you heard Israel referred to as an Apartheid state or heard condemnation heaped upon Israel for its treatment of Palestinians? But what about Palestinians in Lebanon? Have you heard much about the way that Lebanon treats them?

About three years ago, the Lebanese government decided to amend its Apartheid law that denies Palestinians the right to work in as many as 20 professions.

Then, Palestinians were told that from then on they would be able to work in many professions and even own property in Lebanon. But now Palestinians have discovered that the Lebanese government, like most Arab countries, has lied to them.

Although Palestinians have lived in Lebanon for more than six decades, they are still treated as foreigners when it comes to obtaining a work permit, according to Lebanon’s The Daily Star newspaper.

Lebanon is not the only Arab country that openly enforces Apartheid laws against Palestinians.

Palestinians have, in fact, long been treated as third-class citizens in most of the Arab countries, where they are denied not only basic rights such as employment and health care, but also citizenship.

For example, Palestinians in Lebanon are banned from working as doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers or accountants.

By contrast, anyone visiting an Israeli hospital or medical center would quickly notice the presence of a significant number of Arab doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Hmm. So why don’t we see movements on college campuses to boycott, divest, and impose sanctions against Lebanon (or other Arab countries for that matter)? Shouldn’t Lebanon’s treatment of its Palestinian population be subject to the same scrutiny as Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population? For that matter, shouldn’t the Palestinian Authority’s treatment of the Palestinian population of refugee camps in the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority be subject to the same scrutiny? But it isn’t, is it. Ask yourself why.

And that leads me to yet another article: A modest proposal for a new ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ campaign [internal links omitted; typos in original]:

There is a country in the Middle East which makes a great play of being a democracy and about espousing Western ideals regarding human rights, and is forever bragging how different this makes it to its despotic Arab neighbours. But this self-same Middle Eastern country for decades now has been occupying the lands of one of its neighbours and conducting apartheid-like discrimination against its internal minority community. Its charismatic right-wing leader has one message for its close ally the United States and for the EU, with which it seeks closer ties, but quite another for its internal allies.

Isn’t it time this so-called democracy was held to account, and was made to face up to its hypocrisy? Isn’t it time the international community as a whole, and the International Solidarity Movement in particular, launched a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Turkey?

The crux of the argument by those engaging in BDS [boycott, divestment, sanctions] against Israel is that, no, they don’t single out Israel because it’s a Jewish state or because it is an ally of the West. They choose to boycott only Israel, they claim, because it’s a democracy and should therefore behave like one — and because boycott of a tyrannical regime doesn’t work, whereas boycott of a democracy can influence its citizenry to lobby for change to the offending policies.

Well, dear friends of the BDS movement, now is your chance to prove that you are not just shills for terrorists and Arab rejectionism, that you are not closet antisemites or anti-western ideologues and that you really care for oppressed peoples everywhere.

Now that the eyes of the world are focussed on Turkey, here is your chance to say no to Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus. Here is your chance to say no to Turkey’s institutional discrimination against Kurds who, unlike the Palestinians, have no autonomy, no government, no parliament, no courts, no police, no education system of their own, and whose very language is suppressed by government edict. Now is the time to send your message to Prime Minister Erdogan and his cronies that the world will no longer tolerate their brutal repression of human rights.

Israel is constantly accused of committing a non-existent genocide against Palestinians. Turks committed a real genocide against Turkey’s Armenian population, but even mentioning that historical fact can get a reporter or author thrown in jail in Turkey.

And you’ve probably heard it said, again and again, that Palestinians are the “indigenous” population and that Jews … er … Israelis are colonizers. Well that argument doesn’t sit very well with Ryan Bellerose, a Métis from Alberta, Canada, founder of a the native rights group Canadians for Accountability, and an active member in the native rights movement Idle No More. In his editorial Native, Jewish bond thicker than water, Bellerose takes direct aim at this Palestinian claim (I reprint the entire article in case it is no longer accessible via the Toronto Sun’s website):

Justice for Palestinians is attempting to organize with the Council of Canadians a conference titled “Indigenous Perspectives on Water: Canada and Palestine.”

