Israel, apartheid, anti-Semites

What is the sound of one side condemning? It's the media rendering of Israel Apartheid Week, now under way. B'nai Brith ran full-page newspaper ads asking universities to "prevent" it and the attendant "anti-Semitism on campus." There were no ads from organizers, so we didn't hear them being anti-Semitic in their own words -- or denying the charge.

Here's the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno: "That detestable, despicable annual campus hate-fest ... Jew-bashing cloaked in self-righteousness ... students who don't recognize racism when they're spewing it."

I don't know if she meant to be ironic, spewing hate at the spewers. But I've talked with friends, Jewish and non, about these claims. They're disturbed, they don't want to witness the rise of a new horror. Here's my take.

Cabinet minister Jason Kenney calls Israel Apartheid Week "a systematic effort to delegitimize the democratic homeland of the Jewish people" by linking it to racism, a line virtually mouthed by Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff. That is way too cute. Any "settler state," such as Canada, which took someone else's land, can be seen as illegitimate. But it's an abstract point. "Apartheid" became widely used in this context only when Israel began building what came to be called an apartheid wall, looming over Palestinians, sequestering more land, cutting them off from each other.

The usage grew as Israel expanded settlements, built Israeli-only roads and set up checkpoints so Palestinians would at best be left with "Bantustans," such as those that apartheid South Africa offered blacks, rather than a true state of their own. A small but real Palestinian state would be accepted by almost everyone. The Arab League has offered peace in return for Israel just leaving the West Bank. Even Hamas has a (nuanced) position on living with Israel. You can look it up.

What of the "new anti-Semitism" that Jason Kenney says is "based on the notion that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland"? Well, who are these new anti-Semites? I never see names or quotations. Canada has always had anti-Semites, but they've felt no need to hide their hate behind a screen of anti-Israel criticism. Think of David Ahenakew. A cartoon banned from hallways at the University of Ottawa showed a helicopter marked Israel rocketing a kid in Gaza holding a teddy bear. It's crude, but that's cartooning. There's no anti-Semitism in it. A front-page National Post cartoon showing CUPE Ontario's Sid Ryan offering David Ahenakew a job was far more scurrilous. No one can say Sid Ryan embraces anti-Semites, though he criticizes Israel strongly. Opposition to Israel seems well delineated from anti-Semitism to me.

Most of the specifics come down to shouts at protests. As in: "Cries of 'Die, Jew' and 'Get the hell off campus' were heard." The Canadian Jewish Congress's Bernie Farber says he's "never" seen it this bad "on the streets of Toronto and university campuses." Well, I spend lots of time on streets in Toronto and it doesn't look like Kristallnacht to me. But wait, that's glib. It's these images that scare my friends: They evoke Nazi Germany. I know that.

But Nazi Germany wasn't about name-calling and group hate. Those will persist, perhaps always. The Holocaust occurred largely because anti-Semitism was historically rooted and respectable there: religiously, socially, intellectually, politically. Writers and politicians were proudly anti-Semitic. Here, anti-Semitism is unacceptable in all those ways. This whole debate proves it. We should be glad for that, and keep it in perspective.

Why does perspective matter? Because Israel is now a state among nations and must be held to account, not absolved for fear of igniting a new Holocaust. Israel Apartheid Week should be gauged on its critique of its subject, not anathematized due to shadows and terrors from another time.

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