It’s about time we talked about the invisible 900-pound gorilla in the room.
That’s right, Israel, perhaps the most dangerous media subject on the planet.
Say one wrong word and you can instantly be called an anti-Semite — as Jimmy Carter found out.
Jimmy Carter? An anti-Semite? The former president of the USA? Renowned Christian and social activist, orchestrator of the Camp David Accords, founder of uncountable charity projects? Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize?
His newest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid has raised a firestorm of criticism, as can happen to North American public commentators with the temerity to criticize Israel’s behaviour.
So far, I’ve not been able to find the opinion of a single Palestinian or Islamic reviewer in a major publication.
I’m sure there are a few out there, somewhere, but they’re hard to find, and this is one of the difficulties about truth-speaking Jimmy Carter wants to call to our attention.
We should know this: after all, we live in Canada, where the largest media chain, CanWest, declared in 2000 that no editorial in its many newspapers can criticize Israel without the approval of the head office in Winnipeg.
To illustrate how tough it is to discuss the occupation of Palestine, consider Tony Judt, once a respected historian, until he made the mistake of agreeing with a Times London Review of Books article complaining about the treatment of advocates of Palestinian freedom.
When the Polish embassy in New York invited him to give a lecture, the embassy phones were soon ringing and the invitation was cancelled.
Another ‘historian’ who got the slam dunk was the infamous British Holocaust denier, David Irving.
He made the arrogant mistake of suing a renowned history professor for libel after she correctly pointed out he was a Holocaust denier.
His lawsuit was crushed, deservedly, in court, and he went bankrupt.
But, five years later, while delivering a lecture in Austria, he was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for Holocaust denial.
Interestingly, his professorial opponent, Deborah Lipstadt, said, “I am not happy when censorship wins, and I don’t believe in winning battles via censorship.
“The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth.”
Now there’s a real historian, one who clearly understands the dangers of both lies and censorship.
Irving’s jail sentence came down around the time European newspapers were publishing insulting cartoons about Islam and Mohammed in the name of free speech. Some free speech.
The main American source for the campaign against critics of Israel is Abe Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, with its fat $50-million annual budget for “anti-bias education and diversity training.”
It’s notorious for searching for anti-Semites under every bed.
The league is only the most well-financed of many groups defending Israel’s right to do as it pleases in the Mideast.
The New York Times just published an article about a recent essay by the director of the Institute for Jewish Culture, which bizarrely accuses anyone who criticizes Israel (including Jews) of promoting anti-Semitism.
Frankly, Israel has enough troubles without idiots like that promoting its cause.
Every day it faces the terror of suicide bombers in bakeries and cafeterias and on buses.
Heavily armed terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas call for Israel’s extinction and another Holocaust.
The whacko president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, currently on a quest for nuclear power, claims “Israel must be wiped off the map.”
This is harsh news indeed for the men, women, and children of Israel to wake up to in the morning.
Meanwhile occupied Palestine is being crushed by walls and settlements, the orchards cut down, 10 Palestinians killed for every Israeli, water diverted, homes leveled by bulldozers — the people unable to bring in medical supplies without Israel’s permission, parents facing dozens of clogged Israeli military checkpoints just to visit their children a few kilometres away.
The truth is, as always, there are no white hats and black hats. Both peoples are capable of committing atrocious crimes against each other.
What is needed is open and reasonable dialogue.
These days, we’re not going to get that in the Arab nations whose media is full of inflammatory anti-Christian and anti-Semitic diatribes, fuelled by America’s adventures in the region.
According to a recent UN survey the number of books translated into Arabic during the last 1,000 years barely equals the number of books translated into Spanish in a single year.
But because Israel is facing an implacable and ignorant foe doesn’t mean its supporters should advocate an equally implacable ignorance.
The awful truth is that there’s no shortage of critics of Islamic or Palestinian fanaticism in North America. Critiquing Israel’s tactics is more difficult, as Michael Ignatieff discovered when he accurately pointed out that Israel committed war crimes in the attack on Qana in Lebanon.
The meagre coverage of his later remark that Hezbollah also committed war crimes against Israelis mainly consisted of criticism that he was just trying to look fair. Nobody considered that he was trying to be fair.
This is what former-president Carter wants us to discuss, and he’s got one hell of a debate on his hands.
I saw the CBC interview (it’s on YouTube) in which he gave a reasonable, gracious explanation of his intentions and views, pointing out that he used the dreadful “apartheid word” only in referring to Palestine and not Israel, and that he thought that Israel had been lured into a no-win situation by its opponents and Zionist extremists ( an alarming number of which are American settlers).
The awful truth is that Israel’s confiscation and settling of Palestinian land defies both the Geneva Convention and UN Resolution 242.
He also quickly pointed out his book denounces Palestinian suicide bombers (and later apologized for one sentence about suicide bombers that unintentionally appears equivocal).
This reasoned interview was followed by a brutally acid critic who ignored his concerns and single mindedly accused him of being one sided.
The Jewish people have twice suffered a forced exodus, once by the Egyptians and once by the Romans.
Then they faced the Holocaust. It’s small wonder the Israeli government and its supporters are twitchy, but they also have to understand that their peace can only be won with knowledge, understanding, and debate, not cluster bombs.
If people like Carter, probably the most decent man to stumble upon the American presidency in the 20th century, can be accused of promoting racism, then the debate will be lost, along with Israel.
Perhaps it would be wise for those so quick to sling accusations to consider the words of the Jewish astronomer, Carl Sagan: “We are only as strong as the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.”