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KHACHATRIAN: The Intellectual Dishonesty of ‘I’m Just Criticizing Israel’

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Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. He was also an outspoken advocate on behalf of Israel’s security and against anti-Semitism, especially among the African-American community. Dr. King famously once told an audience of Jewish listeners at the popular Long Island vacation spot Fire Island, there is virtually no anti-Semitism within the Negro community.

A Special Bond: Martin Luther King, Jr., Israel and American Jewry

This year, U.S. Jews, like other Americans, will mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by remembering him as a powerful voice against racism and for civil rights.
Dr. King on Israel in 1967

Speaking at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly in 1968, Dr. King said:

The response of some of the so-called young militants does not represent the position of the vast majority of Negroes. There are some who are color-consumed and they see a kind of mystique in blackness or in being colored, and anything non-colored is condemned. We do not follow that course … Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.

He is also attributed with having said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism,” in response to a student who had attacked Zionism during a dinner event with Dr. King in 1968.

While it remains unclear when the efforts at bringing Dr. King to Israel began, the first evidence of the correspondence is an August 1962 letter from then-Israeli consul in Atlanta, Zeev Dover, to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

In 1966, King planned a pilgrimage to Israel and sent his assistant, Andrew Young, to Israel. and Jordan to do advance planning with officials in both countries. After learning of his plans, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent him a letter on February 7, 1967, formally inviting him to visit. King responded on May 9, saying, “I take these means to express my deep appreciation to you for the invitation you extended to me to come to your wonderful country.” On May 15, King publicly announced his intention to go to Israel.

This would not be King’s first trip to the Holy Land. He had visited the Jordanian side of Jerusalem in 1959. Organizers of the 1967 trip hoped to attract at least 5,000 people to make the pilgrimage to Israel with Dr. King to raise money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King planned to preach on the Mount of Olives, in what was then Jordanian East Jerusalem (November 14), and then again near Capernaum in Israel (November 16).

Plans were upended by the 6-Day War, which put King in the difficult position of responding to questions about the war and its outcome. Influential friends of Dr. King were determined to push forward with the trip however, and exploratory visits to Israel were made by Dr. King’s aides and advisors to assess the situation. When they returned they brought positive news and told Dr. King that people in Israel were buzzing about his visit.

King held a conference call with his advisors on July 24, 1967, in which he expressed concern about the ramifications of himself visiting Israel. He told his confidants:

I’d run into the situation where I’m damned if I say this and I’m damned if I say that no matter what I’d say, and I’ve already faced enough criticism including pro-Arab. I just think that if I go, the Arab world, and of course Africa and Asia for that matter, would interpret this as endorsing everything that Israel has done, and I do have questions of doubt… Most of it [the pilgrimage] would be Jerusalem and they [the Israelis] have annexed Jerusalem, and any way you say it they don’t plan to give it up… I frankly have to admit that my instincts – and when I follow my instincts so to speak I’m usually right – I just think that this would be a great mistake. I don’t think I could come out unscathed.

Following this phone call he was still debating whether to go, in part out of respect for the people who had put time, energy, and money into planning the trip for him. Soon after, however, he became certain that making the trip would be a bad choice and, in September 1967, wrote to the president of El Al Airlines, Mordechai Ben-Ami, to say he was canceling the visit:

It is with the deepest regret that I cancel my proposed pilgrimage to the Holy Land for this year, but the constant turmoil in the Middle East makes it extremely difficult to conduct a religious pilgrimage free of both political over tones and the fear of danger to the participants.

Actually, I am aware that the danger is almost non-existent, but to the ordinary citizen who seldom goes abroad, the daily headlines of border clashes and propaganda statements produces a fear of danger which is insurmountable on the American scene.

Listed below are a series of letters that document some of the correspondence between Dr. King and members of the Jewish and Israeli leadership who were instrumental in the quest to bring him to Israel during the 1960’s:

 

Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.

He is also attributed with having said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism,” in response to a student who had attacked Zionism during a dinner event with Dr. King in 1968.

While it remains unclear when the efforts at bringing Dr. King to Israel began, the first evidence of the correspondence is an August 1962 letter from then-Israeli consul in Atlanta, Zeev Dover, to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

In 1966, King planned a pilgrimage to Israel and sent his assistant, Andrew Young, to Israel. and Jordan to do advance planning with officials in both countries. After learning of his plans, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol sent him a letter on February 7, 1967, formally inviting him to visit. King responded on May 9, saying, “I take these means to express my deep appreciation to you for the invitation you extended to me to come to your wonderful country.” On May 15, King publicly announced his intention to go to Israel.

KHACHATRIAN: The Intellectual Dishonesty of ‘I’m Just Criticizing Israel’

By:Harry Khachatrian

December 29, 2018

Imagine there’s someone who really dislikes the Toyota Motor Corporation. But when castigating Toyota, they don’t actually criticize the automobile manufacturer’s products or practices. They don’t specify which exact models they perceive to lack value, reek of unreliability, or whatever other foibles they’ve encountered. They don’t criticize Toyota for what Toyota actually does. In an effort to delegitimize and destroy the company, they instead concoct wild allegations that Toyota’s vehicles are wantonly killing people, and that the company is run by unhinged racists.

This is ultimately the ploy of anti-Israel activists.

Nearly every time hardline anti-Israel proponents are challenged on their own arguments – no matter how malevolent – they default to the same defense: “I’m just criticizing Israel’s government! Criticism of Israel’s government and policies is not anti-Semitism!”

Such was the case of Marc Lamont Hill, a Temple University professor and former CNN pundit. Hill was fired from his position at CNN last month after a speech he delivered at the United Nations advocating for the replacement of Israel with a Palestine state, went viral, sparking a bevy of backlash.

