Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Criticising Israel

When it comes to the Middle East in today's media driven culture the debates often split into two camps. The 'Zionists' on the one side and the 'Islamic camp' on the other. One side I agree a lot with, one side I agree with virtually none of. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly common on both sides to play the victim and cry racism instead of actually addressing the relevant topics that are being raised. The Muslim community in the UK has in recent times been able to co-opt the term 'Islamaphobia' to silence all forms of criticism of Islam or Muslims whether reasonable and rational or hateful and stupid. Unfortunately however, it is becoming increasingly common to hear the Israeli side call critics of their policy in Gaza for instance as Anti-Semitic, not only when those protests come from sex-deprived Islamists but even Jews in the West that disagree with Israeli policy.

I should point out before I start that the following people; Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Mehdi Hasan, Tariq Ramadan and Asghar Bukhari are all people that I cannot stand who continually make use of the 'race card' and 'Islamaphobia' card and so I do actually quite enjoy sometimes seeing them taste some of their own medicine when they are called racists for their commentary on Israel.

Any form of race card or Ad Hominem is a means of censoring and silencing what a person is saying by not actually addressing the content of what they are saying. Now I accept that it can at times be difficult to have a rational discussion with a dribbling racist from the EDL that is in the process of smashing an asian shopkeeper's windows to pieces. But even in the most extreme circumstances, violence and outrage over sensitive issues like immigration are created precisely because people feel like they are denied a voice and a say in the policy in question and ignoring what a protester is saying and labelling them a racist is likely to fuel that anger even further, not extinguish it. The most controversial aspects for Israeli apologists; for example the building of the separation wall and the occupation of Gaza, I actually find the most obviously justified and easiest policies to defend. I would far rather discuss with someone, why they think those actions are unjustified and attempt to convince them that the opposite is true instead of sending that anger underneath and amplifying it by labelling them a racist for having an opposing opinion. Censorship on this scale remind me of the quote from Kennedy:

"Those who make peaceful protest impossible will make violent protest inevitable" 

If one truly believes in the convictions of their arguments when it comes to Israeli policy (as I do), they should rely on them and not resort to name-calling. I was reminded of this issue when watching a recent episode of Michael Coren someone who I am quite fond of. The discussion related to a group known as 'Queers Against Israeli Apartheid'. Now, I'm not entirely sure why this or any issue of foreign policy should be a specifically 'gay' issue, but on the Coren show the protesters were chastised for supporting a place in the Middle-East where gays are murdered against the only place in the Middle-East where gays are allowed to marry. Now to be clear, I completely disagree with the so-called 'Apartheid' rallies and would happily debate with someone why that is, but once again on this show instead of actually discussing the issues that were raised, the show was drawn as it always is into discussing completely unrelated points of Israel and expecting the listener to therefore ignore the policies they are supposed to be protesting. In other words, without saying a single word about the so-called 'Apartheid' in question, they mentioned that it was only in Israel that gays were tolerated and allowed to exist. Now I do think that is a good thing and something the 'Queer Alliance' should take into account but it also totally irrelevant to what they were protesting. Using this logic, if Stalin had allowed Gay Marriage (which he didn't) then gays would not have had a leg to stand on to criticise the millions that perished under his regime. Alternatively, are the people that make this argument really suggesting that if the Palestinian territories suddenly stopped killing homosexuals, that suddenly Israeli policy that was just yesterday would become unjust today? The more I think about it, the less and less I hear from commentators about why I justify Israeli actions (such as what happened when Israel initially pulled out of Gaza and why it had to re-occupy the city) when the topic is raised and the more I hear about vague unrelated good points to attempt to distract people from an actual discussion.

Of course I do not want to exaggerate this issue. While you will often hear accusations of anti-Semitism in the debates on Israel, I remember in my last year of University seeing a poster for a talk from Jenny 'Jihad' Tonge called 'Persecuted for Criticising Israel!' Which had a face who's mouth was being covered up, implying that her free speech was literally being stopped by a hostile environment to criticism of Israel. Now while I will concede that the debate can slide into name-calling at times, it is utterly ridiculous for this woman to suggest that she is persecuted, when every bloody time the seals on Question Time clap in unison for her before she has even got one of her misinformed sentences on Israel out of her mouth. Not to mention that she is able to go around the country giving lectures on the topic with virtually no resistance. It reminds me of the 'brave' resistors who used to call George Bush a terrorist and treat that heroic stance from their living room as if it was a statement that could get them killed.

If I'm being honest I used to think the cries of 'Islamaphobia' and the hostility to criticism of Islam was solely a cultural issue associated with newly arrived immigrant communities that were not used to free criticism against their beliefs. I remember however, during the Pope's last visit to the UK that there were many born and bred British Catholics who ignored every word spoken about Paedophilia, Rape and Coverup relating to the Catholic Church and decried the protests and reaction to his visit as entirely the result of 'persecution' and 'anti-Catholic' sentiment. It seems this is a problem that all religions and points of view can face, and this is why I find it so particularly frustrating when my allies on this issue resort to such unnecessary name-calling as not only does it imply that their arguments are too weak to be deployed but it encourages an elevation of anger and resistance to the issue that could otherwise be extinguished by just educating people on it.

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