In its attempts to silence and discredit those who support the rights of Palestinians, Israel and its apologists around the world depend on a set of Hasbara—otherwise known as propaganda— talking points, that aim to invert reality. In order to turn reality on its head, they must repeat these talking points ad nauseam; using well-resourced lobby groups, they pressure politicians and media to accept their spurious claims about the Palestine solidarity movement—especially the tactic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)

It is time to challenge and uproot these falsehoods, which have unfortunately penetrated deeply into Canadian popular discourse, including in the minds of our elected parliamentarians. IJV intends to use this blog to rebut the most common Hasbara talking points, in the hopes that these misleading and illogical allegations can be seen for what they are: desperate attempts by Israel and its apologists to distract from reality, quell support for Palestinians’ human rights and ultimately silence a movement that refuses to accept perpetual apartheid rule for the Palestinians. We call this series of blog posts “Debunking Hasbara”.

Each blog post will focus on unpacking and debunking a different set of Hasbara talking points, and will demonstrate how these talking points can also been seen as Israel and its apologists projecting their own faults onto the people whom they are trying to discredit and ultimately silence. This blog post will focus on the following allegation, which is arguably the most commonly leveled set of talking points against Palestinian human rights activists:

Hasbara: Those who condemn Israel are singling out Israel for condemnation, and applying a double standard.  Why don’t you criticize worse regimes, like Syria? The fact that you, and even the UN, obsesses over the world’s only Jewish state while avoiding other regimes shows that you are using your criticisms of Israel as a cover for your true motivation: a hatred of Jews.

Reality: It’s childish to point at others when confronted with your own negative behaviour – like a scolded child who argues that it’s unfair to punish him for his behaviour because his cohorts did it, too. This is irrelevant, and when this form of fallacious argumentation is employed by Israel’s apologists, it serves as a convenient distraction from Israel’s behaviour.     

In reality, any criticism singles out its object. If one was to criticize any country, then that country would be “singled out,” since it would be the focus of criticism at that moment in time. Is it possible to criticize every country in the world at any given moment, and hence not single out any one country when criticizing a state’s laws, policies or behaviour?

Is it reasonable to expect someone who seeks to defend the rights of say, Tibetans—and thereby criticizes the policies of the Chinese government— to also defend the rights of Syrians, Sudanese, Palestinians, Congolese, and every other group of people on Earth who are suffering under the oppressive policies of a state, all in the same instant, or even in the same lifetime?

This talking point is employed repeatedly against those who openly challenge Israel’s unjust laws, policies or behaviour. Perhaps the person who is challenging Israel does criticize other regimes, including the Syrian regime. This does not matter to Israel and its apologists, since the strategy behind parroting talking points ad nauseam is to avoid confronting the substance of the issue. Many of us in IJV are, in fact, quite vocal on a number of human rights issues. Do we expect the Israel-right-or-wrong community to criticize every human rights-violating regime on Earth? Of course not; it’s a practical impossibility, and is a mere distraction from the topic at hand.

People take up causes for any number of reasons, often personal ones. Many Jews become active on the issue of Palestinians’ human rights because Israel claims to act on our behalf, and we are moved to publicly oppose its immoral behaviour. Others may have a deeply personal connection to the issue, such as a Palestinian, or even an everyday Canadian without a Palestinian or Jewish background, who sees how our own government provides unqualified support for a state that systematically oppresses an entire people—and who therefore does not want to be further implicated in this shameful governmental policy. 

It is true that at the UN, resolutions calling on Israel to abide by international law are more frequent than resolutions focusing on other countries. There is one primary reason for this: for decades, Israel has been singled out by the U.S. at the UN Security Council (UNSC). The U.S. has vetoed any and all resolutions demanding that Israel abide by international law, while supporting UNSC resolutions against other regimes.  Israel’s blatant flouting of international law has created enmity in the international community, especially from many states in the Global South (encompassing the large majority of UN member states, each of which have their own vote)—who have been negatively impacted by Western meddling in their affairs. There are few examples of Western double standards as glaring as U.S.—and Canadian—support for Israel’s ongoing occupation and colonization of the West Bank, and collective punishment of the people of Gaza.

Of course, Israel and its apologists use this disproportionate focus on Israel at the UN as a means of arguing that grassroots human rights activists are motivated by anti-Semitism, when they, in fact, have nothing to do with UN activities.  Students and other grassroots activists are conflated with activities at the UN Human Rights Council, in a desperate attempt by Israel and its apologists to demonstrate that anti-Semitism is what motivates criticisms of Israel’s systematic human rights violations on campus and elsewhere, through a “singling out” of Israel.

Projection: Have you ever heard the accusation of “singling out” in any other situation of activists supporting a human rights cause? For instance, are supporters of Sudanese human rights constantly accused of “singling out” Sudan? Many university students pushed for their universities’ pension funds to divest from companies complicit in the genocide in Darfur. Were they labelled as “Anti-Sudan” or “anti-Sudanese”? It is reasonable to argue that Israel and its apologists are “singling out” the Palestinian human rights community as the only community that is allegedly promoting hatred by criticizing a state’s laws, policies or behaviour, and challenging governmental behaviour through non-violent grassroots tactics such as boycott and divestment campaigns.

One can also argue that Israel and its apologists are in fact singling out Israel by exempting Israel from criticism or sanction, while freely criticizing other human rights-violating regimes (as the U.S has been doing at the UNSC for decades). For instance, the Canadian government has placed severe sanctions on the Iranian government, and frequently criticizes that regime, while our current government has never criticized Israel (despite the fact that Israel’s behaviour runs contrary to our official governmental policy), and even rewards Israel with preferential agreements. While Palestinian human rights activists are accused of being “obsessed” with Israel, isn’t it our own government, and lobby groups such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs—which provide unqualified support for the Israeli government—who are in fact “obsessed” with Israel?