The State that Cried Anti-Semitism  
by Samah Sabawi
November 28, 2003

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Living in Canada, seeping of Tim Hortons coffee, Maple syrup and political correctness, we’ve raised our children to oppose every form of racism. So, when we traveled to Gaza through Rafah, much work was needed to wipe away the bitterness they felt when they saw Palestinian elders treated like they were less worthy than the dirt stuck on the young Israeli tormentors’ boots, but we patiently explained that the soldiers were only doing their job, and that they followed the orders of a terrible regime. (I have to admit it will be a challenge to explain why the Jewish settlers harass the Palestinians and take over their land, but we’ll worry about that later). Overall, I thought we were doing well channeling our criticism away from the people of Israel and directing it at the Israeli government and its policies. Yet, according to some Israelis we are guilty of a heinous racist crime. By criticizing Israel, we have been engaging in anti-Semitism. Imagine that!

Apparently a crack is created in the definition of anti-Semitism large enough to conveniently include two more groups of people; the first are the Palestinians. It seems that the Palestinians lack a good reason for not liking the young Israeli ambassadors who show up in tanks and terrorize their neighborhoods, so they’ve decided to hate them just because they are Jewish, thereby they have become anti-Semitic. This claim is preposterous for many reasons, the least of which is because the Palestinians themselves are Semites. But more so because of the million other reasons the Palestinians have to dislike and even hate Israel. I’ve heard Palestinians say, “We will fight them because they destroyed our homes,” or “we will fight them because they stole our land”, or “we will fight them because they killed our loved ones”, but I’ve never heard any Palestinian say “We will fight them because they are Jewish”.

The second group of people shoved under the anti-Semitic banner is made up of those who have the moral courage to point out the atrocities committed by the Israeli Government. Thereby, the label “anti-Semitic” has at times been manipulated to strengthen the tyranny of the Israeli right and to silence those who voice their discontent.

There was a time when the power of the ‘anti-Semitic’ label worked like a charm. Many critics of Israel were silenced and intimidated as they took the accusation seriously – and make no mistake, it is a serious issue we are dealing with. But with time and I dare say over use, people have learned to shrug off the anti-Semitic label and carry on with their business as usual.

A short while ago I helped put on a workshop about the plight of the Palestinian people under occupation at a University Campus. At the end of the workshop, a man asked “How can one support justice for the Palestinians without being branded anti-Semitic?” Before I had a chance to respond, a woman stood up and said “So what if they call you anti-Semitic. The first time it may feel bad, but hey, trust me, you’ll get used to it. We all have!”

That was the first time I realized how much damage Israel has caused the Jewish people in the long run. What if we all get used to being branded ant-Semitic? After all, we constantly hear about good people we trust who are wrongly labeled anti-Semites? What if the day should come when we stop believing the charge of anti-Semitism even when it is real? How does this serve the interest of the global Jewish community? There is no question that it does not.

In my life, I’ve witnessed racism against the Jews only once: I was in elementary school and I was charmed by a girl with a smile as bright as sunshine. I knew the first time I saw her I wanted to be her friend. My white Anglo teacher who was aware that I was a Palestinian took me aside and said “Don’t talk to her – she is Jewish”. I was disgusted by his intrusion and his un-welcomed advice. That teacher may not have realized his crime. Maybe he believed the Israeli propaganda and he thought that because I am a Palestinian, I am naturally inclined to hate all Jews. Whatever his intention was, his action was despicable. He did not look at the girl as a person, was not charmed by her smile, was not impressed by her gift to make those around her feel at home – No, he only saw her Jewishness and he judged her solely based on that. That is the core of racism, bigotry and hate. That is anti-Semitism. That is a sentiment worth fighting against. Not the anti-Semitic witch-hunt initiated by the likes of Daniel Pipes that serves no other purpose but to silence any criticism of Israel.

The definition of anti-Semitism has been stretched so far it has become murky and vague. According to Reuters, the European Union’s racism watchdog EUMC was forced to shelve a report on anti-Semitism because its directors found the report to be biased and inflammatory as it focused on Muslim and pro-Palestinian perpetrators. In fact, Beate Winkler, the director of EMUC noted that the report’s definition of anti-Semitism was “complicated”.

So, we may never know with certainty if there is a rise in anti-Semitism, and we will never know the scope of anti-Semitic incidents. We are unable to trust the statistics because they include along with the skinheads and the bigots respectable human rights groups, scholars, alleged “self-hating” Jews and peace activists who dared to criticize Israel.

That is not to say that there is no anti-Semitism, racist behavior unfortunately exists and is rampant not only against the Jews, but also against many ethnic minorities. But a clear line has to be drawn between abhorrent racist anti-Semitism and political criticism of Israel. Just look at some of the many organizations whose representatives were conveniently accused of anti-Semitism at one time or another: the CBC, the UN, Human Rights Watch, the BBC, Doctors without Borders and Amnesty International.

This spectacle reminds me of the story about the boy who cried wolf. Israel must consider the dangerous consequences of including legitimate criticism under the anti-Semitic banner as the day may come when the world will not react with outrage over alleged anti-Semitism because there had been far too many false alarms.

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian living in Ottawa, Canada.



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