September 1, 2009
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the definition of anti-Semitism is, "hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group." This should strike everyone as odd, since Jews are hardly the only Semitic people roaming this earth. Most oddly enough, we Arabs are also a Semitic people who speak a Semitic language, unlike many Jews who do not.
Still, over the years, for whatever reason, the term "anti-Semitic" has been reserved exclusively for attacks on Jews, the range of which has become dangerously broad. While this is an age-old issue, so to speak, the recent Swedish-Israeli crisis has brought it back to the fore like never before.
It all started with a seemingly innocuous yet human interest story in a large Swedish newspaper. The author, Donald Bostrum, entitled his back-page article "They plunder the organs of our sons" in reference to Palestinian claims that as far back as 1992, the Israeli army has been harvesting the organs of young Palestinians it killed. Bostrum gives testimonies from Palestinians and some first hand accounts from when he was in Palestine of young men killed by the Israeli army, their bodies returned to the families days later cut open and stitched back from stomach to neck.
The details of the article are unimportant at this point. The gist of the piece is that there are those out there who believe their sons' organs were taken for harvesting without their consent.
Whether the claims are true, accurate or biased is secondary to this argument. This was an article in a newspaper, written by a journalist who took full responsibility for what he said and what he wrote. Israelis, who were clearly outraged, could have easily done what most of us do when we are unhappy with something in the media – we write to the editor or the author airing our complaints. We may even get our comments published and read, thus making our grievances clear to all those interested.
But, in traditional Israeli custom, instead of approaching this issue with professionalism and appropriate criticism, protests and screams of anti-Semitism and blood libel were heard around the world. Israel, which unsurprisingly, did not react to Bostrum's first mention of the issue in his 2001 book, "Inshallah: The conflict between Israel and Palestine", went into a tirade of accusations against the article, the newspaper, the writer and, yes, the Swedish government for not immediately condemning the article. Swedish government sources maintained that freedom of expression was an inalienable right in Sweden, which could not be compromised.
That was certainly not the answer Israel wanted to hear. Its Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Sweden of not intervening in "the blood libel against Jews." In true Israeli form, the past was dredged up as a means of putting others on the defensive. "The affair is reminiscent of the state's [Sweden] stand during World War II, when it also did not intervene," Lieberman charged
The crisis only heightened with Sweden's continued refusal to condemn the article publicly and what Israel viewed as its failure to denounce the article's clearly anti-Semitic messages. Sweden, on the other hand, said it was a fierce defender of its constitutional rights and would not trample on the freedom of expression and freedom of speech regardless of government officials' personal opinions.
What is so amazing really, is the fact that Israel gets away with this stuff time and again. The hackneyed Israeli litany of anti-Semitism seems to hook the world no matter how ridiculous the claim. The article in mention may or may not have been accurate, but how many thousands of articles out there each day do we read and then question their credibility? Countless. Besides, Bostrum's article was not attacking Jews. He was questioning foul play by a "democratic" country's army, which so happens to be Israel. It was not a criticism of Jews, their past, their history or their religion. If it were, if Bostrum had made glaring racist comments against the "Jews" in the Israeli army, perhaps the accusation of anti-Semitism or blood libel or whatever else Lieberman could think of, would be a bit closer to the truth.
The truth however, is that Israel has created a backup defense for those times when its arguments are not based on solid ground, or simply when all other arguments fail. In this case, instead of the Israeli government demanding there be a thorough investigation into these grave allegations, it has turned its wrath on Sweden. Even IKEA has been dealt a blow, with a petition reportedly circulating in Israel to boycott the Swedish furniture giant.
As a result, it looks as if the EU foreign ministers meeting to be held this week will push for a resolution asserting that the EU, under Swedish presidency, strongly condemns anti-Semitism and will take action against it, in a bid to end the Israel-Sweden crisis. But again, Israel is just not satisfied.
"Every initiative against anti-Semitism is welcome," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "But if the declaration is general and does not specifically relate to the article in Aftonbladet, it will not resolve anything."
With all the hype about anti-Semitism and blood libel, it looks as if the subject in question has blown right out the window. Supporters of Israel will not even consider the possibility that their beloved friend would ever commit such heinous acts and therefore insist that Bostrum's article is a bunch of hullabaloo, packaged of course in a nice anti-Semitic wrapper.
Isn't it about time people see though the smokescreen? The history of the Jews is full of misfortune and suffering. But so is the history of so many other peoples, including the Palestinians, who have been made to pay the ultimate price for the Jews' persecution. Pulling out the anti-Semitism card whenever Israel is pushed into a corner, rather than examine its own lack of morality in dealing with the Palestinians, should be a losing strategy, simply because it is such a shaky argument. However, guilt-tripping the world into apologizing yet again to the Jews for the sins of the past has worked for Israel for many years, unlike other peoples whose injustices have gone unrecognized. It has been able to maintain a military occupation, build illegal settlements and subjugate an entire people all in the name of its own security and as a safeguard from further persecution.
Israel could have easily disregarded Donald Bostrum's article and let the whole incident blow over. It would have brought way less attention than the article has received now. Besides, if the Israeli army has nothing to fear, why doesn’t it open an investigation and put the case to rest once and for all? The answer is simple. Screaming anti-Semitism yields better results.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.