Obama’s Durban decision
Feb 20, 2009 | AIJAC staff
February 20, 2009
Number 02/09 #07
This Update features two pieces discussing the decision of the Obama Administration in the US to send representatives to planning sessions of the controversial Durban II “anti-racism” conference. This reverses a decision taken by the previous Bush Administration with respect to the conference, due to take place in Geneva in April and designed as a follow-up to the 2001 Durban conference – which was notable for both extreme attempts to demonise Israel’s existence as “racist” and blatantly antisemitic behaviour by many NGO representatives.
First up, Israeli academic Dr. Gerald Steinberg argues that the decision to attend planning sessions is a “high-risk” one for the Obama Administration. If it manages to tame and reverse the existing agenda currently being put forward this would be a major success of American foreign policy, and would signal a restoration of American influence in the UN, he says. Further, if the process fails, and the US leads a walkout together with most European states, this would also be a significant achievement. However, he argues that if the result is a “compromise” where the demonisation is only somewhat watered down, this would be very damaging to US leadership, to anti-racism efforts, and to Middle East peace hopes. Steinberg also has an excellent explanation of the Palestinian “Durban” strategy, which has blighted peace efforts since 2001. To read his full argument, CLICK HERE. Obama’s advisors recently met with US Jewish leaders to discuss their approach to Durban II and what they hope to achieve, as reported here.
Arguing that the Durban II conference will inevitably be a “Holocaust-denying, anti-Israel hate-fest” is Greg Rickman, who until recently served as the US State Department’s envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. He points to the efforts to date of several countries planning the conference, especially Libya, Iran, and Syria, which have not only attempted to steer the conference to attack Israel, but are apparently attempting to get it to legitimise Holocaust denial. He argues the US can only “dishonour itself” through participation in the conference. For all that he has to say, CLICK HERE. A counterview, arguing both Jews and the US have an obligation to work to fix what ails the UN, comes from Shai Franklin, a senior fellow for United Nations Affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. In contrast, Anne Bayefsky, the law professor who runs “Eye on the UN,” is critical of the “naivety” of the Obama Administration’s approach.
Finally, distinguished British novelist Howard Jacobson offers an impassioned argument against the over-the-top demonisation of Israel in his country. He deals with the overwhelming apparent tendency of making the Israelis “Nazis” guilty of a new “Holocaust”, which he says is simply designed “to wound Jews in their recent and most anguished history and to punish them with their own grief” as well as “disinherit them of pity.” He also deals with the portrayal of Israelis and Jews in a new play, critically acclaimed, which not only appears to make them, all, collectively, deliberate racist murderers, but, according to Jacobson, descends into “Jew-hating pure and simple” with tropes about Jews as the self-described “chosen people.” For Jacobson’s full, powerful, essay, CLICK HERE. Jacobson’s essay coincided with a major conference in Britain of the “Interparliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism.” Dennis McShane, a British MP who has done much to organise the conference and fight antisemitism, writes about the frightening extent of the problem the conference has to address, as does veteran Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Some discussion of the difference between being anti-Israel and antisemitic from Allan Hertz, an academic and former senior Canadian government official.
- More good recent comment on Israel’s election result from American academic Alan Dowty, Israeli columnist Bradley Burston, former US official Elliot Abrams and former Israeli cabinet minister and law professor Amnon Rubinstein. Plus an interesting post-election poll of what Israelis want now.
- Comment on Dubai’s decision to deny a visa to Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer to compete in a tennis tournament there from the Jerusalem Post and New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton.
- Qassam rockets continue to hit Israel.
- After first stealing aid, Hamas has now reportedly stolen seven tons of unexploded ordnance from a UN warehouse in Gaza.
THE JERUSALEM POST, Feb. 16, 2009
The Obama Administration’s decision to jump into the preparations for the UN’s Durban Review Conference, scheduled for Geneva in April 2009, is a bold but also a risky move. Beyond the specific results in this case, the results will set the tone for relations with Iran, the challenge of radical Islam, chances for progress in George Mitchell’s peace efforts, and the policy based on engagement and dialogue.
Iran, Cuba, Libya, the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and other paragons of human rights have used this framework for antisemitism and to demonize Israel, advance Holocaust denial and make a mockery of human rights. They have also attempted to legislate against free speech, using allegations of “Islamophobia” to block criticism of extremism and violence. Canada and Israel have lost hope and pulled out, and some European officials have spoken about not participating, but are now waiting for the results of the US policy.
