Monday, February 26, 2007

Does Quoting Israeli Human Rights Organizations Constitute "Legitimate" Criticism?

Earlier this month James Kirchick challenged the idea that Israel supporters stifle debate about the Israel-Palestine issue in the U.S. by charging Israel's critics with anti-Semitism. Kirchick wrote:

When prodded to identify an instance in which legitimate criticism of Israel has been labeled “anti-Semitic,” the promoters of this meme come up with nothing.

I'm curious to find out who, exactly, Kirchick "prodded," as his claim disintegrates on contact with Google. Then again, I have to wonder what criticism of Israel might be considered "legitimate" by a protege of Marty "Jimmy Carter is a Jew-hater" Peretz? Kirchick may want to check out Anne Bayefsky's condemnation of the UN Human Rights Council's report on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which is a classic of the genre.

As with much of what emanates from the Israelphile right on this issue, the piece is characterized by the author's complete inability to grasp the idea that the Israeli occupation, and the humiliation, harassment, and violence which it visits daily upon its Palestinian subjects, fuels hatred of Israel, and of Jews, and that that hatred, in turn, fuels violence and terrorism. The UN's anti-Semitism is simply taken for granted by Bayefsky, and thus statements about the brutality and the racist nature of the occupation, which are a common feature of the debate within Israel, magically become "anti-Semitic" when published in a UN document. (Nearly all of the violations listed in the report have already been copiously documented by Israeli human rights organizations.)

Bayefsky's screed is a veritable gift basket of logical fallacies, the kind that William F. Buckley was fond of calling down, but which are now simply tools of the trade for the gang at National Review. I had to re-read this bit a few times:
The ultimate carrying-card of U.N.-driven anti-Semitism is to blame the Jewish state for the world’s ills. Dugard exemplifies this most dangerous of canards. He reports:

For years the occupation of Palestine and apartheid in South Africa vied for attention from the international community. In 1994, apartheid came to an end…the OPT has become a test for the West, a test by which its commitment to human rights is to be judged. If the West fails this test, it can hardly expect the developing world to address human rights violations seriously in its own countries...

Thus the U.N. inverts right and wrong. Why should Sudan stop genocide? It’s waiting for the Jews to repent or the Jewishness of Israel to be terminated. Why should Zimbabwe stop murdering and starving its own people, white and black? Why should China grant anybody freedom of speech? Why should Saudi Arabia let women out of the house alone or into any driver’s seat? Why should Egypt stop the mutilation of the genitals of the majority of its married female population? They’re all waiting for a solution to the Jewish state problem.

Frankly, it's difficult to grapple with argumentation this sloppy and dishonest. Bayefsky's claim that the report "blames the Jewish state for the world’s ills" is unsupported by even the most ungenerous reading. Dugard's report is premised on the notion that Israel should be held to international human rights conventions which Israerl has signed and claims to uphold, and that the failure of Western democracies to end Israeli oppression of the Palestinians has had a negative effect on our ability to promote human rights elsewhere. Fairly simple stuff, really. Rather than face, or even bother to dispute, the report's exhaustively documented conclusion that Israel consistently and miserably fails to meet human rights standards in its treatment of the Palestinians, Bayefsky libels Dugard as an anti-Semite, and then points to authoritarian abuses in countries with authoritarian governments, as if they somehow excused or mitigated the Israeli government's own abuses.

We have the requisite outrage over the use of the term "apartheid." I've written before that I think Jimmy Carter's use of the term in his book's title was probably a bad idea, given the distraction that it has predictably become from the book's important and substantive points about Palestinian life under Israeli military rule. That isn't to say that the term in not appropriate. Whatever justifications Israel may have for continuing the occupation, there's little doubt that the experience of Palestinians under that occupation has been very much like South African apartheid. If Israeli policy toward its Palestinian subjects is less explicitly racist in theory than the white South African government's toward black South Africans, which I think is disputable, it has been no less so in application.

Bayefsky saves her real indignation, though, for the report's statements on the ongoing "Judaization" of Palestinian areas:
What Dugard fears most is not hate and the terrorism it fuels, but “Judaization” — the idea of a Jew living in claimed Arab land. Deliberately mirroring Nazi imagery, his report refers to Israel’s security fence this way: “The Wall being built in East Jerusalem is an instrument of social engineering designed to achieve the Judaization of Jerusalem…”

Once again, Bayefsky condemns as "anti-Semitic" conclusions which are not in dispute by serious observers. It's important to understand what we're talking about here: "Judaization" is not, as Bayefsky disingenuously claims, simply "the idea of a Jew living in claimed Arab land." Judaization involves the changing of the demographic and cultural character of Israeli-controlled Palestinian territory through the expropriation of Arab land, the transfer of ownership into Jewish hands, and the transfer of Jewish colonists into that land. This is done through a variety of administrative and military procedures, but let's be clear about this: The Judaization of Palestinian East Jerusalem and key sections of the West Bank is the goal of Israeli policy. If that sounds ugly, it's because it is ugly, for none more than the Palestinian Arabs who have to face it every day, and whose lives and society have been subjugated and brutalized by it for the last forty years.

I encourage you to read and decide for yourself whether the report "epitomizes the foul anti-Semitism which has overtaken the U.N. human-rights machinery," as Bayefsky claims. I suggest that Bayefsky's response epitomizes the tendency of some hard line Israel-supporters to react with vicious invective when confronted with facts that contradict their view of Israel as "righteous victim," and data which explode the myth that it is Israel who is under siege. These people are quick to attack anyone who dares bring up the Nazis in the course of criticizing Israel, but sling the charge themselves with disturbing carelessness and cynicism. The difference here, as is generally true of how the American left and right deal with their extremists, is that people who equate Israel with the Nazis are marginal on the left. Those who compare Israel's critics to Nazis are published in National Review.