Carol Hunt: To question our hatred of Israel is to invite abuse
Why we should heed the worldwide rise of anti-Semitism and the growing power of Iran
Not everyone is a fan of Michelle Obama's toned and sculpted shoulders. Last week she made a surprise appearance at the Oscars and delivered the award to Argo for Best Picture, wearing a pretty silver sleeveless dress with a low(ish) neckline. Though there wasn't a hint of cleavage on show, Michelle's bare skin was too much for some sensitive souls.
Fars, the Iranian news agency, gave Michelle a nice, new, respectable dress using Photoshop – a dress that covered her chest and shoulders in accordance with Iranian restrictions on images of the female body. Perhaps they really were offended by Michelle's bulging biceps, or perhaps it was a small revenge for her handing the Oscar to the "anti-Iranian" film produced by the "Zionist" company Warner Brothers – an objection voiced by many official outlets in Iran.
The film Zero Dark Thirty was also criticised and described as "outclassing Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda", and for good measure a commentator in Tehran added: "These movies are weapons of mass destruction against humanity."
In addition, the New York Times reported that 130 foreign guests had been brought to Tehran by the government to discuss the fact that "Hollywood is not a normal industry" but a "conspiracy by capitalism and Zionism".
It would be nice if we could all raise our eyebrows and dismiss such anti-Semitic rants as the ramblings of impotent fundamentalists, but in the light of the growing power of Iran, its funding and support of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and the worrying rise of anti-Semitism worldwide, we would do well to sit up and listen.
Last week it was reported that there had been a 58 per cent rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France and a 30 per cent rise in Belgium; 2012 was the third worst year on record for anti-Semitic attacks in the UK. These figures are mirrored worldwide as anti-Semitic political parties gain ground during these austere times.
Here in Ireland of course, as has recently been indignantly pointed out in the wake of the 'Caherciveen scandal' we are not anti-Semitic at all. Just anti-Israel. So that's all right then.
When Sarah Honig wrote about the anti-Semitic ramblings she heard from a few schoolchildren in Co Kerry, she was immediately vilified as a liar and propagandist. As Honig later wrote: "Apart from two follow-ups which I initiated, the news reporting was astoundingly uniform. . . Simplistic, one-sided news accounts of what was presented as my attack on virtually the entire Irish nation bordered on the hysterical."
Well yes, the responses to Honig's piece were a little astonishing. They included such gems (published on Irish newspaper websites) as: "The state of Israel is the most racist state on the planet"; "They (Israelis) have been playing the 'anti-Semitic card' to justify their greed for Lebens-raum"; "Typical Israeli overreaction to everything – play the Jewish card" and "Screaming anti-Semitism is the most powerful Israeli weapon used in their colonisation of the Middle East" and many, many more in similar vein (these are the polite ones).
As Honig notes, there is a "3-D" test for "Judeophobia". It occurs when "purported criticism slips into demonisation, delegitimisation and double-standards". Does our coverage of Jewish and Israeli affairs pass it?
Eh, yes. Irish critics routinely demonise Israel. They question its right to exist. And they hold it to a standard not required of its neighbours. But, as they keep insisting, they are definitely not anti-Semitic, how dare anyone suggest it? Criticising the motives of people who routinely single out the state of Israel for demonisation is not tolerated in Ireland.
Suggestions that there may be other enemies of the Palestinian peoples who deserve censure are met with indignation and derision. Well-orchestrated campaigns ensure that anti-Israeli bias is kept in the headlines.
The double standards of those who seek to demonise democratic Israel yet are strangely silent on the atrocities committed by its neighbours would seem (to outsiders anyway) to support the accusation that many Irish "human rights campaigners" are indeed motivated by anti-Semitism.
But to even suggest that there's something strange about the way in which so-called "pro-Palestinians" routinely and defiantly ignore the injustices inflicted on these people by countries other than Israel, is to risk personal abuse and censure – at best.
That a leading Irish political commentator can describe Israel, the democratic home of Jewish people, where Christians, Muslims and atheists
– be they male, straight, gay or female – enjoy far more civil rights than they do in neighbouring countries, as "a cancer" on national TV and be applauded by many, is more than worrying.
Being gay is punishable by death in Gaza. No one is protesting that, are they? But of course, that doesn't mean we're anti-Semitic does it? Just anti the Jews that live in Israel.
Last October, on Arab- News.com, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, a former Royal Saudi Naval officer wrote a ground-breaking op-ed piece called 'Arab Spring and the Israel Enemy'. In it he called for Arabs to stop demonising and blaming Israel as the source of their problems.
He wrote: "The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for human lives and, finally, the Arab world had many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people."
He added: "Many Arabs don't know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than in many Arab states and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank enjoy more political and social rights than in some places of the Arab world."
Where are the Irish activists protesting against the lack of rights afforded to Palestinians by Arabs? Non-existent. But that doesn't make our "pro-Palestinians" anti-Semitic, does it?
The facts and history of the Middle East support Al-Mulhim's comments. But just suggest to the many vociferous Irish critics of Israel – including the Catholic charity Trocaire – that their energies may be better directed elsewhere and you'll get a blast of abuse as they righteously defend their attitude.