Published in Canadian Charger September 2009
Fighting Antisemitism in Canada
Yakov M Rabkin
Canada’s parliamentarians have formed a coalition to fight antisemitism. All initiatives to combat racism deserve praise, provided this work benefit Canadians, rather than serve interests of foreign powers. One such power is the State of Israel for whom antisemitism provides its raison d’être. According to the Israeli author Tom Segev, the founder of Zionism Theodore Herzl considered antisemites «our friends and allies»: antisemites want to be rid of Jews while Zionists want to gather them to Israel.
Many Jews realized this and opposed Zionism from its very beginning in the late 19th century: they saw that Zionists played into the hands of their worst enemies, the antisemites. Indeed, the Zionists’ cooperation with antisemites was usually harmonious. Thus, in the 1930s, Zionist emissaries in Germany established a smooth working relationship with the Nazi authorities. In the opinion of Howard Sachar, American historian sympathetic to the Zionist movement, Adolf Eichmann, who was then in charge of Jewish emigration, “dealt cordially and cooperatively with Zionist representatives from Palestine. When the Zionists sought permission to open vocational training camps for future emigrants [to Palestine], Eichmann willingly supplied them with housing and equipment”.
Ever since 1948, when the Zionists unilaterally declared independence against the will of Palestine’s non-Jewish majority, Israeli leaders openly worry about Jews becoming again a minority in the Holy Land. To counter this spectre, they encourage immigration of Jewish citizens of other countries. Since most immigrants have moved to Israel under the threat – real or perceived – of antisemitism, rather than for ideological reasons, antisemitism has served Israel’s interests.
The former head of Israel’s intelligence services Y. Harkabi warned a few years ago: “It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of antisemitism, was to become a factor in the rise of antisemitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also Jews throughout the world.” Nowadays Jews in Canada and other countries are increasingly associated with Israel’s bomber aircraft, gun-toting soldiers and Zionist settlers that fill the TV screens of the world. However, Israeli authorities are not concerned that their policies towards the Palestinians breed antisemitism around the world. To the contrary, the rise of antisemitism supports their claim that only in Israel can a Jew feel safe.
At the same time, “vassals of Israel” (a term coined by the former Israeli ambassador to France Elie Barnavi for individuals often mistaken for Jewish leaders), not only proclaim their loyalty to Israel, they defiantly fly Israeli flags at the entrance of Jewish institutions, including old-age homes and hospitals. This irresponsible conflation of Israel and Jewish Canadians provokes antisemitism and invites hostility. The standard Zionist claim that Israel – a distant and bellicose state most Jews neither control nor inhabit – is “the state of the Jewish people” implicates innocent Jews in Canada into what Israel is and does. This is what foments antisemitism in our country.
Ironically, while these “vassals of Israel” contribute to the growth of anti-Jewish sentiment in Canada, they hurl accusations of antisemitism at even the most moderate critics of Israel. It is this heavy-handed tactic that generates resentment and feeds antisemitism. Conversely, Canadian Jews who speak against Israeli abuses of power – such as Independent Jewish Voices – profoundly undermine antisemitic beliefs. They embody the diversity of Jewish life – “two Jews, three opinions” – that flies in the face of the antisemitic canard of the world Jewish conspiracy.
In the wake of the Holocaust, many prominent Jews, including the philosopher Martin Buber and the political scientist Hannah Arendt, warned that establishing an ethnic state for Jews would plunge the entire region into incessant violence. They believed that only a pluralistic state for all inhabitants of Palestine would ensure peace. Since then, over a million Israeli citizens have left their perennially threatened ethnocracy for liberal democracies elsewhere. Many more Israeli Jews have settled in Canada than Canadian Jews who have left their country for Israel.
Canadians mean well when they associate Jews, who suffered in the Holocaust because of their ethnicity, with the state of Israel, which has assured this ethnic group a monopoly on power. Thus they uphold the myth according to which Israel represents the Jews around the world and constitutes their natural homeland. This does not help to fight prejudice. To fight antisemitism, it is crucial to dissociate Jews and Judaism from the State of Israel and its behaviour. Our parliamentarians should affirm the right of all Canadians to criticize Israel like any other country in the world, without the fear of being labelled antisemitic. This would be a sure way to rid Canada of the scourge of antisemitism, new and old.
The author is Professor of History at the University of Montreal; his recent book, A Threat from within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism (Fernwood), has been translated to eight languages and nominated for the Governor General Award.