Israel's "left" apologists
December 9, 2002
Now that we've heard from such self-proclaimed "leftists"
as Tod Gitlin and David Corn declaring the budding antiwar movement
to be "dead on arrival" and captive of apologists for
"evil monsters" like Saddam Hussein, it's time to turn
to Israel, another front in which disillusioned "leftists"
are attacking their political confreres as a discredited force.
Philip Berger (a physician), Jeff Rose (a trade unionist) and
Clayton Ruby (a lawyer), who say they've established solid credentials
as progressives over the years, insist the left is anti-Semitic,
and must confront its ugly anti-Jewish racism. This they've done
on the pages of The Globe and Mail, Canada's establishment
newspaper, which has never been fond of the left, though it has
always been fond of put-downs of the left, especially by "leftists."
So what led the three to make such a sweeping charge against the
left? Was an anti-Jewish obloquy hurled at Berger at a socialist
meeting? Has Rose been taunted by anti-Jewish slurs at a meeting
of his union local? And Ruby -- did he overhear Noam Chomksy declaiming
on a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world?
Well, not really. But the three "are being asked to choose
between [their] support for Israel and [their] credentials as leftists,"
which, it seems, is another way of saying they're taking some heat
for defending Israel's crimes.
And that's made the three a tad uncomfortable. So, they've gone
on the offensive, calling Israel's critics on the political left
"anti-Semites." It's a hackneyed ploy, and one the three
have come to late, but that hasn't lessened their ardor for the
Criticism of Israel, says the trio, "provides for no nuance,
little context, relative silence on the historic persecution of
Jews and insufficient recognition of Israel's right to protect its
citizens from deadly attacks," which seems close to saying
the Holocaust, and Israel's self-defense, permits Tel Aviv to commit
as many atrocities as it likes (and anyone who says otherwise is
"Despite Israel's functioning democracy and independent judiciary
(which frequently finds in favour of Palestinian appellants), despite
its freedom of elections, religion, speech and press and the protection
of labour, homosexual and women's rights, Israel has been cast as
one of the world's most evil nations," the aggrieved troika
This sounds like a lawyer defending a murderer by pointing to
the accused's exemplary conduct as a husband, father, and citizen.
Treating family well and giving generously to charity doesn't excuse
murder, even if you were abused as a child, anymore than Israel
being a democracy justifies assassination, war crimes and military
conquest. That Israel's multiparty elections and civil and political
liberties have no relevance to the country's conduct outside its
borders is clear, but Rose and his colleagues, like lawyers seeking
to defend a client whose misdeeds are beyond question, want to obscure
While it's clear the threesome bristle at criticism of Israel,
there is much that is murky about their accusation. The three claim
that "criticism of Israeli policies obviously does not, in
itself, constitute anti-Semitism," but go on to argue that,
"For the vast majority of Jews...Israel, Jews, Zionism and
Judaism are inextricably bound." The first statement, invariably
uttered by those who charge critics of Israel with anti-Semitism,
is at odds with the second, since if Israel, Zionism, Jews, and
Judaism are inextricably bound, then criticizing one must imply
criticism of the other. So is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic,
or not? The claimed identity between Jews and Israel, Zionism and
Judaism, is one that numberless Jews would vigorously dispute, and
for good reason -- it doesn't exist.
What's more, isn't the question irrelevant of whether Zionism
and Judaism are seen by Jews to be inseparable, since what should
really matter if we're making assertions about the motivations of
the left is whether the left, not Jews, sees the two as intimately
bound? If the left regards Israel and the Jews as separate (which
the threesome acknowledge) then how can the left's criticism of
Israel be said to be motivated by hatred of Jews? Only if the left
shared Rose et al's view that Zionism equals Judaism could the claim
of anti-Semitism be made legitimately.
And how can such a sweeping claim be made about as large and diverse
a group as the left? Isn't this like saying, all Jews are greedy,
or cunning, or...supporters of Israel?
"Israel should be held accountable, but no more accountable
than other nations, including Palestine," the three say. This
is the "Israel is being held to a higher standard" argument,
one--that in the words of those not as deft with obfuscatory language--often
takes the form of something like, "What nerve North Americans
have for criticizing Israel for ethnic cleansing. I mean, these
guys were the original ethnic cleansers. Just ask the North American
It is of course true that Israel is hardly unique in its conduct,
but that others have committed similar crimes is not justification
for one's own crimes (a fairly obvious point that should be evident
to anyone with a grade school level morality.) Rose and his colleagues
might concede the point, but just as likely might rejoin that focusing
on Israel, at the expense of other countries, evidences an ugly
anti-Semitism. By the same reasoning, those who fought Apartheid,
but said nothing of Israel's maltreatment of Palestinians, must
have been motivated by anti-Afrikaner racism.
Israel, the trio alleges, is being asked to answer for crimes
that other countries get away with scot-free. But far from being
held to a higher standard, Israel has managed to escape meaningful
censure by the international community for audacious violations
of international law, including illegal occupation, the building
of settlements on conquered territory, the commission of war crimes,
and refusal to allow refugees to return to their homes. And Israel
has been able to get away with this by virtue of the UN Security
Council veto wielded by its protector, the United States. No other
country could do the same with impunity unless (a) it was the United
States or (b) it was under Washington's aegis. No other country
has done the same with impunity.
Take, by comparison, the case of Iraq. It invades Kuwait, is bombed
repeatedly, is crippled by an embargo spanning more than a decade
that kills over one million, is subjected to illegal overflights
by US and UK warplanes, and is forced to destroy its weapons of
Israel, on the other hand, expands its borders by military conquest,
refuses to abide by international law, has (in its collection of
200 nuclear weapons) the region's largest arsenal of weapons of
mass destruction, brutally violates the human rights of Palestinians,
and faces no penalty stronger than censure by the left. Even a measure
as mild as stationing UN observers in Palestinian territory is blocked
by Israel and its US protector, and yet the trio of harriers claims
Israel is held to a higher standard.
Sadly, Rose, Berger and Ruby are practising a kind of Gresham's
Law of anti-racist analysis. Gresham, it will be recalled, argued
that bad money chases out good. Likewise, mischievous, and politically
inspired, use of "anti-Semitism" inevitably drives out
legitimate uses of the term. This is bad news for anyone genuinely
committed to ending racism, though good news for anyone trying to
carve out a space for Israel to continue its intolerable ethnic
who question Zionism are not racists
Threat from Within: Jewish Opposition to Zionism
doesn't define Jews -- it divides us
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