Tag Archives: Arab

Blame Canada (for Anti-Zionism)

By Adina Rosenthal

Canadian bacon isn’t the only thing that’s unkosher. Earlier this month, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA), released its report concluding that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada, especially on university campuses. Since its inception in March 2009, the CPCCA, composed of 22 Parliamentarians from all parties in the House of Commons, has conducted investigations and hearings with the purported purpose “of confronting and combating antisemitism [sic] in Canada today.” Based on its findings, the committee made several recommendations to its government, such as training Canadian police forces on how to better handle anti-Semitic incidents, sponsoring conferences at universities to combat anti-Semitic events and establishing a clear definition for anti-Semitism. According to Former Liberal MP Mario Silva, Chair of the CPCCA Inquiry Panel that published the report, “We are calling on the Government of Canada to take our recommendations under serious consideration to combat the wave of antisemitism we are witnessing in our nation. Canada is founded on a set of shared values and antisemitism is an affront to all we stand for in this country.”

In their report, the CPCCA identified a “new anti-Semitism” prominent in Canadian discourse, that is “increasingly focused on the role of Israel in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.” The report further adds, “Jews are seen as supporters of Israel and are seen by some, who do not distinguish between Israelis and Jews, as a legitimate target in the fight to establish a Palestinian state or to eliminate the State of Israel.” Moreover, “anti-Semitism is being manifested in a manner which has never been dealt with before…Jewish students are ridiculed and intimidated for any deemed support for the ‘Nazi’ and ‘apartheid’ State of Israel, which is claimed to have no right to exist.” In short, anti-Zionist rhetoric has simply becomes a guise for anti-Semitic sentiment.

But not everyone is sold on the CPCCA’s report, with some critics arguing that the committee’s findings are being used to prevent legitimate criticism of Israel.  According to Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, “By referring to Israel as a ‘Jewish collectivity’ in the anti-Semitism definition, it means the state can’t be criticized…But Israel should be allowed to be criticized by the same standards of any state.” Last March, Bloc Québécois members dropped out of the committee, claiming the coalition had a pro-Israel bias. As Michel Guimond, the Bloc Whip, told a Quebec newspaper at that time: “We consider the coalition is tainted, partisan and presents a single side of the coin” in reference to the coalition’s alleged refusal to hear from pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian groups like Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and the Canadian Arab Federation.

In direct response to those who felt ill-represented during the CPCCA’s investigation, Silva argued that such groups “weren’t prepared at all, in fact, to even have any positive contribution, even state the fact that anti-Semitism is a problem…They’d rather just focus on attacking the work we were doing.”

The question of where anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism reaches beyond Canada’s borders. In Iceland, Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson announced he would support the Palestinians’ initiative to petition for state recognition at the United Nations this fall, a measure that would undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The foreign minister made this announcement after a trip to Gaza in which he concurrently called for an end to the Gaza blockade and avoided any contact with Israel. In response to criticism of the Foreign Minster’s slighting of Israel, writer Katharina Hauptmann of the Iceland Review insisted, “The fact that the Icelandic government may have issues with Israel’s treatment of Palestine has nothing at all to do with anti-Semitism.” In regards to Yale closing its initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, a recent Jerusalem Post article pointed out, “Given the widespread acceptability of anti-Zionism, some anti-Semites have insisted that they’re ‘only’ anti-Zionists, and that Israel and the Jews have become the new Nazis, perpetrating a Holocaust of their own.”

Essentially, it seems that whether anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are being melded is not the issue. Both sides agree that they are, and a new definition of anti-Semitism is now commonly accepted. Rather, the point of contention is whether such a conflation is legitimate. If you are anti-Semitic, you are probably anti-Zionist, but does the converse also hold true?  If you are anti-Zionist, are you also anti-Semitic? The answer is “not necessarily”; political discourse isn’t usually so black and white.

The CPCCA report evinces a global increase in anti-Semitism. According to the British Community Security Trust, the United Kingdom had 924 anti-Semitic incidents in 2009, finding that the main reason for this record spike was the “unprecedented number” of such incidents recorded in January and February of 2009, during and after the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The CPCCA report draws parallels with this data for Canada, noting 1,306 anti-Semitic incidents in 2010, up from 1,264 the year before. According to the CPCCA report, “As in other jurisdictions [of Canada], antisemitic incidents…tend to be tied to the situation in the Middle East.” Though the report doesn’t provide concrete numbers of anti-Zionism resulting in anti-Semitic acts, the qualitative evidence, particularly on Canadian campuses, should raise some eyebrows. Math might not provide a definitive answer here.  But if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…well, you be the judge.

