'Delegitimization' is the new anti-semitism

In Israelspeak, "delegitimization" is the new anti-semitism -- the latter word having been so misused and trivialized that it is no longer an effective stick against legitimate criticism. The Israeli think-tank REUT (Vision) Institute identified and advised on how to combat the so-called delegitimization campaign. Blinkers seem to be de rigueur for all Israel's foot soldiers, resulting in the blind leading the blind.

Israel is not targeted; it is simply being held to account for certain illegal actions. But in the august mouths of various Canadian members of parliament, the alleged "delegitimization" has morphed into a smear that can be described as: "denying Israel's right to exist." This is as ridiculous as it is baseless since, in all cases involving accused parliamentarians, the rule of law is respected as the basis for a just and peaceful world, and Israel is recognized as a fact; it exists as a state; it is a member of the United Nations.

Israel itself, however, has done quite enough to delegitimize itself -- with support from those who literally love it to death -- via its illegitimate military occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands, its illegitimate settlements, its illegitimate military Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, its illegitimate siege of civilians in Gaza and its illegitimate extrajudicial assassinations.

Owing its existence to the UN, Israel has systematically delegitimized the UN and its institutions by ignoring UN resolutions as well as international treaties and conventions, and by mounting concerted attacks against the UN institutions and their representatives.

As Israeli columnist Bradley Burston wrote, "This is about how many others we [Israelis] will need to blame, vilify, assault, scapegoat and smear, before we actually take one wholly honest long look in the mirror."

It was a sad spectacle last week as Canadian MPs galloped to judgment like a posse and shot down their long-serving colleague, Libby Davies. During their last week in Parliament and with various issues concerning all Canadians still being discussed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Rob Nicholson and Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon put Israel ahead of national issues to castigate Davies and call for her resignation over remarks she made about Israel and subsequently corrected. Since when is an opinion about a foreign state a reason to call for the resignation of an MP? Are Canadians no longer free to express their views?

Remarkably, while Harper and his party avoided criticism of the killing of civilians by Israeli commandos by "looking in the days that follow to get all the information we can get," they were quick to condemn a colleague whose opinion was informed by personal experience, including two trips to Gaza.

A government is supposed to protect its citizens, yet Harper and friends seem to believe that the interests of Israel come first, ahead of those of their fellow citizens. The well-being of three Canadians on the Mavi Marmara mattered as little as when the late Canadian Forces Major Paeta Hess-Von Krudener was killed by Israel in Lebanon where he was stationed as a United Nations peacekeeper.

Some Liberals exhibit a similar priority. Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae and Marc Garneau echoed the Conservative criticism, as did NDP Deputy Leader Thomas Mulcair who added that Davies should also apologize for supporting the boycott campaign, an "egregious" mistake. While parliament is rife with partisan bickering, support for Israel cuts across party lines!

Pro-Israel groups who have access to and lobby the Canadian political establishment also pounced on Davies, magnifying the mote in her eye while ignoring the beam in their own. It is unfortunate that NDP leader Jack Layton consequently felt it necessary to apologize to Israel's ambassador by phone, a gesture which smacks either of sycophancy or fear, neither trait being acceptable in an elected representative.

All of this bodes poorly for Canadian security and democracy.

Clearly, the Canadian government was relieved when Israel accepted to conduct an inquiry in the Free Gaza flotilla attack. It reacted with a statement headlined: "Canada Concerned [sic] by Israel's Decision to Set up Independent Public Commission Concerning Flotilla Incident" with "concerned by" being later changed to "welcomes."

However, instead of an international inquiry, Israel has decided to conduct the investigation on its own terms, with the participation of two internationals. There is already criticism of both the inquiry and its panel.

The chair of the committee, retired Supreme Court justice Yaakov Tirkel, is "known in his rulings as someone who says ‘Yes' to the security services. He also protects freedom of speech -- as long as its [sic] not connected to state security." Moreover, he doesn't believe in the investigation itself nor in having international observers.

Former Northern Ireland Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, a co-founder of the advocacy group Friends of Israel, and retired Canadian Brigadier-General Ken Watkin will be the two outside experts who "will not have the right to vote in relation to the proceedings and conclusions of the commission." In 1998, David Trimble, who considers human rights "a great curse", was one of the very few dissenting voices who opposed the second British inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre of 14 peaceful demonstrators in Derry, Northern Ireland, because it could expose the British officers and troops to prosecution. That report was just released and it fully exonerates the protesters.

In a recent editorial, Ha'aretz insisted that the public has the right to know the truth, but found that ‘[T]he government's efforts to avoid a thorough and credible investigation of the flotilla affair seem more and more like a farce."

It was at a Free Gaza protest that Davies gave the interview that put her in hot water. As a proponent of human rights for all equally, she has been a thorn in the side of many who see the Israel/Palestine issue through Israel's prism only. But she is not the first to be the target of Israel's foot soldiers in various western democracies. In Canada, Svend Robinson, Alexa McDonough, Boris Wrzesnewskyj, Mabel Elmore, Leslie Hughes and Carolyn Parrish are some of the federal and provincial politicians who found themselves at the receiving end of pro-Israel ire for having strayed away from the accepted Hasbara script. Each in their own way dared to speak up for equity and justice, and was therefore labeled anti-semitic and/or anti-Israel.

Davies' alleged "sin" -- which she recanted -- was to say that the occupation started in 1948, a view held by many around the world. In the wake of the UN partition resolution (November 29, 1947) and before the British Mandate ended (May 15, 1948), Zionist terrorist groups* moved quickly to expand their borders beyond those designated by the UN resolution by expelling Palestinian Arabs from both Jewish and Arab areas allocated by the UN as well as from the international city, Jerusalem**.

Benny Morris*** quotes a report by the intelligence services of the Israeli army, dated 30 June 1948 (The emigration of Palestinian Arabs in the period 1/12/1947-1/6/1948) that puts at 391,000 the number of Palestinians who had already left the territory by then in the hands of Israel, 239,000 from the area earmarked for the Jewish state and 139,000 from the area earmarked for the Arab state.

One would think that in a democracy such as Canada, one could have a respectful discussion without resorting to personal attacks and off-topic accusations. The drive to silence dissent and criticism of a foreign state is a threat to our own rights. It also has the potential of creating cleavages amongst Canadians on the basis of religion or ethnicity.

If the past is any indication, the induced and managed impotence of the United Nations Security Council means that justice for Palestinians and others will not come from our political leaders but from bottom-up collective action by civil society. International volunteers are already standing in solidarity with Palestinians, as they harvest their crops, as their homes are bulldozed, as they protest the uprooting of their trees, the confiscation of more land, the roadblocks and the wall that divides villages and families, farmers from their fields and children from their schools.

Palestinian resistance to the military occupation is largely nonviolent. Like Gandhi and Mandela, the younger generation believes that an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions is their only nonviolent option until Israel fully complies with its obligations under international law. But they can't do it alone. Given Israel's powerful enablers who ensure a continued lack of accountability, Palestinians have called for the support of all people of conscience in international civil society who want a just resolution to this conflict.

* On Recent Hebrew and Israeli Sources for the Palestinian Exodus, 1947-49, Nur-eldeen Masalha, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, Special Issue: Palestine 1948, Autumn, 1988, pp. 121-137
** The De-Arabization of West Jerusalem 1947-50, Nathan Krystall, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2, Winter, 1998, pp. 5-22
*** The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine: The Israel Defence Forces Intelligence Branch Analysis of June 1948, Benny Morris, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1, Jan., 1986, pp. 5-19

Bahija Réghaï is a human rights activist, former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relatons (NCCAR).

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