The 'selectivity argument' around criticizing Israel

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The 'selectivity argument' around criticizing Israel

I'm really disturbed about this argument that criticizing the state of Israel can become anti-semitic, because you're applying a double standard--so if human rights abuses are going on elsewhere and you aren't talking about them, you must be anti-semitic (Irwin Cotler uses this argument routinely). THis is also in the Interparliamentary Coalition to combat anti-semitism (which is disingenious, because it then says, criticism of Israel is fine as long as you aren't applying a double standard...but you're left wondering where's the line between legitimate criticism and anti-semitism because double standard).

The argument makes little sense, because we will focus on certain social justice issues and will not be involved so much in other social justice issues. We pick and choose our struggles, and logically we're going to focus on certain issues and not other issues.

By Cotler's logic, criticizing racial segregation in the United States in the 1960s is 'anti-American', because you are focusing attention about what's happening in the U.S., and ignoring racial segregation in South Africa!


Coltler tends to back up this claim about anti-semtism by double-standard, through anecdotes. But I wonder is there anyway of empirically testing this claim that there is a double standard around criticizing Israel (i.e. refusing to criticize other countries' human rights abuses, therefore selectivity=anti-semitism).

Issues Pages: 

In addition, How about the Kenney-Cotler Cabal's  singling out a particular group for (more) human rights protection when the evidence shows that that group is not the most vulnerable one ?


yeah, this whole idea of a "double standard" is pure propaganda bullshit.  it doesn't even make any logical sense.  How on earth could you criticize a policy if you can't talk directly about said policy without out "singling it out"?  

First off, critics of israel are the same people who criticize human rights violations in other countries (including our own).  Second, Israels violations are the direct result of policies from the countries we live in.  Under any reasonable definition of democracy, we are then responsible for that.  Like chomsky says: "we bear direct responsibility for the predictable consequences of our own actions" not the actions of others over which we have no control or influence.

As per mahmud's point, israel is constantly singling people out themselves.  They single out iran's nuclear program without talking about any others (including their own which is much worse).  And they are ALWAYS expecting others to act in ways they refuse to act themselves, the height of hypocrisy.  

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

It's very absurd. I can't think of a single parallel situation that would make their position make sense. The concept that criticizing a government's human rights violations is akin to believing that nation shouldn't even exist is a real leap in logic. For sure, there are some leaders, governments and individuals in the Middle East that question the legitimacy of Israel existing but that doesn't mean that everybody who questions their human right's record has the same belief.

We can question numerous governments for human rights violations without ever suggesting that the nation has no right to exist. As for double standards, I really don't get that at all. There seems to be a consistency to me - the oppression of Aech and Timor Leste by the Indonesian Government, the oppression of Blacks by the former apartheid South African Government, the oppression of indigenous peoples by numerous countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and US, the oppression of Blacks in Darfur by the Sudanese government... The list is long.



If i said that Somalia shouldn't exist as a nation, nobody in power would get excited. Nor should they. A private citizen with no army, no political or economic influence, no power, can state a personal opinion.... Isn't that pretty much the idea behind a bill of rights?

If somebody says the Mohawk Nation shouldn't exist or doesn't exist, they get in trouble with babblers, but not with the federal government. The many, many people who said that the Soviet Union shouldn't exist were nationalists and heroes and western government spokesmen and.... nobody censored or censured them.

If a Canadian of Jewish background said that Palastine isn't a nation ... what would happen?

Selective indeed.


Not only this tactic is disturbing, but also it is being picked up by every other human right violator in the world too.

Just recently the Iranian government has started objecting to "singling out Iran" over women rights violations.

I am wondering what Cotler has got to say about that!!


I don't think he minds as long as the propaganda is in his favour...


In concept, there is some validity to this argument.

For instance, if you have two children, and they both stay up past their bedtime, and you only chastise one of them, does that not suggest that you are not treating them equally.

I myself, have used this argument in regards to Venezuela's 'lack of democracy'. I find it disengenuous that Venezuela and Chavez get villified by the Western media for every misstep, but Saudi Arabia is a grand ally, who can kill anyone they like, call them terrorists, and have no repercussions. To me, the inconsistency is some proof that the West is not concerened about democracy, but rather they are concerned with maintaining the status quo of having Latin American countries dependent on the West for the monetization of their natural resources,

The case of Israel, however, is somewhat different. There are several things that set Israel apart, from other nations, and therefore the logical target of criticism.


1) No other country kills children outside of its borders with such regularity. It is certainly not anti-semitism for people to oppose innocent children being killed.

2) The UN has set the rules that killing people within one's borders (other than genocide) is a matter to be handled internallly, whereas killing people outside of one's borders is a a concern for the international community. The regimes that Israel likes to compare itself to in an attempt to seem better by comparison, are only killing people within its own borders.

3) Unlike the regimes which Israel attempts to compare itself to, in order to excuse its own behaviour, Israel wants a seat at the table of respectability. Sudan, Burma, and North Korea have no such illusions

4) We are bombarded by Israeli apologists in our media, such that one feels inclined to respond to such deceit. I am certain that if the National Post wrote three articles a week telling us what a fine fellow Omar Hassan Al-Bashin was, people would begin to object.

5) The Israeli lobby has a disproportionate amount of influence in Canadian politics. as evidenced most recently by the need for the Ontario Minister of Immigration to be 'disgusted' by a Master's thesis that had the audacity to criticize Israel. Anyone think that a paper defending Robert Mugabe would be discussed in provincial parliament?


That's an over generalization of what Cotler and other academics concerned with antisemitism and racism in general have stated.

What the main concern is ...about delegitimization of the state and other matters discussed here:


Criticism of Israel is not per se racist.


Bizaro wrote:

Criticism of Israel is not per se racist.

Correct. That would be defence of Israel which is per se racist.


N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

stormy, prolonged , tumultuous applause ...........