Accept Friend Request?

by Amanda Walgrove

It’s Complicated between Israel and Egypt. After Israel Unfriended Turkey last year, she has only had one longstanding friend remaining in the Middle Eastern Network. Last month, many Egyptians responded that they would be attending what some have deemed the “Facebook Revolution” in an effort to overthrow Hosni Mubarak’s regime. An event invite that was scheduled to begin on January 25, 2011 continued through February 11 as Israel watched, anxiously reloading her News Feed and fending off other friends’ frustrating requests to buy sheep on Farmville. Although Egypt’s account was briefly Deactivated, the revolutionaries eventually hacked Mubarak’s Page and gave his password to the Muslim Brotherhood. The world watched nervously as Egypt’s Profile Picture changed from a stunning frame of Mubarak to a chaotically crowded scene pervading Tahrir Square. When Israel logged in and was prompted to answer, “What’s on Your Mind?” she was faced with conflicting emotions. Would this revolution mean a possible transition into a democratic system, or a dangerously anarchic period in which Israel would be thwarted by radical Islamists and inevitably Unfriended by Egypt?

Israel needed to take a stand if she wanted to provide support to her Middle Eastern Friend. It would be a brash move to click the “Like” button on Egypt’s most recent Status Update: “Mubarak no! Democracy now!” After all, she could always go back and Unlike the status later if need be. Unfortunately for some, namely Hosni Mubarak and ’tweens disenchanted with Justin Bieber’s new haircut, Facebook has yet to offer a Dislike button. Although the Camp David Accords remained the highlight of Israel and Egypt’s Friendship Page and they can publicly share “Democracy” under their Common Interests, relations have recently been tenuous and now looms the possibility of beginning a dangerously Open Relationship.

One assertive action that Israel took during the tumultuous revolution was to open her doors to twelve American study-abroad students whose Education Info used to boast Egyptian universities. These students were invited to continue their Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, representing another way in which the youthful constituent played a role in this historic event.

As of now, the relationship between Israel and Egypt remains Complicated. While recent Facebook developments now provide them with the ability to publicize that they are in a Civil Union or Domestic Partnership, it’s a good guess that neither of those options will be acted upon. Egypt will, however, be carefully monitoring any Wall-to-Wall exchanges between Israel and Gaza. Other pages, such as those of Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority will have to be sufficiently stalked in order to stay abreast of new developments. Who knows what might be surreptitiously discussed on Facebook Chat? Overseas, Israel and America are tightly linked, but as America fumbles with its foreign policy, Israel may be prompted to begin sending out new Friend Requests. Plenty of Notifications are expected to pop up in this continued period of dangerous unrest in the Middle East. In the meantime, Israel is hoping that while Egypt is in a transitional state, they will avoid creating problems with international allies. With any luck, unnecessary Poking will be kept to a minimum.

The South Sudanese Are ‘The Jews of Our Time’

By Charles Jacobs

The stars in Wanyjok’s sky blazed so bright it seemed as though God himself had switched on the lights in the vast blackness. I hadn’t seen a sky like this since I was a boy in the New Jersey countryside. It helped me understand how men from time immemorial have sought patterns in the stars—signs from the Creator of what was to come. I felt that here, in southern Sudan, God was signaling a miracle.

I flew to Sudan on January 6 to witness the birth of a nation. Historically, the Arabs have dominated Sudan. In 1983 the Khartoum’s Islamists imposed Shariah throughout the country provoking southern rebellion. For decades, the north assaulted the African Christian/animist south. Over 2 million have been killed and tens of thousands enslaved.

To break the resistance, the regime sent Arab militias to enslave southern women and children. Girls were used as domestics, boys as cattle herders, women as concubines and sex slaves. The right not to be owned by another human is second only to the right to life. Yet none of the establishment human rights groups screamed out about these slaves.

With an op-ed in the New York Times, and help from Muslim and Christian Africans, I launched an anti-slavery movement. (www.iabolish.org) We built an unlikely left/right coalition – from Pat Robertson to Barney Frank to the Congressional Black Caucus.

I always viewed the Southern Sudanese as “the Jews of our time”—murdered and enslaved—while the so-called civilized world stood by. At a meeting once with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, I asked why America refused to use the word genocide when describing Sudan. Did we not make the same mistake 60 years ago when we ignored the annihilation of Europe’s Jews?  The answer: By law, if we call it genocide we have to act. We were not going to act, so we couldn’t call it genocide.

