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Commentary Last Updated: Sep 6th, 2006 - 01:21:24

Criticism of Israel Is not 'anti-Semitism'
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 6, 2006, 01:19

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Results of a 10-month inquiry into anti-Semitism in Britain will be delivered by three members of Parliament to Downing Street on Thursday. And according to the Guardian, the report is likely to criticize calls to boycott academics working in Israel and blast "left-wing activists as well as Muslim extremists for using criticism of Israel as 'a pretext' for spreading hatred against British Jews."

What does this mean? Israel must be handed immunity from censure in case British Jews suffer from the fallout? And if so, why isn't the same rule applied to Muslim countries? Could we say that critiques of Iran, Syria or Palestine should be forbidden because they may trigger Islam-phobia in European capitals?

Do the authors and bearers of the report, Denis MacShane, Iain Duncan-Smith and Chris Huhne, seriously believe those calling for an academic boycott are raging anti-Semites?

Couldn't a more likely explanation dwell in the fact that Israel has just wantonly smashed huge swathes of Lebanon into smithereens, dropped thousands of cluster bombs into heavily populated areas, is currently occupying southern Lebanon and operating an air/sea blockade?

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN have accused Israel of violating humanitarian law. Does this imply that those bodies are anti-Semitic too?

Israel is certainly concerned. Its chief legal advisor has warned officials not to use inflammatory language related to the conflict because such statements could be used to indict them abroad as "war criminals."

Russia has just pulled the plug on its participation in a technology fair, scheduled to be held in a Tel Aviv hotel, out of solidarity with Lebanon. No doubt the trio of British MPs would consider this move to be "anti-Semitic."

Anti-Semitism, like any form of bigotry or racism, is abhorrent. But if Jews, whether in Britain or elsewhere, are suffering from a backlash related to the policies of the Jewish state, then instead of condemning left-wing activists or Muslims wouldn't it have been more effective for the parliamentarians to urge Israel to change its policies?

In recent weeks Israel has been responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 Lebanese civilians and hundreds of Palestinians. Are we supposed to stay silent just in case some nut scrawls anti-Semitic graffiti on a London wall?

Rather than stick faux anti-Semitic labels on individuals, who speak out against Israeli crimes, MacShane, Duncan-Smith and Huhne would be better employed persuading Israel to behave as though it is a member of the international community and, thus, subject to its laws and conventions.

Unfortunately, this isn't going to happen. Denis MacShane, a former minister of state for Europe, is an avid backer of the Bush/Blair foreign policy and an outspoken supporter of the Jewish state.

He once complained: "What is it in the DNA of the British establishment that blames the Jews, first, last and always?" Ah! So it seems not only are activists and Muslims "anti-Semitic" so, apparently, is the British upper crust.

Former leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan-Smith, who says Israel is the most vulnerable nation on the planet, recently wrote a screed complaining there has been little backing among the British public for Israel's stand against the "Hezbollah terrorists."

He writes: "I have always supported Israel because I admire its democracy and the constitutional freedoms enjoyed by its citizens."

Duncan-Smith further believes that "all the world's democracies should have a natural solidarity with Israel," but laments "there has been little sign of such solidarity in recent days or in recent years." Must we, therefore, believe that all the world's democracies are essentially anti-Semitic?

Who is he kidding? How can Israel be the most vulnerable nation on the planet when it has a citizen army, "made in the USA" state-of-the-art weapons and planes and is awash in nuclear armaments? Not only that, it is nurtured and protected by the superpower.

I'd love to know Duncan-Smith's definition of "vulnerable" and wonder how Lebanon fits into the great scheme of vulnerabilities when it was occupied continuously by Israel for 18 years and doesn't have a functioning army. Thank goodness he never made prime minister else we'd be saying, "Come back Blair, all is forgiven."

On the other hand, Liberal-Democrat Chris Huhne, who supports a Palestinian state and was always against the war with Iraq, lends a certain amount of leftist credibility to the report's findings, and that's probably why he was brought on board.

We won't know the report's exact findings until later this week but there's one thing for sure. Among the leftist activists complained about there won't be any Israelis, whereas, in fact, Israelis are some of the most vehement critics of Israel.

Unlike Duncan-Smith who apparently admires Israel's democratic credentials, Israeli journalist Amira Hass, whose mother was a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, says Israel is an apartheid state with privileges reserved mostly for Jews.

"The Palestinians, as a people, are divided into subgroups, something which is reminiscent of South Africa under apartheid rule," she says. In this case, is Amira Hass guilty of making British Jews the target of anti-Semites too?

What about Ha'aretz reporter and columnist Gideon Levy, an Israeli whose heartfelt articles are headed with such titles as the "IDF's war on children" and "The crime of looking a bit too Arab"? Does he share responsibility for the desecration of Jewish tombstones abroad?

When Levy blames Israel for demonizing and dehumanizing the Palestinians, MacShane, Duncan-Smith and Huhne should listen and ask themselves who is truly at the receiving end of virulent racism.

The Palestinians forced to subsist within open prisons faced with daily humiliation at the hands of foreign soldiers barely out of their teens? Or should we reserve our tears for poor Israeli academics, shunned by their British peers? Boo Hoo!

Messrs. MacShane, Duncan-Smith and Huhne should get their priorities right and if the British prime minister had any sense he would throw their report in the round file where it belongs. Instead he will probably use it as yet more ammunition for his deluded "evil ideology" drive.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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