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Thursday, November 27, 2014

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Lies, distortions and the world’s oldest hatred

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Gil Troy

The McGill Daily has long been the Pravda of Montreal, as totalitarian and surreal as the Communist propaganda sheet that masqueraded as the Soviet Union’s newspaper. In general, I don’t respond to anything published there. As a student daily its commentaries should be rebutted by other students, not professors.

Still, a friend recently forwarded a McGill Daily article trying to justify an academic boycott against Israel – which makes as much sense as pilots boycotting jet fuel. The article’s opening lines provide what we in the education business call a teachable moment. “Israel is a colonial settler state,” the article began. “This is very hard to contest, regardless of the history – religious or secular – of the Zionist movement.”

I wish I could quote the two lines, chuckle and feel confident that all honest people, Jewish or not, would join me in laughing at (and crying about) the many lies and distortions embedded in those 23 words. But shame on most of us for not being able to defend truth, democracy, and yes, the Jewish State more effectively. Given this collective failure, allow me to zero in on the four major assaults on truth provided, suggesting a rather efficient A-IDR – an anti-Israel duplicity rate – of one warping whopper per 5.75 words.

Start with “colonialism.” Wikipedia defines colonialism as “the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory” (emphasis added), what one historian calls “foreign invaders” from “a distant metropolis.” For this definition to apply to Israel, the Jews would have to have no rights, no history, no presence and no standing in this contested territory – which is not true regarding Israel or its overlapping West Bank neighbour, where borders have shifted repeatedly, although the allegation is central to the Palestinian claim. This Palestinian negation explains the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The word “settler” is more accurate but still mischievous. A settler is simply “a person who settles in an area.” But the term has become loaded, with Palestinians using it to mean foreign interloper. Ironically, Wikipedia’s first definition says settlers “typically” settle “in an area… with no or few previous inhabitants.” We, equally mischievously, could claim that every time Palestinians call Jews settlers, they are delegitimizing themselves, emphasizing how much open, undeveloped land there is in the West Bank – which is where most new towns sprouted up and where most Jewish “settlers” settled.

The third lie is epistemological, related to the theory of knowledge. The writer claims the proposition is “very hard to contest.” In my first college seminar, the professor raised a book and challenged us to offer an opinion, a principle, a belief, let alone a historical or ideological conclusion that was as true as the fact that once the professor dropped the book, it would fall. Historical judgments can’t compare in authority to the laws of gravity – and I admit that as a professional historian.

Finally, the author pulls an old debater’s trick, saying “regardless of the history – religious or secular – of the Zionist movement.” This implies that no matter how we settle that debate, it reinforces his point. But besides emphasizing that Israel’s ties to the land are religious and secular, thus not colonial, the debate over Zionism’s character is irrelevant. However you slice it, Jews have a stake in the area. We are not outsiders.

Academics usually take professional pride in unmasking simplistic slogans, sloppy definitions, bogus postures and false choices. That campuses are becoming centres for concocting these big lies about Israel being colonialist, racist and imperialist is a triple betrayal. It betrays academics’ mission to embrace truth in all its complexity. It betrays educators’ moral obligation to be honest and accurate. And it personally betrays people like me, who have dedicated our lives to academic ideals, only to see them trashed in the pile-on against Israel.

When the hatred of something is so great that people sacrifice core values, defining characteristics, foundational principles and professional standards, we plunge from the rational into the psychopathological. When that descent involves Jews, we have a term to describe it: not “just” anti-Zionism, today’s trendiest hatred, but anti-Semitism, the world’s oldest hatred.

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