If the Americans succeed in reversing this agenda in the brief time that remains, it would mark a major success and set the stage for restoring US influence and values. Proponents of engagement argue that the Obama Administration can help steer this UN conference so that it actually focuses on discrimination against minorities around the world, and is not another platform for anti-Israel obsession.
Alternatively, if this strategy fails, and the text remains poisonous, an American-led walkout with the 27 members of the European Union and some others would delegitimize the Durban process.
HOWEVER, IF Washington hesitates and compromises, allowing the OIC and like-minded NGOs to control the agenda, the participation of the world’s democracies will do immense damage. It will amplify the impact of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, including the NGO Forum which used terms like “apartheid” and “racism” to isolate Israel.
Using the Durban strategy, Palestinians launched terror attacks with the knowledge that the Israeli responses would be condemned as “war crimes”, which, in turn, would justify boycotts on the South African model. Instead of negotiations based on acceptance of Israel, the goal of annihilation was reinforced. In parallel, Durban has advanced the radical Islamist agenda, justifying violent attacks against critics, and further narrowing free speech, including in Europe. The preparations for the April 2009 conference all point to the same agenda.
In parallel, the obstacles to hopes of reversing the course of the Review Conference were highlighted by the exploitation of human rights rhetoric, double standards, and legal processes initiated against Israeli officials in Spain and elsewhere, stemming from the IDF’s Gaza operation. NGO superpowers such as Human Rights, Amnesty International, Paris-based FIDH, and Oxfam, along with Palestinian NGOs (such as PCHR, which is funded by European governments), Libyan-backed groups, and many others are central in this form of deadly warfare, and will be active in Geneva.
With such high stakes, the failure to defeat the Durban strategy will intensify hatred, and carry a major cost for the Obama Administration’s policy of dialogue and engagement with opponents. In 2001, the American and Israeli delegations went to Durban expecting that reason and decency would prevail; but when this proved futile, their walkout came too late. To avoid a repetition, the US needs to show moral leadership and, if necessary, readiness to admit that dialogue has failed.
The writer chairs the Political Science department at Bar Ilan University, and is Executive Director of NGO Monitor.
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By Gregg J. Rickman ·
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 18, 2009
WASHINGTON (JTA) — The 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, otherwise known as the Durban Conference, was a parley hijacked by radicals betraying the real purpose of the event — the confrontation of racial discrimination worldwide.
The April 2009 Durban II conference promises to top that fiasco, despite the Obama administration’s decision to attempt to influence the process.
In the end it will be a Holocaust-denying, anti-Israel hate-fest. The United States, the Europeans and all other democratic nations should boycott this cynical effort to incite racist hatred and religious bigotry. If the United States chooses to attend this fraudulent conference, we will legitimize and sanction the bigotry and racism practiced by the world’s most intolerant, anti-democratic nations.
Indeed, it is these nations and their long and hostile records that cause the most concern. Let’s look at a few of them.
If you had to choose a responsible chair for the beginning Conference Preparatory Committee, a safe bet would be to pass over Libya. Yet as the upside-down logic of Durban II goes, the Libyan representative was elected by his peers along with vice chairmen from human rights-abusing nations such as Iran and Cuba.
Libya’s twisted worldview, if there were any doubts, was on exhibit last April when its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, appeared before the Security Council and brazenly compared Israeli actions in Gaza at the time to the Nazis’ systematic killing during the Holocaust.
This is what happens when terrorist countries are elevated to the stature of democratic states. What stunts will they try to pull at Durban II?
Last year, Iran added its peculiar brand of democratic practices to the Durban II process when it protested the credentials registration of the Canadian Council on Israel and Jewish Advocacy, in a preparatory meeting on the conference. As Hershell Ezrin, the council’s chief executive officer, told the Canadian Jewish News last May, “The whole process had become so discriminatory to us, we felt that no matter how many times we answered their questions and responded to shorter and shorter deadlines, we were asked the same questions over and over again.”
With Iran proudly serving as the center of Holocaust denial today, we can only imagine what it has up its sleeve for this conference.
