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Friday, March 5, 2010

Criticism of Israel and Antisemitism: Mr Malcolm Fraser Goes Too Far

The recent assassination of Hamas militant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai has created a huge international reaction, not only for the killing—although al-Mabhouh was himself a killer—but also for the multiple identity heists which it seems the hit team perpetrated. Australian passports were used, among others, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has asked the Israeli Ambassador for an explanation.

No response is yet forthcoming, but according to former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, if and when they do own up, the one thing the Israelis should not be allowed to get away with is blaming it on the Holocaust.

Mr Fraser’s surprising remarks were reported in the Australian as follows:
Mr Fraser said the Jewish state could no longer use the Holocaust as an excuse to justify state-sanctioned murder, and criticism of its policies should not be dismissed as anti-Semitism.

"That happened 65-66 years ago and it cannot be used any longer to prevent proper discussion of Israel's policies when those policies are counter-productive to world peace," he said. "To suggest that those who are critical are anti-Semitic – I reject that utterly."
These remarks raise the question of whether Mr Fraser would recognize antisemitism if he walked right up to it and it hit him on the head. 

The problem, pointed out by Barry Rubin, is that:
"Despite decades of documentation and explanation about antisemitism, a large proportion of the Western intelligentsia doesn’t understand it. … In other words, they don't know antisemitism when they see it—or even practice it."
There have been some antisemitic howlers by Western politicians in recent years under the guise of criticism of Israel.  A recent example was the recommendation by British politician Baroness Tonge that Israeli aid teams in Haiti be investigated for harvesting bodily organs.  This recycled an ancient blood libel, but substituted organs for blood, and Israelis for Jews.

Of course Mr Fraser was quite correct when he pointed out that criticizing Israel is not the same thing as antisemitism.  To dismiss any and all criticism of Israel as antisemitism would be utter nonsense.

One might well ask what is the difference between legitimate criticism and racial incitement.

Let us, for example, consider Mr Fraser’s claim that Israel uses the Holocaust as an "excuse to justify state-sanctioned murder"?  Could this be an example of what Rubin described as "they don’t know antisemitism when they … practice it"?  Or does it fall within the bounds of legitimate criticism?
How could one tell the difference?

Let us put Mr Fraser’s statement through the lens of the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (RRTA).

In terms of the RRTA, the question to be asked is whether Mr Fraser’s statements have incited "hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of" a "class of persons" (here Jewish leaders of the state of Israel), on the ground of their "race"?

Undoubtedly the answer to this question must be “Yes”.

For anyone to use the Holocaust as an excuse for murder would be contemptible, but it must be regarded as especially contemptible if Jews were to use this excuse, as they themselves suffered from "state-sanctioned murder" in the Holocaust on a cataclysmic scale.  How cruel and hypocritical that would be! It is precisely the Jewishness of the state of Israel and its leaders, in the context of the reference to the Jewish Holocaust and "state-sanctioned murder", which would intensify the contempt.

My Fraser’s accusation appears to incites contempt against Israel's leaders.  It appears to invoke a traditional antisemitic stereotype of the cruel hypocritical Jew.

But would Mr Fraser have a defence under the RRTA? To determine this we can ask whether he made his contribution as part of a discussion "in the public interest", and in doing so, was he making a "a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest"?  Did he act "reasonably"?

Yes, it is in the public interest to discuss this incident.  And yes, it is in the public interest to discuss antisemitism, criticism of Israel, and the difference between the two.  But no, Mr Fraser did not give a "fair and accurate report", and he did not act reasonably when he made this particular comment.

The Israelis have not and will not claim the Holocaust as an excuse for killing al-Mabhouh. They have not even acknowledged responsibility, but if they did, the reason given would surely be al-Mabhouh's self-confessed past actions as a kidnapper and killer of Israeli soldiers, and his role as chief arms procurer for the 'Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which is the military wing of Hamas.

The Hamas Brigades have repeatedly been classified by the Australian Attorney General as a 'terrorist organization', which, the Australian Government reports, is dedicated to the 'destruction of the state of Israel'. Other nations who have declared the Hamas Brigades to be terrorists are: Canada, Japan, the United States, and the European Union.  Al-Mabhouh's job was providing weapons for terrorists.

Mr Fraser went too far.  He might have just stopped with the statement that criticism of Israel "should not be dismissed as anti-Semitism." Instead he strayed into antisemitism himself, with the libel that Jewish Israeli leaders "use the Holocaust as an excuse to justify state-sanctioned murder."

That was unconscionable, and under Victorian law, possibly illegal.

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Mark Durie is a human rights activist, Anglican vicar and author of The Third Choice.

1 comment:

  1. Comparing the old "blood libel" myth with the harvesting of organs is an incredibly tenuous association.

    The blood libel dates back to the Christian persecution of the Jewish diaspora in Europe, way back in the 13th to 15th centuries. The myth is virtually unheard of among gentiles today, excepting the racist, fascist, neo-nazi groups on society's periphery. The vast majority of gentiles haven't even heard of the blood libel.

    Levelling an accusation at Israeli aid groups for harvesting organs is no different to levelling an accusation towards some American aid groups, or British, or Iranian. These accusations are not projected further onto the Israeli or even Jewish cultures as a whole. It was simply the behaviour a group of people who needed investigation, and the fact that they were Israeli is completely irrelevant.

    It is also time, I believe, that we see anti-semitism for what it really is: plain racism. The word relates to racist sentiments levelled towards one particular group of people. When we isolate this word to just one race, it becomes a form of racial discrimination in itself. I have had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting a number of these racists in the gentile community, and their prejudices are rarely isolated to the Jewish people.

    It's time we called anti-semitism what it really is - simply racism.

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