When UNICEF blasted our partners Christian Solidarity International for redeeming slaves, I argued the group was following Jewish law. When it suggested the slaves must wait for liberation until hostilities ended, I responded: “That’s exactly what the West told the Jews about Auschwitz.”

CSI freed slaves through an existing Dinka-Arab peace treaty. Arabs who needed Dinka wetlands for grazing would travel north and retrieve the slaves. CSI supported the treaty by providing cash to the retrievers.

In 2005 President Bush stopped Khartoum’s war by imposing a peace treaty. The south was granted autonomy and an opportunity to vote for self-determination in 2011. The Southerners I interviewed unanimously planned to vote for secession. The results, just in—confirmed by Jimmy Carter no less—had it at 98% for separation. Why? “They stole our children and our wives. They stole our cattle. They murdered us.”

The north recognized the results and the south likely will be free. But what of the slaves?

An estimated 35,000 remain in the North. We trekked to the liberation sites freeing 397 slaves. We wrote about the liberation in The Wall Street Journal and posted slaves’ photographs at www.iabolish.org.

Their stories are heart-wrenching. Many report hard labor, daily death threats, beatings, racial insults and forcible conversion to Islam.  Women are ganged raped and genitally mutilated; their children sold off or given away as a gift.

Who would we be if we left these people in bondage?

It was good to be a Jew in southern Sudan. An airport guard, upon learning I was Jewish, brightened with a smile and a hug: “Welcome, you are one of God’s chosen people,” he said. And several Dinka men marveled at Israel’s defeat of Arab armies.

We’ve come a long way. Years ago, when an escaped Sudanese slave Francis Bok watched The Ten Commandments, he grew tearful.  “God opened the Sea for the Hebrew slaves, but He’s not yet redeemed my people,” he said.

Go look now, dear Francis, at the stars in Wanyjok.

Charles Jacobs is President of the American Anti-Slavery Group

Why The Wikileaks Are Not All Bad

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Much of the discussion over the Wikileaks dump has focused on the negative impact of the released cables.  But there may be a silver lining.  Within the diplomatic community it may come as no surprise that Arab leaders expressed great concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions in private, but this is the first time that their true feelings have been publically revealed.   Using aggressive, undiplomatic language, leaders such as Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan exhorted American diplomats (respectively) to “cut off the head of the snake” and informed them, in eerily familiar echoes, that “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.”

While the release of the cables demonstrates Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange’s lack of respect for or understanding of diplomatic reality, they nevertheless provide a unique opportunity for Western, Israeli, and Arab governments to launch a different kind of discussion on Iran.   Fear of the “Arab street” and subsequent political fallout is the oft-cited reason as to why Arab leaders have been so duplicitous on Iran and similarly sensitive issues.  But now that anyone with internet access can now see for themselves how Arab leaders truly feel about Iran, these leaders will finally find out if their fears were justified or if, as Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy asks, “will it turn out that in this era of authoritarian retrenchment they [Arab leaders] really can get away with whatever diplomatic heresies they like?”  Even if the “Arab street” does turn against them, it is too late to retract their words and for a short window of time, the West and Israel can use that “diplomatic heresy” to pressure Arab leaders to publicly come out of the closet about a nuclear Iran.

But this new kind of conversation need not, indeed should not, occur only among top leadership but also on a grassroots level. If these leaks show anything, it is that the disconnect between public and private rhetoric about the Middle East has not ameliorated the situation.  While the wheels of diplomacy turn slowly and often in secret, Sunni-Arab states and their populations have as much to lose as Israel as potential targets of an Iranian attack.  The release of these cables offer Western, Israeli, and Arab activists alike a rare opportunity to gain inside knowledge and to use that incontrovertible proof as leverage when they demand a more open conversation on Iran.

As the Wikileaks story has been playing out, I’m continuously reminded of a scene in the West Wing between President Bartlett and a Republican opponent in which each traded stereotypical insults about other, but in the end admitted that there was one point on which they could both agree and move forward on together.  Iran is that point for Arab, Western, and Israeli leaders.  They may harbor distrust or even genuine hatred for one or the other side, but the leaks have publicly revealed how very close they are on this particular issue and present an opportunity for all of them to work together towards a common goal: containing Iran and its nuclear ambitions.  Moreover, if a good working relationship among Arab states and Israel on this issue can be established, perhaps it will open to the door for more productive negotiations on another Middle East stalemate–the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

At the risk of butchering a metaphor, the leaked cables may have handed out many lemons over these past few days, but it has also offered a chance to make some damned good lemonade.  So pass the juicer.

Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe.