Robert Fisk misrepresents Stephen Harper’s views on antisemitism (Part 1)

One of the most frequently heard complaints by pro-Palestinian activists (and journalists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause) is that Zionists cynically accuse them of antisemitism for merely engaging in criticism of Israel.  They are of course attacking a straw man. In fact, we know of very few if any serious Zionist activists who have ever levelled such a charge.  

Rather, per the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, the word antisemitism is accurately used in describing those who deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination, draw comparisons of Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, hold Jews collectively responsible for actions of Israel or apply double standards by requiring of it a behavior not demanded of any other democratic nation.

Of course, the mere dearth of evidence substantiating the claim that pro-Israeli commentators or public figures accuse mere critics of Israeli policy of antisemitism isn’t an obstacle for those within the radical left intent on impugning the integrity of their opponents.

Robert Fisk, The Independent’saward-winning” Middle East correspondent, provides the latest example of this rhetorical dishonesty in his latest column (May 17th), which takes Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to task for his fierce opposition to anti-Israel boycotts.

Fisk makes the following claim:

Harper, who would surely be elected to the Knesset if he were an Israeli, went so far as to suggest on a recent visit to Jerusalem that merely to criticise Israel can be a form of anti-Semitism.

Fisk is almost certainly referring to Harper’s speech in front of the Knesset in January. However, a transcript of Harper’s address contradicts Fisk’s claim that he suggested mere criticism of Israel can be a form of antisemitism. Indeed, Harper was quite clear in this respect.

Harper said the following:

“No state is beyond legitimate questioning or criticism.

“Of course, criticism of Israeli government policy is not in and of itself necessarily anti-semitic.

Harper was also quite clear about what he believes arguably constitutes “the new antisemitism” relating to Israel.

We all know about the old anti-Semitism.

“It was crude and ignorant, and it led to the horrors of the death camps.

“Of course, in many dark corners, it is still with us.

“But, in much of the western world, the old hatred has been translated into more sophisticated language for use in polite society.

“People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East.

“As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel.

“On some campuses, intellectualized arguments against Israeli policies thinly mask the underlying realities, such as the shunning of Israeli academics and the harassment of Jewish students.

“Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state.

“Think about that.

“Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: 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, that is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism.

“It is nothing short of sickening.

“But this is the face of the new anti-Semitism.

“It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable for a new generation.

“…what else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring – or excusing – the violence and oppression all around it?

“What else can we call it when, Israel is routinely targeted at the United Nations, and when Israel remains the only country to be the subject of a permanent agenda item at the regular sessions of its human rights council?

It isn’t a complicated distinction.  

Criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

However, when criticism of the only Jewish state in the world is obsessive, delegitimizing, myopic and compromised by toxic stereotypes and egregious double standards, the line is crossed from legitimate debate to scapegoating, demonization and bigotry. 

Contrary to Robert Fisk’s claim, Stephen Harper clearly understands this important moral distinction.

(In our next post, we’ll examine another erroneous claim in Fisk’s column.)

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