The British Jewish “defense” organizations are coming off a double victory in the cause of shutting down deservedly harsh criticism of Israeli tyranny over the Palestinians.
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In late January this year they got an apology from the Sunday Times of London for a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paving a wall with the blood and bodies of Palestinians. They also got the Liberal Democrat Party to censure its MP, David Ward, for a statement he wrote in a memorial book for the Holocaust and on his website.
It went: “Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Neither Scarfe’s cartoon nor Ward’s statement are aimed at any Jews except the Israeli Jewish public that is collectively responsible for what this country has done and is doing to the Palestinians. Scarfe focuses strictly on Netanyahu, leader of that public; Ward focuses strictly on the Israeli Jews who defeated the Palestinians in 1948 and those who imposed a military dictatorship on them from 1967 on.
There are no other Jews in that cartoon or that statement. No British Jews, no Jews anywhere but in Israel, where they are the hugely powerful majority that can and does victimize its Arab minority, and can accurately be accused of bloody atrocities, are in the dock.
Yet Britain’s Jewish establishment decided otherwise. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust claimed the cartoon and statement were anti-Semitic. They accused Scarfe of drawing what amounted to a “blood libel,” and Ward of blaming Jews in general, including Holocaust victims, for atrocities against Palestinians. The Holocaust Educational Trust charged Ward with “Holocaust equivocation and anti-Semitism.”
Instead of defending their cartoonist and MP like they should have and telling the British Jewish defense organizations to stop slandering opponents of Israeli oppression as anti-Semites, the Sunday Times and Liberal Democrat Party caved in.
Following an outburst by the Times’ right-wing owner Rupert Murdoch, acting editor Martin Ivens told a group of Jewish community leaders: “The associations on this occasion were grotesque and on behalf of the paper I would like to apologize unreservedly for the offense we clearly caused.”
The Liberal Democrat party, meanwhile, said it ”deeply regret[s] and condemn[s] the statement issued by David Ward,” and ordered him to meet with the party’s “Friends of Israel” chapter to “identify and agree [on] language that will be proportionate and precise” when he speaks out again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That conflict got completely forgotten in the uproar, which is what the British Jewish defense organizations intended. They successfully made the case that the victims whom people need to pay attention to are not the Palestinians, as Scarfe and Ward would have it, but British Jewry, or whatever segment of British Jewry the Board of Deputies et al represents. The injustice that cried out for remedy, the British Jewish leaders insisted, was not the occupation but the hostility toward it, which one way or the other is the same as hostility toward British Jews and indeed to all Jews.
Not everyone enjoyed watching this spectacle. Eli Valley, an American Jewish cartoonist who satirizes AIPAC types and Israel, ridiculed the response to Scarfe’s cartoon in a visual display titled “17-Point Guide to Anti-Semitism and its Abuse” on the Open Zion group blog. I blasted the BOD and the other defense organizations in a post titled “The Israel lobby at its intimidating worst – in Britain” on +972 Magazine, the group blog for which I write.
Mark Gardner, director of communications at the Community Security Trust, writes that he was offended. In his Haaretz op-ed, “Jewish critics who betray the struggle against anti-Semitism,” he accuses Valley of the same thing the cartoonist accused British Jewish leaders of: “abuse of anti-Semitism and Holocaust memory for political point-scoring.”
Gardner makes the same charge and several others against me, beginning with my having falsely accused the defense organizations of immediately going after Ward as an anti-Semite.
“[T]he closest we have come, after over four weeks of intensifying twists and turns, is an exasperated reference to ‘what amounts to anti-Semitism,’” he writes, pointing up the difference between accusing someone of “anti-Semitism” and accusing him of “what amounts to anti-Semitism.”
In the same vein he describes the reaction to Scarfe’s cartoon: “In Britain, we did not call the cartoonist an anti-Semite, but did say that his picture bore echoes of blood libel charges, befitting contemporary Arab anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate propaganda.”
And I thought you were calling him an anti-Semite. Silly me.
Gardner then brings in the murders in Toulouse and the anti-Semitic parties in Hungary and Greece, he mentions Malmo, Istanbul, Buenos Aires and other cities that have suffered violent anti-Semitic attacks, and for good measure he throws in the “legal pressures against circumcision and shechita [religious animal slaughter].”
Finally he asks: “What more needs to happen to Europe’s Jews before the Derfners of this world realize that our local Jewish representative bodies sincerely regard all such issues as Jewish – not Zionist or Israeli?”
Such visions of comprehensive, panoramic assaults on Jews are all extrapolated from a cartoon of Israel's prime minister crushing the Palestinians, and a statement accusing Israeli Jews of committing atrocities against them and thereby forgetting the meaning of the Holocaust.
Gardner’s problem, and that of so many Jews in Israel and in Diaspora Jewish defense organizations, is that they don’t know the difference between attacks on Jews and attacks on the occupation. Some Jews, especially the elderly, can't help but see anti-Semitism everywhere; they are genuinely traumatized. Others, like those who wield power in Israel and in organizations like the British Board of Jewish Deputies and AIPAC, tend to operate out of what I call a calculated paranoia: They turn full-throated rebukes of Israel and its Diaspora Jewish lobbyists into anti-Semitism partly because they really are paranoid, but also because they know that their paranoia serves their interests.
Branding harsh critics of Israeli policy as anti-Semites helps the occupation thrive, and what’s good for the occupation is good for Israel, certainly for Netanyahu’s Israel, and what’s good for Netanyahu’s Israel is good for the Jewish establishment of Britain, the United States and several other countries.
It’s a shame: These people are going to bat for Israel’s subjugation of a people, for Israel’s wars of aggression to defend that practice, and they’re doing it in the name of all the horrors the Jews ever faced and at times still face. I don’t know anything more cynical than that. I don’t know any greater dishonor of Jewish history than that.
One last thing: On reflection, I think Ward should not have made his statement on the eve of Yom Hashoah – that’s a day that should be left strictly for the Holocaust and its victims. (Scarfe apologized for the “very unfortunate timing” of his cartoon, but not for its content.) The truth is, though, that the British Jewish establishment would have branded Scarfe and Ward as anti-Semites no matter when they’d drawn or said what they did about Israel. International Holocaust Memorial Day just made the job easier.
Larry Derfner is an Israeli journalist who blogs at +972 Magazine.