Syria objected recently to language in conference program documents citing the number of Jewish deaths during the Holocaust, saying it didn’t want to engage in a statistical debate. Iran also objected to Holocaust references, complaining that banning denial was a restriction on freedom of expression.
Yet these countries and their allies have been staunch defenders of the insertion of blasphemy legislation in numerous other U.N. forums, a policy that violates freedom of expression through the suppression of any criticism of Islam or its leaders.
The Human Rights Council, the successor to the Human Rights Commission, also has been active in the planning of the conference at the request of the U.N. General Assembly. Yet the council, like its predecessor, has become irrevocably tarred with anti-Semitism and bias against Israel.
As the State Department’s March 2008 Report on Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism explained about these two organizations, “For many years before its abolition, the Commission on Human Rights had a separate agenda item focusing solely on alleged violations of Israel — namely, Item 8, ‘Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.’ This allowed multiple resolutions against Israel, while no other country could have more than one resolution run against it each year. No other country beside Israel had an agenda item exclusively scrutinizing it. This tradition has been continued by the new U.N. Human Rights Council.”
The report said later that “Several important countries, including established democracies, follow a policy of voting ‘on principle’ against all resolutions that criticize a specific country regardless of the merits — unless that country is Israel, in which case they consistently vote in favor of critical resolutions.”
The timing of the Durban II conference is equally disturbing, as it will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from April 20 to 24, overlapping Israel’s annual observance of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, on April 21. How ironic it will be that a conference organized by the United Nations, which gave birth to Israel in 1948 out of the ashes of the Holocaust, promises to repeat its shameful performance of 2001 by again allowing the unbridled eliminationist hatred, condemnation and slander of Israel.
In encouraging this conference to reconvene and worse, leaving it in the hands of the likes of Iran, Libya and other terrorist states, the United Nations again dishonors itself by allowing these tyrants a platform to impose their racial and religious bigotry on the world. How can the United States possibly be a part of this insanity? If we join this charade, we extend this dishonor through our presence, sullying ourselves in the process.
We must do the only honorable deed and boycott Durban II, denying the world’s terrorists and bigots the privilege of our legitimizing presence among them.
(Gregg J. Rickman served as the first U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism from 2006 to 2009.)
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The Independent, Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Emotions have run high over recent events in Gaza. And in this impassioned and searching essay, our writer argues that just below the surface runs a vicious strain of ancient prejudice
I was once in Melbourne when bush fires were raging 20 or 30 miles north of the city. Even from that distance you could smell the burning. Fine fragments of ash, like slivers of charcoal confetti, covered the pavements. The very air was charred. It has been the same here these past couple of months with the fighting in Gaza. Only the air has been charred not with devastation but with hatred. And I don’t mean the hatred of the warring parties for each other. I mean the hatred of Israel expressed in our streets, on our campuses, in our newspapers, on our radios and televisions, and now in our theatres.
A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue.
But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, “criticism” of Israel, pure and simple. In the matter of Israel and the Palestinians this country has been heading towards a dictatorship of the one-minded for a long time; we seem now to have attained it. Deviate a fraction of a moral millimetre from the prevailing othodoxy and you are either not listened to or you are jeered at and abused, your reading of history trashed, your humanity itself called into question. I don’t say that self-pityingly. As always with dictatorships of the mind, the worst harmed are not the ones not listened to, but the ones not listening. So leave them to it, has essentially been my philosophy. A life spent singing anti-Zionist carols in the company of Ken Livingstone and George Galloway is its own punishment.
But responses to the fighting in Gaza have been such as to drive even the most quiescent of English Jews – whether quiescent because we have learnt to expect nothing else, or because we are desperate to avoid trouble, or because we have our own frustrations with Israel to deal with – out of our usual stoical reserve. Some things cannot any longer go unchallenged.
My first challenge is implicit in the phrase “the fighting in Gaza”, which more justly describes the event than the words “Massacre” and “Slaughter” which anti-Israel demonstrators carry on their placards. This is not a linguistic ploy on my part to play down the horror of Gaza or to minimise the loss of life. In an article in this newspaper last week, Robert Fisk argued that “a Palestinian woman and her child are as worthy of life as a Jewish woman and her child on the back of a lorry in Auschwitz”. I am not sure who he was arguing with, but it certainly isn’t me.
