Antisemitism's handmaidens

I was recently sent a book that warmed my heart and disturbed my soul. It is entitled Antisemitism: Real and imagined: Responses to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to combat antisemitism, edited by Michael Keefer (Waterloo Ontario: The Canadian Charger, 2010). Before I share my thoughts occasioned by reading it, a full disclosure is important: 

Before reading on, I should tell you  that the undersigned was purged from Australian state radio (SBS-Radio) on a charge of ‘antisemitic’, on-air, commentary. The formal complaint was tabled by an organisation called ICJS Research (Issues of Concern for Justice & Society) that was formed, according to its website, in order “to express the concerns of Australian citizens about a broad range of issues such as terrorism, appeasement, tolerance, war and justice in society.” The specific charge against me was (a) a claim that Israel used the blockade of Gaza as part of “a strategy for retaining a large part of the West Bank” and (b) my reference to the ‘security barrier’ as a “concrete monster”. The fact that my comments were supported by reports in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz was not deemed a sufficient defence against the charge of antisemitism.  Once the decision to terminate my weekly radio broadcast, after sixteen years of broadcasting, was reached, this is how the station’s representative explained it in a letter to the plaintiff: “The particular anti-Israeli line of his commentary could be reasonably held to have assisted in the promotion of negative stereotypes about Jews, and more particularly, Israeli Jews.” And this is how the Australian Jewish News summed up the outcome: “It is the first acknowledgment by SBS that portraying Israel in a bad light is the same as negative stereotyping of blacks or women, that it does harm to people.”

So, when this book landed on my desk, I was fascinated to read about experiences similar to mine on the other side of the Pacific. Its account of the CPCCA‘s (Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism) activities, to suppress all criticism of Israel is erudite, passionate, sensitive and committed. The book is arranged in three parts. The first, entitled Engagements, comprises twelve entries by Canadian human rights activists, mostly of Jewish origin, who relate their own stories and views about their own struggles against racism, sexism and assorted forms of discrimination and how their private submissions to the CPCCA‘s were discarded, ignored and generally snubbed. The second part (Organisational Responses) consists of pieces by organisations, including the Canada-Palestine Support Network, Independent Jewish Voices, etc. Finally, the third section (Contexts) concludes powerfully with three papers by Michael Keefer, the editor, on really existing antisemitism in Canada and the newfangled imagined antisemitism whose raison d’ être is simply to impede any criticism of Israel and thus to act as the handmaiden of the Israeli state’s well-oiled propaganda machine.

In the book’s Introduction, Michael Keefer, who also edited the volume, explains how a highly commendable attitude of ‘zero-tolerance to antisemitism’ morphed into an instrument by which to shield Israeli policies in the Middle East from rational and fair scrutiny. Keefer demonstrates how, in the Canadian context, anti-racism has been usurped in order to outlaw all well-balanced debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also draws comparisons with similar moves in Europe which raise the question of whether the attempts to brand, and thus, silence all criticism of Israel as racist emerge spontaneously in distant places or are somehow coordinated. To put the same question simply, are the obvious similarities in the narratives and practices of the CPCCA in Canada, the ICJS Research in Australia and the British All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism accidental? Keefer does not think so, and I tend to agree.

Regardless of the degree of coordination between such organisations, their activities have an obvious beneficiary: Real antisemitism. For when a worthy cause, like that of ‘zero-toletance to antisemites’, is appropriated by a regressive campaign whose purpose is, in effect, to terminate any critical engagement with the subjugation, repression and expropriation of another people, the Palestinians, then the worthy cause suffers. Antisemites rejoice when criticism of Israel’s Wall in Palestine is equated with antisemitism. For they are suddenly included in the wider community of fair minded people for whom the collective humiliation, mass harassment and disconnection of a whole people from their own backyards, not to mention the rest of the world, constitutes a hideous state of affairs in need of urgent redress. In this sense, the book’s greatest strength is its account of how progressive people who have struggled for decades to combat really existing antisemitism were treated with contempt and hostility by an organisation whose stated objective is to combat antisemitism.


  • Many thanks for your perceptive (and generous) comments.
    A central figure in the international coordination of attempts to slander (and silence) critics of Israeli policies and actions by labeling them antisemitic is Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Justice Minister and former professor of law in McGill University. The Inter-parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (ICCA), which held its first conference in London in February 2009 and its second in Ottawa in November 2010, is a project he has worked on since 2002. (The CPCCA is an offshoot of the ICCA.)
    The ICCA claims membership among parliamentarians from more than 40 countries, but has not published lists of the signatories of its London Declaration and Ottawa Protocol.
    Formal or informal links among political figures in various countries seem to me less interesting than their common participation in the discourse and ideology of the ‘new antisemitism’–and an emerging common commitment to what Cotler calls “lawfare,” which seeks to discredit appeals to international law by describing them as a displaced form of warfare against Israel, and corrupts domestic hate-crimes law by redefining (for example) BDS activism as actionable antisemitism.

