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December 21, 2012

Is it a Double Standard?

Reuel S. Amdur

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One of the criteria of anti-Semitism listed by the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism reads as follows: "applying double standards by requiring of it (Israel) a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation." This criterion is a bit strained, suggesting the necessity of chasing after other nation's misdeeds before being able to say an unkind word about Israel's, but let's take it as it is.

In Canada and the United States, Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, as well as rabbis, were in the forefront of the civil rights movement.  One part of that struggle was the battle for fair housing legislation, against all discrimination in housing and against restrictive covenants that limited the sale of property on the basis of religion or race.  Jews did not fight just for fairness for themselves but stood shoulder-to-shoulder with black fellow citizens and with people of good will of all races and religions.

So what do we see in Israel?  The Israeli Supreme Court struck down the Jewish National Fund’s refusal to let a Palestinian family move into a community, a refusal based on the fact that the family was not Jewish.  But there was a way around it.  Communities can exclude people who might not fit in for cultural reasons.

That neat trick reminds me of the time when I was living in Detroit.  A white segregationist group in the city called a by-invitation-only meeting to keep black people out of white neighborhoods.  Of course, that is not what these discrete bigots called it.  I was able to attend the meeting because the community center for which I was working got an invitation, though because they collected the postcard passes from me and another guy because I, along with the other fellow, from the Anti-Defamation League, did not raise our hands in favor of a motion that was put, we were not invited to further meetings.  The gimmick that they were peddling was, as one of the genteel bigots in charge put it, “your right to choose your neighbors.”  That “right” is now given cover of law in Israel.

In North America, the rabbinate spoke with virtually one voice in support of open housing.  Here is a somewhat different voice of rabbis in Israel, as reported in the newspaper Haaretz:  “Dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis have signed on to a new religious ruling that would forbid the rental of homes to gentiles in a move particularly aimed against Arabs. . . . The religious ruling comes just months after a group of 18 prominent rabbis, including the chief rabbi of Safed, signed a call urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.”  The declaration also called for a boycott and shunning of any Jews violating the edict. 

In North America, tolerance of “the other” has been increasing over the decades.  In Canada, a 2007 Ipsos-Reid poll found that in response to the statement “Canada’s multicultural makeup is one of the best things about this country,” 44% of respondents agreed strongly and another 40% somewhat.  By contrast, in Israel there is widespread anti-Arab sentiment.

A 2007 survey by the Center against Racism found that over half of respondents felt that if a Jewish woman married an Arab man, her behavior was equivalent to treason (!).  75% opposed Jews and Arabs living in the same apartment building.  60% would not have an Arab in their home.  Over half felt that Israel should urge the Arabs to emigrate.

Then there is the matter of racist terrorism.  No, North America is not immune.  White supremacist Wade Michael Page killed six Sikhs in an assault on a Wisconsin gurdwara on August 5.  Compare what happened or did not happen next in this case to what happened in the case of a bloody assault on a mosque in Hebron. 

On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein entered a mosque during worship and opened fire with an automatic weapon, killing 29 and wounding 125 before he was overcome and killed himself.  While most Israelis were horrified by the atrocity and while Israeli officialdom denounced it in the strongest terms, his grave is now a place of pilgrimage for right-wing bigots.  At his funeral, Rabbi Israel Ariel referred to “the holy martyr Baruch Goldstein.”  Rabbi Dov Libor, seconded by Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg, called him a saint.  No one makes pilgrimages to Wade Michael Page’s grave.  No prominent clergy of any faith calls him a saint.

Then there is the ongoing refusal of Israel to abide by the decision of the International Court of Justice against the path of the separation wall.  Is it a double standard to expect Israel to abide by international law? 

It is clear from the foregoing that Israel falls far short of North American democracies in application and acceptance of democratic principles.  That is true even given the fact that, in the case of Nicaragua, the United States also ignored a decision of the International Court of Justice.  Yet, it is not the case that there are no democracies comparable to Israel.  Take for instance the case of Hungary.

Hungary is marked by a virulent anti-Semitism, comparable to Israel’s anti-Arab prejudice.  It is also home to brutal discrimination against its Roma minority, a discrimination which, like its equivalent in relation to Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank, can turn violent both in physical attacks and property destruction.  So, if we can criticize Hungary, surely we are not anti-Semitic if we pick at Israel’s prominent warts.

Quoting from the book of Isaiah, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, proclaimed that it is “both a privilege and an obligation to be a ‘Light unto the Nations.’”  You gotta be kidding.

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