I do not differentiate between the worth of lives and no more wish to harm or see harmed the hair of a single Palestinian than do those who make cause, here in safe cosy old easy-come easy-go England, with Hamas. Indeed, given Hamas’s record of violence to its own people – read the latest report from Amnesty if you doubt it – it’s possible I wish to harm the hair of a single Palestinian less. But that might be rhetoric in which case I apologise for it.
Rhetoric is precisely what has warped report and analysis these past months, and in the process made life fraught for most English Jews who, like me, do not differentiate between the worth of Jewish and Palestinian lives, though the imputation – loud and clear in a new hate-fuelled little chamber-piece by Caryl Churchill – is that Jews do. “Massacre” and “Slaughter” are rhetorical terms. They determine the issue before it can begin to be discussed. Are you for massacre or are you not? When did you stop slaughtering your wife?
I watched demonstrators approach members of the public with their petitions. “Do you want an end to the slaughter in Gaza?” What were those approached expected to reply? – “No, I want it to continue unabated.” If “Massacre” presumes indiscriminate, “Slaughter” presumes innocence. There is no dodging the second of those. In Gaza the innocent have suffered unbearably. But it is in the nature of modern war, where soldiers no longer toss grenades at one another from their trenches, that the innocent pay.
Live television pictures of civilian fatalities rightly distress and anger us. Similar pictures of the damage this country did to the innocent of Berlin would have distressed and angered us no less. The outrage we feel does credit to our humanity, but says nothing about the justice of a particular war. Insist that all wars are too cruel ever to be called just, argue that any discharge of weapons in the vicinity of the innocent is murderous, and you will meet no resistance from me; but you will have in the same breath to implicate Hamas who make a virtue of endangering their own civilian population, and who, as everyone knows but many choose to discount, have been firing rockets into Israeli towns for years.
The inefficiency of those rockets, landing God knows where and upon God knows whom, is often cited to minimise the offence. As though murderous intention can be mitigated by the obsolescence of the weaponry. In fact the inefficiency only exacerbates the crime. How much more indiscriminate can you be than to lob unstable rockets into civilian areas and hope for a hit? Massacre manqué, we might call it – slaughter in all but a good aim. And this not from some disaffected group we might liken to the IRA, but the legitimately elected government of Gaza.
If it is a war crime for one government to fire on civilians, it is a war crime for another. But when a protester joined a demonstration at Sheffield University recently, calling on both sides to desist, her placard was seized and trampled underfoot, while the young in their liberation scarves and embryo compassion looked on and said not one word.
And Israel? Well, speaking on BBC television at the height of the fighting, Richard Kemp, former commander of British Troops in Afghanistan and a senior military adviser to the British government, said the following: “I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare where any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of civilians than the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) is doing today in Gaza.” A judgement I can no more corroborate than those who think very differently can disprove.
Right or wrong, it was a contribution to the argument from someone who is more informed on military matters than most of us, but did it make a blind bit of difference to the tone of popular execration? It did not. When it comes to Israel we hear no good, see no good, speak no good. We turn our backsides to what we do not want to know about and bury it in distaste, like our own ordure. We did it and go on doing it with all official contestation of the mortality figures provided by Hamas. We do it with Hamas’s own private executions and their policy of deploying human shields. We do it with the sotto voce admission by the UN that “a clerical error” caused it to mis-describe the bombing of that UN school which at the time was all the proof we needed of Israel’s savagery. It now turns out that Israel did not bomb the school at all. But there’s no emotional mileage in a correction. The libel sticks, the retraction goes unnoticed.
But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is criticism of Israel, pure and simple.
A laughably benign locution, “criticism”, for what is in fact – what has in recent years become – a desire to word a country not just out of the commonwealth of nations but out of physical existence altogether. Richard Ingrams daydreams of the time when Israel will no longer be, an after-dinner sleep which is more than an old man’s idle prophesying. It is for him a consummation devoutly to be wished. This week Bruce Anderson also looked to such a time, but in his case with profound regret. Israel has missed and goes on missing chances to be magnanimous, he argued, as no victor has ever been before. That’s a high expectation, but I am in sympathy with it, and it is an expectation in line with what Israel’s greatest writers and peace campaigners – Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman – have been saying for years. Though it is interesting that not a one of those believed such magnanimity included allowing Hamas’s rockets to go on falling unhindered into Israel.
