Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. The news media is calling it “historic.” I’d like to call it a few other things, but I’ll try to remain polite.
First, here is part of Harper’s speech, in which he addresses what he sees as the changing face of anti-Semitism:
And so we have witnessed in recent years, the mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism and the emergence of a new strain. We all know about the old anti-Semitism. It was crude and ignorant, and it led to the horrors of the death camps. Of course, in many dark corners, it is still with us.
But, in much of the western world, the old hatred has been translated into more sophisticated language for use in polite society. People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East.
As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel. On some campuses, intellectualized arguments against Israeli policies thinly mask underlying realities … Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state. … Friends, that is nothing short of sickening. But, this is the face of the new anti-Semitism. It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable to a new generation.
Now, I have some concerns about the way Israel is dealing with its Palestinian neighbours. I have criticized the state of Israel privately, and I have criticized it publicly. Many of my friends have done the same, as have a vast number of people I respect and admire.
I’ve always known that the Conservative government considered our stance to be, in some absurd, convoluted way, anti-Semitic, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard it stated explicitly.
“This is the face of the new anti-Semitism.”
So my Prime Minister thinks I’m an anti-Semite. Officially. This should make me angry, and it does. I should take offense, and I do. But mostly it just scares the hell out of me. This groups me in with all sorts of stomach-turning ugliness: Holocaust deniers. Holocaust supporters. Neo-Nazis. And me, apparently.
Ok, maybe I am a little angry.
But this isn’t personal. I don’t know the Prime Minister and he doesn’t know me, and I plan to keep it that way. I don’t care so much that he has me all wrong. What I care about is his underhanded attack on the discussion about Israeli-Palestinian relations. And how he’s making that discussion unnecessarily combative, making it difficult for those of us who are equally interested in and supportive of Jewish culture and Palestinian culture. But it’s an underhanded attack—not just on debate, and not just on democratic debate, but on democratic debate regarding a people who are oppressed.
Terrible things are being done right now, today, in the state of Israel. There is misery and poverty and fear and death, and there is, on both sides, a turning to hatred and vengeance. (There is also a commitment to peace and reconciliation, but the odds are so often against it.) But don’t just take my word for it. Israel’s settlements and colonization of occupied Palestinian land are recognized internationally as illegal. The human rights violations that are birthed by Israel’s state policy are illegal. The last time I checked, Israel had violated at least 28 UN Security Council resolutions, and upwards of 100 General Assembly resolutions (and held a record at the UN for doing so). Democracy or no, when it comes to Palestine, the state of Israel is a menace. Most of the world recognizes this.
Surely we need to be able to discuss this. And surely it does no one any good—least of all the state of Israel—not to hold Israel to account.
I can’t believe I feel obligated to say this, but suddenly I feel obligated to say this: anti-Semitism is an awful, appalling, sickening thing. But I also have to say this: we do not tolerate anti-Semitism for the same reason we should not tolerate any racism directed against anyone. No one—no race, no group, no community, no person—is inferior to any other. No one has the right to oppress anyone else. All racism is intolerable.
I also have to say this—and this is very important, so please listen carefully—criticism of a state is in no way an expression of racism against its people. It just isn’t, plain and simple.
And you, Prime Minister Harper, you cannot shut down criticism and debate through underhanded means. You cannot shut down our voice and our concern, our right and our need to speak out, by calling it something it is not, by calling us something we are not. You cannot be a bully. It will not work.
A critical voice of opposition and dissent is too important, too urgent.