‘Moral blackmail’ still stifles debate on Israel

Accusations of anti-Semitism against those who criticise Israel aim to curb debate on its crimes aga

Rabbi Dov Lior, offered a religious decree that he claims is consistent with Jewish law, declaring that it is permissible for the Israeli army not to spare noncombatants, writes Arman [AFP]

Israel’s latest attempt to subdue the Palestinian resistance by putting its systematic genocide on high gear has yielded in some unintended consequences: international media interest in Gaza; challenge to the blind toeing of the extreme right party line; and growing global consensus to end this oppression. However, we still have a long way to go in creating a safe space for honest discourse on this highly emotive topic.

Frustrated by the choreographed intimidatory campaigns often waged against any critic of Israel who might possess a certain level of influence, Jewish Professor Avi Shlaim once wrote, “The blind supporters of Israel…use the charge of anti-Semitism to try and silence legitimate criticism of Israeli practices. I regard this as moral blackmail.”

I know this first hand. In 2006, after Hamas overwhelmingly won against rival party Fatah in the Palestinian general election – a process monitored and endorsed by international observers, led by former US President Jimmy Carter – I posted on my blog: “Hamas’ victory is a victory for democracy and peace.”

It didn’t take long for the harassment and personal attacks to come pouring in. But, it wasn’t till a year later when I decided to turn the spotlight on a ruthless character-assassination campaign against an outspoken critic of Israeli naked injustice – Norman Finkelstein – that I was labelled a “terrorist” and was inducted into Jihad Watch – an online psychological torture outfit operated by a group of fear-mongers. It is part of a well-funded network that includes Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch and David Horowitz’s FrontPage Magazine. Their collective objective is to target, silence, and tarnish the reputations of activists willing to speak up against injustice in Palestine.

New episode of moral blackmail

Fast forward to present day. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled “On Gaza, Genocide, and Impunity”. Immediately upon its publication, I started receiving hate emails. This time they all seem to object my usage of the word “genocide” to describe the suffering of the Palestinian people. 

A few days later, nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist, Dennis Prager wrote a piece on National Review Online titled “The Genocide Libel” and nonchalantly cites my piece, among a handful of others. He insinuates, if not outright accuses, all those who argue that what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people amounts to genocide have anti-Semitic motives. “At this very moment, we are living through as enormous a libel – directed not against all Jews, but against the Jewish state: Israel is committing genocide of Palestinians and is, therefore, morally identical to the Nazi regime. This libel is spread by left-wing radicals and by Muslims,” writes Prager.

Being familiar with Prager’s right-leaning views, I was not shocked to see him take that line, but, I must say I was utterly dismayed to find that progressive peace activist, and editor of Tikkun Magazine, Rabbi Michael Lerner also took an issue with the genocide claim. In his commentary titled “Gaza, Israel, and Genocide by Akbar Arman”, Rabbi Lerner writes “I find it disturbing that writers like this find a need to describe Israel’s immoral assault on the Gazan people as ‘genocide’.”

I was dismayed by the Rabbi’s line of argument because he is well acquainted with the long suffering of the Palestinian people and has in the past written articles advocating justice for this oppressed people. Why is the Rabbi against the word genocide? He writes: “What Israel is doing is bad enough without trying to fit it into a category which brings up memories of real genocides – the attempt of the Nazis to wipe out every Jew…” 

What if there Is definition corroboration?

Three out of the five criteria of the International definition of genocide are well established within the long saga of the Palestinian suffering: “killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

What if there is historical corroboration?

Within three years after the Holocaust, Israel – according to Jewish historian Ilan Pappe – was committing ethnic – cleansing in Palestine. In that bloody historical period known as the Nakba, “one million Palestinians were killed or displaced during the ethnic cleansing on which the Israeli state was founded.”

In that period, a half of the total number of Palestinians were either killed or were forced to flee their homes. “Imagine any other country in the world….(where) half of its population would be expelled by force within seven or eight months…Imagine in any other country in which half their country’s villages will be destroyed and half of their country’s towns would be demolished,” explains Pappe. The silence on this human-imposed tragedy is unconscionable. 

What if ethnic cleansing is an ongoing objective?

Genocidal rally or rhetoric against the Palestinian people is nothing new, even among high ranking Israeli officials. Back in 2008, Matan Vilnai, then Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister, told army radio that Palestinians “would bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” Shoah is a Hebrew word used to describe the Jewish Holocaust.

Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and member of the Likud Party, Moshe Feiglin, has also belligerently called for annihilation of the Palestinian people, ethnic cleansing of Gaza and placing the surviving ones in concentration camps in Sinai.

What if a religious decree for genocide is granted? 

Rabbi Dov Lior, offered a religious decree that he claims is consistent with Jewish law, declaring that it is permissible for the Israeli army not to spare noncombatants.

“It would even be permissible for the defence minister to order the destruction of all of Gaza so that the South would not continue to suffer and to prevent the injury of our people who have been suffering so long from the enemies who surround them. All kinds of talk of humanism and consideration are nothing when contrasted with saving our brothers in the South and in all of our land and returning quiet to our land.” The Rabbi apparently believes it is justifiable to wipe out Palestinians.

What would Rabbi Hillel say to Israel today?

Let’s conclude by calling upon the timeless moral wisdom of Hillel the Elder. One day, a man approached Rabbi Hillel with this challenge: “Teach me all the Torah while I stand on one leg.” In response, the rabbi offered this immortal advice: “What is hateful to you, don’t do unto others – that’s the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn.”

Introspection is in short supply, so too is its prerequisite – willingness. 

Following Elder Hillel’s tradition, Rabbi Henry Siegman, in a recent interview on Democracy Now pointed out: “There is a Talmudic saying […]: Don’t judge your neighbour until you can imagine yourself in his place.”

To his Jewish brethren, Rabbi Siegman offered this kind of scenario-based moral teaching: What if the situation was reversed and the Jewish population were locked into a tiny piece of real estate and left at the mercy of their oppressor with all their freedoms severely restricted and basic human dignity denied, then one day the oppressor tells them “…now behave and no more resistance.” He asked: “Is there any Jew who would have said this is a reasonable proposition?”

When talking about genocide in Palestine, we must keep three essential points in mind. First, genocide does not have a specific threshold number.

Second, Gaza does not exist in vacuum. It is part and parcel of Palestine. If there is any difference, it is in the fact that Gaza personifies the over half-a-century-long Palestinian oppression and growing sense of hopelessness.

Third, regardless of what some may stubbornly argue to stifle debate, anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. The latter is morally reprehensible, while the former is a moral imperative and a litmus test that separates people of conscience from pretenders and counterfeit peace promoters.

Ambassador Abukar Arman is the former Somalia special envoy to the United States and a foreign policy analyst.

Follow him on Twitter: @4DialogSK