I was wrong to say 'cancer', but my point stands

My depiction as anti-Semitic is a standard tactic devised by supporters of the state of Israel to silence or demonise critics of the state and of the state's policies and actions. By Vincent Browne.

On Tuesday 23 October on TV3's Tonight programme, while reviewing the debate on foreign policy between the two candidates for the US presidency, I remarked on how Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were vying with each other in their support for Israel.

I noted that there had been no acknowledgement on the part of either candidate that Israel was a "cancer" in international relations, notably between the West and the Islamic world, and no acknowledgement that the state of Israel was founded on an injustice: the robbing of land from the Arab population there in the late 1940s.

The following day, the deputy Israeli ambassador to Ireland contacted one of the producers on the programme to protest about my remarks. She asked to be permitted to come on the programme that night (Wednesday) to respond. However, this was not possible, for the format of that night's programme had already been settled, but we said we would accommodate a spokesperson over the coming weeks.

I was contacted later by a reporter from the Jewish Chronicle in London, who said the deputy ambassador had characterised my remarks as anti-Semitic and amounting to a call for the destruction of the state of Israel; and that she had been refused a right of reply to my remarks.

The reporter put it to me that my use of the word "cancer" suggested the remedy was a surgical removal. I acknowledged that the word "cancer" was a mistake, given that it left my remarks open to that interpretation.

I protested about the depiction of me as anti-Semitic, saying that this was a standard tactic devised by supporters of the state of Israel to silence or demonise critics of the state and of the state's policies and actions.

It was later suggested by a colleague that I make it clear that I accepted the "right" of the state of Israel to exist. I disputed that suggestion, for, while I accept pragmatically that the state of Israel is here to stay, starting out with an assertion of the "right" of that state to exist prejudices the further consideration of the appropriate response to the conflict involving that state.

So, first to the anti-Semitism issue. I believe that the Holocaust was the single greatest crime against humanity in the history of humankind. I believe that further crimes against humanity were perpetrated against the Jews in Europe: the genocidal Crusades; the exclusion of Jews from agriculture, which forced them to become merchants and money lenders; the massacres of Jews in Granada, in Morocco, Germany, Portugal, Ukraine, Poland, Russia and elsewhere down through the centuries; the victimisation and discrimination against Jews in so many countries, including Ireland. I believe such actions and attitudes were informed by bigotry and intolerance.

So exactly how do I qualify as an anti-Semite?

But, equally, how do these crimes against humanity justify another crime against humanity - the driving of Arabs from the lands they and their ancestors had cultivated for centuries, the slaughter of Arabs as happened during the inception of the state of Israel, and the ongoing killing and maltreatment of Palestinians in the name of protecting the Israeli state?

Of course, there have been indefensible reprisal atrocities perpetrated by Palestinians against the Israeli civilian population.

But the persistent obduracy of successive Israeli governments in refusing, first, to deal with the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people, and then refusing to comply with a central UN Security Council resolution that calls on Israel to revert to its pre-1967 borders, has been probably the main exacerbation in international relations over the last half-century.

There is a clear pathway to peace in the region, and it is the Israeli government that represents the main obstacle to that.

That pathway involves reverting to the pre-1967 borders, with some minor trading of territory to take account of events since then; the repartition of Jerusalem to permit the incorporation of East Jerusalem in a new Palestinian state; an acknowledgement on the rights of the returnees (the people who were driven from their lands at the time of the formation of the Israeli state); the establishment of a fully sovereign Palestinian state, free from any encroachment by Israel, with open borders between the two states; the surrender by Israel of its nuclear arms and nuclear capacity; and huge financial reparations for the terrible injustices inflicted on the Palestinian people by the state of Israel, supported by the US, Britain, France, Russia and the other states that have given aid and support to the detriment of the Palestinians.

That should be combined with an acknowledgement by the new Palestinian state of the integrity of the state of Israel and a similar acknowledgement by neighbouring countries, including Iran.

This does not differ substantially from what the European Union, including Ireland, has been advocating. It also accords with policies advocated fitfully by successive American administrations.

For instance, in January 2008, George W Bush said in Jerusalem: "There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967 [...] The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognised, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent."

It is Israel that is the primary obstacle to that happening - and it is Israel, therefore, which remains a major exacerbator of international tensions.

Image top: RahelSharon.