Does anti-Israeli mean anti-Semite?

By Chris Morrison

R ecently, I have noticed an alarming trend whereby the Israeli government and its supporters, especially certain segments of the North American media, label anyone who speaks out against it as an “anti-Semite.” It seems the Israeli government and its media allies are under the impression that Israel, and Israel alone, is immune from criticism. While Israel’s position among a sea of hostile neighbours makes its situation drastically different from other nations of the West, this does not mean that it should be forgiven its trespasses while other nations must answer to the court of public opinion.

So it was with some relief that I read the Guardian’s interview with Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Great Britain. Sacks, whose influence goes far beyond the 280,000 Jews living in Britain, stated that the present conflict with the Palestinians was forcing Israel into positions "incompatible" with Judaism’s deepest ideals and "corrupting" Israeli culture. When the interview was released on Aug. 27, reaction was swift, especially in Israel. The Jerusalem Post, which published an editorial piece calling for his resignation, went on to state that "rather than ‘corrupting’ us, this war of self-defence has brought out some of our finer qualities such as patriotism, national pride and a willingness to make personal sacrifices on behalf of the common good." Also, various religious leaders and members of the political right in Israel stated that Sacks was now anathema.

But Rabbi Sacks is not blind. He knows the Palestinian leaders and their Arab allies are as much to blame, if not more, for the current state of affairs in the Middle East. It was the Arab League which issued the "three no’s" of 1967, when Israel offered to return all conquered territory: no peace, no negotiation, and no recognition. It was the oil rich nations of the Persian Gulf who funded Yasser Arafat’s international campaign of terror against Israel from the 1960s to the 1990s. And today, those same states are compensating the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

But why did Rabbi Sacks, long a supporter of Israel, finally come out and condemn Israel’s actions in the occupied territories? Well, one must remember that as a rabbi, Sacks’ greatest concern is with the practise of the Jewish religion. He believes that the continued occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank goes against Judaism’s deepest ideals. As for the corruption of Israeli culture, one need look no further than Yitzhak Levy, the leader of the ultra right National Religious Party, who has called Israel’s Arab citizens a "cancer" to be removed.

The longer the current state of events in the Middle East goes on, the harder it will be to change. The longer Palestinians are living in the poverty of refugee camps, the harder it will be for them to see Israelis and their western supporters, especially the American government, as anything other than their oppressors. The longer the Israelis have to live in the constant fear of suicide bombers, the harder it will be for them to think of the Palestinians as anything other than terrorists.

Twelfth-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides once said "Israel did not long for the Messiah so it could rule over other nations." If this is true, then why is the Israeli army in Gaza and the West Bank?

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