Was not the original withdrawal from Gaza and the dismantling of the rightly detested settlements a sufficient signal of peaceful intent, and a sufficient opportunity for it to be reciprocated? Magnanimity is by definition unilateral, but it takes two for it to be more than a suicidal gesture. And the question has to be asked whether a Jewish state, however magnanimous and conciliatory, will ever be accepted in the Middle East.
But my argument is not with the Palestinians or even with Hamas. People in the thick of it pursue their own agenda as best they can. But what’s our agenda? What do we, in the cosy safety of tolerant old England, think we are doing when we call the Israelis Nazis and liken Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto? Do those who blithely make these comparisons know anything whereof they speak?
In the early 1940s some 100,000 Jews and Romanis died of engineered starvation and disease in the Warsaw Ghetto, another quarter of a million were transported to the death camps, and when the Ghetto rose up it was liquidated, the last 50,000 residents being either shot on the spot or sent to be murdered more hygienically in Treblinka. Don’t mistake me: every Palestinian killed in Gaza is a Palestinian too many, but there is not the remotest similarity, either in intention or in deed – even in the most grossly mis-reported deed – between Gaza and Warsaw.
Given the number of besieged and battered cities there have been in however many thousands of years of pitiless warfare there is only one explanation for this invocation of Warsaw before any of those – it is to wound Jews in their recent and most anguished history and to punish them with their own grief. Its aim is a sort of retrospective retribution, cancelling out all debts of guilt and sorrow. It is as though, by a reversal of the usual laws of cause and effect, Jewish actions of today prove that Jews had it coming to them yesterday.
Berating Jews with their own history, disinheriting them of pity, as though pity is negotiable or has a sell-by date, is the latest species of Holocaust denial, infinitely more subtle than the David Irving version with its clunking body counts and quibbles over gas-chamber capability and chimney sizes. Instead of saying the Holocaust didn’t happen, the modern sophisticated denier accepts the event in all its terrible enormity, only to accuse the Jews of trying to profit from it, either in the form of moral blackmail or downright territorial theft. According to this thinking, the Jews have betrayed the Holocaust and become unworthy of it, the true heirs to their suffering being the Palestinians. Thus, here and there throughout the world this year, Holocaust day was temporarily annulled or boycotted on account of Gaza, dead Jews being found guilty of the sins of live ones.
Anti-Semitism? Absolutely not. It is “criticism” of Israel, pure and simple. A number of variations on the above sophistical nastiness have been fermenting in the more febrile of our campuses for some time. One particularly popular version, pseudo-scientific in tone, understands Zionism as a political form given to a psychological condition – Jews visiting upon others the traumas suffered by themselves, with Israel figuring as the torture room in which they do it. This is is pretty well the thesis of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, an audacious 10-minute encapsulation of Israel’s moral collapse – the audacity residing in its ignorance or its dishonesty – currently playing at the Royal Court. The play is conceived in the form of a family roundelay, with different voices chiming in with suggestions as to the best way to bring up, protect, inform, and ultimately inflame into animality an unseen child in each of the chosen seven periods of contemporary Jewish history. It begins with the Holocaust, partly to establish the playwright’s sympathetic bona fides (“Tell her not to come out even if she hears shouting”), partly to explain what has befallen Palestine, because no sooner are the Jews out of the hell of Hitler’s Europe than they are constructing a parallel hell for Palestinians.
Anyone with scant knowledge of the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations – that is to say, judging from what they chant, the majority of anti-Israel demonstrators – would assume from this that Jews descended on the country as from a clear blue sky; that they had no prior association with the land other than in religious fantasy and through some scarce remembered genealogical affiliation: “Tell her it’s the land God gave us/… Tell her her great great great great lots of greats grandad lived there” – the latter line garnering much knowing laughter in the theatre the night I was there, by virtue of the predatiousness lurking behind the childlike vagueness.
You cannot of course tell the whole story of anywhere in 10 minutes, but then why would you want to unless you conceive it to be simple and one-sided? The staccato form of the piece – every line beginning “Tell her” or “Don’t tell her” – is skilfully contrived to suggest a people not just forever fraught and frightened but forever covert and deceitful. Nothing is true. Boasts are denials and denials are boasts. Everything is mediated through the desire to put the best face, first on fear, then on devious appropriation, and finally on evil.