  • if Greek economists were doing their job which is ensuring the Greek economy is viable instead of propagating their anti-Semitic viewpoints the world would not be reeling from Greece’s backward attitude to productivity

    • Point No 1: Economists’ job, on the main, is to obfuscate and support policies that are part of the problem, not the solution. I see it as my duty to unveil the awful truth about my profession and to struggle to tell the truth as I see it, against the edicts of my profession.

      Point No 2: If you want to accuse me of antisemitism I beg of you to do it directly, with evidence; and not indirectly by insinuation. For my part I live in the conviction that nothing is more loathsome than antisemitism and racism (which, tragically, is often aided hugely by identifying the critique of a certain state, whether this is Greece or Israel, with racism against its people).

  • On the role of economists, not everyone sees economists as part of the problem some believe they should be part of the solution: “As a result of their ability to influence the media, economists can be incredibly important in steering public policy, often in directions that may not be supported by most of the country. Trade policy provides an excellent example of a case in which the mainstream of economics profession has been adamant in pushing economic policies that clearly do not have the support of the bulk of the public.”
    You feel your role is to shine a light on the edicts of your profession, so how does sit with the context of your economic reporting on SBS radio, rather then highlighting the inadequacies with your colleagues; you were entering a field you are not asked to comment nor is your field of study. i.e. middle east conflict, given that your reporting is biased it also indicates you have either have very little understanding of journalistic ethics or chose to completely disregard them as your audience and the broadcasters taking your reports had apparently no objection to broadcasting and listening to your unbalanced views. It’s all quite ironic now with Greece in such an economic mess is turning to Israel for assistance,

  • New antisemitism
    Starting in the 1990s, some scholars have advanced the concept of New antisemitism, coming simultaneously from the left, the right, and radical Islam, which tends to focus on opposition to the creation of a Jewish homeland in the State of Israel,[65] and argue that the language of anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel are used to attack the Jews more broadly. In this view, the proponents of the new concept believe that criticisms of Israel and Zionism are often disproportionate in degree and unique in kind, and attribute this to antisemitism.[66] It is asserted that the new antisemitism deploys traditional antisemitic motifs, including older motifs such as the “Blood Libel”.[65]
    Critics of the concept view it as trivializing the meaning of antisemitism, and as exploiting antisemitism in order to silence debate and deflect attention from legitimate criticism of the State of Israel, and, by associating anti-Zionism with antisemitism, misused to taint anyone opposed to Israeli actions and policies.[67]

    One can be opposed to the policies of Israeli governments indeed many Israelis as you point out are: but to use the language which you used, aside from being blasphemous, was also in breach of SBS guidelines

  • When you praised Keefer, you praised your own biases. The SBS transcript revealed your one-sided bias and your involvement in areas outside your expertise. Your comments were in fact nothing but a regurgitation of Arab/mohammedan distortions of reality.

    In your reply to Joe Kaplan, you tried to hide your silliness and bias by claiming that you see your task as an economist to be a contrarian. I pity your students.

    You challenge Joe to give details of your antisemitism, if that is what he is accusing you of. Try this: you conflate the Israeli government, its electorate and its army, stating that they have masters’ privileges and then claim that Jews from the Diaspora also lord it over the “Palestinians”.

    As a good civil righter, please remember Dr King’s observation: when you are talking anti-Zionism, you are talking antisemitism.

    • Dears Paul Winter and Joe Kaplan,

      Let me begin by stating the obvious: this is a delicate matter and we should try to address each other respectfully. The pain caused by antisemitism to Jews (and many of us non-Jews sensitive enough to care about this atrocious ‘tradition’) is enormous. Ever since my grandmother related to me the way that Jews were treated in her village (back in 1940) by some Greeks who sought to ingratiate themselves with the advancing German contingents, I was energised to feel the urgency of confronting antisemitism wherever I encountered it. I shall not attempt to bore you a history of my early involvement in the movement to counter antisemitism (e.g. the anti-defamation organisations in the UK, from the late 70s onwards). Just rest assurred that, in my heart and mind, any phrase, any incident, any insinuation that makes a Jew feel threatened or marginalised courtesy of being Jewish has always, and will always, invoke in me a sense of outrage toward the (naive or calculating) perpetrator. In this sense, a charge of antisemitism against me is a charge that I take very, very seriously. Alas, the particular charge that you mention (referring to that SBS program) is not one that I have lost even a moment’s sleep over. Let me explain why.

      First, it is clear to me that neither of you have read the transcript of what I actually said but are relying on the official ruling. Had you read it, you would have known that, regardless of whether you agreed with me or not, there was not a shred of antisemitism in it. Indeed, it is ironic that Joe is referring to a Haaretz article. Why? Because in that SBS program all I did was to quote from a Haaretz report on the separation wall, or Sharon’s Wall as many have called it. In other words, while you may disagree with what I said in my program, there was nothing in my words that would not be considered, in Israel, as a legitimate point of view.

