Michael Elterman: Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire's good intentions promote anti-Semitism

By Michael Elterman

There are people with good intentions who reflexively apply the same political template to every situation. They need to divide the world into perpetrators and victims regardless of the complexities of the situation. They buy into the victimhood public relations rhetoric and they are manipulated and used by a cynical but skilled few. I would put large numbers of the United Church of Canada into this group of well-meaning people who wish to do the right thing but are unfortunately being duped.

Another person I would put into this group is Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, who spoke in Vancouver on September 28.

Ms. Maguire came to Canada for the Vancouver Peace Summit: Nobel Laureates in Dialogue. While in town, she was also sponsored to speak by the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign about her experiences with the Free Gaza Movement aboard boats which have attempted to break the "siege on Gaza". We only need to look at Maguire's record of social justice and peace activism to realize that she likely has good intentions in her advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian people. The reality, however, is that the agenda that she is promoting (hopefully unbeknownst to her) is one of hatred and anti-Semitism.

Ms. Maguire is part of a movement to demonize and delegitimize Israel, to label it as an "apartheid state" and thus worthy of boycotts and sanctions leading to its destruction. By calling for a one-state solution, when even the Palestinian authority has accepted a two-state solution, this movement wishes to destroy Israel as the state of the Jewish people. That the Palestinian people want and deserve a state of their own is obvious, but this is a state alongside and at peace with Israel, not one to rise from the destruction of Israel. The Jewish people want and deserve to live in their ancestral homeland.

Ms. Maguire is largely active in a group called the “Free Gaza Movement”. This group unashamedly advocates for the "Palestinian right of return". While this is cloaked in human-rights speak, it is code for the destruction of Israel (as the only Jewish state) and it promotes a Palestine-Israel as a country with an Arab-Muslim majority. There are already dozens of Arab-Muslim countries in the world, including Jordan, which already has a Palestinian Arab majority. So why is this anti-Semitism?

The reason is that implicit in this movement is the belief that only Jews don't deserve a homeland and must again be homeless unlike all other national groups. The true obscenity here is that this movement would have you believe that Jewish self-determination is racist. Are Italians racist for wanting to live in Italy? Similarly, Greeks, Germans, and all others who have a deep historical tie to the land of their ancestry.

It has been said that "if the Arabs put down their weapons there would be peace; if the Israelis put down their weapons there would be no Israel". If you come upon a fight in progress it is difficult to tell who is the aggressor and who is the victim. So much of the assaultive rhetoric against Israel focuses on Israel's reactions to attacks as the aggressive act. When, after years of suicide bombings in its cities, Israel puts up a security barrier (and a very effective one it has proven to be), Israel is seen as taking Palestinian lands and creating a de facto border. When, after five years of daily rocket attacks on citizens in southern Israel, the army goes in to stop the shelling—as would any country under the circumstances—it is depicted as a brutal invasion. When Israel pulled out of every inch of Gaza in 2005 and closed the borders to prevent Hamas from coming into Israel and murdering its citizens, it was seen as "occupying" Gaza.

Some serious questions must be directed at Ms. Maguire and other followers of the "anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian" movement by Canadians and those who truly seek justice for all. Do Jews have a right to self-determination in Israel, the ethnic and historic cradle of Jewish civilization? Does Israel have a right to self-defense against those who vow to destroy not only the country but the Jewish people? Finally, is there anything at all Israel could possibly do right, short of committing political suicide, to appease any of you? If you answered "no" to these questions, the only logical course of action for Israel and its supporters to do is to take the road of virtue and ignore your prejudice for what it really is: anti-Semitism.

Michael Elterman is the chairperson of the Canada-Israel Committee Pacific Region.

This commentary was sent to the Straight in response to ”˜Gaza shocks Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire’, published on September 24, 2009. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Georgia Straight.




Oct 6, 2009 at 9:47pm

What patent drivel. Mr. Elterman has failed utterly to prove his absurd contention that Ms. Maguire's "good intentions promote anti-Semitism."

Indeed, his comments bring to mind those of Israeli journalist and former member of the Knesset, Uri Avnery: "Many good people, who feel no hatred at all towards the Jews, but who detest the persecution of the Palestinians, are now called anti-Semites. Thus the sting is taken out of this word, giving it something approaching respectability... Not only does Israel not protect Jews from anti-Semitism, but quite to the contrary - Israel manufactures and exports [anti-Semitism] around the world."


Oct 6, 2009 at 10:26pm

It is amazing how being pro-justice, something that should be lauded, turns into something very bad when it comes to considering Israel's total lack of respect for acepted norms of behaviour. Ms. Maguire's support for the rule of law in the case of Palestine is no more antisemitic than in Algeria during the French occupation, of France during the German occupation, of Namibia by Apartheid South Africa... Let's stop accepting to be bullied to accept that "a state, Israel, is more equal than others." That's why Not i My Name, Independent Jewish Voices and others Jewish groups are speaking up. Antisemtism is real. It is abhorrent. Using it wrongly and in such a heavy handed way cheapens the meaning of the word. Mr. Elterman should thread carefully because it is baseless pronouncements like his against highly respected people that open the door to real antisemites..

