This article was posted in the Jerusalem post on Feb 13, 2008.


While March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, in Jewish terms, this February has come in with a big lie and, hopefully, will go out with a roaring counter-slam.

From February 3 through 19 Israel-bashers mark "Israel Apartheid Week" – although this 17-day "week" suggests the organizers’ arithmetic is as shoddy as their history. With that hate-fest’s bitter aftertaste still lingering, the International Conference of the Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism is convening at Israel’s Foreign Ministry on February 24 and 25.

How do you fight hatred, especially when it masquerades as righteous indignation against Israeli policies which, like all policies, are debatable? Future historians will find our era’s moral confusion stunning, as they trace how the unremitting, irrational Arab hatred of Israel soured into an unremitting, irrational hatred of Jews, yet was perfumed by the broader global crusade against racism. They will expose the "useful idiots" enabling Arab anti-Semitism, people like the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, who initially applauded a Charter for Arab Human Rights that demonized Zionism – only under pressure did she belatedly, halfheartedly backpedal. They will mock the naïve young people and NGOs who judge Israel’s actions in a complicated national conflict with the Palestinians so harshly, while blithely excusing Arab racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

It is tempting during a grandly named Global Forum against this ancient poison in new, post-modern beakers, to be too ambitious. Intellectually, diagnosing this old-new disease requires a sweeping analysis of the pathologies of the Left and the Right, of the modern, sometimes far too sophisticated for its own good West, and the traditional, often addicted to the worst of its ancient heritage East. To solve the problem we would need a global action plan targeting the salons of London and the slums of Cairo, the Jewish graveyard that is the Ukraine and certain areas where Jews never lived, such as Japan.

SOMETIMES, however, less is more. While responding to the occasional outrages and boycotts with righteous indignation, it is better to focus on a few proactive steps that can yield measurable results than trying to master all the challenges simultaneously. The fight against anti-Semitism should focus on four targets, two conceptual and two political.

For starters, we have to distinguish between the moral clarity of the fight against anti-Semitism and the murkiness of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Our adversaries conflate the two, we should not. A Global Forum sponsored by Israel’s Foreign Ministry should show that not all criticisms of Israel will be labelled anti-Semitic, making the fight against anti-Semitism a big-tent movement involving Jews and non-Jews, leftists and rightists, doves and hawks. We need a broad coalition against hatred that respects a wide range of views. And we have to be vigilant, being the first to censure the Jewish boys (and girls) who cry "wolf," yelling "anti-Semite" so frequently and promiscuously they neutralize the sting of what should be a devastating charge.

In that spirit, and as the second conceptual challenge, we must demonstrate that, wherever we stand on the question of Israeli policies, the language of apartheid is inaccurate and immoral. We have to separate the word "Israel" from the word "apartheid," filling our opponents’ pithy phrases with bits of verbal rubble by calling their February fest "Israel-is-not-at-all-an-Apartheid-State-but-we-are-going-to-lie-and-claim-that-it-is Week."

This way, we make sure that the word "Israel" does not get linked in the public mind with the noxious racist policies of South African apartheid in the way that "Zionism" has become all too linked with "racism."

We have to work with South Africans who suffered under the old racist regime, mobilizing Africans and blacks around the world to object that this sloppy ahistorical analogizing obscures South African racism’s harsh white supremacist character. We have to confront the Jimmy Carters and Norman Finkelsteins, who, by falsely comparing Jewish nationalism to South African racism rather than to other nationalist movements, implicitly delegitimize Zionism. And we have to challenge Israel’s own internal critics, showing how their use of the term, however intentioned, feeds anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic fires, making them morally culpable for the conflagration.

Politically, we should target two specific enemies: the countries, international bodies and NGOs working to repeat the sins of Durban I, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad along with his fellow cheerleaders for genocide in Iran. The fight against Durban II is focused and winnable. The Canadian government has already repudiated this charade. Canadians and other diplomats should be lobbied to stop this latest UN farce not just for the sake of the Jews but for the sake of the UN. Israel’s representatives should approach former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, inviting her to prove her protestations of innocence since presiding over the 2001 debacle were sincere by leading this fight.

While Durban II will resolve by 2009, we need more patience in confronting the ugly marriage between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and genocidal rhetoric. As Natan Sharansky and Shlomo Avineri have proposed, we should replicate the Soviet Jewish movement’s success, confronting Iranian diplomats wherever they are, challenging the Iranian people, and moderates within the regime, to live up to Iran’s self-image as an enlightened nation not the world’s outlaw.

Piling on more campaigns threatens to dissipate our energies; further limiting the agenda risks missing some of the most compelling keystone problems which, if handled properly, could help defuse other tensions. The week libelling Israel is not going away anytime soon. And the Global Forum will most probably, unhappily, have to assemble again next year. But while praying for the Global Forum to become unnecessary as soon as possible, we have to plan to make the time and effort of all involved deployed as constructively as possible.

The writer is professor of history at McGill and author of the forthcoming Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.