26 October 2007 - The cult of Israel-hatred
Tonight I decided to skip my usual Friday night services and head on down to the Old South Church to attend the opening of the Sabeel conference on “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel.” The church is a beautiful building; what a shame it was to see it defiled by such hatred. The pews were packed with people who dislike Israel in one way or another; one guy wore a t-shirt depicting a burning Israeli flag.
I walked around the room to see where the microphones for question-and-answer would be. There weren’t any, and at the start of the evening we were told that if we wanted to ask a question we’d have to fill out an index card and hand it to one of the ushers. Screened in advance! I should have known. I complained to Phyllis Bennis, one of the moderators, who told me: “This is not an open discussion.” Indeed!
I sat down in a pew near the front and opened the folder of conference materials. The back page of the official program was entitled “Apartheid?” and was filled with quotes and maps aimed at proving the Israel-apartheid analogy. They had a line from Jimmy Carter, a line from Archbishop Desmond Tutu (the conference’s keynote speaker), and a line from—no, wait, really?—Nelson Mandela:
“Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.”
Sounds rather damning, doesn’t it? And who could disagree with Nelson Mandela? There’s only one problem: Nelson Mandela never said, wrote or endorsed those words. They are the creation of an Arab journalist named Arjan El Fassed. When I exposed El Fassed's fraud earlier this year, he claimed: “There is no possible basis for Pollak to say I intended people to believe the memo was written by anyone other than myself.”
In spite of El Fassed’s admission, the Israel-haters continue to use his Mandela quote to promote their views. But El Fassed’s “Mandela Memo” is a fraud—just as much a lie as the Israel-apartheid equation itself. The entire evening was built on such lies. Keynote speaker Naim Ateek, for example, claimed that the Israeli government has an “intense desire to ethnically cleanse Palestinians.”
But I’m jumping ahead. The evening began with an address by the Right Reverend M. Thomas Shaw, the local Episcopalian bishop, who equated the anti-Israel movement with the anti-apartheid movement: it is “like any movement we’ve had for justice in human history,” he said. “God smiles on this assembly,” he added. This was a feature throughout the evening: religious blessing of hatred against Israel.
After a hymn—“Guide my feet, Lord” (out the door, I wanted to add)—Archbishop Tutu stood up and recited an invocation. “Lead us from prejudice to truth,” he prayed. Amen, I muttered. I flipped through the Bible in front of me and landed on an appropriate verse, Psalm 36:3: “The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit; they have ceased to act wisely and do good.”
A Muslim cleric, Imam Mahdi Bray, then stood up and gave a silly speech about how he had personally experienced apartheid because he had grown up as a black American in the South and his house had been firebombed et cetera. He did not explain how that qualified him to speak about Israel, but nevertheless went on and on in fiery style about the rights of the dispersed Palestinian people.
Next up was Sara Roy. She devoted most of her speech to attacking Jews, telling the audience that Jewish leaders exploit the Holocaust and other examples of Jewish suffering like the Inquisition. (?!?) She then went on at length about “my Holocaust background,” how her parents were survivors and lived through “loneliness and longing,” and how that formed her opinions of Israel. (Hello, exploitation?)
Israelis and Jews, she said, are “racist,” aside from a few exceptions. Though Jews have a strong tradition of dissent, it is unacceptable among Jews to admit “that Palestinians share our humanity,” she said. Spoon-fed this slander from a person with an unimpeachable “Holocaust background,” the audience swallowed every word and rewarded her with a spirited burst of applause.
Ateek was the last to speek, and was introduced by Hilary Rantisi, who claimed that the event organizers had come under pressure to “disinvite” him. She attacked his critics but did not attempt to explain his religious bigotry, reported recently by Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe (whose article was distributed with the conference materials, along with a defense of the event by a local reform Rabbi).
Ateek said that he opposed violence on both sides, and supported a two-state solution and Israel’s right to live within the 1967 borders (which only a handful of people in the room applauded). However, he said that the government of Israel doesn’t listen and refuses to end the “evil” occupation. He then quoted a Ha’aretz article in which Israeli Jews themselves had used the word “apartheid.”
He equated the Hebrew word hafradah (“separation”), used by some Israelis to describe the security barrier, with the Afrikaans apartheid. He claimed this was a sign that Israelis now support an apartheid policy. (What hafradah actually refers to is separation from land, not people—from the occupied territories, not from Arabs, who are more integrated into Israel now than ever before. Sigh.)
There was a break, and after confirming that there were to be no questions from the floor, I decided to leave. Karl Popper once said that a theory is only scientific if it is falsifiable, i.e. if it is open to being disproved. In the same way, any political idea which is not open to challenge and debate cannot possibly be true. However, if you repeat it often enough, as the saying goes, people start to believe it.
Fraudulent accusations against the Jewish state, based on fabricated evidence. Religious endorsement of hatred, couched in the rhetoric of social justice. False caricatures and stereotypes of an entire people. The parading of token Jews to verify everything said from the stage. Sound familiar? They used to have a word for that. But you can’t use “antisemitism” anymore. So I’ll just call it a disgrace.