The importance of the Israel-Palestine conflict cannot be stressed enough. The high profile the issue has across the world illustrates its key status in world affairs. All the more reason, therefore, that debate surrounding it is not clouded by accusations of racism in place of open discussion.
The New York Times published recently a fascinating and lengthy book review by Professor Harold Bloom. In "The Jewish Question: British anti-Semitism" (April 29, 2010), Prof. Bloom critiqued Anthony Julius's book "Trials of the Diaspora". The subject matter meant that it contained strong views and some scathing things about us English. Deservedly so, although I think he is mistaken when he claims that "the English literary and academic establishment… essentially opposes the right of the state of Israel to exist, while indulging in the humbuggery that its anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism".
There are numerous Jewish and Israeli organisations which campaign against Israeli policies – which one assumes are based on its Zionist principles – but they have no wish to see the state cease to exist. On the contrary, many activists want to see a state of Israel within the 1967 borders which is inclusive of its Arab citizens. House demolitions, expulsions and blatant discrimination by Israel's government within Israel, not just in the occupied Palestinian territories, suggest that its policies should be open to criticism. Clearly, this is hard for the likes of Prof. Bloom to swallow, so he hits out at the "English literary and academic establishment" no doubt because the book reviewed is subtitled "A History of Anti-Semitism in England". Prof. Bloom's tirade ignores the Scottish civil society bodies which oppose Israeli policies, and Irish, French, German, South African… you get the picture.
So perhaps he is trying to divert attention from the fact that such opposition transcends nation states and ethnicity; seeking justice for Palestinian victims of Israel's policies is not an attack on all Jews (even though Israel itself claims to act for world Jewry). Countering one form of prejudice with another older form is unacceptable. That is why the existence – and denial by omission in Harold Bloom's article – of Jewish and Israeli groups opposing Israeli policies is so important to disprove the "anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism" argument.
While one would expect someone of Prof. Bloom's calibre to write so powerfully against what he see as racism pure and simple, it is surprising that he cannot see the weakness of some of his arguments. He complains, for example, that "Of the nearly 200 recognized nation-states in the world today, something like at least half are more reprehensible than even the worst aspects of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians. A curious blindness informs the shifting standards of current English anti-Zionism." Thus, he admits that "Israel's policy toward the Palestinians" is, at best, "reprehensible", so why does he defend it? There may well be 100+ nation states "more reprehensible" but how many of them, like Israel, receive huge amounts of American financial and military aid, and unqualified political support from Congress and the Senate? Yes, a country like Egypt has a miserable human rights record, but that doesn't stop the US from propping it up because Egypt is needed to bolster Israel's position. Jordan is another example. Israel stands out because of the aid it gets from the USA's "Israel right or wrong" policy and its own claims to be "the only democracy in the Middle East". The latter, of course, is fallacious, but Israel – like the United States, like Europe – does not recognise the results of democratic elections that don't produce the winners it thinks they should.
And does criticism of Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories – occupied by Israel in defiance of international law and UN resolutions – really "disallow the existence of the Jewish state" as Harold Bloom claims? Doesn't the "Israel is a democratic country" argument place an extra responsibility on Israel to behave like one? Democracies don't as a matter of state policy disregard international laws and conventions to the extent that the UN can find credible evidence that they have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity; if they do, they are taken to task by the international community. Israel, it seems, demands and gets special treatment, due largely to influential people like Professor Harold Bloom who are given space on the pages of influential media outlets to air their views. Such outlets, like the New York Times in this instance, are reluctant to publish opposing views to give their readers a balanced insight for fear of offending the Israel lobby. The result is that this issue has such an inbuilt imbalance in media representation that the lobby has come to expect as of right to have its version of the Israel-Palestine narrative accepted as the only acceptable narrative. To protect this, lobbyists try to stifle discussion.
If we have any sense of justice remaining within us then we have no option but to criticise a state which is going against even its own founding principles and Israel is no exception. The anti-Semitism card is the Israel lobby's last ploy; having lost any moral high ground it might once have held it is unable to deflect criticism with reasoned counter-arguments. But this discussion is too important to be bludgeoned into silence by accusations of racism. It needs open debate for the good of each and every one of us. It's not anti-Semitic to oppose undemocratic behaviour by the state of Israel, it's pro-humanity.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.