Tuesday, January 26, 2010

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ANTI-SEMITISM & ANTI-ISRAELISM



From Crete with hate

The Etz Hayim Synagogue on Crete was struck by arsonists on January 5 and again - more devastatingly- on January 16. Over the weekend, Greek police arrested four men described as bouncers and waiters for perpetrating the attacks, saying they were motivated by a dislike of Jews.

Attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions are up throughout Europe, attributable, say experts, to fury by extremist rightists, leftists and Muslims over last year's war against Hamas in Gaza.

As the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism - which comprises Israeli government offices, the Jewish Agency and Diaspora organizations - reported, the uptick in attacks reflects a further blurring of boundaries between Israel, Zionism and Judaism.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant cited Etz Hayim's director, listed elsewhere as Nikolas Stavroulakis, as saying the attackers had not done their homework: The synagogue is a multi-faith institution which includes Muslim and Christian members and "many of the Jews who worship there are opposed to Israel's settler program and frequent incursions into Gaza."

Stavroulakis has devoted himself to memorializing Jewish life on the island, which dates back to biblical days. Today about 10 Jews live there. Yet Stavroulakis's comments reveal a certain naiveté - as if dissociating from Israeli policies, or embracing non-Zionist, even anti-Zionist positions, would inoculate a Jewish person or institution against anti-Semitic battering.

WITH President Shimon Peres scheduled to address the German parliament Wednesday for International Holocaust Memorial Day, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu concurrently in Poland to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, this is a good time to consider the distinctions between those who revile Jews; those who oppose the right of Jews to self-determination by denying Jewish peoplehood; and those who oppose particular Israeli policies.

In the West, vulgar Jew-hatred and Holocaust-denial meet with strong censure in the public square. No reputable voices would condone attacks on synagogues or holding Jews to standards gentiles are not expected to meet.

On the other hand, urbane anti-Israelism is all-too often treated as justifiable - even chic. While some of Israel's foes in academia, diplomacy and the punditocracy put their cards on the table, others hypocritically hide behind abstract assertions of support for Israel's right to exist and to self-defense based on preposterously impractical criteria. Thus anti-Israelism flirts with anti-Semitism when the Jewish state is held to a yardstick no other country is expected to meet on the grounds that "after all, you call yourselves the 'chosen people.'"

No one questions whether right-wing louts who burn Jewish houses of worship, beat up people who "look Jewish" or desecrate Holocaust memorials are anti-Semites. But those who reject the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, or who deny that Jews are a people, engage in a more subtle form of contempt. That some practitioners of anti-Israelism are themselves of Jewish ancestry matters not a whit. Anti-Israelism is further characterized by calls to boycott the Jewish state (aping the Arab League-instigated embargo which began decades before the first West Bank settlement was erected) and by the cynical manipulation of symbols and semantics - such as "apartheid," "genocide," and "Nazi" - to delegitimize Israel.

In these endeavors, ostensibly progressives are the strange bedfellows of fanatics and reactionaries - Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.

WHAT ABOUT those who simply object to particular Israeli policies?

The late US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said famously that he could not define "hard-core pornography" but "I know it when I see it."

Similarly, Israelis have a knack for distinguishing between genuine friends who earnestly oppose this or that policy, and others who profess closeness yet whose counsel, if heeded, would place the country in mortal jeopardy.

Israelis engage in strident debates over settlements, religion and socioeconomic issues. We hardly expect outsiders - whether Jewish or not - to unthinkingly embrace government policies as a sign of fidelity. To suggest otherwise is simply disingenuous.

FROM the first pogrom in 38 BCE to the liberation of Auschwitz, haters have as a rule been candid about their motivations. In the 21st century, however, anti-Israelism has given our foes a pretext to obfuscate their motives. But we Israelis see them for what they are - morally no better than the hooligans who set the Etz Haim Synagogue ablaze.

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