By: Jonathan S. Tobin Jewish Pres Wednesday, March 7, 2007
In case you missed it, college campuses in the United States, Canada and Britain recently hosted an “Israeli Apartheid Week,” during which prominent scholars and artists all got together to agree about the State of Israel’s beastliness.
That such nonsense is presented at places like Hunter College in New York City, the University of Toronto, and even at supposedly more illustrious venues such as Oxford and Cambridge is hardly shocking.
What is curious is the unprecedented growth of Israel-bashing in recent years – not merely at universities – and the increasing role of Jewish opponents of Israel in these events.
The inversion of the truth in which the one small Jewish state is now portrayed as the mighty oppressor of the vast Arab and Muslim worlds is a timely topic as Jews have just celebrated Purim, the holiday commemorating the biblical salvation of the Jews of Persia who were collectively subjected to a sentence of death. The evil plan was foiled, of course, and since then the festival has been celebrated with general silliness, carnivals as well as purimshpiels, or satiric plays or writings that turn the world upside down and inside out.
But while purimshpiels have a short shelf life, the less innocent falsehoods of the anti-Israel crowd are year-round canards whose growing power ought to concern everyone.
The “Israeli apartheid” charge, popularized in this country by former president Jimmy Carter’s appalling book, is, of course, an insult to the sufferings of black South Africans and so divorced from the truth as to render any debate about it to be mere absurdity.
Israel is, after all, a democratic country whose Arab minority has the right to vote and is represented in its parliament and even boasts a member of the current Cabinet. For the last decade-and-a-half and as part of the policy of several governments, it has been trying to divest itself of rule over parts of the disputed territories it acquired in a war of self-defense in 1967.
Palestinians have had autonomy since the Olso Accords of 1993 and have ruled Gaza as an independent state in all but name since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005 removed not only a military presence, but every trace of Jewish life in the area.
The Palestinians have turned down peace offers dating back to before the Jews regained sovereignty over part of their historic homeland in 1948. In 2000, their leader Arafat memorably declined an offer of statehood, control of all of the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem and answered with a terror war of attrition.
Since then, the Palestinians have enjoyed free elections to determine their own government and chose Hamas, a terror group committed to war against the Jews without end.
Thus, even those Jews who believe that ridding Israel of all of the territories is a good idea in and of itself, and those who support the peace process as a matter of course, understand that the persistence of the conflict simply is not the Jewish state’s fault.
And yet, despite these objective circumstances, the notion persists of Israel as aggressor and the Palestinians as victims. This – despite the fact that it is the latter who continue to reject peace and persist in pursuing war – isn’t merely the conventional wisdom in the fever swamps of the far left and right, it is the conventional wisdom of enlightened liberal opinion in Europe and among American academics. Sadly, this latter category includes many Jews.
Thus, in this bizarre yet increasingly fashionable inversion of the truth, the Jews get to reverse the verdict of Purim itself.
In the Book of Esther, it was not an outside power or even the direct intervention of Providence that saves the day but the Jews themselves, in the person of the valiant Esther, the wise Mordechai and the community as a whole, which rises up to defend itself and slay the murderers.
But today, it is often Jews who provide a fig leaf of respectability for such inane events as the “Israeli apartheid” extravaganzas.
Let’s also specify that we are not discussing mere criticism of Israel’s government or policies. Much about the State of Israel is itself something of an ongoing purimshpiel. Its governments are often run by men and women of less than sterling character. And the practices of Israel’s leviathan official bureaucracy are often so wrongheaded and arrogant as to make any American state’s department of motor vehicles blush.
But the “apartheid” purimshpiels are not about Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s reportedly shaky ethics and even more questionable judgment about political and military affairs or those of his even less able colleagues at the Cabinet table.
What this increasingly vitriolic campaign of deligitimization is about is the right of Israel’s people to elect any leaders, be they wise or foolish, and to defend themselves against terror and the threat of annihilation from both Palestinian gunmen and Iranian nuclear mullahs.
Those Jews who play a part in this campaign – be they feckless American intellectuals or extremist Israelis with queasy consciences about the messy business of conducting a long-term war against terrorists – need to understand that the undermining of Israel is not a game in which they may dabble without a cost that will ultimately be paid in innocent Jewish blood.
For the rest of us, including those who think that speaking up for Israel is simply too unpopular a cause to engage in, we must remember that the “apartheid” lies must be fought with the same sort of vigorous in-your-face advocacy that the anti-Zionists have adopted, not mealy-mouthed avowals of good intentions.
In another Purim-like twist, it has become the fashion for Israel-haters and anti-Semites to claim that they are being suppressed, even as their voices grow louder. In response, we must defend the right of free speech for all while specifying that those who oppose the right of every people to self-determination and self-defense except the Jews are simply racists and richly deserve to be labeled and ostracized as such.
The lesson of Purim is that no one, no matter how seemingly secure his or her life may be, can rest easy while hatred rules. In this spirit must every decent person, Jewish or non-Jewish, respond to the anti-Zionist purimshpiel. As it happened with Haman, we must not let these liars get away with murder.
Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. He can be contacted at email@example.com.