The conference, held under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), is expected to issue a set of decisions and recommendations linking “some” anti-Israeli sentiments to anti-Semitism.
Clause-3 of the conference’s summary statement says that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be allowed to serve as a cover for the expression of anti-Semitic positions and opinions.
Moreover, the 55-nation forum has effectively agreed that there is a link between criticising Israeli actions and policies on the one hand and expressions of classical anti-Semitism.
Speaking at the conference on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Collin Powell pointed out in a short speech that while criticising Israel was legitimate, the line was crossed when critics employ Nazi symbolism to do so.
“It is not anti-Semitism to criticise Israel, but the line is crossed when the leaders of Israel are demonised and vilified by the use of Nazi symbols.”
Powell and other speakers, however, ignored the use of Nazi symbols and comparisons by Israeli officials to demonise Arab and Muslim leaders.
Only Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, voiced a more balanced approach to the issue of racial hatred.
He told the forum it was wrong to use “race” for political reasons, either as an offensive weapon or as a shield to fend off criticisms.
OSCE meeting diverts attention from
Palestinian academics, while denouncing anti-Semitism as a morbid phenomenon, have voiced deep misgivings about the conference and especially its “tendentious timing”.
Mahmud Nammura, an author who writes extensively about anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called the Berlin conference a “red herring” and “sly distraction”.
“It is a shame that instead of paying attention to the Nazi-like persecution of the defenceless Palestinian people at Israel‘s hands, the OSCE is effectively telling Israel that it is ok to continue to slaughter Palestinians and destroy their homes since opposing these crimes would be a form of anti-Semitism.”
In an interview with Aljazeera.net, Nammura said he was 100% sure the real purpose of the conference was to cover up “the shameful Israeli crimes in Rafah, Jenin and Nablus“.
European leaders had a duty to combat all crimes and not do so only selectively, Nammura said. By focussing only on the lesser, though still condemnable, acts, those leaders were acting unevenly.
“I want to ask the leaders of Europe: Which crime is more serious? The desecration of a Jewish grave in some French town, or destroying an entire neighbourhood in Rafah? Scrawling a swastika on the wall of a Jewish synagogue in Italy or turning Palestinian towns and villages into virtual concentration camps?”
Nammura, a veteran peace activist from Hebron, castigated the “obscene and corrupt lumping of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism”.
“I believe that when Jews behave and act like Nazis, they should be compared to Nazis. This wouldn’t be a sweeping condemnation of Jews, but rather a rejection of evil actions, behaviour and dogmas.”
Nammura cited a plethora of statements and remarks by Jewish religious leaders and Israeli officials in which they described Palestinians as “scum, vermin and dirty animals that ought to be exterminated”.
“When Israeli cabinet ministers openly call for the total obliteration of Islam from the face of Earth, or call for the liquidation of the Palestinians because they have inferior genes [as Israel‘s deputy defence minister Ze’ev Baum said recently], then we can legitimately compare them to the Nazis.”
German Foreign Minister Joschka
Some Israeli academics tend to agree that the Berlin conference is motivated by “less than genuine considerations”.
Professor Moshe Zimmerman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a prominent historian and expert on the holocaust and Nazism, told Aljazeera.net that the Berlin conference was an Israeli government effort to ward off international criticism of Israeli policies and actions against the Palestinians.
“We have to differentiate between classical anti-Semitism and criticisms of Israeli policies and practices. The first is hating Jews for being Jews while the second represents rejection of certain objectionable policies and actions,” he said.
Asked if comparing some Israeli leaders like Ariel Sharon to Nazi leaders was legitimate under certain circumstances, Zimmerman said the admissibility or inadmissibility of such a comparison depended on the facts at hand.
“Comparison is an analytical term. If you want to make the comparison, then you have to prove it, you have to locate the comparable elements, the similarities.”
Zimmerman, who in 1995 sparked a controversy in Israel when he suggested there was a striking similarity between Jewish settlers in Hebron and “Hitler youth”, lambasted Israeli leaders for applying Nazi epithets against Israel’s critics while fulminating when the same epithets were used against Israel and Zionism.
“I think Israeli leaders have to ask themselves if their policies are contributing to the rise of anti-Semitism. They can’t call Palestinians and Arabs Nazi names and protest vociferously when similar names are used against Israel.”
Zimmerman opined that “anti-Semitism among Arabs and Muslims” was rooted in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I believe contemporary anti-Semitism is an outcome of the conflict. Hence, I am convinced that if and when the conflict is resolved, there will be a sharp decline in anti-Semitism. However, if the conflict deteriorates, I am afraid the worrying phenomenon will exacerbate further, not only in the Middle East, but in Europe as well.”
Some Palestinian leaders, such as Arab Knesset member Muhammad Baraka, believes that Israel‘s manifestly racist policies against non-Jews, including its own Palestinian citizens, provide a strong inducement for many people to make the comparison between Zionism and Nazism.
“I believe that when Jews behave and act like Nazis, they should be compared to Nazis”
In an interview with Aljazeera.net, Baraka sounded ambivalent about lumping Zionism, anti-Semitism and Nazism in one “static conceptual frame”.
“We know that Nazism was a colossal evil, it was responsible for killing of tens of millions of people, including millions of Jews,” said Baraka.
However, he added that Zionism was also espousing manifestly racist ideas reminiscent of the fascist movements that appeared in Europe in the beginning of the last century.
“Look what they are doing to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Even here in Israel proper, if a Palestinian citizen of Israel marries a woman from the West Bank, he will have to leave his country and lose his right to citizenship. As far as I know this doesn’t occur anywhere else in the world.”
Nammura, Zimmerman and Baraka all agree that forums such as the Berlin conference will do little to combat anti-Israeli feelings and anti-Semitism as long as Israel continues to treat Palestinians in the way it does.
“In the final analysis, people, whether in the Arab world or in Europe, would rather believe what they see on their TV screens. You can’t remove anti-Semitism while Israel continues to generate more anti-Semitism. In order to overcome the symptoms, you’ve got to treat the root causes first,” says Zimmerman.
Baraka agrees. “Israel can’t behave the way it is behaving and then shout [accusations of] anti-Semitism at her critics.”