That being the case, it is hard to be certain what the playwright knows and what she doesn’t, what she, in her turn, means deliberately to twist or just unthinkingly helps herself to from the poor box of leftist propaganda. The overall impression, nonetheless, is of a narrative slavishly in line with the familiar rhetoric, making little or nothing of the Jews’ unbroken connection with the country going back to the Arab conquest more than a thousand years before, the piety felt for the land, the respect for its non-Jewish inhabitants (their rights must “be guarded and honoured punctiliously,” Ben Gurion wrote in 1918), the waves of idealistic immigration which long predated the post-Holocaust influx with its twisted psychology, and the hopes of peaceful co-existence, for the tragic dashing of which Arab countries in their own obduracy and intolerance bear no less responsibility.
Quite simply, in this wantonly inflammatory piece, the Jews drop in on somewhere they have no right to be, despise, conquer, and at last revel in the spilling of Palestinian blood. There is a one-line equivocal mention of a suicide bomber, and ditto of rockets, both compromised by the “Tell her” device, otherwise no Arab lifts a finger against a Jew. “Tell her about Jerusalem,” but no one tells her, for example, that the Jewish population of East Jersusalem was expelled at about the time our survivors turn up, that it was cleansed from the city and its sacred places desecrated or destroyed. Only in the crazed brains of Israelis can the motives for any of their subsequent actions be found.
Thus lie follows lie, omission follows omission, until, in the tenth and final minute, we have a stage populated by monsters who kill babies by design – “Tell her we killed the babies by mistake,” one says, meaning don’t tell her what we really did – who laugh when they see a dead Palestinian policeman (“Tell her they’re animals… Tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out”), who consider themselves the “chosen people”, and who admit to feeling happy when they see Palestinian “children covered in blood”.
Anti-Semitic? No, no. Just criticism of Israel.
Only imagine this as Seven Muslim Children and we know that the Royal Court would never have had the courage or the foolhardiness to stage it. I say that with no malice towards Muslims. I do not approve of censorship but I admire their unwillingness to be traduced. It would seem that we Jews, however, for all our ingrained brutality – we English Jews at least – are considered a soft touch. You can say what you like about us, safe in the knowledge that while we slaughter babies and laugh at murdered policemen (“Tell her we’re the iron fist now”) we will squeak no louder than a mouse when we are abused.
Caryl Churchill will argue that her play is about Israelis not Jews, but once you venture on to “chosen people” territory – feeding all the ancient prejudice against that miscomprehended phrase – once you repeat in another form the medieval blood-libel of Jews rejoicing in the murder of little children, you have crossed over. This is the old stuff. Jew-hating pure and simple – Jew-hating which the haters don’t even recognise in themselves, so acculturated is it – the Jew-hating which many of us have always suspected was the only explanation for the disgust that contorts and disfigures faces when the mere word Israel crops up in conversation. So for that we are grateful. At last that mystery is solved and that lie finally nailed. No, you don’t have to be an anti-Semite to criticise Israel. It just so happens that you are.
If one could simply leave them to it one would. It’s a hell of its own making, hating Jews for a living. Only think of the company you must keep. But these things are catching. Take Michael Billington’s somnolent review of the play in the Guardian. I would imagine that any accusation of anti-Semitism would horrify Michael Billington. And I certainly don’t make it. But if you wanted an example of how language itself can sleepwalk the most innocent towards racism, then here it is. “Churchill shows us,” he writes, “how Jewish children are bred to believe in the ‘otherness’ of Palestinians…”
It is not just the adopted elision of Israeli children into Jewish children that is alarming, or the unquestioning acceptance of Caryl Churchill’s offered insider knowledge of Israeli child-rearing, what’s most chilling is that lazy use of the word “bred”, so rich in eugenic and bestial connotations, but inadvertently slipped back into the conversation now, as truth. Fact: Jews breed children in order to deny Palestinians their humanity. Watching another play in the same week, Billington complains about its manipulation of racial stereotypes. He doesn’t, you see, even notice the inconsistency.
And so it happens. Without one’s being aware of it, it happens. A gradual habituation to the language of loathing. Passed from the culpable to the unwary and back again. And soon, before you know it…
Not here, though. Not in cosy old lazy old easy-come easy-go England.