“CNN Fires Marc Lamont Hill for Criticizing Israel & Redacted Tonight (VIDEO)” – RT America

“CNN fires Marc Lamont Hill in wake of remarks criticizing Israel and calling for a ‘free Palestine’” – The Washington Post

“Criticizing the actions of Israel is not anti-Semitism. Since when is advocating for human rights a fireable offense? Join us in standing in solidarity with Dr. @MarcLamontHill:” – Mark Ruffalo, actor

Hill began his speech hailing a torrent of accusations on Israel, “At the current moment there are more than 60 Israeli laws that deny Palestinians access to full citizenship rights, simply because they are not Jewish. From housing to education, it is clear that any freedoms naturally endowed to all human beings are actively being stripped away from Palestinians through Israeli statecraft.”

I don’t know what these sixty-plus laws that Hill invokes are, as he doesn’t list any of them. But if he’s suggesting only Jews can become Israeli citizens, that is largely incorrect.

First, Palestinian Arabs born in Israel are citizens by birth. Immigration, however, is a more nuanced issue. Israel, in contrast to countries like Canada, is not an immigration country. It’s a Jewish state. More accurately, the Jewish state: When in 1948, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, read Israel’s Declaration of Independence, he declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel, to be known as the state of Israel.” So, for a gentile living in the United States, or some other country, immigrating to Israel on a lark isn’t the most straightforward task. But it’s not impossible. It would require first applying for a foreign work visa and having the skills to boot. Or marrying an Israeli citizen. As per the Israeli Nationality Law of 1952, “Adults may acquire Israeli citizenship through naturalization. To be eligible for naturalization a person must have resided in Israel for three years.”

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Hill’s latter claims that Israeli statehood strips Palestinian Arabs from their rights to housing and education is an elusive one.

If Hill’s proposition is that Israel is at fault because its laws don’t apply to Palestinians living in the disputed territories, there is a very simple explanation here. Palestinian Arabs who live in the disputed territories don’t have to follow Israeli laws. They’re not Israeli citizens. They have to follow laws set by the Palestinian Authority. One such law is, that selling land to Jews is strictly illegal and punishable by death — are these discriminatory laws considered wrong?

Hill continued his speech by accusing Israel of holding Palestinian Arabs captive “under the threat of random violence.” He added “Contrary to western mythology, black resistance to American apartheid did not come purely through non-violence. Rather, slave revolts, and self-defense, and tactics otherwise divergent from Dr. King or Gandhi were equally important to preserving safety and obtaining freedom. We must allow the Palestinian people the same range of opportunity and political possibility.”

Despite claiming that non-violence ought to be encouraged, Hill excused terrorism against Israelis, stating “We cannot endorse a narrow politics of respectability that shames Palestinians of resisting, for refusing to do nothing in the face of state violence and ethnic cleansing.”

The United States embassy opening its doors in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, last May was followed by a rabble of Palestinian Arabs storming the country’s 40-mile border with the Gaza strip. Amid the reams of protesters, were scads of terrorists hurling firebombs and other explosives at border guards. Israeli forces returned fire, killing 60. Hamas themselves admitted that nearly all the casualties were their own militant terrorists.

If Israel’s military operations in the West Bank and Gaza are “random violence,” as Hill suggests, then Israel is undoubtedly history’s finest force in exclusively eliminating terrorists amidst a sea of civilians by random. If, as Hill also professes, Israel practices a state policy of “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinian Arabs, there Israel excels only in ineptitude. The Palestinian Arab population has seen nothing but rapid growth since Israel’s inception in 1948. And a 2016 UN report projected the population in the Palestinian territories to double by 2050. But regardless, Hill uses these fictitious premises to excuse and justify terrorism against Israelis.

In his closing remarks, Hill issued a call to action, demanding justice for the Palestinian Arabs, manifested as “A free Palestine from the river to the sea.”

Geographically, Israel is situated between two bodies of water: the Mediterranean Sea on the west, and the Jordan River on the east. A free Palestine “from the river to the sea” consequently eliminates Israel entirely to liberate the land it resides on in favor of the Palestinian State. Hill wasn’t criticizing Israel’s government. He was criticizing Israel’s existence.

The playbook exploited by Marc Lamont Hill and countless other anti-Israel activists ranging from Linda Sarsour to Jimmy Carter, to former Pink Floyd front man, Roger Waters, is the following:

Step 1: Fabricate a non-existent Israeli law or policy, that, if real, would constitute a colossal human rights violation. Don’t be afraid to be dramatic. Ethnic cleansing has a real ring to it. And always remember to be as vague as possible. Use broad terms and generalizations, making your claims harder to challenge on specific grounds.

Step 2: Next, feign outrage about the existence of this newly concocted law, and justify any acts of terrorism against Israel under the guise of “resistance” against this law you just invented.

Step 3: If anyone points out that what you’re saying lacks any smidgeon of truth, simply reply, “I am just criticizing the Israeli government! Are you a fascist? Am I not allowed to criticize Israeli government policies?”

It goes without saying that criticism of Israel’s government is as kosher as criticism of any country’s government. The only catch is the criticism hinges on the issue under scrutiny being real. It requires specific criticism, aimed at an existing law or practice. Conversely, what borders on bigotry is blithely fabricating non-existent laws or practices — like, Israel’s perpetration of ethnic cleansing — and using them to undermine Israel’s existence. Self-avowed “critics” of Israel who are derided as addled anti-Semites exclusively focus their ire on laws they themselves imagine into existence. Not for the betterment of the Palestinian Arabs, but for the belittling of Israel.

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