EDITORIAL: From the Sept./Oct. 2009, issue
The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, made up of MPs from various parties, was convened this summer, arising from the earlier London Conference to Combat Anti-Semitism. In its introductory statement inviting submissions from interested parties, it described anti-Semitism as being “widely regarded as at its worst level since the end of the Second World War.”
This strikes us as exaggerated. To oppose anti-Semitism, and racism and bigotry of any kind, is an urgent task. But we have doubts about some of the CPCCA’s preliminary statements, and what seem to be its underlying assumptions and objectives.
First, it is not clear why such an investigation should be restricted to anti-Semitism. Other forms of racism, in particular anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia, are at least equally prevalent in Europe and North America, and contribute to many violations of human rights, especially in the course of the “war on terror.” In Canada, this can be seen in the shameful treatment meted out to Canadians of Arab or Muslim background, as discussed above.
Further, in spite of its disavowals, the CPCCA tends to conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel and Zionism. It refers to the “new antisemitism” as being “directed against the State of Israel, such that anti-Zionism is being used as a cover for antisemitism.” This is a sweeping statement. While anti-Semitism may sometimes be expressed as anti-Zionism, it should be permissible to criticize Zionism in the same way as any other ideology and movement. Indeed, there is a long history of Jewish criticism of Zionism, from various viewpoints, on the part of diverse groupings and individuals.
The CPCCA states baldly that “calls for the destruction of the State of Israel are inherently antisemitic.” It also states that the “new antisemitism” is exemplified by calls for “the destruction of the State of Israel and its inhabitants.” This conflates two completely different concepts. We would certainly be opposed to the violent destruction of the State of Israel and of Israel as a society, and the expulsion of its inhabitants. But we need not oppose, at least in principle, the political transformation of the State of Israel into a different kind of entity, such as a binational state.
The submission of Independent Jewish Voices (Aug. 25) to the CPCCA put it well: “To be critical of Israeli policies or even to challenge the legitimacy of the existence of a Jewish state is not equivalent to calling for the physical destruction of the State, or advocating genocide against Israeli citizens.”
The submission by the United Jewish People’s Order (Aug. 24) also put it well: “We feel that our sensitivity to the presence of anti-Semitism justifies our position that classifying criticism of Israeli government policies, by both Jews and non-Jews, as anti-Semitism is meant only as an attempt to shut down discourse and debate concerning Israel.”
The CPCCA disclaims any intention to place a “chill” on criticism of Israel by stating that “dissent and opposition to individual actions of the Israel government are both permitted and encouraged.” But this is a weak disclaimer. It is not only “individual actions” which should be open to criticism, but, in the case of Israel and other states, basic institutions and policies, many of which date to the beginnings of the state.
The fight against racism is an urgent one, and can only be undertaken by opposing all forms of racism and bigotry, including (but not limited to) anti-Semitism, and by rejecting attempts to link the fight against anti-Semitism to virtually uncritical support of the State of Israel.