It's an effective ploy. No one
wants to be branded a racist, least of all people committed to
fighting racism, and yet it is the most ardent anti-racists who risk
being called racist themselves.
Incensed by Israel's condemning
non-Jews to second-class citizenship, burning with indignation at
Israel welcoming any Jew to the country while denying Palestinians
driven from their homes the right of return, they proclaim Zionism
equal to racism. For that, they are branded extremists, racists,
anti-Semites. Not a pleasant stigma to bear for someone implacably
opposed to racism.
You wouldn't call a person who
criticizes Ireland a Catholic-hater. Criticizing the policies of a
predominantly Catholic country does not amount to anti-Catholic
sentiment. Nor would you denounce anyone who questions Germany's
immigration and citizenship policies a hater of Germans. So why
stigmatize those who criticize Israel as Jew-haters?
Because as a way of deflecting
criticism and warning off would-be critics, it works. Few are
willing to bear the shame of being branded an anti-Semite. And yet
people who abhor Nazism, deplore anti-Semitism, condemn
Holocaust-denial, and thoroughly oppose all forms of racism, no
matter what the stripe, are afraid to get caught in the web cast by
Israel's supporters that puts any critic of Israel in the same class
as neo-Nazis. The unwritten rule is plain: Those who question Israel
will be pilloried as the vilest racist.
North American press coverage of
the UN anti-racism conference in Durban is almost universally agreed
that Israel's critics are anti-Semites. Canada's The National Post
uses "anti-Israeli" and "anti-Jew" interchangeably, as if the two
The Toronto Globe and Mail, less
overt in equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, still
subtly maps one onto the other. An August 31st report says that "an
anti-Semitic tone has been evident throughout the (Durban)
meetings." The corroboration? Arab activists "interrupted a press
conference by Jewish delegates with shouting and singing," and there
was tension between Jewish and Arab demonstrators. Hardly
Canada's Foreign Minister John
Manley, who was scheduled to lead Canada's delegation to the
conference but backed away at the 11th hour, dismissed the equating
of Zionism with racism as "extremist" and said the conference should
use more moderate language, in keeping with what "the international
community" could accept. Only Israel, the US, and Canada have
boycotted the conference, refusing to send high-level delegations.
Apparently this triad now constitutes the "international community."
Discovering their deploring of
Israeli racism can make them social outcasts, many committed North
American anti-racists back away, afraid to utter the truth. They
But the truth remains. If Zionism
means driving Palestinians from their homes to make way for Jewish
settlements, if it means Palestinians must be denied their right of
return lest the ethnic character of Israel change, if it means that
Israeli Arabs must forever be relegated to second-class citizenship,
then Zionism is racism.
Nothing can change the truth. Not
name calling. Not the bully tactics of Israel's defenders. Not
intimidation. And not an uncritical media that readily accepts the
easy and simple-minded formula that criticism of Israel amounts to
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.