Shame, Mr Rudd!

Shame, Mr Rudd!  You know better
than to label Iran as Anti-Semitic!
by Father Dave

On Friday, April 24, Australia Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, addressed the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, and referring to the recent speech given by Iranian President Admadinejad at the Durban conference on racism, said:

“The inflammatory remarks of President Admadinejad of Iran at the conference are unacceptable and underlined the Australian Government’s decision not to attend the conference.  The Australian Government condemns the continued campaign of anti-Semitism on behalf of the government of Iran.”

That statement really upset me, and it leaves me in a very uncomfortable position where I find myself critical of Kevin Rudd – a man I deeply admire – for his attack on Mahmoud Admadinejad – a man I seriously dislike.   Even so, to accuse the government of Iran of anti-Semitism is out of line, especially if our Kevin was basing his accusation on Admadinejad’s speech at the Durban conference.

Anti-Semitism, as I understand it, is a form of racism that discriminates against Jewish people (and perhaps against all Arabic people, as they are all technically ‘Semitic’ ) purely on the basis of their ethnicity.  It is a form of racial prejudice.  Admadinejad’s vitriolic speech was targetting governments and the ideologies that support them.  Whether his criticisms were valid or invalid is open to question, but there was nothing racist in his remarks so far as I could see.

Did the Aussie Prime Minister actually read the speech?  I don’ think he did.

Mr Rudd spoke of the way Admadinejad ‘singled out’ Israel for criticism when, from my reading of the speech, the Iranian President reserved his most trenchant invective for the USA.  At any rate, even if we dislike Admadinejad and his speech and and his government, the question of whether or not he was being anti-Semitic is still another question altogether and should be treated as such!

The problem is that it has become politically fashionable to equate any criticism of the government of Israel with anti-Semitism, and this serves as a convenient mechanism for deflecting valid international concern about the way the Israeli government treats its Palestinian population, and Mr Rudd should know better than to buy into this!

Admadinejad’s thrust was that the ideology of Zionism, which drives so much of Israeli politics, is itself a form of racism, and that statement is hard to dispute.  The United Nations General Assembly reached the same conclusion on November 10th, 1975, stating, in resolution 3379 “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

That the current Israeli government discriminates between people on the basis of race is no secret.  More water in Israel is given to Jewish citizens than to Palestinians, jobs are more plentiful for Jewish citizens than for Israeli Palestinians, Jewish citizens are not subjected to torture while in prison, only Israeli citizens and Jewish settlers are allowed freedom to travel throughout the Holy Land, non-Jewish Israelis cannot buy or lease land in Israel, etc., etc., etc.

The Zionist ideology of the current Israeli government is similar, in many ways, to the Apartheid ideology that was until recently the scourge of South Africa. To point this out is to do no more than did former US President Jimmy Carter did in his book of November 2006, “Palestine, Peace not Apartheid”.

Of course, former President Carter has also been accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’, but the truth is that Carter’s critique pales in comparison with the  condemnation that the Israeli government has received from any number of Jewish commentators and academics from around the world – people who surely can’t be accused of ‘anti-Semitism’.

Professor Ilan Pappe, a Jew, and chair of the Department of History at the University of Exeter, wrote on April 22nd 2009.

“Israel’s policy – in the last 60 years – stems from a racist hegemonic ideology called Zionism, shielded by endless layers of righteous fury.  Despite the predictable accusation of anti-Semitism and what have you, it is time to associate in the public mind the Zionist ideology with the by now familiar historical landmarks of the land: the ethnic cleansing of 1948, the oppression of the Palestinians in Israel during the days of the military rule, the brutal occupation of the West Bank and now the massacre of Gaza.  Very much as the Apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology – in its most consensual and simplistic variety – allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanize the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them.”

Similarly, British MP Sir Gerald Kaufman, whose parents escaped the holocaust by fleeing to England but whose grandmother was murdered by the Nazis, said in January 2009,

“My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli Government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.  The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count.”

Even more inflammatory were the recent comments made by Professor Emeritus Richard Falk, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights and, again, himself a Jew:

“Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with the criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity?  I think not.  The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty.  The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy.”

And perhaps most damning of all are the words of the Jewish politician, Ronnie Kasrils – former South African Intelligence Minister – as he compares the Israeli political model  to the apartheid regime that he fought against in South Africa.

“in its conduct and methods of repression, Israel came to resemble more and more apartheid South Africa at its zenith – even surpassing its brutality, housing demolitions, removal of communities, targeted assassinations, massacres, imprisonment and torture of its opponents, collective punishment and the aggression against neighbouring states.”

In the same speech, Kasrils goes on to say:

“It needs to be frankly raised that if the crimes of the Holocaust are at the top end of the scale of human barbarity in modern times, where do we place the human cost of what has so recently occurred in Gaza and against the Palestinians since 1948 in the ‘nakba’ (catastrophe) they have endured?

How do we evaluate the inhumanity of dropping bombs and blazing white phosphorous on civilian populations, burning people alive, gassing them in a Gaza ghetto under relentless siege with no place to run or hide. For 22 days, relentless bombardment whole families vaporised before the horrified eyes of a surviving parent or child.

Guernica, Lidice, the Warsaw Ghetto, Dier Yassin, Mei Lei, Sabra and Shattila, Sharpeville are high on that scale – and the perpetrators of the slaughter in Gaza are the off-spring of holocaust victims yet again, in Cizling’s words, behaving like Nazis.  This must not be allowed to go unpunished and the international community must demand they be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  For the lesson is that if apartheid Israel is not stopped in its tracks these crimes will get greater and spread not only to engulf the entire Middle East and Iran, but indeed anywhere that Israel is challenged.”

These are strong words, and they go well beyond anything Admadinejad’s said in his speech.  And we may want to argue that Kasril’s words and those of his fellow Jewish academics are exaggerated or misinformed or only present one side of the picture, but what we surely, surely must NOT conclude is that these persons are ‘anti-Semitic’.

Let me spell it out again: anti-Semitism is a form of racism.  It means thinking less of Jewish people simply because they are Jewish.  This is as unacceptable a form of racism as is any other form of racial discrimination, and yet it is surely totally distinct from the criticism of either an ideology or a particular government.

Criticism of the government of Israel and racism towards Jewish people are two totally distinct phenomena and should not be confused.  I hated Apartheid, but I have nothing against South Africans.  I hate what my own country did to our indigenous population in generations past, but I am hardly anti-Australian.  And I hate the ideology of Zionism for the way it is used to justify acts of violence against the Palestinian people, and yet I am hardly anti-Semitic.  I have many Jews amongst my closest friends, and indeed it was my Jewish friends who first educated me about the true nature of Zionism!

So please, Mr Rudd, don’t play this game.  Don’t sell out your integrity and the Palestinian people along with it by blindly buying in to the lie that any criticism of the actions of the Israeli government constitutes an act of anti-Semitism.

Admadinejad is not a nice guy and he has done nothing to improve the prospects for peace between East and West.  But if we are going to have any hope of moving forward together in this world we will need to be clear about what the real issues are, and, for the moment, anti-Semitism, thankfully, is not one of them.

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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