      Secondly, you repeat the SBS ruling’s assertion that my program displayed “one-sided bias and… involvement in areas outside your expertise”. This is simply to confirm that you are simply reproducing SBS’s outrageous ruling without prior knowledge of what my program was about. So, let me put the record straight. Between 1989 and 2005 I had a weekly eight minute slot which I used to comment on anything and everything. For 16 years I commented on anything that took my fancy weekly. Almost none of these programs were on things that could properly be categorised under my official ‘expertise’. [Can you imagine how excruciatingly boring it would have been if I were to comment repeatedly, and for 16 years, on my (then) area of ‘expertise’ (i.e. game theory)?] So, for your information, my programs spanned a variety of subjects: From the state of the Amazon rainforests to US cultural politics, Thai social tensions, Greek and Balkan affairs, books that I had read on theatre etc. etc. Israel and Jewish affairs had also provided the material of a number of my programs during these sixteen years. It is in this sense ridiculous to castigate that particular program for straying beyond the realm of my ‘expertise’.

      Thirdly, you may not believe it but I assure you that SBS conducted its ‘investigation’ without ever notifying me either of its course or of its outcome. In other words, I never got the chance to respond to the accusations waged against me. Indeed, I found out about the ‘verdict’ more than a year after it saw the light of day. I think that you will agree with me that such a process fails all standards of natural justice. Indeed, there is no way that such a procedure would be tolerated in Israel. Put differently, had I been accused of antisemitism, on the basis of that program, in Israel I would: (a) been given a far fairer oppportunity to defend myself and (b) acquitted of the charge. Tragically for Australia in general and for SBS in particular a phony charge of antisemitism was handed down in circumstances that Israeli justice would never have tolerated. This is a blight on Australia and it is a blight on all people, Jews and non-Jews, for whom anti-semitism is a clear and present threat which must not be boosted through wrongful accusations that only strengthen the hand and hate-speech of true antisemites.

      To conclude, I have no doubt that you and I disagree on Israeli policies. But these disagreement are no different to the fierce disagreements between my Jewish/Israel friends. To utilise one of SBS’s lowest moments in order to label me an antisemite, for holding views similar to those of many of my good Jewish friends with who you may well disagree, is to grant a very special gift to those who would like to see our joint commitment against antisemitism wither. I implore you not to do it. If my plea is turned down I shall be very sad. But I shall seek solace in the thought that many of my fellow Greeks treat me as unpatriotic and a Greek-hater every time I admonish the Greek state (and often Greek society) for its implicit (and some time explicit) racism (which often takes the form of antisemitism). After all, let me inform you that the SBS action against me was initiated by Greek nationalists (resident in Australia) who never forgave me for speaking out against Greece’s preposterous stance against the Republic of Macedonia and of the campaign of the (then) President of Cyprus (Mr T. Papapdopoulos) against the reunification between the Greek and Turkish parts of Cyprus.

  • Wow. Out of curiosity I searched the word “antisemitism” in this blog to see if I was the only one here to be (blithely) accused of antimsemitism by the regular poster on this blog Dean Plassaras. This is the last thing I expected to see : Yani Varoufakis accused — a preposterous accusation if there ever was one! — of antisemitism.

    Indeed, it is ironic that Joe is referring to a Haaretz article. Why? Because in that SBS program all I did was to quote from a Haaretz report on the separation wall, or Sharon’s Wall as many have called it. In other words, while you may disagree with what I said in my program, there was nothing in my words that would not be considered, in Israel, as a legitimate point of view.

    Indeed, it is ironic, Yani. Actually, you did not have to quote from a Haaretz report on the Separation Wall (Apartheid Wall, Separation Wall, etc.). You could have simply reciprocated the World Court’s runling on the matter: The Separation Wall is illegal under international law. Of course, the likes of Kaplan would have called the Court’s ruling antisemitic, and ergo anyone quoting from the Court’s decision is an antisemite. Oh well … 😉

    Btw, a few years ago, I was barred from a classical Greek language site (of all places!). In an open forum discussion on the Middle East (yeah, we had those kind of threads once and a while), I had the audacity to state the obvious: The Gaza War was not a war, it was an Israeli massacre.

    After all, let me inform you that the SBS action against me was initiated by Greek nationalists (resident in Australia) who never forgave me for speaking out against Greece’s preposterous stance against the Republic of Macedonia and of the campaign of the (then) President of Cyprus (Mr T. Papapdopoulos) against the reunification between the Greek and Turkish parts of Cyprus

    Guess what? I disagree with you on your stance on Cyprus. But I am going to resort to outrageous epithets and call you an anti-Greek? Of course not. It would be crazy if I did. It’s just two people disagreeing, for souvlaki’s sake … and that is all it is.

  • Yanis, you do yourself a real disservice by engaging in this debate with a complete moron like Kaplan. He is so obbviously a Zionist ideologue that you would do just as well to engage with Glenn Beck! There is an old saying: don´t argue with a complete fool because over time people might begin to confuse who is who!

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