Erik Matheson

Oct 6, 2009 at 11:43pm

I think he explained it quite clearly, Gary:

"So why is this anti-Semitism?

The reason is that implicit in this movement is the belief that only Jews don't deserve a homeland and must again be homeless unlike all other national groups. "

Now you may not believe that this is Antisemitism, and certainly that's open to interpretation and argument. However, I must concede that there is a fairly strong argument to be made that if Jews are not entitled to a national homeland in the birthplace of their civilization when every other national group is, it's a fairly duplicitous double standard and is quite discriminatory, at least in my humble opinion. If it's not Antisemitism, it certainly is a measure which singles out Jews as an ethnic or religious (though I think the most apt phrasing would be ethno-religious) group undeserving of a nation, when similar groups the world over are entitled to a nation. I think what Elterman is saying is that it singles Jews out as the only self-identifying group which the world doesn't automatically afford the right to nationhood, at least in the court of public opinion. I personally think he's on to something.

I won't get into my opinion of "nationhood" as it's really not relevant for this discussion, but in a world which has not moved beyond nationalist societal structure into a post-nationalist one, I think it would be unfair to single out Jews as the only group undeserving of a state.

As for your comment about Avnery, just because he's Israeli and a notable one at that, doesn't mean that he's right. When I hear that quote I think of the Jews who assimilated and/or converted religions under extreme persecution of the past for being Jewish. If they weren't Jewish there wouldn't be Antisemitism, right? So now, if there was no Israel there would be no Antisemitism? It's a self-defeating argument because it presupposes that Jews are wrong for wanting nationhood like the rest of the world community made up almost entirely on (majority) ethnic or religious lines-- outside of colonial outposts such as Canada, the US, Australia, etc.

Just because Jews face censure because of Israel doesn't mean that it's a good idea to scrap the nation altogether. To me, it signifies a double standard. One for the Jews and one for the rest of the world.

I think that there is PLENTY to protest and oppose concerning Israel, don't get me wrong. There are an abundance of things about the state which infuriate and frustrate me to no end.

I just personally think that if we're going to be the arbiters on who deserves a state and who doesn't, we can't apply double standards, otherwise we do legitimately open ourselves up to claims of discrimination and in this case, Antisemitism.



Oct 7, 2009 at 5:21am

When the South African Prime Minister, John Vorster, made a state visit to Israel in April 1976 it began with a tour of Yad Vashem, where the late Yitzhak Rabin invited the onetime Nazi collaborator, unabashed racist, and white supremacist to pay homage to Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Compared, say, to oft-heard outcries from Jewish groups over even the mildest whiff of Holocaust revisionism, no less remarkable was the bland equanimity both Israeli and Diasporan Jews also displayed toward the Vorster visit. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi recalls that [The Israeli Connection, Random House: Toronto, 1987, p.x] "[f]or most Israelis, the Vorster visit was just another state visit by a foreign leader. It did not draw much attention. Most Israelis did not even remember his name, and did not see anything unusual, much less surreal in the scene [an old Nazi diehard invited to mourn the victims at a Holocaust memorial]: Vorster was just another visiting dignitary being treated to the usual routine." As a onetime Nazi collaborator, Vorster should, of course, have been arrested and tried once he set foot on Israeli soil - instead he was warmly welcomed by his Jewish hosts. Vorster left Israel four days later, but not before signing several treaties between the Jewish state and Pretoria's apartheid regime. A denouement Leslie and Andrew Cockburn describe in Dangerous Liaison [Stoddart Publishing: Toronto, 1991, pp. 299-300]: "The old Nazi sympathizer came away with bilateral agreements for commercial, military, and nuclear cooperation that would become the basis for future relations between the two countries." What a number of independent Jewish groups are saying, Mr Elterman, is that the days when Israel can avail itself of a diplomatic Free Lunch like this are over.

ernie yacub

Oct 7, 2009 at 8:49am

matheson above tries unsuccessfully to conflate jews and israel, and in answer to his question, yes, there would still be antisemitism if there wasn't a jewish state which was carved out of the holy land by zionists and their imperial friends who now have a nuclear armed outpost in the middle east.

gary is quite right that the tactic being used to deflect attention from the genocidal crimes of the state of israel takes the "sting" out of antisemitism.

the barbaric assault on gaza, a totally isolated prison camp, and the continuing 60+ years of brutal occupation, are heinous crimes for which the "leaders" of the various criminal israeli regimes ought to held accountable.

hopefully, the attempt to stall and deny the goldstone report will fail, indeed is already failing as boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns grow all over the world.

John Turnbull

Oct 7, 2009 at 9:41am

First, Erik, you are presuming here that all critics of Israel, principally Maguire, advocate a one-state solution. This is not the case. What critics of Israel, in all their variety, do hold in common is the idea that Israel and Palestine must stop targeting civilian populations in their conduct of the war. As to how they organize their own futures, non-Israelis and non-Palestians, with the exception of the United States, have very little to say.

