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Why there is so much anti-Israel bias

By From page A6 | January 22, 2014

When I was researching my last column — regarding the boycott of Israeli scholars by the American Studies Association — one question I wanted to get at was the anti-Israel bias of the far left, here and abroad.

I was not probing the issue of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world. My interest was knowing why leftists, who don’t necessarily hate the Jewish religion or people of Jewish heritage, have so much antipathy for democratic Israel, but never campaign against truly evil regimes the world over.

To be clear, I am not accusing every person who condemns certain Israeli policies of having an anti-Israel bias. I am referring to the sinistral obsession of faulting the Jewish state while ignoring far worse infractions by others.

Hoping for, but not really expecting an explanation from an academic who loathes Israel (and presumably is not an anti-Semite), I brought up the matter in an email exchange with UC Davis professor Sunaina Maira, a member of the ASA Council and a supporter of the boycott. Part of her answer was so unexpected, it inspired this column.

Here was my question: The anti-Israel sentiments (outside of Muslim countries) around the world seem to be rooted in left-wing politics (as opposed to anti-Semitic prejudice). Do you think the ASA’s boycott is a reflection of this left-wing attitude toward the Jewish state?

Professor Maira began her explanation of what drove her side with the usual platitudes one might expect from any neo-Marxist (“commitment to social justice, anti-racism and anti-colonial and anti-imperial solidarity”). That is, she gave me the hackneyed jargon of the academic left.

But she then took issue with part of my question that I thought everyone understood is a given, saying, “Furthermore, to assume that Muslims critique Israeli policies generally because of ‘anti-Semitic’ prejudice suggests a gross misrepresentation of Muslim politics around the world and a denial of the impact of the Israeli state’s anti-Arab policies on the region.”

Now, if you read Maira’s words carefully, you will see that she does not explicitly deny that the Muslim world is rife with anti-Semitism. She never addresses that. Instead, she thinks universal Muslim hatred for Israel is really motivated by the same bromides that compel the radicals who comprise the American Studies Association.

Yet there is a serious problem with that conclusion. There is ubiquitous anti-Semitism all over the Islamic world. It’s a serious illness. A day does not go by that there are not vicious lies about Jews on television, radio, newspapers and websites catering to a mainstream Muslim audience.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that monitors racism and anti-Semitism, recently described the situation. “Newspapers across the Arab and Muslim world continue to feature anti-Semitic caricatures and themes, with demonic depictions of Jews that include big noses, black coats and hats, large skull caps, and many promoting age-old global Jewish conspiracy theories, including blood libel themes, Nazi symbols and the use of animal imagery — snakes, vultures and sharks — to portray Israel as a sinister predator.”

At the same time, there is no widespread commitment to social justice or anti-racism in any Muslim-majority countries. Just the opposite. There is a widespread yawn when Muslims commit atrocities against non-Muslims or the victims are the wrong kind of Muslims.

Where were the Muslim world’s protests and calls for boycotts against the racist government of Sudan for the 22 years its Arab-Muslim leaders were slaughtering non-Muslim blacks in that country’s civil war? When Egyptian Muslims were attacking Christians the past two years, was there ever a call for a boycott of the government of Mohamed Morsi in the Muslim world?

There has been as much silence with sectarian Muslim atrocities. When Shiites in Syria are slaughtering Sunnis, even destroying their mosques, the outside Shiite world says nothing. The same lack of concern is expressed by global Sunnis when the victims are Pakistani Shiites, who are regularly killed and abused by Sunnis.

Yet Muslim outrage pointed at Jews goes on unabated.

Every few years the Pew Research Center conducts a poll of citizens from many countries, asking their opinion of people of various religious faiths. The latest of these surveys, published in 2011, showed the same pattern of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.

The worst case was Lebanon, where 97 percent of the respondents hold a negative opinion of Jews. Only 2 percent of Lebanese said their view of Jewish people was favorable. Yet this was an improvement from 2006, when 99 percent of Lebanese said they disliked Jews.

It was not all that different in Egypt (95-3 against) or Jordan (96-3). In Turkey, where 17 percent had no opinion, 76 percent held negative feelings about the Jews. Pakistanis (76-4) and Indonesians (66-10) are overwhelmingly anti-Semitic.

By contrast, unfavorable views of Jews in the United States (7 percent), Britain (9 percent) and Australia (11 percent) were the exception.

Given the steady drumbeat of anti-Semitism in the Muslim media, their schoolbooks and in the pulpit, it is no surprise the Islamic world hates everything Jewish, including Israel. The only surprise is that anyone thinks the Muslim hatred of Israel is about social justice.

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column publishes every other week. Reach him at [email protected]

Rich Rifkin

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