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John Chuckman: The Peculiar State

The Peculiar State


John Chuckman
May 5, 2005

A lawyer gave a brief opinion piece on Canada's public radio, the CBC, in which he flatly said that criticism of Israel is a form of anti-Semitism.

I guess we should be grateful that people in Canada are much less violent in their opinions than people in the U.S. where one lawyer wrote an essay, published on the Internet, seriously advocating the execution of the families of those who commit terrorist acts in Israel. Another American lawyer, a very prominent one, has advocated protocols governing the legal use of torture in the United States.

I can't blame the CBC for once broadcasting what is essentially political smut because, on the whole, the network is fair, enlightened, and far freer of nasty political pressure than public radio in the United States. Everyone who makes an honest effort is entitled to make an honest mistake now and then.

Calling people names because you dislike their views is not logic and is not any form of argument. It is not even decent. I can't see how this lawyer's words differ from American Senator McCarthy using the dangerously-loaded slur, Communist, applied to anyone he didn't want working in the State Department or in Hollywood.

If I indulge this lawyer's name-calling, saying it resembles logic, what comes to mind is another lawyer's argument at the trial many years ago of a man who had slashed a woman's throat and then tried to strangle her with a lamp cord. That lawyer claimed his client had only been applying a tourniquet to a wound he accidentally inflicted.

This lawyer's fantasy argument is that the very selectivity of Israel's critics ipso facto proves their anti-Semitism. Why aren't these same people out criticizing China about Tibet he demanded? Apart from the fact that many of them do criticize other injustices in the world - a fact which makes the lawyer's words into the cheap trick of a straw-man argument - one has to ask just whom he includes in his indictment?

Does he include decent, honorable people like Uri Avnery, former member of the Knesset, a citizen of Israel who writes regularly of the injustices committed by the country he loves? Does he include the great pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim who grew up partly in Israel and has many times criticized its policies? Does he include the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom who expressed his rejection of Sharon's brutality? Does he include Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela who both have described what they see in Israel as the apartheid with which they are intimately familiar?

All people supporting any cause must be selective. You can't focus on the facts if your attention is distributed among fifty causes, and advocacy or criticism without facts is vacuous. Ghandi had a focus as did Martin Luther King as did Tutu as did all the early Zionist leaders as did Arafat. Taking on every injustice in the world plainly makes it impossible to say much to the point about any of them.

So why does anyone focus on Israel? In part, for the simple reason that we are overwhelmed with awareness of Israel in our press. A day almost cannot pass that we do not have a news story about Israel. The slightest statement of Ariel Sharon is reported with about the same weight as the words of major world statesmen. We hear of every change in his cabinet. We hear of every change in his plans. We hear of every meeting he has with other leaders. When was the last time you read or heard a story about Tibet?

As a quick check of the intuitive truth of this claim, do a Google search of leaders' names. At this writing, a search of Sharon turned up 24,700,000 references. A search for Blair turned up 24,400,000. Bush, which includes two presidents of the United States plus governors and cabinet posts, nets us 88,700,000 references. China's leader, Hu Jintao had 770,000 references. All of these searches, of course, include people other than the individual in question, but the world's population of Sharons is not large.

The population of Israel is a fraction of the size of cities like Shanghai or Mexico City. Its population is roughly the size of Guatemala's or Ecuador's or that of Ivory Coast. How many stories do you read or hear about these places? Can you name the Mayor of Shanghai or the President of Ecuador? The mayor of Shanghai, one of the world's largest cities, is a man by the name of Han Zheng. That name rang up 304,000 references, but with China's huge population sharing something on the order of only about a hundred traditional family names, those references include many people who are not even distantly related to the mayor.

Why would it surprise any thoughtful person that Israel is far more on people's minds than Tibet? But the question of focus on Israel involves far more than constant repetition, important as that fact is.

A good deal of the mess that we find ourselves in today, the so-called War on Terror and the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, largely pivots on Israel's policy and behavior towards the Palestinians and on America's policy towards Israel. The problem of Israel versus the Palestinians has become a kind of geopolitical black hole which threatens to consume much of the energy and substance of Western society. Surely, we all have a right, and even a moral obligation, to address such a threatening situation without being called names.

Why doesn't Israel just make peace? Israel holds virtually all the cards. The weapons. The intelligence information. The economic advantages. The immensely powerful ally. At least certainly compared to the pathetic group of people, the Palestinians, it calls its enemy.

The pointless destruction of Iraq, with at least a 100,000 civilians killed, a reign of terror unleashed, and the loss of some of civilization's greatest ancient artifacts was never about oil. It was intended to sweep Israel's most formidable, traditional opponent from the map. Never mind that Hussein no longer had any threatening weapons (a fact confirmed by experts several times over), and never mind that Iraqis suffered horribly under American-imposed sanctions for a decade.

Hussein was nasty but no nastier than dozens of thugs with whom the U.S. has comfortably done business since World War II. Power is what always takes precedence over principles in these matters, and Hussein opposed some American policies. Israel's policy has followed the same path. For instance, Israel worked closely with the apartheid government of South Africa, heavily engaging in trade and military assistance. The South African atomic bomb, which quietly and quickly vanished with the changeover in government, unquestionably was the fruit of Israeli cooperation. Israel received its early assistance in creating atomic weapons from France in exchange for important support around France's battles in its (now former) North African colonies.

So what do we hear from Sharon, as American Marines turn the once-thriving city of Fallujah into a rubbish pile, as horrific resistance bombs keep ripping apart Baghdad? Sharon, time after time, tells us the United States also should invade Syria and Iran. To intimidate Syria, he has Israeli Air Force planes buzzing the presidential palace in Damascus, the only reason Syria is buying short-range anti-aircraft missiles from Russia, missiles to which Israel strenuously objects. What would the news stories here be were Syrian planes capable of doing the same thing in Tel Aviv?

Is Israel the only country somehow magically immune to Lord Acton's dictum about power? I think not, but in saying that I risk being classified an anti-Semite.

ENDS

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