Monday 11 May 2015

This is an abomination in a western democracy

"The government's intention was made clear in a response to inquiries from CBC News about statements by federal ministers of a "zero tolerance" approach to groups participating in a loose coalition called Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS), which was begun in 2006 at the request of Palestinian non-governmental organizations."

I could not believe this when I heard it on the news this morning. I was horrified. I am teaching a course on 20th century German history, and this sends chills down my spine. In my course, I am trying to get my students to understand how good people slowly walked into participating in one of the more horrific events in the history of the world.

First, my positions & I do realize that I live with a certain level of discombobulation on the issue:

1. I would never take part in BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction), the boycott of Israel. However, it worked with South Africa and apartheid - but only after supported by western governments. In the final analysis, my position would be "a pox on both their houses".  When I think of what is going on there right now, I weep for all those that are displaced by war and for all the dead. On the other hand, the historian in me selfishly thinks about all the artifacts, and past worlds that are being destroyed. For better and worse, the ancient middle east contains the founding blocks of western and Muslim civilizations.

2. I am in total disagreement with the church that I grew up in (the United Church of Canada) and its one-sided position on this issue. I wish that they could focus more on forcing a solution rather than blaming one side more than the other. There is plenty of blame to go around, believe me. 

3. I do not support the building of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

4. The situation is so f!@#$ing complicated. All parties need to be held to account, and that includes the west who set up this appalling situation in the first place. I cannot even begin to write about the historical mess that brought us here. I am only teaching one small part of that mess. 

5. Anti-semitism is a construct of Christianity. This is an unpopular position to take, but nevertheless, it is true, and, as such, those societies that are based on the Christian mythologies need to take ownership of the part that they have played in creating this mess. Christian anti-semitism has now morphed into a bizarre form of secular anti-semitism. The Jews are to blame for everything (for god's sake, even the American Indian Movement and some Canadian First Nations peoples jumped on the anti-semitic bandwagon - for example, somewhere on the AIM website is a lecture that smacks of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion - if it has not been pulled down, go look for it. As one of  my students said, "The poor Jews, they can't cut a break!")

6. I support the right of Israel to exist. My personal history does not allow me to do otherwise. I do not support the Fundamentalist/evangelical support of Israel - it is, in its own way, blatantly antisemitic. One day I will write about my trip to Israel with a bunch of fundamentalists (don't ask - just to say, that my mother really didn't know what she was getting us into), and (to keep it simple) its up front - "so sad that the Jews don't really belong on this land because they aren't saved, etc., and won't be there at the rapture" crap.

Books to read (with links to Amazon site):
Robert R. Wistrich's A Lethal Obsession
John G. Gager's The Origins of Anti-Semitism
William Nicholls' Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate 
William F. Buckley, Jr.'s In Search of Anti-Semitism


1. Boycotting the state of Israel is an acceptable method of protest. We live in a democracy and we can choose to boycott who/what/where we will. I joined a general boycott of Thailand over its lack of child sexual abuse legislation. At a personal level, I no longer watch Woody Allen films - I can't stomach them. The  same goes for Michael Jackson's music - no matter how good it is, I just can't stomach it. I don't expect anyone else to think the way that I do; I don't believe that those who think differently are "evil".

2. The state of Israel just voted in Netanyahu with enough seats to create a government with the extreme right. So much for a peace settlement. "Dead to me, they are dead to me" was my immediate response. (As I said, discombobulation)

And the point that takes us right back to the beginning of this post:

3. The Harper government is beginning to do to the Muslims, what the Germans did to the Jews. This government is turning the Muslims in Canada into scapegoats, creating a fear scenario that could easily morph into something far more sinister. Just look at their position on Omar Khadr. It is a slippery slope as history tells us. There is, in all humans it seems, an unease about the "other", that is, those who don't look like us, don't think like us, don't believe like us. The NSDAP tapped into that in Germany; and Harper is certainly trying to tap into that in the Canada. Is it "needless to say", that Europe and the United States is falling into that trap as well. It is a thin line that they are all walking.

4. In part, this is a political move on the part of the Harper government to appeal to its fundamentalist Christian right base. (Although I do believe that there are other personal motivations by members at play) The religious justification for this one-sided extreme support of Israel is based in a particular millennial interpretation of  "the end". Some of them believe that all the Jews will convert - thus heralding the end; some of them believe that the final battle between good and evil will be fought on the fields of Megiddo (as my mother said on that trip to Israel - "you don't really believe that" - out loud, on the bus - I had to shush her with the "yes, Mom, they really do").

As Bonhoeffer told us: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  There is also the unattributed adage: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Those who are boycotting Israel are doing something in the face of what they see as evil. That I find their position at times extremely simplistic and problematic is true. But people like to take simple black and white positions - demonizing the other is so easy. Something has to give in the Middle East - the backlash against modernity will not go on forever - the violence and cruelty of the medieval period of western European Christian society can be considered somewhat analogous to what is going on in the "middle east". Of course, that is for next semester's history course. 

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