In the book review for this issue, I write about Nora Gold’s fine new book, Fields of Exile. Set 14 years ago as the Second Intifada was breaking out, the main theme of the novel is the effect on a Jewish graduate student at a Toronto-area university of campaigns meant to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel – campaigns that too often cross the thin line into what is now referred to as the “new anti-Semitism.”
Despite the fact that Judith, the book’s protagonist, is a committed liberal who had just returned to Canada after a decade in Israel where she had been active in the peace and civil rights movements and in Jewish-Arab dialogue efforts, to the anti-Zionists among her professors and fellow students, she was just a Zionist.
To those who would demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel, a Zionist is a Zionist. A liberal Zionist working for a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and for fully realized civil rights and equality for Israeli Arabs is no different from an extremist who would annex the West Bank and Gaza while offering no rights to the Palestinians living there.
Fields of Exile proved to be timely reading this summer as war raged between Israel and Hamas and the other terrorist groups in Gaza – groups that have subjected Israelis to unrelenting rocket fire aimed almost exclusively at civilians and who have poured so much of their resources into building an extensive network of cross-border tunnels to be used to commit acts of terrorism.
While Israel has been fighting the Gaza-based terrorists, battles have also raged in the media, in social media and in public demonstrations. The kind of marginalization and anti-Semitism experienced by Judith in Fields of Exile, and by pro-Israel university students around the time of campus events like the so-called Israel Apartheid Week, have also been experienced by many of us who have Facebook or Twitter feeds or who follow the news – especially by reading articles online at sites with un-moderated comments.
This summer, Europe has witnessed levels of widespread anti-Semitism unheard of in the post-Holocaust era and too many disturbing reports of anti-Semitism have surfaced close to home in places like Calgary where a small group of pro-Israel demonstrators were assaulted, in Toronto where anti-Semitic rhetoric was spouted at a Al-Quds Day rally at Queen’s Park, and even here in Ottawa where the Hamas flag was proudly carried at an anti-Israel march past Parliament Hill.
Make no mistake, waving the flag of a terrorist organization whose charter explicitly calls for the killing of Jews is a profoundly anti-Semitic act.
I’ve read several articles and blogs this summer by people who have seen their social media feeds disintegrate into confrontations – sometimes ugly confrontations – over the conflict. I’ve seen it on my own Facebook feed where I have unfriended a couple of people after they’ve posted articles or written comments that I perceive as having crossed the line into anti-Semitism.
Like Judith in Fields of Exile, I see myself as a liberal person committed to peace, to universal civil rights and to the two-state solution, which I believe is the key to both Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state and to the future prosperity of the Palestinian people.
It is because I am a liberal that I support Israel – seemingly the only bastion of liberalism in the Middle East – and am profoundly disappointed to see anyone who claims to be committed to peace and civil rights finding common cause with groups with Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which have no interest in anything to do with peace, civil rights, or justice.
Those marching alongside the Hamas flag, or cheering at the Al-Quds rally, or even posting a stream of one-sided articles on Facebook that blame Israel alone for all of the ills in the Middle East, are not really advocating for peace or civil rights.
As I write on August 15, there is a cease-fire in effect and rumours that a long-term truce is close. I pray that it will have come by the time you read these words.
Update (August 20): For a time, the rumoured long-term truce looked like it would come to be. Sadly, the truce negotiations fell apart when the Gaza-based terrorist groups resumed rocket attacks on Israel on August 19.