Halper: “They know you are not anti-Semitic. Don’t allow them to use that argument to keep a serious discussion of Israel’s human rights record off the table. You should demand that they engage on this issue.”
United Church members should not allow themselves to be intimidated by unfair charges of anti-Semitism, argues Jeff Halper, in a short video interview while he was here in Ottawa a few weeks ago. Halper, who is Jewish, lives in Jerusalem. He was on a cross Canada tour talking about the Israel/Palestine issue.
Halper’s comments were in response to concerns raised by several leading members of the United Church of Canada (UCC) frustrated by the fact that explicit or implicit accusations of anti-Semitism are frequently invoked every time Israel enters the discussion. This has become a serious challenge since the UCC adopted a resolution in 2012 recommending that its members stop buying goods produced in Palestinian territories illegally occupied by Israel since 1967.
“The echoes of the past history of Church-sanctioned anti-Semitism continue to grow stronger,” said Avi Benlolo, president of the Toronto based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre after the resolution. His statement went on to accuse the 500,000 strong church of giving “tacit support for the hatred and terror” against the Jewish state.
The charge of “anti-Semitism” is a very sensitive one for the UCC (and for other Canadian churches) because it is based in historical reality. For over a thousand years, Jews were the objects of repression and discrimination in Christian countries all around the world – from Portugal to Russia, culminating in the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. However, as church members explained to Halper, the “anti-Semitism card” is frequently used by members of the organized Jewish Community in Canada to protect Israel from any criticism about human rights violations.
“We work alongside our Jewish counterparts in Canada on a variety of human rights issues from homelessness to aboriginals. But whenever any criticism of Israel is raised, the Jewish organizations are quick to invoke anti-Semitism as a way to deflect discussion.” In Halper’s view, this should be challenged. “They know you are not anti-Semitic in any way”, he argues, but this is a convenient tool to keep honest discussion of Israel and its policies off the table. “You need to be true to your own Christian values, and not allow yourselves to be intimidated.”
The lessons from the Holocaust and the Third Reich cannot be the blind support for the policies of any state or ignoring the brutality of a military occupation and the illegality of ongoing colonisation. In the past, Christian churches have at times accepted the government’s definition of who is worthy of that Christian love and who is not. Today, Christians have a chance to prove that they love their neighbour whether she/he is Muslim, Jew, Buddhist (fill in your faith)or Christian. Anti-Semitism is hate and racism; support for Palestinian political and national rights is based on universal principles and international law.
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