The objective is to conflate Palestinian and Native rights issues. Indeed, Justice for Palestinians is seeking a speaker from Idle No More, a Native rights movement in which I have been active. I take strong issue with Palestinians’ appropriation of the Native cause.

To begin, though Palestinian propagandists love to characterize Zionism (that is, Jewish nationalism) and the re-establishment of Israel in 1948 as colonial enterprises, it is the Jews who are aboriginal to the Holy Land. Alone among other nations, Jews’ language, history, culture and folklore were born and forged in the Holy Land. There is no statute of limitations on being indigenous. Accordingly, to claim the Jews are colonizers in the Holy Land delegitimizes all indigenous peoples because such attempts trivialize the unbreakable, maternal ties to the land that make us, like the Jews, indigenous.

In stark contrast, Arabs arrived to the Holy Land only in the seventh century, when Arabian armies colonized the Middle East. Longstanding presence may generate rights, but it is not synonymous with being indigenous. For example, Europeans have been on American soil for centuries but that does not render them indigenous in the political sense. Like Arabic culture in the Holy Land, white North American culture was imported via empire.

Tellingly, Palestinians are silent with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples still dominated by Arab states from Morocco to Iraq.

Second, there can be no comparison of the Palestinians’ experience to that of Native Canadians. North American indigenous peoples suffered unprecedented genocide. Our people were obliterated through massacres, disease, starvation and forced assimilation in an attempt to remove us from the pages of history. (This, ironically, was the declared aim of the Arab armies that attacked Israel in 1947.) Sixty-five million people were reduced to less than three. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have grown from a population of approximately one million in 1948 to more than six million today. The average Palestinian under Israeli rule lives in conditions that our people could only have dreamed of and that are often better than those on reservations. Moreover, the Palestinians have received approximately $30 billion in international aid since 1993. This, despite the fact that Palestinian nationalism’s preferred method of expression has been terrorism.

Third, I am offended that my people’s cause appears to serve merely as a prop for Palestinian propaganda. For example, I have seen materials juxtaposing Native-American symbols — the feather, a symbol of peace — to AK-47 assault rifles, a symbol of Arab militantism. And yet, unlike most Palestinian nationalist groups across the board, Native rights movements seek to be peaceful and inclusive. Palestinian groups who are otherwise all too eager to wrap themselves in the indigenous mantle systematically ignore this crucial difference.

Zionist activists, on the other hand, seem genuinely motivated to help and have shared innovative agricultural techniques with Native groups. They have highly relevant water technology to share as well. They are democratic and don’t exaggerate the tragedies they have suffered. And they listen. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

For too long, we Natives have let an uncompromising and reactionary Palestinian narrative substitute for facts. But today the stakes are too high for that. The Canadian government is currently fighting to remove protections from our waters. The impact of these measures could be considerable as many Indian communities still rely heavily on natural water sources. Natives cannot let themselves be used merely as ornamentation to often-damaging Palestinian propaganda.

My attention was also called to the report “Concluding observations on the second to fourth periodic reports of Israel, adopted by the Committee at its sixty-third session (27 May – 14 June 2013)” from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the advanced unedited version of which was released on June 14, 2013). The blog Elder of Ziyon pointed to one particular passage in this report that is quite troubling (there are several other sections in the report that also caught my attention, but the details of those issues are more nuanced and beyond the scope of today’s post). Anyway, the report criticizes Israel for … well, I hope you’re ready for this one. In sections 41-42, under the heading “Harmful practices” the report states (bold in the original):

41. The Committee expresses concern about reported short and long-term complications arising from some traditional male circumcision practices.

42. The Committee recommends that the State party [Israel] undertake a study on the short and long-term complications of male circumcision.

Did you catch that? The United Nations is “expressing concern” about traditional Jewish male circumcision practices. I’m sure that there is a similar report about Muslim circumcision practices, right? Right? Interestingly, the World Health Organization, also a United Nations organization recommends male circumcision as an bulwark against the spread of HIV/AIDS.

