Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Anti-Semitism and the apartheid aspersion

Anti-Semitism and the apartheid aspersion

Ruthie Blum

On Wednesday, British MP George Galloway caused a stir at Oxford University. Galloway was participating in a debate on whether “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank,” organized by Christ Church College. Galloway argued that it should.

His opponent in the debate was Eylon Aslan-Levy, a third-year philosophy, politics and economics student at Brasenose College. Like Galloway, Aslan-Levy agreed that “the Occupation must end,” but not “immediately; overnight; unilaterally; without any guarantees from the Palestinians to match such dramatic concessions by calling an end to this century-old conflict.”

This, he asserted, “is the lesson from the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 … We wanted peace: we got war. We mustn’t make the same mistake again.”

About three minutes into Aslan-Levy’s presentation, just as he was about to discuss why “only a peace treaty can provide a framework for enduring peace and security,” Galloway interrupted him.

“You said ‘we,’” Galloway blurted out. “Are you Israeli?”

“Yes I am,” answered Aslan-Levy.

“I don’t debate with Israelis,” Galloway grumbled, storming out of the lecture hall. “I don’t recognize Israel.”

He then posted the following explanation on his Facebook page: "I refused this evening at Oxford University to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the apartheid state of Israel. The reason is simple: no recognition, no normalization. Just boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the apartheid state is defeated.”

It is statements like these — in a sea of other shocking displays of Israel-bashing — that have caused even Left-leaning pro-“two-state-solution” Jews to feel uncomfortable in Great Britain. The short-lived, post-Holocaust period during which public expressions of anti-Semitism were taboo, is over. As if this weren’t bad enough, today one cannot even call the vile phenomenon by its proper name. This is because it has been cloaked in a costume of legitimacy called “criticism” of Israeli policies.

No misnomer better illustrates this anti-Semitism-laundering than “apartheid.” And the best thing about it — as far as enemies of the Jews and Israel are concerned — is that once uttered, it transforms into a genie that can’t be put back into its bottle, no matter how often it is disproven or retracted. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has said that when he titled his 2006 best-seller “Israel: Peace not Apartheid,” he didn’t mean to compare the situation in the Jewish state with that of South Africa in the past. But nobody heard him, and fewer cared. The damage was done, and not to his book royalties.

As disingenuous, defamatory, and dangerous a practice as this is on the part of anti-Semites abroad, however, there are no words harsh enough to describe its home-grown variety, disseminated by Israelis. When these are well-known political or intellectual figures, they provide cover for their counterparts in other countries. In exchange, they are granted all kinds of career and personal perks, from constant conference junkets to book deals and lecture tours, to luxury-laden vacations in chalets and castles. Nice work if you can get it — particularly if you are a has-been, no longer in high demand in inner circles.

A perfect case in point is Alon Liel. For decades, he worked his way up through the Foreign Ministry, eventually to become its director-general. He held various diplomatic positions, and taught courses in international relations. He also served as Israel’s ambassador to South Africa from 1992-1994, during apartheid. A long-time member of Israel’s peace camp — and an “expert” on negotiations — Liel was a regular guest on talk shows. He still is, to some extent, but not enough to be recognized in restaurants.

His last actual job in foreign affairs ended more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s been trying to keep busy and remain relevant. This he has done with projects such as the “Israel-Syria Peace Society,” which he founded and chairs.

On Wednesday, as Galloway was making his grand exit at Oxford, Liel was giving a speech at a conference in Jerusalem on whether Israel is, or could become, an apartheid state.

“I’m here today because I came to the conclusion that the occupation of the West Bank as it exists today is a sort of Israeli apartheid,” he declared, claiming to know what he was talking about as a result of his having been ambassador to Pretoria.

To add treason to slander, Liel made an appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama, ahead of his trip to Israel next month. “If you … intend to come here for a courtesy visit — don’t come,” he said. “… You cannot come to an area that exhibits signs of apartheid and ignore them. That would simply be an unethical visit. You yourself know full well that Israel is standing at the apartheid cliff. If you don’t deal with this topic during your visit, the responsibility will at the end of the process also lie with you.”

With Israelis like Liel, who needs anti-Semites like Galloway?

Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’”