Monday, January 20, 2014

Harper's New Anti-Semitism

Few things make me angrier than the propensity of the far right to twist things.  In today's speech to Israel's Knesset, we find this lovely little gem:

"A state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history," he said. 
"That is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening." 
Harper allowed that criticism of Israeli government policy isn't in and of itself "necessarily anti-Semitic."
Of course, Harper thinks he is being magnanimous in allowing that "criticizing Israeli government policy is not "necessarily anti-Semitic".  His words are, of course, disingenuous.  On one hand he castigates those who criticize Israel's policies of settlements and the wall as being unreasonable, and yet fails to see the similarities between these policies and other past racial segregation experiments?

Both Canada and Israel share "a sincere hope" that the Palestinian people and their leaders will choose a democratic Palestinian state that lives peacefully alongside Israel, Harper said. 
"Sadly, we have yet to reach that point. But, when that day comes, and come it must, I can tell you that Israel may be the first to welcome a sovereign Palestinian state, but Canada will be right behind you."
The problem here is that it creates false presuppositions about the form and structure of a possible Palestinian state.  We don't know if that is the kind of state that is desired by the Palestinians, and what happened to their right to self-determination?  Can we ignore the stranglehold that Israel continues to hold on the Palestinians and their ability to develop a coherent economy or government? This is no small issue, and one not to be ignored.

Fortunately, someone had the gumption to get up and leave during Harper's speech to the Knesset, and much of what he has to say should be profoundly troubling to anyone who is not invested directly in Israel.
Tibi said Harper didn't mention the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Canada officially opposes Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967, although Harper has refrained from criticizing Israel for its policy. 
"When you are controlling, discriminating, confiscating, occupying lands from one side and putting them in the corner without any basic rights, you are by this way ruling and committing apartheid in the occupied Palestinian Territories," Tibi said. 
"If he is talking about freedom, why he is totally neglecting the absence of freedom of the Palestinians under occupation? It is a double-standard. These words are moral double-standard from the prime minister of Canada." 
Tibi also took issue with the idea that debating boycotts of Israeli products and using the term apartheid is anti-Semitic. 
"Do you accept at any case to be under occupation and then somebody will tell you that it is absolute democracy? It is not. We are living day by day here. Palestinians under occupation are living day by day, and saying that the occupied territory is apartheid has no relation at any case with anti-Semitism," he said. 
"What's the connection? If you are criticizing the policy of the state of Israel, immediately you are categorized as anti-Semitic. This is a twisted logic of Mr. Harper."
Mr. Tibi's comments cut to the heart of the problem with Harper's uncritical approach to Israel.  Few things in that part of the world can be cast in black-and-white terms.  The conflicts in Israel and the surrounding region are centuries old, and no party to the dispute can lay claim to being beyond reproach.

I don't know what the answers are to the seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East, but blindly supporting one state over another is hardly helpful.  There is no rightness in lobbing rockets into Israeli territory, but it seems to me that there is no rightness in building segregation walls either.  As the old saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right.

Mr. Harper should tread very carefully in his declarations of just what value judgments should be applied to criticism of any of the parties in ongoing dispute that is in the Middle East.

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