Over-the-top criticism of Israel is the new face of antisemitism

Canadian Jewish Congress says that comparing the state to Nazi Germany 'crosses a line' and calls for condemnation of such statements

By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun

Leaders of Canada's Jewish community are warning that anti-Semitism has a new face -- increasingly, it takes the form of the demonization of Israel.

Traditional anti-Semitism still occurs, such as swastikas scrawled on synagogues or desecration of headstones at Jewish cemeteries. Statistics Canada recorded 185 such incidents in 2007, down from 220 a year earlier.

But "the longest hatred has found a new way to express itself and to wrap itself in a garment of greater respectability," according to a report by the Toronto-based Canadian Jewish Congress.

The anti-Zionist movement "has become an entirely new industry, a new tactic," says CJC president Mark Freiman.

"There's also a project to delegitimatize discourse about anti-Semitism and to proactively label that as being disguised intimidation, censorship, an attempt to escape criticism [of Israel]."

The new anti-Semitism urges boycotts and resolutions against Israel, and accuses the 60-year-old nation of behaving like Nazi Germany or South Africa's apartheid regime.

  • Last May, at an annual meeting in Vancouver of the Mountain Equipment Co-op, a resolution was debated, and defeated, urging a boycott of Israeli products.
  • The B.C. Teachers' Federation regularly pushes resolutions condemning Israeli for its "Apartheid Wall," the separation barrier that Israelis have built to thwart the suicide bombing of its citizens.
  • In 2006, the Canadian Union of Public Employees' Ontario division passed a resolution calling for a boycott against Israel.
  • Earlier this year the United Church debated three anti-Israel proposals.
  • At the University of Toronto and York University, groups annually organize an "Israeli Apartheid Week."
  • On Dec. 8 the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association is to vote on an anti-Israeli resolution aimed at defending "public discussion of the Palestine-Israel conflict, free of intimidation and censorship."
Some argue it's best to tolerate the anti-Israeli propaganda so haters can be outed and publicly scorned. Or that it simply reflects free speech.

But there's a difference between saying you dislike Israel's politicians and saying they behave like Nazis, a difference between criticizing a separation fence and calling it an Apartheid Wall.

Last August, the CJC took its concerns to a parliamentary inquiry on anti-Semitism. The all-party group of 20 MPs, to table a report in 2010, was established following a 2009 international meeting on anti-Semitism in England. Canada will host a follow-up meeting in 2011.

The CJC told the MPs, "not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic." Indeed Israelis themselves regularly criticize their government.

But the organization said that comparing the state to Nazi Germany crosses a line, suggesting Israel is "unworthy of membership in the community of nations and indeed cannot be permitted to survive."

Freiman would like politicians to condemn such statements and, where appropriate, prosecute those preaching hatred.

The CJC held a meeting for Vancouver's Jews Tuesday evening to debate whether Jews are "too thin-skinned" about anti-Semitism.

The synagogue event followed recent controversy over whether the Harper government went too far when it mailed out a taxpayer-funded flyer portraying Liberals as anti-Semitic.

Liberals traditionally received much of the Jewish vote but Stephen Harper's strong stand against terrorism and support for Israel has appealed to a lot of Jews.

Community representatives have stated Canadian Jews vote on a broad range of issues and that no single party has cornered its vote. They want all parties in the Commons to support Israel.

Six ridings -- in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg -- have sizable Jewish constituencies.

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