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Criticism of Israel and Antisemitism: Fraser Goes too far

The recent assassination of Hamas militant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai has created a huge international reaction, not only for the killing—although al-Mabhouh was himself a killer—but also for the multiple identity heists which it seems the hit team perpetrated. Australian passports were used, among others, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has asked the Israeli Ambassador for an explanation.

No response is yet forthcoming, but according to former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, if and when they do own up, the one thing the Israelis should not be allowed to get away with is blaming it on the Holocaust.

Mr Fraser’s surprising remarks were reported in the Australian as follows:
Mr Fraser said the Jewish state could no longer use the Holocaust as an excuse to justify state-sanctioned murder, and criticism of its policies should not be dismissed as anti-Semitism.

"That happened 65-66 years ago and it cannot be used any longer to prevent proper discussion of Israel's policies when those policies are counter-productive to world peace," he said. "To suggest that those who are critical are anti-Semitic – I reject that utterly."
These remarks raise the question of whether Mr Fraser would recognize antisemitism if he walked right up to it and it hit him on the head. 

The problem, pointed out by Barry Rubin, is that:
"Despite decades of documentation and explanation about antisemitism, a large proportion of the Western intelligentsia doesn’t understand it. … In other words, they don't know antisemitism when they see it—or even practice it."

There have been some antisemitic howlers by Western politicians in recent years under the guise of criticism of Israel.  A recent example was the recommendation by British politician Baroness Tonge that Israeli aid teams in Haiti be investigated for harvesting bodily organs.  This recycled an ancient blood libel, but substituted organs for blood, and Israelis for Jews.

Of course Mr Fraser was quite correct when he pointed out that criticizing Israel is not the same thing as antisemitism.  To dismiss any and all criticism of Israel as antisemitism would be utter nonsense.

One might well ask what is the difference between legitimate criticism and racial incitement.

Let us, for example, consider Mr Fraser’s claim that Israel uses the Holocaust as an "excuse to justify state-sanctioned murder"?  Could this be an example of what Rubin described as "they don’t know antisemitism when they … practice it"?  Or does it fall within the bounds of legitimate criticism?
How could one tell the difference?

Let us put Mr Fraser’s statement through the lens of the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (RRTA).

In terms of the RRTA, the question to be asked is whether Mr Fraser’s statements have incited "hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of" a "class of persons" (here Jewish leaders of the state of Israel), on the ground of their "race"?

Undoubtedly the answer to this question must be “Yes”. 

For anyone to use the Holocaust as an excuse for murder would be contemptible, but it must be regarded as especially contemptible if Jews were to use this excuse, as they themselves suffered from "state-sanctioned murder" in the Holocaust on a cataclysmic scale.  How cruel and hypocritical that would be! It is precisely the Jewishness of the state of Israel and its leaders, in the context of the reference to the Jewish Holocaust and "state-sanctioned murder", which would intensify the contempt.

My Fraser’s accusation appears to incites contempt against Israel's leaders.  It appears to invoke a traditional antisemitic stereotype of the cruel hypocritical Jew.

But would Mr Fraser have a defence under the RRTA? To determine this we can ask whether he made his contribution as part of a discussion "in the public interest", and in doing so, was he making a "a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest"?  Did he act "reasonably"?

Yes, it is in the public interest to discuss this incident.  And yes, it is in the public interest to discuss antisemitism, criticism of Israel, and the difference between the two.  But no, Mr Fraser did not give a "fair and accurate report", and he did not act reasonably when he made this particular comment.

The Israelis have not and will not claim the Holocaust as an excuse for killing al-Mabhouh. They have not even acknowledged responsibility, but if they did, the reason given would surely be al-Mabhouh's self-confessed past actions as a kidnapper and killer of Israeli soldiers, and his role as chief arms procurer for the 'Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which is the military wing of Hamas. 

The Hamas Brigades have repeatedly been classified by the Australian Attorney General as a 'terrorist organization', which, the Australian Government reports, is dedicated to the 'destruction of the state of Israel'. Other nations who have declared the Hamas Brigades to be terrorists are: Canada, Japan, the United States, and the European Union.  Al-Mabhouh's job was providing weapons for terrorists.

Mr Fraser went too far.  He might have just stopped with the statement that criticism of Israel "should not be dismissed as anti-Semitism." Instead he strayed into antisemitism himself, with the libel that Jewish Israeli leaders "use the Holocaust as an excuse to justify state-sanctioned murder."