My attention was also called to a report from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Presbyterian Church USA’s Office of Public Witness which states, in part:

If any peace agreement is to succeed, it must address core concerns of the conflict, including:

  • The cessation of systematic violation of human rights by any party, specifically, practices of administrative detention, collective punishment, the torture of prisoners and suspects, home demolitions and evictions, and the deportation of dissidents.
  • The end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and diversion of water resources.
  • The dismantling of the wall between the regions.
  • An immediate freeze both on the establishment or expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem.
  • A shared status for Jerusalem.
  • Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel.

Notice anything about the “core concerns” expressed by the Presbyterian church? Hmm. Let’s see now. Go back and look at that list and tell me what precisely the Presbyterians expect the Palestinians to do? The only things that seem to even remotely touch on Palestinian obligations are the cessation of “systematic violations of human rights” and “torture of prisoners and suspects”. However, I’m not sure if the the Presbyterians mean rocket fire into Israel when they talk about violations of human rights and the only prisoners and suspects being tortured by the Palestinians are other Palestinians (now that Israel traded over a thousand of prisoners for Gilad Shalit). But every other item in this list is directed solely at Israel. There is no mention of a cessation of rocket fire or terrorist activity. There is no mention of the cessation of incitement in the media (including, for example, children’s television shows). There is no mention of cessation of the glorification of violence (such as children’s summer camps or the naming of streets and soccer tournaments for suicide bombers). There is no mention of agreeing to sit down at a table and talk without preconditions. Nope. None of those things are “core concerns”. The only real way for a peace agreement to succeed, at least according to the Presbyterians, is for Israel to do everything and the Palestinians to just keep on truckin’ (or killin’, as the case may be).

Finally, it’s worth taking a few minutes to read this press release from the Anti-Defamation League about the newest book from The Color Purple author Alice Walker. Among the observations of the ADL:

  • Speaking of Black churches whose leaders recount Biblical stories about the Israelites’ various triumphs and travails, Walker writes, “It amazes me, in these churches, that there is no discussion of the fact that the other behavior we learned about in the Bible stories: the rapes, the murders, the pillaging, the enslavement of the conquered, the confiscation of land, the brutal domination and colonization of all ‘others’ is still front and center in Israel’s behavior today.”
  • On several occasions Walker seems to indicate that the purported evils of modern-day Israel are a direct result of Jewish values, alleging that Jews behave the way they do because they believe in their “supremacy.” She suggests that Israeli settlements are motivated by the concept that “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” which she claims is a lesson she “learned from my Jewish lawyer former husband. This belief might even be enshrined in the Torah.”
  • When discussing Israel’s alleged theft of Palestinian land, she writes, “Can people who hunger so desperately for what other people have ever have enough? One thinks of Hitler, of course, and Napoleon….” She writes of the inclusion of Israeli films in the 2009 Toronto Film Festival that it was comparable to “festivals in the past, festivals leading up to World War II,” which were designed to “make the bully look more respectable.”

There is more, but I think you get the point. I could spend a whole post on some of the things that Walker has said and done (not the least of which would be her praise of a conspiracy theory that seems to accuse Jews, the British Royal Family, and some others of actually being invading alien reptiles here to do … um … something evil — seriously). But I’ll leave that for another day.

Anyway, I thought that this group of articles and news items, all coming within a fairly short time period, were illustrative of types of canards and accusations being leveled both at Israel in particular and Jews more generally. To repeat a point that I feel I’ve made ad nauseum, criticism of Israel is not a problem. I do it myself from time to time. But when that criticism holds Israel to a standard different than that to which other nations are held, then there must be a reason for that double standard. When criticism of Israel is framed in terms of Jews or Judaism, rather than just Israel, then, again, there must be a reason. All too often that reason is anti-Semitism and claims that anti-Semitism (or simply hatred of Jews for those who have trouble with the term “anti-Semitism”) is not the basis for anti-Israel criticism must be closely examined to see when and if the criticism crosses the line from fair to … something else, something old, something vile and hateful and dangerous, something that has led to the persecution and murder of Jews for thousands of years. Call it whatever you want. But hatred of Jews is not justification for vilification of Israel and hatred of Israel ought not be the reason to hate Jews.

Unfortunately, that’s the world that we live in.

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