But let's look at the dangers of a one-state solution.

I disagree that the world "has not moved beyond nationalist ... structures". I believe that the western world moved through a very brief period in which "race" was equated to "nation". Viewed in any terms but technological, the 19th and at last half of 20th centuries were pretty much a failed experiment and the concept of "race" is now discredited. In other words, the protection of individuals and groups has been more successful before and after classic western concepts of "race" and "nation" than during. A single state responsible to all of its citizens offers more assurance than two states dedicated to the power and prosperity of some particular definition of their own "race".

The Avnery quote is completely misunderstood. I read it this way, "If 'anti-semitism' becomes linked to the idea of defense of human rights, it will no longer be deplored." I believe Avnery is correct.

I share your frustration in the face of violent Israeli and Palestinian behaviors but I don't hear any serious critics suggesting that the State of Israel be scrapped. Even Hamas had "implicitly recognized Israel" before getting more than 100 tons of bombs dropped on it. (Cause and effect?) Maybe Hamas won't make that mistake again and will wait instead for western nations to "implicitly recognize" them first. Regarding double standards, I completely agree.

Travis Lupick

Oct 7, 2009 at 9:54am

A previously-unpublished excerpt from my interview with Maireadd Maguire:

Lupick: "You’re an adventurous 65 year old."

Magurie: “I believe we can all do something for peace. I really would love to see peace in Israel and Palestine.”

Lupick: "How do you see that happening?"

Maguire: “I am an outsider. So it is not up to me to say what the solution is. It is up to the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. But I think that the American government and the Canadian government are important people to be helping the process. And I do believe that a complete withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories and the sharing of Jerusalem, with no restrictions on movements, is an important move in that direction. And I hope that the Obama government and the Canadian government would put pressure on the Israeli government to uphold its international laws and human rights.”

Jack O'Neill

Oct 7, 2009 at 4:48pm

Erik queries why “Jews are not entitled to a national homeland in the birthplace of their civilization when every other national group is” Jews, like Christians and Muslims, are ethnically diverse. Hence, it is scientifically impossible that the Jews of the world are all related. Moreover, we are expected to believe that people who are of the Jewish faith, but of numerous different cultures, and who hail from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Russia, East and West Europe, Latin America, China, India, and many more countries, are all decended directly from the same “ethnic and historic cradle of Jewish civilization” that Michael Elterman writes of. It's similar to stating that all the Christians of the world hail from the holy land, or that all the Muslims of the world hail from Mecca. This is a blatant myth that is still waiting to be adequately exposed by a critical media and academia who may be still too afraid to challenge this elephant in the living room.

The question is not if Jews are entitled to a state of their own. The problem is that, and regardless of the Nakba-denting tactics, it had to involve ethnitically cleansing another people from their land in order for the state to come into being. This is where, to use the words of Michael Enterman, apologists often “apply the same political template to every situation” by stating how America and other nations came into being in the same manner.

Mairead Maguire, and any other people who are slandered by the libelous slur of anti-Semitism, should investiagte the possibility of suing Michael Elterman. The sooner that this bullying tactic is challenged, and hefty fines are imposed, then the sooner predominantly historical Jewish oppression will stop being exploited and demeaned.

Jack O'Neill

Larry Shapiro

Oct 8, 2009 at 4:10pm

I have read the comments criticizing Dr. Elterman's column and observe that the majority object to Dr. Eleterman's contention that Jews are indigenous to Israel and deserve their own homeland every bit as much as the Palestinians deserve theirs. This seems like a reasonable position to me, but critics of Israel are unrelenting in maintaining that the Jews do not deserve a state of their own (nothing is said about the exclusive religion that is practiced in Saudi Arabia). Many of the commentators object to being called antisemitic for criticizing Israel. The following explains why they deserve to be called antisemitic. Not one of these commentators have ever issued a peep about the genocide in Darfur, the wiping out of the Tibetan culture and many of its people by China, the atrociousness of the behavior of the Sri Lankan army in suppressing the Tamils. Need I go on? If their only humanitarian concern is Israel and any other human rights outrages are swept under the carpet, this makes the critics Jew haters. What other conclusion can you arrive at?


Oct 8, 2009 at 7:47pm

How do you know that "not one of these commentators" have stood up for the people you mention? Also, I remind you that the subject of Elterman's column was Israel, specifically, its recent barbaric attack on the defenceless caged inhabitants (50% children) of the Gaza Strip, well documented by the UN Goldstone report as well as Amnesty International. Furthermore, there are several organizations in the west who advocate on behalf of the people of Darfur, Tibet and the Tamils. Also, unlike Israel, their oppressors do not have the "ear" and support of western governments. Nor, like Israel do they receive "no strings attached" aid from American taxpayers in the amount of well over $10 million each and everyday, 365 days a year.