Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Anthony Posner - Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans

This article is a guest appearance in line with the Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans series. To read more articles and contributor guidelines see here and here. The views expressed below are not shared by the author of QPQ but are published in the interest of debate.

Freedom of Expression? Legitimate Criticism?

by Anthony Posner (aka The Blacklisted Dictator)

Let me lay my cards on the Quid Pro Quo blog table. I am an anti-anti-zionist. Not quite the same as a Zionist. If I was, I'd be living in Israel and not in South Africa.

Over the past couple of years, I have in one way or another, been discussing mainly on the internet two important issues in relation to the conflict in the Middle East. The first has been how freedom of expression impinges on the debate. The second is what constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel. With regard to them both, I have been discussing it within the South African context.

My eyes were first opened when I found out that The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) was really just an adjunct to The Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC). Up until recently, its Director of Operations, Na'eem Jeenah, was also the spokesperson for The PSC.

I also found out that Jane Duncan (exec director of The FXI) had signed South African Academics Supporting the PACBI Call for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.


When I wrote to Jane Duncan asking whether she thought that boycotting Israeli academics furthered freedom of expression, I received no reply. I also asked her which other academics the FXI believed should be boycotted. Zimbabwean? Burmese? Chinese? Iranian? Sudanese? Saudi Arabian? Syrian? etc. And, of course, this was also met by silence.

Interesting to ponder that virtually nobody in South Africa makes any fuss about The FXI's position regarding Israel and the wider Middle East. Of course if The FXI was run by The South African Zionist Federation there would be uproar from the editor of the Mail & Guardian and virtually every other main stream South African newspaper. But that is how the world works and even more so in SA.

So there is no level playing field when Israel pops up in The SA press. The framework proscribing how freedom of expression relates to the complex debate is clearly biased. Propaganda, and not proper analysis rules the day.

The South African Human Rights Delegation (SAHRD), fronted by Doron Isaacs and Nathan Geffen, has more recently forced me to consider what constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel.

Firstly , it is important to realize that the main stream media is so anti-zionist that critiques of their SAHRD views rarely see the light of day. As a result, one of the biggest obstacles confronting us is to actually debate the issues. Israel’s accusers are carte blanching 24/7 in the SA media; they can quite literally write what they like and get away with it.

Secondly, is it legitimate criticism to single Israel out for criticism and to keep silent about various Islamic regimes?

Thirdly, is it legitimate criticsm when the complex history and political dynamics in the Middle East are ignored?

Fourthly, is it legitimate criticsm when the terms “human rights”, “anti-racism”, “anti colonialist” etc are fashionably used as weapons to attack Israel’s legitimacy?

Fifthly, is it legitimate criticsm when Jews who write such criticsm know that their views will gain wider currency, because it is much harder to allege that Jewish “legitimate criticsm” of Israel may be unfair or antisemitic?

And finally, is it “legitimate criticism” when people who “legtitimately criticize” Israel are unwilling to publicly debate precisely what consitutes “legitimate criticsm” in the South African context?

With regard to my last question, I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong and that my article will provoke a detailed and interesting debate on Quid Pro Quo!

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