That was unconscionable, and under Victorian law, possibly illegal.

Mark Durie is a human rights activist, Anglican vicar and author of The Third Choice.

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I find it amazing that an intelligent man like Mr Frazer would make such an assine comment to further imflame a critically bad situation and cannot but question if this is the spin the press wants out there to further fuel negative opinions to fill there papers to feed the need communities seem to have for crap printed around the world without any substance or value. I don"t buy newspapers for that reason I will not be manipulated and brainwashed along with the rest.

Posted by Suzs Qld on 2010-03-29 03:16:09 GMT

Yes, I"m sure Ymr is right. Israel itself did not invoke the Holocaust to justify Cast Lead. This also makes Mr Fraser"s comments even more unreasonable.

Posted by Mark Durie on 2010-03-07 22:23:06 GMT

Felicity makes a good point: Israel"s supporters have invoked the Holocaust in the past, e.g. during the action in Gaza. This was unwise. Better to justify the fight in terms of the need to defend oneself, and the genuineness of the threat.

Posted by Mark Durie on 2010-03-07 12:35:04 GMT

Mr.Fraser"s comments are inexcusable and irrelevant to a discerning audience. However, the leftists and jew haters would think it is the holy grail. In my opinion, he is a silly old fart and should go and look after his sheep.

Posted by rloader of Qld on 2010-03-07 07:35:27 GMT

Which Australians are you referring to, Fraser supporters or Durie supporters? And what is the point you say they have?

Posted by Felicity on 2010-03-07 05:35:02 GMT

The has beens and talking heads found a golden opportunity to show their true face, because the Dubai job points to an Israeli blunder, which in my opinion has more to do with the loss of Dubai as forward intel post and a good location to meet agents than anything else. Perhaps in Israel, some have a better idea, but the damage to Israel\"s reputation is severe. The botched up job in Norway and Amman are mentioned in every opportunity. If the Israeli\"s rubbed him out in damascus no one would wince, but Dubai is another matter. It gives many critics of Israel, closet anti-semites an opportunity to come out knowing they cannot be blamed for any malice as they merely ask appropriate questions about violation of their own identity. It also shows a bit of lack of concern to the well being and discomfort of many Jews overseas who want to defend Israel, but not under such awkward circumstances. From Los Angeles, the entire affair looks differently, simply because the economy and the buyer\"s remorse on this shabby presidency is consuming the attention of the nervous public. Australians, ruled by Socialists with a big chip on their shoulders, as suppliers of commodities to the Global Economy, can afford to indulge in squabbles which puts them back in the middle of world affairs. Their existence is not in question as that of Israel, which makes the discussion somewhat uneven, nevertheless, they have a point.

Posted on 2010-03-07 03:12:37 GMT

I totally agree with Mark Durie. However, during the war in Gaza, the sentiment that the tragedy of the holocaust justified the defence of Israel (which automatically means killing the enemy, as with all wars) was frequently expressed. I recall one such comment in this forum, that the writer"s grandmother was "butchered by the Nazis", therfore Israel was justified in defending itself. There were more comments in this vein published in the daily press. So it is little wonder that this theme is quoted by somebody unsympathetic to Israel"s right to defend itself. As has been recently pointed out, wouldn"t the events of September 11 justify the "state sanctioned" assassination of Osama Bin Laden in the eyes of the US and its supporters, even if it took even longer to find him? All killing is killing. Either nothing can justify it, or anything can justify it. Politicians should make up their minds which idea they support.

Posted by Felicity on 2010-03-07 01:16:56 GMT

Thank you Mr Durie. What a relief to have a sane reflection on Mr Fraser"s appalling comments. To suggest that Israel uses the Holocaust as an excuse indicates that he clearly does not understand the situation and should retire gracefully as he is no longer serving a useful purpose with such facile comment.

Posted by paule on 2010-03-07 00:21:09 GMT

Quite right: Fraser"s comments are unadulterated anti-semitism because he demonises Jews and applies a double-standard. The previous commentators are also right: Fraser is an irrelevant, ineffectual has-been whose pompous aspirations to project himself as "elder statesman" is both incredible and pathetic.

Posted by sandy on 2010-03-06 23:21:04 GMT