No to "Critical Dialogues" with anti-Semites

by Thomas Uwer, WADI e. V.

Speech held on a demonstration against anti-Semitism in Europe during the OSCE Conference in Berlin, April 28. 2004

Only some weeks ago the European Union held a Seminar on Anti-Semitism in Brussels, where German Foreign Minister Josef Fischer strongly condemned any kind of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic thought – the seminar said – is a threat to civil society, and Europeans are to be aware that the growth of anti-Semitic resentments is a danger not only for Jews. That sounds well – and it’s true: anti-Semitic thought IS a threat and European countries HAVE to be aware of it. But this is only half the truth.

Anti-Semitism isn’t merely an ideology, it is not a misperception or misunderstanding, something which we only have to speak about – quite the opposite is true: anti-Semitism is a practice, it is something people do and it is a matter of fact for the citizens of Israel who live under the permanent threat of terrorist attacks. As a practice, anti-Semitism is an integral part of policies at least in the Middle East and most of the Islamic countries – where it is not only shared by minorities, but supported and disseminated by governments. This is why simply condemning anti-Semitism is not enough. It needs more than some awareness programs to fight anti-Semitic thought and action.

Exactly the same day Josef Fischer held his speech in Brussels, another conference took place that also somehow dealt with anti-Semitism – but in a very special way. The German Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, a foundation directly linked to the governing Social-democratic Party of Germany, held a conference in Beirut, organized in close cooperation with a “studies and documentation centre” of the Islamist Hezbollah. The list of participants of this conference (under the title »The Islamic World and Europe; From Dialogue towards Understanding«) sounds like a “Who is Who” of the new Islamist scene. Besides Skeikh Naeem Quasim from the leadership of Hizbollah, radicals like the notorious Tariq Ramadan, from Geneva, Azzam al-Tamimi, a Hamas supporter from the British Muslim Council, Jamal al-Banna, from the Muslim-Brotherhood Egypt or Munir Shafiq, a former leftist who converted to Islam and a guiding intellectual of the Palestinian Islamic Djihad, took part to discuss about matters like “Occupation and Resistance” or “Democracy – a flexible concept”. All of the named promote an Islamist “resistance” against Israel or - as they call it - the "Zionist Entity". It is Munir Shafiq who regularly declares that terrorism is a legitimate and integral part of the "resistance against occupation" and its is Azzam al-Tamimi who acknowledged that every Muslim should take part in the “uprise” against Zionism and that these “efforts” should be directed also against the Jewish communities abroad to end their support for Israel.

It is not simply a coincidence that this conference took place while Josef Fischer publicly condemned Anti-Semitism in Brussels, but it is a part of the German policy towards Israel and the Region that always wants to keep in touch with “both sides”, as they say. Or, as the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation announced after critique came from several institutions: The Beirut-Conference is part of the concept of Critical Dialogue.

One of the most disturbing things with this conference was that the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation did not even feel that a dialogue with these extremists is - at least - “problematic”. To avoid public meetings with extremists like the ones from Beirut could be regarded as a kind of common sense until then. Contacts with and sympathies for anti-Semitic extremists were more for the backrooms than for the public – if something like that became known, the usual reaction was to dissociate. This has changed. The Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation simply stated that a Critical Dialogue is needed especially with those forces we disagree with. The conference, a press announcement of the Foundation said, was also aimed on showing, that there are “legitimate security interests” of Israel. Of course – not one of the panels dealt with Israel’s security concerns or the anti-Semitic terror in the region. What the phrase „legitimate security interest of Israel“ really means is: There are illegitimate too. And these illegitimate policies of Israel – this is the essence of the dialogue - are a reasoned cause of the violence in the Middle East. This is exactly what the wording Critical Dialogue means.

Obviously, the Dialogue with the leaders of radical nationalist and Islamist parties and governments is not an adequate instrument to change the Middle East to something better. The results of a decade of Critical Dialogue with regimes and radical movements are extremely poor. Nothing has changed to better in Iran and in Iraq; Saddam Hussein would still stay in power if the Americans would have not preferred the regime change to the Dialogue. This is not merely a moral argument, but a practical one. Without recognizing that anti-Semitism is one of the key problems of that very region one will never ever change the Middle East to something better. A region, where anti-Semitism is not anymore a more or less abstract “threat to civil societies” but has already poisoned the Arab world. It is virulent in nearly all Islamic societies and it is a kind of common sense shared by most of the Arab governments, disseminated and multiplicated through state owned TV-stations and newspapers. It is even more: It is a practice directed against Israel and its citizens – AND it is used by Arab regimes as an instrument against anyone demanding freedom rights and better living conditions. The anti-Semitic type of Middle Eastern Conspiracy Theories is part of the ideological fundament of dictatorship in Arab States. It is closely linked not only to their policies towards Israel but also to the way these states treat their own people. It is linked to the Arab Authoritarianism that is based on radical nationalist and Islamic thought.

The most frustrating fact is that these Partners of the Critical Dialogue are responsible for the political stagnation that has left the Arab Middle East out in the world race to democratize. Today Iraq is the only Arab country in that region where a change of government took place during the past three decades. Torture and the cruelest kinds of punishment are common practices in all of these countries, where most of the women and girls are illiterate and 60% of the few books available are only dealing with Islam. Anyone demanding a free press, freedom of speech or better living conditions is regarded a Zionist agent. While most of the Arab governments – as well as their opposition – argue that this situation of oppression and stagnation is resulting from external factors – Israel and America – the opposite is obviously true. For them, anti-Semitism also is an instrument to stay in power and to keep the paradigms of Arab rule untouched – paradigms that need to be changed.

As long as European governments and especially Germany do not end the so called Critical Dialogue with those who promote and support anti-Semitic and Islamist militias and terrorist attacks on Israel, their declarations on Anti-Semitism will remain fruitless. If Mr. Fischer really means what he says and if he wants to fight Anti-Semitism - then he has to stop the Dialogue and Understanding.

Don’t deal with the promoters of anti-Semitic terrorism! Show them, that they are not accepted! Don’t meet them, don’t speak to them, don’t sign any agreements, don’t ask them for understanding - but help the people of the Middle East to finally get rid of them!

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