‘When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews,” Martin Luther King once said. “In short, it is antisemitism.”
But what about criticizing Israel? More specifically, what about singling out the Jewish state as a perpetrator of war crimes or as an egregious violator of human rights? Is this also antisemitism? Or is the claim of antisemitism merely a knee-jerk reaction by supporters of Israel, an instinctive defense that seeks to dismiss even legitimate criticism of Israeli policy?
To be sure, Israel isn’t immune from committing policy blunders and tactical errors. For example, when an Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb on an apartment building in Gaza last July, killing 10 Palestinian children in addition to a Hamas terrorist leader, it was clearly a case of gross negligence. For this mishap, Israel was deservedly rebuked.
But on the other hand, name one country that has figured out a clean, surgical response to terrorism — not France in Algeria, not Russia in Chechnya, not even the United States in Afghanistan. And certainly not Jordan or Egypt, Israel’s so-called moderate Arab neighbors.
Still, Israel — and Israel alone — is held to a different standard. It matters little that former prime minister Ehud Barak agreed to a Palestinian state on the vast majority of the territory that Yasser Arafat claims or that the Palestinians responded to Barak’s far-reaching concessions with a calculated campaign of violence. When it comes to Israel, those trying to thwart acts of terrorism are condemned in the same breath as those orchestrating acts of terrorism — if, indeed, the latter are condemned at all.
Let’s consider some examples of the double standard. The campaign for divestment from Israel now being conducted at several universities, the University of California at Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University among them, has as its main goal “to pressure Israel to respect the human rights of the Palestinians.”
Not surprisingly, blowing up Israelis on buses and in pizzerias didn’t make the organizers’ list of human rights concerns — according to the organizers, “It’s not our place to dictate the tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation.” Nor is there a divestment campaign planned anytime soon against Saudi Arabia, which carries out public beheadings, bans Christianity and forbids women to drive and vote. Egypt, whose security forces regularly crack down on political dissenters and imprison “suspected” homosexuals, has also escaped the activists’ attention.
A similar means of protest against the Jewish state is the boycott of Israeli academics by their European counterparts, a move that recently gathered momentum when the boards of several French universities joined their comrades up in arms across the English Channel. State-sponsored terrorism, state-sanctioned antisemitism, brutal totalitarianism — curiously, none of these scourges have galvanized European academics. But Israel’s conduct in the war against terrorism? Well, defenders of human rights have to start somewhere, right?
When Oren Yiftachel, a left-wing Israeli academic at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, submitted a research paper last summer co-authored with a Palestinian to the respected British journal Political Geography, it was returned to him unopened with a note that the journal wouldn’t accept a submission from Israel.
When Yiftachel persisted, the editors agreed to consider the paper, but only if he inserted a comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa — incidentally, Yiftachel favors an Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and Gaza. Did the editors also require the Palestinian co-author to insert a comparison, say, between the Palestinian Authority and the Taliban? Don’t be silly.
Further evidence of a double standard can readily be found at the United Nations, which devotes an inordinate amount of time to judging and, inevitably, censuring Israel. Last April, a rogues’ gallery of the world’s most oppressive regimes — you may know it by its formal name, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights — passed a resolution condemning Israel for everything from “offenses against humanity” to travel restrictions imposed on “His Excellency President Arafat.”
That the likes of Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Syria would disregard any pretense of fairness or objectivity is hardly unexpected. But what about Belgium, Sweden and France, which shamefully voted for a resolution so blatantly one-sided that it fails to mention even once the word “terrorism?”
This double standard reveals a systematic campaign to condemn Israel not only for alleged transgressions that are far less egregious than those perpetrated routinely by non-democracies, but also for conduct that other democracies engage in but for which they aren’t criticized, such as “assassinating” terrorist leaders. And when people consciously deploy a discriminatory standard exclusively against the Jewish state, make no mistake — they mean Jews.
That, by definition, is antisemitism.
Bob Horenstein is community relations director of the Jewish Federation of Portland, Ore.