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September 8, 2009

Anti-Semitism, Real and Imagined

Reuel S. Amdur

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Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, reacted to resolutions presented to the general meeting of the United Church of Canada in a letter to the Globe and Mail. His response was truly astounding.

“Criticism of Israel crosses into anti-Semitism when it calls into question the legitimacy of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.”

That definition makes virtually the whole Arab and Muslim worlds anti-Semitic. 

For example, the Israeli Arab political party Balad, which favors a single secular, democratic state for Israel-Palestine, becomes anti-Semitic. 

In Israel, people are constantly contemplating whether, with the demographic shift due to the high Arab birth rate, the country can remain both Jewish and democratic.  Those opting for the democratic option become, according to Farber’s yardstick, anti-Semites.

Not all Israelis would make the choice of democracy given the two options.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party, Deputy Prime Minister, and foreign minister, wants to shift parts of Israel with large Arab populations to the Occupied Territories and to annex sections of the West Bank that have been heavily colonized by settlers.  Of course, the wishes of those shifted out would not be considered. 

Farber’s broad brush gives shelter to the real anti-Semites, the likes of Ernst Zundel.  He bundles Zundel in with ultra-Orthodox Jews, Ramsey Clark, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  It gives real anti-Semites a protective cover.

The Canadian Jewish Congress takes a contradictory stand when it favors recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. 

It has always been a strong advocate of separation of church and state in Canada and would certainly oppose with all its might any move to declare Canada a Christian state.  And if the argument is in terms of some concept of nationality rather than religion, the Congress would not be any more sympathetic to Canada being declared an Anglo-Saxon Orange Order nation.  As the French put it, two weights, two measures.  What’s sauce for the goose is apparently not sauce for the gander. 

One wonders if Farber’s new definition has anything to do with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians and Arabs recognize Israel not just as a state but as a Jewish state. 

It follows suspiciously soon after.  But while Farber’s mass-produced anti-Semites are less than meet the eye, there are some real ones in the Arab world.  The reason for the foothold that anti-Semitism holds in that part of the world goes back in large measure to Zionism and the Holocaust. 

Zionism was, until the Holocaust, a minority movement within the Jewish community.  It was the response to that tragedy, as well as to the reluctance of Western nations to take in Jewish refugees during and after the war.  “None is too many,” as the Canadian bureaucrat put it. 

So, if the Holocaust was in large measure the cause of the establishment of Israel, one expected some reaction was to deny or downplay the Holocaust.  However, this is crackpot rationality.  The evidence is overwhelming.  There are the changed demographics and detailed accounts both by Jews and gentiles.  The crematoria are still there.  The detailed Nazi records also corroborate the crime. 

Does the Holocaust justify the founding of Israel and its subsequent behaviour?  Azmi Bishara, exiled former leader of Balad, tells us why not. 

In the first place, the crime took place in Europe, so “The Palestinians should not have to pay the price.”  As well, the lesson of the Holocaust is not a need for a Zionist Israel. 

Rather, it is “a sobering primer on the danger of racism, extremist nationalist chauvinism and totalitarian social engineering in modern mass societies.”  Far from justifying the picture of Jews as victims, “in Palestine Zionism is not the victim but the perpetrator.” 

Unfortunately, some in Palestine and the Arab world more generally have lacked the keen analytic insight that Bishara brings to the issue.  As a result, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism have gained ground in the Arab world.  In a protest against a possible plan to include the Holocaust in a UN curriculum for Gaza students, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, opposed teaching about “the so-called Holocaust . . . because it aims to reinforce the acceptance of the occupation of Palestine land.” 

Abu Zuhri simply fails to understand Bishara’s line of reasoning and falls into the trap of thinking that the Holocaust, if real, justifies the occupation: hence, the need to make it “so-called.” 

  1. As Bishara put it, “What possible Arab or Islamic interest can it serve to even offer to exonerate Europe of one of the blackest pages in its history?”  

Reuel S. Amdur is a freelance writer based across the river from Ottawa.

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